Welcome to a 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 Swipe Right – Robin Wiggs
These are in alphabetical order by first name, because the idea of ranking felt weird.
Aside from how funny she is, both verbally and physically, Cariad has a vulnerability on stage that can make your heart leap out of your chest. To me, that kind of emotional openness is where improv is at its best because it’s in those moments, when a word or a look shifts something inside you, that improv feels real and important. They’re the moments that make you want to reach out from the audience – it’s that same lean-forward impulse you have in films, but it’s more powerful because improv is alive and happening right in front of you, and those moments stay with you long after the lights have come up and everyone goes home. I remember coming out of Cariad’s twoprov with Paul Foxcroft and feeling as if my humanity had been topped up; a few months later, I’d go back for a refill.
Occasionally, you take a class that shifts the way you see the world around you. I had that experience with a Razowsky class that wasn’t like any improv I’d done up to that point; I still remember walking to work the next day and suddenly seeing scenes everywhere.
It was like seeing the code in the Matrix. Razowsky had put improv into the ‘real world’ for me, whereas before it had only existed in the classroom and on stage. That distinction is, of course, largely bullshit, but it takes a force to knock it down and, as a teacher, ‘Raz’ is as forceful and persuasive a presence as they come, with a clearly defined idea of what he wants in a lesson. He’s been improvising for decades and is, quite simply, a legend. I eagerly await the book he is writing. For now, here’s one of his annual twoprovs with Jules:
I’ve never actually seen Ed improvise on stage so this might sound like a weird pick, but he’s building something so cool at Dingbats in Horley, with all the drop-ins, labs, house teams and Dingslams, and he’s such a grounded teacher who gets through so much in a lesson. In short, Ed is a one-man empire, and he’s also really nice to talk to.
This is Dingbats: https://www.dingbatsimprov.com/
Jules Munns/Heather Urquhart
I’ve been taught by Jules more than any other teacher, and have always loved his ceaselessly experimental approach, especially the way it’s powered by an encouragement to perform from the heart; to make the kind of improv that works for you, and to remember to have fun along the way because, and I paraphrase, ‘no one’s getting rich from this’. There’s something very important about that in terms of becoming the kind of performer you want to be and I don’t think you can find it from drilling forms and games, however important they may be to the structure of shows, and whatever other useful lessons they may contain.
Heather says one of my favourite things about improv, which I keep in my head during jams: that no matter how much experience two people have before entering a scene, they each have exactly the same amount of experience of THAT scene. She also brings an on-a-dime theatricality to her teaching: I remember being in a pretty intense break-up scene, then spotting her out of the corner of my eye getting the rest of the class up midway through to fill the imaginary tables at the imaginary cafe where the imaginary break-up was taking place.
That was very cool. It happened on a Naturalism weekend which both of them were teaching; they’re a great double act in the classroom and, more obviously in their twoprov, Ten Thousand Million. The way they tease each other and switch characters with such versatility and apparent ease is terrific to watch, and the care with which they both treat the audience members’ often very personal stories – which inspire the show – I’ve always regarded as a high watermark for that sort of thing.
Once, I watched Katy play a bartender in a performance of Stephen Davidson’s gender-flipped Carmen at the Nursery. She was the most pitch perfect bartender you could imagine and I can’t think of a better way of describing how good she is, however unfair the relatively low word count might seem, so I’ll leave it at that.
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