“I like the idea of people coming together through improv.” | Steve Roe on launching Hoopla’s improv course online

Tell us about your online improv classes.

They run every Monday to Thursday evening, 7pm – 9pm, and Saturdays 2pm – 4pm. They cost £10 and booking is at www.HooplaImpro.com. They take place over Zoom, a video chat app, and we send out the link just before it starts.

They are loads of fun. It’s about 10 people per class and we start with some get to know you games before going through fundamentals of improv like listening, ‘yes and…’ (collaboration) and saying the first thing that comes to you.

We then play loads of show games that you would usually see on stage but we have designed for online, such as DJs hosting a radio phone in, a film being dubbed by different actors, and even an entirely improvised multi-channel version of Netflix. 

What kind of techniques do you cover in your course?

Lots. The first step, more than our real life workshops, is getting over the awkwardness. Nobody wants to be in lockdown, but we are going to make the most of it while we are. So the first step is to break the ice and help people get to know each other. We use the breakout rooms feature of Zoom to help do this quickly.

After that the main techniques we cover in the online classes are listening, to fully understand the other actor’s offer. We then move on to something called Yes And, which is all about accepting and building on ideas and very good at connecting people together.

After that we look at having fun with making mistakes and getting things wrong, and having no fear of saying the first thing that comes to you. Then session by session we cover other key topics like character, voice, story, games, scenes and more.

What are the main steps you’re taking to adapt your work to the new circumstances?

We spent about a week before we started online practicing with our teachers and going through everything game by game seeing how it could work over zoom. Most games had a solution.

For instance on the real stage it’s really obvious who is on stage and who is off stage, on zoom we can recreate that by having all videos off apart from the actors on-stage. Then if someone’s video comes on it shows they are entering the stage.

Gradually actors started to use these features and experiment with them, for instance when someone put their video on it was revealed they had run around their house and made an entire costume to make an entrance with. 

What is your advice for maintaining mental wellbeing during this time?

Big question! I don’t know. People are going through some really tough times at the moment with loss of work, financial problems and worrying about family health.

I don’t think improv fixes that, it just offers a couple of hours to have a break from it and have fun in the present moment. I think if possible try to exercise each day and eat healthily.

But overall, I don’t know, things are really tough and I think we’re all going through a grief period over the loss of what we all had planned for this year. 

How do you think taking courses like yours can help people cope with being cooped up indoors?

I think they offer socialising, fun, games and meeting new people when it would be otherwise impossible to do those things right now. Hoopla was founded on bringing people together and although now we can’t do that physically, we are still trying to do that online. Most of all it’s about having a laugh again.

I was feeling nothing but dread when lockdown got announced for theatres, I’m really worried about work, but running the classes meant I was able to have a laugh in the middle of it all and has been a huge stress reliever. 

Do you think new initiatives like this will influence the way people learn new skills when the pandemic is over?

Yes. I think there was a gradual move to online learning anyway. I think people were less inclined for instance to give up one year of work to do an MBA in a different town, but more inclined to find specific training that could fit in around their work in clever ways. I think this pandemic has accelerated that trend.

I don’t think online will replace real work training, but it will run alongside it. In addition to our drop-ins we are creating now long-term online training that will be up on our website forever more, which gives us potential to reach a worldwide audience not just our local London audience.

This gives us the chance to genuinely bring improv to everyone. 

Do you think it’s possible you’ll continue with your online courses when the pandemic is over?

Yes. We had someone from Portugal and someone from Canada in last night’s session. We wouldn’t have been able to reach them without it and I like the idea of people coming together through improv. 

Do you have any recommendations for other entertainment or online learning while people are stuck at home?

Our friends The Maydays and The Nursery are also running online improv and doing a great job.

On Hoopla’s website, we also have a resources section with loads of improv games written up that you could play with family at home. 

You can find out more about Hoopla and sign up to their online improv classes on their website.

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