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.


BOOK TICKETS FOR ‘MOURNING GLORY’ >

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 hello@improvtheatre.net 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.

During lockdown, Brave Bold Drama have used their innovation to ensure local children have opportunities to get creative and access the arts. They have created digital content, online classes and create-at-home packs reaching children all over the country. (Photo credit: Amba House)

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.

Find out more and book now!

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.

Book Tickets for Well That Escalated Quickly

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.

Cat has over 5 years experience of teaching yoga and is also an excellent improvisor, having performed with Tales of Adventure & The Bish Bosh Bash

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.

Find out more and book tickets for the course.

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.

In this fun (and exceptionally cute) blog post, Imogen Palmer tells us why audiences inevitably fall for the cuteness factor and how you can harness this in your improv…


Something surprising happened to me last year. I fell, utterly, inconceivable, wholly, in love….

With Baby Yoda. A character (played by an INCREDIBLE puppet) in ‘The Mandalorian’.

Myself (and most of the internet) share the pure joy & love which stems from gazing at his beautiful green face- we feel the fear and anger when the villains in the Mandalorian try to put Baby Yoda in danger.

Baby Yoda isn’t the first cute character to play our heartstrings – I’ve also been know to watch 15 minute highlight reels of Baby Groot, Nemo (and Dory), Puss in Boots, Paddington, Totoro…. (I can go on but I don’t want you to think I spend my whole life on Youtube).

What can we learn from these adorable characters? How can we bring this into our acting, improv & storytelling?

  1. Vulnerability accelerates connection

As Puss in Boots teaches us in Shrek 2, there is nothing more powerful than an open, vulnerable gaze to communicate ‘I am not a threat’ and ‘care about me please’.

A look like this can steal the hearts of a whole audience.

Gif of Puss in Boots looking up adorably at the camera



2. We don’t need to work too hard when we channel our inner ‘cute’ 

As this very catchy rap about Baby Yoda communicates….’He can sit there and doing nothing…he’s still so relatable’.

I believe less is more when it comes to cute, so much can be communicated in a look or slight gesture of fragility. ANYONE can be cute- it is about attitude.

Baby Yoda gazing cutely slightly to the left

3. Playing cute earns playing angry 

When a cute character, who has won over the audience’s love, becomes angry, this is a BIG DEAL.

Check out Paddington’s ‘hard stare’, or for an even more extreme hyper cute to hyper angry, Uni-Kitty in the Lego Movie is hard to beat.

Starting a story as an angry or cruel character can make it hard for the audience to warm to you…start cute and then turn mean- BOOM! They are putty in your hands.

Paddington Bear staring angrily directly at the camera

4. Putting a cute character in danger can raise the stakes instantly


I just died when baby Dory from ‘Finding Dory’  loses her parents. I don’t believe this one is a spoiler because it is essentially THE PLOT OF THE FILM. 

Due to the fragility of her betrayal (those big eyes, that sweet voice), it is hard not to fear for her. 

Having a cute character in your story can dramatically raise the stakes- by putting them in danger OR even killing them, you can create a powerful motive or game-changer for the rest of the story.

Baby Dory looking curiously up to the top right of frame



5. Playing cute is FUN
Practicing how to invite fragility & vulnerability into our performance is a skill to be practiced. Once we’ve found it, playing with it can be hugely rewarding. Just check out the Totoro at the bus stop scene to see how a cute character can go from awww to ‘aaaah!’ and back again.

Whether we’re playing a baby bird or a sweet, naive person who’s about to get in a lot of trouble (‘I don’t believe those old ghost stories, let’s go in anyway!’), playing cute is an awesome string to add to our improv guitar.


Imogen is teaching the online taster session ‘Playing Cute Characters’ on Wednesday 3rd Feb. You can book tickets here.

We were delighted to be able to talk to Monica Gaga earlier this month about how improv can be used to empower young people, the transition to online learning and her upcoming guest workshop at the Bristol Improv Theatre…


Q: Hi Monica! We can’t wait to host your workshop at the BIT on using Improv to empower young people. Can you tell us a little bit about what to expect from the workshop?

Expect to leave this workshop with a smile on your face and the tools to build, deliver and evaluate a youth engagement programme. I have designed this session to be fun with a mixture of practical and discussion based activities that you won’t need a background in the arts to enjoy.

Q: In this chaotic and unpredictable year, online teaching and learning has been something many students and teachers have had to quickly adapt to. Can you tell us about some of the challenges this might pose?

The digital divide means that some young people may struggle to get online and if they can, finding the space can be difficult. This something we will consider when looking at youth engagement in the workshop. We will also touch on how to turn what we may see as cons into pros as we work in an ever changing landscape.

Q: Conversely, what are some of the positives of online teaching and learning? How might you empower young people online?

I definitely am not missing the commute and for some young people they can participate in more as they do not have to rely on the availability of their parents or guardians to take them to sessions. Being able to take ownership in your own growth can be so empowering for young people and the start of them being able to make informed choices.

Q: And where/how does improv fit into this?

Improv is about working with the unexpected, accepting and building on what you have and when you throw in some of the other principles of improv like listing, the power of place and taking the fear out of failure you have a fantastic vehicle for change, growth and empowerment.

Q: What do you hope people will take away from this workshop?

A fresh look at how to engage youth people and tap into the power of play for their groups and theirselves.

Q: Finally, can you tell us one of your favourite things about improv? Do you have a favourite memory of a great event or the aspect that makes you particularly passionate about your work?

I love that moment in a session or a project when the young are really in the moment, they are present, they are engaged and they are having a great time. It’s then I feel they are ready to grow, are open to change and most willing to take charge of that journey.


Imogen Palmer discusses the vital topic of handling sensitive issues in the improv classroom in the lead up to her online interactive panel.


I am very passionate & enthusiastic about talking about how to hold supported spaces and practicing how to handle sensitive issues in the classroom & rehearsal room when they arise

By sensitive issues, I mean sexism, homophobia, racism, ableism etc. and also when personal emotional or physical boundaries have been crossed for participants or the facilitator.

In improv, we are teaching students to override their self-censor which is wonderful but also means subconscious bias can emerge. Nervous students can also misjudge boundaries both physically and emotionally.

I have been traumatised in the past by teachers & directors who:

>>> brushed over incidents where I was clearly uncomfortable

>>> Became defensive when I (as the student/actor) tried to have a conversation about what had made me uncomfortable.

Two examples of incidents (for me) are:

1. a man I didn’t know grabbed my waist from behind in a scene to simulate me giving birth

2. a scene where the group game was to call the only female character a ‘slut’ (a word I find highly triggering due to past trauma).

Leader’s response to the above two incidents

1. No acknowledgement of my discomfort whatsoever when I screamed. Everyone laughed. We moved immediately onto the next exercise and I was left shaken. I was new to the company and the man was an experienced player who had been away for a while. 

2. I tried to have a conversation around the ‘slut’ scene after the run through (I had started to cry during it and owned it as a character choice to make it work). When I raised it as a question- ‘did anyone else find that scene uncomfortable?’ -the leader and group became defensive and shut my objection down. They told me it was part of the story.

What does a best practice response look like?

I was motivated by numerous incidents like these to go into teaching myself and have now done it 5+ years. I am still learning how to handle situations like the above.

If I could magic wand the above and be a teacher / participant in the room of either of the above, I would:

>>> frame the sessions so that everyone is mindful of different physical and emotional boundaries and encourage healthy dialogue about them.

>>> If it is a beginner/ mixed group, consider putting a ‘container’ around personal space bubbles.

>>> Support the student who is expressing discomfort. It does not matter how much it seems like ‘not a big deal’ to me. We have no idea of everyone’s stories, backgrounds and boundaries.

>>> If I noticed a student become uncomfortable from their body language, pause the scene to check-in with everyone or put a container around the word ‘slut’ which is a sexist & outdated slur for a woman. I would encourage the actors to play to the top of their intelligence & challenge outdated stereotypes. 

>>> Encourage students to check-in with each other. Eg.
A: ‘How did you find it in that scene when I grabbed you from behind?’ B: ‘I actually hate being grabbed from behind. If you’re going to touch me, please can you do it in my sight line and say something like ‘give me your hand’ so I have some warning/ I can consent’

>>> Privately check-in with the student later to see how they are. Avoid being pitying with this or treating them like a fragile, breakable object. We all have triggers and react in surprising ways sometimes. ‘How are you?’
‘Is there anything I can do to support you?’

And then LISTEN.

No teacher is capable of catching everything in the class, nor are they able to know everyone’s different emotional or physical boundaries.

This is why I believe it’s vital to frame and facilitate conversations around emotional & physical boundaries and encourage students to have an open dialogue with each other and the group.

I LOVE THIS ART FORM. The reason I want to write and talk about this is because I believe it can be an amazing tool for learning about boundaries and consent.

I believe we can use it to explore challenging issues like sexism with groups who have open dialogue and have built up trust over a long period of time.

When we just shut down a scene if it goes blue, that stops the opportunity for dialogue and learning.

When we ignore the incident, the person who is uncomfortable may never come back to improv.

By facilitating conversations we have more freedom to be braver and risker with our work. I am charing an online interactive panel with a host of international experts, via The Improv Place on Sunday 20th December, 2 pm – 4 pm (GMT).

The panel includes:

Monica Gaga (https://www.monicagaga.com)

Stephen Davidson (https://impromiscuous.com)

Laxmi Priya (https://www.icbangalore.com/trainers)

Velvet Wells (https://thevelvetduke.wordpress.com)

Lucy Fennell

Find out more about The Improv Place here.

We talked to one of the UK’s longest standing longform improvisers, Katy Shutte, about her two upcoming workshops at the Bristol Improv Theatre…


Q: Hi Katy! Thrilled to have you hosting some online workshops at the BIT this winter! Can you tell us a little bit about what’s coming up?

I’m leading an immersive improv experience based on a pre-reality TV show called Ghostwatch from the 90s and I’ve (improv) gamified some of Brené Brown’s excellent research on vulnerability and empathy.

Q: Sounds great, we’d love to know more! Let’s start with ‘Ghostwatch’- where did the idea come from & how did you put it together?

Since improv moved to Zoom I’ve been wanting to do something where being alone in our houses can be terrifying! My last scripted show was a folk horror and I’m also borrowing heavily from the scary experience of watching Ghostwatch as a kid in the ‘90s. I’m basing the form on the beats in Ghostwatch and giving everyone separate missions, characters and tasks like a role playing game.

Q: And the same question for your ‘Play Like Brené’ workshop- for those who haven’t heard of her, can you tell us where your love of Brené’s work came from?

I saw Brené’s now super famous TED talk years ago followed by her series on Netflix. I was thrilled to come across this incredible body of evidence and work around vulnerability and I’d like to enjoy some of her modes of communication and exploration in an improv space.

Q:  What do you hope people will take away from these events?

From Play Like Brené I hope people leave with a positive, applicable way of using and spreading Brené’s work. 

After Ghostwatch, I hope no one can sleep.

Q: Within such a fab career, what has been your favourite part of teaching improv?

I love so much about teaching improv. I’m a theatre-maker, so I love how quickly conversations, concepts, themes and characters can just appear in our art form. I love improv festivals where people from all over the world and from different cultures and backgrounds can create work together, instantly. Online has given us a similar experience and I’m grateful for the hard lessons we are learning by exploring a totally different medium.

Q: Do you have any advice for people who might be new to improv and looking to find out more?

Give it a go. It’s nothing like stand-up, you don’t have to be a ‘funny’ or extroverted person. It’s all about support, creativity and fun and you might just find your new family there…