For this weeks show of the week we are heading up to Salford in Manchester for .a very special show. Rachel and Alex of the twoprov troupe Between Us are performing at the King Arms Pub this Friday at 8:30pm. It is an improvised show that tells the inside story of one couple’s relationship. I caught up with the duo to find out all about it.
Hello tell us all about who you all are and a little bit about yourselves?
Rachel: I trained as an actress at Drama Studio London, where I discovered this really fabulous artform called improvisation and now I’m addicted! I generally perform narrative long-form. Back in the day I was in Upstairs Downton and I also co-created CSI: Crime Scene Improvisation.
Alex: I started doing short-form improv comedy with Shrimps at the University of Sheffield back in 2009. Since then I co-founded and coach Sturike Comedy, who mostly do long-form, co-founded the Sheffield Improv Jam and started teaching workshops and courses, so improv is a pretty huge part of my life.
How did the show come about?
Rachel: When I moved to Sheffield I wanted to start a narrative long-form group, so I teamed up with a group of improvisers from Shrimps and we created Scriptless In Seattle, the improvised romcom. That show was so much fun, and we got nominated for Best Improv Show at Leicester Comedy Festival 2017. When Scriptless came to an end, I realised how frustrating it is that in a romcom you tell a story that ends with a couple forming, but in real life the interesting stories are the things that happen between couples. So I asked Alex if he wanted to try doing a 2prov relationship drama. The amazing thing was – to misquote JK Rowling – that the show walked into my head fully formed. When we were building CSI: Crime Scene Improvisation and Scriptless In Seattle, it took several months to winkle out the right format, but Between Us arrived on a platter.
Alex: Rachel reached out to me after Scriptless and asked if I wanted to do a dramatic 2prov show. It felt quite outside my wheelhouse at the time… which was a perfect reason to give it a go! We geared ourselves up for a long development process and then by the end of the first rehearsal we’d done a full run and were pretty happy with it, so we resolved to get it in front of an audience of supportive, improv-savvy friends as soon as possible and the rest is history.
Tell us a little bit about the show that is happening this week?
We’re performing at The King’s Arms in Salford, which is a gorgeous venue. Friendly pub downstairs, with a well-equipped black box theatre upstairs. The space is ideal for us because it’s super intimate. Between Us hinges on the connection between our two characters, so we need to perform in intimate spaces which allow the characters’ relationship to be the focus.
What improv styles do you want to see more of this year and why?
Rachel: I’ve always been all about long form, especially genre-based, and something I’ve really loved over the last year is exploring premise-based improv, including montages, armandos and some kinds of harold. This is thanks to Sturike, and also Tom Young at The Same Faces in Leicester and Ben Hall at Fat Penguin in Birmingham. It’s great to explore a type of improvisation which has a different objective and means a different head space for the performers.
Alex: This year I’d really like to see more 2prov groups – I think the unique chemistry between two really close performers adds something special that you don’t see in larger casts. Luckily, Little Chicago is a great monthly improv night in Sheffield which is going to be hosting a load of 2prov shows this year.
What festivals are you guys planning on heading to this year?
We’re performing Between Us at Brighton Fringe, 24th-27th May. We’re also expecting to do Buxton Fringe in July and Edinburgh Fringe. Watch this space!
Spring is just around the corner – what are you going to do to ‘spring clean’ your improv?
The British Improv Project is in April and it’s a fabulous residential weekend of improv, all run as a not-for-profit collective. Tom Young and Geoff Monk arrange it all, and they make sure there’s a wide range of workshops in every style of improv and for a range of experience levels. In the evenings there are group jams, usually followed by impromptu karaoke late into the night. Everyone is really friendly and open to exploring different kinds of improv. Alex and I usually teach some of the workshops too. This one sold out in January, so do sign up for the November weekend in advance if you’d like to come along.
What advice would you give for people thinking about starting an improv troupe themselves?
Rachel: Just do it. You might have a really clear idea of what you want to achieve and the kind of improv you want to do. If so, do that. But if you don’t, find some people you think you’d like to work with and start playing until you figure out what’s right for you. I met Lee Apsey at a Hoopla weekend and we both went, “Boom! Let’s work together!” We had no clue what we wanted to do, but six months later CSI: Crime Scene Improvisation had its first gig. In 2018 we performed to over 5500 people, so you never know what you might start. The key thing is to start.
Alex: There are two things you need to succeed at anything: direction and motivation. When you’re starting a group, the direction might be “let’s find out what happens when we muck around” and the motivation is probably “we like improvising together”. That’s all you need to start, so do it! As you grow, though, those things will change, so keep having that conversation. As long as everyone’s on the same page, it won’t matter what else goes wrong – but if people have different goals, everything can go right and you’ll still struggle.
What is the best thing about a night for the audience?
Rachel: One of the review quotes we put on the Between Us poster is “completely engaging”, and I think that’s the best thing about our show for an audience. It’s really compelling. We’ve had audience members cry, yelp with laughter, wince audibly, call things out to the characters and even address the characters as though they were real. You don’t see that behaviour very often in scripted theatre, but we had all of that in just one year. There is something extra special about watching an improvised drama, where you witness the writing happening at the same time as the performing.
Alex: When our audience members walk out arguing about what went wrong in the relationship and who was in the right, I know we’ve done a good job. If our show has a message, it’s that relationships are really bloody complicated and messy. Often people are surprised when we talk about our characters’ decisions and personalities from an outside perspective because they believed so much in the relationship and the people they saw on the stage – that’s the power of improv.
If people want to find out more about you where can they follow you on social media?
On Twitter and Facebook @betweenusimprov
And Finally in three words – Why should people come and see the show?
Compelling. Heartbreaking. Hilarious.
QUICK FIRE ROUND
What is the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?
Alex: I’m not very adventurous when it comes to food, but I’ll happily eat a green olive and pineapple pizza, which I’m sure will horrify some people.
If you could trade lives with anyone for a day who would it be and why?
Rachel: Alex! Then I could find out what working with me is really like.
Alex: Probably the American president – I don’t know how much I could achieve in one day to mitigate the worst of his mistakes, but I’d have a good crack at it. If nothing else, I’d learn loads of interesting secrets.
If you could paint anything what would you paint?
Rachel: My grandmother died recently. She was a fabulous watercolour artist. I wish I could paint a watercolour of the beach at Hythe.
Alex: I love Bob Ross and his tireless efforts to make the world a nicer place. One day I ought to try painting along!
What is the most delightful word you can think of?
Rachel: Indivisibility. Six I’s!
Rachel: My daughter’s just discovered Mary Poppins and we like to sing Let’s Go Fly A Kite over breakfast. It’s a good way to start the day!
Alex: Into The Dark Unknown (The Marriage Song) by Holcombe Waller really captures the bittersweet, double-edge of love in a way that always moves me.
Who is your comedy hero and why?
Rachel: I love Stefan Golaszewski’s writing. Mum is a gorgeous balance of belly laughs and gentle character comedy, all layered on top of real sadness. I’d like to think we achieve something similar with Between Us.
Alex: Nobody has ever blown me away like TJ and Dave.
What is your favourite movie quote?
Rachel: “Greetings and salutations.” Christian Slater in Heathers. Absolute gold!
Alex: “Constantly talking isn’t necessarily communicating” – Joel in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Who is your favourite cartoon character and why?
Rachel: When I was in secondary school we were obsessed with Bill and Harry postcards. I can see that style of humour in the sketch writing I do now.
Alex: Ashitaka from Studio Ghibli’s animated film, Princess Mononoke – despite being cursed by a literal manifestation of the desire for revenge, he’s always trying to find a peaceful resolution to every conflict. I think that’s admirable.