If you are part of the improv scene around London then you may already know the name Rhiannon Jenkins as she is part of Acaprov, The Ol BIl, Eggplant Improv and even used to be part of the Improbotics. She also teaches some great courses including The Vocal Technique Course and Nursery on Death, Dying, and Bereavement for The Nursery. This week we get to know all about Rhiannon and how she got into improv.
Hello Rhiannon, tell us about yourself?
Hi there! I’m an actor, improviser, singer, and teacher, and I work for a start-up in the Death, Dying, and Bereavement Space and run a Death Cafe, as well as being Education Administrator for The Nursery. As you can tell from the laundry list of interests, I like to keep myself busy!
Tell us who you are and three random facts about yourself!
Three random facts about myself:
1) I’m missing a bit of my right thumb, as I had to get it cut off when I came back from South Africa (it got infected!)
2) I just re-started roller skating
3) My Mum is running for the Labour Party in our local elections! (WHAT A LEGEND)
How did you get into improv?
My first group was Acaprov: I didn’t have any exposure to improv before seeing the advert for one of their auditions on Bossy (I think?!). I went and auditioned for them, and the rest was history!
My memory for improv performances is pretty terrible; trying to remember improv scenes often feels like trying to remember a dream.Rhiannon
How long have you been improvising?
Good question. 3 years, I think?
What inspired you to start improv?
Well, auditioning for Acaprov! Once I started performing with them, I realised there was an entire performance world that I knew nothing about, so I started taking classes, and performing with other groups.
What were some of the first improv teams you were a part of?
After Acaprov, I joined The Ol’ Bill and Improbotics around the same time.
What are some of your earliest memories of your early improv performances?
My memory for improv performances is pretty terrible; trying to remember improv scenes often feels like trying to remember a dream. But I do remember one of our first Acaprov shows and playing Emma (Wessleus’) roommate in hell. She was there because she used too much Mayo, I think? I can’t remember why I was in hell, but that definitely feels like a fair decision.
Recently the improv scene has been very different – how have you adapted to doing shows online?
I felt very reluctant to get involved at first, but now I feel like I’m really in at the deep end. I’m working with people online all the time, and have made so many new, wonderful friends in the process.
What have been some of your favourite online shows to be a part of?
I mean, I’m biased, but obviously The Love Circle and Between the Lines were absolutely wonderful; those casts are really something special, and I have a very soft spot in my heart for all of them.I recently guested with Whatever Fate Decides, having my Tarot cards read by Neal, and that was so much fun! They do a great job of navigating emotional subjects with humour and love.
Find someone you admire and ask for a bit of adviceRhiannon
What was the most challenging thing you had to get used to whilst doing online shows?
No touching or eye contact! I am a very tactile person and the loss of skin to skin and eye to eye connection was brutal.
Can you still be as creative online as you can on stage when you perform in improv or a show?
I think so. It stretches different muscles, but as long as you’re engaged and curious, you’ll find things to make and do.
Tell us about some unusual suggestions that you have had when performing improv?
Ooooh. Again, I have real pandemic brain at the moment, but the dating profile suggestions for The Love Circle are almost always hilarious, and give us a LOT to work with.
What have been some of your specifically favourite scenes you have created so far in a show and why?
We did a Love Circle show a while ago where Val and Kareem from P-graph guested; Val and I played a couple looking for a third, and Josh played a slightly out of his depth man who said the wrong thing. We got to go on a massive feminist rant, and then went and had sex in the toilets of a cafe. Perfect stuff.
Tell us about the lessons and courses that you teach?
I teach a variety of things; I run a 6-week vocal technique for improvisers course, I teach around being sexy and intimate on stage, and am now doing some work around death in improv.
What are some of your favourite lessons to teach?
I really enjoy doing weird sh**, so I’m really looking forward to teaching my super-elective at the Nursery on Death, Dying, and Bereavement. The Vocal Technique Course is always very fulfilling, because I get to see a huge amount of progress in the group over 6 weeks, and often get to repair some of the damage done by horrible voice tutors in the past. Vocal tuition has a real nasty side sometimes, so I enjoy being able to get people back to feeling confident with their voice.
What is the most challenging topic to teach?
I teach a class on emotional recall, and that can be challenging in terms of looking after everyone in the room, particularly when people get into negative emotions. It’s a technique that relies on quite heavy embodiment, and can bring up some quite strong emotions.
What is the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you about improv?
Oh god, there’s so many to choose from. I think “if you’re not having fun, you’re the a******” from Susan Messing is probably the most enduring.
What other improv groups are you a fan of and why?
Ah! too many! I adore p-graph; their ability to reinvent what they do again and again, and their connection to each other as a team is SO profound. They floor me.
Who are some Improvisers that you find inspiring and why?
Again, there’s so many! Velvet Wells is such a powerhouse; he has the sexiest singing voice on the planet, he’s an incredibly generous performer, and his work on DEI is so vital.
Tell us about the styles of improv you enjoy and why?
Obviously I love musical improv, and I’m a big fan of dramatic improv styles.
What advice would you give for people thinking about starting an improv troupe?
Make sure you don’t work with dickheads; it’s important to find a tribe of people that you trust and feel supported by. Ask for help! Find someone you admire and ask for a bit of advice. Get an external coach if you can. Be clear with your aims from the outset. HAVE FUN!
What about extra advice for those wanting to focus on an improv style or format they are creating?
Do your research; has that format or style been done before?
That doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t do it too, but you want to have a think about what else you can add that’s different from the stuff that already exists. And if you’re working with source material, try to know it inside out – you don’t necessarily need to be able to drop quotes or deep cut references, but you need to know what the source material is really about, and what the tropes are that it relies on. And think about why you’re choosing that style or form. You should do stuff that really inspires you if you want it to be fun for people to watch. AND THINK ABOUT YOUR AUDIENCE. Why would someone want to watch you? Why should someone give up their time to see this show?
You have your hands in a lot of pies in improv so to speak! How do you manage time to do so much improv at once?
A diary! It amazes me sometimes how terrible improvisers can be with just writing down their commitments. I have a diary, and fit in as much as I can around my other commitments. That’s it.
What is the best advice you can give someone about managing their time with improv?
This is completely stolen from Katy Schutte: hell yes, or hell no! If you’re doing things you love, you won’t resent juggling things. If you hate what you’re doing, or don’t vibe with the people you’re working with, you won’t commit fully and balls will be dropped.
Do you ever get to give yourself a break from improv? If so, why is this important to do?
I haven’t for quite a while now, but I was on a break before the pandemic, touring with a scripted show.
Who would be your dream guest to appear at one of your shows and why?
Ooooh. I mean, she’s not an improviser per se but Imelda Staunton. I adore her, and she is joyous and hilarious.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given about improv and why?
Oh god, there’s so many to choose from. I think “if you’re not having fun, you’re the asshole” from Susan Messing is probably the most enduring.
If people want to find out more about you, where can they find you on social media?
@rhiannonjenkinsactor on facebook@rhiannonjenks93 on twitter and insta, rhiannonjenkins.net