Alex and I have created a new show: Sex, Lies & Improvisation, a dark 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: Emma Bird
Location of Hero-ing: Liverpool
Community events: Liverpool Comedy Improv, teaching a range of improv courses, including Monday night drop-in for all levels.
Rachel: How did you get into improvisation?
Emma: I am an actor and about 12 years ago, when living in Brighton, I came across The Maydays and started going to their drop-in class. Got hooked and went on to train further with them and with lots of amazing improvisers, e.g. Armando Diaz, Susan Messing, Jaime Moyer. All brilliant and help me keep my well filled up!
Rachel: How does improv compare to the other acting you do?
Emma: It is very freeing. There are no limits or boundaries to the imagination. Everything you need is there with you and your scene partners. This feels very different from acting with a script, which I’ve done all my working life, and love that too. But there are parameters to working with script, and there are other expectations too like a set, costumes, lights, sound etc. All these things bring complications to the process, whereas improv can be done with nothing except yourself and your scene partner.
Rachel: What do you love about improvising?
Emma: Flow state. Being incredibly present and in the moment. It is where I feel free to take creative risks, express my performance side and explore and discover incredible things in collaboration with others. I love laughing every time I teach and perform. I love the generosity of the improv mindset. I love following my creative impulses, knowing that my scene partners will run with it and vice versa. This makes for a very accepting space to create.
Rachel: What made you set up Liverpool Comedy Improv?
Emma: The Maydays were my model when I resettled back up here in Liverpool and set up Liverpool Comedy Improv. As well as being exceptional performers, they have exceptional teaching skills. Being kind, enthusiastic, full of praise, acceptance and positive affirmation are at the forefront of their mindset. They are encouragers to the Brighton improv community. That’s what I have tried to do too.
Rachel: What’s it like to establish your own improv school?
Emma: There are lots of challenges. Financial being the main one! But wellbeing is another. I’m a one-woman band so I do everything myself to create, promote and manage Liverpool Comedy Improv. This can be tiring, so I have to make sure I take care of myself too. Whatever is going on for me in my life, I still have to teach well, support and encourage everyone, and give generously in class, even if I’ve got things going on elsewhere. The show must go on!
Rachel: So why do you do it?
Emma: What drives me is the sheer reward of seeing people come to improv and slowly overcome fears, anxieties, depressions. Once people find improv they generally fly in exponential ways and it literally changes people’s lives. I see this all the time. So many people have come through my improv classes and gone on to fully develop their own creative urges, skills and talents. Improv is a catalyst for many people to create further and to overcome personal issues. That’s a heck of a drive!
Oh, and people make friends and social connections that are warm, generous, authentic and real. I see this all the time.
Rachel: What does an improv community need to thrive?
Emma: A really positive leader who instills the right environment for people to take creative risks. This means instilling the importance of non-judgmentalism, acceptance of all types of people, validating who they are and what they can give to others. It really is the stuff of life. The principle of kindness and positive affirmation. This has to come from the community leader, and it will trickle down.
Rachel: How can we engage more people in improv?
Emma: I have no idea. This is my perpetual struggle!
Rachel: What has improv taught you about life?
Emma: It’s important to value one’s own knowledge, skills and way of being. For those people who attend my classes and courses, improv matters greatly to them. Some have told me it has fundamentally changed their life and is one of the most important or enjoyable things they engage in on a weekly basis. So what you do and what you give to others may matter greatly to them and that is important to acknowledge and appreciate.