Learn to be a better improviser by using physicality

By Stuart Moses

My love language is learning. It’s the most reliable thing I’ve found to lift my spirits. It works whether I’m the teacher or the student.

I think we should always be learning new things. When you’re new to improv, feel free to take as many improv classes – from as many teachers – as you can. You’re learning a new set of skills so I encourage you to dig deep.

When you’ve been improvising for a while, you should widen your horizons. There are many skills adjacent to improv that will make you a better improviser including (but not limited to): acting, clowning, mime, puppetry, dance, laughter yoga and physical theatre.

Two teachers performing at the British Improv Project
Me using my physicality to react to offers made at #BIPSpring22. Photo by Luke Cousin.

The more improv I’ve done, the less I’ve been interested in communicating verbally. There are often too many words in improv scenes. If you’re playing with a large group, one of the best gifts you can give is to not add more verbal ideas, but to accept and deepen the offers already made. During the teachers’ show at the last British Improv Project I found myself reacting with my ‘big expressive face’ to the offers that had been made. This was an expression of my ongoing desire to develop my physicality so I can react with my whole body rather than just the words from my mouth.

In April, I attended an Introductory Course held by Frantic Assembly, self-proclaimed makers of thrilling, energetic and uncompromising physical theatre, perhaps best known for their The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time production.

I’d been a fan for a while, watching the Frantic Assembly videos, reading The Frantic Assembly Book of Devising Theatre and listening to The Frantic Podcast, so I was already familiar with many of the techniques we explored, but when it comes to physical theatre desk study is no substitute for practical experience.

It’s true that some of the things we learned are easier than others to translate to an improv setting. However, Push Hands would be useful exercise to run in a rehearsal.

Two hands belong to two different people touching as if they were playing Push Hands
Push Hands was one of my favourite exercises and can easily be used as an improv exercise.

Here’s how to play Push Hands. First you get into pairs. One person holds out their hand palm downwards. Meanwhile, the other person puts their hand underneath, facing upwards. The person with their hand below adds pressure in an upward direction, while the person on top pushes downwards. This creates some tension. The person with their hand on top is leading and moves with their partner around the room. Once you’ve mastered the basics you can begin to explore different levels and pace. My favourite step is the one where the person whose hand is below closes their eyes and relies on touch to be guided around the room.

The lifting exercises we explored in the Frantic Assembly were amazing and intense, but probably not something I’d recommend trying to bring to your improv group. 

You don’t need to learn with Frantic Assembly, though for me it was an unforgettable experience, but I do think you need to keep learning. By bringing the skills and knowledge that you’ve learned from outside improv into improv, you can keep things fresh and help maintain your enthusiasm – and perhaps, best of all, these things will mark you and your group as different from all the other people and groups who have only been learning from improv teachers.

Find out more about Frantic Assembly.

The next British Improv Project is sold out. Join the BIP Improv 4-6 Nov 2022 waiting list here.

Spreading the word of improv to the wider community

By Stuart Moses

I’ve recently been making an effort to make friends who live locally, which led me to getting involved with The Sunday Alternative – an inclusive secular community that meets regularly to celebrate life with music, ideas and community outreach. Organiser Stephen overheard me talking about improv – which I don’t particularly remember doing, but which does sound very on brand – and he invited me to lead a part of an upcoming assembly.

While it’s a delight to run workshops for improvisers, I feel a missionary zeal to introduce some of the concepts behind improv to people who’ve never heard them before. I was conscious of the large number of people likely to attend, which meant anything using words became impractical as there would be so much noise we wouldn’t be able to hear anything. I’ve been increasingly interested in the use of movement in improv, particularly using physicality with the intention of creating connection. 

During the warm-ups we explored the Michael Chekhov idea of contraction.

After a circle game and some light physical warm-ups to wake up the body, we explored mirroring. Society doesn’t often give us permission to look at someone so directly and copying their every movement is rarely acceptable. Once everyone has been mirroring each other in pairs, I love to get them to spread their awareness, so they are still mirroring their partner, but they’re also mirroring someone else in the room. If it seems impossible, if it seems like it’s breaking your brain, then you’re doing it right.

A group of people moving in unison inspires a sense of connection.

Then we did some Flocking, with everyone facing the same direction, and the person at the front moving in a way in which everyone else can copy. When they’d had enough of leading they could turn, an action copied by the whole group, then the new person at the front leads. I always feel a sense of awe when I see groups of people mirroring each other. The moves don’t need to be quick, clever or funny to be captivating. I’m pretty sure that everyone involved felt closer to everyone else as a result of moving in unison.

The sessions seemed to be well received, with several people expressing an interest in doing more, which is an exciting prospect. So, if you get an invite to share improv ideas beyond the improv scene, I’d encourage you to accept, who knows where it might lead?

In this case, I’m running an improv session in the park. So if you live in Reading or nearby, please do join us.

Find out more about The Sunday Alternative here.

At the time of writing 55 spaces for the next British Improv Project have been sold, with only 20 spaces left. So if you’ve thinking of joining in November it’s worth booking as soon as possible by completing the BIP Improv 4-6 Nov 2022 form here.

What I Did At The British Improv Project – Spring 22 – Part 2

By Stuart Moses

Day 3: Saturday 9 April

I attended Robert Anderson’s Chatting With Intent workshop. We explored the way, when performing two-person shows, we can control pacing by switching tone. We were inspired by Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book, made sure we rested a problem so we could bring it back rather than solving it, and in my notes I wrote down, “Dave’s sullen mood is literally killing the butterflies…” but trying to describe an improv scene is like trying to describe a dream. Pretty magical at the time, but you had to be there.

Owen, Jen and Stuart learn about Chatting With Intent. Photo by Luke Cousin.

I ran my Who, What, Where… When? workshop for the second time. I counted 15 people, yet we worked in pairs without the need for a group of three, which is a bit of a mystery. I was able to relax a little more, as I had a better grasp on timing and which parts people were likely to struggle with. One of the simplest, and funniest, things we did was to observe the physicality people used to represent time travel.

Next was Jonathan Pitts’ Scene Work: The Chicago Way, during which we explored slow, patient, grounded relationships, which is very much my favourite way to improvise. I loved the idea of going into ‘soft focus’ when receiving side coaching, which enabled us to take on board what the teacher was saying, without losing the connection with our scene partner. Another useful tool was the idea that when someone did something in a scene we could ask ourselves if this was the first, tenth or 100th time they had done it. The answer to that question would affect what our response would be.

Then it was time for the group photo.

#BIPSpring22 group photo

I attended Neil Goulder’s Kurosawa fringe workshop. We did three person scenes, playing the same scene three times, with a different person each time addressing the audience in monologues, revealing their inner thoughts. This very nicely led to the audience’s sympathies changing as more of the backstory was revealed each time.

The evening’s entertainment consisted of an excellent short-form set by Leamington Spa Improv, a game of Greatest Hits, a demo of the Kurosawa format, the Cell Block Tango, Tom and George performing Whirlpool, followed by an Irish Drinking Song.

Performing the Cell Block Tango is a serious business. Photo by Luke Cousin.

I was part of the Cell Block Tango, which was a little less, um, polished than it has been in previous years. Still, everyone seemed to enjoy it. I love it as a game because it combines singing (which I feel comfortable doing) with wordplay (which I find more challenging). We asked for a location, then went down the line replacing ‘Pop, Six, Squish, Uh uh, Cicero and Lipschitz’ with a word related to the suggestion. Our suggestion was Lidl. My mind went blank. So in a panic I chose the word ‘sausage’. Then, in between choruses of, ‘They had it coming…’ each of us got up to do a monologue about why we had murdered someone. I told the tale of being a vegetarian, who was continually taunted by a colleague who was always trying to get me to eat meat. I met them in a meat locker and dispatched them before concluding, ‘They would regret the day they agreed to ‘meet’ me’.

Day 4: Sunday 10 April

Attendees of Jonathan Pitts’ Mastering the Monoscene workshops

I attended Mastering the Monoscene with Jonathan Pitts. In the Monoscene, you play the same character for the full 30-45 minutes, in one location, in real time, with no edits. There’s no internal structure, so you need to rely on listening, give and take, ensemble focus, acting, and patience.

I thought all the scenes in this workshop were great. Perhaps the most memorable was the final one set on a submarine. It was made more immersive by a power cut, which meant the lights went out. The audience lit the scene using their phones and the lighting change was incorporated into the action.

After lunch, which was in partial darkness, it was time to say goodbye… until the next British Improv Project, which takes place on 4-6 November 2022.

What I Did At The British Improv Project – Spring 22 – Part 1

By Stuart Moses

Day 1: Thursday 7 April

Six attendees of the British Improv Project sit at a restaurant table
Six of us attended the British Improv Project a day early. Photo by Geoff Monk.

Six of us arrived a day early – a move I heartily recommend if you’re planning to attend in the future. It gave us a chance to settle into the place, plus we went for a lovely meal at the Anatolian Palace in nearby Stafford

Day 2: Friday 8 April

Usually, I pitch two workshops I could run and write a lesson plan for each, before writing the 50-100 word summary to send to the organisers. This seems inefficient, as there’s no guarantee I’ll have either workshop accepted. So this time, I wrote the pitches first, which made the lesson planning much harder when one of my workshops was selected. I wanted to honour the promises I’d made, while also exploring the discoveries I’d found during the research. Anyway, lesson learned, I’ll go back to my old process for the next event.

The assembled horde wait for the teachers to make their pitches. Photo by Luke Cousin.

The way you choose which workshop you wish to attend at the British Improv Project is interesting if you’re a teacher. Each teacher pitches what their workshop will be about to the whole group and if someone wants to do it they go and stand next to you before following you to the room. It feels a bit like a weird popularity contest, but allows people to see which classes are big or small, and who they’re going to be playing with. All of this is a roundabout way of saying I had 14 people in my first workshop, which was a good amount, not least because it was an even number which rarely seems to happen.

In my workshop we looked at the concept of time in improv. The warm ups were mostly related to the exercises that followed. The mirroring warm up was particularly interesting to witness. I asked everyone to mirror not only their scene partner, but also someone else. I could feel the connections flowing around the room. We also took a location and played scenes set there at different times of day. We played a short-form game called Time Travel TV and had the group take turns playing the same two characters for a Time Dash.

Teachers perform at BIPSpring22. Photo by Luke Cousin.

I was asked to be in the Teachers’ Montage as part of the evening entertainment, which was lots of fun. I realised afterwards that I relied on two core signature moves: i) Asking people to repeat what they’d just said, then asking them to explain or justify it. There were so many players with so many good ideas, it felt more helpful to deepen, rather than add, information. ii) Using big facial expressions to react to what was going on. There were already enough words in each scene. I didn’t need to add more.

I was also invited to be in a musical that was set in a castle and called ‘Let Down Your Drawbridge’. One thing I learned from doing a Showstopper! The Improvised Musical workshop was to hold onto the name of the musical, and then use it in the last song. So when it felt like the end was drawing near, I manufactured some redemption for the villain and established the chorus for the final song. There were some great physical representations of drawbridges behind me as I did this. What a fantastic way to finish the first proper day of the weekend.

Why Improv is about more than Improv

By Edd Crawley

Like many, I’ve been affected by the Covid situation that’s going on currently. As much as everyone, I miss piling into random venues on a weekly basis to make a fool out of myself in front of a bunch of awesome people (with the amazing Stürike Comedy). And slightly less occasionally, making a fool out of myself in front of an audience.

The people in the Improv community are as important to me too. I’ve been to the British Improv Project weekends twice (would have been a third if not for Covid *shakes fist at the sky*) and have been completely overwhelmed with how we all come together to talk about our passion for improv. It was attending my first BIP get together that inspired me to get started on an idea I’d had for an improv show; a couple of months later Work In Progress Improv was born.

The people who organise this and other Improv community events give up their time, emotions and effort to build this community and (as far as I’m concerned) do a bloody good job. There are too many to lis there, and you’re all amazing.

Which brings me back to community. Sometimes, I think we need more opportunities to connect with new improvisers that we ordinarily wouldn’t get to meet. Sure, we might run across each other at workshops and classes, and the odd social, but do we really get to know one another? Do we set aside some time to have, even just a coffee with these people, and just talk?

So, because I can’t improv during Covid, I decided to do something about this. I am setting up Randomised Coffee Trials for the improv community.

Randomised Coffee Trials are something that exist in some organisations and are a really simple idea: Meet someone new, and have a cup of coffee (or other beverage) with them. Talk about work, life, Turnip prices on Animal Crossing, anything.

So; here’s the thing. If you want to meet new improvisers on a quarterly basis, sign up via this link. We’ll email you a new friend every quarter. You may know them, you may not. And it’s good either way – if you know them, get to know them a little better. If you don’t, that’s just as good; a totally new contact! Chances are, you won’t live in the same city (and even if you do, social distancing means you can’t exactly go to a coffee shop, do s o it virtually.

Sign up if you’re interested. This project means we can help our community grow together.

Autumn Gathering 2017 is over; Spring 2018 date announced; merchandise available

I write this having just returned from the BIP Autumn Gathering 2017.

The Attendees of the BIP’s Autumn Gathering 2017 (complete with blurry Geoff)

From an improv perspective, another hugely successful and enjoyable weekend (despite a few teething problems with the new venue), which featured over 60 improvisers gathering together from across the country (and around the world!).

We’ll be back at Scalford Hall, Melton Mowbray (hopefully with teething problems resolved), over the weekend of 20th-22nd of April for our Spring Gathering 2018. We hope to see you there – booking will open shortly, but in the mean time, register your interest through the facebook event.

Finally, we have merchandise available (which will hopefully load below, but if not, click this link!).

Hope you’re well, and enjoyed the Autumn Gathering (if you were there),


Co-Organiser, BIP

Next event announced, rebrand, and website launched

It’s been a busy week here! We’ve announced our next event and put it on sale (Autumn Gathering, 17-19th November, Scalford Hall, Melton Mowbray), rebranded the organisation as The British Improv Project, and launched this website.

Hopefully, this site will become a useful hub for the improv community in Britain, and we’ll continue to develop & add to it over time.

Now, go and book your place at the November weekend!

Tom & Geoff