Category: London

The Guest Room: Pippa Evans

This week’s guest is Pippa Evans. She had a successful Edinburgh Fringe Festival where her debut solo show, “Pippa Evans and Other Lonely People“, was nominated for the if.comedy Best Newcomer Award. Pippa regularly guests with Grand Theft Impro and is a core member of Scratch, the improvisation team behind the Fringe favourite “The Reduced Edinburgh Impro Show“. She has filmed sketches for “The Wrong Door” on BBC 3, appeared as a guest on the BBC Scotland improvisational radio show, “Coming Up Next”, and is currently writing her first pilot for BBC Radio 4.


Hello. I am Pippa and I have been promising to write this blog entry for about three months. I got busy. I was tired. I went to the gym. I ate fried chicken. I googled myself. I made lots of other things more important. And I suppose that is why impro is not so successful in the UK, because it is never as important as other things. As boyfriends or stand-up or making a nice dinner. Because you feel like you can do it, so why work at it? You can get away with it most nights, even if it is a bit of a shabby show, so why rehearse? Why talk about it? Why waste precious chocolate-spread-eating-out-of-the-jar-with-a-spoon time sat in a room with your troupe discussing the finer points of “Yes and…”?

Surely if you know that, you know it all!

Well, well, it is time we gave ourselves a wake up call. We need to work even harder. We need to hone our skills. It is all very well knowing how to play “Endless Box” but if you don’t play it regularly, even if it is by yourself each morning, your brain will get stuck in a rut. I found that. I got all Impro-cocky and just turned up to shows and then found that actually, it is not about Me knowing the rules to the games, it is about Us working together and finding new rules to new games. Impro is the ultimate team sport, and sitting in a backroom eating chicken on your own isn’t going to make a great improviser. Thinking that other performance mediums are “better” or “need more work” will only push impro to the back of the comedy performance genres when it should be at the front. Nothing can beat a stonking impro show –a group of pals working together to create a unique performance experience. And yet we favour a man with a bow tie telling jokes about his mother-in-law. Stoopid us. But then we do it to ourselves. Impro is, at its best, the most adrenaline-fuelled ride you can give an audience and, at its worst, the longest drawn-out hour of cringe that you can muster. You cannot guarantee what will happen in the auditorium but I can guarantee this: if we give it the respect it deserves, we might get the results we crave.

Until next time, this is Pippa of the UK signing off!
xxx


Previous Guests: Charna Halpern, Jill Bernard, Marcel St. Pierre, Josh Fulton, Brendon Bennetts, Terence Bowman, Gil Browdy, Alan Marriott, Jason R. Chin, Ian Parizot, Bill Arnett

Mind the Gag

Ok, I’m a little behind on this one but I only just read about this and had to share.

If you’ve been on the London Underground in the last eight years, you’ve heard the work of Emma Clarke. She’s the voice artist for the Underground announcements. She’s also a comedy writer with more than a few credits to her name. She got in trouble at the end of last year for openly criticising the Underground itself and LU announced that her contracts would not be renewed.

However, the trouble happened to coincide with these spoof announcements that she posted to her own website (Telegraph article). Surely someone has found a way to get them onto the actual trains by now…

The Power of the Internet Compels You

Pippa

Pippa Evans, a lovely London improvisor who gave me a bike, has been digitized and forced to entertain the masses while they use Microsoft’s search engine. Enjoy her servitude here at www.searchcharades.com.

A Couple Clips

Here are two interesting vids from Grand Theft Impro in London. The first is story tell or die, storytelling die or story story die and the second is a nice scene with musical accompaniment.

Swan Song

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I’ve been keeping myself busy these last few weeks. Not too long ago I went Alan Marriot’s Narrative Weekend Workshop. This was a special three-day event where Alan’s thoughts on creating a strong narrative were explored. Unfortunately, I missed the first day, which was an exploration of tone in a scene but the rest of the weekend was really stellar. On saturday we looked at the structure of a Hero’s Journey and examined the differences between types of Helpers and Hinderers in the Hero’s story. This kind of exacting work may seem to be counter-intuitive to the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants form that improv usually takes but I think that having all the players on the same wavelength can be very helpful for many types of shows. Shows like TJ and Dave, which I understand to be quite loose and free form, will often benefit from the performers just letting go of all preconceived notions. However, a troupe may know that they want to create a certain type of story before they even walk on stage, such as a murder mystery, documentary, etc. In this case, the show is still heavily improvised but there are certain beats, characters or events that should take place in order to achieve the desired type of show.

Actually, now that I’ve taken these workshops, I think that Murder, You Wrote and Improv, Lies and Videotape, two of our earlier Fringe shows, could have benefitted from having just one protagonist in the show rather than five (or sometimes none). Having one or two people that audience feels sympathetic with and is rooting for gives them a strong connection with the story and it helps the players to find an anchor around which to base the story. Radio Daze, despite the difficulty of being done in the dark, created some really satisfying shows, and I think that has a lot to do with the fact that all the players were helping to support the story and not just their own character.

On Sunday, we worked on three longform styles: the Harold, Improlab and the Impro Musical. All of these were really fun. I’d like to try all three of these forms again in the future, but the Harold and Improlab seem the most likely for now. I’ll explain these forms in another post, perhaps.

I also had my last show in London on thursday. It was truly grand. We had a full house (50-60 people) and a great crowd. The energy was excellent and the pace was snappy because we ended scenes at pretty much the right times. The setlist was:

Story Tell or Die, Subtitles for the Hard of Hearing (I understand the way to do this game now. The first time I saw it, I didnt like it, but now I have new respect for it), Questions Only, Open Scene, Detective, Flashbacks (my fave of the night I think. Andrew and I in a zoo), Slide Show, Opening of a Musical, Break.

Then— Bedtime Story (Andrew and I have brought this game to London), Emo Coaster (it was only about eating grapes, but still, it was awesome), Slo-Mo Commentary (I was a commentator and I feel it was my best bit of commentating evah!), Open Scene, World’s Worst (not the best so we swept it fast), Smote (Andrew and I. Slow to start, but picked up speed) and Finale of a Musical.

I would say that open scenes generally require an introduction like, “and now a scene” because there was a bit of confusion when we went straight from Questions Only to an Open Scene. I heard a few murmurs from the audience. But, anyway great show! You can see some pics of that show and the workshop here.

Grand Theft Impro

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I went to Grand Theft Impro’s final show of the summer season last night. The performers from left to right were Alan Marriot, Drew Leavy, Phil Whelans, and Dylan Emery, all very seasoned improvisers. Their hearty seasoning was required last night to keep a boisterous, nearly unruly, audience in check. There was a group of 17 people that would shout “Diiiiiiiiinooooooo!” if they were prompted by the magic word, which was usually”Dino“, but could actually be anything. Improv soothed the savage beast that evening, and everyone had a good time. The show felt very fresh and it moved along quickly so that the few not so fresh parts were quickly forgotton.

The show had an interesting structure or semi-structure. The first half was a short form set and the second half had very little structure at all. During the second half, the players got fairly obscure suggestions from the audience and performed scenes without a predetermined game. Often, the players would find the game in the scene. The second half was by far my favourite part of the show.

Although I may look skeptical, I recommend this show when it starts up again in September. See pics from the show here.

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Scratch Impro

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I went to see the preview of Scratch Impro’s Reduced Edinburgh Fringe Impro Show tonight with Andrew Ladd at the Pentameters Theatre in Hampstead. The concept of the show is quite good and I think its a great hook for a Fringe Festival. The majority of the suggestions come from clippings of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival’s programme with shows circled by audience members. The show titles provide the subject matter for each of the scenes. The games that the team play are varied and I really liked the execution of the one story continuing over three sections of the show. I had a great time and I recommend the show to all. Check out some pictures of the night here.

PS Can you tell I just bought a camera?

The Final Countdown

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Andrew Ladd and I are doing one big final improvised hurrah in a couple of weeks. “Made Up Like Tarts” the newly formed, self-proclaimed, in-house improv troupe for the Bath House will be performing at (where else?) the Bath House on July 19th at 7:45. Our official blurb:

An evening of improvised comedy, songs, sketches and games with the Bath House’s resident impro team of Andrew Ladd, James Lovelock, Roderick Millar, Duncan Pearse, Marc Rowland and Lucy Soutter.

Our short sets have been really fun, so I’m quite looking forward to a longer, more personalized show. You can see some pictures from before and after last night’s show here.

PS. I believe “Made Up Like Tarts” fits into the Mental Image category of troupe names.

Happiness Is…

Yo! I’m feeling pretty good today because last night I performed in a very satisfying short set at the Bath House Pub on Dean Street off of Oxford. For the last few months or so, my friends and I have been doing short improv sets as part of a comedy show which takes place on friday, saturday and some sundays.

Last night the improv line-up featured Duncan, Sophie, Andy and myself. The set was short. We’ve got a pattern of doing an expert scene, a switch scene and then something else. We’ve used this set progression several times and it works well. This time we did Speak in One Voice Interview, No “S” Switch and then Off-Stage Dubbing. I think that the set went well for a few reasons.

Firstly, we warmed up really well before the gig by doing word association, the Beasty Boys game and practicing the Speak in One Voice. We also focused on relaxation, which I think really helped us be quick, have fun and bring the audience over to our side. It was especially helpful for the No “S” game because that game can become very tense and stilted if the players focus too much not saying the letter “s”.

Secondly, we’ve also been learning from our past shows. We have a set progression that works well, although we’re not afraid to experiment. And we’ve also avoided pitfalls that we experienced in earlier shows. For instance, a few shows ago we performed the no “s” game and we explained the game before getting the ask-fors or handles. Well, we asked for a relationship and a location and got ’sisters’ and ‘Essex’. Often, some dink in the audience will try to screw you up (and be funny) if they know what the game is before they give their suggestions. Although I’m sure we could have gotten around the whole sisters/Essex thing, it certainly did screw us up that time around. This time we asked for the suggestion first and then explained the game. Although we still got something with an s in it, there was less pressure from the audience to actually say the word because there hadn’t been this moment of “Haha! They have to say Essex and they can’t!”

Where are the Londoners of Yesteryear?

Over the modest number of shows that I’ve performed here in London, I’ve noticed that London audiences are generally quite subdued when compared to the average Montreal or New York audience. I’ve done the warm-up for two shows now, and both took a much longer time to begin confidently shouting out suggestions than I’m used to. In the various comedy shows I’ve seen, an MC’s (who is called a ‘compere’ here in England) question of “how’re you doing so far?” is usually responded to with cautious murmuring. During the last Impro Block Party most of the suggestions were given by americans and it got to the point that the MC (compere) was actually calling out to the British audience members to show everyone their gumption.

Maybe I’ve just been in the wrong places at the wrong time and the majority of London comedy crowds are rowdy louts, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that probably not true.

London Impro News Report

My winning streak is over…

This wednesday, the third ever Impro Block Party was held at the Wheatsheaf in bustling downtown London. Both teams, the Wasabi Peas and Impro For Dummies, put up a good effort, but in the end it was Andrew Ladd’s Impro For Dummies that won the day. Even so, I was very pleased with my team’s performance. We really played to our strengths with our selection of games and it paid off (even if we didn’t “win”). I’m all for trying to push the envelope by challenging yourself but there are some shows where you just want to go with what you know. To be fair, I did face quite a challenge in my team’s last scene which was “First Scene From A Musical”. I’ve never played this before but I’d like to try it again. The ask for’s are “a city”, “a dying industry” and “a dream or ambition”. So the scene was supposed to be the beginning of a musical and my character was a carpet salesmen in New York, who dreamed of being an accountant. It was so great having a musical improvisor on keyboards to accompany the song. Its amazing how much that person can influence what you do. Apparently, singers are very easily manipulated by the musicians. Even though there were a few flubbed notes on my part, I still felt very happy about this song and I thought it was a great team effort from the singers and the musician.

I’ve also been doing some short sets during a comedy night at the Bath House and the Camden Head. My next appearance will be at the Bath House this saturday (i think). It’ll be some of the ole short form from myself, Andrew Ladd, Duncan Pearse and Pippa Evans.

I was invited earlier this week to lead a workshop for Scratch Impro on starting scenes. One thing I’ve noticed about English improvisors is that they tend to be very witty and quick with the tongue, so I wanted to focus a bit more on physical offers. It was really a very funny workshop, one line that sticks out in my head was from a sea captain to his parrot, “just because you can speak, that doesn’t make you intelligent!” On Wednesday, June 6 at 7:30, Scratch will be performing their last improvised Film Noir before the Edinburgh Fringe Festival at the Corner Store. Click here for a map. Hopefully, I’ll be able to check it out.

Marc Out

Games from across the pond

I’ve tried some new games this week that I really enjoyed. Let me share them with you.

Alliances
This game is best played with 5 people (perhaps 7) either seated in a horseshoe shape or standing in a circle. The game begins with everyone laughing as if someone has told a very funny joke. Continue the laughter until you really mean it and you’re laughing because the other people look so funny laughing. Once the laughter subsides a bit, the players should begin creating alliances between themselves and other players. One establishes these alliances by creating positive relationships between one’s self and the other players. For example, your first line could be, “that joke reminds me of the joke that Jane told on our first date.” The point of the exercise is to create some strong relationships between yourself and the majority of the other players. Avoid going out of your way to include people if they are trying to be in your alliance. Let them do the work if you’re in a comfortable position. Avoid using negativity to exclude others. Expect one or two people to have weaker relationships with the majority. This can create interesting differences in the characters, and the big loser could have a lot of possibilities if you wanted to use the characters for scenes later. My favourite moment from my own experience from this game was where a group of three of us were talking about a vacation we had taken together. A player not in our alliance asked us, “didn’t it rain during your whole trip.” Magically, we all looked at eachother excitedly and said,”yes!”. And laughed about how great the puddle-jumping was. The game’s creator Alan Marriot suggests that it could be used to start a longform.

1/2 Step Reaction
This is a straight scene with one exception. Just after your scene partner has given their line, take a 1/2 step either towards or away from them and feel how this movement changes you. Only give your next line after you have made this movement. The distance between people shows a lot about how comfortable they are with one another. The closer their bodies are, the more comfortable they are with eachother. This activity can be used to establish subtext. Ex. player A: “Are you ok?” player B takes 1/2 step back but smiles:”Of course I am. I’m fine.” This exercise can also help you to go through changes in a scene and not just the experience everything with one perspective and emotion. Sometimes we get stuck in one mode and this exercise can help you to break that habit. Emotional reaction to the events happening around you on stage is, of course, really important to theatre.

Mish-mash of Team Work Games
Remy Bertrand introduced me to an interesting set of exercises. They involved establishing something on stage without prior verbal communication. In the first exercise, two players demonstrated an occupation without deciding before hand what that occupation would be. This was very interesting because I’m used to doing this kind of stuff on my own, but trying to watch the other person and experience this simultaneous discovery was pretty tricky. We also tried having three people simultaneously discover/create a location. The activity that took the most finesse was the one in which three people had to establish the platform of a scene as well as make a secret decision of what status position they would play (#1,#2 or #3) just prior to it beginning. Some of the more interesting scenes involved characters that were struggling to occupy the same rung on the status ladder. Two people trying to be #2 and pandering to the one #1 can make for an interesting scene.

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