Alex and I have created a new show: Sex, Lies & Improvisation, an improvised comedy about lying together. We’re touring it this autumn but we can’t do that without a network of awesome improvisers who run great events in their improv communities. I want to celebrate those people with this blog series.
Ladies and gentlemen, these are…The Improv Community Heroes!
Hero Fact File
Name: Tom Young
Location of Hero-ing: Leicester and Northampton
Troupe: The Same Faces
Rachel: How did you get into improvisation?
Tom: I was in America in 2004, and discovered “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” for the first time, and became immediately obsessed. We were at Disney World, yet I’d spend every evening insisting we get home by 8pm so I could watch it. I went to uni determined to join/start an improv society. Join I did, and now, 11 years later, I’m still going.
Rachel: What do you love about improvisation?
Tom: The community. Stand-up is very lonely, because it all rests on you, but with improv, I can share the stage with other people, and we can create magic together.
Rachel: Alex has been to every British Improv Project since its inception. We both love the BIP community and the opportunity to explore the art form. And it’s all thanks to you and Geoff Monk who run it. What drives you to do good things for the improv community?
Tom: The fact that it’s so often disrespected, despite being amazing. I want to get it recognised for the skill, commitment and talent it takes, and show off its limitless potential.
I only did short-form for the first eight years of my improv career (and happily so), and existed in quite an isolated community in Leicester. When we started meeting more people from around the country at BIP, I started to get excited about everything else we could also be doing. As a consequence, I’ve submitted six shows to the 2020 Leicester Comedy Festival, only two of which are the same format. I’m very much in a window of expansion, and am using my “improv empire” to try new things!
Rachel: What advice can you share about running a large improv troupe like The Same Faces?
Tom: I’m a big believer in the “benevolent dictatorship” approach to group management. I’ve been in groups before that were run by committee/the whole group. They don’t exist any more.
Build a team around a reliable core of people, find your voice as a group, and when you’re ready, add in the next project/development. Establish expectations from the off. Let your group know what they can expect in terms of approach to gigs, how and when they’ll get stage time, what that requires, and what you need from them. Keep communicating. Don’t make decisions behind each other’s backs.
Do the basics flawlessly. Listen to each other, agree and build. Make an impact if you enter the scene, and make strong choices, without blocking others. That way you’ve given yourself a foundational safety net over which to try the fancy stuff, and both you and the audience will feel safer as you’re doing it.
Rachel: What does an improv community need to thrive?
Tom: I think four things – vision, focus, talent and marketing skills.
Vision: In my opinion, you need one person with the vision to steer the ship, and decide what direction you’re going in, otherwise nothing gets done.
Focus: Don’t try and do everything all at once. Build slowly. Create a bulletproof product, and then use that as your foundation.
Talent: If you’re charging for shows, you’ve got to be good. You just have to be. Aside from your ticket price, your audience have paid for a babysitter, petrol, parking and drinks, and are then sat watching you, when they could’ve been at home watching TV. Respect their effort to come and see you. Be *at least* as good as whatever was on TV.
Marketing Skills: You’ll need this like you wouldn’t believe. You have to find what marketing approach works for you and your area. Improv is a difficult sell in this country. Cultivating your audience is just as important as cultivating your performer/workshop communities, and harder, because they’re not “in the cult”. They’re happy to see you once, enjoy it immensely, and yet still never come back.
Rachel: What are the best things about your improv community?
Tom: That we all get on and respect each other.
Rachel: What advice or inspiration have you taken from other improv communities?
Tom: Don’t be afraid to try things.
Rachel: What’s challenging about being an improv community hero?
Tom: The supply-and-demand issue with the general public can make you feel like Sisyphus. That’s why I’m so insistent on creating top quality shows, so that the audience who *do* come turn into evangelists for us. If you act unprofessionally, you’ll be treated unprofessionally.
Respect every audience that shows up and play to the best of your ability – regardless of whether there’s 5 people or 500.
Rachel: What have you learned about people and life in general from being an improv community hero?
Tom: Talent, passion, enthusiasm and kindness can be found in abundance, especially if that’s what you put out into the world. They attract like for like, so be the community you want to build.