This month is a very exciting one as we are getting to know all about the brand new Improv Social media website The Improv Place. It is a website community where professional improvisers share their joy for the craft and the comedy form. Next week we really delve into what the website can offer improvisers but today we are going to get to know the founders of the site that little but better. Katy Schutte and Chris Mead are well know improvisers on the UK improv scene and between them they have really impressive improv CVs as well as performed all around the world. So this week we discuss how they met each other, their improv journeys and the virtual world!
Hello Katy and Chris tell us about how you both met?
CHRIS: I was in a musical troupe called Music Box. It was our first ever gig and I was petrified of singing in front of people. In the end, I wimped out and hosted the show instead. Katy was drafted in as a last minute replacement and proceeded to blow everyone away. During the show she made a Doctor Who reference “Bowties are cool” and I thought “I have to talk to her”. It turns out she doesn’t even like Doctor Who that much but IT WAS TOO LATE and we were friends.
KATY: My first memory of Chris is at the Edinburgh Fringe. I was doing a show called Guest Who with The Maydays and he was an intern for Baby Wants Candy. I went through him to borrow Tim Sniffen as a guest for our show. Both of these people are and were delightful.
Also, I really liked the Matt Smith Doctor Who, just a lot of the others are… not for me.
CHRIS: You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Sylvester McCoy play the spoons.
How did you both get into improv?
CHRIS: I saw Baby Wants Candy for 30 days straight at Edinburgh Fringe at the turn of the millennium and immediately didn’t want to do any other sort of theatre ever again.
KATY: Oddly kind of the same as Chris, but maybe a year earlier. I watched BWC throughout the 1999 Ed Fringe. Five years later (after finishing a Degree in drama and encountering different sorts of improv), I joined the Maydays and Rachel Blackman and I trained at Second City Chicago.
You have done a lot of different shows and groups together tell us about them?
KATY: Gosh. Let’s see what I remember… Music Box, although I don’t think Chris and I crossed over much there. We trained together with Tim Sniffen in London’s first Harold team 8 Bit which I ended up coaching when Tim moved away. Then I directed Chris in Silly String Theory, started coaching – then joined – Project2. Years later, I convinced Chris to join The Maydays. There have been lots of short-lived side projects along the way and years of our comedy show Geekeasy with guest sketch, stand-up and other acts plus one-off improv themed specials.
CHRIS: We once did an improvised court case show together where I was a woodland animal or something. The details escape me.
What have been some of your favourite shows together?
CHRIS: I remember this one show where we were just a queue of people. We played everyone in that queue for 45 minutes, running about the stage to denote different positions. Afterwards Susan Messing, who was randomly in Nottingham at the time, came up to us and said “I don’t give a shit about Sci-fi, but I could watch that for hours”. That was a career defining moment for me.
KATY: That was cool. Susan and I had a meet cute after that show.
CHRIS: Katy spilled orange juice all over her and then they agreed to meet on the Empire State building on New Year’s Eve.
Why do you like working together?
CHRIS: We are such different people. That’s what I like. We approach the world in different ways, have different opinions on loads of things, different coping mechanisms, different energies. But at the heart of it all is a mutual love and respect that makes it work. Basically Katy is the most loyal, nurturing friend – she makes me better at everything – at the art and at life in general. But I also, if we were born in the middle-ages, I’d be trying to burn her at the stake, you know?
KATY: I really appreciate Chris’s positivity, I feel like it’s real and vulnerable and awesome. He’s a fan of almost everything and I’m a cynic, so it’s a lovely balance. We both worry, but I think we worry about very different things, so we can help one another through the tough stuff.
CHRIS: Oh yeah. Katy has helped me out of MANY an existential crisis.
What has been the most challenging show you have done together?
CHRIS: We did a show in Saudi Arabia where we couldn’t touch each other and we had to perform outside in a vast amphitheater in the desert. The audience was free to come and go as they pleased. On top of that there was a beautiful laser art project being projected onto a huge tower behind us that had nothing to do with the show and was a bit distracting.
KATY: Little did we know how useful that distancing training would be…
We have to talk about your innovative approach to improv as well as you have done some really interesting things with tech such as using VR! Tell us about a few of your favourites.
KATY: It was really cool to work with a different kind of musical score through Fred Deakin in Project2. He doesn’t use a keyboard, but cool sci-fi looking and sounding loops and buttons. We were finalists in the Theatre and Technology Awards 2019 because of our innovative use of VR!
How do you rehearse for improv shows that have so much tech involved?
CHRIS: In 13 Cycles we were developing the technology as we were developing the show. It was literally being built for us as we rehearsed. So the answer to you question is – we didn’t have all the tech working properly until opening night. So we improvised.
KATY: It’s really cool working on the bleeding edge of technology, but it means that you have to take and leave tools according to what’s possible in the time frame. By the end of our run we had some really, really cool stuff available to us that we’d never seen anywhere else. Erin McGathy stepped into direct the improv and Chris and I worked with our design team to discover how to make scenes with abstract 3D projection, movable set objects and soundtracking.
Tell us about some unusual suggestions that you have had?
KATY: It’s science fiction, so we look for unusual suggestions! We like to put two suggestions together to create something truly original… Chris talks about a show below that came from something like ‘wasteland’ and ‘the last comic book store’.
What have been some of your specifically favourite scenes you have created so far in a show and why?
CHRIS: For me it was a couple of shows at IMPRO Amsterdam – one as Project2 and one as The Maydays. In the P2 show we played friends who had continued to run a comic book store during a zombie apocalypse. At the end of the show, Katy’s character walked out on mine and I remember losing it – just screaming at her for abandoning me. It was such a silly set-up but the emotion I felt at the end was so real to me. Then she came back and we died back to back shotgunning zombie customers. Catharsis. In The Maydays show, I played a young woman who had been abandoned by her family to a rich older man. He had a pet dragon played by Katy. My character was beaten down throughout the show but tried to maintain a positive outlook – “A smile is a friend. A friend that lives on your face”. Finally, my character got to rise up, consume the dragon, be reborn in scale and fire and rip the old man limb from limb. So that was fun too.
What other improv groups are you a fan of and why?
KATY: I really love Dasariski. They play really funny, down-to-earth brilliantly acted scenes with great stories. They are hugely supportive of one another and I am transported.
CHRIS: Another fan of Dasariski. I also love PGraph, Austentatious, Baby Wants Candy, Anananas & Pampamplemousse, Patti & Joe, Dummy, Murder of Crows, Doris Likes Everything, Decibel, Anxiety Club … oh I don’t want to stop but I wi…
What advice would you give for people thinking about starting an improv troupe?
CHRIS: Mutual respect and friendship will get you farther than raw talent.
KATY: 80% of any job is admin. Know that going in.
What about extra advice for those wanting to focus on an improv style or format they are creating?
KATY: Are you really into it, or are you doing it because you think it will be popular? I’ve seen a billion Harry Potter improv shows (okay, maybe only five) but the stand-out ones, the best nerd shows are made by people who deeply care about the genre or work that inspires it. Sure – you can learn about something, but it’s not the same and audiences see the difference.
CHRIS: Be a fan. Get geeky. Drill into every aspect of the style. Watch scripted versions. Form a book club. Discuss it. Make mistakes. Don’t be afraid to fail. Put something on stage you’ve never seen before. Don’t be precious. Don’t be wedded to any aspect of the production. Be open to new ideas. You don’t owe the past anything. Make improv that reflects who you are.
Who would be your dream guest to appear at one of your shows and why?
KATY: I’m always delighted to play with talented improvisers and I’ve probably played with everyone on my ‘dream’ list at this point. I am excited to be inspired by someone new.
CHRIS: Neil Gaiman as a monologist.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given about improv and why?
KATY: Don’t take it too seriously.
CHRIS: Feel something for your scene partner.
If people want to find out more about you where can they find you on social media?
@katyschutte on Insta