What got you into improv in the first place?
I originally trained as an Actor and the improvisation part of our training was the best 10 weeks of my three years at Drama School. Maybe not for everyone in the year, but certainly for me! So I’d always loved improvising but had no idea that the Improv scene existed or that Improv was an art form in its own right. Some time after leaving drama school I was doing a course in “Improvisation for the Solo performer” run by Improv hip hop legend Rob Broderick. At that time I was doing it to help me improve my audience interaction, for the purposes of doing character comedy at stand up nights. But while doing that course, Rob recommended Monkeytoast Improv classes, all of which I took and I’ve been obsessed ever since. I was thrilled to accidentally discover that there was a thriving improv scene right here in the UK, under my nose and that there was so much variety within it.
What makes a good improviser?
Someone who listens and is interested in other people. It’s not about being the quickest, the loudest or the funniest. Kind people make good improvisers. Dickheads need not apply! Great improvisers tend to be open, playful, responsive and un-controlling.
What’s your favourite exercise and why?
I’m a fan of the game “I’m a Whisk” because it’s a lighthearted, low pressure way of freeing up the locks on your brain. It encourages you to support each other, to make offers and also to make connections and associations but not in intellectual, stressful way. Also it’s funny.
Who are your favourite improv acts?
There are so many brilliant players that I enjoy watching. Specific Individuals like Alex Fradera, Amy Cooke-Hodgson, Heather Urquhart (to name but a few) are all rather dreamy to watch and play with! In terms of improv Acts, again there are loads, but I particularly enjoy Breaking and Entering, The RH Experience and Abandoman. Oh and can I say The Pioneers?! They’re a team I coach so I am 100% biased…but they are genuinely excellent. They support each other so well and continue to make me laugh no matter how often I watch them. As for international groups I really rate TJ and Dave, The Sufferettes and Parallelogramophonograph, all of whom have their own unique style and improv “voice”. Also, when I was in Canada with Showstoppers this year I had the pleasure of watching Adam and Rob (Adam Cawley and Rob Norman) who are another great improv duo. Their character work is committed and fun, they embody the space really well and the night I saw them they improvised such a joyful plot twist that the audience audibly gasped! It’s great to see acts from outside the UK, otherwise you can get too stuck in the idea that there’s only one way of doing things.
What does improv training help you with in the real world?
Everything! It helps you to listen, to connect with people and to know how to be chatty when it seems as if all chat has gone. It helps you to relax, to take a break from the stresses of life, to have fun, to worry less about yourself and to care about other people, even if, at first, that’s only for the duration of a scene.
What advice would you give to people wanting to get into improv?
Do it! Book a course and see what happens. You do not have to be clever or funny. I repeat, you do not have to be clever or funny. Give it a go! You won’t regret it.
Susan teaches the Beginners and Performance courses as well as Character workshops. www.hooplaimpro.com
If you would like to see her perform check out Showstopper! The Improvised Musical, BEINGS, The Actor’s Nightmare and her solo show Susan Harrison Is A Bit Weepy.