How to talk less in improvisation – a Poem

One of the first questions people ask when they find out I am an improviser is ‘What happens if you can’t think of anything to say?’ As if saying things is the most important part.

And it’s true: some improvisers tend to conflate how much dialogue one creates with how much one was ‘in’ the scene. Like they were cast in a play and, because they were given only a few written lines, thought their role wasn’t important. But I believe that in improv, the person not speaking can be the most important person on stage. They are the listener, the receiver, the one with the power to react. 

I love it when this happens in scripted film and theatre. For example:

In “No Country for Old Men”, Javier Bardem’s character silently intimidates a gas station attendant with just his menacing presence and the flip of a coin. The tension in the scene is palpable.

In “Lost in Translation”, when Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray’s character share a wordless goodbye at the end of the film. Their silent exchange speaks volumes about their connection and the bittersweet nature of their parting. 

In “Killing Eve”, Jodie Comer plays an enigmatic and multilingual assassin. Throughout the series, she often conveys extremely complex emotions silently, from moments of intense violence to vulnerable glimpses of her character’s humanity.

So, when teaching, I’ll often coach players to pause, and just to talk less. But that can create make people look worried or bored! Or like they are just waiting to say a thing that they had already thought of. 

Lord knows I’ve been in, and watched, improv that had a lot of talking but somehow nothing of any significance was said.

So here’s a little poem I wrote for those of us who sometimes struggle to find the quieter side of improv:


‘Shut up’ (Or how to talk less in improv’)


Stop talking. 
Focus outward.
On your partner, on the audience, on the environment, on the sounds in the room.
Focus inward.
How do you feel? How does your character feel? 
Take the emotional punch
Feel the souls of your feet on the ground. Notice how you are standing or sitting.
Express yourself using your face.
Express yourself using your body.
Is there something you need to say? Enjoy not saying it.
Want to say it. Long to say it. Be desperate to say it. Don’t say it.
Reach out
Look at the other person on stage. Look at their face, look at their eyes, look in their eyes if you can.
Connect with them.
Land in the moment.
Take the emotional punch.
Be still.


I hope this helps. And if you still don’t believe me I recommend checking out the following silent improv troupes, all of which uses silence in completely different ways:

ShhhI The Improvised Silent Movie (from Italy)

Speechless (from Canada and Colombia)

Hair me out (from the UK)

I hope to not speak to you soon!

Getting emotional

Confession: I’m a very emotional person. Watching my 2 year old son trying to blow seeds off a dandelion makes me squeal in delight. Trying to insert a signature into a PDF will make me fly into a rage. A grey haired sweet old dog shuffling slowly along in the park during their last days and clearly adored by it’s owner will bring a tear to my eye.

So yeah, I’m emotional. I have been told this all my life. The negative version; drama queen, attention seeker, too much. The positive version; sensitive, empathic, not afraid to express yourself.

Also, if you didn’t know, I’m British. Let’s face it, we Brits have a somewhat complicated relationship with our emotions. In thinking about this article I came across this report by The Social Issues Research Centre all about the emotional state of our nation. TLDR – we’re not very good at expressing ourselves. As a highly expressive person in a mostly buttoned down and ‘stiff upper lip’ culture I don’t always go down well!

But whatever you think, this sure has been a gift for me as an improviser. Put emotion into a scene and everything flows from there. Have an emotional reaction to anything and something is already happening. An expected reaction or an unexpected one, it doesn’t matter. If your character feels and cares, it’s likely that the audience will too.

The trouble with being an improv teacher who is also a very emotional person however, is that it’s not that easy to teach something you do so unconsciously. Joe Samuel, the improv musician I work with most, has perfect pitch. So when he is training up other improvising musicians there is a whole section of their experience of learning that he is not able to identify or help with. Unless of course they are lucky enough to have perfect pitch too. I wonder if this is similar for me and explaining my feelings about feeling. Perhaps I have perfect pitch when it comes to playing the emotional keyboard.

That being said, over the years I’ve tried to learn the best I can to teach the thing I do most and know the least about how I do it. So here’s a few ways of improvising with emotion.

Name It

If you’ve ever been in therapy (heyo) you’ll know that one thing you’re encouraged to do is name your feelings. Like many things in therapy (a whole other blog by the way) this is also great advice for improv. But what if you don’t know how to do that? What other emotions are there other that happy, sad and angry?

A tool I’ve used a lot is the emotions wheel. There are lots of varying versions of this available online but the one below is a well known one used by psychologists (and now improvisers) to help people identify their feelings.

Pick an emotion, start a scene and see where it goes. This is also good for getting really specific with your choices. Don’t play happy, play peaceful. Don’t play Angry, play resentful etc. If it’s really challenging, you can start in the areas you find easy and work round. If emotion is not a thing you do in improv ever you might want to layer this on top of all your improv exercises for a while, get it into your muscle memory. So even if you’re working on something more technical like edits or game of the scene or narrative, you can still add some emotion in there.

Show it

‘This is all very well’ I hear you cry, but how? Luckily many great people have many great resources on this. A couple here:

Nice article on breaking emotions down into physical actions like breathing and posture. Perhaps extra useful for teachers when sidecoaching. So rather than say ‘be more sad’ you might say ‘sigh, turn away, move slowly.’ More and better examples are in the article.

Along similar lines the late great Keith Johnstone also has a lovely concept of fast food Stanislavsky. Rather than purely physical actions, these are lists of behaviours that all add up to a larger motivation e.g to appear happy and contented with everything = Indulge yourself (chocolates, drinks, etc.), pet an animal, dance, sing. Again, tons more at the link below.

Also, as above, pick an emotion, try it on, stretch it around. I find status is often taught on a 1 to 10 scale but I find this useful for emotion work too. If you’re required to have a huge emotional reaction you could start at level 1 and work your way up to 10, especially if having a big explosion is not something you ever do.

Do It

I know there are tons of improv games and exercises that use emotions but here are a few of my all-time favourites.

Emotion swap

Two characters start a scene with contrasting emotions e.g. a guilty student and an angry teacher during detention. The scene ends when they have swapped emotions. Can be a slow journey or a sudden flip. Play around with it.


One player is given a gesture e.g. polishing their glasses, the other an emotion e.g. despair. Starting the scene from neutral emotion, every time the first person polishes their glasses, the other sinks deeper into despair.

Emotional rollercoaster

Get a location, start a scene, and an outside director calls out a series of different emotions. The players keep changing how they feel but justify why in the scene. For a show, the audience can suggest emotions.

It’s Tuesday

Players stand in a circle. One walks over to another using their walk and expression and noises to convey an attitude or emotion. They stop in front of someone across from them

Person a: It’s Tuesday

Person b: It’s Tuesday and you are feeling x (name emotion) because y (a specific reason)

Person b then continues around the circle.

On the second round the players mirror each other and the dialogue becomes

Person a: It’s Tuesday

Person b: It’s Tuesday and WE’RE feeling x (name emotion) because y (a specific reason)

These can continue into short scenes

Emotional overreaction

One person says the most boring line of dialogue they can think of. The other goes to 11 on the emotion amplifier. Can be an unexpected reaction or expected. Can be a quick 2 line scene drill or a scene start. Always funny or surprising, every time.

So there we have it. I hope you’ve enjoyed my journey through emotions and improv. Now please excuse me, I’m off to happy-cry at a youtube video of Otters holding hands.

We have a new syllabus!

Before I tell you about the new syllabus we are creating, let me share some of the most wonderful improv scenes I have witnessed. In no particular order: ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’, ‘Chris fails to go back in time’, ‘Pick up the letter!’, ‘the Death of the Queen’s Consort’, ‘Two Other Bears’, ‘a Method Director’, ‘Tene mi Brache’, ‘Lots and lots of moxy and a twelve inch dick’, and ‘Proust improvised by those who haven’t read him’. Just a few without thinking much about it. Now, unless you were there for any of them, that list probably didn’t make much sense. It almost certainly wasn’t very fun. Because improv is a very wasteful artform. However beautiful, hilarious, spine-tingling or just plain satisfying these scenes were, they have now passed into the ether, reduced to a memory fragment I struggle to explain the joy of, a story that can (at best) be nodded along to. It’s one of the reasons cooperation in improv can be so challenging. Unless you were there, you weren’t there (man). The most enthusiastic description can only communicate so much.

But what does this have to do with the new syllabus?

Our aim in rewriting the syllabus is not to define the best form of improv, but create a set of habits and ideas that a community can form around. Just because a restaurant specilises in sushi, doesn’t mean the chef hates roasts or thinks fried rice is morally suspect. But you can’t git gud if you keep changing everything. Of course there are many other ways to make things up, but like the rifle in ‘Full Metal Jacket’, this is ours.

So what will the AndAlso style be? Well, we’re working that out, piece by piece. It’s not an instant process and it wouldn’t be interesting if it were. Our influences are the connectedness and group work of iO, the physical boldness of Carpe Haute and Teatribu, the unselfish selfishness of the Annoyance, the rigour of Razowsky, the sheer infectious delight of Jill Bernard. Oh, and the professionalism of the Showstoppers, the relentless open-eyed curiosity of PGraph (and the Hideout Theatre in general), and the freeform sugar-rush of Improv Boston. I could add and add to that list. Heather and I get enthusiastic about things, and we want them all to be part of what we do. It’s a fault and we’re working on it. But as we start running shows and jams, this hodge-podge will boil down into something clearer, less cerebral. In time, things should just start to feel AndAlso-ish.

With all this in mind, we are doubling (you heard that right) the length of our courses to twelve weeks, running in line with the school terms (including a week off for half term). We believe staying together for longer periods of time will build group trust and a shared vocabulary. A plan for a six-level system, means a core syllabus of two years, with teams and advanced classes after that. It’s ambitious, but we don’t expect to do it faster than it can be done. At the moment, we are building the ‘how’ and trusting that the ‘what’ will come.

There is, of course, a danger that all this feels like gatekeeping. A Doomsday cult with T-shirts. (Improv and Scientology are very amusingly elided in a few episodes of Bojack Horseman – you should watch them.) But our syllabuses will not be hard-edged prescriptive. Our aim is to be an inspiration, not a straitjacket. Something that creates just enough agreement for us to work together, always with space for what the teacher brings and what the students love. And to make sure our students get a range of points of view, we will be rotating teachers every term and welcoming guest improvisers from across the world. Heather and I will run the company but never assume that we have all the answers. The balance that is the very origin of the AndAlso name.

(For anyone worried about the affordability of longer courses, we are making fees payable in installments and dropping the concessionary rate to half of the full rate. We will also be making scholarship places bookable on the site without any application process. We have to keep the lights on, but we know money is tight for a lot of people. Again, balance.)

It would be easy here to get lost in the decisions and improvements we have made and want to make. I am excited about them and the details are, in the end, the design. But the heart of it all is this: In any art, you have to build your taste. To see and do enough that you can distinguish between what you do not like, and what is not good. It would be naive to pretend that Heather and my taste will not be a big part of how we build the new school. At least at the beginning. But as we grow, it will create an eco-system (as I wrote in my last blog), where improvisers are able to collect their own best-of lists. This (people will say) is the kind of thing they do there. In the end, it will come from everyone.

Below is the first draft of our level flow, clumsy over-precise titles and all. There is more work to be done on it (especially the titles), and a lot more work to be done on the syllabuses themselves. I present it here so you know where we are. This is where we are.

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How to Speak to Humans – Part 1

This week, I was lucky enough to attend the 2nd annual edition of Acteon’s ‘Speak to the Human’ conference. Acteon are a consultancy that do all kinds of interesting and innovative things. Like creating a health and safety campaign for Channel 4 which was also a Barry-White-style music video. They contacted Joe and I last year because they had wanted to create a piece of music that would capture the spirit of their conference. I knew immediately that I was going to like these people.

When we explained that we could improvise songs live on the day live in response to what was happening, there was some disbelief and (I think fair to say) distrust. However, after some reassurance that I have done this once or twice before (In the West End with The Showstoppers, concept albums with Fred Deakin of Lemon Jelly, and of course The Maydays’ Happily Never After), Acteon took a leap and let us bring the music. 

As the title of the conference was ‘Speak to the Human’, we wanted to show the power of music to do just that. This is a subject very dear to my heart. From when we were very young, my Dad would record songs intros onto a cassette so we could play ‘Name that tune’ in the car. That love and curiosity have always stayed with me. I see life events through the lense of music; heartbreaks and triumphs have a song attached*. I hear conversations musically, looking for changes in dynamic and rhythm, trying to find my place in the orchestra, not dominating or disappearing. And having done so much musical improv means that I sometimes imagine an underscore in some real-life situations. Music, and the language of music, is everywhere for me. Not just what I do, but in the way I see the world. 

Back to this year’s conference. With the audience, we reimagined the James Bond theme as a Nursery Rhyme and the Shake’n’Vac jingle as thrash metal. Later in the day, we transformed people’s group work into a mini-musical, and then rounded off proceedings with a song based on the delegates’ word cloud of the day. It left me with lots of food for thought about how I might continue to use music to speak to the human and how music speaks to me. 

(It also reminded me that after last year’s conference, I had a conversation with public speaker and improviser Steve Bustin. Steve had the great idea of doing an audio ‘audit’ (an audio-it?) for organisations; what do people hear when they walk into your building? What’s your hold music? What’s the acoustic like in your regular meeting room? We’ll come back to that.)

Part 2 of this blog will explore this year’s conference theme ‘Harnessing Disruption and Navigating Change – which I believe improvisers know one or two things about.


*Below is a short selection from the soundtrack of my life. In no way is this comprehensive (a full list would be weeks long).


Bobby’s Girl – Susan Maughan

Grandma Jean Urquhart singing while cooking. She had a belief that pop music wasn’t real music but made an exception for this song.

Woodpeckers from Space – Videokids

Saturday afternoon Scotland living room dancing and thinking this song was the funniest thing ever.

Captain Dread – Dreadzone

School Camping Trips. Dorset, always Dorset. Once I peed in my tent and didn’t tell anyone.

Teardrop – Massive Attack

Late teen late night after parties from raving in Sussex Fields. Mind altering substances may or may not have been involved.

Pitseleh – Elliott Smith

A painful break up that I thought I’d never recover from. Tried to escape by running off to Japan and this was the only album I had to listen to on my mp3 player.

Wraith Pinned to the Mist and other games – Of Montreal

Living above pub days with my friend Matt. Lord Kitchener also gets an honourable mention here.

One of those days – The Electric Soft Parade

Fondly remember singing on this track and doing a live session for BBC Radio 6 #humblebrag

I hope that I don’t fall in love with you – Tom Waits

The song that I listened to when Jules and I were getting together.

Something Stupid – Trashpour4

The song I listened to after Jules and I got together

Fancy – Iggy Azalea

We listened to this at bathtime every night for the first year of Iggy’s life. I’m pretty good at the rap now.

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Slugs, change and what to expect in the next year

After our announcement last week, I got quite a few emails. Some were requests, some ideas, some questions. And quite a few were asking me how I approach the slug problem. 

Let me explain. On the patio, I have a little germination greenhouse where, too early and too enthusiastically, I planted trays of kale, herbs, leaves, and lettuces. They came up nicely, got planted out and then almost disappeared to the slugs in a short, distressing week. Walking back up from my evening class in the office, I would pick a fresh crop of slugs, dispose of them, and find the same an hour later. As Iggy would say, “Daddy sad.”

So I went to war. I strimmed the grass, I surrounded the beds with herb plants. I sprayed two litres of strong coffee around. I put down slug pellets and beer traps. A short Google will give you many ways to repel the slimy little beggars. The evidence is thin and contradictory, but the principles seem sound. Give them fewer places to hide, fill the garden with things they dislike, and, where necessary, murder them. Try many things, but never assume you know which one is working. 

Last night as I walked up from the office late, I shone my phone torch onto the raised beds. Not a slug in sight. The Chinese kale is growing pretty high. The rocket is recovering, the mixed leaf ready to harvest. I am feeling more confident about planting out my squashes and cucumbers. It seems I have won.

But neat though that is, it is not the end. I am anticipating a summer of tomato blight, powdery mildew, aphids, drought, and persuading a two-year-old to not eat that. Because a garden will never do exactly what you want it to do. Your carefully researched measure will fail or succeed completely independent of how much work it took. And a new problem will appear just as you master the old. It’s an ecosystem that you are a part of, not a puppet you control. Often the next step will emerge not from your brain, but from what is there. Some things will grow that you never expected to, some things will refuse to. Humbleness must be constantly refreshed. 

And that’s how Heather and I want to approach the expansion of AndAlso’s classes and the new relationship with the Maydays. Both in Brighton and online. With energy, sure, but also with humbleness. Anyone who has ever met us will know that we are not short of ideas. Date night descends into a brainstorming meeting and a beer after class will have us scribbling notes. We’re going to try a bunch of things, see what grows, and accept that some plants just don’t like the climate. So below you will find ten things which we plan to do over the next year. I expect six or seven of them will happen.

  1. A new syllabus for Brighton classes
  2. Experienced player classes
  3. A Brighton scenework drop in 
  4. An expansion of online classes
  5. More retreats and intensives for people not in Sussex
  6. Blogs and podcasts
  7. A Brighton venue (more on that very soon)
  8. A jam night
  9. Weekly themes for drop ins
  10. That thing you suggest at our survey right here
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An announcement about the future

Hello. This is an announcement from AndAlso and The Maydays

This is a statement from the Maydays and AndAlso Improv. We are two companies with a lot of crossover, in our aims and our people. We love improv, as an art form and as a form of self development. In fact, the founders of And Also met as members of the Maydays. Improv can be a small world like that. AndAlso and the Maydays have been talking for the past few months and we’re really excited to tell you all about it. So, here’s the plan. Starting very soon, AndAlso will be taking on the education side of the Maydays. The Maydays will remain a performance company, free to concentrate on their award-winning shows.

The Maydays started in a room above a pub, and a lot has happened since then. The Brighton improv scene has become one of the most vibrant and exciting in the UK. The Maydays have expanded from a drop-in started by John Cremer – still going almost 20 years later – to a community of classes and residentials, performing at international festivals and packed Fringe runs, and a residency at the Komedia in Brighton. And that’s just the things achieved by the company itself. Individual company members and alumni have become actors, writers and speakers, as well as parents and dog owners. We want to celebrate all this history, while continuing to evolve, and saying yes to the opportunities ahead. That is a core part of the improv ethos, after all. 

By comparison, AndAlso is a tiny baby. It came out of the community around Heather and Jules’ online classes during the pandemic. Then there was a retreat for the people who had only met as faces on a screen. It didn’t even have a name until the middle of last year, or a website until December. But as Heather and Jules were directors of the Maydays and the Nursery respectively during their collaboration (one of the largest globally during the pandemic), we think our students are in good hands.

This change is a clarification and re-focussing. It is a commitment to the ambition of both companies, and to finding ways to support each other, have great fun and do great work. The Maydays will focus on continuing to be the improv performance company you know and love. AndAlso will be an education company. Simple as that. For shows: The Maydays. For classes and training: AndAlso. You’ll see the familiar Mayday faces teaching for AndAlso, as well as some new ones. This separation is simpler and clearer and will allow the two companies to progress and improve, providing more and better classes and shows for you, the very people reading this.

This arrangement will take full effect in September, but you will start to see changes well before then. Not every detail is finalised (how could it be?). So we’ll be looking to you over the coming months and years to be a part of it. Please tell us what we’re getting right and wrong. But, for now, thanks for reading. And if you have any questions or something you would like to say, you can of course contact us on either or Or both.

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Allow us to introduce ourselves

Hello. We are Heather and Jules, and this is Andalso, an improv company just emerging, blinking, into the light. There is a website now and even a Facebook page. Those things in themselves feel huge to us. Vulnerable.

Informally, some version of AndAlso has been around for maybe a couple of years. We never intended to start a company. We just had some people who wanted to take classes with us, a couple of Zoom accounts and a tendency to start sentences with ‘What if.’ Until very recently, it wasn’t even really called anything. It laboured under clumsy names like ‘Experienced Players Classes’, ‘Jules and Heather’s secret improv club’ and ‘those courses we do’. Names are hard, and we started saying ‘AndAlso’ mostly to save ourselves the linguistic gymnastics. But then we started liking it. It’s simple, and says what we do: Add things to things and see what happens, 

In my teens, I wanted to be an academic. As a bookish kid, it seemed like the obvious choice. Luckily, university set me straight, with the reality of long days in the library, and the realisation that I was just not quite smart enough. But as we have been running classes, it has become clearer to me why I had that ambition, and how I can live a little bit of it without ever having to find the Phd funding.

It goes something like this: An academic does not have one job, but two. To learn what she does not know and share what she does. To research and to teach, to find and to share. There is often not a hard and fast distinction between these two things, but both impulses are strong, and rely on each other to power and justify themselves. 

As an improv teacher, it is delightful to hone and perfect what works. There are some exercises and classes where I almost have a script. I even use the same examples. I am proud of the precision of that. Like sharpening a knife to an almost invisible point. But as a restless neophile, I don’t want to just become more narrow. I want to make things hard on myself, to set myself problems I have to solve. Narrative masters PGraph design shows to explore what they believe they are doing less well. I respect that, and emulate it.

There is a careful, shifting balance to be struck here. How do we use and share our skills without fetishising them? And how do we embrace new ways to play while still prioritising quality? Like all questions of balance, there is not a grand, unified answer to this question, but a constant shifting and compensation. A search for the just-right porridge of honesty. 

So I guess that’s what we want to do, to poke and prod, to pull the levers of improvisation and see what happens. And also to share what we have learned and what we have not yet worked out. One thing AndAlso the other. Hello. We are AndAlso. Good to meet you. 

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