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 a couple of improvisers that launched a website last year that is changing to way that people use and interact with Improv in an online space. In 2021, the site is about to get even bigger so I caught up with Katy Schutte and Chris Mead to talk all about the Improv Place.
Hello Katy and Chris how did the idea for The Improv Place come about?
CHRIS: It had many inspirations. From my side – two events. Being told I was “everything that was wrong with improv” for expressing my views on a global improv Facebook group and having to create a digital community for campaigners as part of my day job. I began to imagine that there was a better way to do community than the main social media hubs. Somewhere with better safe-guarding, a diverse moderation team and no adverts, no spying, no hoarding of your personal data and interactions. Then it was just a matter if finding the right platform. I knew I wanted to do it in partnership with Katy and she definitely brought in the teaching platform element.
KATY: At the time of conception online improv seemed like an untapped market; how little we knew about what the future had in store! We were lucky in a way that we were already working hard on the platform before the pandemic hit. It also meant that we hadn’t planned it around a crisis and were looking at something with longevity.
Why did you choose the name The Improv Place?
CHRIS: It was originally going to be The Improv Space (as a small nod to our sci-fi roots) but that name was taken. The Improv Place was an easy jump and I had just cried my eyes out to the finale of The Good Place anyway so it seemed appropriate. There’s actually another Improv Place that started at almost exactly the same time in Washington DC but we chatted with each other and decided we could co-exist (as we’d both spent money setting up companies in our respective countries by then).
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.
What are your plans for the website 2021?
KATY: We listen hard to our community and provide a lot of spaces where people can chat, feedback and dream with us. We have enough members now to be able to add in monthly one-off classes as part of the deal which feels great. We are about pivoting and discovering what people need, but we’re definitely expanding our teaching, Masterclasses, community involvement and edging into jams and shows. We are always training and keeping an eye on diversity and inclusion.
CHRIS: It’s really exciting to see where we will be in a year. There’s so many opportunities.
Why do you think people should sign up to the Improv Place this year?
KATY: It’s a community for life, not just for the pandemic. It’s designed as a journey, not just a quick chat here and there (although you can use the community in that way too). Lots of our members have learned a great deal through safe, in depth conversations and inspired by the classes and courses. Most classes stop and the participants don’t have a way to continue the conversations, whereas we’ve built that into our model.
What styles do you hope to see more of in improv this year?
CHRIS: I want to do more overtly theatrical work and also really start to take online improv out of Zoom and into other platforms that aren’t intended principally for conference and corporate environments.
KATY: I’ve just finished teaching a part-live, part-online week-long intensive and I’m keen to get some of that groundbreaking work up on its feet. I’ve also just this morning come out of a really great workshop led by Extant on working with visually impaired artists and I am striving to put more of that type of inclusion into my shows and teaching from now on.
Do you have any new years resolutions? If so what are they?
KATY: Nah, I don’t go for that. I have a huge practice of habits and wellbeing though, so I’ll continue with those.
CHRIS: I want to continue to learn French. And I want to be a writer – actually write and not talk about writing.
Are you on social media? If so how can people find out more about your troupe?
KATY: I’m on Insta @katyschutte and I suggest you follow @hellyeahtheshow for upcoming online shows I’m involved in.
CHRIS: @mrchrismead on anything you’d care to follow me on.
Three words why people should sign up?
KATY: Community. Learning. Funtimes.
CHRIS: What. Katy. Said.
QUICK FIRE ROUND
What is the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?
KATY: I’ve travelled a lot and eaten some delightfully odd things; shark, puffin, bugs… However, I really enjoyed going to Dans Le Noir – the restaurant where you eat in the dark. The experience was super interesting and the food included alligator amongst other things. Ethically I’m not sure I’d be so experimental in the future…
CHRIS: I ate tarantula in Cambodia. The legs were fine but the abdomen made me feel a bit sick. It was the fact it tasted so chickeny.
If you could trade lives with anyone for a day who would it be and why?
CHRIS: I’d love to be in the head writer of Doctor Who for a day.
KATY: A witch who has a lovely time living in the woods by herself.
If you could paint anything what would you paint?
KATY: An abstract that gives everyone the emotional reaction they need to have at the time.
CHRIS: A kitten.
What is the most delightful word you can think of?
CHRIS: Mine is “Blood I Bled” by The Staves
Who is your comedy hero and why?
KATY: I’ve always loved Bill Bailey. He’s hilarious, carved out his own path, is an incredible and humble musician and seems like a lovely guy.
CHRIS: Currently Phoebe Waller-Bridge. She is such a talented writer and makes everything she’s involved with ten times better.
What is your favourite movie quote?
CHRIS: “You see this contact lens, Flint Lockwood? This contact lens represents you! And my eye represents my eye! [puts in contact lens] I’ve got my eye on you.”
Who is your favourite cartoon character and why?
CHRIS: The female hormone monster from Big Mouth. I think it’s Maya Rudolf’s defining role – and that’s a STRONG field already.