Times have changed this past year. I’d normally be writing this in between bouts of checking work email for my employer as we are race toward the end of the busiest period of the year. Instead I’m typing this in bed, having had a leisurely breakfast and now relaxing out with the Christmas madness becoming a distant past. Once again its finger to keyboard as I indulge in that most self indulgent wrap up of the year that was.
Making The Jump
A major life change occurred in early 2019 as I parted ways with my employer to work for myself full time in the realm of training, improv and coaching. I had being doing it part time for many years and it was building up to the need to move full time. Being self employed is scary at first, the lack of the consistent month pay packet, the need to learn and utilise more skills in the workplace and realising that you are always ‘on’. Despite the scariness, my major feeling since taking the plunge has been ‘why didn’t I do this sooner?’. The self employed journey is hard, very hard, but its so worth it. Every hour you work you are doing it for you, so there is no time for slacking or coasting.
I deliver a lot of corporate improv training or applied improv as we also call it. I prefer to view improv as my pedagogy and training tool rather than what I teach organisations. Delivering training on a variety of skills that tie in with Improv feels like a no brainer but its not as prevalent in the training that you might think. Plus there is appetite for it as a training approach. The technical term is active learning or an active classroom. Its very effective and arguably the future of training.
This year I have worked with companies across many sectors, from public services to financial services to tech and even worked with some famous rugby players preparing them for a new season of their web show. Even more importantly for improv and the mainstream, I have delivered 8 talks over the year on using improv in the workplace. Feedback has been very positive with it creating an appetite for the business world to want to find out more. This has been part of my longer terms goals – to put Improv as a credible option for organisations and educational institutes in developing people. And of course the by product of that is we are creating new audiences and improvisers in the process!
A Wee Bonnie Improv Festival
In January, I flew to Edinburgh with Neil+1, honoured to be selected to perform in Edinburgh’s first improv festival. I challenge you to find any event that won’t shine in such a fantastic city like Edinburgh, and this festival was no exception. There was a great buzz for the fest and with great acts like Dummy, Dangerfield and Abandoman also there it made for a little bit of improv heaven. (By the way, the show Dummy performed there has ranked as one of the best improv shows I have seen period). The Edinburgh festival is back again in early 2020 and do recommend checking it out, especially for those in the Irish community. Edinburgh is only a stone’s throw away!
Nottingham Comedy Festival
Later in the year, I had the privilege of teaching and performing at the Nottingham Comedy Festival. Its a large comedy festival with the improv side taken care of by the the good folk at MissImp. I had never been to this part of the UK before and I had expected to be surrounded by the touristic milking of Robin Hood. Aside from having a Sheriff instead of a mayor, its very difficult to find much reference to Robin Hood around the city, which can’t help but make me feel like they are missing a trick. I did find Wayne Manor from the Dark Knight Trilogy. But also they make little fuss about the fact its Wayne Manor too. Its as if Nottingham is this very polite city that doesn’t want to cause a fuss but has a great bus service.
That aside, the festival was great fun. I was spoiled being in the company of Liam Weber, Emily Brady and ‘Lloydie’ anyway but the heart of the festival team really shines. So much so that a few folk on the team have recently announced the first Nottingham Improv Festival will run in May 2020. And you can probably guess what they called it: The Robin Hood International Improv Festival.
Shows, Shows, Shows!
Aside from my passion project of Neil+1 which I have been performing for over 7 years now, its has also been a great year performing with in a duo with Jenna O’Brien, formerly of ImprovBoston, in a show called Time Card. It took us a great number of months to agree on a name, despite the show having a workplace theme. In the end, Michael Patrick Thornton (of TV’s Private Practice and The Red Line fame) gave the show its name over a pint in Dublin which settled it.
Speaking of Michael, I had the honour of being invited to perform with him when he was visiting Dublin earlier this year. Michael’s show You & Me isn’t too dissimilar to Neil+1 in premise, however Michael’s guests in the past have included Michael Shannon so there was big shows to fill in being his guest for the first international performance.
Michael is a joy to perform with, his ability to spot and heighten the smallest of detail is quite unique and makes for a thoroughly enjoyable show to be a performer in. Quite the highlight.
I also had the privilege of performing Neil+1 (and teaching) in Padua, Italy with a cello accompaniment in a fabulous Italian theatre in 30c heat! Big thanks to Zeno Cavalla for making it happen. Definitely one that the Mammy would be proud of.
One of my joys of the year is the debut of 72 Hours. A show that I had being co-developing for some time with L.A. based performer Maura Mannle, it made its debut in The PIT in New York in May. I love performing with Maura, her hybrid of both her improv and acting skills makes for a rich show that can blend drama with comedy allowing for a deeper narrative and more complex characters. We also performed the show in Dublin at Improv Fest Ireland in December and have great plans for the show in 2020,.
No year of improv would be complete without Improv Utopia. 2019 was the second year of Improv Utopia Ireland and I was excited once again with the great line up of teachers we had. The ‘second album’ challenge was no different for this year but it was great to see things run even smoother this year. The cult of campers is growing wider!
For more about Improv Utopia Ireland 2020, you can check out the website here.
At West Camp in Cambria, I was back in the counsellor chair for the Cousteau Cabin. I set myself the challenge of trying to change the ethos of the cabin by adapting the philosophy of “how does that make you feel?”. As fun as it was, a few people commented on how much they welcomed the shift and I hope to see future counsellors take on a similar view.
Favourite Shows of the Years
Singling out 2 shows that I saw this year is tough but from an international perspective my favourite show was Dummy at the Edinburgh Improv Festival. With Colleen and Jason being in a real life relationship you can see how strong their chemistry is on stage and their skill in weaving grounded narrative is excellent.
My favourite Irish show of the year was a show by the duo Underthings featuring Denny MacDermott and Debbie Cheevers. A strong duo, their show often takes us to dark places with dark characters and both Denny and Debbie’s ability to create fleshed out characters is a joy to watch.
So what’s in store for 2020?
I have a number of projects in the pipe for next year, some of which I can’t publicly share yet. Improv Utopia Ireland returns in April and Improv Fest Ireland will return later in the year. I will be putting a large focus on my own business and some clients are lining up some international training and shows, including an event in Rome. No doubt, there will be some surprises along the way. Wishing you all the best for 2020.