Pippa Evans is one of the UK's leading improv performers. With her new book Improv Your Life now available, we caught up with her to talk about how everyone can benefit from considering improvisation techniques.
Hi Pippa. How did you first come to get interested, and then involved, in the world of improvisation?
I loved Whose Line Is It Anyway? when I was a kid and thought 'I want to do that!' But it wasn't until I was 18 that I tried it properly (apart from one slightly awkward drama class).
I suddenly felt incredibly free. I followed a group called Improvedy around the Edinburgh Fringe in 2005 and when we got back to London, they asked if I wanted to have a go. And I did. And that was that.
I went on to be in Scratch Impro - we did a show called The Edinburgh Fringe Impro Show where we would perform any show the audience wanted from the fringe brochure. Then Showstopper came along and whisked me away on an improvised musical theatre journey.
When you say 'improv' to most people, they probably just think about the kinds of games played on Whose Line Is It Anyway? ... it's a wider sphere than just those kind of games though?
Yes - Whose Line is still a huge loud hailer for improv comedy - a great calling card for us all. However the world of improvisation has grown so much since it first aired in the 80s - you can find an improv club in most cities and towns performing anything from short form games (that is the official name for the games you find in Whose Line) to full length murder mysteries, Jane Austen novels and, of course, musicals.
What made you decide to write a book on the topic?
There are lots of books that talk about how to be a better improv performer and lots about how improv can help your business but not so many about navigating our lives which are, of course, improvised.
I have been teaching an 'improv as a life skill' class for the past seven years and seen so many people flourish from the learning that I wanted to put it all into a book for those people who might not feel ready to go to a class, for people already learning improv but wanting to look deeper at its wider application and for anyone who is feeling a bit stuck and can't see a way forward.
With improv, there is always a way forward - it just isn't always obvious. Or it is so obvious, we reject it as an idea.
It's an interesting publication, as you're saying that anyone in life - not just people who want to be on stage - can learn a lot from studying improv techniques...
Yes indeed. Improvisation is the art of working with what is available to you in the moment. When we feel we are able to accept our own circumstances, our current place in the world, we can start to think about who we want to be, where we want to go and what we want to be doing. I think it is so important, in this time of uncertainty and change that we are able to embrace what is and ask 'what if'...
Can you give us a specific example of what, say for example someone working in a general office could gain from having an understanding of improv techniques?
You can start to recognise you own behaviours first - particularly in relation to the words YES and NO.
Do you take on all the projects given and get burned out? Do you love coming up with new ideas? Do you block peoples' ideas before letting them grow? This can be applied to relationships in the work place and also the work you are doing.
There is a whole chapter on status dynamics which are vital, I believe, to being able to recognise how you interact with your office community (even if that is a virtual office for the time being).
For example - do you have colleagues who you fall into low status behaviours around? How is that affecting the work you are doing? Can you find ways to work with those status dynamics so that you are able to feel more on a level with them?
It is fascinating stuff that can be explored in the imaginary world of an improv class and then reflected in your day to day interactions.
The book has been out for a few days now. Have you had any reactions from the people who have already finished it?
So far, people have been incredibly positive. The point of the book is less to give top tips (although there are some in there) and rather to give a lens to view the world through. To help people think through what they experience and see if there are different ways they want to approach the world. So most of the feedback has been 'It really made me think about...' and that is what I am hoping for.
The interest in improv seems to be growing all the time from what we can tell, but it still seems strangely absent from television. The last improvised comedy series was probably Fast And Loose, which you took part in. That was a decade ago! Improv is a relatively cheap format to produce, and there's obviously no limit to the number of episodes you could have... but TV doesn't seem to trust the format?
I think we have to reimagine improv on telly - if we only compare it to Whose Line then we could say there is no improv on TV. However Hypothetical is pretty much an improvised show. Murder In Successville is a semi-improvised show.
There is loads of great improv and collaborative content on TikTok and Instagram. Platforms where you can respond immediately. So perhaps it is time to recognise that improv is not limited only to games and can instead be a part of something spontaneous within a semi-scripted format and also that TV is not the only end point for this magnificent art form.
What's next for you? Presumably you're very much looking forward to being able to get back on the stage?
I cannot wait to be back on a stage. I miss audiences, I miss laughing with my friends on stage, I miss improvised dance routines and getting an audience to sing along with a song we just made up, together. So the next thing is to get our theatres and comedy clubs open again and make sure we support them when they open their doors.