This is a huge step for the UK improv theatre scene.
It’s one of those tidbits of trivia that at least a few people wouldn’t be privvy to: there isn’t actually a full-time improv theatre anywhere in the UK right now. There are plenty of improv theatre companies but no improv theatres; we’re a travelling mass-band of artistic missfits.
The BIT, or The Bristol Improv Theatre, is as their name suggests. Like a lot us they aim to produce, curate and educate with improv with the wider population. These are the folks aiming to build the theatre.
Paving the Way
By going through the testing endeavour of planning a structural development, securing investment and procuring funding, and then opening and running the theatre, they’re putting the rest of us in a position to learn from them. They will have already done much of the research and made a lot of the mistakes. What this means is that it will be easier for the rest of us to try and accomplish this very same endeavour later down the line in our own neighbourhoods.
But what’s most important—right now—is that we support this project. If they succeed we all succeed, so throw all of your hard earned money at them.
Having a theatre means that all of the resources are dedicated to the art of improv. It has the potential to play a part in raising the profile of the craft in a similar way that The Second City did stateside and in the same way that the Comedy Store did for stand-up.
A theatre, a physical structure dedicated to improv gives the craft that much more legitimacy and control.
Improv comedy isn’t very well known at all, not in the UK, not compared to its comedy cousin, stand-up, and its comedy sibling, sketch. Most non-artsy (and often some artsy) people’s knowledge of improv comedy is from a TV show that started almost 3 decades ago. We’re lucky to even have that, without that we’d have no point of reference for describing our craft to people who don’t know anything about it. And it’s a difficult thing to describe tersely, though not impossible. A look at some improv company websites (including this one) will often have fairly lengthy descriptions that, while awesome and accurate, are tedious to recite to a tipsy random at a house party (or an acquaintance at a dinner party, if you’re not a yoof like me). As an art it’s far reaching and abstract, which makes it difficult to communicate effectively without taking a specific angle like short-form.
And theatres are also ambassadors. If done right The BIT could bring some much needed attention to all of us, meaning we explain less and perform more. If done wrong I’d like to think The BIT would willingly pass on their experiences to any successor that steps up.
At the moment, in the UK, there’s no clear path to a career in comedy. Some get there through stand-up, some through acting, some through writing sketches for stage and radio and, more recently, some through YouTube. In the US the word alum pops up as a description for a lot of people in television level mainstream comedy, often of some theatre they went to that allowed them to be engulfed in comedy for several years; for those few years they knew nothing else. Because of that they became experts. They got their 10,000 hours. We don’t have such a direct opportunity here. This theatre and future theatres will hopefully provide such opportunities and add further to the comedy industry of the UK.
In this type of environment you can fully immerse yourself in comedy as a craft to be mastered. It’s often said that you don’t have to be funny to do improv comedy, which I reckon is misleading: you don’t have to be funny to learn improv comedy. As you learn more you become funnier as a person because you understand more of what it means to be funny.
Fundamentally, there are a lot of skills you pick up doing improv comedy and a lot of them are extremely transferable. Game of the scene, narrative, truth, character detail and so on. Watch any sitcom, or comedy film or play and you’ll see a lot of these skills in action. By spending a good amount of time in somewhere as “establishment” as a full-time theatre these skills will become second nature and, hopefully, you become a hilarious success.
Making BIT Happen
Make way to the Build The BIT website for even more information.