Hoopla was founded in January 2006 by Steve Roe and Edgar Fernando, two old school friends who have known each other since they were 4 years old.
Originally it was just them and some old school friends from their old GCSE drama group running one workshop a week, but it rapidly grew to friends of friends and then grew up gradually from there.
Hoopla currently run around 15 workshops a week, a mix of courses and one-
Steve Roe and Edgar Fernando originally met at Poplar Primary School in Merton, South West London, when they were 4 years old, and have been best friends ever since.
Throughout school days they were in various school plays and drama groups. At Hillcross Middle School they were lucky enough to have teachers who loved comedy (Mr. Morgan and Mr. O’Brien) and put on a sketch show every summer with the drama group. So at just 10 years old Steve and Edgar would regularly perform sketches from Monty Python, The Two Ronnies and Morecambe & Wise, as well as devising and performing their own sketches.
They moved on to Rutlish High School (Merton, South West London) where they were again lucky enough to have an amazing drama teacher, Miss Price. They performed in various school plays as well as a sketch show every summer, where they again got to devise and perform comedy sketches heavily influenced by Blackadder and The Mary Whitehouse Experience, as well as playing with improv to help with devising.l
At Rutlish they did GCSE drama together, where they met lifelong friends and fellow Hoopla founders Steve Tanner, Jason Griffiths, Igor Smirnov and more. When they weren’t at school they would all phone each other up and do characters down the phone (the internet wasn’t a thing then). Their final GCSE play they devised was about the Vietnam War, and featured every Vietnam War film cliché they could fit into 20 minutes. They still think it was the best thing they have ever done.
After High School Steve and Edgar didn’t study drama at University. They still don’t know why they did this. Steve did Engineering at Southampton, Edgar did Law at Leeds, and they didn’t see each other that much.
Steve didn’t even do any acting at University, everyone seemed a bit scary, posh and talented.
After University Steve was working in IT and Edgar was working in Law. They were mainly working, drinking and sitting on tube trains, and not particular happy.
Something had to be done!
Steve woke up the next morning and thought “I want to do more of that”.
Simultaneously Edgar was getting back into acting at The Carlton Acting Society in Wimbledon, appearing in various plays at The Wimbledon Attic Theatre, where he’d previously been in their youth theatre.
In 2004 Steve moved to Brighton for work (still IT things) but also to do a bunch of courses in his spare time. He did a course at Brighton Film School on directing and loved learning fun things again.
Throughout 2004 and 2005 Steve, Edgar, Steve Tanner, Igor and some other old school friends would regularly meet up and write some sketches and muck about. There was a growing feeling that they wanted to “do something”.
In 2005 Steve stumbled across impro by accident. He had been up all night for about three nights in a row trying to write sketches in addition to his full-
The show happened to be The Maydays, one of the UK’s leading improv groups. It was in a totally packed room above a pub with a lovely little stage, and smoke hanging in the air (this was pre smoking ban). The atmosphere was noisy and vibrant, unlike any other theatre Steve had seen.
A lovely bloke came out and got the audience shouting out suggestions and things, and the actors improvised games, scenes and sketches on the spot that were far funnier and entertaining than anything Steve had been up all night writing. The bloke turned out to be John Cremer, one of the pioneers of UK improv, and the cast also included Katy Schutte who is now one of Hoopla and The Mayday’s main teachers. At the end John announced that they also did workshops.
Steve woke up the next morning and thought “I want to do that”.
It took him about 1 month to pluck up the courage to phone and ask about workshops, and about another month to actually turn up. Steve arrived half an hour early for the first workshop, so he could lock himself in the bathroom before coming out due to nerves!
Steve’s first improv workshop was with John Cremer from The Maydays and he absolutely loved it. It felt like immediately connecting with the playful love of drama he’d had as a kid.
The next day he phoned Edgar in London and said “I’ve found this new thing, improv, you’ve got to try it”. Edgar thought he was talking about a drug.
For the rest of the year Steve did as much improv as possible with John Cremer and The Maydays, and also did various acting courses at ACT in Brighton and The New Venture Theatre. Edgar also came down to Brighton to do some, and they also followed John Cremer around the country like puppy dogs trying to do as many workshops with him as possible.
2006: Birth of Hoopla!
In 2006 Steve had to move back to London because of work. He was going to miss the Brighton improv scene so he had to keep the impro in his life!
So immediately Steve and Edgar met up and decided to start their own group. They also got back in touch with old school friends like Steve Tanner, Igor, Jason Griffiths, Rakesh Mistry, Rebecca Hearn, Kim Ayres and loads more.
Once they had a gang they phoned up every pub they knew in South London, asking for one with a room they could use. Eventually they found one at The Bedford in Balham. The manager, Greg Kerr, very kindly gave them a free room every Thursday night on condition that they stay for drinks afterwards (which was no problem).
Steve and Edgar made a commitment there and then that they would run an impro workshop every single Thursday from then on forever more, no matter what. Looking back it was this commitment that really kick started Hoopla and kept it going.
They really had no idea what they were doing. At the start neither Steve or Edgar had any teaching experience whatsoever, and very little impro experience. The workshops were free for the first two years. Other people would run them too, they were a place to swap games and just get up and have some fun with it. Some night it would really take off, other nights it wouldn’t really work out.
The workshops were really sociable, people even smoke and drank during workshops back then, and word started to spread as friends started to bring along friends, and then friends of friends, and then people they didn’t know started to come along, and then it was officially a thing!
In addition to running their Thursday night drop-
Towards the end of the year they also started performing improv, also at The Bedford in Balham. Steve and Edgar immediately made another commitment that they would perform at least once a month for ever more, and that they would perform at least 1000 improv shows.
How Hoopla got its name
For a while in 2006 the group were just known as “that impro thing” or “are you going to drama?”. They needed a name. Steve and Edgar spent ages looking for one (The Turnups, The Thursdays and Gimprov were all contenders) and then in true impro fashion the group was named accidentally. Steve Roe, Steve Tanner, Igor Smirnov and Jon Keene were on a camping trip to North Devon one weekend and Tanner and Jon happened to have been writing a story about Clowns beforehand. They were pretty obsessed about Clown noises so every North Devon village they drove through they put their arms out the window of their Fiat Punto and shouted “Hoopla Hoopla Hoopla” in a friendly fashion. It was pretty addictive, and it lasted all the way back to London, where it continued over the next bunch of weeks at the impro workshops. Eventually everyone was referring to the impro workshops as Hoopla, so Steve and Edgar thought they might as well keep it that way.
In early 2007 Steve and Edgar took some of the dedicated Hoopla fanatics and formed a separate performance team, with performances at The Bedford in Balham once a month. These rapidly built up in audience numbers, as there wasn’t much improv being performed in London back then and also Steve and Edgar still had loads of old school friends in the area so it was a good way for people to come along and catch up. They made sure there was a big party after each show, fun times!
The workshops were still just a once a week free drop-
Steve and Edgar were also lucky enough to train with Keith Johnstone and Patti Styles, who were very influential on the future aims of Hoopla.
2008: First Edinburgh Fringe
They carried on performing once a month at The Bedford in Balham, progressing from their smaller room to their large Globe Theatre, with an audience of around 150 people on some nights.
A year of these shows built up to their first a run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in the summer of 2008, where Hoopla played to a friendly crowd of boozed up Scots in a Wetherspoons, The Standing Order on George Street.
Edinburgh was great as it enabled Hoopla to perform loads of shows and learn lots from a regular audience. It was on the free fringe so when the scenes were crap half the audience would get up and leave, and when the scenes took off the laughter would bring in more people from outside and they’d end with a bigger audience than when they had started. It was immediate audience feedback to improv, from an audience who had never seen improv, and was the best possible experience.
They loved the feeling of taking improv to people who didn’t know what it was, and making it accessible and fun and getting them involved. So they decided they wanted to do more of that when they got back to London.
Edinburgh was also great for making them realise that Hoopla were a small part of a much bigger impro and comedy scene, and it was really inspirational to see shows like The Penny Dreadfuls and more open their eyes to how amazing comedy theatre could be.
Workshops were still running once a week in London in 2008, plus every day over Edinburgh.
2009: Seeds of Hoopla’s Improv Comedy Club at The Round Table
In 2009 Hoopla ran their first performance training course, for improvisers new to shows, which created so many enthusiastic and awesome performers that Hoopla switched to performing once a week in the West End at a small pub called The Round Table just off Leicester Square -
The pub had a capacity of about 20 people, so it was pretty easy to fill it up and get a great atmosphere each week. Having a different cast each week meant Hoopla could help create more of an impro community in London, rather than having groups competing against each other on the same night. Steve and Edgar could invite people along from different groups, get to know each other and have fun performing. After each show everyone would drink and dance the night away at The Arts Bar in Soho. This was the early seeds of Hoopla’s Improv Comedy Club.
Steve bumped into Michael Palin on the tube on the way to the show, Michael Palin told him Hoopla sounded like a good idea, and signed a poster.
This run of London shows led to Hoopla returning to the Edinburgh Fringe in the summer of 2009, this time with two shows a day and a big collective cast of improvisers. They got some great reviews, some truly awful reviews, and some ok reviews, and had a tonne of fun. Most of all Hoopla again tended to get lovely audiences who hadn’t seen improv before, who had a fun time shouting things out and getting involved, so they wanted to do more of that!
Hoopla workshops still continued about once a week, plus they started to invite guest teachers along like Kevin Tomlinson, John Cremer, Zenprov from Chicago, Rob Broderick, Jay Rhoderick from The Upright Citizens Brigade and The Penny Dreadfuls. It was very exciting that people from around the world were now beginning to hear about Hoopla and wanted to come and share their improv.
2010: Birth of Hoopla’s Improv Comedy Club at The Miller
In 2010 Hoopla’s weekly shows moved from The Round Table to a larger venue at The Black Horse in Rathbone Place near Soho, a venue which has since been turned into an educational squat and then a Byron Burger joint.
This time the shows were done more as a comedy club style, with different formats and guest groups getting involved each week to help expand the improv community. Hoopla rapidly found that having groups perform together on the same night meant they weren’t competing against each other for audience, instead they could share the audience for impro and audience numbers rapidly grew for weekly shows. It was also great having a weekly place for improvisers to hang out and meet each other.
In the summer of 2010 Steve went back to Edinburgh, but this time on a training programme with the Media Guardian Fast Track Scheme at The Edinburgh International Television Festival. This training, along with training at the Edinburgh Fringe, was invaluable in helping turn Hoopla into a bigger theatre company and make it our full-
In the Autumn of 2010 The Black Horse went bust and Hoopla were suddenly without a show venue, even though they’d spent the summer booking in a great line up of groups from around the UK to perform. Steve and Edgar got on their bikes and cycled around London, knocking on pub doors and asking about rooms. They phoned around, googled, cycled, walked, and must have asked about 100 places.
Eventually Steve remembered The Miller in London Bridge, where he’d seen a few shows before from Cannonball and Shotgun, and thought he’d give it a go. Luckily a music promoter had just cancelled a bunch of shows there. Steve loved the manager and staff there and agreed to move Hoopla’s night there every Tuesday for the rest of 2010. They’ve been there ever since.
The name ‘Hoopla’ was also dropped as a performance group name and used as the club name instead in order to grow a clear distinction between different styles of shows and grow new performing groups. Hoopla then became the UK’s first Improv Comedy Club.
Hoopla’s workshops also expanded in 2010 to include additional weekend workshops every Saturday, guest teachers including The Penny Dreadfuls, Katy Schutte and Adam Oliver, and corporate workshops and university workshops including ITV, BBC and Imperial College.
Hoopla also expanded to include stand up comedy nights, cabaret evenings and productions of various different shows.
2011: Brick Lane
In 2011 Hoopla also started to run workshops in Brick Lane, in addition to their Balham workshops every Thursday and Saturday. At first The Brick Lane workshops were at The Rag Factory every Monday. These became really popular very quickly. It turned out there had been loads of people wanting to come to workshops who couldn’t make it out to Balham, so the second Hoopla moved more centrally they were suddenly able to put more workshops on. Steve wished he’d done that years ago!
Hoopla had become our full time job.
In 2011 Steve Roe from Hoopla also became the producer for Music Box the Improvised Musical, directed by Becca Marriott, which was awarded 5 stars at The Brighton Fringe and 5 stars at The Edinburgh Fringe with various reviewers.
The scene at The Miller continued to grow, with loads of new improv shows forming and a large regular audience.
In 2012 Hoopla started offering more workshops in London due to popular demand and switched over to doing more courses in addition to their drop-
Shows continued every Tuesday at The Miller.
Also in 2012 Hoopla started receiving a lot of press for their shows, with coverage in The Daily Telegraph, The Evening Standard, The Londonist, Time Out and The Metro. Improv in general was really taking off in the UK, for various reasons including shows getting better, a bigger improv influence at The Edinburgh Fringe, and the success of improv performers like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in America having a knock on effect over here.
Unfortunately in 2012 the London impro scene lost improviser Chris Werren, who died from cancer that September. Chris had performed with Hoopla at Edinburgh in 2008 and 2009, and also been in our very first shows at The Bedford in Balham. It was a huge shock to the impro scene and he’s greatly missed.
2013: UK Improv Tour
In 2013 Steve also started touring improv workshops to help spread improv around the UK and the rest of Europe, with regular workshops in Exeter, Reading, Cambridge, Bristol, Edinburgh, Belgium and more.
The London workshops and courses continued, now every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and some Sundays. Maria Peters also joined Hoopla as a teacher, who was a natural choice as she had started out with Hoopla and had also gone on to train with IO in Chicago. Hoopla also teamed up with Max Dickins to offer a stand up course, as they had a lot of people asking it and always thought improv should mix with other art forms.
Hoopla’s main shows were now every Tuesday and Wednesday at The Miller. In addition to this Hoopla did a run of weekly Sunday shows at The Comedy Pub in Oxendon Street near Leicester Square, which they used to start their Launch Pad night as a way for newer improv groups to get some performance space.
With all these extra shows Hoopla had the wonderful Mike Hutcherson helping run nights doing tech, front of house and hosting (often all at once) and also Jon Monkhouse from London Improv running a night a week.
Towards the end of the year Hoopla did a few Saturday Night Improv nights at The Miller, to see if improv could work as a Saturday night show for a mainstream audience on a night out. It turned out it could work, and proved pretty popular, so Steve started convincing The Miller to give them every weekend. Steve bugged them relentlessly, sent them youtube videos of UCB in New York with the subject title “this could be us”, and bugged them some more. Eventually they said yes.
The Miller invested some money into making itself an improv hub, with a bigger better stage, lights, sound booth, sound proofing and bascially they went for it. Good on them!
2014: Weekend Shows at Last!
In 2014 Hoopla’s improv night at The Miller made the leap to weekends and switched to shows every Friday and Saturday, plus bonus shows on Wednesdays. The weekends were aimed at making improv more mainstream, with established groups for a crowd on a night out, and the Wednesdays as a place to try out new things.
Also in 2014 Hoopla expanded the number of courses they did with other teachers joining up including Maria Peters, Katy Schutte, Chris Mead, Jinni Lyons, Max Dickins, Jon Monkhouse, Sophie Pumphrey, Heather Urquhart and more.
In 2014 Hoopla also started teaching more corporate improv workshops, including sessions with Apple, ITV, BBC, AMV BBDO, Imperial College and more.
Hoopla’s workshops moved to Theatre Delicatessen in Farringdon, Central London, which with more rehearsal space enabled a real improv hub to pop up of workshops, show rehearsals and socials all in the same place.
Best of all, Steve and Georgina got married! They met doing improv together at Hoopla’s early workshops at The Bedford in Balham and started going out at Hoopla’s Edinburgh Fringe run in 2009. They still perform together lots now.
In 2015 Hoopla’s shows have continued to run every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at The Miller in London Bridge, plus additional bonus shows. They’ve also been putting on more festivals including co-
Workshops and courses have continued at Theatre Delicatessen in Farringdon, Central London, with courses running every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday plus workshops every Saturday. Hoopla have been working with various great teachers as part of a growing team.
Corporate improv workshops have continued including a big one to the entire staff of Comedy Central.
Steve is currently working with Conor Jatter, Mike Hutcherson and Ed Fargher on starting a youtube channel, as a way of professionally recording sketch and improv and showcasing improvisers to the wider TV and Film industry.
Edgar is currently in Ibiza, working as a DJ and setting up Hoopla Impro workshops out there, with Steve going over to help out in the summer, so Hoopla Ibiza is on its way! And their old GCSE drama group gang are back on the scene, with Steve Tanner directing an epic play of Shakespeare mixed with Zombies (William Shakespeare’s Land of the Dead) featuring various improvisers that have come from Hoopla courses.
Hoopla are hoping to get themselves a more permanent workshop and show venue in the future, and are also aiming to get busy filming more comedy sketches and improv.