Bristol Improv Festival
I’m super excited about this. I feel like I’ve seen Bristol’s improv scene gradually get stronger and more awesome. I’m like the kooky aunt who keeps seeing it once a year and saying ‘look how you’ve grown’. My memories of Bristol are various, but below are some that stand out for me.
In 2013, I was in Bristol for Who Ya Gonna Call? rehearsals. We were rehearsing at the Old Vic (on the sly) while another show I’d directed was playing there for a short run. I asked Andy Yeoh if he wanted me to lead any classes while I was there. He said I could take over the drop in class, but it was unlikely anyone would turn up because they’d all just finished their exams and were celebrating the night before. I was happy to coach even a handful, but ridiculously around 25 people turned up – some tired, some hungover – but everyone SUPER keen to improvise. It was a really great session and a lot of people were encountering long form for the first time. The same week, Andy was kind enough to organise a Project2 gig for me and Jon Monkhouse. I’m always impressed with Bristol audiences. We were there with no real fanfare and yet played to a small but packed room, all of whom were interested in the show and had a lot of great questions afterwards.
I think the first time I visited Bristol was when a relatively green Project2 played the festival a few years ago. We were all working during the day and drove up in the evening. We entered what was ostensibly a heavy metal club; the Bierkeller. I was thrilled because it had that comfortable feeling of my teens when I was a fan of Metallica, Megadeth and Rage Against the Machine… The space was made into a temporary theatre and I saw some great shows. We hopped in the car after our show and drove all the way back to London together. I seem to remember me and Chris singing the whole of ‘Once More with Feeling’.
The last time I was in Bristol, me and Rachel Blackman (Katy and Rach) taught a workshop in slow burn longform. The class was full and we were delighted to find that everyone in the class was so generous. It’s such a great testimony to a city when the improvisers are already hot on supporting the shit out of one another. There was no competition, no dickheads and lots of beautiful scene work. Me and Rach did our show to (another) packed out room in the evening. Afterwards, the conversation was really smart, lots of people were coming and chatting to us about themes that had come up in the show, about the art of longform in general and our work in particular. Once again, Andy went out of his way to put us up, to make us a bacon sarnie and post me my iPad which I stupidly left on a radiator in the pub.
I’ve also seen some really excellent shows in Edinburgh that were born in Bristol. Murder She Didn’t Write by Degrees of Error was a highlight; really funny with a very full audience, super reviews and excellent cast. In our first year at the fringe, Who Ya Gonna Call? hugely benefited from having Bristolians support the show and come back a few times, bringing friends.
I love the improv scene in Bristol and although it’s an amazing achievement to have a dedicated space for improv, I am not surprised that Andy, Caitlin and the whole team there have managed to do it. If anyone could, it’s right and perfect that it’s them. I am very excited to come back and perform with the Maydays on 8th March. I know there’ll be a good crowd, I know people will engage with the show and I know there will be plenty of improv geeks to have a pint with afterwards.
If I’ve learned anything from Bristol, it’s that having someone’s back is a philosophy in life as well as on stage. We should all go out of our way to help other improvisers. Whether it’s supporting their shows, bringing new audiences, posting their stupid iPad, spreading the word or just being inclusive, we could all be a bit better at that. And you know what? Our whole scene will be more awesome for it.
My top pics for the festival would be DNAYS and Jinni Lyons: Is an Only Child.
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