One of my favourite times in the year is when I’m able to attend The British Improv Project. They occur twice a year, once in autumn and once in spring. These weekend events take place from across three days packed to bursting with improv. Jams, workshops, and discussions about all forms of improvisational theatre, led by teachers from across the country. Every time I go I always come home afterwards feelin the same way; exhausted, excited and thinking “This is what improv is all about”.
When I was a child I used to watch Whose Line is it Anyway? religiously, and it sculpted my idea of improv. A variety of comedians working hard at their craft and making an audience crease with laughter. As I first began to learn to improvise myself, that’s what I would chase. Bigger audiences, more laughs, more success. Then, after a few years, I began to teach others to improvise. I try to fuel that same motivation in them. Work hard, get bigger and better audiences, make them laugh.
The British Improv Project changed all that.
I attended the first ever British Improv Project weekend all the way back in November 2015. It was a much more modest event that it is now. Around 30 improvisers crammed in a lovely little hostel in Edale. The entire weekend put an emphasis on accommodating all abilities, and there was an atmosphere of encouraging mistakes and supporting each other’s earning. People found joy in the craft beyond the relentless slog of seeking the approval of others, they found joy in the improv community itself.
That’s not to say there aren’t some amazingly talented improvisers at these weekend events. The quality of the workshops and performances are high and we often ended each evening aching from laughter. Yet, it wasn’t the high quality that set it apart. The thing that made it memorable was the feeling that when you went home on the last day, you had made deep, lasting friendships and been a part of a national community event. You felt like a part of something bigger.
This is something I carry with me in all my classes, workshops, and jams. The emphasis for all A Mind Apart’s work is to build community amongst its members. Improv Comedy is a tool that can be used to bring people together and let them play together in ways many people haven’t since they were children. The power of sharing in comedy and play builds bonds that are lasting. This is perhaps one of the reasons that improv has been shown time and time again to be a great way to help support one’s mental health, particularly with things like anxiety or depression. The feeling of belonging in something larger than yourself is a fundamental factor of well being.
Which is why, as improvisers, we must always ask ourselves, what are we doing to make that community as welcoming as possible? In my time doing improv, I have met so many people who go out of their way to build improv communities wherever they go. However, the work is never over. There are always new people who would benefit from access to a caring improv community and the ability to play and express themselves with like-minded people. It is also so easy to make someone feel excluded from the community, so much so that I see it often done by accident, by well meaning people simply not being aware of the consequences of their actions. Community building is a job that takes constant conscious effort. It involves openness, kindness and a ‘yes, and’ attitude toward everyone we meet in improv spaces.
The good news is that, for the most part, the improv scene is incredibly well equipped for this. We have learned the techniques of supporting each other on stage, and this appears to affect the way we support each other off stage too. The improv family is always welcoming, and it is always growing.
Written by Joe Thompson, A Mind Apart’s Improv Comedy Specialist
The A Mind Apart Community encourages you to come to join us at our classes, workshops or Jams. Check out when our next class is here: www.amindapart.org.uk/adult-courses or have a look at our Facebook to see when our next jam is: www.facebook.com/amindapart.org.
For more information on The British Improv Project, visit www.facebook.com/BritishImprovProject