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Interview with Alex for the Karlsruhe improfestival

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Hello Alex, you were already in Karlsruhe as a workshop-teacher before and now we are happy that you will be back for the festival. Can you tell us a little bit about your impro background? When and how did you start and what are you doing nowadays in impro?
Hey! Thanks for asking me these questions. I started over 11 years ago, after reading Keith Johnstone’s Impro and being recommended courses in London from my roleplayer friend Graham (fun fact; he went on to write this). I got the bug and soon started to seek out what I could learn from the wider world, visiting both Loose Moose Summer School and a Danish mask retreat in 2010. Since then I’ve tried to soak up the wisdom of the different improvisation traditions and figure out for myself how it all fits together. I now do that in Newcastle in the UK, where I’ve teamed up with some friends as Open Heart Theatre. We teach and run a variety night that showcases improv via different groups, different nationalities and different formats.

You will bring your format “Worst Enemies” to the festival as a show. Can you tell us a little bit about the format and what the audience can expect?
“Wear the clothes of your enemies.” I wanted to take this quote from Del Close, guru of longform, and explore it using shortform improvisation. In the show we interview our cast as well as audience members to find types of people they dislike or can’t understand. We then use game-like structures to generate scenes where we take on these “Worst Enemies”. We just premiered the format at our local improv night and it went really well. Based on that you can expect a lot of laughs but some moments that are touching or sad.

You will bring three workshops “Family Treehouse”, “Heart Ache: Finding Fun in the Suffering” and “Just Add Colour” can you tell us a little bit about your workshops and what they mean to you?
Just Add Colour is about making improvised scenes easier by directing our attention to what’s already there and as a result bringing it to life. Assume we have what we need already, be curious and invested in what that is, and we’ll find that even if we do need a “next thing” it will come by itself.
Family Treehouse offers a simple format that any group can take away and develop, introducing and developing a family. But more than that it’s a way to practice a simple principle for generating connected scenes. The principle is: is the new scene reinforcing the last one, or contrasting it? Simply put, is it the same only more, or is it different? Either can take you forward, but it helps to be aware of which one it is.
The Heart Ache workshop is one I love to take on tour! It’s based on my feeling that there can be nothing more fun, or freeing, than playing a character who suffers and fails. We’ll be exploring this in a comedic context (to avoid any risk of post-dramatic stress disorder) through things like indecision, unrealistic optimism, and having pride before a fall.

There are so many great festivals around the world, can you tell me about one that you really like and why?
As a typical British person, I had never heard of the small German city of Würzburg until improvisers recommended their festival. Now I am on the festival board of directors and have visited every year since 2011! I love its commitment to quality, experimentation and high-quality training. It’s small enough to keep the days feeling intimate, with the shared coffee-space and lunches, but in the evening sparkles across the whole city on stages chose to fulfil the needs of the programmed shows. It’s got a magical energy, thanks to its big-hearted, hard-working organisers.

What goals do you still want to reach in impro? Is there any style or genre you want to master? Any skill you want to develop?
After turning 40 last year I’ve been reflecting on where improvisation is taking me. There are dozens, hundreds of improvisers I admire and whose specific skills I know I lack: nuanced physicalisation in acting, acrobatics, accents, playing instruments, etc. And there are dozens of existing formats I would love to get good at performing and lots of ideas of my own to try or try again. The more I do improv, the more I realise is possible. But paradoxically, having so many things to pursue sets me free from the pressure to pursue them. So to answer your question about goals: in my home city we are training and meeting with newer improvisers who are really hungry to try things and express themselves. I think my job now is to enable them to meet their goals. This breaks the deadlock, and tells me what formats we could explore, and which skills we – including me – get to develop to achieve these goals. (Of course, I want to continue to be better at listening, at giving, at simplicity and honesty. But that’s a life-time mission.)

Last question: You wrote an article about building a local impro-community ( what else do you wish for impro in the future? Any development that needs to happen in your opinion?
Most of the things I think would be valuable are in that article (which is mainly made up of crowd-sourced contributions from other improvisers). Personally I would emphasise bringing improvisation to more people, especially the teaching of our principles. One key way to do this is offering teaching to young people, cheaply or if possible free (for example through provision in schools). Although our principles don’t provide a definitive guide to life, I believe they are of enormous benefit and provide a way forward for people who find themselves stuck. In a sentence: broader access and fewer barriers to trying improvisation