Acting’s First Purpose?

Acting’s First Purpose?


I’m currently reading “Commedia dell’Arte, An Actor’s Handbook” by John Rudlin in preparation for one of my Saturday workshops and I’m finding it really interesting. What’s really exciting about the book is that it contains more of a call to action to actually just get up and do things than most other acting books. For instance:

In the end, or rather the beginning, the only way to learn to play Commedia is to go outside, stand on a box, and give it a try. Many of an actor’s normal preoccupations will immediately be found to be irrelevant. Even if you are only playing in a park to two drunks and a barking dog you will learn more about the necessary scale and clarity, immediacy and impetus of Commedia from fifteen minutes of ‘having a go’ than from fifteen days of self-doubt in a rehearsal room.”

This sort of attitude is very ‘Hoopla’, so much so that I might have to track down the author and give him some kind of honourary membership.

The early part of the book also contains a really interesting bit on the early uses of acting, masks and character:

“One of the earliest pieces of evidence for the use of masks dates back to prehistoric times, to the walls of the cave ‘des deux freres on the French side of the Pyrennes. The painting, a hunting scene, has been drawn with astonishing skill and depicts a herd of wild goats grazing in a field. The group appears, at first sight, quite homogenous, but, on close inspection, it becomes clear that one of the goats has, instead of a cloven hoof, a man’s legs and feet. And not four, but only two. The creature is evidentally a man, a hunter in disguise. On his face he has a goat’s mask with horns and a beard.”

So there you go, if you can’t act like a goat, you don’t eat.


From way back when in 2009 with our weekly shows at The Round Table we had a rule then that if you had an impulse to do something you had to do it. That’s quite a big rule. So it wasn’t questioned, should I do that thing I feel like doing from off stage? Should I walk out of the room for no reason? Should I kiss that person? Yes you should! Our rule was that if you had that impulse you had to do it. And if we had a show that didn’t come to life, we’d have a chat, and we’d always founds that early on there had bee some impulses that hadn’t been actioned.

Furthermore we went on to say that if you didn’t go with your impulse you were letting the show down. So now not only was your idea something that wasn’t questioned as being good or bad, but it had to happen!

This still comes in to play now when I find myself acting with people who were around at the same time like Dylan Buckle, Maria, Andrew G, Matt A, George, Edgar, Becca etc. I suddenly find that I’m freed up to do anything, because they all respond impulsively and suddenly the show is alive and breathing rather than pre-meditated and ticking boxes.

Sometimes folk ask should you go with your impulse? But if you don’t go with your impulse, what the bloody hell else are you going to do? If you don’t go with what you’ve got, what else are you going to do? You haven’t got anything else. That impulse is far more intelligent than you are. While you’re busy sat there trying to think up something, your subconscious is calmly grabbing things and then ‘wham’ a gift, don’t worry why it’s given you that, just do it and then everything else will come to life.

Do it now

I’ve been running loads of impro workshops recently and my favourite side coaching things to shout out include:

Do it now
Do something
Someone does something to someone else
Make it worse
Get in more trouble
This sound really vague but in the way that’s the point, as I don’t want to make up content for anyone and they usually act as a catalyst for people.

Music Box

Awesome show. Really good fun as although it has a rough structure we actually know that enough now that we can drop it and have more fun with it all.
Also I realised that although we practice some song types (duets, solos, opening numbers) there are about twice as many songs that are completely improvised in structure on the night.
The plot might have even made sense too, so much so that my Dad was talking about it over lunch as if it was a film he’d seen, which is a good sign.


Nick Thomas had his first show with them and was so awesome. Also it’s great as yet again worlds are meeting as lots of people who usually go to Hoopla were at The Shotgun show and also Sarah Ann Masse who is going out with Nick is now in Music Box too so that’s becoming a great big impro family tree.

Freezing Up

I completely froze up in my first Maydays show at The New Diorama Theatre, seemed to be unable to make any offers at all or even yes and. Felt like a result of me trying to get it ‘right’ or give them what they want. Win some lose some!

Inflatables Rehearsal

Was one of the funniest things I’ve done in a long time, no matter how the shows go the rehearsal was worth it!

Edgar’s Thursday Workshop

Based on ‘having a reaction’ and really helpful as I found myself in a scene and just when I was about to think my way out of a situation I instead had a reaction that got bigger and got myself in more trouble until I had electrodes put on my balls and retaliated with an electrode wielding robot which seemed to go down well. So thanks Edgar!

Forming Groups

There are waves of amazing people around who’ve done impro at various other places (Shrimps, Durham, Oxford) but aren’t in performance groups. I’d form some but am already tied up with all the other stuff, but really think they should be performing more as they’re awesome. If you’re reading this, do it!

Also if you’ve never performed impro before then forming your own group is by far the best way of doing it as you learn loads and loads, similarly to the quote at the top of this.

Holding Back in Class

I’ve been realising recently that there aren’t many drop-in impro groups in London at the moment so we’re finding ourselves in the odd position of being one of the few ‘voices of impro’ to people new to it all. I’ve found that this pressure is actually holding me back in teaching workshops, like I’m worried people are going to get too excited and run away to join the circus.
But I now think this is silly. They’re all grown-ups so if you want a weird fun experience in a workshop that’s completely different from ‘real’ life then I can definitely give it to you!

You’d be a bit pissed off if you went to one yoga class a week and the yoga teacher said they were going to half-stretch you, just in case you quite your job and moved to India. So with impro now I’m going to go 100% with the workshops and the shows. Sometimes with the workshops I just want to grab people and shake them until their knees wobble and they giggle, so in the future I’m going to do that.

Having a sense of humour

Funny how many impro workshops, shows and rehearsals I’ve been in where everyone (me included) was treating it really really seriously. It’s not serious. So there.


Originally posted 22nd November 2010.

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