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 improv teacher and an improviser that is part of many improv troupes including Twinprov, Plus Support and Improbotics – Sarah Davies
Hello There! Tell us who you are and three random facts about yourself!
Hi, I’m Sarah Davies, a Drama Lecturer/Playwright/Producer and many other theatre things that end in ‘er’! 3 random facts – I used to own a pet goat, I got electrocuted as a baby, and I’m in the 99th percentile for height for women in Britain!
How did you get into improv?
I went along to Improv Gym at The Quarterhouse Theatre in Kent, and from there was hooked, training initially at The Nursery, then doing all of the improv that I possibly could! A few years later and I’m co-running Improv Gym, and still doing all of the improv! Turns out that when I like a thing, I REALLY like it!
What inspired you to start improv?
I’ve always loved theatre, but more from a playwriting and directing background. I was having a conversation with a colleague about improv and they mentioned Improv Gym, so I just thought that I’d give it a go! I found that it tied in really well with some of my past training, but also that there was this whole world of new stuff to learn, and as I’m a massive nerd, that was hugely exciting!
What troupes are you are a part of?
Some would say possibly too many, I would say maybe room for one more…..
Gym Pass (the teacher’s troupe for Improv Gym).
Tell us about the styles of improv you enjoy and why?
I really like the silly, playful and gamey styles – that’s why I enjoy City Impro so much, and previously guesting with short form troupes like The Oxford Imps and Absolute Improv; I think its another muscle to exercise! I also love the experimental work that we’re doing in Improbotics, and organic, naturalistic and connected longform, as well as intense twoprov! On reflection, all of it!
Who are some Improvisers that you find inspiring and why?
Oh SOOOO many people; everyone I train, perform or rehearse with inspires me in some way!
My Twinprov partner Julie Flower is an exceptional scene partner and we have a wonderful connection, and I’m always delighted by Jason Delplanque and Paul Little (who I run Improv Gym and Plus Support with respectively) and who are really inventive, playful and supportive on stage.
I’m a huge fan of The Maydays ,and adore their intelligent and organic teaching style in particular, and was blown away by Colleen Doyle at EIIF! I also love Will Luera of Big Bang Improv, who’s been so supportive in encouraging me to teach his material to my Acting students and in inviting me to perform with him. I’m also inspired by all of the wonderful generous people that I perform with in those many different troupes!
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 think that everyone’s experiences in this are valid and I respect that. I’m going to make a huge leap here and say that we still live in a pretty patriarchal society, so of course this can influence even (hopefully) more inclusive spaces like improv.
What are some of the best bits of advice you have been given about improv and why?
I trot this one out an awful lot, particularly in my teaching, but it’s because it really does hold true to me; this via Chris Mead (who may have said it via someone else, so apologies in advance for any misquoting!) that doing improv is like being a toddler running down a hill too quickly; its that feeling of excitement just before you might fall over! I do a lot of acting ‘risk taking’ work with my students in my day job, and this is such a helpful analogy! Also, I think that I’m in improv because my inner child is very near the surface (?!) and I love the feeling of joy and spontaneity.
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?
Luckily that hasn’t been my experience, but I’m sure that it happens! It’s important to remember even in the heat of the moment that we have agency and don’t have to take any and all suggestions (yep, even ‘pineapple’ and ‘spatula’).
What have been some of your favourite moments on stage?
I had the best time EVER guesting with Absolute Improv at Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year; they were the most hilarious, generous and slick troupe – all of those shows were my favourites! I also LOVE improvising with robots, and will always remember the surreally amazing feeling of stepping out on to the gigantic stage at Mount Olymprov to perform with Big Bang Improv a few years ago!
What have been some of the worst and why?
Luckily not many, but weirdly, as a very tall person, I have sometimes found that in shows or jams people seem to think it’s funny to pick me up?! Unfortunately I have a VERY dodgy back, so it’s really not!
For new improvisers, what would your key bit of advice be?
Don’t be afraid of looking silly. We all do, and there’s magic in it.
What are three things you want to focus on this season with your own improv?
– Physicality – I’m a wordy person with a creaky back, but I’m keen to develop my object work and the ways in which I can express things non verbally.
– Experimentation – I love pushing boundaries and ideas, and I’ve recently set up a site specific immersive theatre company Loosely Woven Theatre, so am keen to explore how improv can feed in to our work.
– Listening – my brain runs nineteen to the dozen, and sometimes I need to just take a pause and remember to really listen!
What is the future of improv?
Wow, that’s a big and interesting question! I have no idea, but I’d like it to be something that is continually evolving, and is becoming more inclusive and diverse, and therefore hard to categorise!