This month I chatted to over 30 female improvisers from all over the UK to celebrate the talent that we have – we also discuss some of the important debates surrounding this topic as well. Today I talk to an improviser that is part of many improv troupes such as The Maydays, is a teacher at Hoopla Impro and the author of the book The Improvisers Way – Katy Schutte
Hello There! Tell us who you are and three random facts about yourself!
I’m Katy Schutte. Random facts: the top three fancy dress costumes I wore as a small child were John McEnroe, Captain Sensible and A Firework.
How did you get into improv?
I studied theatre and now I look back I realise improv was there from the start.
What inspired you to start improv?
I was most inspired by (re)-discovering long form on my first trip to Chicago. I went to Second City to get good at short form improv and discovered incredible improvised theatre instead. I’d already been watching Baby Wants Candy for years at the Edinburgh Fringe but there was nowhere to learn it in the UK back then.
What troupes are you are a part of?
Mainly The Maydays and Project2, but I also do shows as part of Fright Club and All Movies are Rom Coms. I also play in Knightmare Live which doesn’t class itself as an improv show, but there’s a lot of unscripted stuff in there. I guest in other shows too and I’ll be playing in some new exciting ones at Hoopla soon.
Tell us about the styles of improv you enjoy and why
I enjoy most styles of improv. Sometimes I’ll do one too much and go off it for a bit, but basically I like everything. I particularly love playing into genre as there’s a delightful template there for story, action and characters. I imagine that’s why I do science fiction, horror, gothic fairy tales and romantic comedies.
Who are some Improvisers that you find inspiring and why?
I adore TJ and Dave and Dasariski the most and I love UK troupes DNAYS and the RH Experience. Slow-burn comedy with believable characters is ideal and talented groups of friends having a lovely time is nice too. I’m also happy if stuff is batshit crazy if it has good people steering it. There are a lot of Chicago teachers that have really shaped the way I play and I love them. Too many to name, but Jason Chin, Susan Messing, Bill Arnett and the stars of the above troupes are up there.
I have read many articles around the debate that it is harder to be a woman in improv – what are your thoughts on this and why?
I personally haven’t experienced it being ‘harder’ but that’s because my generation of improvisers in the UK was a Matriarchy at the beginning. I do see women (and others) struggle to find their place in a fast, alpha show sometimes. The solve for that requires learning on both sides; one side to slow down and listen and the other side to step-up and add.
What are some of the best bits of advice you have been given about improv and why?
Woah, the big questions. The thing is, when you read a quote, it doesn’t hit you like it does receiving a note at a time when you need it from someone that’s watching you work. For me, the revelations came in layers. It’s like walking around in a computer game map and each new part lighting up as you walk. First I learned to listen to facts, then I learned to listen to game, then I learned to hear subtext and so forth. For me, the main thing is to keep it real and to keep it fun. Without those two things, you’re fucked.
Do you find that being a female in an improv show that the suggestions you can get are traditional and stereotypical? How do you feel when you get given these?
No, I haven’t really had that problem. If I get anything that isn’t fun, I’ll either ask for something else or spin it.
What have been some of your favourite moments on stage?
There’s a state of ‘flow’ that is very magical; when it feels like you’re channelling a character or a story and everyone – including you – is surprised and enthralled by it coming out. It’s particularly delightful when that flow state happens to all of the company on one night. It’s very occasional but it is literally the best when it happens. We had a moment at the end of a Maydays show in Poland that tied it all together beautifully in one line. Me and Chris Mead come across some pretty high-concept flow moments in our science fiction shows too.
What have been some of the worst and why?
It’s the opposite of a flow state; it’s improvisers up in their heads, disconnected, worried, working from fear and ego. When I feel like I’ve bailed on my scene partner or they’ve bailed on me, that’s a tough place to recover from. I once did a teacher show where an improviser (who was worried the show was tanking) said “I guess I’ll have to yes-and that” to one of my lines. It got a laugh but it sacrificed the scene and the show for it. I was so thrown out of it by losing trust that I found it hard to get back on stage.
For new improvisers, what would your key bit of advice be?
Every so often there will be a point where it seems harder, like you’ve got worse at improv. That’s just you moving the bar for yourself and it means you’re levelling up.
What are three things you want to focus on this season with your own improv?
I’m teaching a science-fiction course, so it will be awesome to codify some of the stuff I’ve been working on for six or seven years. I’m excited to do some truly stupid shit at the Hoopla Marathon and I’ll be doing a 45-minute rom com with my friend Ed which is a step-up from the 10-20 minute shows we’ve done previously.
What is the future of improv?
Harry Potter. All improv shows will be Harry Potter shows by 2021.
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