American Improv & The Edinburgh Fringe

This summer I attended the annual Comedysportz Championship in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for shows and improv workshops. Then headed straight to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival. It was an intense and enjoyable three weeks of of improv training and performing.

There's nothing in the UK that's really comparable the annual improv championship. It's not really a competition,  more a convention of comedy shows and improv workshops where performers from all over the us - and UK - come together for one week to collaborate and learn new skills.

An improvised singing workshop taken by Jim Ansaldo from Indiana.

Improv is on the rise in the UK, but no where near as well established as it is in the US, with it's dedicating schools of improvisation, not just for performance skill, but also as a tool for learning. This annual event attracts some of the worlds best teachers of improvisation. During the week I took workshops in diverse topics such as character types, status, building emotional connections. There was also a brilliant workshop on how to teach improv, weighing up the feedback approach versus side-coaching that It really got into the nuts and bolt of how teachers teach.

The Manchester Comedysportz team play home team Philadelphia
Morning briefing. A theatre full of improvisers.

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival

A twenty four hour turnaround from landing the Manchester improv gang regrouped and headed to Edinburgh for our twelfth year at the fringe. I've taken up solo comedy shows in the past, and it a lot less stressful to be part of a team.

During my ten days there I was performing in four shows per day including the regular ComedySportz show, guest spots, comparing a couple of night of Salfunny, and a late night improvised true crime show.

Compering Salfunny.

Salfunny was a showcase for students studying the comedy degree at Salford University. One of their performers, Erika Ehler, went on to win the Chortle new comedian award.

The Royal mile - on a quiet day.

There were more improvised shows there this year than ever before, and while and that's a good thing for recognition of improv, it's important to keep the quality standard high. With stand up comedy and improv, there is no barrier to entry, to learn the skill is a choice. There are some great places to learn improv best practice around the UK, and hopefully some day soon improv will be as well recognised as a teaching skill as it across the pond.

    Got a question?

    I had a great time this weekend at the second MeasureCamp Manchester Unconference. Aimed at the digital and analytics community, it's a whole day of unplanned talks and workshops. There's no planned schedule and everyone attending has the opportunity to deliver a talk or workshop.

    How does that work? After an introductory talk there's a big blank schedule of events board - waiting to be filled.

    Those keen to give a talk complete a description card and stick it the board. As this event proved, very quickly there was a diverse and interesting amount of talks to attend across the day.

    I've attended similar formatted events in the USA, at the annual ComedySportz improv championship. During a week of workshops and entertainment) there's an 'open space' which is very similar in format. The idea of a full day of this locally piqued my curiosity.

    It was easy to understand the ethos of the event, and MeasureCamp Manchester was well organised. It's not only for those keen to get up and talk, but also to encourage those who've never given a talk. It's an opportunity to to seize the chance to give their first ever bit of public speaking, workshop or discussion.

    As I found out, a group of data analytics techy folks set up MeasureCamp in 2012. They  wanted to run a local community event and it took off. MeasureCamps are now held in over a dozen cities, all over Europe plus Hong Kong and Australia.

    I think the 'unconference' format is a brilliant concept too. A speaking event with no traditional hierarchy or barrier to entry, encouraging anyone who has an idea they are passionate about.  The presentations do not need to be polished, there's no guarantee of full audience. Attendees will vote with their feet. However as this event proved, with this well curated day, the fear of 'what if no one comes to my talk!' doesn't arise.

    Improv for Creative Thinking

    MeasureCamp is designed for the digital and analytics community though I thought it felt broader. There was much discussion here about modern work culture. I attended some great talks, including a discussion on freelancing and a talk on impostor syndrome. I also gave two talks on how improvisation skills is  used as a tool for creative thinking. A shortened version my Google Digital Garage in 2018 sessions, and they were well received.

    Of course there's a strong element of improvisation to the MeasureCamp Unconference format. When I deliver an improv workshop, I explain how improvisation is about being present and creative within set of constraints of a game.  One of the organiser, Paul  suggested I pinned my session on the board at the beginning of the day, which I did. Improv is great for learning, and it's also a good motivator. By sticking my session at the beginning of the day it could provide a little confidence boost to anyone attending who had an idea for a but not yet committed to it.
    It would have been an ideal place to promote my book,  but one of the stipulations is that there is no hard sell by speakers, and rightly so.

    MeasureCamp Manchester was a fun learning experience and a great networking opportunity. I've even considered offering to volunteer for next year's event (if I have the time and commitment it requires) I''ll certainly be getting in early for a ticket!

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    John Cooper
    Comedian & artist.
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