This time round on Behind The Improv, I delighted to interview a star from both the improv and stand up scene in Ireland, Peter O’Byrne. Founder of The Craic Pack, Peter offered his expertise in coaching Laughalot Improv some few years ago when we were preparing for the Kilkenny Fringe Festival. Peter is an incredibly funny chap, both on and off the stage!
Thanks for taking time out to chat Peter! How did you get into Improv?
I had a key! I had been to The International to see Dublin Comedy Improv many times so I had a yearning to do improv. I was doing my first drama course in The Gaiety School of Acting and one of the class, Robert Kielty told me about Sandra Austin doing ComedySportz, so I popped down and joined Sandra’s workshops. She had performed improv for seven years in the States so it was new and lots of fun.
The Craic Pack is probably Ireland’s most successful, and entertaining, improv troupe. What has been the secret of the troupe’s success?
I’m not telling you, its a secret! If successful is defined by being still on the go ten years later, then I guess we are successful. Firstly we have been very well supported by our weekly venue, The Bankers. Alan Campbell supported us when we have very small audiences and while its a give and take relationship, (we bring customers they provide the room and sell beer), without a good working relationship we never would have go past the first month. Secondly, I think we all have fun on stage and the audience see that, plus we spend a little time on the shows production values. The Bankers is not plush as you know but we pay attention to the audience and make sure they are having a great night out. And lastly, we have developed into a tight knit group over the years and there’s trust on stage. Its one of the basic fundamentals of improv, trust you fellow performers and support them while they support you. Quite simple when it arrives but can take some time to develop in a group, patience pays off.
When you are not improvising, you’re busy acting on stage and on screen as well as doing stand up. How has improv influenced other aspects of your career?
I’ll accept that question and I’ll build on it! The principles of improv that work on stage, can also help you in life. You listen to people, you accept that they have their opinions and points of view, and you help and support new ideas while becoming more creative yourself. Its nothing very profound though, it just happens as you get more comfortable and experienced with going into the unknown. That’s improv!
The improv scene is growing worldwide and becoming more and more mainstream. Ireland too is slowly catching up. What future do you think Ireland holds with improv?
Ireland doesn’t hold a future for improv because you can only hold something that in you hand and as the future hasn’t arrived yet it cant be held, yet, or ever! I dont really know. I do my bit for the genre, I like to pass it on, which is a part of being an improviser, I think. I had aspiration for The Craic Pack, 10 years on the go was one of them. To play the Laughter Lounge to 250 people, done. Play theatres and festivals, done. There are many more but I have found that improv will look after its self, I dont worry about it as much as I did, its the cockroach of genres. I used to be so passionate about improv that my passion got in the way of me developing as a performer and workshop facilitator. Improv is still confined by the limitations put on all forms of theatre, its expensive and time consuming to produce shows with an audience capacity capable of sustaining professional performers.
There seem to be more groups popping up around the country so its future looks good I guess, however what will define its as mainstream or just an actors work shop tool will be the paying audience, and that is a whole other conversation.
Which improvisor or improv teacher has inspired you the most?
I could be profound and say the creator of improv himself, Keith Johnston, but I only met him for a couple of days and he introduced me to the same principle of improv that all the others did. Everyone I have improvised with has had some place in my development so its almost un-improv like to pick one thing or person. My main influences go in the same path as my discovery of improv; Whose line is it Anyway?, The International, Michelle Reid, The Halpenny Improv, Cieran McMahon, ComedySportz, Sandra Austin, Kevin Dowset, Veronica Coburn, Keith Johnston, Snatch Improv, Boom Chicago, and Showstoppers. I could be missing a few but all in all every time I see a group perform or teacher I realize improv is endless and improvised possibilities are infinite.
What has been your favorite improv show to watch?
I couldn’t watch it, I was in it, but I gave the laughter away to my fellow performers! As above, but to name one it would be Showstoppers, they introduced me to musical improv and as performers their range of skills is quite impressive. As an improviser I realised that I have only scratched the surface on this road to improv nirvana, and that my time should be spent developing my own skills before I go around telling other how to do it.
What has been your own favourite improv moment?
Just doing it really is an ongoing moment. I watched Whose Line Is It Anyway? on telly for years, then sat in the audience of The International and The Halpenny Improv and never thought I would ever be doing it. But thanks to an actor friend of mine, Hope Browne, he encouraged me to do an acting course in the Gaiety School and the rest is a very pleasant history with a very optimistic future. On reflection, one moment stands out but it was on my first acting course not an improv class. It was the day I realized that I could visualize and mime talking a tee shirt out of a washing machine at the end of a spin cycle, it was quite a moment. Up to that point I had felt like an idiot in class but I hung on in and trusted the teacher as she taught me how to play and imagine again. It was a nice moment and here I am now a professional performer. It just goes to show the power of trusting and listing, we’ll call it early improv I guess.
What are the most 2 important things that you think every performer should be conscious of?
Being conscious is a good one to start with! Themselves, fellow performers and their audience. (That’s three things but get over it, accept!)
Finally, can you share something about yourself, not improv related, that very few people w about you?
I’m very secretive, or am I?
Thanks again for your time Peter!
The Craic Pack perform every Friday night in the Bankers pub at 9pm. You can find them online as follows: