Are there any games that you don’t enjoy playing and why?
Oh, for sure! There’s a number of short-form games that make great workshop exercises, but have no place on stage (in my opinion). A game like “Here Comes Charlie, Now” – essentially a pimping exercise – is decent enough for encouraging an improviser to use character choices they wouldn’t make for themselves in a workshop. On stage, however, the best you can hope for is to meet expectations. Two improvisers discuss “Charlie” and his/her quirks, then a third improviser comes on stage and acts that out. OK, great… Now what?
The best short-form games allow scope for the unexpected, and avoid overtly formulaic patterns that never change.
Do you think Short form works better when the audience is more involved?
It can do, but I don’t think it’s essential. Certainly a game like Mannequins (commonly known as “Puppets”) or Sound FX, in which audience members are the key mechanic of the game are popular, but I think that’s because the audience *know* this can’t be scripted, because we’ve let “muggles” on stage and it’s still funny. It’s like a magician sawing an audience member in half – they can’t be in on it, so the magic must be real!
What are some of the best bits of advice you have been given about improv and why?
I don’t think I’ve ever really been given much advice about improv in general. I’ve obviously had specific notes, but they’re not especially useful to pass on.
If I could pass on any piece of advice though, it’d be this: “control everything you can that doesn’t interfere with the actual improv”, by which I mean: create a solid, professional product. Practice your hosting, don’t faff about between games, have a clear set list where everyone knows what they’re doing, and make it a slick production. That way, you’ve got a solid platform to stage your improv on, and it’ll give the audience confidence that you know what you’re doing.
What is the future of short form improv?
Tricky. I pitched a TV show recently (Armando, rather than short-form), and was told that they didn’t want anything that felt “old fashioned & hammy, or too like Whose Line Is It Anyway?” *rolls eyes* So we’re fighting an uphill battle.
I think it’ll remain popular as long as good people are doing it. The Comedy Store Players have been carrying the torch for decades, and since they’ve started to add young blood to their roster, I don’t see them going anywhere any time soon. And we’re not anticipating an imminent disappearance, either!
For new improvisers, what would your key bit of advice be?
Don’t expect to be brilliant from the off. Be humble, and understand that we all have to learn our craft. Dont expect to be getting on stage immediately – have humility and earn your place. Be kind, turn up, work hard, play well and be reliable.
What have been some of the most unique and different shows you have seen this year and why?
I’m a big fan of The Committee – they came to play the Leicester Improv Festival in October, and it’s such a fun show. Everyone is enjoying themselves, and that’s infectious to watch. Acaprov, too, are pretty damn unique, having clearly decided that a musical with no script wasn’t enough of a challenge – let’s also have no instruments!
Also, Between Us is a really unique show by Rachel Thorn and Alex Keen – it gets really heavy in places, and is unquestionably more dramatic than most improv shows.
Do you think advancements in modern technology are altering the way that we view and interact with improv both in a show sense and in an online sense?
The internet makes it easier to find your tribe, and people who want to see and do improv can find it like never before.
The main thing that will change is far bigger. I think, in the age of social media & digital communication, improv will become more and more important, as people will start to crave face to face interaction, but may not have the social skills to find it. If I ran the country (and I’ve been told repeatedly that I don’t), I’d make improv a compulsory part of the national curriculum. Imagine an entire generation who’d been taught to listen to each other and work together; how different would the country be!
What’s your most memorable character that you have created on stage?
I had a recurring character as “Retired Prince Philip” for a while, which basically involved all the different things the Duke was doing with his retirement, including going to theme parks, umpiring at Wimbledon, and developing an eBay habit. It was pretty daft, and fun to play.
More with Tom Next week…