Welcome to 2021 and all this month we are celebrating acts, websites, content, musicians and everything in between that you should be looking out for this year! Today we talk to an improv that is Liverpool’s first all-womxn improv comedy team Boss Bird Improv. They formed in 2020 and this year are ready to hit the stage! I caught up with the team to find out more!
Hello Boss Birds Improv tell us all about your improv troupe?
Emma: Boss Birds is Liverpool’s first (and currently only) all women improv team. Current cast are: Emma Bird; Kat Cooke; Becky Webb; Ange Langley; Andri Panayi; Jen Kenny and Hannah McGowan
Angela: Bold, Brilliant and Beautiful women brought together through a love of improv and a drive to support other women on their creative journeys.
Andri: Boss Birds is the first all womxn comedy improv troupe based in Liverpool.
Becky: Boss Birds are an all women improv group based mostly in the North West, but with one of us in Northamptonshire. One of the benefits of things going online!
How did your troupe come about?
Emma: I had been thinking about setting up another team for a while (this is the third team I’ve founded, and this year I also co-founded my fourth team, Moses & Bird, a duo team with Stuart Moses). So back in Jan 2020 I thought about all the people I’d love to play improv with in Liverpool and all of them happened to be women. So then I realised – I would LOVE to play in an all women team!
I gathered a few women together including Becky (who also performs with Casino Improv) and Kat (who also performs with Wretched Hive) and we started rehearsing. We had such a good laugh. Then, having set up our first gig, it landed on the last weekend before lockdown, so on the night of the gig we asked Ange and Andri (who also perform with Broken Chair Improv) if they could stand in for a couple of Boss Birds who couldn’t make it (due to the pandemic). They jumped in, and of course, because we knew each other anyway, the chemistry was there straight away. During lockdown we have been rehearsing on Zoom, and we asked Ange and Andri to join Boss Birds permanently. Since then Jen (based in Northampton and who also performs with The Same Faces and Improvoke) and Hannah (who performs with Extreme Improv and Improv Chatanooga) joined us. So we have an awesome crew now!
Andri: Emma Bird started the troupe at the beginning of 2020. At a gig in early March, they asked Ange and I to jump in. It was really an honour to be asked because Emma was my teacher and I really look up to her. The gig was so much fun and there was definitely a really sense of ease and chemistry between us considering we had just jumped in!
Becky: Emma reached out to a few of us at the start of the year to get something going. Our first gig was pretty much just before lockdown. We decided it was worth keeping going, and really happy we did as we are starting to really find our style, and grow as a team (also literally!)
How did you all get into improv?
Emma:My first improv teachers were The Maydays in 2007 and since then I’ve learnt from a huge range of teachers from all over, but particularly influential have been teachers from iO and Second City. My background is a professional actor and director, so I was looking to keep fresh and creative and found improv. Never looked back. I have been teaching improv full time at my improv company Liverpool Comedy Improv since 2015.
Jen : I got into improv on my birthday by attending what was billed as a ‘comedy workshop’ at my friends’ cafe . one session with Tom Young and I was hooked!
Angela: Me: For my mental health. Wanted to get right out of my comfort zone. Engage my creative brain.
Andri: I’m coming up to my second improv anniversary. I had not long moved back to the UK and I was feeling a bit stuck in a rut and lacked a bit of confidence and I think I needed something at that precise moment to make me feel a bit braver. I tend to gravitate towards comedy and I’d always liked the idea of performing but had been too scared to actually do it. I came across Emma’s Liverpool Comedy Improv drop in and I thought I’d go to one class as a challenge to myself. I was terrified but I found myself going back again and again.
Becky: I came to improv through clowning. After studying in Bristol I became part of my first group, but then shortly after moved back to Liverpool. I joined another group there and thus began my journey.
What makes you unique to other improv acts out there?
Emma:We’re women, we’re Northern and we are diverse in age and life experience.
Jen: Firstly we are an all female troupe which I am glad to see isn’t so unusual anymore. However, in the UK, I would say there are still only a few groups like us. Within Boss Birds, I think that we have a diverse range of ages and personalities. There is a massive amount of mutual respect and we have a strong focus on relationship building rather than just chasing the quick laughs.
Andri: I think being an all womxn act already makes us quite unusual. I’ve found that the scenes we do and the stories that we build onstage tend to have a very different dynamic and it’s quite refreshing. We did a jam with the Adamant Eves this year (another brilliant all womxn troupe) and we touched on topics like hair removal and getting your first bra, which you don’t often see in improv unless that itself is the butt of the joke. I also really believe that most womxn have uniquely funny stories that have been overlooked for a long time so having the chance to perform with such talented funny womxn is a really treat.
Becky: Being an all women team makes us unique in that respect in Liverpool, but really pleased it doesn’t make us unique anywhere else! Love seeing all the women teams out there.
What are your plans improv wise for 2021?
Emma:Keep developing our voice, our style, our friendships and connections with each other and with improvisers (particularly womxn improvisers) across the world. Keep playing online and in the physical space (when it’s safe to do so). Keep amplifying the visibility and voices of womxn improvisers from across the world, particularly via our online collaborations and worldwide womxn only jams.
Angela: Regular gigs – grow our confidence in a ‘Boss Birds’ format. Inspire other womxn across the globe to express their creativity through Improv
Andri: I want to be on a real stage! But that aside, we’re planning to continue running our Womxn of Improv Worldwide jams which have been such a great chance to play with other womxn around the globe.
Becky: Keep developing and connecting and embrace what is a great online community. I am obviously keeping hopeful to do some in person improv at some point!!
What other improv acts are you looking forward to seeing perform online or in person this year?
Emma:I am keeping my eyes open all the time to what’s happening, who’s doing what across the world. I particularly love watching Michelle Gilliam (Improv MKE, USA), the Black Improv Alliance (Florida, USA) and the Adamant Eves (Bangalore) perform.
Jen : I am a massive fan of The Adamant Eves, Stephanie Rae and the Black Improv Alliance, Monica Gaga
Angela: Boss Birds!!! In the same room!!! Rehearsing!!! The Nursery, The Maydays, basically every and any troupe. I can’t wait for the first improv festival – to be able to meet people in person.
Andri: I’m excited about Wretched Hive Comedy’s game show and everything I’ve seen the Black Improv Alliance do has been brilliant so I’m excited to see what they do next. I’d watch anyone in person this year because I’m dying to leave the house!
Becky: So many. The great thing about online stuff is that there is now access to improv you wouldn’t have been able to see before all this. I really love Citylamps Playback Theatre (based in Bangalore). They have monthly shows and workshops, and the space they create is amazing. Even though it is on zoom you feel connected to others in a creative space. Rapid Fire in Canada are also doing live shows with a perspex shield around the stage. It’s been interesting to see how shows can potentially happen going forward.
What styles do you hope to see more of in improv this year?
Emma:I love watching a range of stuff. But I’m intrigued to see how online improv continues to develop.
Jen :I want to see more experimentations in musical improv online of course and more playful ways to use the online tools we have at our disposal .
Angela: I would be interested to see how ‘Zoomprov’ has influenced live improv. Perhaps more goofiness, surreal improv as it might just be what the audience needs after 2020
Andri: Anything that makes me laugh! We all need it
Becky: Where groups are super happy to be performing with each other and finding the joy in it all. Love it when you get to see that.
Do you have any improv new years resolutions? If so what are they?
Emma:Don’t get burnt out; take care of myself; stay connected; keep communicating; keep developing our style(s); keep spreading the joys of improv widely.
Jen: Do all the improv , keep making connections and appreciate how lucky I am to get to do this.
Angela: Just jump in. Zoomprov has expanded everyone’s horizons and the exposure to global teams. It has improved my confidence to “just say yes!!”
Andri: Yes! I want to make stronger character choices and trust my gut more in scenes. I’d also like to do a show and then not wake up in the night thinking about what I should have done!
Becky: Be specific!! Just name something will you!!
Are you on social media? If so how can people find out more about your troupe?
We’re on Facebook: @BossBirdsImprov; and Instagram boss_birds_improv
Three words why Boss Birds Improv are going to rock 2021?
Emma:Determined; Joyful; Connected.
Angela: Inspirational, innovate, inclusive.
Andri: Funny, heartfelt, kick-ass
QUICK FIRE ROUND
What is the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?
Jen: Japanese blowfish – Fugu . I survived
Becky: Sea snails
Andri: Sea snails
If you could trade lives with anyone for a day who would it be and why?
Emma:I wouldn’t trade; I’m kinda trying to be happy in my own skin.
Becky: Boris Johnson. I’d undo some shit. Then resign.
Andri: As someone with no upper body strength, I think I’d like to be the Rock for a day just to see what it’s like to able to move things without having to think. And I reckon he probably has a really nice house.
If you could paint anything what would you paint?
Emma:A sunset on the bank of the River Mersey.
Jen: Mount Fuji
Becky: After this year, the town red!!
Andri: The Galapagos Islands. If someone would pay me to go and paint it, that would be nice
What is the most delightful word you can think of?
Jen: genki – It roughly means having energy, pep, or health
Emma:At Last, Etta James
Jen: Summer Babe by Pavement
Becky:I guess Happy Birthday. It’s usually sung in conjunction with cake.
Andri: When Doves Cry by Prince
Who is your comedy hero and why?
Jen: Gosh so many … I think French and Saunders really, made their mark on the comedy world- especially when I was growing up . The older I get, the more I appreciate them .
Becky: So many! To pick one, Lucille Ball. For being a powerhouse and shoving it to the patriarchy whilst also being brilliant at clown.
Andri: So hard! Probably Tina Fey just because everything she writes has a crazy amount of jokes per minute in it. However I’ve just watched Broad City and I think Ilana Jacobson may have just become my new ones because they are the best example of why people loving each other is really funny
What is your favourite movie quote?
Jen: Once you’ve met someone you never really forget them (from Spirited Away)
Becky: I was surfing the Crimson Wave, I had to haul ass to the ladies.
Who is your favourite cartoon character and why?
Jen: Chihiro from Spirited Away because she is resilient and keeps searching.
Becky: Gromit. There is never a moment where you do not understand what he is feeling or thinking. Total clarity. The ultimate straight man (dog).
Andri: It’s a toss up between Tina and Gene Belcher because they are weirdly the most accurate depiction of kids I’ve ever seen