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?

    Looking back 2018 has been about loads of little experiments. Moving in new circles to learn, create opportunities, and push in new directions. This blog is a little bit of a humble-brag, but it's worth reflecting on the ups and downs of the year past, to help plan the year ahead.

    In early 2018 I was involved with Manchester's Business Growth Hub 'Spark 2 Scale' programme - had lots of help with business plans for my workshop using stand up comedy skills for public speaking 'Present Yourself' - based on the book from 2017. I was invited to run it as part of their special events, which in turn led to a few engagements at Manchester's Google Digital Garage.

    John Cooper at Google Digital Garage Manchester
    John Cooper at Google Digital Garage Manchester

    There's been a lot more illustration this year than previous years. I finally got on Instagram. Inspired by the 'Bee in the City' project I created a bee for the Manchester Fringe and that led to me being asked to design the mascot for the Fringe. During the fringe I also ran out an experimental show - 'Confessions of a WordPress Fanatic', combining stand up, songs and website development just to 'talk about what I know' and see if it would work. Not great numbers in the audience, but very rewarding.

    Some great project's landed on my table including illustrating for a TV advert, re-designing and re-branding Wentworth Music Festival, and working with actor Arthur Bostrom on his new 'Fronch Phrose Berk' writing as Officer Crabtree, the character he played in 'Allo 'Allo. So much creative freedom with all these projects, too.

    In August much fun was had performing at the Edinburgh fringe with ComedySportz, and before that I headed over to Dublin for the first Improv Utopia event, a long weekend of improv workshops with people from all over Europe and the USA.

    Personal highlights this year including Running a couple of half marathons and walking up Snowdonia with the Manchester Road Runners crew. Hosting the Pint of Science festival and meeting inventive folk, then hosting a manic Doctor Who convention and finally meeting Peter Davison. There was some sad news closer to home, which makes me even more grateful for the amazing people I have as family and friends.

    Inktober was a bit of a revelation. I'd never heard of it until it was already happening. Draw an inked image everyday for a month. Having done so much digital artwork I'd forgotten just how much I love the real thing. That and brush pens. The very fact I didn't know they existed until this year baffled me and excited me in equal measure. Inktober opened more doors for me, just be doing it.

    I've loved doing the 'WordPress Fanatic' show, as it was quite personal in place, and want to take it to Edinburgh in 2019. I also have a new comics illustration project that's taking shape and am aware don't have the time to do both. Right now the comic project is winning out as it something I have more control over. I love the Edinburgh fringe, and performing, but there are so many variable's and I've not taken a solo show up since 2011. I'd like something more solid and tangible to show for 2019. And I'm allowed to change my mind on that.

    As I plan out 2019 current thoughts are to double down on what works. Building the good projects for nice people and building new relationships in turn. Take risks and live life. Oh and and have a holiday, I'm so due a holiday.

    • Spark 2 Scale
    • Present Yourself at Google Digital Garage
    • Illustrating for TV with GroundBreak Productions
    • Great Manchester Run Half Marathon
    • Mascot Design for the Great Manchester Fringe Festival
    • Pint of Science Festival
    • Improv Utopia Ireland
    • Comedysportz and Joke Thieves at the Edninburgh Festival
    • VWORP! An independant Doctor Who convention
    • Good Moaning France With Arthur Bostrom
    • Inktober
    • Manchester Half Marathon
    • Liverpool improvathon 2018
    • Comedysportz Panto 2018
    • and all the other lovely comedy gigs I've done as Danny Pensive.

    John Cooper
    Comedian & Improv coach
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