Producer / Director / Writer / Actor / Publisher / Musician / Improviser / Voiceover / Walking Chinbeard


Off The Cuff

Posted by Barnaby on August 14, 2014 at 3:05 PM

Some of you may know that I set-up and ran a monthly improvisation show from 2007 to 2013, called 'OFF THE CUFF'. During the course of that show, we settled on a stock set of performers who became my regulars and were incredibly talented within the format of the show. All of them came from theatrical backgrounds, which helped immeasurably, and we formed quite a tight-knit group. However, I don't agree with 'rules' when it comes to improvisation. I like 'structure', which is entirely different. Structure comes from the format of the games you play - building the house that you play in - and the improvisers you choose to participate in those games (who you think work best together). Others loved the 'rules' of improv, which is how you're supposed to improvise *within* that structure; but there was never any animosity or criticising of each other. Talking without ego, the show worked really well. It was remarked on by audience members, by reviews, by staff at the venues, and by the various venue managers we were indebted to for giving us a home to perform. But, it became apparent, during the later stages that - without me there - the show would change its structure and people wanted to experiment. I'm all for that, if it works. Sadly, although it may have been different, it didn't work as well as it had been. I liked the show a certain way and felt very protective over what I'd created. I was more than happy to encourage others to do what they wanted in a show of their own, or a spin-off, but I wanted the structure of my show to stay the same. I'm forever supporting friends in whatever venture they'd like to achieve and, yet, the close-knit feel we had started to feel, for me anyway, that it was unravelling. I felt like it was more of a chore to keep us all together than let people go and do their own thing (which they've all done, highly successfully; I might add!). I've had a lot of feedback about the time I was directing the show from afar and not able to be in it, all of which telling me that - without my guiding hand - the show just wasn't as funny or focused, regardless of those performing it thinking they were changing things for the better. You'd think I'd be chuffed about that but I really wasn't. I didn't like the fact that the show was being twisted into something that it wasn't supposed to be because, and you can call this ego if you like, I knew what worked and was keeping the audiences coming. So, like a child, I lashed out and dropped a few performers before finally shutting down the show. I dealt with it oddly and I always regretted that. We had one last hurrah at a theatre in Cheltenham and I vowed that was the end, which was kind of upsetting. I was burnt out by the egos that had grown since the show had become a success. I'll be honest, I miss improvisation more than anything. It's the thing that gives me most pleasure in performance, bouncing off another person's imagination and going somewhere an ordinary written sketch never dares or thinks to go. So, I'm sure I'll do something in the future that lets me release my inner anarchist. Why am I saying all this? Well, I've just read an article about the late, great Robin Williams dropping into the Comic Strip Live club (an improvisation stage show). He bent the 'rules' of improv and the author of the article wasn't happy about it and actively comes across as a bit of stickler for wanting those 'rules' in place. I hope, for the performers involved in 'OFF THE CUFF', I never came across like that. All I ever wanted was a loose framework, or structure, of games that would allow the improvisers to fly. I didn't care if one person was hogging all the best lines or getting the most laughs. If the audience was having a good time, so was I. It appears Robin Williams never adhered to any 'rules' and that's my kind of performer and the show I tried to create was based around that concept. Improv is about creativity. Rules help you learn your craft and hone it but they're there to fence you in. When you've reached a level of performance, like Robin Williams, where rules don't apply then you don't try and stifle his creativity by shoehorning him into a structure that doesn't work as well for him. What's the point? If other performers egos are dented because he got the laughs, then rise to the challenge. Bounce off him. Lead the scene in another direction. That's the great thing about improvisation, there are no set directions. Go where you like and take everyone with you. Read the article, make your own mind up. But, the author - to me - comes across as a little petty and bitter. Perhaps the level of fame Robin Williams achieved irked him, when you're still performing in a pokey club with a small audience. I don't know. For me, whether I was performing to 50 people or 500 people, it was the same ethos - let's make them laugh in whatever way we can. Throw away the rulebook and be funny.

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