I had the good fortune of meeting Cariad in London last year. Cariad is a very talented performer and her success speaks for itself. What impressed me about her was the natural flare she demonstrated while performing, bringing a grace and flow that makes you forget you are watching an improviser taking on a character. Her character work is some of the best I have encountered.
So to the interview!
Hi Cariad, thanks for taking time out to do this. How did you get into improv?
I did an improv show while I was at Uni, it was a bit haphazard, we were sort of figuring things out ourselves, but it gave me the bug enough to take a course at City Lit a year later. It was a 10 week course of comedy improv, and I loved every single session, it was all short form and very silly but I fell in love very quickly.
Your solo shows have achieved numerous 5 star reviews from many critics. How did your solo shows come about?
Oh gosh, thank you, I’ve had some, which is overwhelmingly wonderful thing to happen when you do a solo show. I was doing improv for a few years, I was getting better, but I always wanted to be an actor first of all, and although the improv was helping my confidence it wasn’t opening doors in a helpful way. I was in a group called ‘The Institute’ at the time, and we did a mixture of short form and long form, and we were genuinely, consistently hilarious, but only about 10 people saw us! Half the group started doing stand-up, and started getting other work, so I sort of realised as much as I loved improv, I needed to start writing stuff down to get other people to trust and believe in what I could do. I was hugely encouraged by Pippa Evans (Showstopper!) and she made me write a character stand up set which seemed less scary than traditional stand-up, it was basically like doing an improvised monologue, and I really liked that. It built from there really, I started gigging more, and then working it up into a show. The shows always have an element of improv about them, but there’s a script underneath to support it. I like the improvised bits obviously.
You were a founder of “Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel“, a show that has also been highly acclaimed by the critics. What are the challenges in putting together an improv show that is centred around the works of Jane Austen?
Well, fundamentally you have to start with the improv, you can be an expert Austen scholar but if you can’t improvise it won’t work. We rehearse a lot together, working on listening and getting the silent communication and trust as strong as possible. All the usual improv-rehearsal things that confuses non-improv people. But we do also work on the Austen side, we all read the books, and have semi-regular ‘bonnet-research nights’ because we are basically geeks. Last time we all took an element of 1814 life and researched it and then presented it to the group. I took military history as I knew nothing about it, and was fed up of assuming we were at war with France all the time. Turns out England was at war with France pretty much all the time, but it’s nice to have a few dates or names to throw in. We also re-read the books, watch the adaptations together, just anything to remind you of that world and the vocabulary you need. Although to be fair, some of us talk and act like we’ve walked out of an Austen novel, so that helps things as well.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced in your career?
Confidence. I meet so many amazing improvisers who are terrified of the written word. Improv attracts talented people who don’t want to write it down in case it’s wrong, that was certainly a huge part of my initial addiction with it, the creative buzz without the fear of criticism. I still work on it every day, ignoring every voice that tells you not to create, but I’ve learnt it’s a constant battle not an end of level baddie that you don’t have to deal with ever again.
Which improviser or improv teacher has inspired you the most?
There’s been a lot of brilliant people who’ve helped me, I’ve been absolutely blessed to work with some of the best and talented improvisers in the UK in my opinion. Adam Megiddo will forever be an inspiration to me, no one can steer scenes and stories like he can, it’s flawless and generous and always exactly what the scene needs. He was the first person to get me involved with the 50 hour improvathons, introduced me to Ken Campbell, and generally encouraged me every step of the way, I feel very lucky whenever I work with him. And of course, the Canadian contingent who have come to London over the years, there’s some mind blowing talent over there. Kurt Smeaton is still the funniest improviser I’ve ever worked with, he taught me every line can be funny without runing a story or a scene, if it’s 100% in character, he’s staggering. Always see him if ever you get a chance.
What was your favourite improv show to watch?
I think Kurt’s show, Scratch, which he did with the equally brilliant Kevin Gillese over here was a big influence, certainly on myself and Paul Foxcroft and our own two-prov show Cariad&Paul. It was the first time I saw people storytelling in such a playful way, they kept breaking improv ‘rules’ without ruining the scene. Rather cheesily my favourite improv show to watch is Austentatious, I still laugh so hard when I’m watching from the side, they really are my favourite improvisers to watch (apart from the mighty Mr. Foxcroft).
What was your own favourite improv moment?
They’re are so many, I’ve been improvising now for eight years, so they blur into various shapes. I’m not one of those improvisers who can quote you word for word scenes, plus I don’t need to as Paul is so amazing at that, it’s like having a computer with you, if you need to remind yourself of the scene you did May 31st 2007, he can tell you, so it’s always really nice remembering stuff with him, it’s so accurate. There are moments that stick out, as you fall in love with something…The first time I saw Sean McCann improvise a sonnet he’d written whilst counting backwards in 7’s in Ken Campbell’s School of Night, when Kurt broke the fourth wall, literally, on stage and convinced me the audience and the stage were both realities in my first improvathon causing me to lose all grasp of space and time, Andy Murray coming into a scene when we did Cross-tentatious for charity in Edinburgh and the boys dressed as girls and vice-versa, and he played the sister no one liked and without thinking we all shouted at him at exactly the same time, there are a myriad of magical moments, that form a picture of why I love watching it so much.
What are the most 2 important things that you think every performer should be conscious of?
The audience and your fellow players. How can you help your team/show players, what do they need from you, what does the scene need? And then the thing that I feel gets neglected sometimes in improv shows, the audience, if they’ve paid to see you, don’t treat that as not important. Try stuff out, be playful, but if they’ve paid they should get a show, and they should walk out thinking I like improv, I’d see that again. You have a responsibility to the medium not to put them off. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a bad show, of course they happen, but lazy, sloppy shows bother me.
Finally, can you share something about yourself, not improv related, that very few people know about you?
Um, Cariad is Welsh for sweetheart, I’m half-Welsh but grew up in London, and Welsh people always think my name is a bit odd. One man refused to call me that as he reserved it for his wife. It made the communication that day a little slow.
For more details on what Cariad does check out her website here
For info on her two person show Cariad & Paul which she is performing in the Edinburgh Fringe, check out the festival page here.
You can also check out the pilot episode to The Cariad Show on the BBC iPlayer here.
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