This week we are heading the Vault festival in London for something special, IMOGENÉ is coming and she is bringing along her Improvised Pop Concert. The Show runs between the 26th-28th at the Crypt, on Leake Street. I caught up with Director Imogen Palmer to find out all about it.
IMOGENÉ: The Improvised Pop Concert
Date: 26th – 28th February
Location: Crypt, The Vaults, Leake Street, SE1 7NN
Price: from £11
Ticket Link: click here for tickets
Hello Imogen tell us all about who you all are and three unknown facts about yourself!
Hello! My name is Imogen and I am the Artistic Director of The Delight Collective and the Theatre School Manager for The Bristol Improv Theatre.
Brunch is my favourite meal and if I could I would have brunch foods for every meal.
I have a love of glitter which started young. People in the playground knew me as ‘the glitter girl’ and would approach me to have glitter artfully applied to their face.
I was once retweeted by Ru Paul, whilst dressed as drag queen her for a Music Legend’s party.
How did the show come about?
IMOGENÉ was born out of my desire to say something through theatre. I’ve been training in and performing improvised theatre and comedy for 9 years and I love the freedom and confidence it gave me in performance but craved finding a way to make people laugh whilst also getting them thinking about things.
It began as a solo improv experiment which I did at a couple of scratch nights. When I re-discovered clowning through Deanna Fleysher’s ‘Naked Comedy Lab’ I realised I wanted to find a way to use clown and this diva character that had been living in me for a long time. The musical element came from collaborating with the incredibly talented and generous Jack Drewry who shared with me the world of Ableton Software and made most of the backing tracks for the show.
The show is a real childhood dream come true…getting to dress up like a drag queen, sing songs and have multiple costume changes.
How did you get into improv?
I joined the University of Bristol’s student improv society half-way through my first year of uni and was invited to join Only Humour (now Degrees of Error) a year later as their first female member. I am grateful for the years I spent with both these troupes, performing on a weekly basis and the annual pilgrimage to the Edinburgh Fringe. What I loved about improv was the freedom it gave the performers to rewrite heteronormative narratives. For example, when we created an improvised film noir genre show, the first year involved myself and my fellow female cast member Caitlin playing a lot of femme fetales, victims and wives. We spoke with the male members of cast and decided to expand the vision of the show so we hit the same tropes of the genre but with us being empowered to play detectives and editors and the guys playing homme fatales. It expanded all of our ranges and made the show way for fun for us and for audiences.
Tell us a little bit about the shows that are happening this week?
IMOGENÉ: the improvised pop concert returned to The Bristol Improv Theatre on Thursday 20th February and then this week it is having its London debut at VAULT Festival on the 26th – 28th February. It is a queer, feminist, clown comedy show which mixes wild physical comedy with monogoues about gender identity, feminism, sexuality and consent and improvising songs in response to audience suggestions.
Your show covers some really serious issues such as gender identity rape culture and consent – how do you intertwine those into the theme of the pop concert show?
My character IMOGENÉ is a diva who loves to talk and use her platform as an internationally best selling artist to bring important issues to the table, like her friends Beyoncé, Kesha and Taylor Swift (and so many more) have done so before her.
I had some ideas of what the character was going to talk about in the monologues and used improvisation and clown to explore and develop these during scratch performances. I watched videos back and kept what worked and let go of what didn’t. Due to the sensitive nature of the topics I wanted to explore using this show, I wanted to devise them and keep the songs and interaction improvised. I believe this helps add to the journey of the show whilst maintaining the excitement of improvised performance.
What have been some of your favourite improvised albums to come out of the show so far?
Gosh- I wish I wrote them all down afterwards.
Some memorable songs include a ‘Run the world’ inspired feminist anthem at a Bristol Pride gig where I had 100 people singing the (true) story of a woman who had been harassed by a married male colleague at work with the lyrics ‘Don’t ask for these/ Don’t send me that/ You have a wife/ YOU HAVE A WIFE!’ complete with fierce dance moves.
What pop stars do you find have inspired this show?
So many that I can’t go into detail about them all…
Beyoncé for being an unapologetic diva and boss, Janelle Monae is a style and queer icon. I did a call out on social media for videos of divas of any gender and watched a bunch of things from Prince to Whitney Houston. It’s always hard to know what has stuck in the performance but interestingly a friend told me I did a move on stage which reminded them of Prince!
Kesha, both her old school trashy pop phase and the album ‘Rainbow’ which has been hugely impactful on me: the whole album is a love song for survivors of rape and sexual assault whilst being funny and clever and emotionally intelligent. All my love is with her during this prolonged and traumatic courtroom battle with her abuser over her contract.
What three things are you looking forward to about performing in this show?
- The moments where the audience are singing with me a brand new song which has just been invented.
- Playing with my fellow performer/ musician Jack Orcozo Morrison who is a delight and a musical genius
- Having conversations with other artists and the audience about it afterwards to see what they take away and how it might be developed further.
It is the month of February! What is the best things about performing on stage? What do you love about it and why?
I love the intimate connection and interaction between audience and performers, particularly through improvisation and clown. There’s nothing like feeling like you’ve connected with and brought together a roomful of strangers, especially during a time when we mostly work and relax by watching screens!
It is a new decade – what would you like to see happen to improv in the next 10 years?
I am excited to see how this relatively young art form will grow, become more confident in taking risks and flourish. There is a tendency to recreate and rehash formats which have worked in the past (the Harold, Theatresports, Narrative genre shows etc.) which is all fine and dandy but the question on my lips is what next? How can we use this empowering art form in new and exciting directions.
The other big conversation is about how we practice physical and emotional boundaries and consent in an artform where the risk to break these is very high. Lucy Fennell is a director I really admire who I’ve worked with on the show Dirty Picnic Club- she has been doing intimacy training and the techniques she’s been learning which facilitate conversations around sensitive issues and boundaries could help transform this art form and make it safer, and easier to take bigger risks without hurting anyone in the process. The majority of improv companies I have experienced prefer to avoid these conversations because they are ‘awkward’ or they assume the consent and trust is already there which can have very traumatic outcomes if handled badly.
How do you warm up before a show?
For IMOGENÉ, I do a lot of stretching, rolling around on the floor and making weird sounds to warm up my voice…I do the plank to get the physical commitment and intensity level (still bloody hard work) and do this pre-show ritual Deanna Fleysher gave me which is practicing losing your balance on one leg- the feeling of falling is a great way to practice being comfortable in discomfort which is helpful for clown and vulnerable work.
What have been some of the best suggestions that you have been given in a show and why?
There’s a part in the show where I gently (I hope) ask a couple of audience members about sex to inspire a sexy song…I asked a woman if she had a nickname for her vagina and she beckoned me over to whisper in my ear. I asked if I could tell the room and she said yes- she said ‘sir’.
I loved how shyly she told me and how wonderful the nickname was! It inspired a great song…
If people want to find out more about you where can they follow you on social media?
And Finally in three words – Why should people come and see the show?
Experience a miracle.
(IMOGENÉ’s words not mine.)
QUICK FIRE ROUND
If you could have any three people (dead or alive) over for dinner – who would they be?
Beyoncé, Oscar Wilde and Kesha, to discuss using art to raise issues.
What’s the best piece advice you’ve received?
‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’- My mum gave me this when I was 18 and terrified about going to new things and meeting new people at Uni. My mum gives the best advice…
Do you have any pets?
I am a lodger and lodge alongside a wonderful, eccentric old cat called Csubba who enjoys basking in the sun, drooling and yowling at 5 am…
If you could be from any other decade (or era), which would it be??
I would love to have a holiday in a Jane Austen style social setting but only if I was rich enough to go to balls and swoon and and dance and things. I would then very much want to return so I can have the right to vote and work etc. etc.
If you had to have a tattoo to represent improv what would you have and why?
Images I associate with improv are tightropes, see saws, swings and roundabouts which would be hard to put into a tattoo…it might have to be a phrase like ‘Do the thing’.
What’s on your music playlists right now?
Taylor Swift – I loved her documentary
Who would play you in the movie of your life?
If it wasn’t me then I think Natalie Portman would do a good job at capturing my good looks, humour, warmth, intelligence and grace.
If you had one superpower, what would it be?
To turn plastic into a sustainable power source and help save the planet….