YBY ep 253: Nick Byrne and turning challenges into opportunities.
This week on Yes But Why, we talk to Nick Byrne, one of Australia’s most prominent improvisational trainers and producers.
Nick Byrne is Artistic Director of the Impro ACT theatre in Canberra, Australia. Starting in 2005, Impro ACT has been providing improv classes at all levels, performances of comedic, dramatic, musical, physical, and experimental unscripted theatre, as well as the Canberra International Festival of Improvisation (aka “Improvention”).
Nick is also the Artistic Director of “Improvention,” Australia’s international festival of Improvisation. Since 2009, “Improvention” has hosted hundreds of improvisers from every continent to participate in half-day workshops and perform every night in shows, over the course of eight days.
In Nick’s career in entertainment, he has played the role of trainer, director, producer, actor, musician, and comic. He has worked in political satire, musical theatre, corporate comedy, theatre in education, theatre restaurant, street theatre, film, advertising, and radio comedy.
Focusing for the last fifteen years on improvisation, Nick has taught hundreds of hours of workshops on spontaneous thinking, problem-solving, improvised theatre, team-building, and adaptability to change.
In the most recent before times, Nick had been found touring the globe. He has worked in 35 international cities as a director/performer/teacher of improv at festivals and with theatre companies; including Vienna’s ‘Moment’ Festival, St Petersburg’s Russian International Improvisation Festival, Singapore Improv Festival, and Mt Olymprov Festival in Athens.
In our conversation, Nick and I chatted about the global improv community and how our current connectedness is helping to shape innovation in improv across the world.
We talk about the improv festival circuit. Nick gives us a glimpse of the world of a traveling improviser! We talk about mixer shows, marketing, and audience connection.
Nick tells me about how his improv festival came to be. Nick’s focus on education and providing a good experience for his attendees is the cornerstone of “Improvention.” It was really fascinating to hear his perspective on this because building an improv festival seems like such a herculean task. And it was great to connect to another corner of the improv universe.
Support Nick Byrne! He is continuing to operate Impro ACT, in Canberra, produce “Improvention,” and participate in various other theatrical arts activities around the city. Canberra, he says, is almost back to normal so Aussie listeners, swing on by! And other international listeners, check out impro.com.au to look for online workshops you can try!!
Yes But Why Podcast is a proud member of the HC Universal Network family of podcasts. Visit us at HCUniversalNetwork.com to join in on the fun. #YesButWhy #Podcast #HCUniversalNetwork
This episode of Yes But Why podcast is sponsored by audible – get your FREE audiobook download and your 30 day free trial at http://www.audibletrial.com/YESBUTWHY.
This episode of Yes But Why is also sponsored by PodcastCadet.com. Go to PodcastCadet.com and put in offer code YBY20 to get 20% off your first consultation!
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(production notes: recorded zoom call via Rodecaster on 2/6/2021)
TRANSCRIPT by Otter.ai
Hello, Yes But Why listeners, this is your host, Amy Jordan. Welcome to Yes But Why episode 253 – my chat with Nick Byrne, one of Australia’s most prominent improv teachers and producers. But first, let’s talk about our sponsors. Today’s episode is, of course, sponsored by audible. Get your FREE audiobook download and your 30 day free trial at audibletrial.com/YESBUTWHY. You know what? I’m going to say it. Everyday you don’t have Audible, you’re blowing it. It’s like the new way of books. So listen up. Go to audibletrial.com/YESBUTWHY and download that app and sign up. You get a free audiobook like right away. Plus there’s so much included content once you sign up. Seriously. It helps you. It helps me. Whaddaysay? Our other sponsor for today’s episode is PodcastCadet.com. My husband, Chris and I run the company, PodcastCadet.com. Maybe you’ve heard of us? Oh yeah, well we can help you with your podcast. We can give you a little push or we can help you with the production of all of your podcast episodes! Contact us now at PodcastCadet.com. Hey and you know what, drop a note with promo code YBY20 to get 20% off the first service or workshop you buy! This week on Yes But Why, we talk to Nick Byrne, the Artistic Director of both the Impro ACT theater in Canberra and Australia’s international impro festival, “Improvention.” In our conversation, Nick gives us a glimpse of the world of a traveling improviser! We talk about mixer shows, festival marketing, and audience connection. Nick tells me how “Improvention” is built for improvisers by improvisers. Support Nick Byrne! Australia, Nick says, is almost back to normal so Aussie listeners, swing on by Impro ACT and take a class! And hey other international listeners, you and me, we can still check out impro dot com dot au to check out the online workshop options! I now present to you: yes but why episode 253: Nick Byrne and turning challenges into opportunities. Enjoy!
I’m Amy Jordan, and this is Yes But Why Podcast. Yeah.
We’re up to a higher rate now. So I’m expecting that this year we’ll be able to do almost normal local shows and courses. Obviously, any of the entities, international invitations, such as the festival, Iran, or any of my international touring work is still completely awful. Because which is a big, big change. It’s
so hard for people whose like, it’s like a big part of their, you know, usual income flow, you know?
Well, it’s, it’s important in a range of, of ways. I mean, there’s, there’s the income flow, but you know, also the motivation i i i’d been inviting international guests here for for a long time and being organizing the international festival that was here in Australia you know, I guess some something of a international convener for for Australian impro. And so I knew all these top people that came from all over the world and really, still being quite limited budget because I guess people liked to come to Australia and I got lucky. But I never placed myself in that same category until eventually there was there was kind of nowhere else to go but to put myself out there on the International Circuit and see how it went. So when I discovered that actually I could play a valid role during the the touring it was very important to just feel that level of Acceptance and the support and feedback from people from different countries and cultures that sort of validated your existence after what I guess a lot of people who who are not only improvisers, but are constantly attempting to organize bigger events, you know, you do a lot of work, perhaps a little less performing. And, you know, you, I guess there’s always that that self reflection of how you fit into the picture. So for me, one of one of the big losses is, you know, I’m, I’m now just a local drama teacher at the moment, in terms of putting on my improv classes. Whereas before, I got that extra motivation of being a guest in people’s town and this sort of thing.
I think you still maintain the notoriety, don’t worry, you know, you’re
you’re still, you know,
where you’re very current, I mean, it’s going to be, it will be very interesting when things change again, because, of course, with the, with the online environment, I guess, I was mainly touring the European and Asian festivals and companies. And I think you could certainly put into a reasonably small packet, including including the Americans that would come to that circuit. You know, what you could call the usual suspects when you came up to a festival, lots of people doing that work, but I guess there’s a, there’s a package of people that you could consider the usual suspects, will now of course, many great young tech savvy, people have had the confidence to run hundreds 1000s of zoom classes, and so on. And that bunch of them will be just as good as any of the rest of us just as interesting as any of the rest of us. Lots of new ideas. So I’m thinking, those people should have the confidence now to get on the circuit and travel and enjoy themselves when all this is over. If, if they can. So it’ll be interesting to see whether we’re the whether we’re the old crew commanding a little bit of older generation respected and still getting the Guernsey or, or whether, in fact, you know, we will have been to some degree superseded by all these fantastic new people. Either way, it’s great, you know, I’d love to see, the more the more diverse ideas we can get out there. The more interesting things end up happening on stage and the more we all canoeing to be better teachers, as well as presenters,
one of the things I think will happen is not that one will displace the other, but rather, it’s almost like, new formats are being created, you know, like, all of a sudden, somebody is like, let’s do the this and like, and like, let’s not lie, in like eight years, when we’re not really doing when, when it’s not, like so ubiquitous to be on zoom. There’ll be a, like a format called like, the zoom. Like, be, you know, like, just an online situation, you’ll try to do it because I feel like it’s not that, you know, people online are taking away from the live thing. No, they’re, they’re literally, I mean, most of them feel like they’re just there as a like, you know, said substitute to the university is of us all being together in a room, right? But yeah, um, but other people have said that, you know, it’s almost like its own new art form, right. So like, it’s really just a new way to use this, you know, way of thinking this, a style of theater and you know, every new person I talked to, I learn a new form, they have an A new, you know, this person, I read the book, and that’s what made me Oh, great, you know, so it’s like, all sorts of different inspiration and all comes together. And now because we can all talk to everybody sort of globally and in a much more open way. It’s like It’s like, passing ideas is like, I don’t know, it’s just flowing so much more country to country. It’s not like, Oh, well, you know, in, in Norway, they really do like dramatic impro. And it’s really like, they don’t care about the comedy. Oh, but here, you know, Germany’s got some good comedy. And it’s not like Chicago style. But you know, like, everyone has their like, thing that they say is Oh, this area, that area. I feel like it’s mixing now. And it’s going to be like, Oh, we have this, you know, devised theater piece over here. And oh, we’re doing playback theater over there. And like, Oh, yeah, they do, you know, the Chicago style improv at this place, and oh, and they’re doing this, like, deeply dramatic spot over here. You know, you can do all of it. And I feel like it’ll be hopefully, better. You know?
Well, I think this is Oh, absolutely, absolutely. And I think, you know, geographical labeling was certainly very true when I started up and started to connect groups and hold festivals, and so on. I think that was true. But the, the advent of more and more festivals, and more and more touring artists is, as is what has introduced the diversity. And now of course, it’s super simple, because you just turn on your, your computer. So what I think what I think is really important in that area, is having having groups be open, open to diversity, and trying something completely different, I think, where things are still in a particular style, they are places where lots of people, or perhaps for a long period of time, one particular style has been taught. And they’re very good at that style. Of course, after that many people or that much time, it’s kind of like, you know, someone of my age probably does a lot less snowboarding than they do skiing, because you know, we already learned to ski and you’ve got to use all that time, those two days learning to do it on one board, skis. So I do think some places have a little bit of a fear of tried in completely new ways. But that’s extremely healthy. And to be honest, I’ve really enjoyed the European festivals in that regard, because most of the lot of the countries are of similar size and influence. No one has any reason to suspect that someone from this city or that country has anything less or anything less innovative, to offer than than anyone else. So it makes complete sense at those festivals to get as many different, crazy ideas as you can. One of the things I love about that circuit to is that it’s become more project based. I think. When I started my festival, I didn’t know how other festivals operated. I just needed to work out a practical way to get people to this very far away corner of the world within an achievable budget and, you know, get it get as much happening as possible. So it was totally natural to me that what I would do is invite one great teacher, director, performer, from all sorts of different places. So when they came I don’t know, do you refer to them as mixer shows? When you have people from all different groups doing a show together?
I’ve heard all sorts of phrases. So make sense. Yeah. You know, it’s not like pretty much I guess jams is what I’ve heard. But that’s, that can refer to all sorts of different things. So yeah, well, almost sir. Makes sense. I’m with you.
Well, almost all of our performances were, in a sense mixer shows but not not in a jam sense. Essentially, great teachers taught there. They’ll workshops And they selected from other other great visitors or people they just liked from their workshop who’s learned, they’ve learned this stuff. And these were the formats for 90% of the festival shows. It really well, I didn’t realize it was different to what other people were doing, I thought it was the obvious way to do it. Of course, I quickly learned that those days, it wasn’t the case. But some of these really well known players that I was, I was very, you know, excited and privileged to have out here, they actually went back to their places of origin going, Oh, man, you’ve got to go to that festival, I sang with a band for the first time and I did this weird, organic physical piece for the first time. And I don’t think it works. You know, you’re this really well known person. And you’ve had these firsts, which made me feel wonderful. But, but the fact that they would then advertise the idea. And a lot of the the festivals in in Europe now. And Asia. Much more a combination of you know, like, when I first went on the circuit, nearly every show in most of the festivals I went to was, as a team, if you like, from wherever the the group had come, puts on their show, and then the next one, then the next one. Now, a lot of the fish festivals have gone kind of 50. Nearly all of them have a mix, the show component for at least students together a leg up. And in recent years, there’s been this project focus. So because we have these Usual Suspects visiting all the European festivals, there are people on the circuit that I’ve played within, I don’t know how many cities, lots of different cities. So people will form a team, if you like, have three or four people who all live in completely different countries, but come together at a festival, and they have this special project format that they do. And they might, they might only do that two or three times a year when they go to different festivals that they all go to. And they might have three or four projects with other groups of people. So it’s like having a team, you just don’t, you know, share the same city. So that’s really interesting. And I think the the zoom component is, is just the next contributor to this growing innovation. But I will just underline all of that by saying, I absolutely believe that diversity of thought is, is is what drives us and it makes it makes no sense to me apologies to those who who do do this makes no sense to me to nail attempt to nail a particular style or, or format. If If what we’re actually learning in our classes and teaching in our classes, is a mindset that creates an adaptability to change which is just, you know, an essence of, of spontaneous behavior and improvise theater. Why would we want to perform the same format or the same style over and over and over, but those two ideas just don’t make sense to me? I’m someone who likes to experiment and fail 50% of the time,
I think, an idea. So said, may I posit an idea of why they do all kinds of things. Sure. So I love the style of your festival because it it really creates an atmosphere in what I actually usually say to my students when I’m teaching them which is improv is going to be guys improv is going to be more fun for you than the audience because you’re doing it, you’re having the experience, you’re part of it. The audience is feeding off of your excitement, they’re enjoying what you’re doing. But 100% You’re the people having the most fun in the room, right? And so audiences are mostly just there to support you or to just like feed off of your energy in that moment and joy, whatever ideas come out of your brain. Oh my god, I can’t believe the thought of that. And usually it’s most audiences are filled with other emotions. revisers so I love the idea that your festival essentially says come here, learn new stuff. And then like let’s celebrate education and show people what it is that we have learned. And then all these new people get to meet each other. And even if they didn’t take the workshop, they can go see the show and like, kinda get what the thing was that got learned. And so that’s cool. Do like so it’s sort of for the improviser. It’s a it’s a festival made by improvisers for improvisers, right, the whole experience is so that like it’s an educational thing?
I would, I would definitely agree that my, my own personal focus is for the growth of the participants. Absolutely. In a the capital of Australia, Canberra is only half a million people isn’t a massive city, Sydney and Melbourne are like 5 million each, and so on. So there’s, you know, quite some, I guess, audience development opportunity. But I live in a city where most people are on good incomes, they have very, very diverse opportunities and activities for such a small place. There’s lots of things they can go and do. So yes, I have a participant focused festival, and actually obtained a larger amount of the festival funding through participant packages full of workshops. In in a week, if if you did every workshop session over, you know, the maximum length of the event was nine days I think was the longest one, but you could do a morning and afternoon workshop that would you know, three hours each. If you did it that way, every one of those nine days, and they could all be different. So you could potentially have come and done 18 workshops with completely different people, different guests in a week, if that’s the way you wanted to do it.
We had reviser Valhalla. I’m into it. I’m into it. Yeah,
some love it something like that. Yeah. So I do have I definitely had this education and growth focus. And I think people get not just the utricle growth of course, but but personal growth out of it. But what I would say that the audience’s is you develop a different type of audience expectation. So as you said, they do feed off the feed off the excitement of the ride you are on. So if what you do is get a lot of great improvisers in a room or any improvisers In fact, and you put them in the situation of maximum risk by trying a show that is extremely experimental, then and coming out of, you know, one workshop, perhaps, then what you’re doing is yes, you are risking absolutely, that the quality is going to waver up and down in the ethical sense, perhaps, however, that factor of the audience being on the ride is dramatically increased. So you are creating a type of audience that is, is thriving more on that or less judgmental audience of whether that line was funny, or that was done really well. And more an audience of Oh my god, what’s going to happen in the next five minutes. And if if you do this with some of the shows with very next cast, and some of them were highly selective, it was entirely up to individual directors of each show, how they wanted to pass these things apart from a general attempt as artistic director to to pick a bunch of directors who would be diverse in their choices in that way. I, I did not attempt to stick my nose into that end of it. So a bunch of the shows, were also just all high end. guests from you know, might be six people from six different countries, but they were all high end improvisers. Now, at first, they hadn’t been used to this kind of thing. And yeah, they were a bit thrown by doing completely different things. They might have been great at their their mind style, or they They might have been, you know, just great with the verbal comedy and so on. And then they’re all put together. But now that this type of activity has become more common, if you get people who are really strong in the fundamentals of improvisation, and are now relaxed about the fact that Yeah, every festival I go to all due to shows that I’ve got no idea of what I’m doing before I arrived at the festival, they, they get over that concept as well. And they perform it just as higher level, doing the completely new thing as they do when they’re performing in concert they used to. So quality wise, there are pros and cons, and you just develop a different type of audience, and a different type of improviser who’s ready for ready for anything, that is my band, I don’t think about it or worry, I’d certainly don’t put myself at the top of the tree in a range of skills that you might be able to measure. However, I do not care what sort of show somebody puts me in at a festival, I can do it without worrying. And the reduction if you can, improviser to essentially nil. So they’re relaxed, and they’re energized, ready to go, and really looking forward to doing something that they have no idea of, they will perform pretty well, they’ll perform at their best level.
You know, I think that you establish a comfortable atmosphere for everybody to perform. And I think that’s probably why people a comeback over and over to your festival. And then, you know, be can just jump into anything. Not I know, and I totally 100% agree with you that the like, essence of what we’re teaching with improv is essentially like a lifestyle choice. And it’s like, Can you go with the flow, I mean, I’ll tell you what I if I am very glad I have the skills right now in my current life, right. And it’s just like to be able to adjust and to change and to figure out how you know, it goes. Now, I wanted to make one note, which was about the shows that you mentioned, that do forms over and over, I think that’s when theaters are more concerned about making money with shows, then they are about the like, you know, not that it isn’t good to work on a certain style. But at the same time, like shows when they do like every week, there are different shows, and they do like certain forms. You know, on Mondays, it’s this non Tuesdays yet, it’s really just to draw audience in. Because like I mentioned before, my theory is that the performers are having more fun than the audience. But when you give a form to the audience, you then give them a puzzle they have to solve. They know, they expect, it works out this way, they kind of get it and whatever way their audience brain gets what they’re watching, right? It Like, for instance, the Herald format is a lot like television sitcoms, right? They’re written very similarly. So you can get into a rhythm of it. And as an audience member be like, Oh my god, something’s about to happen. And boom, there it is, like you can be in on the rhythm, and then you’re playing the game with the people, it helps bring them in. It’s part of like this, you know, hooking the audience with this style, and like getting making them part of it. It’s almost like long form theater, sports games, you know, like, like, it’s not theater, sports, but it certainly is something where it’s like, hey, audience, are you guys like with us? Do you want to like help us give us a story that we can then build a whole thing around your story. And then they’re in on it, and they’re part of it. And it’s like a thing. So it’s, it’s, I think, really more a marketing situation. I mean, I think it was born out of education, because I like using, I like using formats to highlight a certain style, like a certain thing that I’m teaching. You know what I mean? Like, oh, let’s do characters, okay, we’re gonna do a thing where we do like a slacker and you guys have to talk to, you know, you talk to this character, and then that character is going to talk to somebody new, you know, just to use it in a way that like, helps them as an exercise. And then it’s like, oh, did you guys like that exercise? Cool. You know what, you guys can do that if you want for your recital show. And they’re like, we can make sure sure again, like, even as a way, almost four because I have my favorite and my most teaching is level one. Oh my god. I love it. Tell me you’ve never heard of improv, let’s talk about it. Like, I just really enjoy that. And so my thought is like, whatever you can do to make a new improviser felt feel comfortable. So there’s a lot of nets you put out for them. You’re like, Hey, what about this? Hey,
you try this rule?
Don’t do this. No
Just try that. Just try it. And it’s like, they’ll go, Oh, can I just ask the question? Like, sure you hear? You can? Sure you can. It was just, it was just a weird little rule we tossed in to make it make it interesting, you know. And it’s also when I finish teaching level one right before their recital I go, everything I taught you is just rules to help you guys figure it out, no matter what happens up there, whether or not you break every rule, I’ve told you, you’re gonna be okay. And they’re like, what? And then I’m like, you’re gonna be great. You guys have done handle that? And they’re like, Okay, great. So it like, it’s just frameworks to get the audience and the performer to feel more comfortable, you know, in their early days.
Yeah. I think it’s, it’s true. It’s, it’s one way, I mean, there’s two different things, they’re talking about the the audience and the performer, I’ll, I’ll go to each, but I think they’re both sort of its stylistic, as well, as an absolute, it’s absolutely a marketing choice. Without a doubt, but I think it’s, and it’s always going to be the case, it’s an easier marketing choice. So essentially, it’s very easy to sell to people look, you’re going to have to, you’re going to come along to a thing, where you don’t have to work very hard. And you’re going to laugh every 10 seconds, or 30 seconds, and, and so on. And as you say, it’s going to be in a format that you can predict what this format is, if it was, for example, a theater sports style thing, or, or a herald in places where people have done a lot of heralds. So you know, basically what you’re getting, and we’re going to give it to you. And we’ve we’ve learned that well. So that’s an easy marketing sell. But I would differ in them a little bit on the idea. I think that’s one way to hook an audience. It’s definitely easier to get them there that way. But I towards perhaps the, you know, like to put words in people’s mouths, but the, the Randy Dixon style where basically, you know, if you if you give the audience just enough to hook them in just enough, but they have to actually think about what’s going on here. And they’re surprised about what happens next. But you’re allowing them to become their own storyteller. Then they really engaged to me that is audience participation. If you say to an audience, oh, can I have a kitchen implement? And they say spectular again, and and off you go? That’s, for me. That’s that’s fast food participation. But if two characters needs, they begin to develop a relationship and then perhaps suddenly, one of them is inexplicably not there anymore. Well, now the audience brain is going all Why aren’t they there? everyone in the audience is coming up with different solutions to that problem. However, they are absolutely engaged in the piece and becoming part of the story themselves. And they’ll either get surprised to find out they’ve made the right choice or they’ll get the same jolly as the other type of show Bye, bye. They’ll get surprised sorry to find that they it wasn’t the right choice, or that can congratulate themselves. They did make the same choices, the improvisers and even more specifically, at the end of the show in the foyer, instead of their conversation being Well, that was fantastic. Anyway, baby sitters are coming soon, so we better get home. The conversation is new, she left him because of his affair with with the so and so on. No, no, no. Why she left him was because of that job in Europe, or, and, and so people will stick around and talk about the theater in the same way that they would with a play that would be considered considered of critical acclaim. So you can put on sometimes are referred to as the difference between In Hollywood and cans, if you like just a stylistic difference, you know, in a Hollywood blockbuster, we’re going to tidy up the end, probably even give you an epilogue, make sure you knew exactly what happened and how it went. And you’ll be able to go home, safe and tired and not have to think about that show again, other than to say I had a great time at it. Or you can watch some weird European thing that just suddenly it’s finished, where was the end, but you might talk about it with your friends for three hours afterwards, before you can think about going to sleep. So I think I think that way, when I think about the audience,
with the students, my I absolutely agree with you my favorite class. In fact, I think it’s my last personal posts on Facebook, the class, I look forward to more than any other. And I’m generally teaching myself four classes a week and different levels. Even when I’m just here at home as I now need to be. Yeah, that beginners class is the first one, the one I really look forward to more than anything else. However, the way I’ve taught, introductory improv has changed markedly over the years in, in, in my approach, chiefly mindset wise. So I spend a lot more time teaching beginners about the mindset concepts. Say that so that I guess they’re they’re getting, you know, indoctrinated or hypnotized into the right frame of mind, they don’t need to, you can teach the rules of a game or an exercise and repeat it as often as you lie. There’s a big difference between knowing concepts, you know, most of our concepts are super simple, and they really simple concept. The problem is not understanding the logic of a concept. The problem with these mindset concept is that you don’t believe they will work for you. Because there’s, there’s something not good enough about you as a human to be able to, to achieve it. So if you teach them mindset, a bit more, a bit more focus on the mindset, so that people actually believe and have had demonstrated to them, yes, this concept works. And I can do this concept. Well, you can teach them the rules to any game and they’ll succeed at it straight up. But you can teach them 100 games, and if their mindset is, right, I wouldn’t do any of them.
But I tell them, my students, when they’re like, Oh, I don’t know if I can do this. I’m like, I always say this, I said, this is a natural ability that you have, it’s, it’s there, you just don’t have a right now, because you’re an adult, and the world and everything has gotten your way between you and your natural state of play. So like, you can’t tell me that you can’t do it, because I can guarantee like 1,000% that you have. And, and so you just need to find a way to slough off the, you know, all of the, oh, I don’t know if I can do this that you’ve developed since you turned 13. And all these hormones were like, let’s go in there and mess up this body. And then and and so, you know, I tried to give them that reassurance, so that when they do it, I’m like, I’m like, it may take a while I also go listen, you might not feel like you like got it by the end of our class, like the end of the full course. And that’s alright. It is inherent in you and you just need to keep working on it to like, open the door to like, keep, you know, keep scrubbing, and you’ll be able to reveal. Oh my goodness, did you guys know that this was red paint on the inside? Oh my god, you know, like, it’s there. So just, you know, wait and keep working and you’ll get there.
That’s my guess. And different different aspects are there for for different people. So, oh, who knows how many skill sets that we have have all mindset concepts, let’s say 10 or they could be any number. Let’s go with 10. It’s, it’s apart from perhaps a couple of super basics. You’re in the accepting offers department and so on. Apart from some real super basics in most of the skills and most of the mindset concepts that that we teach, regardless of what school we’re coming from, if there were 10 of them, if, if you do any three of them quite well, you’re going to look good, right? So if you compare yourself, if you compare yourself to other people all the time, you always see what they’ve got that you haven’t. So you can be an exceptionally good improviser. Without being able to mind getting out of a box or even convince anyone that you’re holding a cup of tea. You can I advise improving your physical skills, we can work on that. But you can get by as an improviser, without being able to sing in tune, you can, you can be extremely good with a sample of, of the skills required, and that we’re all diverse, and that we’re going to have different qualities to each other. So I like to do, I like to do exercises that show that people are thinking differently, and then say to them, and this is good, we’re not trying to teach you to think in any homogenized way. Other than perhaps, there may be more than this. But the thing one that I say is, we are, what we do want you all to believe and understand and be comfortable with is that the person that you are working with, and the next person and the next person, think differently to you. And that’s great. So you’re constantly going to come up against different minds, if all we could all get as a skill is that we accept the way that any different sort of person might think, as a as a, you know, great possibility of a way to think we’re going to be fine. One of the hallmarks of my favorite improvisers around the world is, of course, in any beginners, sorry about this next statement, but they are more useful offers than athletes, you know, you are kind of always right. But some offers are more inspirational to some people than others. And when you watch really great improvisers, you cannot detect that. There, what happens on stage was just the last thing that happened. And there’s no detectable difference in their their ability to take that offer and to deal with it. It might be more or less useful in some sort of measurable way. They don’t care. It’s the offer that happened. And that’s what they’re using and continuing with. If, if every improviser could just get that mindset, for example, that everything would be very easy on stage to do is this battle, that our thoughts are different to other people always worry that our thoughts aren’t good enough. That stops us doing almost any, any show. Oh, yeah, for example, I can’t speak a lot of almost any foreign language. But the last language, the last place that I worked, just before lockdown was in France, I did a two hour narrative long form with with two wonderful French guys, and I don’t speak French and it was fine. It’s, it’s not it’s not a requirement that you have the skills that the particular skill sets that you think you need to have. It’s a requirement that you are comfortable enough to go with the flow.
Oh, what an extreme example. I like that that was solid right there. Oh, man, it’s
quite quite common. I’ve noticed in the European festivals now, I’d say most of the festivals I’ve been to Recently, there will be some sort of show in the program to illustrate this point, where they have got their main guests from different countries together and it will be some sort of language based show maybe not as extreme as that example. But it will be something like okay, each of the guests will introduce a scene and the rule is they can never speak in their own language or it will be you know, some some component that shows that the top performers do not need to understand what the other people are saying to achieve a good result. I mean, yeah, we we already know this is true. I mean, which what improv groups do you know who don’t use jibberish? It’s, it’s it just creates a different set of parameters to work with. And we fool ourselves that so many things are problems. We need to pull out the idea that challenges a problems. There are opportunities, there’s like mistakes or opportunities. Oh, I don’t know how to do that. Here’s my chance to do a great show. Oh, man,
what a What a great point. I really appreciate that. Man. We this has been such a great conversation. I feel like I’m getting like a, like a personal masterclass. Well, except for that. I’m going to publish it on the internet. And then everybody gets this awesome little masterclass from you. It’s been very great to chat with you, Matthew.
Good to talk to you, too.
Oh, good. I’m so glad. I’m so glad you’re having a good time. That’s all I want to do. One, one more question I wanted to ask you is where where in your life? Did you find the inspiration to do this? And not just like to start a festival but like, What got you into improv? Like, what led you into that? It seems like you’ve done a lot of, you know, theatrical stuff in your life. You’re very much a performer throughout, but like you very much locked into improv, what was the thing or the moment where you were like, Oh, my God, this is my thing.
Yeah, so I certainly it’s not the moment I started in profits. I mean, it was just like, like, I’d been performing for for a long time, it was more of a musician. When I first left school, though, I did have theater experience as well. And, and then musical theater took over and then scripted theater took over and then eventually, you know, with all the things we do as, as the survival the other parts of the industry, that by the time you get to my age you’ve had to do or enjoy doing, I should say, very lucky. So I was introduced to improv just by another theater based friend who said, Listen, I’m trying out this Do you want to come and join me it was was no massive inspiration to, to join. And in fact, we started a little branch in the then somewhat regional area of quite close to Sydney, really, but somewhat regional area that I was in for a couple of years, and I enjoyed it, but I enjoyed it a lot. But I wouldn’t say it was hawked In fact, I went back to more scripted theater, just through opportunity. But when I, when it came down here to Canberra and started up something here, the difference, I have to say, is the change that it made in people’s lives. So I’ve always been someone who was extremely interested in, in the theatrical component, trying to make great performances and so on. But, but just the more it went on, and, I mean, it’s largely hobbyists that will take classes in in this town more than people who will become full time professionals. Then doing it for a wide range of reasons. But to actually have a job where most days you go and do something and someone reports to you some positive development in their life because of the the mode that you’ve been lucky enough to become a teacher in, you know, it’s not necessarily the person the teacher, it’s, it’s this art of interaction that we’ve broken down and analyze that we can help people be able to communicate more effectively, more confidently with more authenticity, with more self belief. That is, that is the art of inspiration of improvisation, which allows people to do a great job onstage, but also affects them offstage. And when you do a job that people report positive benefits in their life offstage most days that you go to work. How could you leave that gets that it gets that joy, that feeling that you’ve got a job is worthwhile. So that’s the thing that I can’t leave. I’d have to say, beyond the theater. Yeah. Wow, that’s
so amazing what a great way to have been able to take that in, you know, I mean, I know, we’re, it’s tough when, you know, sometimes you’re like, Oh, I guess I’m just a theater teacher, but it is so great that you have found this way to look at it, you know, such that, you know, you get to help people and give them, you know, more confidence that is, so, such a great way to look at how this whole thing goes. And a great way to keep you in. When it gets, you know, really tough. It’s like, Okay, this is tough for me, I’ll give you that. But I’m gonna stick with it, because of all the people that it seems to help. And that’s just, that’s just killer. Great. So
yeah, yeah, it’s a it’s a very, very lucky thing to find. And there’s always room for more of it. So I mean, I encourage anyone, anyone listening who is looking for a pathway? Well, yes, there’s a very strong chance that you’re not going to retire to the Bahamas on this. However, if, if you authentically approach learning to share this, this craft, and when I say authentically, I mean, a desire to grow the craft and your own skills in the craft more than a desire to just have, you know, a successful company and audience appeal and so on. you approach it as your own journey in that regard, you will get really good job satisfaction out of it. So, it’s, it’s a worthwhile path. And, and I think it’s going to be more and more and more needed in this. What’s going to be you know, overly cautious COVID and post COVID world so let’s all get out there and bring people closer together again.
Absolutely. Oh, Nick, thank you so much for being on the podcast. I really appreciate it.
Thank you. I mean, it’s a pleasure to talk to you and I really hope I can get to Austin some time I hear wonderful things about the scene down there and the city too is obviously quite a vibrant city that I haven’t been to yet so be very keen to see what goes on in Austin.
Definitely and it is a vibrant improv town maintain middly still holding strong so I think that they would really love it to have somebody is accomplished and great as you to come in so awesome. As soon as we can travel it’s happening guys.
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