Company Workshop with Mentor, Lee Simpson – Improv and Devising

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After coming back from a very, very short post Edinburgh break, the Zoo got started on our brand new piece ‘The Girl Who Fell in Love with the Moon’. We started to create this piece through a series of workshops, one of which was run by the Zoo’s mentor Lee Simpsons, who is best known as a Comedy Store Player (Paul Murton and Chums) and Artistic Director of ‘Improbable’. This workshop makes up a series of development and training opportunities that The Zoo are currently programming for the team as part of our ongoing growth as emerging artists. Here’s an interview with Zoo animals Liberty and Flo, talking about their experience of Lee’s workshop. 

(We weren’t as miserable as we look in the photo, we promise!)

What were you hoping to achieve from this workshop before you arrived?

Libby: Before going into the workshop I wasn’t particularly sure what I was expecting at all. I knew it would include lots of laughs, as time with the zoo often does, but also reflection on ourselves as actors and the way we create and tell our stories. 

Flo: To find new ways of starting to create work, to aid that very blank canvas stage at the beginning of every production, where you need to find some sort of framework within what can be a quite daunting amount of freedom!

What was your favourite part about training with The Zoo Co as a company?

Libby: Training with the Zoo as a company is very different to any other training I have had (not that that’s a huge amount!). This is because when I walk into a room with actors who are strangers to me it always feels a bit intimidating, whereas when I train with the Zoo I am surrounded by people I have known for nearly half my life cutting out the awkward start and jumping straight into immersing myself fully into the task in front of me. Also when I have finished it gives me the chance to chat to other members comparing this workshop to other workshops that we have all done in the past, making it easier to find the parts that helped and making the links between this workshop and that one.

Flo: Because every workshop we do has a real world impact. We’re applying these techniques, having all experienced them first hand, directly to our work. We grow as a company, and as individuals. It just makes so much sense to us right now. 

Have you taken anything you learnt on board with you in your work since the workshop?

Libby: One of the things we discussed and worked on with Lee is when creating a story or character, if it goes in a different direction to what you were planning or you make a bad decision, don’t stop and block yourself or try to backtrack and change it, keep going because quite often there is a reason that it has gone that way. If need be you can go back and change things after it’s done, that’s fine too. 

Flo: Yes, I agree with Libby actually. Not being too precious – or too ‘in charge’. We developed an entire story-line for our new show by accident by doing this. We were telling one-word stories with the entire group, and everyone was saying what I thought were the ‘wrong’ words… in the end we tangented so hugely that we ended up telling the story of a girl who turned into a phoenix. Guess what one of our stories is about in the show…? Put away your inner control freak. Good shit might happen!

What was your favourite exercise?

Libby: Going on from my last point, we did one workshop where we had a partner and did one-word-each stories. In these stories we had small aims, for example telling the story in the present tense, our task was to say our one word each stories and not stopping when we stray away from our aim. After doing this as lots of pairs in a group we then watched pairs, giving us the chance to discuss as a group how the pair took the story aims and where they went with it. We realised it was best when the actors truly went through with the idea, rather than backing away from it when it got boring/ seemed silly. We then gave ourselves a title and created another story, this time with the entire group joining in together. This story ended up being in ‘The Girl Who Fell in Love with the Moon’ – just like Flo said! 

What part did you find the most difficult?

Libby: I actually found that exercise I mentioned rather tricky as well. Being ever so British I am incredibly used to stopping and apologising for bad decisions, or for creating inconvenience to other people. If and when I would make a bad decision on these stories it took a couple of tries and to stop laughing at my mishaps and to learn to just go ‘Oh well, what happens, happens’. 

Flo: Telling the control freak to shut up and play the goddamn game. 

How can improvisation help to create new work? What value, if any, does it have within a rehearsal room? How can The Zoo Co use this training going forward?

Libby: Working and creating through improvisation opens so many more doors for devising, rather than going in with a set plan before you’ve walked in the door. I think the fact that our final story developed in the workshop ended up in the play is proof of this. If we only created theatre in a way where one person comes in and directs us on where to go on what line, we wouldn’t have half the stories we have today. I think the fact that a lot of our ideas, stories and direction comes from such a group effort makes The Zoo Co Theatre Co truly creative. 

Flo: It helps develop a really playful rehearsal atmosphere. I will always vouch for the importance of playing, even if you end up playing with something very serious, or moving, or just really silly. It gives us the freedom we need to create something new, and now we can take that forward and develop the discipline element of this work which will help us move forward. This workshop certainly informed our artistic freedom for The Girl Who Fell In Love With The Moon, which we continue to develop.

Thanks so much to Lee, for providing such a fun, freeing and playful workshop.

The Zoo Animals!

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