Earlier this month I had the pleasure of popping over to London to perform at Impro Fest UK, a festival organised by Sprout Ideas. The festival ran for a week and I was there for 3 days of it. I was part of 2 shows at the festival, my own show “Neil+1” and an improv cagematch with our team from Ireland, Duty Free versus a troupe from Wales, Ludus Ludius.
But lets be honest, a trip like this is always going to be about more than just your own show, its a chance to see what other great things are going on.
The festival was held in the Lion & Unicorn Theatre in Kentish town. The space was perfect (not just because it was located above a bar!) because it offered a good size stage within an intimate venue. Full credit to the team behind the festival, including organisers Dave and Martin from Sprout Ideas, who offered great support to performers and had the festival running as smooth as a pint of stout. Given the number of acts and the flow of alcohol between the shows, everything kept on track.
But first, to the shows I took part in. It was an interesting show with Ludus Ludius. I had met and improvised with Nathan Keates a few times before and was looking forward to seeing his troupe in action. While with Duty Free, we focussed on a long form style we had created specifically for the festival, Ludus Ludius performed a unique musical improv set, without music accompaniment. It was a fun show to be part of. We had a great turnout and the audience was engaged. I never get tired of performing improv no matter who I am peforming with, from expert to beginner. However I get an extra kick when I perform with Declan Ryan. I’m beginning to think he is the funniest man on the planet!
My own show, Neil+1, was offering me a chance to test it with an audience with no affiliation with me. It also gave me a chance to debut it as a full length show, now running at 60 minutes. I was very excited to be performing in London and to really gauging my own improv against an international audience and scene. My show was scheduled before one of my favourite improv troupes, The Maydays, which meant I could relax and enjoy their show afterward. However I was a little taken aback when they all came to see my show before their own and I knew at this stage I had a big job to do given I have learned so much from them! But feck it, the improv brain took over and I just did my thing! The show went very well, and my “+1”, a Korean student studying in the UK, Sung, was a great participant!
One of the techniques I wanted to work on during my show was the use of silence. In fact, one of the shows I had seen the previous day, Project Two, proved to be a very inspiring piece in that regard. The show featured Katy Schutte and Jonathan Monkhouse and the best way to summarise Project Two is that it is improvised science fiction. But its goes MUCH deeper than that. Its clear right away from the jumpsuits laden in embroidered patches with references from an array of sci-fi movies, that the performers know their stuff. But rather than go all Spaceballs, what we experienced was a dramatic show filled with tension, emotion and of course laughs. Every scene eptimised a particular principle of improv. The scene where we awaiting the alien invasion, the performers resisted any urge to be an alien, instead just focussing on how the invasion was effecting their relationship. In the scene where the performers were in the waiting room of a futuristic maternity ward, they skillfully allowed the tension to build, the silences to linger, as they patiently explored what the scene was about.
The only show I could compare it to is Chicago’s TJ & Dave and Project Two is one of the best improv shows I have seen outside of the US. If you get a chance to go see them (they will be on tour in the US later this year), just do it!
Another highlight of the festival for me was of course to see The Maydays in action with their “Guest Who” show. Their guest this time round was improv maestro, David Shore, the man behind Monkey Toast. The format was that of an Armando and as usual The Maydays were highly skilled and very entertaining, although I will admit, I missed their musical numbers, which is something that the troupe excels at! It was also my first time to see Jules Munn and Jason Delplanque perform. Both Jason and Jules have a great reputation and I was looking forward to seeing them in action. (I recently welcomed Jules and Katy to Dublin for a weekend workshop of Musical Improv which went down a storm with the participants!)
Another show that I will mention is Foghorn Improv who performed their “Movie Makeover” show. It was a fun show, taking scenes from movies and improvising them with a variety of ways, from games to scenes. The show was predominantly short form in nature however the troupe was creative with how they applied their unique style to it. I would be interested to see what they could do if they took their style and created open scenes or a long form format, as there was some great ideas in there.
Overall a great weekend, educational and entertaining! Looking forward to getting back there next year!