This summer something close to a metric tonne of improvisers from the UK descend on Chicago, Illinois to check out the improv scene and study at one (or more) of the improv schools.
We at London Improv think that's quite a notable thing, so we decided to interview as many of those folk as we could. First up - Jason Blackwater. Yes, he might sound like a character from Game of Thrones, but he's also a jolly nice man. And a giant.
I'm Jason Blackwater. I'm in The Maydays and Silly String Theory.
I started performing improv at drama school under the brief tutorship of Ken Campbell, Sean McCann and Adam Megiddo where I toured improvised musicals for just over a week. To finally realise that it was possible to be a professional improviser was a revelation and I intended to find a way, once I graduated, to perform improv as a sideline to my acting. I even had my own troupe for a while, Improv's Dog, doing all of my favourite short form games. I then put the idea to the side for a while until I moved to brighton and immediately joined The Maydays and it's been like that ever since. Acting is now my sideline to the improv and shall remain so for the foreseeable.
What's the best improv call-out you've ever heard?
In one of The Maydays' student showcases recently, upon a request of a topic of study someone yelled "Speleology". I played the old, "Well, of course I know what speleology is, and of course the cast know what speleolgy is but for the benefit of the one or two people in the audience who don't know..." routine. The audience member DID know and it is, as you will of course realise, the study of caves.
Which improv course are you doing, and what made you choose that one?
iO summer intensive [5 weeks]. The Maydays learn through the skills from the iO school of thought and thought I'd go and learn from the source.
When/how did you start planning your trip?
It had been in the back of my mind to go since I'd been with The Maydays for a few months.. so 2010? I never really knew how I was going to afford it but at the beginning of this year I just thought about this summer more seriously. Then Jason Chin came to Brighton and agreed that if enough Maydays got over there he'd allow us to do the second half of Whirled News Tonight [Chicago's longest running improv show] and it was set. by hook or by crook I was going this summer and I just booked it.
What are you most excited about?
The shows. seeing more improv than I can imagine and seeing people I've only seen before on YouTube, on stage.
Are there any shows you HAVE to see while you're over there?
TJ & Dave, Assscat 3000 (I've got a few days in NY too), Baby Wants Candy (again), Improvised Shakespeare, Too Much Sun Will Make Baby Go Blind
What are you going to do in chicago when you're not improvising?
I've resolved to find a steakhouse with a steak big enough to win a t-shirt. Mainly, though, I'll be meeting up with new people and the dozen or so British improvisers who'll be out there too.
I'm hoping to go up a gear in my improv. 5 weeks away from my usual crutch of singing will really improve my scene work, and with a bit of luck bring back some understanding of what I'm doing beyond the instinctual. Plus any adventure will change you in unexpected ways and I'm looking forward to those too
Do you think you'll go back another time?
My original plan in 2010 was to do the year at Second City and I'd still like to do that. I also want to go to LA and Austin and check out the scenes there as well
If you could name a new impro group anything you like, what would it be?
I don't know. I think improv companies need to arrive at their name organically. There's a common feeling in the company and a sense of ownership but a wonderful opportunity was missed in a beginners class I was witness to. They'd hit upon the idea that the really whacky and ungrounded thoughts came from the Big Banana Place and wished they'd gone for that as their name but it wasn't to be. Still my favourite and it's up for grabs!
Jason Blackwater appears regularly in The Maydays and Silly String Theory.
His Twitter name is @jblackwater
Follow all the improvisers at #ChicaGoUk