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 Amorphus Horse and the Hoopla House Team the Descendants – Lisa Ronaghan
Hello Lisa! Tell us who you are and three random facts about yourself!
I’m Lisa Ronaghan. I ride motorcycles and have done so on-screen for my own characters and doubled for others. I’ve two tortoises, one called Rocky and the other called Mr T. After hating them most of my life, I am now fully addicted to gherkins. The best are from Lidl.
How did you get into improv?
I started doing improv in youth theatre thanks to Simon Godwin, the then youth theatre director at The Royal and Derngate Theatres in Northampton years ago. I continued to study it at Uni and then whilst at drama school in NYC. Post that I trained at the wonderful UCB then Monkey Toast in the UK.
What inspired you to start improv?
No choice. Luckily, I loved it and found it incredibly liberating and creative.
What troupes are you are a part of?
Amorphous Horse (formed from my Monkey Toast training alumni pals) and the Hoopla House Narrative team, The Descendants.
Tell us about the styles of improv you enjoy and why?
I’m a big fan of The Armando and Narrative formats, which are what my two teams mostly play with. However, I also love the Monoscene and Deconstruction. I came from a short-form background, as perhaps most improvisers do. However, since training and performing in long-form formats I have rarely gone back. I love the opportunity for reincorporation, the storytelling aspects and the room to really delve into relationship and explore ideas.
Who are some Improvisers that you find inspiring and why?
I was really inspired by Asssscat and their rotating cast when in the states. They have a lot of fun, are very good at making each other look fantastic. Tj & Dave are a wonderful example of listening and utilising every offer, as well as committing to character and space work. I’m also a big fan of the Show Stoppers gang. Musical improv when performed to that level is exquisite.
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 feel there are more and more women taking improv classes and performing on the circuit than ever before. When I first started, it was more unusual to be the woman on the team. Both my teams are split evenly gender wise, and I haven’t personally felt any discrimination when auditioning for a team or performing on the circuit.
What are some of the best bits of advice you have been given about improv and why?
You learn more from your bad gigs than your good ones. I think that is very true. Reflect on what you could’ve done differently and how you can apply it to future practice and gigs. However, don’t let it affect the rest of your night or your teammates. You might have felt it wasn’t too hot, but that might not be how the audience or your team feel. If you get a compliment, say thank you, whether you felt it is deserved or not!
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?
The only all female improv team I’ve performed in has been The Playground Swingers. The fab, Breaking and Entering run a night called The Playground at Hoopla. It’s an all-female show. We did scenes from a hat, but the suggestions didn’t seem any different to ones I’ve gotten with mixed teams. Also, because most of our shows only require a ‘celebrity/person from history’ and or a location, I once again haven’t been aware of any gender bias. Perhaps I have created my own sort of blinker system over the years and can’t see it!
What have been some of your favourite moments on stage?
Sometimes playing can feel so effortless. You’ve created a strong scene brimming with space work, relationship, you’ve found a compelling game. You let things breath a little, rest the game, then bring it back. The team are really in sync and the audience are totally along for the ride. There’s nothing more satisfying when this all comes together. Amorphous Horse’s most recent gig at The Byline Festival was a lot of fun. We were headlining the comedy night, and the act before were using mics as a tent nearby had just started its music set for the night.
We’ve never played with handheld mics before. We just had to go with it otherwise no one would’ve heard a thing. We did our set, Citation Needed, which is like an Armando with our ‘celebrity’ brought to life using Wikipedia. I was playing Henrietta Lacks. The team used pulls from my interview section and all came together nicely, in spite of the noise and new technical aspect to our show! Probably only about 20% of the audience had seen improv before, yet we saw it as a win that we didn’t have people leaving the tent! Throughout the rest of the festival we had folk coming up to us saying how much they enjoyed the set, and it was the first time they had seen improv. It was really encouraging.
What have been some of the worst and why?
At the beginning I used to get in my head a lot about what would be a good idea, is it compelling, is it funny enough, will I ruin the scene with this? I’d block my impulses, and some sets barely enter at all. This, of course, can still happen, but I trust my instincts more and know that whomever I’m playing with has my back and won’t leave me out there too long!
For new improvisers, what would your key bit of advice be?
Take some classes. Create a team with your classmates. Practice with them as often as you can. See and get involved in as much improv as you can. But mostly, trust your instincts and have fun. # What are three things you want to focus on this season with your own improv? I’d like to keep improving on my storytelling abilities; seeing what should come next for the characters and progression of the story, whilst keeping things away from crazy town! It’d be great to perform more in one-off experimental shows and to try new formats whilst playing with new performers. Keep people coming to our monthly gigs with Amorphous Horse at the Castle, Aldgate East and The Descendants at Hoopla, and build on our audience/fan base for both
What is the future of improv?
I hope the UK scene becomes more important to the entertainment industry. It feels like there are closer ties in the US and Canada between improv and the comedic screen world. It would be wonderful for the UK casting/production teams to see the UK improv scene for the breading ground of comedic talent that it is