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 musical based improv troupes such as Acaprov, MusicBox and Multiverse – Lisa Lynn
Hello There! Tell us who you are and three random facts about yourself!
I’m Lisa Lynn of Acaprov, Multiverse and MusicBox
1. I started doing improv shows with absolutely no improv training! (but a first class honours in Musical Theatre definitely helps, and I’ve trained with MonkeyToast, Hoopla, The Nursery and The Groundlings since!)
2. I’m also a fully qualified Drama Teacher, so when I’m not performing, I’m usually acting Head of Drama for some 1 woman department on maternity leave
3. I currently have no where to live, so if you hear of a cheap double room going in Islington, HOLLA!
How did you get into improv?
I saw SHOWSTOPPERS in Edinburgh 2015 and decided I wanted to try it; so googled improv that night, and found Multiverse were auditioning, the rest is history!
What inspired you to start improv?
Working as an actor in long runs, and seeing the chance to make a new show every night instead!
What troupes are you are a part of?
Acaprov, Multiverse, Musicbox and I regularly guest with The Inflatables and Alan Marriott at The Colour House
Tell us about the styles of improv you enjoy and why?
Naturalistic improv – because I’m an actor, and there’s no purer acting than simply reacting from a place of authenticity
Who are some Improvisers that you find inspiring and why?
Heather and Jules in Ten Thousand Million Love Stories – the simplistic natural truth they always share I could watch ad infinitum
TJ and Dave – they remind us that we are already so watchable, we can relax
Impromptu Shakespeare – because I’m a HUGE Shakespeare fan and love working in and listening to that language
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?
It’s harder to be a woman full stop. Toxic Masculinity is horrendous, I’m not saying men have it easy, but if someone is steam-rollering your scene with their ego, there are ways around it – whereas when someone uses a scene to kiss or grope you, that’s horrendous!
Off stage, I’ve produced many shows this year for Acaprov and off West End runs for Multiverse and MusicBox – sadly there is still an ‘old boys of Improv’ clique, with some women even asking me where the man is for them to speak to but for the most part it’s women running festivals and theatres now anyway, or feminist men, so most are incredibly welcoming.
Mansplaining is definitely a thing that needs to be stopped though, particularly in the rehearsal room and workshops; I’ve had whole meetings womansplaining what Mansplaining is to men, and why they need to stop it.
I am fiercely protective of my improv sisters. I’m just sad some horrendous men still go unreported. It’s the victims right to report it or not, and I respect that – but I’ve heard so many improv related stories that make my stomach turn and my blood boil! It’s my strong belief there should be a blacklist of improvisers that don’t respect boundaries and are therefore banned from jams etc
What are some of the best bits of advice you have been given about improv and why?
Lee Apsey’s ‘Dare to be lovely’ is a keeper: in Drama school we’re often ‘conflict of the scene’ focused, so daring to be lovely instead keeps it real. In a similar vain Justin Brett’s ‘don’t burn down the cheesefactory’ and Andrew Gentilli’s persistent drilling of ‘that’s what I love about you’ all help me to stay calm and focus on the relationship, as Jules Munn’s gave me the note once ‘do less’.
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?
God yes. Especially up top with the get.
Doing Alan Marriots Improvised Shakespeare Musical in Edinburgh when the men did the get for ‘an old fashioned job /trade’ we’d get cobblers, grave diggers, apothecary; when I asked we’d get ‘prostitute, wet nurse, milk maids’ luckily the cast had my back.
My remedy for that is to change the get to ask for exactly the kind of thing you want, for example, in Acaprov our get is ‘please shout out and everyday place where two lovely people might meet’; there’s also the trick of naming the gets you don’t want during the get itself.
I teach teenagers so I’m not scared to just shut someone down if they’re being disrespectful, but there’s art in doing it in a way where you don’t then create an ‘us and them’ seperation with your ‘told off’ audience. You can put it back on the attention seeking audience member to explain, for example why they think 9/11 is a hilarious setting for a comedy musical, or you can just smile and say ‘oh no sorry I asked for a GOOD location’ which is a little more pass-ag. A good get negates the need for any of this tbh.
In terms of sexist suggestions within shows themselves, I just choose not to work with sexists. MusicBox are like family, and I’m co-artistic director of both Multiverse and Acaprov so if someone’s coming with sexist (or any kind of prejudice) ideas, they’ll just get fired – as they’re not the kind of shows we want. I’ve also managed to surround myself with awesome women, and feminists of all genders in pretty much every group I’m in; so if someone makes a sexist call, the player feels confident to call that person out on it on stage (in character of course), safe in the knowledge all the other players have thier back. Addressing it live on stage might not be everyone’s choice, but it’s certainly mine, and it’s been known to get a ruddy gig cheer from the audience! Nothing changes if nothing changes, that’s why calling people out and reporting people is SO important.
What have been some of your favourite moments on stage?
Andre Gentilli singing a song lying on his front across 3 chairs as a whale!!!
My accidental sex scene with Rory, which taught me to keep sex scenes OFF stage (it was Romeo and Juliet, at least Jess Williams had the decency to throw a cloak over us)
The South End charity improvathon which I’m doing again this year.
And all the shows where you all walk off stage knowing you smashed it!
What have been some of the worst and why?
Working with people who steam-roller because their ego is telling them to be the best person on stage. It makes them the worst person on stage as they serve themselves, not the show, and don’t listen to anyone – making everyone else do ‘panic-prov’ and focus on fixing the narrative instead of the relationships, the irony being, if you strip it back to two people that care about each other, it works no matter how crazy the world they’re in gets.
For new improvisers, what would your key bit of advice be?
Listen. And if you don’t know what’s best to do, just copy exactly what the other person is doing and how they feel about it. That comes from Paul Foxcroft and Monkey toast. We can watch two idiots loving whatever task they’re doing, all day! Get in the same boat and see where the current takes you both
What are three things you want to focus on this season with your own improv?
1. ACE which Sabrina Luisi (Buffet Improv) has taught me – she’s such an improv Ninja, she always knows what the scene needs and selflessly delivers it; I want to be more like her!
2. Dance – I want to up level my improv dance game – so I’ll likely be going to Ali of Showstoppers for help
3. Acting. My ‘go to’ in Musicals is cheesy acting: I’ve done musicals and panto’s professionally for a decade nearly, so I do it well, particularly ingenue or panto princess; but the more I can relax into my realness the better, even if that’s under the shroud and accent of character – I want to bring what I bring to my TV and Theatre work (in particular Chekhov and Meisner) to my improvised scenes. That said, you really need to be comfortable being vulnerable for good acting to work, you can’t have one person open up and the scene partner just be looking to pull faces and make puns, so it takes regular good acting in rehearsals from the full cast, for that to then start appearing regularly in shows. Lee has some great exercises for this and Co-directs with me, so I’m excited for everyone including myself to get stuck in!
What is the future of improv?
Specialist improv reviewers.
More improv on TV.
More improv shows winning Olivier awards and even BAFTA’s and Oscars for completely improvised musicals, plays, TV episodes, and films.
A West End Theatre dedicated to the best of the worlds improv, and a Broadway one to boot!