Performing tips from some of the finest improvisers around.

We asked some of the best improvisers around what they did building
up, just before and during a big show.
All their words are unedited by me, it’s exactly as answered
direct from various facebook or email conversations. None of them knew who else
was going to be answering questions and were unable to view each other’s
answers, so any similarities are purely coincidence. Some have very similar
approaches, some the exact opposite.
They were all asked the same questions:
1) What do you tend to do/think during the day in the build
up to a show?
2) What do you do/focus on in the hour before a show?
3) What do you do/focus on just before going on the stage?
4) What do you consciously focus on during the show?
The people we asked are below, I’m going to ask another
bunch of people the same stuff later:
Cariad Lloyd      
Austentatious: An improvised Jane Austen novel, 13:30, Counting
House, Laughing Horse Free Festival, The Edinburgh Fringe, 2nd – 26th
August.
The Freewheelin’ Cariad Lloyd, 16:45, Pleasance Courtyard,
The Edinburgh Fringe.
Monkeytoast: The Improvised Chatshow, 23:00, Pleasance Dome, The Edinburgh
Fringe.
Dylan Emery
The Showstoppers, Gilded Balloon Teviot, 23:00, The
Edinburgh Fringe, 3rd – 26th August
The School of Night, 15:05, Pleasance Courtyard, The
Edinburgh Fringe, 2nd – 26th August
Grand Theft Impro

Maria Peters
Music Box The Improvised Musical, The Camden Fringe, Shaw
Theatre, Thursday 2nd and Sunday 5th August, www.MusicBoxImprov.com
Pippa Evans
The Showstoppers, Gilded Balloon Teviot, 23:00, The
Edinburgh Fringe, 3rd – 26th August
Loretta Maine: Bipolar, Just The Tonic at The Caves, 18:00,
The Edinburgh Fringe, 2nd – 26th August
Steve Roe
Hoopla, Improv Classes, www.HooplaImpro.com
Music Box The Improvised Musical, The Camden Fringe, Shaw
Theatre, Thursday 2nd and Sunday 5th August, www.MusicBoxImprov.com
Tom Webster
The RH Experience, RH: Live, C Aquila, 15:30, 12th-27th
August, The Edinburgh Fringe.
Cariad Lloyd,
Austentatious, Monkey Toast and Solo Show
1) What do you
tend to do/think during the day in the build up to a show?
In the day I’ll think about the show, and worry a bit
depending on the gig (i.e. if it’s big pressured impro gig or lovely friends
type gig). I’ll get a bit nervous in the pit of my stomach but mainly I’ll just
think what time do I need to be there etc. nothing very exciting!

2)

What do you
do/focus on in the hour before a show?

The hour before I’ll try and relax, stretch do physical warm
ups, get into costume if it’s Austentatious, so that’s quite faffy and you have
to do hair and make up, and sometimes I do the other girls hair, and generally
try to chat and hang out with the people I’m going to perform with. It’s good
to talk about your days, get all the niggles out of the way, the moans, and
then just make each other laugh for a bit. Do some impro warm ups, I love a bit
of word ball, infinity box, 3 line scenes, trying to warm up your brain and get
into a group mind and a sense of agreement.

3)

What do you
do/focus on just before going on the stage?

Just before going on stage, I’ll try and do last minute
vocal warm ups or stretches, clear my mind, become present, sense the audience,
are they loud? Quiet? What energy would it be helpful to come on with for the
room? Sense my fellow performers energy are they nervous? Do they need
reassurance or energising? Do you need to talk quickly about a real world thing
because you can see it’s bugging them or do you need to distract them from
panicking about the show. Just try and make sure everyone is ok, in the right
place, wearing the right costumes! That’s quite a common one for Austentatious,
checking the boys shirts and ties are straight and everyone knows what they’re
doing, generally a slowing down and a focusing of all the nervous energy
occurs.

4)

What do you
consciously focus on during the show?

During the show, I try to stay present, but I’m always
looking at story, or trying to. What needs to come next? What type of scene?
What character needs to be the focus? What plot loop have we missed? What does
the story need to happen? I try and think about it briefly and then just go for
whatever I thought and try not to push it if the other players have another
idea. But also not worry, sometimes I’ll think at the side of the stage, oh I
should come in and tell them this, and a voice will say, ooh no maybe not, and
I try to check if that voice is self-doubt or good story telling. If it’s doubt
I leap in and if it’s good story judgement I hang back.
Austentatious: An improvised Jane Austen novel, 13:30, Counting
House, Laughing Horse Free Festival, The Edinburgh Fringe, 2nd – 26th
August.
The Freewheelin’ Cariad Lloyd, 16:45, Pleasance Courtyard,
The Edinburgh Fringe.
Monkeytoast: The Improvised Chatshow, 23:00, Pleasance Dome, The Edinburgh
Fringe.
Dylan Emery, The Showstoppers,
GTI and The School of Night

1)
What do you tend to do/think during the day in the build up to a show?


Depends on the show. If it’s Showstopper, then I remind myself of new musicals
or styles that we have been looking at, especially if we’ve not used them
before so they are far harder to remember. For instance, we’ve been working on
Matilda recently, but it’s never been called so I must be very clear what the
styles of the songs are and when they would work well in the story.
The School of Night is a whole other thing. My preparations the night before
(much better to have a night’s sleep to allow the memories to embed) and also
on the day is to read some Shakespeare, Chaucer and one or two of the authors
I’m working on at the moment.
For Grand Theft Impro, again I will generally read the paper in case something
crops up from that day’s news, as it often does.

2)
What do you do/focus on in the hour before a show?


For Showstopper, we do a 10-15 minute vocal warm-up, a 10 minute impro warm up
– simple storytelling stuff at high speed. It’s about getting flow and
reminding everyone that this is fun. Then there is a sound check usually up to
the start.
For The School of Night We I’m usually muttering bits of soliloquy to get into
the iambic. Another favourite is The Legend of Sam McGee by Robert Service –
it’s not iambic but it is a strong rhyming structure and a great poem, so it’s
good to get your bardic tap opened.
For Grand Theft, it’s very practical: we make sure we are happy with how the
room is set up and then select the games we are going to play in the first half
– so we think about balance and variety.

3)
What do you do/focus on just before going on the stage?


For Showstopper I look at the audience, see as many faces as possible and to
try to get a feel for how they are feeling. What kind of show do they want
tonight? What’s in the air?
For School of Night I’m just trying to stay calm and focused on what is about
to happen – it’s the show that makes me most nervous.
For GTI I’m usually thinking about the music and the introduction – how will
start the show with an energetic bang?

4)
What do you consciously focus on during the show?


The full answer to that would be very long! Here’s part of an answer:
In Stopper, the writer character focuses a lot on balancing the unique
three-way relationship of writer to audience, writer to cast, and cast to
audience that you get in the show.

In recent School of Night shows, we are ‘co-goaded’. In other words, any one of
the cast can step out and move the story on, introduce some bit of esoteric
information, or give an instruction to one of the other cast members
(previously we had a separate goader to act as MC). So you have to give full
attention to the task at handed while at the same time being able to step out
and goad – and vice versa. In a recent show I was introducing the Shakespearean
sonnet, keeping an eye on where we were within the sonnet, playing guitar over
the sonnet and then also having to do various lines of the sonnet we were
improvising. I simply forgot the rhyme scheme. Horrible experience but
fortunately in the School of Night way of doing things, we are often trying to
do quite difficult things and have ways of dealing with failure…

In GTI the main thing is maintaining what Alan Marriot called ‘the happy
bubble’: the atmosphere of joy bordering on the hysterical that you want to
coax the audience into entering. It’s like a smoke machine – it takes quite a
bit to get the place smokey but once it’s there it stays for a while. However,
sometimes you are in a drafty room and the smoke never builds – just occasional
wafts and that’s not the show you want. Seal up the doors and windows. And use
a  good quality machine that spurts out lots of smoke with little effort,
rather than a cheap one that takes loads of puffs to get the same amount of happiness.
This is an analogy that could go on and on…

The Showstoppers, Gilded Balloon Teviot, 23:00, The
Edinburgh Fringe, 3rd – 26th August
The School of Night, 15:05, Pleasance Courtyard, The
Edinburgh Fringe, 2nd – 26th August
Grand Theft Impro
Maria Peters, Music
Box
1) What do you tend to do/think during the day in the build up to a
show?
I become a bit of a voyeur. On show days I’m usually a bit
more attuned to the world around me. I’ll focus on stranger’s conversations and
what would be fun to use from them as characters or set ups. I’m always looking
out for different scenarios that could be used in scenes.
I have a personal goal for my improv to never being samey or predictable so I
try to use other people I come across as inspiration.

If I’m particularly nervous before a big musical gig I’ll pick random words as
suggestions and rap or sing to myself as I go about my day. I love rap
especially because it doesn’t allow you any time to think too much between
lines.

On my journey to a gig I often go through a variety of first lines of scenes,
characters, or voices. I’ll rarely use the ones I come up with for the show
that night, I may never use them but I feel like I’m stocking up my cupboard of
options.

2)
What do you do/focus on in the hour before a show?

I’m quite into my physical warm ups. I’ll stretch a lot,
dance and walk around as much as possible. I know if my body is relaxed I’m a
lot more relaxed in my head.

I like to keep connected to my fellow improvisers. If we’re milling around and
I can see other players are nervous and looking for distraction we’ll often
have conversations in character with them.

I like to see and get amongst the audience and chat to them if at all possible.
It helps me to break down the ‘us and them’ environment. I can then feel like
the performance is just a bit of dicking around in front of friendly people
rather than trying to impress a wall of strangers.

3)
What do you do/focus on just before going on the stage?

Again being physically relaxed, I’m always stretching. On
top of group warm-ups I also like to have a final check in with my fellow
players with a high-five, fist bump, belly rub, back pat, bottom slap, grin or
wink. (I’ve only just now realised how gropey I am before a show)

If there’s a chance to clap, whoop and holler in the MC’s warm up I’m all about
getting involved in that as it helps dissipate my nerves. When I run on stage I
focus on having a bright open face and I hold the word “confident” in my head.
A tip I was given years ago for the beginning of shows. It really helps.

4)
What do you consciously focus on during the show?

It depends on the show.
If it’s a long form show, offstage I might be thinking about the next beat or
the progression of the characters journey onstage and how I can support their
objectives, or heighten their problems or just generally help the story.
While I’m on stage I’m focusing on my scene partner and the relationship with
them as well as clarifying my own character’s objective.

If it’s a short form gamey show I’m all about variety. Focusing on variety of
scenes, characters, emotions and physicality.

In both styles of show I try to sense what the audience is feeling, to check in
if they’re on board with us or not and adapt accordingly.

If I get stuck in my head or tense I ‘voice mirror’ what is being said in the
scene. I find it’s a fail-proof way of forcing myself to listen.

Music Box The Improvised Musical, The Camden Fringe, Shaw
Theatre, Thursday 2nd and Sunday 5th August, www.MusicBoxImprov.com
Pippa Evans – The
Showstoppers and Solo Show
1) What do you tend to do/think during the day in the build up to a
show?

Probably all of the following will go through my mind:

The show, my breakfast, what’s on iPlayer, can I justify buying a new pen, put
out the washing, write that script, go to the gym, that’s a good idea, do a
sing song, have a cup of tea, the show, can I have another biscuit?

2)
What do you do/focus on in the hour before a show?


I tend to just relax with my fellow cast members. Play some games, talk about
some new red/black outfit I have bought/seen/liked. We’ll do warm up stuff and
also I will probably coat my face with make up to appear fresh and delightful,
steal a Vocalzone from Pugsley.

3)
What do you do/focus on just before going on the stage?


I tend to just focus on me fellow players. We might do a penguin dance if it is
a cold venue.

4)
What do you consciously focus on during the show?


I focus on the show and my fellow performers and listening. Oh and having a
great time. No one wants to see you perform with a concentration face. Smile!

The Showstoppers, Gilded Balloon Teviot, 23:00, The
Edinburgh Fringe, 3rd – 26th August
Loretta Maine: Bipolar, Just The Tonic at The Caves, 18:00,
The Edinburgh Fringe, 2nd – 26th August
Steve Roe, Hoopla
and Music Box
1) What do you tend to do/think during the day in the build up to a
show?

Cold hard admin is best for me. Anything apart from thinking about the show too
much, as the most important thing is to just turn up in a good mood without
thinking about it too much. The first show I ever did I attempted to read the
whole of Impro For Storytellers in the day building up to it, which was a
mistake. Now I tend to do work stuff – emails, website, bank stuff, and then
maybe go for a run, have a nice lunch, more work stuff, and then make sure I
get to the venue on time with clean clothes. If it’s Music Box I should
probably spend the day doing singing exercises but I don’t because I’m lazy.


2)
What do you do/focus on in the hour before a show?

At The Miller, which is where I mostly perform, I’m usually running around
putting chairs and flyers out and getting the venue ready. I’m quite fanatical
about this, it’s bordering on a problem. If anyone moves one of my chairs I
tend to glare at them and be a bit passive aggressive. I’ll also fanatically
check temperature in the room (24C for comedy). I could easily delegate all
this to people, or just get there earlier and do it, but it seems to have
developed as some weird subconscious distraction technique.

If it’s a big show though, and I’ve given myself time, I
like to lay down on my back and bend my legs from side to side, stretching my
spine. I’ll then generally relax, have a quick nap, and put myself in a good
mood.
Then with the group I’m performing with I like to do lots of
scenes and scenes into songs, really warming up by basically just doing the
show a bit beforehand. Favourite group warms ups are stood in a circle, making
eye contact, and doing a circle of Yes And and word at a time stories.

3)
What do you do/focus on just before going on the stage?

I bend down from the waist, nice and relaxed, with my head hanging heavy. I
breathe and relax. I close my eyes and listen to sounds in the room, to become
present in the room. I remind myself that we evolved from monkey type
creatures, and that we’re now all on top of a big round rock floating through
space, and this event is happening right now. I only come up when I fully
comprehend how ridiculous this is and what ridiculous thing impro is, and it
makes me laugh.


4)
What do you consciously focus on during the show?

I try to take only one thing consciously into the show, so I
don’t get overwhelmed and so that everything else can happen naturally.
Whenever I bring just one simple thing into a show it seems to go well for me.
Whenever I try too much it seems to full apart. I vary what I bring into a show
to concentrate on from show to show, but the following have worked quite well
for me this year, I’d only be doing one of them per show consciously:
–         
React to everything that’s said and add
something back to it.
–         
Yes And the smallest verbal and physical offers
you can.
–         
Meisner Technique the second you get on stage.
–         
Make eye contact with someone at all times.
–         
Physically connect to people.
–         
Have constant emotional reactions.
Some things I don’t have to concentrate consciously on now
because I seem to think about them automatically during the show are:
–         
Varying the energy of the show, bringing on
characters with contrasting energy to the scene before and other characters.
–         
Contrasting the space, putting myself in a gap
on stage and opening up the stage rather than clumping together.
–         
Keeping track of the important points of the
story and making sure they don’t get left behind.
–         
Throwing by body/voice into a shape before
coming on to generate a character.
–         
Embodying a character or concept that someone
has just mentioned on stage.
Hoopla, Improv Classes, www.HooplaImpro.com
Music Box The Improvised Musical, The Camden Fringe, Shaw
Theatre, Thursday 2nd and Sunday 5th August, www.MusicBoxImprov.com
Tom Webster, The
RH Experience
1) What do you tend to do/think during the day in the build up to a
show?
If I’ve got nothing to do that day then I’ll definitely take
a long walk, helps to relax me and free up the mind! I get nervous when I’m
inside! It’s good to meet up with a friend as a welcome distraction from
thinking about the show!

2)
What do you do/focus on in the hour before a show?

The hour before the show I tend to think about my body and
voice! I don’t want to use up too much energy but I want to move around and be
loud to free myself up. The hour before the show is usually when good ideas for
opening offers and scenes appear in my head. I tend to try and get rid of them
because I prefer a blank canvas on stage. However, some are always bound to
show through as I’ve been thinking about them and my subconscious will push
them forward. It’s not a bad thing I suppose!

3)
What do you do/focus on just before going on the stage?

Anything at all not to focus on the audience. I tend to just
close my eyes and do rhymes in my head. I want to contain all the nervous
energy within me so I can let it out when it’s most needed!

4)
What do you consciously focus on during the show?

During the show I focus on my group. I like to gauge the
energy of the show, so I can respond by maintaining the energy or upping it
depending on what’s needed. I do think about the audience a lot. What are they
finding funny? Shall I do it more? I also think about my position on the stage;
If I notice that something isn’t going very well, it’s becoming stagnant and
I’m drifting towards the back of the stage, I’ll always make for the front.
There’s nothing worse for an audience member to see someone nervous and quiet
at the back of the stage (unless it’s intended within the story you’re creating
ahahah)! I also think of genres I like to perform and characters I can do
(archetypes, accents, emotions). I tend to have them in a pot before I go on.
But lastly and most importantly, I consciously try to enjoy a show. I want to
have fun! Perhaps if you’re having fun, the audience will too?

The RH Experience, RH: Live, C Aquila, 15:30, 12
th-27th
August, The Edinburgh Fringe.

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