Jamie, Impro & The Magic Mad Hat

Jamie here with my first posing on The Magic Mad Hat Blog!

I will start by saying that it’s a pleasure to working alongside Gudrun as her trusty assistant, helping run the new Accessible Impro Taster Session!

This is my blog about me, my experiences with Impro and The Magic Mad Hat.
I think a good place to start would be at the very beginning of The Magic Mad Hat itself…

How I came to find Impro

I have known for a while that I wanted to find a new career that could somehow combine my love of performing comedy with helping people in some way.  You could argue that making people laugh alone already helps people as laughter of course cheers people up and enriches their lives, but having had a lot of experience of working with disabled people and being disabled myself and I was interested in ways of bringing these two things together.

Early in 2015 I was on a quest to further my knowledge and experience of performing comedy and I heard about a short four week beginners Impro workshop in my town.  The course was aimed more at people with mild depression or anxiety with the emphasis on how Impro can be used to help manage these conditions by learning to experience being in the moment in a similar way to Mindfulness.  I wanted to attend this course to learn more about Impro, both as a form of self help, and as a form of comedy performance.

As it happened, the course was fully booked!  So, being someone who does not give up easily, I started looking further afield, and discovered that living so close to London was great as there’s a whole Impro scene there!

I browsed various sites on the web to find out more and one of the Impro organizations that jumped out at me (due to its rather eccentric name) was indeed The Magic Mad Hat!

Intrigued, I read more about it, and it turned out that The Magic Mad Hat was a new venture about to be launched by someone called LadyG, an established Impro performer.  I got in touch and she invited me to her launch event in Kentish Town at the Torriano Meeting House.  So a couple of weeks later, me and a friend go along to the inaugural event hosted by LadyG’s new Impro and clowning school…

The Magic Mad Hat was born

Not knowing what quite to expect, and knowing little at this point about Impro, I was feeling open minded but very shy going along to the launch.  It was really great to see that the venue was buzzing with activity, surely reassuring for the organisers too with it being their first event I thought.  IMG_2542

As a total newbie, the launch was great for me as Gudrun and her friends and colleagues (Anthony Noed, Sophie Pumphrey and the Pina Colliders) did a great job in explaining the full depth of Impro comedy…

To kick off, Gudrun treated us all to the inspiring tale of how through Impro and Clowning, her life had changed for the better – and that it was now her mission to spread this to as many new people as she could – hence the reason for creating
The Magic Mad Hat!Antony Noad

After this,  Anthony played an Impro game with the audience – throwing and catching an imaginary ball, then,  Sophie explained how Impro is great for confidence building – explaining that Impro creates a safe environment for one to experiment with being outside of their normal comfort zone. Sophie Pumphrey

So that was the first half, with an emphasis on the self help benefits of Impro – the second half was more focused on some fun demonstrations of Impro as performance art which I think must have been the first time I have ever seen Impro performed live.

It was really interesting to see the contrasts and similarities between a troupe of performers (The Pina Colliders) and solo improvisation (LadyG’s ‘Just Me’ show).  It really was quite fun to have the audience suggest locations and ideas for scenes and then to see the performers make those ideas come alive into a performance that was so natural, it was at times amazing to think they were just making it all up!  Gudrun also did a great job of showing how even a dog and a baby (who both happened to be in the audience) could become part of the show by making them the subject of some of Impro scenes.IMG_2513

So that was my first ever experience of Impro – and The Magic Mad Hat’s first ever event – so looking back now it feels almost like we were on a shared path…

The path actually led to me being very keen to go to The Magic Mad Hat second event the following week – a two hour taster session for complete newbie to see if Impro is indeed for them.  I decided this time to bring along another friend, though initially he wasn’t intending to try Impro…

My first taste…

So the following week I am back in Kentish Town and as it happens, one of my best friends, Jason, lives in there too.

I arranged to hang out with him for a chat before the Mad Hat taster session and I tell him all about this amazing new thing I’ve found about called improvised comedy.  It’s totally the sort of thing he likes to try his hand at, so we end up both going along to the taster session.

Jason doesn’t find some things as accessible as they should be.  He has cerebral palsy, uses a wheelchair, and relies on the assistance of his team of really cool PAs to help him get about, eat, drink, dress etc etc as he is unable to do these sort of things on his own.  Jason is also unable to communicate verbally, so uses a simple yet effective method of communicating – yes and no – using two different facial gestures.

Me, Jason and his PA, went along to the Torriano Meeting house intending that I would say goodbye to them both outside and then attend the taster session alone. But when we got there, Gudrun, Anthony and Sophie were up for the challenge of making Impro as inclusive as possible and Jason jumped at the chance to join in!

It was really cool to see that something that one would often think of as being a very “physical” activity like Impro, is actually so versatile that really anybody can take part – there was a way to include Jason in everyone of the games and scenes we played.  Sophie and Anthony were fantastic, using improvisation itself to actually teach Impro as they adapted things to make sure everyone playing could be part of the fun!

Gudrun had the day off from teaching and took part as a fellow participant – well took part is the wrong way of putting it- she was bouncing all over the room to be frank!  A very energetic person indeed!

We all went away that evening feeling really happy – having spent two hours just being “in the now” forgetting about any troubles that we had and enjoying the positive feelings that just being silly, and letting the fun happen by itself, can bring.

I didn’t know it at the time, but this was to be the start of both a firm friendship with Gudrun, and us combining our talents and experience to find ways to make Impro comedy more accessible to more and more people.  The session with Jason really was the genesis of The Magic Mad Hat’s new Accessible Impro course.

Well, we were all very impressed!  I loved it so much that I didn’t hesitate in signing up for The Magic Mad Hat’s eight-week beginners course, keen as I was to continue learning and I felt confident that despite being a new venture, this was as good as place as any to learn more.

Intro to Impro course

Sophie was our teacher for this course, me and about seven others, plus some more participants who dropped in on the occasional session, all learned together each week, finding out for ourselves what Impro is all about…

I won’t go into too much detail about the course itself (there is plenty of information elsewhere on our website about it) but I would like to point out what was for me, a fundamental part of understanding the essence and the real power of improvisation.

Listening, accepting, in the moment…

It took me about three weeks for this to really hit home with me; Impro is all about listening to your fellow performers and accepting the “reality” they create. When you learn not to over think and just go with their ideas, this is where the magic happens!  Or to put it more concisely – yes…and!

When you listen and just allow yourself to go with whatever brilliant or ridiculous idea or situation your fellow performers have conjured up, this not only makes you feel relaxed and not under any pressure to try and be funny, but it creates an incredible experience for the audience who will see the scene play out in a way that seems not only natural, but totally believable.  Sometimes the audience can even wonder if the scene is actually improvised at all because the performers seem to have no trouble knowing what to say and do next.

For me, this was an area where I had to try and rewire my brain to work differently.  To learn to stop myself from trying to force out a funny or witty line, and to just go with the flow – and that’s another important word “flow” – because when everyone performing in a scene listens and accepts what the other performers create, the scene just starts to flow from person to person without anyone even trying.  The performers create a wonderful show for everyone watching whilst truly being present ‘in the moment’.

So that was my experience of the beginner’s course.  It was a lot of fun and I have so many hysterical and even sobering memories.  It was really great to be able to create fantastical things with a bunch of people I hardly knew.  This again was another insightful thing for me – realizing that it’s possible to be creative with someone without even having to know much about them.  Just let it happen, listen to and encourage each other (even when something goes wrong!) and before you know it, you’ll be surprising yourself by doing things you never knew you could do!

Accessible Impro

So here we are in the now, half a year from the beginning of The Magic Mad Hat. I’ve been given the opportunity to learn and grow while helping bring Impro to more people thanks to my ‘internship’ with The Magic Mad Hat and the new Accessible Impro Taster Session we are organising.

I’m really happy to have found a way of combining two of my passions and at the same time help lots of other people discover a new way to make their lives more fun, enjoyable and meaningful.

I’m looking forward to helping Gudrun give a taste of Impro to my friends from The Outsiders Club (a really cool charity I also work for) and anyone else who wishes to join us – this first of a kind taster session will be taking place at 6pm at the Holborn community Association on Friday the 27th of November – I look forward to seeing you all there!

Jamie Willmott

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