As another year draws the curtains, I’m once again reflecting on where I was at the end of 2014 and where I am now. It’s important to set yourself goals every year, write them down and track your progress. Otherwise you risk coasting or growing stagnant. I’ve been quite lucky in 2015 with some of my personal and improv goals. Here are just some of my 2015 highlights, also known as the self-indulgent memory post!
The Maydays – ‘Oh Boy!’
One of my favourite shows in 2015 was when I caught The Maydays at Impro Fest UK. The Maydays have had a huge influence on me and if it wasn’t for them, I probably wouldn’t be improvising. They introduced a new format inspired by the TV show Quantum Leap, where they improvise a full episode. Narrative improv at its best and they really showed why they are top of their game. The Maydays always look like they are having lots of fun and really know how to play with each other on stage.
There are few people in the Improv community that would have people traverse the wilderness to have a chance to workshop or indeed just hang out with an improviser. One such person is the truly wonderful Susan Messing. It has been a goal of mine to welcome Susan to Dublin for many years.
Susan brings such wonderful energy and enthusiasm to both Improv and a room of people yet she remains quite humble and down to earth. Susan only had time for a half day workshop while in town but there was so much to be learned from her workshop, ‘Group Pretty’ no matter what level you are at. Her 10 min pep talk at the end of the workshop was inspiring and personal to Dublin. Only wish I could have taken a video. Susan will be back in Dublin in 2016 for a longer duration.
Sunny, Sunny Florida
I took some holidays in June to Florida and while it genuinely was a holiday, I did manage to squeeze in some improv along the way. Will Luera, formerly of ImprovBoston, took a position as director of improvisation for the Florida Studio Theatre in Sarasota. Sarasota in beautiful and the FST is one of the most impressive theatres Ive been in. I had the good fortune of guesting in their improvised musical, When X Meets Y.
It was a formal affair with a number of musicians playing backing for the show. Thoroughly enjoyed being part of the show alongside veterans such as Will and New York’s Ali Reed. Will had trusted me to be part of this primetime show and I was humbled by it. If you are ever in Florida, be sure to stop by the FST.
Lauren Morris runs the Adlib Theater in Orlando and I also had the pleasure of performing Neil+1 and guesting with their Harold team. A fun night with some energetic performers. Lauren is doing great work in Orlando for improv. She has built a solid house team and her student base is growing and growing.
Welcome to Detroit
I’m pretty sure that no one ever has woken up and said, “I must go on holiday to Detroit”. However having spent some time there in May, I for one cannot wait to go back! But it’s not what Detroit offers in tourist attraction that is drawing me, its the people. Especially the improvisers. People are so welcoming and friendly. Detroit has two improv theatres; Go! Comedy and Planet Ant, the latter of which was founded by Keegan-Michael Key of Key & Peele. I made new friendships with some Detroiters back at Improv Utopia East in 2014 and given a few of us where heading to Improv Utopia West, it made a perfect place to land before heading together.
The Improv community in Detroit is tight and the personality of the players really shines through in their performances which really brings an edge to the scene. That kind of energy and passion was contagious, I immediately wanted to be part of it. I took part in jams in both theatres (the jam in Go! was a Camp Jam composed of Improv Utopia past and present participants) and if you are ever in Detroit, highly recommend dropping by. Be sure to check out Robocop The Musical if its running when you are in town too.
Big shout out to my good friend Jaclynn and all my Detroit friends for their hospitality!
Camp Improv Utopia West
I blogged about Improv Utopia West earlier this year. You can read all about it here.
Parallelogramophonograph in Dublin
In 2014 I was talking about workshopping with Texans, PGraph, in London. In 2015 I hosted them in Dublin for one of their weekend intensive and the staging of two of their shows, French Farce and Villainy. PGraph are some of the best narrative improvisers I’ve come across and with over 600 shows under their belt, their chemistry on and off stage allows them to push the boundaries of their shows.
In particular their performance of Villainy was enthralling. It is dark comedy at its darkest with one of the performers taking on the role of villain, however the decision as to who, is not decided up front. It emerges as the story unfolds. I imagine the temptation to break the structure by delving into slapstick humour to lighten the mood is high, yet at no stage did the foursome ‘drop their shit’ as Joe Bill would say. One scene in particular, where the villain sat face to face with another character was devoid of humour yet had the audience on the edge of our seats in anticipation of what might happen next. Truly wonderful.
iO Advanced Harold – London
One of the Improv’s hardest working people in no doubt Jules Munns. Jules is a machine when it comes to organising, teaching and performing. In September he had Tara DeFrancisco and Rance Rizzuto over from iO to teach some Harold. I was in the advanced intensive with Tara alongside some familiar improv faces. Tara was an impressive teacher who really helped us progress over the days and go deep with organic Harold’s. Despite being a little bit rusty with the Harold going in, I came out energised and wanting more. In fact she made organic Harold feel easy and make you wonder why we bother with any kind of structure at all!
Festivals – London, Toronto & Barcelona
I took Neil+1 on the road to festivals a few times this year. In March I returned to Impro Fest UK for the third time and met some audience members who told me that they had seen my show 3 years running and loved it. In London, I was playing the Boy Seeks Girl format and spent the guts of an hour before the show trying to find fresh flowers in the London West End. Proved to be a bigger challenge than performing improv with a stranger!
In October I took the show to Toronto’s Big City Improv Festival and got to spend time with my good friends, Ashley Comeau and Connor Thompson. This festival is quite large, spans two venues and attracts celebrity names. In this case, Colin Mochrie (Whose Line Is It Anyway?), John Lutz (30 Rock) and Scott Adsit (30 Rock) I had two prime slots in the festival and the nerves were running high. However I pulled off two great, very different shows with two wonderful audience volunteers.
Each show offered its own challenge with each +1 bringing her personality to the fold. Adding to the nerves was the fact that while I have performed Neil+1 internationally in many countries before, this was the first festival outside of Ireland and the UK that the show was part of.
I was also part of the festival jam and it remains one of the most fun jams I have been part of. The standard was incredibly high which felt like a combination of the talent there and the support that everyone brought to the mix. While in Toronto I also had the pleasure of guesting the Improv set at Second City after the main stage Revue. Something I will always fondly remember!
Big shout out to my dear friends Ashley and Connor for their hospitality!
November saw me take Neil+1 to Barcelona Improv Festival, Europe’s largest Improv festival. Europe’s biggest festival and lots of big acts and other festival organisers were in town. This is truly a wonderful festival with so many great people and shows on offer. I have developed quite a fandom for France’s Cie du Théâtre de l’oignon! Hats off to Noah and his team for the work they are doing.
The pressure was on again. “You’re only as a good as your last Neil+1 show” is what I always tell myself, rightly or wrongly! The theatre was huge and the audience full. Which made the green room all the more large and lonelier when you are performing a show alone with an audience member. The show went down very well and was another one of those shows where the audience member felt comfortable with just letting himself go in the moment and completely embrace the reality created.
Neil+1 has grown so much in 2015 both as a show and for me as a performer. My comfort on stage with a stranger and letting him or her take the limelight (and often the high praise too!) is an interesting experience yet so rewarding. I become the man behind the curtain and allow every guest to revel in the joy of spontaneity on stage in front of a supportive audience. Its a wonderful thing to have a +1 allow you step into their life and poke around in a respectful manner. One of my Toronto +1 told me she found it a “life changing experience”. A lovely thing for her to say and hopefully every +1 gets something from being part of the show. All I have to do is support and worship my +1. Every movement they make and every thing that they say is correct, right and always true.
Improv Fest Ireland – Round 3
Improv Fest returned for the third year and its amazing to see how much it has grown since year 1. Applications for teachers and performers were out the door and it made it a really tough job to decide on what acts and what teachers. Fortunately having Órla Mc Govern onboard helps things go smoothly. As the festival grows, the demands of the festival grow too. You quickly learn that you can never have enough dedicated volunteers too.
It would be unfair to list my favourite acts of the festival as they were selected against tough competition and all brought something great to the festival. We had so much on offer in terms of style and show, even greater than previous years. Our panel discussions, a first for us, were highly engaging. We had a Women in Improv panel and a National Improv Network Panel. The Women in Improv Panel had been planned for quite some time yet seemed very well-timed with the previous week’s #wakingthefeminists
This year’s festival also marked a milestone with the staging of the first Improv Utopia Camp Jam to take place outside of the US. Delighted to see it happen in Dublin! Improv Utopia founder and friend, Nick Armstrong, was also part of the festival this year. Nick is quite the inspiration to me when it comes to improv. I had a pleasure of getting to play alongside him too which was a joy.
2016 and beyond
There is much in store for 2016. Festivals are lining up as are travel plans for Improv Utopia too. Another non stop improv marathon shall is in the pipe along with a stand along ImproVision – The Improvised Eurovision. Improv Fest Ireland will of course return for year 4 and I will be launching Speechless Ireland too. More on that soon!
This is just some of the things I got up to in 2015 and how my journey in improv has progressed. A big thanks to everyone who made 2015 what is was!