Here we are the end of another year. If you’re thinking that this year has flown by, well it hasn’t, but you have gotten older which means you perception of time has changed because you have more years of life behind you. Science aside, 2017 has seen political turmoil the world over, scandals come to the surface in all disciplines of the arts and NASA, almost biting the bullet and admitted aliens were in our midst. (That last one turned out to be just an unusually shaped rock spinning at high speed through the galaxy)
While my year isn’t as exciting as finding out aliens are among us, there is plenty for me to reflect as I gear up for 2018. 2017 was a somewhat quieter year for me, a busy household and a sick parent saw me take a step back for a number of months. But that’s not to say that 2017 didn’t have any adventures! Here are some of my highlights.
Straight off the bat, I jumped on a plane and headed to California in January. Sunshine and shades? Not this time. California was being hit by the worst storms if had experienced in decades. Weeks of rain ended a drought that had been in place for years and locals cried because they couldn’t play golf. Not to be deterred by weather, I did get to play with my Comedysportz San Jose friends again. Whether the CSz style of improv is your thing or not, there is no denying the sense of family and community that CSz creates and Jeff Kramer is a wonderful ambassador for it.
I also had the pleasure of performing in the first “Jeff & Friends” show in the American Improv Theatre. Jeff Ringgold is another ambassador for improv, and filled with stories both of on and off the stage. (Do ask him about the time Del Close threw his cane at him!). It was such a fun show to do, a reminder of how playful improv should be. A stand out moment was out toilet scene, where we take what could end up being lowest common denominator humour and playing to the top of our intelligence. (Toilets having existential crisis!) After the show I recorded one of my favourite Neil+1 Podcast episodes with Jeff, Amy Shank and Chris Shurland.
I also took a trip down to L.A. again to watch improv pals Nick Armstrong and Brian James O’Connell perform with Miles Stroth at the Pack Theatre. Brian in particular is one of my improv heroes. He’s an incredible teacher and coach, and his passion for improv is unrivalled.
Back home, UCB superstar Lydia Hensler returned to Dublin in February to teach a number of workshops including work on “Game”, the staple in the UCB diet. Those of you following previous posts, will remember how Lydia shattered my false expectations of what it would be like to perform alongside a UCB veteran in a slower paced show. Lydia is a great performer and teacher. She visits the UK and Ireland from time to time, well worth checking her stuff out.
Google the word “gentleman” and I’m sure this guy will show up as the first result. Lloydie, one of The Maydays, is another great teacher and performer. He has trained at all the major theatres in the US which puts him in a great position to share his experience. One of my early memories of Lloydie was taking a workshop on Game with him, where he taught it jointly with John Cremer. Lloydie is really great at demystifying improv. We had him play in a “Love! Improv” community jam while he was in town which was so much fun.
Phoenix Improv Festival
In April I was invited to direct the International Ensemble show for the Phoenix Improv Festival in Arizona. Locked in a room for a week with an array of talented performers, we devised a show and performed it twice as part of the festival. The approach I took with the group was an organic one. I wanted us to perform something that not only highlighted the strengths of the group but also showcased how improv can be quite different in style internationally. The Phoenix festival crew were incredible hosts and really took care of us in the sweltering dry heat. We worked hard that week and from that work emerged a format we lovingly called, The Phoenix. It blended improvised drama with comedy while highlighting how group mind can be used to full effect on stage. This was truly a wonderful festival to be part of. While the festival lasts only a few days, there is actually alot going on behind to scenes and the commitment of the festival team was world class. The variety and calibre of acts taking part in the fest was excellent and the after parties set the bar high!
You can catch one of our performances here.
There was so much talent on display at the festival and the theatre was filled with grandeur. One of my festival highlights was catching a duo from Minneapolis, Mayhem. It contained a clever mix of physicality and comedy, while ensuring that all scenes and characters in the show were not neglected when the show came full circle.
Performing with Orange Tuxedo at Second City
May saw me back on a plane to California and I was beyond excited at the invite to perform with Craig and Carla Cackowski, alongside my improv pal from Detroit, Jaclynn Cherry, at Second City Hollywood. Carla and Craig perform in a duo, Orange Tuxedo and were also hosting an improv jam that night. They embraced my suggestion of playing “Walken like Hawking” and after the jam, we performed in a show that ended up being a monoscene. One of my favourite things to do in improv, is just walk out and see what happens and this show was a reminder as to why. It embraced what Zenprov call “Effortless effort” and was a joy and a pleasure to be part of. Craig and Carla make improv look way too easy!
Improv Utopia West
I travelled north to one of my own improv meccas; Improv Utopia. This year was to be a special one, as we announced Improv Utopia Ireland which takes place in May 2018. The response to IU Ireland was incredible, we did not expect so many people to register so quickly and our registration goal was broken within weeks! But more on that in 2018.
Teaching at West Camp this year was Colleen Doyle and Jason Shotts of Dummy, Amy Goehler, Ithamar Enriquez and Lloyd Ahlquist. I took classes with Colleen, Ithamar and Lloyd, all excellent teachers. Lloyd however really floated my boat. He really captured both creating a strong group mind and also breaking the norm in improv. Being a fan of improv rule breaking, it really connected with me and I bent the ear off him afterward to find out more about his approach. Definitely one of my improv highlights to train with him.
Neil+1 at International Literature Festival Dublin
Back on home turf, I was set to perform Neil+1 at the International Literature Festival Dublin (IFL Dublin). Another case of you never know who is in your audience, back at the 2016 Improv Fest Ireland my +1 was actually one of the organisers of IFL Dublin. She invited me to perform the show at the festival and it was great to have the chance to perform on the Smock Alley main stage. It was also a another small victory for improv, as another aspect of the arts community was using improv as part of their line up. The show was one of the picks over on “Lovin’ Dublin”. A nice one for the memory books.
August saw the staging of a weekend of improvised narrative and plays taking place in the Pearse Centre theatre. The appetite for narrative work is growing in Dublin so [PLAY] was created to showcase that. A blend of monoscenes, genre and musicals took over and it was great to see such an embrace of narrative. [PLAY] will return once again in the summer of 2018.
That’s were things to started to wind down for me in 2017. I locked away the passport and stayed on green soil. Improv Fest Ireland was on a planned hiatus in 2017, returning 2018. I did have number of performances at Tightrope and workshops over the following months but I was in dire passive role. I did have a number of personal Tightrope highlights over the year, notably shows where I performed with Jill Cowley in a duo and with Anna Wilson, Cecilia Sundström and Helena Sofia in a dark Swedish monoscene. But my guilty pleasure was performing with Sean Eff and Mark Cantan in what we could only call “Old Man Improv”. Where pop culture references to done to appease the ageist oldness of us, rather than our audience!
Speaking of Tightrope, what started as a weekly night with only a few groups has grown into a powerhouse of improv in Dublin. Now running twice weekly with theatre nights coming in 2018, Tightrope is going from strength to strength. Its an essential part of the Dublin improv scene and great to see where it is going. Soon, it will take over!
With all the real life events that took over in the latter half of year, it ultimately realigned my own view of the world and the importance of taking care of family and also doing your best for those less fortunate. Sadly there was a moment I reached out for a bit of an outlet amidst the chaos and unfortunately it wasn’t there. While minor in the greater scheme of things, a reminder of my own need to take stock. But from those turbulent days, lots of good came from it. I kicked off the first of the “Love! Improv” Family shows in December which saw teenagers and kids in our audience for the first time. These will be monthly where possible going forward. That’s not to say these types of shows are just for kids, its more improv that the whole family can enjoy. One parent got in touch to say her kids loved it and wants to take classes! The cult of improv grows and grows!
I took a different approach to the charity work at Christmas too. Rather than raising cash for charity, we focussed our attention on collecting toys and funds for toys that we could give as presents to sick kids in Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin. A small group of us went to the hospital and hand delivered the toys while doing a bit of music and improv. It really was a rewarding experience and the parents were very grateful. Next time, we will bring gifts for the parents and staff too!
As previously mentioned my show of the year was “Mayhem” at the Phoenix Improv Festival. My favourite Irish show of the year was a recent performance by Jess’s’s’s (Jessamyn Fairfield and Jessica Keith) at Tightrope. The show that had the statues scene for those who were there. It was such a playful show and again embraced that effortless effort I talked about earlier.
Another year, another self indulgent post! I hope improv has taken care of you this year and you have taken care of improv. Wishing you all the best in 2018.