This month is not just the month of love and pancakes, but it is also the month of everything funny in the East of London. On the 17th to the 19th of February, The Improv group City Impro are holding the Shoreditch Improv Festival.
This year will be the second year of the annual event and will be the host to a wide range of Comedy groups ranging from improv to sketch groups. I sat down with City Impro to find out more about the festival that is happening this week.
Hello City Impro! Can you first tell me a little bit about your group and how you formed?
Anna – A couple of us met during a beginner improv course and formed a group afterwards. That was in 2013! Since then we have been performing improv around London and the UK. We are quite a big group with about 9 (active) members. Last year we decided that we were going to try and put on a festival and that is how the Shoreditch Improv Festival was born. All of us here from the festival committee.
Alastair – I’m Alastair and I have been with City Impro since the beginning. I’m responsible for putting together the festival line-up. I get to review all the applications, then pull together a line-up for each show based on what will work well together and what audiences will enjoy. I also try to go and see as many groups as I can in action to get a feel for what they do.
“…come to our Balderdash Tour. The experience is unlike any tour you have been on before…” – Martin
How did the Shoreditch improv festival come about? Why did you you decide to create a festival in Shoreditch?
Martin – There were a lot of different reasons for the festival to come about. We were running a night in Shoreditch and we noticed that a large part of the audience didn’t really know what improv was before coming to one of our shows. So we wanted to change that and really try to put improv on the map.
Alastair – We also noticed that no-one else seemed to be running a festival showcasing in small snippets all the different styles of improv there are. Most festivals have one group per 1 hour show, we wanted something where acts did smaller sets so we could showcase as many as possible. Shoreditch was chosen given its link to the arts and it being known for its creativity (and it being our favourite area where we run a gig).
Anna – The festival is also a chance to give some really funny people some stage time. There aren’t always that many opportunities to perform improv in London and to get better as a performer and we wanted to do something about that.
Tell us about the festival
Alastair – It runs over 3 days on Friday 17th February to Sunday 19th February at the Water Poet in Shoreditch. In total we’ve got 30 acts performing across 11 shows. We’ve also got a comedy tour of Shoreditch street art (where everything is made up) and a beginner improv class.
Anna – We kick-off on Friday night at 8pm with an opening show, then have shows for 6 hours on Saturday, the tour on Sunday morning and then shows until Sunday night! There is a lot of stuff happening
Martin – I am organising the improvised tour of Shoreditch. You can enrol in the Balderdash Academy and take part in an immersive tour of local street art. We take you around Shoreditch and with the help of participant suggestions make up the history behind the art and their artists.
Who are some of the headline acts playing and what can people expect to see from them?
Martin – There’s going to be a lot of different comedy styles. We have groups that do games (like Whose Line is It Anyway?), other performers will be doing longer scenes, we have an improvised Shakespeare play, musicals and also some hilarious sketch comedy groups.
Alastair –We don’t really consider acts to headline each show, the aim of the festival is to showcase all different styles and not say which acts we think are better than others. We chose the 30 groups very purposefully to promote as many improv and sketch styles as we could.
Where is the festival being held and how can people get tickets?
Anna – The entire festival will be at the Water Poet in Shoreditch (behind Spitafields market). People can get tickets here: https://www.designmynight.com/london/pubs/liverpool-street/the-water-poet/shoreditch-impro-festival
The timetable is as follows:
17 February – 8pm: 2 hour opening show
18 February – 12-2: improvised tour of Shoreditch street art
18 February – 2.30-6.00: Saturday afternoon shows (comprised of 3 one-hour blocks)
18 February – 7-10.30: Saturday evening shows (comprised of 3 one-hour blocks)
19 February – 12.30-2.30: Beginner improv workshop
19 February – 3-6.30: Sunday afternoon shows (comprised of 3 one-hour blocks)
19 February – 7pm : Grand finale closing show
The improv scene has increased dramatically in the UK – why do you think this is?
Alastair – I think one of the main reasons is that the improv scene is so welcoming and friendly and those two attributes always attracts people. I also think that deep down as adults we all want to be able to make believe like we did as children and be part of something that’s totally made up.
Anna – One of the other reasons is that there are now more opportunities for people to keep doing improv after they have finished their course. When I started learning it, there were almost no jams or nights where you could do that. A newly formed improv group had to be very organised and self-motivated to just get to be on stage regularly. Now, there are a lot of more ways to stay in the community, which is why it is growing.
Martin – I agree, because there are more nights now, more non-improvisers also see improv and then maybe want to try it themselves. That was one of the best things from last year’s Shoreditch Improv Festival: having people come to our opening show and immediately booking on to the workshop we were running the next day.
“There aren’t always that many opportunities to perform improv in London…” – Anna
For anyone who wants to get into Improv what do you suggest / recommend they do?
Alastair – The first thing I’d suggest is to go and watch a wide variety of different types of improv and see what you like (and dislike) and importantly what you want to try out. Once you know that then sign up to a taster or beginners class in that style and just enjoy the experience.
Anna – I don’t know if I agree. I just read about improv in Tina Fey’s memoir and thought “that sounds interesting” and signed on to a random course. It was that unplanned.
Who would you recommend for people to see at the festival and why?
Alastair – Given that I help curate the line-up my obvious response would be that I recommend seeing everything, we have got something for everyone. However, I’ve got a few recommendations for what to see based on your tastes:
– If you like musicals that don’t take themselves too seriously then go and see either Multiverse or Music Box (Friday evening and Saturday evening).
– if you want something where you’ll be laughing from start to finish I’d suggest Comedy Shenanigans (Saturday evening) Just Us League (Sunday afternoon) or Left Foot First (Sunday evening).
– If you want to see what improv might be like in 2030 (once machines have taken over) I suggest the Human Machine on Sunday afternoon.
– Finally if you like watching characters with deep emotional connections and relationships (and want to see two of the finest improvisers in the UK then I suggest Ten Thousand Million Love Stories on Sunday evening who will be closing the festival.
Anna – Also come see City Impro! We are performing Friday night and Saturday afternoon.
Martin – I mentioned it before but if you want to see something completely different, come to our Balderdash Tour. The experience is unlike any tour you have been on before, I can promise that…
Any way people can follow you or the event on social media / where can they buy tickets?
Anna – Sure, you can find City Impro on Facebook (www.facebook.com/CityImpro) and on Twitter (@CityImpro). Tickets for the festival are available at https://www.designmynight.com/london/pubs/liverpool-street/the-water-poet/shoreditch-impro-festival (or on the door if there are any left…)
Alastair – We really hope that everyone who comes along to the festival enjoys it, and if you get a taste for improv and do decide to give it a try yourself perhaps we’ll see you at the Shoreditch Improv Festival in 2018!
Anna – Yes! Try improv. It’s super fun