Chesca goes to Holland

SUCCESS! The Imps managed to all convene at the airport, get on a plane, and arrive in Utrecht – land of Hagelslag (a marvellous chocolate sprinkle, “but a bit less solid, so when they go on the butter, and in your mouth, they melt and stuff”[1]), cleanliness, canal-strolling-bliss and the most welcoming people in the whole of Holland. Little did they know that Chesca would be recording it all on her ever expanding word document, in order to relate back tales of bravery and tom-foolery to the Imp-watchers of England…. Mwhahaha.

What did the Imps do when plonked in the middle of Utrecht I hear you cry? Well, we climbed the tallest tower in Europe – The Dom – for which Harry insisted on counting each and every step. (There were 465, thank you Harry, sometimes Google can lie, thus one must be always vigilant) We hired a machine boat to cruise the canals too; they saw us rollin’, but they weren’t hatin’, cos the Dutch are very pleasant, however we were hollered at by some angry protesters who were convinced we had stolen their boat… we didn’t, we promise. We dined out like kings on super-uber-chip-cones, larger than the body of a small infant, and strange fast-food meat sticks heated before your eyes in rows of tiny individual microwaves. For those fleeting, sunny days, Utrecht was our oyster, and we intended to slurp it with the decadence of a thousand Byrons.

“BUT THE IMPROV?” I hear you exclaim “WHAT ABOUT THE IMPROV?” – Indeed, Parnassos (our Utrechtian counterparts) did a marvellous job of welcoming us into their realm: a beautiful and vast building, with doors so tall that even Xander (our towering pianist) could do no more but nod in respect. The light that gleaned in the eyes of Sam (our not so towering, but equally talented, pianist) at the sight of a lovely piano, and countless percussion instruments, was truly beautiful. Indeed, performing with such a full musical sound – including Xander on the accordion - really changed the way in which we interacted and adapted to the musicians’ roles within scenes too, thereby adding another dimension to the already new experience of performing on a massive proscenium-arch stage. However, fear not, poor little Wheatsheaf, we still love you. We learnt some new games, including an utterly manic warm-up called “Bop-the-Weasel” (make of that, what you will…) and stepped into the alien form of improv-battles…

“The Theme!” you might say, “Surely there was a theme…” Indeed, wise imaginary person, there was a theme, and it was ‘Playboy’. Indeed, the Judge panel consisted of a rather specious looking Hugh Heffner, and a charming Playboy Bunny. As the Imps and Parnassos challenged each other to some games, the audience lobbed wet sponges at any harsh comments coming from the judges (don’t get any ideas, Wheatsheaf audience…) and hurled roses for the acts they enjoyed (Okay, maybe take a few ideas…). The whole affair culminated in a soap-opera style long-form, in which Imps and Parnassos alike took to the stage in a collaboration like no other. There was scandal, illicit affairs in janitor’s closets, institutionalised test-subjects, and a homicidal dinner lady whose love for the cheating janitor had grown as cold as the soup she served. Melodrama at its finest. And to top it all off, there was a costume rack, positioned tantalisingly at the back of the stage, that allowed Harry to strut his stuff in a pair of ruby red heels, and Lucy to transform into a strange ski-rapper. (I do encourage you to see the photos on the Parnassos’ Facebook page, they are a beautiful spectacle to behold)

Off the stage and onto the dance-floor we frolicked; straight to the famous nightclub ‘Derek’. Descending into what can only be described as a 70s/80s underground mirror palace, filled with lurid neon lights, we boogied on down – surrounded by walls made of mirrors, that allowed one to chart one’s own descent into a slightly sweaty imp-puddle as the night progressed… but alas, soon the clock struck midni…erm... 3 am, and it was time to depart. As the night crept by slowly into morning, the Imps too began their journey home…very slowly (for they were weary). By some miracle – and by miracle I mean a train, a coach, a plane, and another bus - we set foot on the familiar cobbles of Oxford town, contented, exhausted, and buzzing with tales of Bopping Weasels and Hagelslag… We will never forget our trip, our friends in Utrecht, or our wild improv shenanigans. Truly, they opened their homes and their hearts to us, and for that we are extremely grateful. Thus, to Parnassos we say: Dankjewel, ond we hopen u weer te zien volgend jaar!

[1] Lucy Shenton

Nubes: Gen 15.

What do you call people who are afraid of the Greek symbol for frequency? Nu-wimps. The calibre of that joke gives you some idea why we find it necessary to recruit new Imps every year. We have conscripted our fifteenth generation (take that Pokémon) of performers and pianists, whose names will henceforth be spoken with awe and in alphabetical order: Chesca Forristal, Lydia France, Harry Househam, Josh James, Adam Mastroianni, Oliver Mills, Dawn Parsonage-Kent, Kevin Pinkoski, and Sam Davies Udina.

The Imps have rehearsed for much of the term with these bright-eyed and bushy-tailed newcomers and I can already say with confidence that they have more talent than all the people who performed in my middle school talent show combined (I was the only performer as everyone else neglected to get their permission slips signed). There is no doubt that these new Imps will bring rip-roaring comedy, contagious melodies, and rejuvenating life to our troupe for the rest of the year. Don’t miss their debut show at the Wheatsheaf Pub this Monday, December 1st!

Some time has passed now but we are still so grateful to the nearly 100 people to came out to our performer and pianist auditions this year. Few things are more difficult than having to choose a small group of people out of a large group of incredibly impressive candidates. We were up into the wee hours of the night arguing, chain smoking, and racking our brains about all the amazing auditionees. It couldn’t have been a more gifted group even if a nuclear power plant exploded next to a comedy club/piano bar, creating a series of hilarious Mozartian superheroes who could literally use laughter as medicine. Thanks again to everyone who gave it a shot.

If you are a technician and would like to join the Imps, do not fear! Generation 15 is not yet complete. Send an email to francesca@oxfordimps.com or lucy@oxfordimps.com if you are interested. We will be announcing the audition dates in the near future.

Finally, I can’t tell you how few job and romantic offers you will get for the rest of your life if you prove your idiocy once and for all by missing our nubes debut show this Monday. Be there. Die a hero.

Thomas Toles, Director

Blues Improv: Like the boat race, with more jokes and less water.

Blues improvised comedy has an odd ring to it, as if we sloped on stage morosely and snivelled through some scenes. But twas nothing of the sort. Nay: it was the meeting of the Cambridge Impronauts and the Oxford Imps upon a single stage! Like the boat race, with more jokes and less water. Our lovely Cambridge counterparts held a festival this month with a whole host of guest spots, and welcomed us along on Friday 20th to perform with them at the beautiful Downing Theatre. Swish. A heavy dose of translation was needed to kick off the evening as it turns out we know all the same games, but by mutually incomprehensible names; this straightened out, we were able to knock up a set list of imps, impronauts, imps vs impronauts and imps with impronauts that everyone could comprehend. Cultural exchange at its finest.

This set list we then executed with due joi d’improv to a lovely Cambridge audience. Thanks to you all for the suggestions, the laughter, the cheers and boos, and the occasional slaying of foolhardy players. And above all THANKS to those fine folk the Impronauts for sharing their stage, their city, and their pub. Hurrah!

…and half a dozen of the other

Much like the Duchess of Cambridge, the Imps would like to announce a new arrival in 2013! Unlike the Duchess of Cambridge, our new arrival not called George. Our new arrival is called Gen14 (the imaginatively-named fourteenth generation of imps), comprised of: - Alex Fox - Francesca Evans - Freddie Clayton - Kat Brewster - Sophie Ward - Thomas Toles

We are incredibly proud of our new bunch and we are sure that, while they may not go on to rule the country (they may), they will all be fantastically funny, wonderfully watchable, simply smashing imps when they debut later this year.

We would like to sincerely thank all 105 people who auditioned for us. Despite all the true and honest fun, the audition process is historically gruelling, involving painstaking quorums, fumbling notes, and worst of all – a lot of really talented people for whom we just don’t have the capacity. We were so excited about the amount of talent in the room that we stayed up past 2am on each night deliberating, meditating, and eating pizza. Well done to all of the auditionees, every single one. 

We are also looking forward to a few more additions to Gen14 in the form of musicians, whose arrival we shall announce shortly, and techies, whom we shall be auditioning for on Monday 11th November (if you are interested in becoming an imp techie please email jenny@oxfordimps.com for more information).

Dom and Tanner Co-Directors

Give us a Twirl?

At Peterborough train station, I waited next to a bag stuffed with miscellaneous bits of Edinburgh shrapnel. The final train of my journey home after a month at the Fringe was a little late. ‘Ill buy a Twirl,’ I said to myself. I bought a Twirl. I thought it would be my last Twirl as an Oxford Imp for quite some time. How wrong I was! In early September I was offered a job in Oxford and so am back for a couple of months. It’s good to be around old friends (and enemies) again, sharing Twirls, and of course one of the best surprises is being able to do Imps shows. We’re still basking, like pleased but slightly dazed otters, in the success of our first Wheatsheaf show. We had a great Freshers’ Week touring many a college – Sylvia and I walked to St Hugh’s and were treated for exhaustion – but we knew that the real test was our first Monday at our original stamping ground. Thanks to a sharp and generous audience it went very well. We tried out a new format this week: the whole first half was short-form games, followed by a 50-minute musical after the break. (Perhaps in ‘the break’ we should get some football pundits to discuss who’s improvising well and who they think will die in the second half, and then stick in some Coke adverts). We achieved a nice sense of momentum in the string of games, including a story about ‘The Fall of the Tory Government’ – they were all up a ladder – but the real highlight was the musical in the second half. A moving tale set in a bank entitled ‘Slippy,’ it was full of weird and wonderful characters, like a Satanic squirrel that only young Johnny could see, who threatened to burn down his parents’ house if he didn’t give it dollar. We found that 50 minutes gave us time to let the plot come organically and smooth out red herrings, so that we could just play around and have fun. Of the songs, a personal favourite was the moving ballad ‘Give him an Egg’.

It’s a nice feeling to be back at the Wheatsheaf having done the Fringe, and I have definitely felt the impact of a month up Across the Border. It’s a combination of feeling both more battle-ready for any audience or situation that comes your way, and at the same time more relaxed on stage. The biggest lesson in Edinburgh that I learned was not being afraid to incorporate the things that go wrong. I get a sense that it’s one of the things an audience loves to see. I know that other Imps in my generation found Edinburgh an enormous booster, and there’s a good sense of excitement in the air. Our co-director has grown the beginnings of a beard, and we’re wondering what will happen to it.

Do come and see us at the Wheatsheaf. We’ll be poking our beaks into some other events as well, details of which will be distributed round town by a series of masked men. The moral of the story is: next time you’re having a Twirl, don’t go thinking it’s your last.

Archie

We are recruiting! Wahoo!

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We are looking for bright, funny and supportive performers to join our cast of improvisers. Auditions will be held at Wadham College on Thursday 17th October 6:45-9:00pm(ish) and call-backs will be at the same place at the same time on Friday 18th October. Here are some things to bear in mind:

  • You do not need to be an Oxford University student to be an Oxford Imp – we have had Brookes students, restaurant managers, lecturers, film-makers and many more join us in the past.
  • You do not need to have done improv before – most of us hadn’t before we joined.
  • You do not need to be the finished article (whatever that is) – we train each new imp for six weeks, and we will make you look as good as we possibly can.
  • Improv is fun.

Successful applicants will then be able to perform with us in our weekly Wheatsheaf shows, at college balls, charity events and on our travels, such as our annual trips to The Netherlands and the Edinburgh Fringe.

We hope to see you there!

If you would like to join our improv gang as a pianist, techie or production imp, click here.

Edinburgh 2013 was excellent (Gush. Gush. Sentimentality.)

Laurie and Dougie
Laurie and Dougie

Four weeks ago we arrived in our flat on a miserable, rainy Sunday armed with little more than a fresh batch of Imps’ t-shirts, 35 000 flyers and a healthy dose of hope. Today we sit here on a beautiful, sunny Monday afternoon following our final show of Edinburgh 2013 with a batch of not-so-fresh Imps’ t-shirts, a handful of left-over flyers and an unhealthy dose of banana bread made from all the forgotten bananas left by various imps in our flat kitchen over the past month. The statistics for the past month tell a triumphant story:

Twenty-seven shows at the Gilded Balloon. Eighteen sell-outs. Three 4-star reviews. One appearance on BBC Radio Oxford. One performance at the BBC Pink Tent. Loads of banana bread.

 The BBC dressing room was in Imps colours

The BBC dressing room was in Imps colours


However, the real triumph of Edinburgh has been the hard-work, dedication and camaraderie within the group. Of the 165 performing man-hours at the Gilded Balloon this run, 110 of those came from imps who only joined the company last October. This meant that shows were compered by Imps who had previously only compered one or two shows, raps were rapped by those who had not previously considered themselves confident rappers and plots were moulded by those who had previously relied on more experienced improvisers to shape narratives. And it all happened wonderfully.

Gen 1 and 13
Gen 1 and 13

Particularly special praise should go to Tom Skelton, without whose experienced hand on the Assistant-Directorial rudder the journey would undoubtedly have blown off course, and Ryan Norris, whose calm Producerial efficiency at keeping us and our flat ship-shape was a constant joy throughout.

Facing your fear

 What fearless can look like

What fearless can look like

The way I see it, you face your fears same as anything else, you've got a fear of heights, you go to the top of the building. You've got a fear of bugs... get a bug. In your case you've got a fear of commitment so you go in there and be the most committed guy there was. – Joey, Friends

As an improviser it is very easy to stagnate, to explore a comfort zone, to hide in a set of jokes or characters which we know we can do. This works very well in some cases; retreating to an old favourite can be rewarding for the audience. But for an improviser it can be very damaging. I think it’s important for improvisers to challenge themselves on stage in every show; to do something different and shake it up.

If it doesn’t work then we trust that the rest of the troupe will jump in and help us out, either by validating our decision or by drawing focus away. If it doesn’t work we trust our audience to be accepting and forgiving. But if it works, if our risk is paid off in full then the buzz and excitement and the adrenaline can create a feeling of utter joy and bewildered exhibitionism. You’ve left a comfort zone, naked and vulnerable and been greeted with cheers and applause. But not only this, like a baby taking its first step you know another will follow: a bigger jump away from the now-distant lunar landing pod. As an improviser, this challenge to yourself to do something new is what leads you to bigger and better characterisation, plot decisions, and ultimately the confidence to walk on stage and be utterly at home with whatever suggestion or offer is given to you.

This term I faced two of my Improv fears. The first was in a game designed to bring people out of their comfort zone during a rehearsal. I was told to play a suave and confident American. I hate playing confident characters on stage (I find I need to do something with my nervous energy) but afterward I felt refreshed and at ease knowing that, if it came to it, I could draw on this type of character again. The second has been an Improv fear of mine since I joined the Imps: rapping. When put in a rapping game during my first year I ashamedly asked to be taken out of it. At a rehearsal recently I tried and horribly failed to form even the most basic of raps. But after being put in a rapping game on stage this term I decided to face my fear. I bought a bug, as Joey would say. And sure, the rhymes weren’t great and yes, I broke a cardinal rule of rhyming heaven and seven (as bad as zero and hero). My rap didn’t forward the plot, didn’t make much sense and could much be improved upon but that’s the point. There is now something there to be improved upon. I’ve taken my first step away from the landing pod of ComfortZone 11. It’s a small step for man, but a giant leap for my self-confidence.

Two shows to go!

With many taking advantage of our Finalists’ Fortnight special offer, a full house at the Wheatsheaf last night chuckled and cackled at new and never-to-be-seen-again Australian soap opera 'Translator’s Way', the struggles of teleshopping presenters trying to guess that they were supposed to be selling a pyrotechnic display and a fog horn, and a spine-chilling horror film parody chronicling an evil mastermind’s plot to replace his spine with those of books, and vice-versa, of course. There are only two Wheatsheaf shows left for you to see the 2012-13 vintage, so hurry yourself down next Monday, grab a drink and enjoy!

Finalists' fortnight

It’s Finalists' Fortnight at The Wheatsheaf at the moment, so if you’re finishing your degree this year, entry TONIGHT is a mere £1 for two hours of improvised comedy fun! Last week's show saw a groom-to-be with cold feet who could only speak in Anglo-Saxon verse, magical liquorice that could restore childish innocence, and a musical in which Gandhi resolved the eternal conflict between foxes and badgers. A rammed-to-the-rafters crowd made for a raucous Wheatsheaf atmosphere!

Last week also saw the Imps elect a new executive team for the 2013-14 season, so huge and deserved congratulations to:

Co-Directors: Tanner Efinger and Dominic O’Keefe Producer: Jenny Garner Assistant Producer: Vicky Hawley Chair: Stuart ‘Boris’ Thomas Head Tech: Lulie Tanett

Outgoing director Tom Skelton said, "They’ll be brilliant!"

Going Dutch

Hallo! We zijn teruggekeerd! No I haven’t just sat on the keyboard, but instead we have just returned from a few days visiting the beautiful Dutch city of Utrecht where we enjoyed a wonderful workshop and a smashing show with our Dutch improv cousins, Theatersportgroep Parnassos. Highlights of the trip included getting on the wrong train at Amsterdam Airport (we got there in the end), Tanner making us a delicious breakfast of egg-in-a-hole (just as good as if not better than toad) and hunting for 'Dom' signs ('Dom' means cathedral in Dutch) to take pictures of Dom (our Dom) in front of, such as these:

DieDom

Brush up your Shakespeare

TroublesomePriest
TroublesomePriest

We're based in England but our native/adopted national poet is a bit of a mystery to us. But we feel that great theatre is easier to understand if you dress up in old RSC costumes and start to make it up on the spot.

To one reviewer it was a "thoroughly hilarious theatrical endeavour that the Bard himself would surely have endorsed" (we hope the big guy would agree), while another didn't believe it was made up (trust us, it'd be hard to remember all the words to a new play each night, even if they might have managed it in Shakespeare's play). All in all, though, our studies have arrived at one unanimous conclusion: it was a beautiful thing to have done.

Our greatest generation (so far)

Wow! It's always exciting to meet the future of your company, in our massive, raucous and hugely fun annual auditions. A big welcome to the lucky (well, talented) new members:

Archie Cornish

Tanner Efinger

Vicky Hawley

Dom O'Keefe

Thierry Thielens

Alice Winn

Along with a vital infusion of production and musical talent:

James Robinson

Alicia Ejsmond-Frey

Jenny Garner

It's a lovely mix of old improv hands, and new recruits ready to learn from us wizened ones. Don't worry, after eight weeks training they all emerged polished improvisers and awesome all-time folk, so look out for them at the end of this term.

As ever, a big round of applause to all of you who tried out. Improv lives and dies with people's enthusiasm for it, as performers, as casual fans, and as audience members, so you make a great thing possible. You are brave and you are sexy. Maybe see you next year.

ImpsConsider
ImpsConsider

Not quite as big as London 2012

For once, Edinburgh doesn't feel like the centre of the world in August: a lot of attention in the first few weeks has rightfully been south of theOlympic standard postering border, on the London Olympics. It affected our suggestions a bit, for instance with the Shakespeare play 'the cyclist of Box Hill', featuring King Hoy, Victoria of Pendleton and other stars. The Imps stay in one big flat and it's one of the best experiences of being up in Edinburgh – sorry for the neighbours who contacted us on twitter to tell us to keep the noise down, and we hope that bottle of wine made up for it. Luke Ogilvie-Thompson was the soul of positivity all of the fringe and deserves to be recorded for posterity. Thanks to the kind reviewer who called us "a talented group of young people, for sure... succeed where many others here at the Fringe so abysmally fail – being funny". And hello, again, to Marcus Brigstocke, who remembered us from the previous year's ski trip when we flyered him on the Royal Mile. True class.

Rehearsing Improv in Central Park

ImpsOnUSStage This was our third journey to the US as the imps, and our biggest-ever tour, stopping off at Providence, New York, Chicago, and Nashville – all the while dealing with some of the hottest weather we've ever experienced.

In New York, we performed at UCB and the Magnet, including to old members of the company now settled in the city. In Chicago, the mecca of improv, we had the chance to take a workshop with Susan Messing and Annoyance theatre.

ImpsOnTimesSquare
In Nashville, we performed on the same stage as Bob Dylan (not at the same time, sadly) and enjoyed the amazing hospitality of the Schullers, the family of our former producer Christopher. After sleeping on a lot of floors, that was very welcome indeed. We had the full spectrum of American experience, from Coney Island fun fairs, to crime on the Chicago subway, to enjoying the hospitality of the kindest and nicest people on the planet.

Lastly, a big shout out to Trinity Zoo, and their teacher Mauro, who we saw in Providence. They may be school age, but trust us as a training company – these are the stars of the future.

BFFs

The Nether Nether Lands

Over the Easter weekend, we Imps strapped on our clogs, pinned on our tulips and threw away our mountaineering gear. We were off to Holland! After being assured by the unintentionally hilarious Ryanair fanfare that our flight had arrived 'ON TIME', we were released into the land of brilliant orange. Good Friday evening was spent with our Dutch hosts watching the phenomenally camp Dutch 'Passion', replete with rollerskating Judas Escariot, whilst gulping bottles of Heineken and Grolsch – the only two Dutch beers!

The centrepiece of our stay was a show with Parnassos Theatersport for their 12 ½th birthday show, all performed in English. (We realised by the end that their English – and the crowd’s – was better than ours...) The crowd threw roses at the performers if they approved of a scene or gag; alas, we didn’t get to keep them. There was still time for a day trip to Amsterdam, and for Tom Skelton to be hit by a bike – they don’t like slowing down, those Dutch cyclists... But overall a cracking trip!

Arabian nights out

340425_10150447227339567_1389381574_o 429754_10150475758324567_758634037_nA hearty 'اﺮﻜﺷ to everyone who came to see our Arabian nights show this week.

For those that have forgotten the plot, Scheherazade has to keep telling stories to keep the king from killing her – in this instance, she can't remember 1001, nor even five, to last out a week's theatre run, but thankfully the audience were on side with suggestions to spur on tales of adventure, intrigue and romance.

A particular highlight was a party for planets, with party-crashers the stars, not to mention genies, pirates and princes galore. And a man in a wine cellar who couldn't find the door. Cracking.

Is this an altitude improv record?

373914_990079974999_1948854821_n
373914_990079974999_1948854821_n

We've played bigger houses, but never higher up: this week saw the imps playing closer to outer space than they ever have before, in Val Thorens - altitude, 2300m above sea level.

We'd like to thank the thousand-odd people we performed to, and compere Marcus Brigstocke for warming them up so skilfully. Thanks too, to all the French skiers who got out of the way of Dougie as he learned to zoom down pistes for the first time, wearing a borrowed hi-viz. The word for 'sorry' is a useful one to learn in French.

Dougie on the slopes
Dougie on the slopes

New blood

Our first Egyptologist imp. Our first Jersey imp.

Our first imp called Ivo.

It's been a banner year for firsts here at Imp towers, after the avalanche of excitement that was our 2011-2012 auditions!

A big round of applause, ladies and gentlemen:

Ed Scrivens

Stuart Thomas (Boris)

Laura Wright

Ivo Graham

James Philips

Lucy Shenton

And a HUGE round of applause to everyone who auditioned. The standard was amazingly high this year, including among the non-native speakers, auditionees high on painkillers, folk who started the audition too scared to speak –  all folk who've learned the most important lesson of improv: take part, try things that scare you, and occasionally you'll amaze yourself.

Now that was an Edinburgh

We're Edinburgh veterans these days, and you'd imagine we're used to the place by now (we've been in the same flat and the same venue for five years, for instance), but it's still thrilling to visit the biggest arts festival in the world, in the world's most beautiful city. For our new imps every year, it's an experience never to forget. It's not too bad for our audiences either, or at least so says Joe Nicholson ("the show was utterly triumphant, and clearly deserved five stars") and Fen Greatley ("top drawer entertainment!") at EdFringeReview. Thank you both. Fen: amazing name.

What else? Our famously-bearded director Dougie handed over to his successor Dylan, by shaving off his chin-ruff and bagging it for his successor to learn from. We blogged for whatsonstage, we played our largest ever venue in the Gilded Balloon, and we slept maybe two hours a night. Never mind: September is for catching up.   October is for auditions, and the whole yearly improv cycle beginning again. But that's another story...