Nathan Keates (Nathan Improv) is a trainer, improvisation teacher and a performing arts teacher; that is only a distinction on subject. Keates is a theatre-maker, improviser and clown. He is so addicted to improv, impro, improvisation that he researches it too. The current project is on autism and improv comedy.
How many times have you read that you are not good enough as an improviser? There are countless top tips that will make you the best of the best at performing improv comedy. However, do they work and make you better? It is unlikely that a few words will change why you perform. It is not how you perform that needs addressing (most of the time), as you've sat through all those workshops; you've probably gone to tons of international teachers too.
Their value comes when teaching that other way that you haven't done yet… or digging deeper into that field of improv, which you currently desire greatly. Subsequently, this post is not about those still developing into their interest in a specific realm of improv comedy. Although, you are enough too: This is true even when developing, as you're enough to do what form you know (in the way you know it). In any case, there is more to your improv than you.
The top tips of today are about what can be done without addressing your acumen at acting funnily, or performing in general.
Use theatrical lighting
The comedic theatre, or dramatic for some, that you present is a kind of theatre that people watch. Therefore, to make it engaging and the best tip of these, use lighting effectively. A simple white wash state across the stage is not a dynamic and interesting image to look at. The technician of the theatre is talented and can be spontaneous. If you let them play with you and create the atmosphere of the scene through striking visuals, then your production will immediately become brilliant.
If you wish to work out why this is true, find that reoccurring blog bit that asks you to state whether the group photo is a ska band promotional photo or an improv group. Nonetheless, the real topic is not on promotional photos (even though the use of them are advocated too). Have a look at what photos are thrilling to see of general scripted theatre and compare then to captured improvised theatre. The expectation is that improvised theatre misses what those glorious lamps create for the audience. It is a generalisation that does not fit every improv comedy production that has ever been made, but the point being made is what is being endorsed.
It is obvious that if adding great imagery to your work is useful, then putting in sound too would be wise. Using multiple musicians for a strong, textured, sound adds quality to the production by bringing about an atmosphere. The American history or modern improv comedy used pianists to add to their sets, which worked well. In the modern world, some use electronic music. Either way, the additional sound supports the improvised scenes. For example, a horror film without the music and sounds behind the action would not be scary at all. Onstage, a strong silence is stronger when there has been sound. The musician can set so much about the scene, including scenic details as well as the ambiance.
The contradiction to this is that it must fit the production being offered. This only means using the right musicians. The other issue is that musicians aren't always available and costly. There was one production that used a odd instrument as the sole music to the production and the guy ran off with most of the profit of the run… and didn't really do a lot. Unfortunate, but the point to take is to use the right instruments and reputable musicians. In that production, it was a random find that was gambled on. Create the work, don't let it create you: as the fools’ world suggests.
Use appropriate staging and sets
When you enter a theatre, what do you see? The auditorium might be gorgeous and stimulating the brain. However, if you're not in an old or fancily designed space, then you will need to alter what else your audience sees. They look at the stage. What does that tell them that is relevant to your production? You could have a full-scale set, if that's the design of the show, or something more simple… and the word keeps appearing… an atmosphere. There is no reason to not add something for your audience to get intrigued by to start with. They came to see your production, you might as well congratulate them on doing so by giving them a night to remember.
Have an audience that came for what you are presenting (less ambiguity)
Do you know what production you're performing? Will the audience, which may love that production, be aware what it is? It seems simple to say, but how frequently do improv comedy companies set the audience in the right frame for their events? The answer, even for someone who is well aware of such, is not often and rarely. This is also on the thought to create your work, the ‘why perform’.
Many people rely on that marketable gimmick that alludes to what they are performing to sell their tickets. It works, obviously. A sustainable production on the back of a well understood genre, famed cultural classic or person will enable the new spectator to improv to instantly feel acquainted. However, there are a lot of them that exist, and they are not all the same. How do production companies frame their version of Hamlet? Audiences mostly know what the play is, but if you are setting it in 1930s with WW2 - I am certain (not only due to recently hearing about something similar) that they want to know. The purist Shakespeare fans will not want to come to be disappointed. This is the same for improv purists with what you may be doing with your productions.
Therefore, sell your production and not just the gimmick. Furthermore, do this so as to get your audience that you deserve and who would love to see your production. Know what you are selling and tell people what it is and not a vague overview of what a Harold is. Of course, everyone has done it and probably will slip into doing so still; however, let’s try to be clear.
Stop clenching the buttocks about achieving the form
Once you have sold the production, you must perform it… however, there is little to nothing worse that a bunch improvisers trying to do their production. The form is just the ‘house you shit in’ (as per Messing; the year I first heard her say this is forgotten, otherwise I would state it here). Hence, the need to not be overly concerned with it. Leave the process of building and guiding your production to your director, or coach (the person in the audience, hopefully) watching you. On numerous occasions, there have been shows that did not meet the performer’s desires - this gets in your way: it is a greater problem when you are performing and the director and/or producer and have so much hope and aspiration for the production.
So, remember that you are onstage to improvise: improvise first and let the form exist based on rehearsal and not mental capacity to recall what you ‘should’ be doing. No one wants to see you ‘should on yourself’ (Razowsky; I am sure I first heard this from him before meeting in person).
The obvious problem with all of these tips is that you may not have the facilities or resources to do them. On the other hand, you can manage something. A small stage can still be lit well. A empty room above a pub can have an audience knowing what they have come to see. Fundamentally, it has to fit your event. If these don't work due to your audience type, your production, then the reality is that all the above are being used the way your production requires. Engage in your art and theatre with your audience, in the way you design it. Lastly, remember that not all of your improv can be improvised.
There is improv comedy and theatre in many towns and cities across the United Kingdom. The few that shall be included in this discussion are ones that have a personal connection. We can question how much the culture of the city affects the art, the theatre and how we improvise. The ever-growing community in these local areas bring themselves, there background and their surroundings. There shall be four towns or cities that shall be investigated.
In Canterbury, Kent, improv comedy began many years ago. It has had a lot of comedy and improv, specifically, historically. Noise Next Door, who tour the UK stand-up comedy venues performing hilarious improv, started their careers in Canterbury. There has been improv in schools in Kent due to the work of such people as Lucy Fennell. Similarly, there has been some in the universities too.
Students still have improv comedy. Nowadays, it is solely focused on doing improv. The growth in the group has developed splendidly. Not only do they perform, or have done, long-form (30 minute non-linear, thematic productions or improvised plays), but they have been a member of Theatresports (iTi; short-form competitive full-scale evening of a myriad of emotional theatre that is very funny).
What is the impact on the theatre created from the culture of Canterbury? It would be thought that what people must want from their art is improvised Chaucer or other literary-based creation. However, with a student population in the improv community, there are younger politics involved, as well as their sensibilities. Nonetheless, that relatability and human nature is still at the core of the comedy in Canterbury. From the funny of love to the hysterics behind rivalry in the office, Kent seems to offer a wide variety of laughter.
The local community can once more engage in improv comedy with the Canterbury Improv classes. There are weekly drop-in classes and weekend intensive courses.
In Basingstoke, Hampshire, the arts world is quite small, and yet the improv comedy community is growing. There are two theatres that are now one organisation, and one company that have their own arts venue near the top of town. Nonetheless, this does not affect the desire for comedy in Basingstoke.
Hampshire, in general, has had some fantastic improv. In Havant, near Portsmouth, there was a theatre company that ran improv productions and classes. Unfortunately, they have stopped now. The wonderful and aforementioned lady, now working in Southampton, has been teaching improv in a school that has performed recently. Also in Southampton, the students there run comedy events that include improv. So Hampshire seems fertile for more improv.
Basingstoke is a commuter town, so it can be believed. There is a lot of business and computer-related occupations, and holistic therapy too. The impact of this on the comedy and theatre created seems to be fairly minimal. It could be the teaching that has been provided, but there is silliness, with physical comedy, and once more a human connectedness to what drives people to laugh.
The local community in Hampshire can take advantage of the Basingstoke Improv weekend intensive classes that occur. Likewise, the improv comedy nights that happen may continue, so you can see performances and chuckle thoroughly.
In Cardiff, Wales, the history of improv has a fair amount of lineage. Rob Brydon, for example, although he should be mentioned in the next city - due to it being group in Bath. There have been a number of groups in the past, anyway. Cardiff loves its comedy. There is a strong focus on stand-up comedy, with some sketch.
There is not a lot of improv comedy in Wales, overall, but the reoccurrence of it says a lot. Wales lusts for more. It is a great principality for wonderful theatre. Amazing circus, clown and musical productions. Specifically in Cardiff, this description still works, as it has NoFit State circus and Hijinx Theatre - and many more.
Cardiff loves its weekends and rugby. The impact on improv is more likely, however, to come from the theatre practices. The prospective faster-pace of stand-up seems to drive those that dabble to short-form games - not that long-form cannot be fast (it can be faster, more often).
The wider community, and the local, can benefit from the Cardiff Impro weekend classes that are run in the capital city of Wales: Cardiff. The potential for monthly improv comedy nights with a variety of productions is available. Hopefully, Chapter Arts centre shall host these when all the puzzle pieces are aligned.
Lastly, Bristol has a vast amount of improv comedy and theatre now. This is many thanks to the graduates of the university there. Specifically, it is thanks to one man: Andy Yeoh. He is a remarkable guy and has formed the foundations of the community there so that the growth can be exponential. Every few years, the boom happens and there are more possibilities. There has been improv there for many years, not just from the university, as there are theatre companies that do improvise and nearby, in Bath, there was the group with Rob Brydon and Ruth Jones. That was lead by Paul Z Jackson (from the Applied Improvisation Network, these days).
Bristol has a lot of arts. The glorious dancers, circus, clown, fools, magicians, musicians... The weekly events that no one can keep up with is why Bristol is an amazing city to live in. The impact on the improv there must be true. Nonetheless, the funny does come from the human qualities; whether they are presented through a more clown perspective or emotional theatricality, they are accessible.
The local community have the weekend intensive classes to support their development and drive the improv comedy and theatre scene into a wider range of production styles. We seek to connect, we wish to play.
nice to be inspired to write an article. It is equally as nice to
note the hypocrisy of the articles. In this, the topic shall be what
has been written against previously. There are terms in improv that
are not productive; common agreed terms that are not useful are
'should' or 'supposed to', because they put pressure and impossible
for improv has definites: Obviously nothing has to happen, it is
improvised. Nonetheless, the terms that this discusses and have a
long-lastingly dislike for are master and veteran. The following will
discuss, in a less referenced level than usual, the reasons that link
to the previously used words.
improvisation, the training provides a freedom; it gives opportunity
to explore yourself and your language (specifically in context of
this article). The words that get uttered are the greatest, even if
they are not. Improvisers build on whatever is said and done. After
improving from the basics, further courses could well expand this
into wider awareness of tone, phrasing and physical speech (any
communication that is physical). Essentially, as improvisers that are
building more experience and trust in ourselves and each other,
people then get to own their words. Therefore, the word improv means
something exact. In the Oxford English Dictionary
(Oxforddictionaries.com, 2015), the definition of improvise is clear,
“Create and perform … spontaneously or without preparation.”
However, it also states for improvisation (ibid.), “The action of
improvising”. The more appropriate of these definitions that works
for the people in the art form is the one for 'improvising'. Due to
one needing to refer to the other, as defined by O.E.D it is required
that improvisation is in action of something in order to improvise.
Therefore, that 'something' can be any action, anything. The word
improvisation is a noun, a thing, and the definition relates purely
to the action. Therefore, it is fair to suggest that improv is not a
thing, but a doing of a thing. Another commonly agreed part of
defining improv is by observing that it is all in process. All of
humanity, and others, are in process: Our lives are improvised and
are a process of birth to death (if not birth to death, then a to b).
Improv is not just doing scenes or group games, or any other limited
perception. To see further than this we can look at Forced
Entertainment, Improbable, Fluxx, Geese Theatre Company and no doubt
Improv is an action and not the form. A form is seen to be, “The
visible shape or configuration of something.”
2015) Therefore, the form of improvisation can be scenic, dance,
music, art, clown, fool, mask; however, then that is looking more
into the subgenre of ‘scenic’, which is fact a subgenre of
theatre. It is possible to improvise anything. Even scriptwriting is
based in improvisation. A writer could have learnt and use as much
structure as the person requires, but in the end the idea has to
spontaneously come from somewhere. Once more, that seems a little too
pedantic to continue this dissection with. Other verbs have form. For
example, walk; when we walk we can walk in various shapes and
configurations; it is possible to be in the form of a catwalk. This
form has various conventions that can require the way you complete
your verb, walking, can be restricted. Similarly, another verb is
run; in this action we can run in the form of 100 metres or a cross
country race. This is the exact same as improvising, as the forms we
can use are numerous.
of an activity, skill or area of study has its acknowledged
definitions and uses. The common understanding of a master is a
person that has the most knowledge on the topic in the room.
Therefore, every time one steps into a space, a survey would need to
be taken to determine who the master is in that moment. The statement
is hyperbolic; however it makes a sensible comment on the use of the
term. In accordance to this, it is not wise to call oneself a master,
because one cannot know that for sure. On the other hand, The Oxford
English Dictionary (Oxforddictionaries.com) states the definition as
“a skilled practitioner of a particular art or activity.” This
offers a looser use of the term; anyone could be a master in one
given location. Nonetheless, for various areas of expertise a master
may not well be very skilled. When does one know that they are
skilled? It is subjective, as one person's mastered skillset is
another's student development.
these ideas in more of a context, improv being a process and not a
thing means that being skilled at doing so is not possible. Can one
master life? Life is also a process. To claim that an improviser has
mastered the art form would be stating that they stopped improvising,
alike stopped living; no one can currently know if the dead died due
to their mastership. Improv is built on risk and change, or purely
the 'not knowing'. Phelim McDermott (McDermott, 2008) once said, and
this is paraphrased, that if improvisers stop taking the risk and do
what they generally do, then they should stop improvising. There is
no point in performing the art form if you are no longer learning and
discovering because it is visible to the audience. Therefore, not
being able to use the term master for improv, as it is subjective
anyway, could allow people to rephrase the word's use. An improviser
who is skilled at what they do could say that they are a master of
what they do. This makes more sense. However, if improvisers master
themselves, then we generally call this using their defaults. Using
one's defaults is not seen as a positive.
Likewise, to look at
the term veteran, The Oxford Dictionary (Oxforddictionaries.com)
states, “A person who has had long experience in a particular
field” and it must be mentioned that the other definition is the
major connotation that was known. To be “An ex-member of the armed
forces” seemed like stating that improv is a battle field. Improv
is not the art form where we serve our country. It is important to
own this ridiculousness. On the otherhand, an improviser who has had
a long experience onstage improvising could be anyone. Once more,
this term holds a lot of subjectivity. How long is a long experience?
There is no answer. Even moreso, someone new to the art form can have
more and better insight into the art form than a 'veteran'. Purely
out of not knowing the teachings, the person can see clearer as they
have nothing to obscure their view. Fundamentally, to use the term on
oneself seems like ego. People have them, for sure, but it is not
Hierarchy in improv
seems pointless. Anyone can make a comment that holds value, which
happens; therefore being a master or veteran is overvalued. Inside
the structure that improv generally has around the world, teachers
need to offer their students confidence. Along with being a teacher,
ego would enter as segment of their trusting atmosphere.
Contrastingly, training can hinder and ruin the untainted person when
they enter improv. It is possible to look around and see untrained
improvisers doing the job. In Bristol there has been various
untrained improvisers that have gotten onstage and had an easier or
more relaxed time than people that trained and still struggle.
conclusion, the terms are unproductive. Improvisation is a process
and being a master of it would merely determine that person as having
stopped improvising. One can only master one's own improvisation and
then be a default and predictable, offering the same as usual; this
is called devising, therefore. Similarly, being a veteran is
subjective. An improviser who needs to be a veteran wants their ego
to inflate. Improvisation requires us to be equal, as anyone can give
McDermott, P. (2008). Cooking Chaos.
(2015). improvisation - definition of improvisation in English
from the Oxford dictionary. [online] Available at:
[Accessed 13 Jul. 2015].
(2015). improvise - definition of improvise in English from the
Oxford dictionary. [online] Available at:
[Accessed 13 Jul. 2015].
Oxforddictionaries.com, (2015). master - definition of master in
English from the Oxford dictionary. [online] Available at:
29 Jul. 2015].
Oxforddictionaries.com, (2015). veteran - definition of veteran in
English from the Oxford dictionary. [online] Available at:
[Accessed 29 Jul. 2015].
- definition of form in English from the Oxford dictionary.
[online] Available at:
20 Oct. 2015].