How did you start off in theatre?
As many of us do: in school plays. I did a lot of shows at university, especially improvised comedy shows. Shoot from the Hip was set up soon after and we hit the comedy circuits. Seven years later, we’re improvising to hundreds of audience members, four nights a week in different venues and also running regular workshops on a free/donation basis.
What is the best piece of advice you have for drama students today?
Find ways to perform as much as possible in front of real audiences. Make bold choices and don’t be afraid to embarrass yourself. As Ethan Hawke says, if you’re in the arts and you’re not repeatedly making a fool of yourself, then you don’t deserve to be there.
What would you change about drama training in the UK?
More performance time. More time spent learning about storytelling. More emphasis on the body, improv and spontaneity over intellectualisations on character, emotional memory, etc.
What is the best part of your job?
Improv shows are unique for how much you interact with the audience – you let them shape the stories. It’s wonderfully collaborative.
And your least favourite?
Improvisers aren’t as valued in the UK as in America. Steve Carell, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey and Mike Myers – they were all first and foremost improvisers at [US theatre and training company] the Second City before they became who they are today. However, I think this may be about to change.
Who are the practitioners you most admire?
Keith Johnstone, Michael Chekhov and David Mamet. Every actor should read the book Impro by Johnstone.
What is the one skill every successful actor should have?
Be on time and know your lines. There are few things actors can truly control, but these two you definitely can.
Alexander Jeremy was talking to John Byrne. Full details of regular improv nights and workshops can be found at shootfromthehipcomedy.co.uk