Jason (centre) pictured with Cariad (right) and Berkan (left).
I spent last weekend braving the Siberian weather in the UK and attending a Long Form improvisation weekend of workshops with Jason Chin. Jason hails from the infamous iO Theatre in Chicago where he has been involved with improv for over 15 years. He has held the positions of the iO Associate Artistic Director, as well as the Director of their Training Center. Jason created the improvised news satire, Whirled News Tonight, which has been running for over 8 years. He is the author of Long-form Improvisation and the Art of Zen Jason was in the UK as a guest of The Maydays.
Or in short, he has the credentials!
My inability to read emails correctly resulted in me arriving in the UK on a Thursday night, for a course that would not kick off until Saturday morning. I spent the Thursday night and Friday taking in the local offerings in Cambridge. Those offerings consisted mostly of snow and cold though. And a search for a scarf.
But I digress. So after a miserable night’s sleep I rose from the dead early on Saturday morning to take a train to London. My destination was “The Nursery” in Southwark. (Note to Irish readers, it is not pronounced South Wark!) An upbeat Jason greeted us at the door and in total there was about 16 of us ready to get stuck in! There were a couple of familiar faces from my previous improv adventure with the Maydays in Leela as blogged about here.
But lets talk about the venue, The Nursery. It was as if the room was built under a railway bridge, with the walls filled in cement and a door added. No, this is not a metaphor, the room really was under a railway bridge! The room was cool and quirky. But, it had no heating. And it was freezing! Thanks to the brainwaves of one of the participants, a few phone calls later we had a flurry of portable heaters which helped to stave off some of the cold by lunchtime. Every little helps!
So Jason gave us an introduction and we got stuck in. After a couple of warm up exercises, we spent most of the day (and the following day) in a variety of open scenes. It was quickly obvious that most people in attendance were experienced improvisers and some people perform regularly. The talent on display was excellent and equally hilarious! But Jason brought an additional edge to the proceedings. He is a fantastic teacher, very attentive and offers great insight into improvisation with his thoughts and feedback. His ability to plants seeds in your head brought out very fruitful results on stage. Jason put much emphasis on emotional reaction and the +1 and it was as if everything just ‘made sense’!
I personally find performing improv, especially long form, very liberating. The concept of “Group Mind” during a scene creates a strong bond between performers and the experience and energy becomes shared. There were many hugs, claps and back pats after each scene which only serves to highlight the enjoyment and bond that performing together brings. While you become used to it with your own troupe, its rejuvenating to experience it with new people.
There were so many great scenes over the 2 days (and probably even more during the showcase on the final day which due to my flight home, I missed), many colourful characters and hilarious quotes. Moments like when during a scene Jesus cries, “If I can’t repair a rusty hinge how am I expected to perform miracles!” Or after a scene involving a character receiving a banana on his birthday, Jason asked Andrew how he felt in the scene and Andrew replied, “Was that before banana or after banana?” All classic spontaneous moments!
I met some great people over the 2 days and I’m looking forward to meeting again, be it on stage or viewing from the audience. I’m also looking forward to my US trip in 2013 when Chicago is on the agenda!
Every time I attend or partake in anything improv related in the UK, I am inevitably filled at some point with jealousy at how large and cohesive the improv scene is there compared with Ireland. Its not that we don’t have great improvisers in Ireland, we have some great talent too. But we need more troupes, more venues willing to open their doors to improv and we need to raise the profile of improvisation in Ireland to a higher level.
To quote a friend who used to perform with me in improv shows, “I told people in work that I have done improv before, and thoroughly explained exactly what this entails. Despite this, many a conversation has been started with the line: ‘Did you know Dave did stand-up?’“
But lets not end on a downer. A fantastic weekend of improv with great people and great tutoring was had. If you have a chance to train with Jason in Chicago or indeed The Maydays in the UK, just do it!
You can follow Jason’s blog here
You can visit the Mayday’s website here