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: Hugh Clark
Location of Hero-ing: Cambridge
Troupe: Stealing The Show
Rachel: JSE Improv has started a lot of great improv community events in six months! Why do you do it?
Hugh: Everyone at JSE is incredibly privileged. We’ve come through systems that have given us a great improv education for very little money. I love this art form so much. It gives you transferable skills, it’s enjoyable to learn, all you need is another person, three square metres of space and you’ve got an improv rehearsal. We have the means, the motive and the opportunity. It would be criminal not to share this amazing thing with as many people as we can find.
Hugh: The level of education is exceptional, both in improv and in other things. Our proximity to London means you have many improvisers who are really trained. Tack on to that that you’re improvising with computer scientists who specialise in linguistics and editors from the Royal Society of Chemistry. It’s a heady mix.
Rachel: We met when you welcomed me to my first Uni of Sheffield improv workshop. In fact you’re still in my phone as Hugh Shrimps. Is going to The Shrimps how you got into improv?
Hugh: I took a year out to work before going to university. All my friends went to uni and I asked them “What can’t I miss out on in first year?” A good friend of mine joined The Shambles in York and told me “This. Is. For. You.” Got to Sheffield. Joined the The Shrimps week one. The rest is history.
Rachel: What do you love about improvisation?
Hugh: The process is the product. I’ve done a little theatre and stand-up, and for me it just doesn’t have that electricity that runs through you every second you are improvising. With scripted acts, in my experience, editing, directing, choreography, plotting and dialogue scripting are closed to the performer. Improv doesn’t limit you. You get to do it all, and at the speed of the show. It’s like riding a wave.
Rachel: What does an improv community need to thrive?
Hugh: We throw around a concept at JSE called the flywheel:
Improv relies on one resource: improvisers. In order to get Muggles into improv, you need to show them great improv. So you need great shows. That gives you people excited about improv. Those people need open, fun environments to give it a go. Once they’re hooked, you need to show them there is a set of skills you can learn so people who are excited can get education and improve . Now you’ve got great improvisers kicking around, they need troupe support to organise and hone their skills as a group to start putting out great performances. What do they need from there? They need shows where they can get stage time! This has the side benefit that those people will tell their friends about their show, and they’ll come along. And for every 10 audience members, someone might just say “I could do that, I wonder where I could give it a go?”
If you have all these components, the community grows. If you lose one of the elements, the scene remains but finds it hard to grow as its primary resource, improvisers, is strangled.
Rachel: What advice or inspiration have you taken from other improv communities?
Hugh: Seeing the Nottingham scene do their thing is amazing. We feel the resonance of their events and troupes all the way down here. I left Sheffield just as the scene was really blowing up, so I’m always looking at what’s going on up there just to see where I should be aiming. We made it to Belfast for the Belfast Improv Festival this year. The theatre and community they have set up there made my jaw hit the floor. I sat Paul Mone, of Belfast Improv Theatre, down and asked him straight out how you make this. He told me,“You’ve got to quit your job and just do it.” It still haunts me. I might have to take his advice one day.
Rachel: What’s challenging about being an improv community hero?
Hugh: It takes every spare second. I love it, I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t, but you’ve got to balance it.
Rachel: What have you learned about people and life in general from being an improv community hero?
Hugh: It’s all about working with the people around you. Connect, communicate and start projects. We are bigger than the sum of our parts. Both in life and in improv.
Rachel: Last one – tell us what JSE stands for.
Hugh: JSE stands for outstanding improv for everyone in the Cambridge area! What do the letters stand for? If you ever see one of us in person we’ll tell you, but the rule is it’s never written down!