‘We Are Improv’

Humans have expressed themselves for many thousands of years in the form of portable carvings, cave art, open air art and monumental structures, however what cannot be excavated or reconstructed is the pure visceral thrill of the performance, be it on the part of the actor or of the audience.  Whilst we today we have the wide choices of plays, films, games, and television to watch and entertain us, there is nothing quite like watching or partaking in the performance of improvisation, a free form expression in which the subject and responses can be as varied as you can imagine.

I am very happy to introduce my friend Katy Bateson, a Lancaster based performer, who has started her own improvisational group entitled ‘We Are Improv‘.  The group have been together for a number of years now, regularly meeting up to improvise and improve their skills and ideas.  They have attended workshops throughout the country, and very soon they themselves will start playing live in Lancaster and will start putting on shows further afield.  I recently had the chance to ask Katy, the founder of ‘We Are Improv‘, a few questions on the nature of improvisation, her influences and why we should all join in.

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DBA (Don’t Bend, Ascend):  Katy, in your spare time you are a improvisational teacher and performer, but why did you decide on improvisation in the first place?  Who where your influences, and why did you feel like you wanted to set up your own group?

KB (Katy Bateson): Improvisation is acting without a script, where you respond to offers from the audience or your fellow improvisers.  There are a wide range of different styles from short form improvisational comedy like ‘Who’s Line Is It Anyway‘ and ‘Paul Merton and Chums‘ to the improvised staging of Jane Austen novels (‘Austentatious‘) and musicals (‘The Maydays‘).

I was given the gift of improvisation when I was 8 years old, and 16 years later improvisation still fills me with the same wonder and joy.  Most children reach an age where they stop playing, their barbies are packed away into the loft, they no longer pretend to be flying ponies or get married to each other in the playground.  In short we begin to grow up and begin to live more in reality and less in our imagination, but I am truly blessed that finding improvisation so young means I have never stopped playing.

Most people think that improvisation is a terrifying concept with people always saying “I couldn’t do that” but everybody improvises every second of the day, you don’t wake up and plan the encounters and conversations you will during the day, we all improvise everyday and it comes very naturally.  The thought of having to learn a script fills me with terror after the freedom improvisation allows, in improvisation there is no wrong because there is no plan!  Improvisation is built on the idea of saying “Yes and…” where you accept the offer of your fellow improviser and add to it, you can’t fail if whatever you say is going to be accepted!

Improvisation is breathtakingly beautiful and exhilarating, every performance or workshop is shared between the actors and the audience only to ever be seen by the people in that room, as soon as the final bow is taken everything exists only as memories.  No film, book or television program has ever made me laugh as loud, smile as wide or cry as hard as improvisation has.

It is safe to say that Improvisation is an addiction, what starts as attending a few classes can quickly become travelling the length and breadth of the country to do courses, and before too long contemplating scaling the globe to attend improvisation festivals.

I decided to start-up my own group whilst on holiday in Turkey, my brain suddenly decided that I needed to start my own group so I did.  Although I loved doing improvisation courses around the country, I wanted to be able to improvise closer to home where I could focus on improvisation that interested me, and that didn’t break my bank balance with trips to London.  I love improvisation with a passion and teaching it and spreading some of my passion and joy seemed like the most natural thing to do.”

DBA:  It is clear to see that you are very passionate about the art form, however what do you personally hope to achieve?

KB:  “I hope to have an improvisation group that is performing regularly in Lancaster, we have currently performed once for friends and family and we’re working towards our second performance in April.

I want to help spread the word about improvisation and bring improvisation to the North as at the moment it is highly concentrated in the South of England, mainly in London and in Brighton, but small groups further North are helping to spread the improv joy.

I also want to encourage more people to get involved with improvisation by running courses.”

DBA:  How do you feel that improvisation has helped you develop as a person, and how have the people you have met and taught helped?

KB:  “Improvisation has helped me become the person I am today, if you can stand up in front of a room full of people with nothing but an audience suggestion and create something beautiful there is nothing that you can’t do.  I have the confidence to speak in public and laugh more in one improvisation class than most people probably do in a week.  I have met some incredible people through improvisation.  My fellow improvisers are the most inspiring, creative, encouraging, intelligent people I have ever met.  I have improv friends that span the globe who I have shared more laughter and honest moments with than most people have with friends they have had a lifetime.  Although the time I get to spend with these people is often brief, it is worth every glorious second.

I’ve also done a lot of improvisation with The Maydays who are an improvisation group from Brighton that specialise in musical improv.  I’ve done some wonderful workshops with them including going to their 5 day improv residential that they hold in Dorset each year.  I’ve also done some amazing workshops with Parallelogramophonograph from Austin Texas and Jason Chin from Chicago.”

DBA:  I think I know the answer, but finally why would you recommend improvisation to other people, especially to people who have never tried it before?

KB:  “Improvisation is life changing, if find the right teacher you can find a place where you are truly accepted for who you are, where you are surrounded by a group of people who are encouraging you and supporting you.  Improvisation will boost your confidence and your happiness.  You will meet wonderful new people and feel exhilarated and free.  With improvisation the possibilities are endless, it is very therapeutic.”

It is clear to see the passion and high esteem that the founder of ‘We Are Improv’, Katy Bateson, has for her art and the hopes that she has for her company.  It is an especially brave act to start your own improv group, at a time when the cultural cuts in the UK are affecting the access and funding of culture throughout the country.  However, where there is a will, there is a way, and Katy has demonstrated her steely determination to help bring laughter and smiles to audiences across the country, wherever her and her improv partners go.

For further information, or to register an interest and book a performance, please email Katy at info@weareimprov.co.uk.  The website, www.weareimprov.co.uk, has recently been upgraded, and visitors can look forward to an introduction to the group, and be kept informed of upcoming shows and blog entries.  Currently ‘We Are Improv’ are based in Lancaster, but hope to provide shows to a wider region.

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Memories of Memories

I’m slowly meandering through Orhan Pamuk’s ‘Istanbul: Memories of a City‘, a beautifully wrote book full of the melancholy (hüzün) that permeates Istanbul’s very air, buildings and landscape; it is a feeling that infuses the city fully and wholly.  He specifically talks about the city’s relationship with the Bosphorus, that much discussed strait that helps to separate Istanbul from the rest of the mass of Turkey, the city that transforms and melds European and Eastern culture into its own distinct and unique blend.  Although I’m currently only half way through the book, it is thus far an easy read filled with elegant descriptions of not just Istanbul and her architecture, but of her very soul, as espoused through her art and its makers.  Every other page contains a photograph, or a painting, of the city that helps to capture her different sides and to provide a companion to the words written above or below.  Whilst Pamuk deftly and delicately captures the influences of the native cultural scene, infused as it is with an array of influences from both European and Eastern artists, Istanbul continues to stand defiant of either, and as such, remains a fabled destination of the both the traveler and the curious.

Perhaps most movingly of all is Pamuk’s memories of his own life, and those of his family, based in Istanbul for generations.  Reading about how his uncles spend and relentlessly chip away at their inheritance on business schemes that never quite work out, how his grandmother spent most of her time in bed commandeering her flat from afar, of the rows of his parents carried out within earshot of his brother and him, and of trips on the Bosphorus with his mother and brother, the reader is presented with, and given, a private history and introduction of his beloved city.

This reminds me of a scientific paper that I had read a while ago, of how memories are re-enforced by the remembrance of them themselves.  That they, in essence, become memories of memories.  They are strengthened when we recall them often, and thus become lodged in our deep time brain.  Although they may become distorted by the passage of time and circumstance, they remain ‘fixed’ in our own inner thoughts and personal life narratives.  I was reminded of this whilst reading a few pages of ‘Istanbul’ today, and as Pamuk discussed his grandmother I was reminded of my own, and of my grandfather.

I cannot write it now, but I will, in time, write of the memories of the Sundays spent at their house.  How the conversation sometimes ended limply, and in its place silence was left to hang in the air.  Of how I dearly wish I could go back in time and fill those silences with meaningful words to my beautiful grandmother and delightful grandfather.  Sometimes when you are reading, you are often reading about yourself, and Pamuk’s book reminded me of the transcendental nature of family.