Saturday, 22 December 2012

Clown, Conceptualiser or Adaptive: Our Habits and Fears

By Katy Schutte
I know it isn’t always realistic to pigeonhole improvisers into one bracket or another, but in planning a rehearsal for the Maydays I realised that there are things that we get into the habit of practising and avoiding depending on our innate style and on what the groups we play with NEED.

I read something interesting in a book called Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps.  It points out that in a romantic relationship, we sometimes work like a two-person ant-colony; if one of us can do one job, then there is no point in the other taking up brain space to do it too.  One of us learns everyone’s names at a party so the other one doesn’t bother, one knows how to make the surround sound work so the other one doesn’t bother.  We have one double-sized brain between us.  In an improv troupe, there is something similar.  After years of playing with the same people, we can end up having a specific role in our company shows and rehearsals.  The positive aspect of this is group mind.  The downside is habit and stagnation.

Without really thinking about it, I know that within the Maydays, we have improvisers who are stand-out aces at character, singing, rap, game of the scene, follow-me initiations, object work, clowning, emotion, lateral thinking, topics, support and of course cock jokes.  Because individuals are so good at their particular forte, sometimes it is easy just to leave it to them.  The only reason we don’t leave it to them the whole time is because we generally have a cast of 4-5 per show and our company has 12 improvisers.  Each show has a different vibe and we find that there are golden combinations.  An argument for getting good at all the stuff you normally avoid is so that when you’re in a show where everyone you’re on stage with is character-driven, you can be the one remembering names at parties or sorting the surround sound. 

I guess what I’m saying is; to be the best improvisers we can be, and to be able to play excellently with improvisers we’ve hardly even met, we have to have the whole set.  If you don’t practice all your improv keepy-uppy, you won’t be good enough at it when the nerves kick in, when you’re under the weather or tired, or when your mind goes blank. 

What type of improviser am I (or what role do I play in my company)?

The Clown

Clowns love to come on stage with a strong character or emotion.  They sometimes pull their character idea off the call-out/scene before and sometimes just pick an arbitrary emotion, choose to lead with a certain body part (stacking), or alter their face or voice.  They love to sing or rap - and find it easy - because it is a way of channelling their emotions.
Clowns avoid driving the plot of a show or the journey of a scene and they don’t like to be the initiator.  Their reasoning is often that they aren’t ‘clever’ like that or that they can’t think of anything in time.  If they do initiate, it is often just an initiation for themselves.  They don’t want to be in charge of the other improviser and their journey through the scene.
Bad clowns are particularly scared of initiating and just wait for their scene partner to do the work, partly out of misplaced politeness.  The other type of bad clown is someone that will just cock-about until they get a laugh.  It’s often funny, but can end the scene abruptly and make the show pretty shallow.  Bad clowns can also get stuck in stereotypes or in their regular go-to characters. 
Good clowns really listen to the show as a whole and allow their rich characters to embody the themes and feelings tackled.  They can change the rhythm of a show and take the audience into deeper states of emotion.  Good clowns often get the audience feedback ‘wow, you were just like this person I know’.

The Conceptualiser

Conceptualisers love to initiate and drive scenes and help tell the story of a show.  They love to talk.  They’re very good at conversational topics, verbal games of the scene and reincorporation.  They always remember names at parties.
Conceptualisers avoid playing big characters or characters that are wholly different to themselves.  They also don’t tend to go for full-on emotional responses or very physical scenes.  Their songs will be all about the lyrics, less about the melody.
Bad conceptualisers tend to talk about action or plot instead of showing it to us.  They get cross when the scene or show isn’t panning out how they thought.  They fight against ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ moves by other improvisers (which are actually just different than theirs).  They sometimes announce out loud what will decidedly happen in the next scene in order to control the show.
Good conceptualisers are ready to drop their heavy concepts at a moment’s notice.  They also let the show as a whole be determined by the group and not by them as an individual.  They are great lateral thinkers and inspire originality.

The Adaptive

Adaptives love to help their scene partner.  They see what’s happening in a scene and do whatever is needed.  They are just as happy playing strong characters as they are initiating a verbal follow-me scene.  They will initiate just as much as not.
Adaptives avoid freedom.  On paper they are the perfect improviser, doing whatever is needed.  And though you’ll get a good solid show every time from an Adaptive, it won’t be a life-changer.  Adaptives avoid just fucking around.  They want to know what is needed and how they should do it.  They don’t take enough risks or really surprise themselves.
Bad Adaptives do too much.  They see a fun scene going on and they want to get in there, as a walk-on, as a scene-paint, as another character.  Sometimes scenes need it of course, but bad Adaptives overdo it.  It’s not a lack of trust, they just want to play.
Good Adaptives are just as happy ending up as the lead as they are being one of the chorus line.  They see what the show needs and they do it.

No one type is better than another.

We talked about whether it was a good idea to have a balance of these types cast in our shows, but were more excited by the idea that we could all be freed up to serve the show.  

How Can I Work On This?

Well, that's a whole other blog for the future, but here's a taster: I gave the Maydays piles of post-it notes for each type to draw from.  Each had a mission on it, based on what their type avoids doing.  They used these as the inspiration for a set of scenes.  We did a few sets with everyone working against their fears and into the skills of other types before looking at how that worked out or didn't work out.

We learned that when Clowns initiate a game, when Conceptualisers do a silly voice and when Adaptives fuck around: magic happens.  

Thursday, 20 December 2012

The 50-Hour London Improvathon

“Absolutely incredible”

The legendary London Improvathon returns for its sixth year. The finest improvisers from all over the world will meet in the 'Roaring Twenties' for an epic comic odyssey of romance, mystery and adventure.

Performed as a soap-opera in 25 episodes back to back over the weekend, the mix of brilliant comic brains and no sleep results in a wild, uncensored and euphoric playing style that you will not see anywhere else. With a recap at the beginning of each episode, you can drop in for a couple of hours or stay the whole weekend!

This year, as well as the usual cast of amazing improvisers, the cast will also include London Improv regulars Chris Mead, Jonathan Monkhouse and Maria Peters. 'Tis a joy, indeed.

"It's like nothing you've ever seen before"

WHEN: 7pm, Friday 11th January - 9pm, Sunday 13th January
COST: £10 per episode, £45 earlybird season pass. Tickets here
WHERE: Hoxton Hall, 130 Hoxton High Street, London, N1 6SH

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Monday, 17 December 2012

Glitch & ProjectTwo at The Old Red Lion

Using suggestions from the audience and active imaginations a team of seven improvisers/puppeteers weave an adventurous tale with a furry little cast puppets. Using a traditional Japanese “Bunraku” puppetry mix with a more modern Muppet-style, Glitch is a visual treat with fun characters all tied together with an entirely made up story.

Don’t be fooled but the cute puppets, this is not a show for kids!

In double-bill-land, Glitch will be joined by improvised Science-Fiction from ProjectTwo.

The ProjectTwo facility floats in orbit around Solaris, collecting every detail of every sentient life through voluntary data submitted to social network websites. With such data, the ProjectTwo engineers can access any real-life story since the facility's inception in 2017.

Welcome space-traveler. Which archive do you wish to view?

Improvised science-fiction which may or may not contain robots*, featuring:
Katy Schutte (★★★★ - Chortle, The Maydays, Fluxx, Baby Wants Candy)
Jonathan Monkhouse (Music Box: The Improvised Musical, London Improv)

WHEN: 7.30pm, Saturday 22nd December
COST: £8, tickets here.
WHERE: Old Red Lion Theatre, 418 St John Street, London, EC1V 4NJ. 


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Thursday, 6 December 2012

1st Annual Chris Werren Memorial Gig

A few months ago, brilliant improviser and our friend Chris "Chrus" Werren passed away, following a fist-fight with pink-cancer-robots. Chrus was a truly lovely man who delighted us with oddness, fascination with the natural world, and generosity of spirit. To celebrate the loveable chap will be a night of improv - his second love - featuring lots of groups and improvisers that he performed with over the years.

Acts include Hoopla's Old School Cast, a reunion of Cannonball Impro, and Grand Theft Impro with additional surprises, a raffle and CAKE!

Yes, cake.

Tickets are £5 and all the proceeds will go to St. Christopher's, the hospice that did such an amazing job of caring for him in his final months and days.

You can guarantee tickets in advance by clicking on this handy link - or you can buy a ticket at the door on the night.

WHEN: 7.30pm, Wednesday 12th December
COST: £5, tickets here or on the night
WHERE: The Miller, 96 Snowsfields Road, London, SE1 3SS

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Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Austentatious at Leicester Square Theatre

A Christmas tale of fun and good cheer - how delightful! 
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One of the most impressive comedy shows on the fringe - chortle
Super smart & terrifically funny - the scotsman

~The Milk Monitors presents~

Austentatious: An Improvised Novel

Dear reader, we are back for a very special Christmas tale, do join us for a wintery improvised romp!
~ Please do join us on ~
9th December at 7:30pm
Last month was a veritable Autumnal feast of conkers, embarrassing parents and the privacy limitations of a good nook. But as the nights draw in, and the goose grows a little more round, we invite you to join us for a ChristmasAusten tale! 

Do join us for warm Winter fun with mince piesChristmas carols and plenty of good cheer. We do encourage you to book in advance, like Lydia Bennett, we are rather popular with the Regiment and our dance card can get very busy indeed. Always room for a Captain of course!

And you can also find us twice a month at The Wheatsheaf.
Book tickets  »
"Witty, silly and gloriously funny"
Austentatious fight!

Sunday, 2 December 2012

FutureShock at The Camden People's Theatre


A centrepiece event of the CPT Futureshock festival, this one-off night of works-in-progress, cabaret acts and installations will be a carnival of the futuristic!
The evening's mouth-watering roster of acts includes: Foster's Comedy God and creator of Sprint 2012 smash Incontinental, Kazuko Hohki; the terrific Dumbshow Theatre; The Conker Group, whose show Underhero was a CPT hit at the Camden Fringe; sci-fi improvisers Project Two; and many more.
The evening will culminate in a party at the end of the world, with music, entertainment and drinks of a futuristic flavour.
The Futureshock festival is generously supported by the Royal Victoria Hall Foundation.

WHEN: 7:30pm, Saturday 8th December

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Friday, 28 September 2012

A Regency Residency at Leicester Square Theatre - how delightful!

One of the most impressive comedy shows on the fringe - chortle
Super smart & terrifically funny - the scotsman

The Milk Monitors present

Austentatious: An Improvised Novel

After their sell-out Edinburgh Fringe debut,Austentatious: An Improvised Novel are proud to announce a new monthly residency at the Leicester Square Theatre. The residency follows their hugely popular one-off show on the main stage in September.

~ Join us for our first show on ~
Austentatious is an improvised Jane Austen novel, based entirely on audience suggestions and entirely new every time.
Chock-full of wit, flirtation, and dastardly behaviour, Austentatious
 was one of the top ten best-reviewed shows of the Edinburgh Fringe; now is your chance to catch it in our Great Capital.

We can also be found at the Leicester Square Theatre on November the 10th & December the 9th, and twice a month at The Wheatsheaf, Rathbone Place. All the details are available on our website.
Book tickets  »
"Witty, silly and gloriously funny"
Austentatious fight!

Thursday, 19 July 2012

#ChicaGoUK: The Funkhouse

Yes, there really are more of us going to Chicago this summer. Here's another one. Jonathan Monkhouse is the creator of London Improv and has been producing improv shows since it began. Over the years he's been part of 8bit, Music Box and a few improvathons. He goes to Chicago tomorrow morning. He is currently talking about himself in the third person.

Tell us a bit about yourself..

I studied to be an actor at university, but didn't enjoy learning scripts or being on stage and ended up mostly doing set-design and lighting. I saw Baby Wants Candy way back in 2001, but just thought they were superhuman, and didn't realise that anyone can train in improv.
I didn't set foot on stage after uni, until I got dragged to an improv workshop about 7 years later where, predictably, my obsessive personality caught the bug and have been improvising since. I also do a lot of impro-lighting, the most fun of which is for Showstoppers because they work in theatres with proper lighting rigs.

What's the best improv call-out you've ever heard?

My favourite one ever was a call for a location, which was "in a time-travelling caravan." Sadly that was a rehearsal though, so I don't know if it counts [even though I am the one conducting this interview, so I make the rules... oooh, Meta]. The best one for a show was probably Orient Express, because it led to the most satisfying show I've ever been in.

Which improv course are you doing, and what made you choose that one?

I'm doing the week intensive at The Annoyance Theatre. Earlier this year a bunch of people started saying they were going to iO for five weeks, and I couldn't do that. But then The Annoyance came up in conversation and that seemed to be a perfect fit. I like the idea that The Annoyance focusses closely on a performer's instinct.. slightly different to other schools of thought. I think if you want to become better at something you should be open to all the different ways of doing it, seek out all the best practitioners, and find out what works best for you. Like Bruce Wayne does.
I'll be learning Ju-jitsu from Mick Napier and bare-knuckle brawling from Susan Messing.

When/how did you start planning your trip?

About a week after the Annoyance conversation I booked the course. Then I set about trying to get my friend Chris [Mead] to come too. Once that was sorted, we looked for a place to stay. Originally we tried to keep it as cheap as possible, but then I found an amazing apartment to rent and our Chicago motto became "Go big, or go home." Our apartment is absolutely beautiful, but so expensive it makes me feel nauseous.

What are you most excited about?

I think living in an improv bubble for 10 days will be energising and helpful. Being in workshops and seeing shows for that whole time will be really useful for developing as an improviser.
There is talk of someone in Chicago producing a UK improviser show for us, so if that happens it'll be really fun. And seeing a new city is always cool.

Are there any shows you HAVE to see while you're over there?

There's more I want to see than I'll probably have time for. I really want to see TJ and Dave, Messing With A Friend, Felt [improvised puppet show] and Co-ed Prison Sluts. Seeing Baby Wants Candy in their natural habitat would be great. I've also heard that Improvised Shakespeare are pretty phenomenal.
Stupidly I've also set myself the challenge of finding the 'worst improv show' in Chicago, although this will be pretty hard to do tactfully. And it may not be that rewarding, apart from a good dose of schadenfreude.

What are you going to do in Chicago when you're not improvising?

Eat... and I've heard there is an excellent architecture tour, on a boat. Not something I'd think too much about, but a bunch of different people have told me about it individually. The new Batman film comes out while I'm there so I want to do the American movie theatre thing with a half tonne of Coca-cola and a 3 metre hotdog.

How do you think the trip will change you?

Pretty badly, financially. Afterwards, I'm flying straight from Chicago to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for a month. In total I won't see my house for just under 6 weeks. Or be earning much money. I'm trying not to think about it too much.
As for my improv, I'm just looking forward to getting back into it. I've been doing so much of the production/lighting side of shows that my stage work has really suffered. All this will change.

Do you think you'll go back another time?

There's an idea that Chris and I return next year to do the iO five-week intensive. But there's loads of other really exciting cities with interesting improv scenes to explore. I've been asked to play in the Hideout Theatre 44-hr Improv Marathon next June in Austin, TX, and I don't want to miss that. And I've had invites to Edmonton in Canada too.
I should start entering the lottery.

If you could name a new impro group anything, what would it be?

I've wanted to call an improv group "The Margate Archery Club" for years, but all my show format ideas are science-fiction based, and no-one else seems to like it. I heard someone suggest "The Racists" once, which I enjoyed but I can't see it taking off.
How about "The Smell of Regret"?

Jonathan appears in Project TwoSilly String Theory and Ghostbusters: The Musical.

His Twitter name is @the_funkhouse
Follow all the improvisers at #ChicaGoUk

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

#ChicaGoUK: Jenny Rowe

He goes, she goes, we go, they go, I go, you go, go go, Frodo, mojo, dojo, Aygo. Jen is going to Chicago. She's in The Maydays. Her pictures are funny.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m Jen from the Maydays, in Brighton, but when I’m not Mayday-ing, I do other actor-ing. At the moment I’m playing a pregnant lady in ‘Future Development’ by impro theatre company Fluxx, then I start re-rehearsing for Twelfth Night and through all of this I’m doing street theatre with Dodgy Totty. In fact, two weeks ago I was an elderly dry-land synchronized swimmer being chased by a land-shark and this weekend I was puppeteering a mouse puppet acrobat in a World War II show at a sheep fair.

What's the best improv call-out you've ever heard?

Let’s put it this way, the reply from my colleague was "Sorry, we’ve already had ‘fisting’". This was directed at the teenage children (audience) of a mother who was in our student showcase.

Which improv course are you doing, and what made you choose that one?

I’m doing two because I’m greedy like that. Annoyance for one week (John Cremer and George from the Maydays did it before and said it was great, I’ve had Mick Napier’s book for ages and I haven’t read it properly so I thought the best way to find out what was in it was to ask him personally).
I’m also doing Second City’s Writing course and Improv workshop (I jammily got a scholarship for some of it). I talked Mark Brailsford of The Treason Show into running a sketch-writing course a couple of years ago for me and some of my students, but as I’ve barely written a thing since then, I realized I need another kick up the arse to get on with it, so this is it.

When/how did you start planning your trip?

About January I think – I had wanted to go for ages but didn’t think I could afford it. Then I realised you couldn’t let a little thing like money get in the way of something this big. People always say things like, ‘I could never afford kids’, but then they have kids and, yes, they drain your money away but you still end up with kids. Chicago’s like that, it will drain my money away but I’ll still have Chicago (only Chicago won’t hate me in 15yrs time or wish it had never been born).

What are you most excited about?

Everything, too much, I don’t know where to start - everything. Learning new stuff, doing wall to wall improv, seeing loads of shows – the shit and the good, seeing a new city, hanging out with improv chums.

Are there any shows you HAVE to see while you're over there?

Well, I’m going through NYC on the way there and back, so I desperately wanted to see Asssscat, but it seems I’m on the wrong bloody days! So in Chicago I want to see Whirled News, TJ and Dave, Too Much Water Makes the Baby Go Blind (not improv but highly recommended by friends), Timprovisation, Improvised Shakespeare, The Armando Diaz Experience. I also wanted to see The Reckoning but they’ve only gone and moved to LA.

What are you going to do in Chicago when you're not improvising?

I’m researching a female sci-fi writer who called herself James Tiptree Jr. (Alice B. Sheldon). I found out recently that she was born in Chicago so I may find myself in the City Library or visiting her previous homes or something. I only have 2 weeks so I’ll have to prioritise. The plan is I write a play about her – her parents were explorers, she became a CIA agent, fantastic painter, writer, married twice then shot herself and her husband in the head when he got past it.

Oh yeah, and the Thrift shops and second-hand bookstores.

And I have to buy ‘Butterfingers’, apparently.

How do you think the trip will change you?

I don’t think I’ll be a better improviser in a couple of weeks, but I think I’ll be a better teacher and I’ll have more sense of what I’m aiming for when I’m improvising. I think it’ll put some of the work we’ve done with visiting USA actors into context. I’ll also be poorer and fatter by the end, I should imagine.

Do you think you'll go back another time?

I certainly hope so. I’d also like to spend more time in NYC and maybe LA, but only for the improv, mind. I’ve put off going to the US because I’m terrified of flying (the nice calm bit where nothing happens is the worst – that’s when I imagine the horrors that may await me).

If you could name a new impro group anything you like, what would it be?

The Now People

Jen performs in The Maydays and Fluxx.
Follow all the UK improvisers going to Chicago at #ChicaGoUK.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

#ChicaGoUK: Reppin' N.I.

It's not just Londoners heading to Chicago this Summer. Or folk from Brighton (London's beach). The "Further Afield" region is being fairly represented, like this 'un from Northern Ireland. Morgan Hearst.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I started stand up comedy 3 years ago at the age of 36. I had always wanted to try stand up but Belfast didn't have an open mic scene until then. Around 2 years ago a friend asked if I wanted to go with him to an improv class at a local arts centre. I went along thinking that it would help my stand up but fell in love with it as an art form in it's self. Last year we started a team called Yes And. To date we are the only regularly performing improv team in Northern Ireland.

What's the best improv call out you've ever heard?

We play in local pubs so a lot of call outs tend to be on the coarse side. I once asked for a location that would fit the stage and got 'The Congo'. We also seem to get the suggestion 'At a meat factory' a lot. I have no idea why.

Which improv course are you doing and what made you choose that one?

I'm doing the summer Intensive at iO. I wanted to learn long form and as iO is where it was created it seemed to be the place to go.

When/how did you start planning your trip?

I booked the course in September or October not sure which but was pretty much as soon as they had it available.

What are you most excited about?

I have signed up for workshops with Susan Messing and Jet Eveleth. Watching videos of Messing with a Friend and The Reckoning were in large part what inspired me to come to Chicago so I'm excited about learning directly from them. I expect to be a little star struck.

Are there any shows you HAVE to see while over there?

TJ and Dave at iO, Messing with a Friend at the Annoyance.

What are you going to do in Chicago when you're not improvising?

The usual tourist stuff, go see Batman and I'm looking for a few open mic spots.

How do you think the trip will change you?

It will leave me with massive debt. I hope to come back to belfast and show the rest of our team what I've learned and start performing long form on regular basis. Who knows, we might get a Belfast long form scene going. That would be worth the bill.

If you could name a new impro group anything you like, what would be?

I've been trying to convince our group to change our name to Giant Frog. So that.

Morgan's website is
His Twitter handle is MorganHearst
Follow all the UK improvisers going to Chicago at #ChicaGoUK.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Goodbye London, hello Edinburgh: This week at The London Improv Comedy Club

Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel, 8pm at The Miller
Word up friends,

It's the last London Improv night, and then we're on a break for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Don't worry, non-Edinburgh folk, there's still comedy happening at The Miller next week. You won't miss your 5-a-day laughter quota.

To see us off with the best possible humour-party, we've got some rather special humans dealing out their wares on our stage, including three of the most exciting groups appearing in Edinburgh this year. Yep, you get Edfringe shows without even having to get yer butt to Edinburgh (we also recommend going to Edinburgh, it's real pretty).


Here's an Edinburgh preview for ya. Then I'll stop going on about it. Firstly the lovely chaps and chapettes of Do Not Adjust Your Stage make sure you don't adjust your stage, with an improvised TV schedule. A whole issue of Radio Times, origami'd up into the shape of a comedy show. With a guitar.

Accompanying them is the show known only as 'Arthur'. A bit like if you origami'd an old man into the shape of an olympic runner and then pushed him onto the Whose Line Is It Anyway stage.
WHEN: 8pm, Tuesday 17th July
COST: £5 on the door


Following sell out runs at The Soho Theatre, The Leicester Square Theatre and The Pleasance Islington with The Train Job, nominated for the Chortle Award for Best Character or Sketch Act 2012. The Beta Males will be taking their third narrative sketch show The Space Race to Edinburgh in 2012. We get them first, with an amazing Edinburgh preview.
★★★★★ Three Weeks ★★★★★ Broadway Baby
★★★★★ Spoonfed ★★★★★ FringeGuru
★★★★ Fest ★★★★ The List ★★★★ Chortle

And we'll also have literary mischief from one of our favouritest groups; Austentatious. We love them, and others do too:
Whip smart and on the button funny.” - Londonist
"Very, very funny. Highly reccomended…” ★★★★★ – Theatre Bubble
They perform an improvised Jane Austen novel, with about as much class as a very big school filled with 60p stamps.
WHEN: 8pm, Wednesday 18th July
COST: £5 on the door

If a swan could sing, it would sing about these shows. Then it would get a recording contract and OD on crusts of bread.
See you there, fun-lickers,
London Improv x

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