Welcome to a new fortnightly article where we speak to different improvisers about their five top improvisers and why. Of course, there are many people that do improv that are fantastic that it may actually be a bit mean to just limit it to only five people but I wanted to create this article so that you can be introduced to players you may not of heard or maybe find out how some of the best known improvisers are inspiring others. Today, I sit down with a member of the Ol’ Bill Improv and Improbotics – Rhiannon Jenkins
It’s been immensely difficult to narrow this list down to just 5 people; I’ve been lucky enough to perform with, learn from, and watch a whole host of immensely talented performers on the London improv scene (and further afield). This is by no means an exhaustive list, but as I was tasked with picking just 5 people, here’s a quintet of improvisers that inspire me:
I was lucky enough to have Amy as my level two teacher at Hoopla and I could not recommend taking a class with Amy more highly. Every single note she gave us was thoughtful, and articulate, and the whole class’ performance skills came on leaps and bounds, because Amy threw herself so wholeheartedly into making us all better. If you ever see me perform and you think I’ve done a remotely decent job, it’s probably because of one of Amy’s notes. Amy also happens to be one of the smartest and funniest performers I’ve ever watched; she has the most impeccable comedic timing I’ve ever seen – whether with Austentatious, at The Playground, or with Bumper Blyton, every time I’ve seen her she’s caused me physical pain from laughing so much. In a good way. If I could be even a fraction as smart as Amy, I would die a happy woman.
I. ADORE. JENNIFER. AND I DON’T CARE WHO KNOWS IT, OK?! Every time I see her, my heart grows about a hundred sizes. She is so warm, so nurturing, so giving, and such a natural talent. I’ve only been able to play with her a handful of times, but I always feel like a puppy in a candy shop when I do get to, because I just know we’re going to have THE MOST FUN EVER. She is the living personification of yes and, and has a brain that works at about a million miles an hour. She can sing, she can act, she is maybe the smartest person I’ve ever met, and yet doesn’t have an arrogant bone in her body (when she definitely has grounds to be a total diva). Jennifer’s knowledge of Shakespeare is scary, and she is always happy to pass on that knowledge (go and watch Sonnet Sisters immediately after reading this). In short – she is both a supernova of talent, and a wonderful human being.
Monica is so gloriously energetic, such a supportive player, and does so much to support and promote other improvisers of colour in the scene. I’m always so delighted to watch her in Derek’s MoJo – she and Jodyanne have such palpable chemistry, and are two of the most playful, naturally funny improvisers I’ve ever watched (Boom: sneak bonus improviser mention!). Even though Monica always bounds on stage like she’s just necked 25 red bulls, she still manages to be super supportive, and grounded in emotional truth. She’s also one of my absolute favourite people to watch host a night; she has such fantastic stage presence, and always makes the audience feel at home and ready to party. Just an absolute goddess of performance.
Roderick is SO FUCKING GOOD AT IMPROV, FUCK. And also, a classic example of the kind of improv I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do. I saw Roderick perform with Somewhat Theatre at a Thursday Night Lights in July, and he did an absolutely incredible performance, mostly centered around him talking about making “scruts”. His deadpan delivery is just delicious – he can take the strangest suggestion or idea and turn it into something incredibly real and emotional. He makes me want to lock myself in a library and read ten thousand books so I can get to his level of intelligence and wit. He makes big, bold strokes with absolutely no fear, and plays weird and wacky characters with such depth. I tend to play with a very thin layer of character, so I always love watching people who can play someone completely different with such ease!
Is Vicky… the most powerful woman in the world? Probably. Would I die for her? ABSO FUCKIN LUTELY. I’ve been lucky enough to play with Vicky when she’s guested with Acaprov; hello, powerhouse vocals, storytelling genius, and expert comedic chops. I was also one of the blessed people who got to be directed by Vicky in 27 plays later – as a director she’s insightful, razor sharp, and really got to the heart of the text (ew, talking about text in an improv article? I’m sorry!). Vicky is another incredibly intelligent human – watching her perform makes me want to take her brain out of her skull to examine what exactly is going on in there, because I have no idea how one person can have so many cracking ideas. I also got to see Hero’s Journey (directed by Vicky) several times in its’ Nursery Originals run, and the show was pretty much Vicky’s personality writ large upon the stage; nerdy, funny, heartfelt, clever, just a stunning production. When I grow up, I want to be like Vicky.
BONUS MENTION: I have benefited so much from the support and love of the improv community – y’all are FREAKS and I love you. But in particular, I need to say thank you to Hoopla, The Nursery, and The Free Association, for teaching me how to be slightly less of a dickhead on stage, but also for the generous bursaries and financial help that they make available for people like me who might not be able to afford to take improv classes otherwise. So everyone who keeps things running at these institutions and shuffles budgets around to make bursaries possible, you’re ALL inspirational, and I (and many other people) wouldn’t be doing improv if it wasn’t for you.
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