Thursday, 21 March 2013


In this two day course, you will get intensive training covering all the various areas that you need to create a musical on the fly.

You will learn:

  • How to create characters, scenes and stories that fit into the idiom of musicals
  • The stagecraft of musical theatre
  • How to improvise songs - solos, duets and group numbers
  • Dance and movement - how to move like you've been choreographed

For this workshop, you don't need to be a great singer or be a musical theatre performer, however, you should have a decent groundwork in improvisation. There will be a maximum of 15 people on the course. In the areas where repetition is vital (like improvising songs) we'll split the class across two rooms to maximise amount of practice you get.

COST: £150
WHEN: April 27th and 28th 2013, 10am to 4:30pm 
(you must show up at 9:45am to be ready for the start).
WHERE: The American Musical Theatre Academy in London,
Europa House, 13-17 Ironmonger Row, London, EC1V 3QG. 

The course will be taught by two of the Showstoppers - Dylan Emery, who co-created the show; and Duncan Walsh-Atkins, the show's musical director.

Dylan Emery (co-founder of The Showstoppers) has been performing, teaching and directing impro for more than 10 years. He has performed at The National Theatre, The Royal Court, the Bristol Old Vic, Latitude Festival and many times at the Edinburgh Fringe; he has also performed for BBC Radio 1, 7 and chaired the Showstopper Radio 4 series. He is a founder member of comedy impro troupe Grand Theft Impro and a member of 'hard-bardics' improvisers The School of Night. He also runs the UK improvisation news website

Duncan Walsh-Atkins (musical director of The Showstoppers). He was MD of the UK tours of The Blues Brothers Party, Round The Horne and Peter Pan at The Capitol. Other credits are the Flanders & Swann tribute At The Drop Of A Hippopotamus, Mitchell & Webb's Macbeth & The Beanstalk, Noel Coward's Words & Music, Mad About the Musicals. For Radio 4 he recorded September Tide with Jonathan Firth, A Portrait of a Lady and the Tina C series with Christopher Green. He recently co-wrote the musical Tailor-Made Man, which is running in the West End.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The Liverpool Improvathon is on the 1300 to Montana. From Liverpool. Soon.

Catch It.
Saddle up for the ride of your lives. For one weekend only, Impropriety are Goin' West! Let us take you to the town of Borderline with all its Cowboys, Cowgirls, Saloons, Sheriffs, Gold Diggers and Duels all created on the spur of the moment. An entirely improvised epic that will run continuously for 2013 minutes (33 hours and 33 minutes). This is one show that is not to be reined in.

The Improvathon is based on a format created and made popular by Canadian company DIE-Nasty, who have held an annual 50-hour “Soap-a-thon” for over 20 years. For the second year running, Impropriety will be joined by regular DIE-Nasty members Donovan Workun and Kory Mathewson along with special guests from around the UK.

Starts 1pm Saturday 6th April. Finishes 10.33pm Sunday 7th April. Episodes begin on odd numbered hours: 1pm, 3pm, 5pm, 7pm, etc (yes, all through the night!)

£5 per episode – on the door only.
The 1st 10 EARLY BIRD WEEKEND PASSES ONLY £15 (Usually £25) come and go throughout the event. On the door or online Buy weekend passes here.
£5 for ‘Children’s Hour’ (11am-1pm Sunday). Children get in free. All children MUST be accompanied by an adult.
£10 for ‘Sleepover” (11pm Sat – 9am Sun). Audiences encouraged to bring pyjamas and sleeping bags (Online tickets available £10 + £1 booking fee Buy Here)

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Audience versus Improviser

by Katy Schutte

It seems to me that there is sometimes quite a disparity between how much an audience enjoys a show and how much the performers enjoy a show (or how good they think it was). 
For me, there are three broad reactions I’ll have after doing a show:
  • Recriminating myself and/or the group for being awful (sometimes out loud, sometimes in my head  
  • Fairly satisfied, but analysing the crap out of the show (“Mr Muscle was a funny character, but why didn’t we have any depth to our relationships?”)
  • An air-punch where it was so great that I love my life and the show and everyone I’ve ever met (Bill Arnett has the term ‘way-homer’ for these; where you keep remembering a great moment from your show, all the way home)

There’s also a reaction around the ego where you personally feel you did or didn’t do good work.  Sometimes it can feel like you’re the only one who dropped the ball, or the only one who kept it together.  Interestingly, in improv, if the show as a whole fails, you feel like you’ve failed, because it’s a team game.  Conversely, sometimes a show can fail because one person stood out and the whole team game fell apart.  You’ve got to make other people look good.

With short form at least there are in-built safety nets; if you are brand new you will likely succeed because;
  • The audience are probably your friends and family.
  • Games are built around letting the audience know when to laugh and automatically generate jokes. For example, New Choice means that you are regularly given a set up, set up, twist that always works.
  • Also, the audience love to see you die just as much – if not more – than they like to see you succeed.  In ‘Die’ for example, the competitive storytelling game where the audience shouts die when you mess up telling the story.  If no one died, the game wouldn’t be fun.

With long form it’s a little harder because there is less tolerance of bad improv.  There aren’t built-in safety nets (unless you count a form you’re using, but that’s really just a structure).  If you are just truthful and listen well, the audience are much more keen to see that than you being clever or funny, but it does take years and years for people to feel perfectly comfortable doing those simple things.
Coming off stage it’s sometimes confusing having the audience really love a show that you thought was bad or okay.  When someone comes up to you to tell you how great your show was, don’t tell them that they’re wrong!  Telling a fan of your show that they are incorrect or that your show is poor makes them feel bad and rips on your work, neither of which have a good outcome!  Just say thank you and work on your craft.  Also, they may be right, and you may be wrong. 

There seem to be a couple of reasons for the disparity between the audience and improviser’s viewpoints.  Audiences may not have seen as much improv as you.  For some people, they are pretty amazed that you can make up a show as you go and thoroughly enjoy the magic unfolding.
For me, I feel like a show fails when I am consciously working hard on it on stage.  Improvisers call this ‘being in your head’.  My favourite of the shows I have done are where my characters feel like they are being channelled and have a life of their own, that the beats or chapters of the narrative naturally fall out one by one.  I am perfectly in the group mind of the company and we all have similar ideas and initiations, or immediately enjoy and jump on board the surprises.  So, what’s the difference between one of those shows and one where I am standing on the side thinking ‘I haven’t really done many characters, maybe I’ll do a character’?  Well, here’s my revelation; nothing.  Nothing from the audience’s perspective anyhow.  For them it’s a great show.  They enjoyed everything about it.  It just happens that today, your auto-pilot didn’t kick in as well and you had to fly on manual.  It’s sometimes difficult to know which way to fly.  I had a show after Christmas where I hadn’t done a show for a few weeks and just thought ‘ah, it’ll be fine – I’ve been doing improv for years’.  Even if you’re an Olympic diver, you can’t just fall off the board and expect it to work, you have to use all your awareness and training and make that dive happen.  That show was a belly flop.  If you have a show where some other part of your brain is doing all the work; lucky you.  I’m not suggesting you spend all your time on stage consciously planning and analysing, but I am suggesting that you need to be alert and open the whole time, you can’t just sit back and expect it all to happen. 

There’s also another kind of show where you loved it, but the audience didn’t.  It was your best work, you did great.  These shows tend to disappear after you’ve done a fair bit of improv, but the causes are mostly vanity and in-jokes.  If you’re doing all your best schtick and having a super time but not listening to the other players, you may feel you did a great show, but the audience probably felt the gap between you and the other players.  In-jokes are also a problem.  You may have something that you do in rehearsals (we have some 8-year callbacks in the Maydays) but the audience are not only going to miss the joke, but will feel distanced by it.

It’s great to know what you’re working on, it’s the only way your improv will get better.  Enjoy the things you did well just as much as you notice the stuff you want to build on.  You are doing this because you love it (no one chooses improv as a sure-fire career path) so notice the great bits.  I used to keep a ‘Creative Arnica’ file on my laptop; every time someone said something nice about my or my team’s improv, I would make a note of it.  That way, if I had a shitty show or thought my work sucked I could have a look back and realise that I was probably just forgetting to give myself positive notes as well as constructive ones.  Creative Arnica; what can I say?  I lived in hippy Brighton for 10 years.

Remember that improv is a team sport.  Everyone has your back.  The team win – you win!  Hell, that’s why I ditched stand up to do more improv.  And it’s okay to fly on manual sometimes.  It won’t feel quite as magical as those autopilot gigs, but unless you show it on your face, the audience can’t tell the difference.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Conscious Incompetence (and why it's your friend)

by Katy Schutte

Over years of teaching improv, I have begun to notice that many students at one point or another appear to have a crisis of confidence and dips in their skill sets.  There seems to be an ongoing cycle that starts with enthusiasm, becomes more of a serious work ethic and then turns into a mini freak-out.  I have always advised these students - based on observation - that a dip in confidence seems to come along at the same time or just before a big jump in skills.  I had no evidence or explanation for this apart from my own observations.  Until now.

I was working in Chantilly, France recently, coaching improvisational thinking with leaders and was struck by something one of the other coaches mentioned.  If you work in the corporate world, this is probably not news to you, but it really lit up a light bulb for me.  There is a scale that runs like this:
Unconscious incompetence
Conscious incompetence
Conscious competence
Unconscious competence

So: we don’t know that we can’t do something, then we know we aren’t doing it right, so we learn to do it, then we forget that we’re even doing it.  

For me, these are very clear levels within our improvisational learning.  The most important of which is conscious incompetence. 

When you are a total beginner in improv, you can often hugely enjoy performing; there are no nerves, no stress, you know you can do whatever you want and there’s nothing important riding on it.  You perform, you get LAUGHS - which is amazing - and then you’re done.  Fun.  After a while, you realise that you are maybe hitting on similar characters and gags because you know they work and because they feel easy and comfortable.  You begin to realise that there’s more to improv.  Where is the initial spark you had, why has it gotten harder?  There is more to learn.   You look at the people around you and see that they have skills you don’t, or that you’re not as good at.  So you work on those skills.  You increase your range, you take more risks, you are starting to enjoy the work again.  You get a lot better, then it’s easy, then you are slightly disconnected.  You’re maybe the best person in your company and you start to feel frustrated that others can’t keep up, or that the beginners class is too easy for you.  So you are consciously competent.  You join a more advanced class and really enjoy the scenes, they are rich, you are all listening to each other and the audience likes your shows.  You believe that this is the norm.  You are no longer stressing about your skill level because it is comfortable.  You have forgotten your struggle.  You are unconsciously competent.  You are GOOD.

Oh wait, another group came to town.  How the hell are they doing the improv they are doing?  What is long-form?  Is that monologue genuinely from real life?  Their physicality is incredible.  They sing!  Then here we go again.  Alexis Gallagher always maintains that it is best to be the second worst person in a company.  I think that’s a nice way to aspire to good improv.  That way, you are always consciously incompetent and trying to learn the skills you see around you.  But you’re not the worst, so you’re not going to feel like crap.  And confidence is a key part of successful improv.

This is by no means an experience that is only applicable to beginners.  I come across these blocks in my work every so often when I’m working with amazingly tight companies, strong singers and improvisers that never forget a name or drop a ball.  Just remember, whenever you know that you are terrible, that your improv is stale, that your work sucks, that you are the least funny/interesting person on stage; that is the point where you can go up a level.  That is the point where you’re challenging yourself and taking risks.  If you know you’re the most funny, interesting, talented, spontaneous person in the room, change rooms.  It’s important to feel good about conscious incompetence.  It’s the point where you’re most likely to surprise yourself, to take big risks and to push up your skill level.

Your degree of competence is important to different people in different ways:

The audience.  Audiences love to watch people that are at their ease, even if they are enjoying their own incompetence.  

Your peers.  Your fellow improvisers, employers and teachers; they all want you to be good.  They want you to step up and they want to help you achieve great things.  They also have your back.

Yourself.  No one is a harsher judge than yourself.  Enjoy it.  Let you be the harsh critic of you.  Just don’t let the critic get in there when you’re playing.  Love a show, get out of your head.  Then sit down after and watch the video, see what you did good and bad and set yourself some goals.  A side note on notes; I was shocked the first time I had two improv teachers contradict each other.  It’s not like maths, there is no absolute right.  Do what you think is more interesting.  Just make sure you’re not doing it because it’s safe.  Push your own boundaries and take advice when it speaks to you as the right advice.  Try everything you get taught and keep what works for you.  Always go in with an open mind, then jettison stuff afterwards if it doesn’t help.

Now stand up and declare “I am consciously incompetent” and enjoy how much you can improve every time those words ring true.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Longform Workshops with Saturday Night Live Writer, Neil Casey

This workshop will focus on long-form scenework in the style taught at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatres in New York and Los Angeles. We will focus on improvising our way into realistic, believable scenes which will lead to organic discoveries with which we can build original and interesting Games, the patterns that make our scenes funny. Some experience with open improv scenework is encouraged but not required.

7-10 pm 26th-27th March
To book, please email

Neil Casey is an improvisor, writer and actor living in New York City. He has performed at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre since 2001 and has taught improv and sketch at the Upright Citizen's Brigade Training Center since 2006. He has also taught improv at the Williamstown Theatre Festival every summer since 2008. Neil is a member of several well-known improv troups including current UCB Weekend team Death By Roo Roo, Krompf, and The Two-Man Movie. He has performed all over America with the UCB Touring Company since 2005, and performs regularly in UCB's flagship show ASSSSCAT 3000. He has directed dozens of acclaimed stage shows including God's Pottery Saves the World (Edinburgh 2007), Waiting For Obama: A Night at the Hall of Presidents (SF SketchFest 2010), Kate McKinnon on Ice, and This Is Not A Sketch Show: A Sketch Show. 

His latest written show Small Men, written and performed with Will Hines and directed by Michael Delaney, was named the Best Sketch Show of 2012 by Time Out New York Magazine. He has appeared on a bunch of web series, commercials and TV shows on Adult Swim and IFC. The Washington Post referred to him as "deadpan" on 10 February 2010 in the print edition. A few months ago declared "Neil Casey is one of the best, if not the best improviser in New York right now." 

He is currently a writer on Saturday Night Live.