Venn and the art of Two Person Improvisation
I’m launching a new improv night celebrating two person improvisation. I am working on this with my improv wife Rachel Blackman and my real life husband Tony Harris.
I have enjoyed how much the longform scene has flourished in the UK, particularly in the last 4-5 years and am excited that so much other TwoProv has blown up even more recently. Yes, Ampersand is an attempt to share the joy via a new exclusively two person improv night above the Priory Arms in Stockwell. We hope to build to a festival in the Autumn of 2015. At Yes Ampersand, people can work up their forms, enjoy watching the new performers as well as the masters at work and have fun jamming with some strangers in two person scenes. We have some super headliners such as Breaking and Entering, DnR and Folie a Deux.
Rachel and I will be celebrating our 10 year TwoProv anniversary in 2015. We have been doing regular one hour two person improv shows together since spending a summer in Chicago in 2005. We studied at Second City that year and watched a LOT of shows that inspired us at IO. In contrast, Tony is embarking on his first two person show with team mate Mark Rawle, so we’re both excited about TwoProv from different angles.
My attraction and revelation with TwoProv was that you get so much stage time that you learn a lot of stuff really quickly. In Katy and Rach, neither of us ever leaves the stage, so that’s a solid hour of experience every time. If you drop or forget something, that’s a bigger deal than if a whole team have your back, but you also have the benefit of super-connecting with this ONE other person on a much richer level because that’s your only option for doing a good show.
Katy and Rach feels a lot like TJ and Dave because that’s the first TwoProv we saw and we love it to distraction. But slow burn, subtext and deep listening is not the only style that I work with. I have also performed full length two person shows with Chris Mead and Jon Monkhouse as Project2. We are a three person company but 90% of the time, only two of us play a gig. Jon and I tend to produce haunting and slightly surreal 70s type science fiction stories, whereas playing with Chris is a bit more like a fast paced Futurama episode. I also headlined with Maria Peters at the Talinn improv festival. We had played together before, but not with regularity and not as a two person show. We tried a 15 minute show in London before jetting off to Estonia and pulling a 45 minute longform out of the bag. We were both used to TwoProv so it was lovely to discover the ways we played in common as well as all of the surprises. Our show came out a lot like a Harold with three story strands and a variety of characters. My discovery from these shows is that you can be any type or grade of improviser, but your two person show will be something else. It’s not about you, it’s not about the person you play with, it’s about where the Venn diagram overlaps.
There are some amazing twoprovisers out there and I just wanted to mention a few that really rocked my boat. Not just because they’re good (I’ve seen a lot of good two person improv shows) but because they are aspirational.
Neil Curran (Neil +1), Dublin
Strictly speaking, Neil’s show is not a two person form because he is the only improviser in the show. He takes his +1 from the audience – someone who hasn’t even seen improvisation – and plays with them. He interviews them at the beginning and builds the show around their real life and experiences. It’s an amazing piece of work. I would be terrified to do it.
Marc and Brent (Action Movie), Montreal
Marc and Brent are Montreal Improv. They improvise an action movie and I had the joy of training with them. They had a lot of similar teaching to TJ and Dave - eye contact, subtext, mutual discovery instead of invention - but the show was wacky and fast with a narrative. The thing I enjoyed most of all was the level of agreement. The edits were immediate and flowed into one another. Sometimes it was difficult to tell which person had edited because you were immediately in a different scene though the stage picture may not have moved an inch.
TJ and Dave (TJ and Dave), Chicago
These guys are my first longform crush. In 2005 I had never seen a play that good, let alone an improvised play that good. Nothing happens and everything happens. I saw them again (was lucky enough to open for them) recently and it still looks like magic. It’s like I’d spent 10 years learning card tricks only to see them make the Statue of Liberty disappear. They play regularly in Chicago, but they also have a very interesting DVD called Trust Us with a full length show and insightful documentary.
Yes, Ampersand starts on 4th February at the Priory Arms, Stockwell at 7:30pm. With Breaking and Entering, Make Shift, The Homunculus and a chance for anyone to have a go a TwoProv in our jam.
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