Ahead of her upcoming course exploring online, interactive theatre, we chatted to writer, director and all-round theatre-maker extraordinaire, Steph Kempson all about the fantastic shows she’s made, what goes into creating an online performance and (of course) her new course!
Q: Hey Steph! We’re really excited about your upcoming course on creating interactive, digital theatre with the Bristol Improv Theatre. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your fantastic career so far?
Aw shucks! During my last year of uni I volunteered with Kneehigh theatre down in cornwall. The show I saw there blew my mind, and I started focusing on working in theatre. After that I trained at Bristol Old Vic on their theatre course and embarked on a career as a director and dramaturg almost ten years ago. I’ve been lucky enough to work on new writing, musicals, improv, interactive, site specific work, drag and technology driven work. I love to devise work with my company and use improvisation heavily in the process, as well as involving improv within performances. I’ve trained extensively with Holly Stoppit in fooling, and traditional storytelling training which is built from a place of improvising around a tale.
Q: As an artist and theatre maker, how have you found the last 18 months? What effect do you think the pandemic has had on artists’ creativity?
I was unofficially shielding as I have a medical condition, so I knew it would take a vaccine to get me back out in the world. I definitely despaired at that and lost all my storytelling creativity. Instead I got really into sewing for a month or two – I made a lot of sack dresses. After that I didn’t have much work, so I approached lots of creatives I have worked with before and we made Sherlock In Homes, an interactive murder mystery. We used the traditional format of a murder mystery, but pushed at the expectation of what kind of story it was telling or who it was about. We also pushed at the creativity and interactivity that Zoom could allow. Somehow we made a smash hit and our three online shows had over 30,000 audience members over their 8 months run. It was a bit of a shock. It’s made me reassess my work and what audiences I am reaching, and what tools and skills I can bring into each project. Sometimes limitations can give us some of our biggest steps forward in creativity.
Q: What opportunities do you think online theatre can bring to artists and creatives? Do you think it’s here to stay now in-person shows are getting back on their feet?
I really hope it’s here to stay. As a person who has spent significant amounts of time housebound with illness, I want all these online events to stay. I can attend so much more, and at much less physical or financial cost. Many friends who can’t get out all the time really appreciate it. There’s also the amazingness of having people attend from all over the world. We had people attend from every continent except the Arctic and Antarctic. Often invited by UK family and friends who weren’t able to visit, they could spend an evening together watching our show and connecting. It was a space where they didn’t have to talk about lockdowns or health, and could escape together to solve a murder.
Q: What differences have you found in creating online theatre to in-person theatre? What are the pros and cons of each format?
I definitely found most of my games and making processes had to be mashed beyond recognition, and it can favour certain skills over others. You also have to learn the rules of film, and mash them with the rules of theatre for shows like ours. Performers have to be tech savvy. And it’s not as hard as you think to research enough to do some very slick tech. Online and digital theatre definitely asks theatremakers to throw themselves into becoming people who know about technology and other mediums. Especially film. I do think online theatre needs to interact, or find a way to connect an audience to the performer and each other. I think that is the thing which will continue to mark it out against other art forms, even when they borrow from these other art forms.
Q: What part of the process of creating an online theatre piece do you enjoy the most?
I love building the structure with writer Peter Baker (Murder She Didn’t Write, Closer Each Day) and the cast. The audience have a lot of control over what information comes out when, but we spend time really thinking about and empowering our performers to read the energy in a room and take the audience on a journey with them. Each character has a turning point in each of their scenes, and each character has a journey in the show. Its a process where each actor has to understand every other character in depth, so they can build their interactivity and improvisation into this richly complex world.
Q: Your company, Sharp Teeth, had a huge success with your online ‘Sherlock in Homes’ shows during lockdown. Can you tell us a favourite or memorable moment from when you were creating the show?
So many. Considering how many times I watched our first show (I ran the tech for the first 70), I never stopped chuckling at our performers. There was definitely a moment in our second mystery (set in Antarctica) where Peter Baker as the shy bookish Getjor told off an audience member for asking if someone could have copied the key. He said there wasn’t a Timpson’s nearby. Also Dougie Walker came up with a joke about our Captain Albert Ross talking about the break in the ice. Only some of the audience would get that it was actually a quote from Friends and I always very much enjoyed seeing who got it.
I also enjoyed the reveal at the end. Watching audience members celebrating getting it right, or being shocked by the reveal. Oh and I really enjoyed watching people who didn’t expect themselves to get into it suddenly getting incredibly into it by the end of the show. We got a lot of people saying “I didn’t expect to get involved, but I found myself intensely interrogating a suspect and I loved it.”
Q: What does the interactive element bring to an online show? And where does improv fit into this?
The interactivity and the quality of it is everything. For a performer it’s often about balancing the objective of your character and storytelling, with getting your audience to understand the rules and encouraging them to be confident. It’s a lot to balance and requires all sorts of tactics. Online LARPing and role play games are enormously popular and growing in popularity, but most audiences aren’t comfortable with audience interaction. Lots of people dread it. They like to know the rules, but if you get them interacting it can be an intoxicating, delicious and powerful experience. As an interactive performer you need to be an expert facilitator, quick-witted and have a good understanding of your character.
Q: Who is this course for and why should they come along?
This course might be for those who’ve studied pure improv and want to move into improvising around more structured arcs and interactive theatre, or it might be for those who have less improv experience but want to take steps into this. It’s also for those who want to be badass world changers, those who want to build our digital theatre world, and explore the way this art form can start to cross with film, games, and many other forms. I’ll cover lots of details on how you might make and run your own show. In a few years I hope to be running an online theatre venue, and I would love to see the seeds of work here translate into amazing shows I can collaborate on and book in the future.
Ahead of her weekend intensive on characters, theatre school manager Imogen writes about her experience of playing villains.
It took me a long time in improv to start playing truly evil or reprehensible characters.
I wanted to be liked. I wanted my character to be one of the ‘good ones’. Even if I ended up in a villainous role, I would find way to bail on the character and ‘have a change of heart’.
This doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for villains ‘to come good’ stories or that villains can’t have vulnerability or heart.
However, there is a joy to be found in committing to a character whose views are not your own. Most stories need a villain and if you’re prepared to go there, you can serve the story and raise the stakes for everyone.
In Melbourne, I explored opposite world view characters with the incredible director/ teacher Katherine Weaver. She loves the horror genre and directed me in a show called ‘Monster of the Week’ where I learnt to play characters I had never dared before.
Sweet adorable victims- giving the audience the chance to fall in love with you before you are brutally killed – and monstrous villains. I learnt to enjoy prowling, embodying a vampire, playing someone likeable who turns evil when they get bitten. Very satisfying storytelling.
We did an exercise where we played characters with opposite world views to ourselves. I played someone who didn’t believe in global warming. This sort of work requires sensitivity and care but it led to some really exciting break-throughs for me personally.
In an improvised Shakespeare company in Melbourne I was lucky enough to play with a collective of open-hearted inspiring humans who were able to have difficult conversations about sensitive themes. In one show, in Shakespearian fashion, I played a Duke/ Uncle who wanted to have it away with my niece. I leant into the lechery of the character and played sinister at a distance. I got boos and hisses from the audience. My team honoured the story by making sure I was brutally killed at the end. It is one of my favourite roles I have ever played and couldn’t be further from ‘me’.
One of the greatest joys of improvisation is playing a wide spectrum of characters; playing outside of your expected character range. If you want to discover your inner villainous side, or learn to develop characters with deeper wants or attitudes towards others, join me on the 26th and 27th September for a weekend intensive where we deep dive into the world of characterisation.
Dr Petia Petrova, long-time student of the Bristol Improv Theatre School, takes us through her heartwarming experiences of learning with us. Right the way from first discovering improv to now having developed a new course, alongside our instructors, on ‘Improvisation Skills for Teaching’
I went to a drop-in session at the Bristol Improv Theatre as a dare. I was trying to do one new thing a day for 43 days in a row. One day for each year of my life. I was not in a great place, so was pushing myself to experience life, and to get to know Bristol.
Stepping through the front door of the Bristol Improv Theatre took a lot of courage. I am not a creative person – I was not a regular at school plays or performances. I think I did some reciting in pre-school (aged 6), and once in primary school – I do not remember any details, other than the shoe-shaped bag that was for some reason a prop.
Going through the front door was scary. I was about to chicken out and called my partner. I got the metaphorical push that I needed. I went in. And by doing so, I allowed fun, joy and mischief to enter my life.
Don’t take me wrong, this was not an easy process. My first session was great fun, but also well out of my comfort zone. It took me another 3 months to gather enough courage to try again. I signed up to the ‘Discovery’ course, designed specifically for newbies like me. It was such a gentle and encouraging space. Imogen Palmer created a lovely atmosphere where we supported and cheered each other, and appreciated how unique and wonderful each of us was. Outside of the class, we set up an informal WhatsApp group and our connections and fun continued.
This is where it all really begun for me. The Bristol Improv Theatre helped me not only put me back together again, but also allowed me to grow and enrich my life in a way that I had not expected.
Many of us became rather addicted to signing up to different Bristol Improv Theatre courses. We got to know the other amazing teachers and performers at the Theatre (Caitlin Campbell and Stephen Clements, among others). We started performing during our ‘sharing sessions’, where we could invite our friends and family to see what we have learned. Well, once you get that buzz of hearing the audience laugh at a joke you have just created on stage, there is no turning back.
We were high on the improv wave, performing, watching, having fun, then Covid struck. To use a term from higher education (HE) – the Bristol Improv Theatre ‘pivoted’ to online teaching. Yet, the courses were just as good. Being able to continue doing improv made the endless lockdown months more bearable, and less isolating, and of course we learned more improv techniques.
Teaching and improv
I was so impressed by the quality of the online versions of the courses. It made me think that those of us working in HE can learn from the way improv is taught online at the Bristol Improv Theatre. In my day job I am an Associate Director of Academic Practice at University of the West of England (UWE) Bristol. I had a conversation with Imogen (Theatre School Manager at the Bristol Improv Theatre) and Caitlin (Artistic and Executive Director) about creating a bespoke set of experimental workshops titled ‘Improvisation Skills for Teaching’ for colleagues teaching at UWE. It is such a pleasure to work with professionals that really listen to what is needed and come up with appropriate and imaginative solutions. We piloted this course online in the Spring of 2021. It was one of the best evaluated staff development courses I am involved with. Now in Autumn 2021, we are delivering our second iteration of this course. There is also a lot of interest from other universities in this work. The course will next be delivered not only at UWE, but also at the St George’s, University of London.
Improv has brought so much joy to my life. It feels really fulfilling to share this joy with others, both professionally and personally.
Welcome to the first diary entry of The Delight Collective, written by the artistic director Imogen Palmer. The Delight Collective has been an associate company of Bristol Improv Theatre since 2018 and we have been very busy making shows, performing in festivals and running outreach projects since our inception.
This diary is a chance to see what it’s like inside of a BIT associate company, and find out what we’re working on at the moment…
23rd July 2021- ACTION!
This month has seen the start of the ‘Empowering Difficult Women’ partnership project with Breathing Fire and Houria. We applied for Bristol City Council’s Originator’s funding back in March 2021 and were lucky enough to receive £4992 towards a series of four workshops which will take place September – October this year…
I’ve been meeting with Charlotte Whitten, the co-producer of this project, on a weekly basis to help us put together ALL OF THE SPREADSHEETS, including:
- An action log/ timeline
Behind every great creative enterprise, there is great administration and workflow systems. Charlotte has been amazing at drawing together all of the spreadsheets and this month we sent contracts out to our collaborators. I have been finding using an action log so useful for projects where I’m working with a few people – we use it as a starting point for all our meetings are where we keep track of different things we’re working on. I honestly don’t know how I would get anything done without spreadsheets or my bullet journal. What did people do before excel?? Carve workflows on trees?!
We’ve met with Ruth, Valerie and Vanessa from Breathing Fire on Zoom to figure out how the partnerships and workshops will work. It was really inspiring to meet with them and talk about how the theme of ‘empowering difficult women’ could be explored in different ways! Breathing Fire are the UK’s only black women’s Playback Theatre group. They’ve been going since 2008 and have a range of experience working with audiences including prisons, health organisations, Schools, colleges, universities, festivals and residential homes. I’m really looking forward to shadowing the workshops they will be running and learning more about playback theatre as a tool for improv and empowerment.
Watch this space for more updates…
Ahead of her upcoming four week course on being present and playful in improv, Cat Murphy shows us how improv and yoga practices can mutually benefit from one another…
Improv can be stressful.
Making stuff up on the spot? In front of people? On a STAGE?
Fight or flight mode: engaged!
I often become overwhelmed and overexcited on stage (sometimes all at once!) and have found yoga techniques such as scanning the body to release tension, engaging my breath, and connecting to the ground beneath my feet have helped me play from a place of calm.
This got me wondering: if yoga has affected my improv… has improvising affected my yoga? After a little digging, it turns out that yes! My processes in improv and yoga benefit each other in many ways.
Here are some gems I found in my digging process:
Awareness of the body as our tool, our home, and our friend.
We use our bodies all day, every day. When acting, sleeping, running, writing, thinking, breathing, eating crisps, watching telly. Yoga helps me discover and rediscover ways my body can move and feel. Theatre Practitioner Maria Kapsali discovered that ‘yoga can increase self-awareness and physical vocabulary, increase connectivity with ourselves and others, and help with imagination and visualisation in theatre.’ The more familiar we are with our bodies, the more comfortable we are with accessing it as a tool, which is hella useful as according to studies, 55% of our communication is through body language.
The Present Moment (that old chestnut)
It’s been said before and I’ll say it again: in improvisation, the only place we can play is in the present moment we are creating. But what is the present moment? Simply put, it is right now – the time when things are happening. If we’re thinking ahead or trying to plan the action, we are disengaging from the moment and our fellow player(s).
We train in anchoring our attention onto the action, onto our scene partner, to listen and respond to what’s happening right now. That’s what’s so exciting about live improvisation, we are celebrating the shared present moment in all its joyful immediacy. Similarly, in yoga, we focus on the present by anchoring awareness onto the self – be that the breath, the body or the experience of mind, with the aim of really being with ourselves right now.
Shark Mind is Our Friend
Much to my chagrin, yoga has taught me that the brain doesn’t stop thinking. It’s like how sharks never stop swimming, it just what minds do. I sit and meditate, and my mind comes with me, thinking about anything but the task in front of me. I go on stage, and yep, my mind is in tow, jabbering away.
This used to really bother me, until I discovered that in improv thinking is our friend, and that if we work with it rather than against it, our imagination can delight and surprise us. This then helped me realise that the goal of yoga isn’t to never allow the mind it to wander but to notice with kindness when it does. We can notice what we’re thinking and use our wandering, free-associating mind to inform our play and bring truthful contributions to a scene. We can own the thoughts rather than letting them distract us. We can use our whizzing, wonderful ever-thinking minds to our advantage. We can trust our instincts and let our shark-minds be our friends.
Curiosity is a doorway to listening.
Curiosity drives our intention and strengthens our capacity to listen. If we are interested in ourselves and those around us, we are more likely to investigate, explore, pay attention, and in turn find what delights and inspires. I see yoga as an act of compassionate curiosity. As Adriene Mishler puts it “find what feels good”. I’ve found this mantra hugely helpful in my improv – knowing what feels good in my own body and experience helps me negotiate boundaries, as well as helping me follow the fun of a scene and play wholeheartedly.
Listening requires vulnerability.
When we listen in improv, really listen, and allow our scene partner to affect us, we tear up our plan for how we think the scene should go, and instead follow the ideas that are unfolding between you organically. It’s vulnerable. And it’s this vulnerability which leads to moments of spontaneity, joy and connection. As actor, Alan Alda puts it: “When I’m willing to let them change me, something happens between us that’s more interesting than a pair of dueling monologues.”
When we listen in yoga, we can discover strength and mobility in ourselves, as well as tension, aches and pains. The whole shebang. But that’s where the truth is, and this provides a platform for us to see, accept and say “yes, and” to ourselves where we are.
Embracing the Suck
For me, yoga poses aren’t a series of finished products. They are tools for listening and accessing messy, explorative processes. They are meant to be experienced, not performed. Similarly, improvisation celebrates the process of making things up and getting things wrong. To engage with yoga or improv is to risk not being perfect.
Brene Brown once said: “I believe that you have to walk through vulnerability to get to courage, therefore . . . embrace the suck.” This quote sheds light for me on how my two favourite practices require vulnerability to be brave. I’ve learned that when we embrace the suck in both improv and yoga, when we celebrate moments of messiness, we allow ourselves to grow.
To risk sucking is to be vulnerable. To be vulnerable is to be brave. To be brave is to be present.
Being brave, in the present, listening, staying curious and seeking what feels good?
These are qualities I value both onstage and on the mat, yes. And I’ve also found that the wisdom and truth found in both practices have a lot to offer in terms of personal development, growth and connection in our day-to-day lives.
Cat will be teaching a 4 week course Exploring Improv: Being Present and Playful, starting on 10th August, 7pm – 9pm.
After the success of his first show, ‘Orienteering’, Charlie Markwick returns to the Bristol Improv Theatre with his brand new performance ‘Mourning Glory ‘. We had the pleasure of chatting to him about the show, improv and his experiences that have inspired the show.
Hey Charlie! We’re thrilled to be hosting ‘Mourning Glory’ at the Bristol Improv Theatre in September! Can you give us an idea of what to expect?
I’m thrilled at the prospect of coming back to the BIT it feels like coming home. Mourning Glory is a show about the struggle of my coming to terms with erectile dysfunction. On that journey I started to explore what it means to be male too. This will be a very personal view and inevitably there are aspects that will be intimate and challenging both for me to perform and others to hear. I guess it will definitely not be a family show but I’m hoping it won’t be salacious either.
How does this show relate to your previous show, Orienteering that you performed at the BIT in June 2018?
In a number of ways. Firstly they are both frank and open shows about my life and the challenges I’ve grappled with. Secondly in both I want to reach out to others to say “you’re not on your own”. They are also one man shows punctuated by my poetry. But there is a difference too. Orienteering was about how I learnt to care for another, Mourning Glory is about how I’m learning to care about myself.
For those who didn’t catch your last show, how has improv and performing helped you to process the moving content in your shows?
Oh WOW improv, the BIT, and all the energetic improvisers who welcomed me with open arms have fundamentally transformed my life. I initially rocked up on the “Introduction To Improv” course with the amazing Andy and Steve to acquire skills to help me better care for my late wife who had dementia. It did this in spades.
My wife used to say that I was born without an embarrassment gene! I suspect she is right. However not being shy is a whole continent away from learning performance skills and there’s nothing like the challenge of standing on a stage and submitting yourself to performing the ignominious and eccentric ideas an improv audience can think up and throw at one! Lastly the way in which improv people and improv itself celebrate failure has been a game changer for me. It helped me realise that the most important thing is to try to step outside the prickly hedges round the chocolate box garden of my mind.
So moving on to ‘Mourning Glory’ (what a name!), why have you decided to make a show about erectile dysfunction?
Yes it’s a fantastic title isn’t. I wish I had thought of it! It was originally just “Morning Glory” until the irrepressible and fiendish Joe Coles suggested the change while shamelessly thrashing me at badminton!
Your question is an interesting one and one that is uncomfortable for me. I want to share my struggle with others but I live in dread that people might feel it is some sort of narcissistic enterprise. It isn’t. Firstly it’s one of the big taboo subjects for all sorts of reasons, that alone would be enough to make me step onto the stage. But in addition to that, all around us are the trappings of a highly toxic patriarchy. We as men have a responsibility to try and change that, so this will also be my meagre contribution to that challenge.
Have there been any moments you’ve found tricky during the process of putting the show together? Especially since it’s such a personal topic.
Oodles of them. But the biggest challenge is to be candid and at the same time not harm the people round me that I love and love me. Moving on from that there are a wealth of challenges in trying to create a one man show. I am fortunate with people around me, they seem to be infinitely tolerant when I ask them to listen and critique what I’m writing. I suspect it’s almost as hard for them as it is for me! Perhaps the scariest moment though was the moment I committed to the performance date, suddenly I was left with no choice but to get it done.
Why do you think men (and their partners) shouldn’t be so reticent when talking about ED? What benefits do you hope your show will bring about?
Well despite the fact we live in a time that is so incredibly open compared to the era of my youth and middle age, people still find often find sexuality a challenge to talk about. In addition to that an erect penis is a powerful and toxic image in our society. Learning how to love who we are as men in that context is scary. I’m hoping that Mourning Glory will in some small way empower people to join that challenge. Also I want men and their lovers to know that it’s possible to see erectile dysfunction not as the end of something but the start of something new which has its own beauty and joy.
Without wanting to give away any spoilers, what’s the best advice you would give to someone suffering from ED? And what advice would you give to their partners?
For those with the condition I want to encourage them to learn to love who they are. For their partners: understand that the condition is not about the loss of a penetrative ability but about a fundamental change in a man’s psyche. One can learn to live a full and satisfying life without legs but there will always be a loss. Lastly for both men and their lovers: bask in the joy of being beautiful together.
Whilst we are sad to see the news that the easing of Covid restrictions will be delayed for an additional 4 weeks, we have prepared for this situation at the Bristol Improv Theatre and are thankful we can remain open, albeit at reduced capacity.
Our shows will continue as planned with our socially distanced, cabaret-style seating plan and classes and courses will continue to run at capped capacity, with social distancing measures in place.
Our priority is to keep everyone who visits our theatre as safe as possible whilst ensuring an enjoyable and welcoming experience.
As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org where one of our team will be happy to help you.
We are so delighted to be partnering with children’s theatre company, Brave Bold Drama, to deliver an Improv & Drama Summer School for primary aged children. We chatted to their artistic director, Gill Simmons, about their company and what we can look forward to!
Hi Gill! We’re so thrilled to be partnering with Brave Bold Drama on our Improv & Drama Summer School! Can you tell us a little bit about Brave Bold Drama and what you do?
Brave Bold Drama is an award-winning theatre and community arts company which I started in 2013 in response to the fact that the area I grew up in, near Hartcliffe in south Bristol, has almost no local arts provision for anyone.
It is a constantly evolving entity. When I started, it was just me, running early years imaginative play sessions in children’s centres in south Bristol. Now, 8 years on, we have made 11 shows for families and for people living with dementia (with 3 new shows in the pipeline), have run numerous community arts engagement projects for everyone from the very small to the considerably older humans, and have collaborated with over 70 other artists and creative groups in the process.
Our core principle has always been: “people deserve high quality arts in their lives, even if they can’t pay.”
What bit of the Summer School partnership are you most excited about?
Actually working in real space and time with other humans! We have been pivoting and re-shaping like so many others during the past year to ensure people could still create and feel in some way connected. We’ve used zoom, the postal service and, where we could, the great outdoors. Working in a rehearsal room again after all that we’ve gone through is going to be pretty special.
What impact do you think lockdown restrictions and school closures over the past year have had on young people?
A seismic impact. School used to be a rock-solid constant in so many children’s lives, providing structure and precious opportunities for children to connect socially. Now, children and young people live with the constant thought that perhaps all of that will be taken away from them at a moment’s notice.
On the reverse, the restrictions have generated incredible innovation. Our energy to connect with people creatively did not switch off with the lockdowns, it flowed around the barriers, finding new routes. We learned how to make film and audio walks so we could provide digital content. We made ourselves an alter ego, “The Company of International Artists” which has given create-at-home packs, run live online creative missions, and reached children all over the country and beyond as a through-the-post subscription service. We reached people living with dementia in care homes by creating sensory story boxes which are on constant rolling loan to care homes around the south west for care home staff to use with residents, and we’ve made radio dramas over zoom with older people.
So I hope the innovations that we and so many others have shown will give young people confidence that, even if some of life’s givens are again taken away at a moment’s notice, there will still be space for fun, playfulness, creativity and connection.
Why do you think play, theatre & improv can offer Primary school kids outside of the classroom?
The most precious thing that creative activity gives anyone is an open-ended environment where there is genuinely no right or wrong answer. So much of life, especially for children and young people, is not about actual exploration and enquiry but about receiving information. They are very often in an environment where questions are asked not in the spirit of genuine enquiry but simply to test their knowledge.
I do not level any criticism at teachers here. I taught secondary drama for 13 years prior to setting up Brave Bold Drama and have nothing but respect for those still in the profession. But the expectations currently placed on the education system means there is currently almost no space for open-ended creative exploration where young minds are free from the pressures of achieving specific outcomes.
And finally, what’s your favourite part of your role with Brave Bold Drama?
The variety. I don’t thrive in repetitive, structured environments. I constantly pushed back against that when I was a teacher and that’s why Brave Bold Drama works organically, responding to people rather than establishing too many off-the-peg offers that people have to take or leave.
Brave Bold Drama enables me to make shows, music, sound designs, creative postal missions, workshops, films…The opportunities it gives me have been hard-won. I’m a solo parent. Doing anything beyond surviving the day sometimes feels like a bit of a miracle. I couldn’t do any of it without the energy and dedication of my colleague, Paul, who joined me on this journey in 2016. The logistical limitations that being a solo parent impose on my life mean we often can’t work in conventional ways, and I’m grateful for his flexibility, imagination and patience which means Brave Bold Drama continues to find new ways to work. I’m also grateful for all the other collaborators who jump on board (when funding allows) to enrich our offer to people with a myriad of creative skills.
Brave Bold Drama likes making things happen. Especially for people who are experiencing challenges. Space to create gives people joy, agency and confidence. Everyone deserves that.
Our 5-day Improv & Drama Summer Schools with Brave Bold Drama are taking place between 26th July and 6th August, with separate classes for ages 6-8 and 9-12.
Our Programme Manager, Ros Beeson, tells us all about how our new interactive storytelling game, ‘Well That Escalated Quickly’, was created and why you should come and play!
Q: Hey Ros! If had to sum up ‘Well That Escalated Quickly’ in an elevator pitch, how would you describe it?
Well That Escalated Quickly is an interactive multiplayer storytelling game. You play as part of a team trying to complete an ordinary, everyday task whilst things around you are going very, very badly wrong.
Q: What should people expect when turning up to the event?
A whole lot of laughs, an opportunity to play in a supported space and a friendly improviser ready to weave a story for you and your group.
Q: Ooh how intriguing! So where did the inspiration come from?
We were looking for a way to use improv to engage with our audience in a new way and provide opportunities for people to play together. Katy Schutte had just run her Ghostwatch show which was an interactive experience where the audience were given roles to play and this all fed into the show which Katy was brilliantly managing from her role as a presenter.
We thought this was a brilliant idea but we wanted to create an experience where the players were in control of the story and it could go pretty much anywhere.
We looked at ways in which people have already been hanging out together and recognised the joy that D&D and RPG games bring to lots of groups where the players build a world together. Also how invested our audience for ‘Tales of Adventure’ are interacting on the chat and inputting suggestions.
D&D tends to be a long term commitment however, as you slowly build up your characters, relationships and go on campaigns together and can also be quite complicated as it features a rule set and needs one person to take up the role of Dungeon Master and run the sessions.
We wanted to tap into that joy that you get from playing D&D and combine it with the everyday fun you get when playing a board game with friends where there is a fixed goal and end point within a shorter time frame – just without the need of a board!
After some online research I came across Micro RPG’s these are one off games that have been created for teams to take part in for one session only, using a simplified rule set. Some really awesome micro RPG’s you should check out are: All outta bubblegum, Honey Heist and Everyone is John.
So a combination of the above was the inspiration for Well That Escalated Quickly.
The name though? That just came from my love of memes!
Q: What did the development process for the event look like?
It started out quite gradually with a jamboard; a number of title suggestions, game play ideas and lots of general ideas which I then took to Stephen Clements with his years of experience playing and running D&D games and performing improv.
We talked over various game mechanics and the possible aim of the game, throwing about ideas and building a very early prototype, this was how it started to take shape.
Stephen then worked his magic in the background and came back with a fully realised product, and using his knowledge and experience created a really fun easy ruleset and whittled down the concept until he had Well That Escalated Quickly.
We then tested it using our colleagues as guinea pigs and had a demo playthrough. Final tweaks were made and Stephen went away to polish it up and create the game as we now know it which is run by both himself and the brilliant Cat Murphy.
Then our very talented co-worker Billie Appleton created our wonderful illustration and here we are.
Q: You make it sounds so easy! Were there any hurdles in your path?
Trying to find a way to make the game mechanics as simple as possible has been a bit of a hurdle but the whole time we’ve been focused on one core idea: ‘we’ll do the work you just turn up and play.’ Other than that we’ve mostly just had a whole lot of fun and I think it shows in the game!
Q: Absolutely! Why do you think it’s important for people to play (not only in WTEQ but in life generally)?
Play has an enormous role in our lives, as children play helps us to build friendships, learn, develop, grow and communicate.So why do we stop playing as adults?
The thing I love most about improv is watching as people come together and re-engage with play for the first time in years. That joy they feel is electric!
Play is essential now more than ever, it helps with stress, it helps us to bond together and form new friendships and strengthen existing relationships. Most importantly play can help us to process our emotions and our day on a whole providing us with a bright spot of positivity.
Q: What’s your favourite aspect of the game?
My favourite aspect so far is that you’re given a role within the team, this really helps when you’re creating your character. I love it!
Q: How is this different to other online offerings that are around at the moment?
I think it comes back to the core of ‘we’ve done the work you come and play’ unlike with other one shot concepts where one person has to ‘run’ the session.
Also we leave a lot of room for things to become very, very silly indeed.
Q: Who do you think is the ‘target audience’ for the event?
I’d say anyone who loves to play games, but I’d also say if you’ve really been missing improv and laughing with a group of people, creating bespoke jokes and playing characters that are wholly different from you in real life then this is the game for you!
Well That Escalated Quickly continues to run on Friday and Saturday evenings (19:30 – 21:30 GMT) throughout March.
Pippa Evans tells us all about her upcoming guest workshop on status & her new book, ‘Improv Your Life’…
Q: Hi Pippa! We’re so excited for your upcoming workshop at the BIT! Can you tell us a little bit more about it?
I am excited too! We’ll be looking at how status affects our interactions with each other and how being aware of it is useful not just on stage, but in life.
Q: How can playing around with status add to an improvisor’s tool kit?
Often we play with a similar status because we are friends on stage together. We are equals. By becoming aware of status, we can breathe a new life into our characters and create a subtext from simply the way we respond to each other in a status transaction.
Q: And conversely, how can improvising status help someone in ‘the real world’?
Ever been in a conversation or a meeting or a relationship where you felt something weird was going on but couldn’t put your finger on it? Chances are, there were status games being played – consciously or unconsciously.
By being aware of status games, we can start to know when we might need to explore or challenge the status we have found ourselves in or the status we are giving to those around us.
Q: What do you hope people will take away from this workshop?
A deeper understanding of the role status can play and how to work with it to find more nuanced scenes, better conversations and the ability to see what is happening when we walk into a room.
Q: We’re also very excited about your book, ‘Improv Your Life’, which is coming out soon! How have you found writing it?
It comes out Feb 18th. Writing it was a blessing for Lockdown one, since all my live work was, of course, cancelled. I felt like I had been given an opportunity to put into words the work I had been doing with Improv Your Life for the last six years. It’s always hard to write anything but when it was finished, I felt like a bloomin’ legend.
Q: And finally, what is one thing you wish the whole world knew about improv?
That it is more than just comedy sketches above a pub on a Saturday night.
It is an art form that offers so much more to its players and its audience.
Respect the improv.