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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Friday, 13 July 2012

#ChicaGoUK: Chris Mead

Seriously.. more? Yes.
Chris Mead is one quarter/half of two-to-four-person-sci-fi improv duo/group Project Two. He also runs cult Doctor Who podcast The Ood Cast. He's off to Chicago in exactly one week.

Tell us a bit about yourself..

I'm just under 6 foot. I have dark blonde hair and blue eyes. I smile with my mouth closed because my teeth are worn and uneven. I like my nose, it's pointy. My skin's starting to show my age so I moisturise daily. When I really laugh I always get tears in my eyes. I like comic books and films by Woody Allen, the Coen Brothers, Wes Anderson and those guys that made Crank. I have flat feet and a bleeding liberal heart. I'm a Christian but not like that. I have an obsession with popular (geek) culture, self-help books, salted caramel and improv.

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

Anything that my wife comes up with. She's not an improviser herself but undertakes her role as audience suggestion-giver with a zeal that borders on fanaticism. Whereas one might expect such classics as film noir, taxidermy and kitchen during the course of an evening, what you might get when Laura is in the audience would be more along the lines of Tartuffe, bounty hunter, episiotomy, Westeros, Stockholm syndrome and, on one particularly memorable occasion, chode (I had to look this one up on Urban Dictionary). I know that simple suggestions often yield the best scenes but I just love the look on people's faces when she gets up a good head of steam.

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

I'm off to do the Annoyance Theatre intensive. There are many reasons for this but they can basically be boiled down to the following three: time, money and Susan Messing.

When/how did you start planning your trip?

I started planning the trip in 2001 when I saw Baby Wants Candy at the Edinburgh Fringe and found the laws of theatre didn't make sense anymore. I saw their entire month's run that year and resolved immediately to learn to do what they did. I have to admit preparations for the trip have been pretty slow over this last decade but I've really kicked it up a gear in the last few months.

What are you most excited about?

I don't understand the question. Instead let me make a short list of what I'm not excited about: nothing.

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

I will watch improv of every stripe I can while I'm out there. I'll watch free shows and beginner Harold groups and main stage spectaculars and legends and train wrecks and crazy ass 'We'll improvise your LinkedIn page' experiments. I'll watch Jon talking in his sleep. If I could prepare improv in solution and inject it directly into my veins I would. I'm going to be at the frickin' well spring of improv for 10 days, what won't I watch?

Also TJ & Dave.

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

Closing my eyes for the 300-400 milliseconds it takes me to blink.

How do you think the trip will change you?

I'll probably be the best stand-up the world has ever seen.

Do you think you'll go back another time?

This trip is actually a recce for the full fat, balls-to-the-wall 2 month improv odyssey I'm planning for next year. Built into the very foundations of this trip is the expectation I'll be back for an extended stay within a year. So this one is like an hors d'oeuvre.

Or an hors d'improv if you will.

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

I think I just answered that in the last question.

Chris performs in Project Two, and writes and performs The Ood Cast.
His Twitter handle is @TheOodCast.
Follow all the UK improvisers going to Chicago at #ChicaGoUK.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

How to improvise like a Samurai

By Heather Urquhart
of The Maydays
I was teaching a while ago when one of the students started to look at me in a strange way, with an almost mystical look in his eye. When I asked why he told me that the excercise I was describing was almost exactly what he had been taught by his Aikido instructor a few weeks before. We talked after class and this led to me investigating a little further into what I have found to be the many links between Japanese Martial arts and improv (the links between Buddhism and improv have already been well documented), so what follows are my top 10 philosophical and strategic martial arts concepts which can also be applied to your scene work:

1. MUSHIN – Without mind.
‘Achieved when a person’s mind is free from thoughts of anger fear or ego during combat OR everyday life. There is an absence of discursive thought and judgement so the person is totally free to act and react towards an opponent without disturbance from such thoughts.’ Surely this is the state that all improvisers should strive for, the best improv happens when you stop listening to your inner critic and just inhabit the scene or character in the moment. I think when improvisers start out, it’s almost impossible to achieve this state, as they are constantly worrying about what they are doing wrong. The beauty of improv is that you can’t do it wrong.

2. AIKI – Joining energy. Energy matching.
Oh, how I was excited to see the term energy matching used within a martial arts context. This is the exact term The Maydays use to describe the technique of mirroring from within a scene. Here it is in the context of your opponent, but in improv matching your scene partner’s energy, demeanor, stance and point of view can be an extremely strong place to start your scene. Quite often we’ll go for conflict right at the top of a scene, whereas sometimes it’s nice to just see two characters in their world going about their business. How often do we see conflict in everyday life? We see energy matching everywhere in groups of people e.g the football fans, the Hen do, the WI meeting. It’s always interesting to watch.

3. KOKORO – Heart, character, attitude.
It’s essential to enter any scene with a strong point of view, whatever that is, even if you’re working from nothing. ‘Character’ also doesn’t necessarily have to be about your ability to play different roles. Del Close spoke of wearing characters like a thin veil. While 'character' is a great tool, some of my favourite improviser’s only ever play themselves. However they will play themselves afraid, agitated, happy or themselves as they really would be in space. An attitude to what you’re doing will transform the scene.

There are hard (Goho) and soft (Juho) methods of initiations - just like improv! We talk about hard initiations as verbal offers or clearly formed premises. Whereas a soft initiation might involve starting a mimed physical activity or merely making an emotional noise with NO idea of what your scene is about. How do you initiate your scenes? Do you always come on with a fully formed idea or do you always follow your scene partner? While in this case Juho method refers to a counter attack, it can often feel sometimes in a scene that one improviser will wait to ‘counter’ the opening scene offer of the other. Does every scene need an attack and counter attack? Probably not, but it is always good to notice if you are habitually doing one or the other. Interestingly Shorinji Kempo say ‘as the degree of training increases, Goho and Juho progress toward becoming a single body of techniques.’ Hopefully, as we become more experienced as improvisers it also becomes imperceptible (at least to an audience) which role each improviser is playing.

5. FUDOSHIN - Immovable mind, immovable heart.
In improv terms this really reminded me of the old adage of ‘don’t drop your shit.’ (Incidentally, the internet attributes this saying to Susan Messing of The Annoyance in Chicago). Not dropping your shit can be an incredibly powerful tool for making your character’s more grounded, believable and invested. We often talk about the importance of allowing your character to be changed but it can be equally important to stay with the offers you made at the top of your scene. If you do or say anything, the audience sees it and wants to believe that every move has a special significance to the scene. I will be blogging about ‘not dropping your shit’ again soon.

6. ZANSHIN - Awareness – of relaxed alertness.
This idea seems to parallel well with the importance of listening in improv. So many listening excercises aren’t necessarily about hearing but about a deeper awareness of noticing every signal being given off in a scene. I stumbled across this saying; "When the battle is over, tighten your chin strap." This refers to constant awareness, preparedness for danger and readiness for action - I love this!

7. SHOSHIN - Beginners mind.
This term is used also used in Zen Buddhism and encourages openness, eagerness and a lack of preconceptions. I hope this is especially relevant to very experienced improvisers. We are lucky enough to be striving for the holy grail of the perfect scene or show but no matter how long you do it, you’re never guaranteed to have cracked it. This impermanence is what makes improv especially exciting as an art form and also means that wherever we are on our improv path there is always a level playing field in the scene.

8. SHUHARI - 3 stages of learning.
Shuhari roughly translates to "first learn, then detach, and finally transcend." It's a way of thinking about how you learn a technique. The idea is that a person passes through three stages of gaining knowledge. In improv we are ultimately striving for a state of mindfulness when we are on stage but this can be hard at first. While there are many accepted rules for improv it is easy to ask the question ‘How can there be rules for something that is made up?’ There are some principles that will help and guide us in the beginning that we need to stick with it at first (e.g avoiding questions, saying yes). Sometimes once an improviser has heard that you must say yes on stage it’s likely that they’ll delight in telling you when you haven’t. First off, it’s never cool to pass judgement on someone else’s work (unless they’ve asked you to!). Secondly, once you’ve been improvising a while then I actively encourage you to break the rules.

9. SUKI – Timing.
Suki is all about timing. In martial arts Suki refers to the moment a mistake is made by your opponent and provides your opportunity to strike. In improv these ‘mistakes’ are gifts and provide an opening for us to discover what is unusual and interesting about the scene. If a word is stumbled over for example then in improv this could be the invention of a whole new word. From my tiny amount of research this also relates closely to the concept of ‘maai’ - meaning the level of engagement with your partner - another concept which is essential for improv.

Is described in Japanese martial arts as ‘an early glimpse into Enlightenment’. Carrying on with my mixed religion holy grail metaphor I would describe Kensho as the feeling you get in improv after HAVING A GOOD SHOW!

Stay tuned for part two when we do Aikido with a bunch of improvisers, and improv with a bunch of Aikido masters and find out just how inaccurate this blog really is!

Monday, 9 July 2012

Boys & Girls: This week at the London Improv Comedy Club

Briony & Charlotte, 8pm Wednesday
Greetings forest-dwellers,
I bid you good day on this fine day with perfect weather for the successful growth of your offspring. May the maternal arms of nature keep you well and sustain you in perfect harmony with your environment.

I, myself, have been driving an old rusty Jaguar about. Not to anywhere special, just there and back to see how far it is. The engine was smoking a fair amount, so I should probably have a look at that. Oh well. And there is definitely a leak, because there's oil all over the tyres. I guess I'll have to burn them when I've finished. 

Anyway, this is kind of 'off-topic'.. there's impro and improv happening again this week. I know! When will it end?! Well it ends next week, actually, then we're all off to the Edinburgh festival. Nice.

Speaking of the Edinburgh Festival; Music Box did pretty well there last year, earning themselves a couple of 5-star reviews and some moulah.
'Lively, sharp, superior improvised fun' - Remote Goat

They'll be supported by short-form games from Arthur.

WHEN: 8pm, Tuesday 10th July
COST: £5 on the door

As heard on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Loose Ends’, the Musical Comedy Awards finalist 2012 and support act to Simon Munnery sings gentle, whimsical comedy songs.

Charming, funny, original’ Scotsman
His delicate but witty tunes are no shallow spoofs, but full-on comic stories’ Chortle

He'll be supported by fabulous two-girl improv from the wonderful Charlotte Gittins and Briony Redman.

WHEN: 8pm, Wednesday 11th July
COST: £5 on the door

Okay, let's take a look at this Jag.... oh, dear, it's leaked brake fluid all over this rainforest. We'll have to dig the whole lot up. That'll take ages. 
London Improv

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Minute Improv: Who, What, Where

In the new series of minute-long improv lessons, Katy Schutte demonstrates 'Who, what, where.'

Sunday, 8 July 2012

#ChicaGoUK: A-bag

It's begun. Some folk are already over the pond and resting on the lily pads. One such folk is Andrew "A-bag" Gentilli. He's been in New York - for improv reasons - and heads off to Chicago soon.

Tell us a bit about yourself..

Improv seems to be a healthy and natural outlet for my brand of insanity. I get a thrill from losing myself in a character and cutting loose on an improv stage in various show formats. I run a short-form group 'The Inflatables', a long-form narrative group 'Storybag', and am a member of musical troupe 'Music Box' and Harold team 'The Family Business', who have just played at the Del Close Marathon in New York, which was unbelievably good fun.

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


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

iO Summer Intensive in Chicago kicks off in a few days. I chose it because of strong recommendations from peers who went in recent years, and after a particularly inspiring class from iO instructor Jason Chin in London.

When/how did you start planning your trip?

Put the word out that I was going and there seemed to be a lot of interest from friends so we set about booking online and sorting shared accommodation.

What are you most excited about?

Being challenged by the truckload of new techniques and strategies that the course will hopefully offer, and playing with a new team of improvisers.

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

I'll see what's on offer and take it from there, but the iO style is one that chimes with me so hoping to see plenty of inspiring gigs.

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

See shows, socialise, relax, cook myself by the lake.

How do you think the trip will change you?

I hope to be humbled and inspired by seeing what's possible outside of my usual improv experience. I'll likely become quite annoying as I try to force my new learning on people back in London.

Do you think you'll go back another time?

It's likely, there are more styles of improv to explore...

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

Roasting Bitch.

A-bag is in Music Box and The Family Business.
Follow all the UK improvisers going to Chicago this Summer at #ChicaGoUK.

Friday, 6 July 2012

#ChicaGoUK: Liz Peters

I tell you what, I'm getting pretty envious of all those folk heading off to Chicago this Summer. Luckily, one of them is me. Being envious of yourself is easily remedied.

Liz Peters is not me, though I am envious of her:

Tell us a bit about yourself..

My name is Liz Peters and I am in The Maydays. I trained as an actor at Mountview and have enjoyed working in lots of performance jobs in the UK and abroad on stage and screen. A few years ago I decided to focus more on comedy as it has always been my favourite. I knuckled down and wrote a sitcom, which was an epic feat at the time, so I took some improv classes to help get over writer’s block. What a discovery! It literally changed my life, my approach to working and the way I spend my time. Now, as well as The Maydays, I write and perform in shows like Newsrevue and create sketches and songs about things I find funny – which are invariably rude or quite dark.

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

I was teaching a class and asked for an emotion as stimulus for a scene. Someone joyfully called out ‘swimming!’ and we were in bits. That led to their troupe name being ‘Swimming Is An Emotion’ so it proves the old improv mantra that there are no mistakes, only gifts. (Turns out he thought I’d asked for ‘a motion’ if you’re trying to join up the mental dots)

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

I’m doing the five week course at iO. I suppose the main reason is that if I’m going to go that far and spend all that dosh I may as well do it in a big way. I get to live in Chicago for longer. Maybe there should be a better reason than that but there you go.

When/how did you start planning your trip?

We worked with Jason Chin from iO in February and he invited us to perform in Whirled News Tonight which is a massive honour. I’ve always heard how amazing Chicago was for improv and I started to realise that what I had considered to a financially impossible pipe dream was actually a viable career investment.

What are you most excited about?

I am very excited to have the chance to immerse myself fully in improv for a good few weeks. I’m looking forward to working with lots of different tutors and improvisers and absorbing little bits from all of them. And, of course, watching the shows. The improv scene in England is so small, I’m looking forward to seeing all the different things that the troupes are doing out there and having my mind blown.

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

I definitely want to get to see ‘TJ and Dave’ but on the whole I’m very open-minded and I’m up for everything. I’m imagining it’ll be like being in an improv sweetshop so I don’t want to make too many plans – just see what looks tasty!

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

Seeing as many shows as I can primarily. I’ve heard that the Mexican food is pretty special in Chicago and I’ll probably try and get to a cubs game. I might try and find an open mic night or something and do some non-improv stuff. I also fantasise about taking a road trip and finding a hidden cabin by a lake one weekend, cos America is tiny and everything is really close together isn’t it?!

How do you think the trip will change you?

Hopefully I’ll come back as a better improviser! Even planning the trip has shifted my attitude up a gear towards making this my full time job. So I want to arm myself with the tools to do that.

Do you think you'll go back another time?

Ask me afterwards. It might be a dump and everyone could be lying!

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

It would have to be something that organically came from the group. A random line in a scene or something personal and specific to them. Let’s be honest, if it was me it would probably be rude.

Liz plays in The Maydays and has her own website.
Follow all the improvisers at #ChicaGoUK

Minute Improv: Yes And

The first in a series of minute-long improv lessons by Katy Schutte.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

#ChicaGoUK: Charis Bury

Hey, you know the drill by now. There are loads of improvisers from the UK going to Chicago this summer. They're off to sup from the sweet nectar of the biggest concentration of improv in the world. Here's another impro-human taking a course this year:

Tell us a bit about yourself..

Hello, I'm Charis Bury. I'm a writer and bar manager (they compliment quite nicely, don't you think?). I first found Improv after my writer/director boss and mentor passed away in 2008. After living in my PJs for a year and watching a LOT of E! News, I decided that I needed some funny in my life. So I booked an 8-week course at Second City, and as I'm sure you'll all understand, I found the love of my life.

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

My best friend Aimee gets terrified in front of any crowd or in social situations where she is asked to speak. She recently came to a show of mine in which they asked for suggestions. She shouted something that came out more like a gargle, which the host took to be 'Layers'. It was very funny indeed, and developed into a bizarre scene.

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

I'm doing the iO Summer Intensive, as I asked a bunch of my Chicago friends and they thought I'd love it. I've only ever done a weekend of Long form before so it's still a very wild beast to me... but I'm a' tame that sucker!

When/how did you start planning your trip?

Last year it dawned on me that 2012 was the last year of my twenties. I decided to fill it with awesomeness just in case I forget the blur of emotional nonsense that the rest of the decade has provided. I realised that a trip like this would require money, so I just went on a quiz show and won thousands... true story.

What are you most excited about?

Lake Michigan! No seriously... the men.
But also getting back into a scene so wildly steeped in Improv that you can't help but feel like you're part of something really exciting. You can live, breathe & eat Improv in the windy city. It's Just. So. Cool.

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

Anything by pH or The Cupid Players. The list is as long as my arm.

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

Eating stuff. I'm also dragging a bunch of my fellow Limeys up to Michigan for a beach day-trip if they'll let me. I have both friends and family there so it's like coming home. I'm tearing up at the thought.

How do you think the trip will change you?

I know it will change me a great deal, it always does. But it's always in unexpected, and wonderful ways. You just have to give in to it.

Do you think you'll go back another time?

Many times. I've practically brought a house there.

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

Big Hairy Men and fill it with both big hairy men and 5'4 girls like myself. I don't know why I find this funny.

Follow all the UK improvisers going to Chicago this Summer at #ChicaGoUK

Monday, 2 July 2012

#ChicaGoUK: Alex Fradera

Look at his smiley face. Look at it.
Here's the next instalment of our 'Friends answering questions about their forthcoming trip to Chicago' series. Or it's short name: "FAQATFTTC"

Tell us a bit about yourself..
I came to improvisation in '07, first through Keith Johnstone’s Impro, then on to the Spontaneity Shop, who gave me a great start; since then I haven't looked back. I've had the honour of working with teachers from all over – Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Chicago – as well as mentor figures from Europe and Asia. Currently I perform in the Harold team The Family Business, short-form team The Inflatables and narrative long-form group Storybag.
Outside of improv I act as a workplace psychologist, freelancing for organisations and blogging on research to make it accessible to all.

What's the best improv call-out you've ever heard?
I think a call-out is a lot like any other offer: what is done with it is far more important than the thing itself. Anything, absolutely anything can be played with if you're receptive to it, so it comes down to how it inspires that particular group of improvisers at that particular time. Personally, I'm tickled when I get a concept that is uncommon but still concrete, like nemesis or chimera, but that's just down to the mix of weird that I am.

Which improv course are you doing, and what made you choose that one?
I'm doing the iO summer intensive. I'd heard good things about it from people I trusted, which is all you can ask for.

When/how did you start planning your trip? 
I started planning in earnest when The Family Business was accepted to perform at the Del Close Marathon at New York's UCB Theater. That automatically provided some tent-poles to shape the trip, between which I've already squeezed in a visit to D.C. and will hit up a live roleplay convention in New Jersey before final destination: Chicago.

What are you most excited about?
Meeting improvisers from all over. Getting to know improvisers from my own back yard. Exposure to different teachers and different philosophies. Sausage-meat-base-gluten-free-pizza (meat on cheese on
meat). The architecture. Getting to know people who have nothing to do with

Are there any shows you HAVE to see while you're over there?
I'll find out when we are given our manilla envelopes on arrival, I guess!

What are you going to do in chicago when you're not improvising?
Walk around, write, read, play games.

How do you think the trip will change you?
Ask me after!

Do you think you'll go back another time?
Ask me after!

If you could name a new impro group anything you like, what would it be?
When I was younger I wanted to name my band 'You, you fat fuck'. But I definitely wouldn't do that for an impro group. I rather like 'Mirrorball'.

Alex plays in The Family Business and The Inflatables.
Follow all the UK improvisers going to Chicago this summer at #ChicaGoUK