Andrew Dipper

Ever wanted to learn improv?

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Image: Spurious Nonsense Photography

Ever wanted to learn the craft of improv but didn’t know where to start? Bev Fox and Ian McLaughlin, of The Suggestibes fame, are running an ace improv workshop at The Jazz Cafe in Newcastle.

The workshops appeal to all sorts of people – a mix of stand-ups, actors, theatre practitioners, film makers, writers, teachers, engineers, doctors, lawyers, ecologists, psychologists, students, administrators, sales people – the list goes on.

But they’ve all a few things in common: wanting to build confidence on or off-stage, to test and expand their creative minds with new ways of thinking, and to have fun. Believe it or not, they’re a great stress-relief.

“We already have several people who are entering the world of stand-up, looking to become more confident as performers, more spontaneous in dealing with audiences and coming off-script, find a new creative way in to ideas,” organiser Bev tells us. “And there’s an element of bouncing off others because stand-up can be so solitary.”

The workshops are designed to be supportive and challenging, but not competitive. You don’t need any experience, and you don’t need to be a joke-teller or the funny one of the bunch, but perhaps there’s a hankering that somewhere inside you are funny – you’re just not confident in letting that side of your personality out entirely.

“One of the key things at our sessions is overcoming the fear of failure,” Bev admits. “A lot of the games and exercises are nigh-on impossible tasks so people fail a lot, which means they learn through getting stuff wrong, discovering along the way that getting stuff wrong is hilarious if you have the right attitude.

“Stand-ups and funny people are often surprised at how hard improv is, until they stop ‘trying’ to be funny, relax and start looking out rather than in.”

A typical workshop begins with half an hour of quick-thinking, warm-up games to get the mind going, then you get to tackle some improv exercises that could be in groups or in pairs, before you go into performance mode to develop scene-work, character and style.

“The current Tuesday and Wednesday programme of foundation, intermediate and advanced workshops has developed over the last two years, though we’ve been running them off and on since 2004”, Bev says.

Workshoppers who are getting confident with their skills – so intermediates to advanced performers – then get to perform at fortnightly Thursday shows called Rat Race.

Rat Race has been running for years: the idea is that two teams of players compete (not really, its like a mock tournament – improv is supportive, not competitive) to win some cheese.

There’s also Improv Comedy Jam, a brand new night from The Suggestibles duo.

“It’s experimental, so anything could happen or change with the format depending on who wants to take part, but for now it’s split into three sections, with the middle bit open for us to play about with.

“The first bit will likely be made of games and the end might be some kind of ‘play’. We had a try out night back in June and were chuffed that a couple of audience members got up and gave it a go.”

Improvisation Foundation workshops, upstairs at The Jazz Cafe, Newcastle, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 16 September until 3 December, 6.30pm – 9pm, £12.50 per session. Further information.