WHY AM I DOING THIS?!?!
It’s been a tough week, show wise. The combination of time pressure, money pressure, and pre-menstruation pressure put me in a right funk. I found myself not wanting to even look at my script, much less learn and rehearse it.
Part of the problem with doing a solo show is that (unless you can afford a producer) all the admin of getting the show up and running falls mostly to you. And in the weeks running up to the show, that means a lot of liaising with the venue, making sure your public liability insurance is sorted, posting on social media (HORROR OF HORRORS), frantically checking the ticket sales to see if anyone is even coming.
Which can put you in a pretty sour mood once you get to doing the creative part of the job. It’s hard to enjoy your own jokes reading them for the 25th time. Harder still if you’re thinking “Jesus Christ, I’ve just spent all day sending emails so I can put this show up”.
I find myself quite regularly wondering why I’m doing this show. Even if I sell out these two shows, the cost of tech, etc. means I’ll be lucky to break even. Of course, performing isn’t about the money. But it also isn’t not about the money, when art is your livelihood.
And I think I’ve been spoiled a little by spending so much time over the last few years improvising. Improv gives a lot more instant gratification than workshopping the same material over and over, alone. Of course, we rehearse improv shows, but there’s still the camaraderie, play, and creating in the moment that means that almost all of it is creatively fulfilling. And if it isn’t, it’s just a quick moment that’s over. Workshopping a solo show can feel like quite a slog when your recent creative life has largely been playing with friends.
So – this week I’m putting my faith in the process. I hope that this bump in the road will lead to a clear stretch of playing with my material. I hope I can bring some of my improv abandon to my scripted work and find the fun in playing with myself (giggidy).
Good Girl is premiering at The Hope Theatre on the 9th and 10th of April. Get your tickets here!
The Business of Improv
My lovely pal and collaborator Stephen Davidson was put in rather a shitty situation with an improv teaching gig over the last few days. He ended up forking out for flights he ended up not using, after being ghosted by an improviser who had booked him to teach. Extremely bad vibes.
The improv community, by and large, seems to do business mostly by handshake deals and making agreements relatively informally. I have (touch wood!) not yet been burnt by this, but hearing about Stephen’s recent experience has made me think it might be high time that we start formalising our agreements and protecting improvisers (who aren’t exactly raking it in!) from being out of pocket from dodgy deals.
It can be easy to discount the need for formalised agreements; we’re very rarely making agreements for more than a weekend of festivals, or a 6-week course, and if we’re performing, we’re often making an agreement to rehearse and perform for low or no pay.
Even if you’re not making big bucks from an agreement, being sure that both sides are clear on what is and isn’t included (travel expenses, food, accommodation, fees for performing, fees for rehearsals, space hire, etc.) makes it much less likely that there will be bad blood once an engagement comes to an end. Improv largely involves mixing friends with business, and it’s something that people pour a lot of themselves into, so making sure no one is left with a bad taste in their mouth can be difficult.
With that in mind, I’ve put together a template contract that you can use for any agreements you’re making, be it as a performer with a theatre, a teacher with an improv school, a coach with a group, or anything else. I’ve left the terms relatively broad, so you can punch in the necessary details, and add and subtract as necessary.
This isn’t legal advice and I’m not a lawyer – if you’re in the UK and dealing with any issues around performing and pay, I highly advise getting in touch with Equity – even if you’re not a member they’re usually very happy to offer basic guidance. You can also contact the Citizens Advice Bureau, and if all else fails a no-win no-fee Lawyer should be able to offer sound advice.
It’s also worth noting that any written agreement can potentially be used as proof of entering into a contract. Any time you make a purchase or agree to provide a service, you’re entering into a contract. Even a verbal contract can be binding, although a lot harder to prove in a court. Emails, WhatsApp messages, Facebook conversations, Signal messages, anything in the written language can all be used as proof of an agreement, even if a formal contract hasn’t been signed. Keeping good files of everything you’ve agreed to is a great place to start, even if you don’t formalise things via contract.
If you’re using the above template, please be sure to save a copy before you fill it in. I’m making this available for anyone who wants or needs it, so please don’t add or subtract things from the base copy!
And if you are someone who wants to get more confident with the business side of things, I’ll be announcing several one-off classes on the business of improv over the next few weeks, so keep an eye on my Facebook page, or sign up for my Mailing List to be the first to know when they go on sale.
Long Distance Lament
This weekend, I left behind my comfortable retreat from the world in rural Pennsylvania. Tears were shed, difficult packing decisions were made, and my poor little stuffed fox was molested by a TSA agent. I HATE GOODBYES, and I spent most of the final week saying goodbye to new friends, Chris’ family, and, of course, my darling Chris. It’s been a bittersweet few days.
Jetlag aside, getting back into the groove of maintaining a relationship via the internet is a huge challenge. I mean, I don’t wish to sound spoiled; I know that a hundred years ago, if my fiancè were in America, I’d be waiting months to receive a letter, only to hear they’d died of scurvy or taken up with French Kate at the local brothel. Times are the best they’ve ever been for long-distancers.
It’s not as though we haven’t dealt with this before.; we started off long-distance and spent many months perfecting the art of conducting a relationship digitally. But after almost a year of being around each other almost constantly, with only a couple of small interludes of being apart, the prospect of almost two months alone feels quite daunting. As much as I’m excited to see friends and family, and to be taking my solo show on the road, I know that all these things would be exponentially more exciting if I could share them with Chris.
I’m trying to embrace what we have here right now. Falling back on my improv instincts to enjoy the moment, be here, be present, listen, and only respond to what’s right in front of me. That can be tough on stage; even tougher when the person you want to be with the most is an ocean and five timezones away.
With that in mind, I’ll leave you with this wonderful song from Labi Siffre. Bless the telephone, and all its descendants!
the case for sillyness
A while back, my solo show took a very swift turn into completely fuckin’ stupid. In a good way.
The original idea for the show was pretty high-minded (yawn). I wanted to hold up a mirror to the patriarchy; show men the ugly, brutal reality of their fantasies about women. I wanted to be a Sylvia Plath for the 21st Century; giving a no-hold-barred insight into the human condition. In a comedy show.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love me some pretension. I can enjoy reading a heavy tome, I like thinking about complex ideas, and I’m not above a 5am DMC (deep and meaningful chat, for those of you who weren’t teenagers in the UK in the 2010s) about the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. And some comedy successfully pulls these complex ideas apart. The issue is, if you’re doing comedy, it still needs to be … funny. If people ain’t laughing, it ain’t comedy (or at least it ain’t good comedy).
So, after the inevitable dark night of the soul moment of realisation that I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing with my show, I decided to just … enjoy myself. Write what was funny. Take stupid inspiration from shows like “Tim and Eric: Awesome Show, Great Job” and just do what I found funny and/or fun. Suddenly, the ideas were pouring out of me, without me having to trauma dump about every time a man has distressed me.
By releasing myself from any need to be clever, I get to be funny. By allowing myself to look like a fool, I get to present something that will (hopefully) make people think. It’s easy to be earnest, but earnest stupidity takes a lifetime to re-learn.
The show is still about what it’s about. There’s a lot that is critical of men and society. But instead of being an hour-long tirade against the wrongs of the patriarchy, it’s a funny, stupid, anarchic look at the roles women can, do, and have to play. With fake blood, magic tricks, and a killer soundtrack.
I love improvising as a duo. Don’t get me wrong, playing with a larger group is loads of fun, but there’s something very special about finding the specific thing that works between you and one other person. You can be an entirely different performer from one duo to the next, depending on who you’re playing with, and the specific chemistry and mix of skills that you share. With one partner you might create a romance-laden musical, with another you might be a playful and game-heavy comedy, with someone else you might be an intellectual two-person play. Working as a duo means you have to be completely tuned into your partner, able to support their moves, and trust that they will support any ideas you throw at them.
So, how do you find the perfect twoprov partner? In many ways, it’s a lot like finding a romantic partner (and that’s probably why you find a lot of couples who improvise together!). You need to have a strong bond of friendship, great communication and conflict resolution skills, a compatible sense of humour, and at least a couple of shared interests. You need to be able to understand subtle cues from each other, develop a shared language, and be able to be playful. It helps if you have some complimentary skills; if one of you is fantastic at finding the game of the scene, it helps to have a partner who can ground you in some strong characters. And it’s no bad thing if there’s some sexual chemistry too.
But true improv love isn’t just about finding the right partner; it takes work to maintain any relationship, and that’s especially true if your relationship involves performing for others. You need to invest time and effort into maintaining your trust and support for each other, continuing to develop and adapt how you communicate, and honing your craft.
Twoprov requires a lot more from its players than improvising in larger groups. You need to be able to multirole clearly, edit concisely (even if you’re in a scene), and be constantly ready to pivot to something new if needed. There’s only two of you to pick everything up, so you can’t rely on off-stage players to provide information via walk-ons or bail you out with edits. It’s the two of you against the world.
If you want to take your two-person improvisation to the next level, Chris Griswold and I are teaching a class on exactly that. Duo Discovery takes place online from the 5th of March for 10 weekly sessions of 2 hours. Grab your partner and book a ticket to discover how to play more confident, compelling, and entertaining two-person improv. And if you’ve any questions, drop us an email.
Staying in shape, singing, and solitude
As I mentioned in my last blog, I’m on a 3-month break from the grind, staying with my partner’s parents in Oakland, PA. Over the past week we’ve had a LOT of snow (although I am informed that this is barely a dusting by Pennsylvania standards) and have been spending plenty of time nestling inside rather than venturing out too much. We still made time for the YMCA though, don’t worry.
For me as a writer, this solitude has been wonderful. The ability to just sit down and write without distractions has been such a joy.
For me as a performer, it’s a little different. I’m used to having people to bounce ideas off, colleagues to rehearse with, a director to push me in this direction or that. Something in particular that has slipped a little has been my vocal practice. I’ve not needed to perform in almost two months, and with Christmas, New Year, and nothing to make me concerned for my vocal health, I haven’t been all that bothered with singing practice.
So, this week I’m getting my arse in gear, and getting back to regular singing and vocal practice. I have a show to come home to in April, and I want to be sure I’m up to scratch.
But how does one exercise their voice when they’re alone? Here’s some things I like to use to keep myself sharp.
I like to start my warm-up in the shower. It’s an effective way to skip to having your muscles warm and loose, and the moisture in the air is great for nice lubed up vocal chords. Spend some time taking long, deep breaths; if you can, breathe in for a count of 10 (while staying nice and relaxed) and release that breath over another count of 10. This will ease some of that body tension that might hold up your voice. Make sure you check in with your neck, shoulders, back, hips, and knees – you might want to give these a gentle massage to work out any stress. Give your face a nice massage; work your hands over your forehead, nose, eye socket, cheeks, and jawbone. Try some light humming, then maintaining a tone on a single letter (n, or g are good ones!).
Once you’re out of the shower, check in again with that breathing; spend some time taking nice, deep breaths, making sure you’re breathing right down into your belly. Regulate your breathing and try to make it as rhythmic and subconscious as possible.
trills and tongue stuff
Next, get some lip trills going. Take a nice deep breath, and with your tongue and mouth completely relaxed, blow that air out between your lips, as though you’re blowing bubbles under water. Your mouth should sound like a motor purring. If you’re having trouble, try putting your fingers to your cheeks, and make sure your diaphragm is supporting the breath. Once you have the hang of it, add an easy single note. You can move into sliding up and down several notes once you can do this with ease.
Move on to tongue trills after this; essentially sustaining a rolled r sound. This might come more naturally to you if you speak languages such as Arabic, French, Spanish, etc. That use the rolled r sound in speech. If you’re having trouble, you can try purring like a cat and sustaining a note instead!
extending the voice
Now that your mouth and face are relaxed and moving, try some humming. Breathe in, and as you breathe out through the nose, hum nice and gently. The sound will come out of your nostrils and doesn’t require any effort from the mouth or tongue, so this is a nice way to check in with your voice while maintaining relaxation in your face.
Once you feel comfortable humming at a couple of different pitches (you might like to try sliding up and down notes and checking in with your voice across several tones), we can move into scales. The purpose of singing scales is to expand your range past your normal speaking voice; over time you may find you can stretch from one octave to three or more. If you’re a fair pianist, you can tap these out on a keyboard or piano. If not, there are several apps you can use to mimic a piano, or you can find a whole load of scale videos on YouTube. Start from somewhere comfortably within your natural range, and gradually expand up and down, making sure to stop if you find yourself straining.
Then we can move into vowel sounds. First, just try out the vowel sounds “ah”, “eh, “ee”, “oh” “ewe”, “oo”, feeling out how they sit with your voice and in your mouth. Then you can try these out over scales again, or through an arpeggio (again, if you understand music, tap these out for yourself, otherwise you can find arpeggios to follow on YouTube). You can also add in consonant sounds such as “mah”, “meh”, “me”. “moh”, “moo”.
diction and clarity
I like to do some tongue twisters too, to make sure my diction is clear. Things like “red lorry, yellow lorry”, “one bed bug bled blue black blood while the other bed bug bled blue”, “Mrs Puggy Wuggy had a square cut punt, not a punt cut square but a square cut punt. It was round in the stern, and blunt in the front, Mrs Puggy Wuggy had a square cut punt”, or any number of tongue twisters you can find online. Start off slow, really ensuring your mouth is around all the consonant sounds, and gradually speed up.
practice makes perfect
If you’re working towards singing, then make sure you practice with a song or two that you like to sing. Get a backing track, tap it out on your keyboard, or just play the song on Spotify and sing along. Work on the same song for a while, to really get the hang of it. Make sure you’re singing with strong posture, not slouching and not tensing up. Ensure you’re controlling your breath throughout; use your diaphragm to support your singing and think about where you’re taking breaths during the song. Emote and enunciate. Sing confidently! It might not sound brilliant to begin with, but the more you practice, the better it will get. If you can face it, try recording yourself, so you can pick up on the parts where you’re faltering.
If you’re working more towards public speaking or acting, then practice with speeches, words from scripts, anything at all. Again, make sure you’re keeping a strong posture, breathing with control, and speaking with confidence. And again, recording yourself can only help.
Of course, practice by yourself can’t replace the benefits of having sustained vocal tuition, but if you’re looking to keep yourself in shape in between work or classes, these are some useful tips to make sure you don’t lose progress.
And one final tip: your overall health matters. Eat well, sleep well, get some exercise, and take care of your body. If you’re a performer, your body is your instrument, and all the vocal technique in the world won’t help if you’re not taking care of it.
Life as a lady of leisure
Since moving to Oakland Township, PA in December 2022 I’ve been in the extremely privileged position of not having to pay rent or work for a living, as we’re living with my partner’s parents. It’s astounding. For the first time in my life, I don’t have to work to survive before I can start thinking about the things I want to do to thrive.
I have time to write, to work in depth on my solo show, to read, to exercise, to just be. I suddenly find myself able to take the time I need to be creative and do all the admin required to allow that to happen (emails happen in every line of work, I’m afraid). Chris and I can systematically figure out which improv festivals we want to apply to, and when we need to get things ready for them. We can diarise deadlines, take time to prioritise workloads, update our websites, and use social media with purpose, rather than only when we remember.
So, this blog is really aimed at other artists who have found themselves unable to get things done that they want to do, because they’re spending so much time doing what they have to do to survive. You’re not wrong when you think “if only I had more time…” IT IS SO MUCH EASIER WHEN YOU DON’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT MONEY OR SURVIVAL WORK.
Turns out, we don’t all have the same 24 hours in a day. If you spend 9 hours working a gruelling temp job, and commute for 2 hours a day that leaves you with 13 hours to eat, sleep, and maybe even have a little bit of time to yourself before you do it all over again. And again. And again. And again. When I was trying to figure out auditioning, networking, classes, shows, and everything else alongside a 40- or 50-hour work week, I was constantly exhausted, and beating myself up because I felt like a failure compared to friends in the industry who were “making it”. Looking back, I realise that 99.9% of the people I saw as “doing really well” in their careers were either living with parents or carers or financially dependent on someone else. They weren’t making it the same way I was.
Before I came out to the USA, I had a massive meltdown over the phone to Chris. I was terrified that if I came out here and had three months of solid time to do whatever I wanted, I might realise that I was actually lazy and/or not very talented. That I’d get here and not have any idea what to do with the time I’d been gifted. I couldn’t have been more wrong. My show is in the best shape it’s ever been in, I’m getting consistent work done, and spending time doing things I enjoy. I feel contented and fulfilled and I know that I’m making good progress with the work I want to get done.
This is unlikely to be news to most people reading this. But if you, like I was (and probably will be again) are someone who has to make a living before they make art, just know that you’re running a race in lead shoes. It’s OK to acknowledge that this is harder for you. And if you’re one of the lucky buggers who comes from means, maybe be honest about that? Privilege isn’t a dirty word, so stop pretending to be a “broke artist” when someone else is paying for you to cosplay poverty. It’s time to retire the myth of the starving artist.
Why Year Long Classes?
You might wonder why on earth someone would want to take an online class spread over a whole year. Perhaps it feels like too much of a commitment; you don’t know where you’ll be or what you’ll be doing in a year’s time, and you’re more used to a 6-week course. Maybe you can’t imagine needing that much time for one topic. Maybe you’re worried you’ll forget it’s happening!
While I understand these potential sticking points, I know that spending a full year immersed in a subject will bring you to insights you might not find in a short course. Sticking with a team for a significant amount of time is a powerful tool for discovery and invention, and it is an opportunity to really gel and build community around a shared interest. Since it’s online, you can do it from anywhere, and I’ve tried to pick a time that fits a fair few time zones. And don’t worry – I’ll be sending out class reminders every month.
In 2021, I took Katy Schutte’s Mythic Improv Journey course, taking us through the pagan wheel of the year. It gave me so much insight into why we have certain seasonal celebrations, and how I as a human and a performer am affected by the earth’s yearly cycles. It changed my relationship to the seasons and my body and made me more cognisant of how I work best through the seasons. This course also taught me just how useful it is to devote a full year to learning something.
So, inspired by Katy, I’m running several year-long classes this year. The first is Hot Under the Collar; a course on sexiness and flirtation in improv. Of all the classes I’ve taught, this was the most obvious to extend. Every time I’ve taught this course, I’ve found myself brimming over with new ideas for how to make people comfortable using their sexuality. The more I teach, the more I discover new ways to help people be present, flirty, and sexy with each other and in themselves.
the nitty gritty
One of the things that I found most useful in Katy’s course was working with the same group for an extended period. Our check-ins became easier and more heartfelt, we were able to improvise with each other more smoothly, and it felt like the group coalesced into something more than a class: a gang of friends and colleagues working together for a common goal. It gave us all the advantages of being in a long-standing improv team, but with the added benefit of learning from Katy’s vast experience.
Hot Under the Collar is a class that requires a significant amount of vulnerability from the participants. Overt sexuality is still shrouded in shame and taboo, and it can be utterly nerve wracking for people to expose themselves in that way. Many people have spent their whole lives being policed sexually, so actively pushing into that space can be downright frightening. I know that having a full year to work with the same group, giving students the chance to really get to know each other, and understand each other’s boundaries, and sense of humour, is going to empower people to go deeper into themselves and discover just how much fun being sexy on stage can be!
A year of work also gives space for people to reflect on what they’ve done; I am going to be setting some “homework” for students to consider their work in class, take stock of the world around them, or simply think about their own sexuality. The time in between classes will allow participants to engage with themselves on a deeper level, so that we can push even deeper with every session.
We’ll also have much more time to think about safety and boundaries. All my work centres around consent and compassion and slowing down and spacing this course out gives us more time to examine and understand our boundaries and how we can communicate them with each other in healthy ways.
Most importantly, slowing down is sexy! There’s nothing hotter than someone taking their time, and a year of flirting gives us time to do just that. We have the space in this course to be lustful at our leisure.
So, there you have it – my case for year-long classes. It’s a wonderful way to gel with a group, you can delve deeper into a subject, take more time for personal reflection, and ultimately grow your improv further than you might have thought possible.
This is just the beginning for me; I will be announcing several other year-long courses in the coming month on Facebook and here on my website, so keep your eyes and ears peeled!
To book or for more information on Hot Under the Collar click here, or email me!
improv-ing the inevitable
originally published via The Nursery Theatre blog
trigger warning: death, dying, bereavement, medical procedure, covid-19
It happens to us all. And yet, none of us want to talk about it. It is, possibly, the last taboo in a lot of western society.
The funny thing is that taboo can also be used to describe something that is sacred. Perhaps we should think of death and dying more in those terms.
The current world-wide situation has thrown rather a large spotlight on the inescapable end that we’re all hurtling towards. Personally, I lost both of my Grandparents, I’ve seen friends lose family members, and I work for a start-up within the Death and Dying Space. Death is often at the forefront of my mind.
navigating a global pandemic
The pandemic has thrown a huge spotlight on how unprepared for death most of us are. Although obviously there are many older and vulnerable people who are dying from Covid, who are perhaps more likely to have their affairs in order, there are also thousands of young, “healthy” people on death’s door, who are suddenly coming face to face with death. These people have not thought about end-of-life care. They haven’t had conversations about where they’d like to be, who they’d like to have around them, whether they want to be intubated, or resuscitated, or who gets their stuff. Obviously, the reality of dying of a highly contagious virus means that many of those decisions are being taken out of people’s hands anyway, but it also means that many families are having to make incredibly difficult decisions around whether medical professionals should do everything they can to keep someone alive (which means invasive, painful procedures, which most likely only prolong the inevitable) over the phone, in the middle of the night, unable to ask the person in question what they want.
I’m not writing this to scaremonger or be morbid. I just know that most people my age have probably never had these conversations.
Most people who are over about 75 probably knew at least one person who’d died by the time they were about 10. My Grannie’s sister died on their kitchen table, while my Grannie and her siblings were only tiny. People’s husbands, sons, lovers, friends died being sent off to fight in wars. At home, people died in air raids, from lack of proper nutrition, from infections, and from diseases that are now preventable. Infant mortality and death in childbirth were much higher. In short: death was simply another part of life. We knew what death looked like.
acknowledging our own mortality
Nowadays, medicine has advanced to such a degree that it’s normal for people to live well into their 80s and 90s. It’s much more likely for someone to reach 20 or 30 before having to deal with someone they know dying. As a result, many people simply don’t face the idea of mortality. Often, when people who are dying try to talk about what they want at the end of life, their family and friends obfuscate, because they don’t want to face the reality of losing this person that they love. And, selfishly, they don’t want to have to think about their own death.
The truth is: we all die. Even with the incredible advances of modern medicine, this remains true. And in many ways, the current medicine that we have may prolong our lives further than we would want, if we understood the reality of what those extra days, weeks, or months might be like. For example: intubation (which will very probably happen if you have a severe bout of the ‘rona). This is a highly uncomfortable procedure. A tube is inserted via the mouth, and into the airway. When it’s done as part of a planned procedure, patients are usually under a general anaesthetic, and given muscle relaxants. When it’s done in an emergency (i.e., you’re dying because you can’t get enough oxygen by yourself), there is no time to anaesthetise or sedate you. It is a painful, traumatic, invasive experience. And if you’re at the point of emergency intubation, the likelihood is that you will still die anyway. It’s relatively rare for people who are intubated in an emergency to survive. And do they have much quality of life?
Now, I think it’s important that people think, and I mean really think about whether they want this sort of procedure done to them at the end of their life, or whether they’d prefer to be made as comfortable as possible as they leave their body. It’s not a comfortable thought. And not a comfortable conversation to have with people who love you. But it’s an important one.
what does this have to do with improv?
I think improvisers are sometimes particularly guilty of an “out of sight out of mind” approach to… well, almost anything. We love to “start positive” and “be supportive” and say “yes, and”. We avoid the difficult subjects in our shows and rehearsals, we make things light, and fun, we dance around tough subjects. In our communities, we ignore issues; if someone is a creep, we say “oh he’s a nice guy, he’s just a bit awkward”, we publish diversity policies, but don’t do anything tangible to improve the experiences of BIPOC players, we allow the weird politics of the scene to decide who is and isn’t in the “in-crowd”, while saying that we “support everyone”. Improvisers market themselves as the nicest people on earth, but often that “niceness” is merely unwillingness to engage with difficult subjects, and a commitment to protecting difficult people, at the expense of those they victimise.
One of my favourite improv shows I’ve ever seen was Inbal Lori and Lee White at Sofia Improv Festival. They did a dark, disgusting show that involved a “Psycho”-style creepy mummy/son relationship, and Inbal playing a bloodthirsty dictator; it was deliciously horrible. Why was it so great? Because it wasn’t sickly-sweet, improv candyfloss. Don’t get me wrong; it was hysterically funny. But it wasn’t “nice”. Not even close. I loved every minute.
We encourage improvisers to find their inner child, but we also need to understand how to have a grown-up conversation. If a female colleague tells you someone has groped her; you must talk to her about it. And you must have the tough conversation about whether the perpetrator should be allowed back in your venue. If a BIPOC player tells you they don’t feel at home in your theatre you must have the conversation about why and do the work on changing that. If a disabled player tells you they can’t access your venue YOU MUST FIX THAT. In the same way that if someone you know is dying, you must have a conversation about how they want to go, before it’s too late for you to have it.
And for god’s sake, write a will! Even if you think it’s not worth it. Even if you only have a fiver to your name. It makes everyone’s lives easier.
for the record:
- I want a non-religious funeral. I want everyone to get shitfaced and tell their funniest story about me (parent-friendly though, PLEASE). I want you all to dress in your nicest clothes, put on your best make-up, and look GOOD. I want party tunes, curated by Harry and Tom. I want to be cremated. I want you all to go to G-A-Y after it’s done and dance and drink and get into trouble.
- I don’t want a huge amount of overly invasive medical intervention. If a doctor recommends you allow them to do whatever they can to make me comfortable, rather than intubating or anything else; do what they say will make me most comfortable. And get me the good drugs.
- Donate my organs, if you can (LOL). Or donate my body to science, if you can.
- I don’t have much in the way of money or stuff, but you’ll find my will in a yellow envelope in the big black folder in my cupboard. I’m splitting my money between Shelter, and my brother and sister, my bro can have my electronics (after you’ve wiped my internet history), and my sister can have whatever of my clothes and jewellery she wants: the rest send off to charity shops. Hazz gets first dibs on any leftover booze, and anything else can go to a charity shop.
Audio, Accessibility, & Action in improv
originally published via The Nursery Theatre blog
It appears we’re at the point where those of us who want to play online know roughly what we’re doing with zoom-prov. We’ve got the gist of muting and unmuting, turning off self-view, and some of my friends even have Bluetooth clickers that let them turn their cameras and mics on and off at a distance.
The future is now, people.
So… what else is there? And what of those who have been left behind as we forge our way in this brave new world?
Through experimentation and working with Stephen Davidson on making our co-taught classes more accessible for neurodiverse and partially sighted folks, I’ve found myself being exposed to audio-only and off-screen improv. And I have to say, I’m loving it. I’ve now run workshops and shows involving both a mix of on and off-screen participants, and everyone off-screen, and there’s so much joy to be found in both.
Thinking critically about audio-only work as a director
At a recent Love Circle rehearsal, we tried out Katy Schutte’s Format “Flicker”. It’s a simple format: alternating one “light” scene (i.e., the players on “stage” or screen), and one “dark” scene (i.e., audio-only). The Love Circle is a show that is built around intimacy, sex, and sensuality, and having some scenes where the players couldn’t be seen really heightened the senses. It felt like the players felt emboldened to make bolder, more sexual or sensual offers, and as an observer I found the off-screen encounters more titillating, as it gave my imagination space to roam. I don’t know that we’ll use the strict one light, one dark structure of Katy’s original format (our show is a La Ronde based show, so we already have one strict-ish format to follow!), but we will absolutely be incorporating non-visual scenes in the future. It’s another tool on the toolbelt (and hopefully means we can work towards better inclusion in our shows too).
Want to get started with audio-only? here are some tips!
- If you’re interested in how you can implement some of these simple changes in your own practice, here are my handy tips for incorporating dial-in or off-screen participants:
- Make sure it’s very clear who’s in the room. Ask everyone to introduce themselves at the very top of the class, and speaks for a little while to introduce what their voice sounds like to people who can’t see them.
- Turn off the countdown in breakout rooms. If this is left on, dial-in participants get a booming voice counting them down to when the breakout rooms close, which is very distracting.
To do this, click on breakout rooms. Click on the little settings dial at the bottom of the breakout rooms box. Untick “Countdown after closing breakout room”. And you’re done!
- Ensure all your participants are on board with being descriptive. When people go into breakout rooms, remind them to say “hey, it’s Rhiannon!”. In scene work, make sure it’s clear what is happening for anyone who’s not able to watch the screen.
- You may want to incorporate some players as audio-describers; this can really add to the class too, as they are able to make offers for the people playing within a scene.
- Ask! If you’re not sure if an exercise will fall apart without on-screen participation, talk it through with your participants. Chances are you’ll find a way to make it work or have fun when it fails.
- Have fun! Lean into all the extra fun that’s available to you when you’re not able to see each other. Use voices, scene-painting, lean into your flowery language, improvise foley… mess around with it. It’s another new way to play, and I for one am delighted to see what we can do with it.
BONUS TIP – if you’d like to turn on auto-captioning for any of your workshops, jams, or any other event on zoom, here’s how:
- Login on your web browser, and in the left-hand bar of zoom, go to settings:
- Slide on the closed captioning setting:
- Then, when you’re in a meeting, you can click on Live Transcript:
- And Enable Auto-Transcription:
- And automatic captions will be on! Your participants will be able to choose to have them on or off, so you don’t have to worry about them being distracting for those who don’t need them.
- It’s useful to remind participants to speak slowly and clearly, as auto-transcription isn’t infallible!
Making your spaces friendly to audio-only participants isn’t just about inclusion; it also adds so much to your scenes. In the first audio-only drop-in I ran, the participants spontaneously created an entire world through being off-screen; they were able to use different voices, sound effects, and audio-description to create a highly stylised audio-drama, set on a local radio station. A different part of your brain seems to light up when you remove visual cues, and it led to some hilarious scenes. But don’t just take it from me – this is what one of my participants had to say:
“Your workshop was excellent. Thank you so much for creating the perfect atmosphere for those big hitters to stride out. My brain hasn’t come alive like that, EVER in improv.”
enough of tips! here is a game you can try
One of the exercises I love doing the most with off-screen participants is “You sound…”. It’s a riff on the classic game “You look / you seem”: participants go into paired breakout rooms, player one starts the scene with a sentence, which the second player responds to with “You sound…[an emotional endowment]”. E.g.
“Wow, I didn’t expect there to be so much to do”
“You sound disappointed”
They then continue the scene from there, with player one accepting the emotional endowment.
This is a fun way to get your participants voice acting, listening to subtext, and making strong emotional offers. Wordy games like “I’m a Whisk”, Word at a time Stories, gibberish games, or translator are fun, and you can do longform work by using sound edits such as “Meanwhile” or “Cut to”. I’m in no way an expert on this though; I think the most important thing is to just play around and see what you can do!