Friends of Bristol Improv Theatre: Tim Whitten

We spoke to one of our long time friends ahead of our grand summer relaunch of the friends scheme!

Hello Tim! How did you get introduced to Improv and the Bristol Improv Theatre?

I’ve been active in amateur dramatics for 25 years now, both onstage and off, but I was always terrified by the idea of improvising. Scripted theatre is all about the preparation and rehearsal, so that you have a good idea of what is going to happen when you finally get on stage. I did see a couple of improvised performances at the BIT in 2017 or so, and was completely bowled over by the idea that these shows were being created off the cuff – it seemed like magic to me; and something I’d never be able to do myself. It took me a couple more years to pluck up the courage to actually give it a try (my first course with the BIT was Level 1 Creating Characters with Caitlin Campbell and Steve Clements back in January 2019). Thanks both to their supportive approach and the well thought out teaching methods, I started to realise that I could indeed do this improvising thing too, and have enormous fun at the same time. It’s not magic – it’s a skill that can be learned and practiced. I’ve been hooked ever since!

What’s your favourite memory at the BIT?

Oh so many, I’m not sure I could ever pick one. My first improvised performance before an audience (the student showcase at the end of that Level 1 Creating Characters course) feels pretty special, as does taking part in the BIT Improv Marathon in 2020 (set in Ancient Rome), and the BIT Christmas Show in 2021. But there have been so many more – sometimes the most hilarious things come out just in a game or a show that you attend as an audience member… and I’ll find myself waking up giggling about it later that night. It’s a really very special artform, in a way that scripted theatre can never quite match. This might be because it is so ephemeral; it’s never the same thing twice, but also it’s because you know it is being created there and then in front of you (and you might be a part of that).

Can you tell us a bit about the friends and people you met and connected with at the BIT?

I’ll be forever grateful to Caitlin and Steve for introducing me to this, and it’s been wonderful getting to know them over the years. It’s a lovely community in general, and I’ve met dozens of interesting people thanks purely to the courses and activities at the BIT. Of particular note for me are the Beansville team (Ed, Mills, Katie, Petia and Colin, all of whom I met right back on that original Creating Characters course); we started meeting up online during lockdown just to play, and that has morphed into a proper improv troupe – we’ve performed our first show format The Workplace a number of times at the BIT and other venues, and we’re working on our second show format Video Store at the moment.

Tim in our 2021 Christmas Show, ‘Merry Christmas (Despite the Current Circumstances)’.

How do you think the work we produce at the BIT is unique compared to other theatres/groups?

The BIT tends to concentrate on narrative improv, which is telling a full story, with a proper beginning, middle and end. I love the satisfying completeness of that. As Imogen Palmer (the BIT Theatre School Co-Manager) says “if you want total creative control, perhaps consider writing a novel instead” – this is all about working together to uncover a story that is built out of the whole group’s ideas. The BIT encourages a really supportive, safe working environment that is inclusive to anyone who fancies giving it a go. I think this approach to support and working together is the real magic of the BIT – being on stage not knowing what is going to happen could be a scary thing after all! And yet with the right support and training I genuinely feel anyone can do this, and have a great time with it.

What are some of the takeaways from Improv that you think have helped you in real life situations?

It’s had a big impact on my confidence, and ease with public speaking – which I’ve found useful in presentations and meetings in my day job. But there’s also a certain sense of “f*ck it, let’s see what happens” that comes from practicing improv that is very beneficial in dealing with life’s challenges and mental health in general. Um, pardon my French there – actually should I have said “laissez-faire” instead? That really is French! It’s the idea of giving people the skills, support and freedom to just jump, and then sort out the landing on the way down. A personal crash mat if you like.

What do you think about the Friends Scheme?

Seems like a great idea to me. There’s no doubt the pandemic has been extraordinarily challenging for the arts in general, and so being able to provide some degree of financial support that is reliable and consistent will hopefully just ease the pressure a little. It’s the classic power of crowds – if enough of us donate a small amount each month, even if it’s just five pounds, that can help ensure the theatre survives and can continue to provide the wonderful service it gives to the community.

How empowering is the improv community? Do you think more people should give improv a try?

I would say so, in fact I’ve been singing its praises to my colleagues in my day job (I’m an engineer… not the most extrovert of professions…) just as a fun way to de-stress and build your confidence. Obviously it’s a great fit for someone like me, who already had an interest in story-telling and theatre, but a lot of improv is just adults getting together and having a laugh. Nearly everyone is nervous when they start out, and in some ways that is why it’s such a good bonding experience. I thoroughly recommend you join one of the BIT’s six week Discovering Improv courses: they run regularly, and are a wonderful low-pressure way to try this out. You’ll be amazed by what you can do with the right support!

If you could describe the time you spent at the BIT in one word, what would it be?

Happyfunjoylaughs! (…is that cheating?)

Sign up to our Friends Scheme!

Passes to our Friends Scheme Launch > 13th July | 7pm