International Institute of Improvisation (iii!) Summer Academy

Arts, Culture, Heritage, Training

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The iii! Summer Academy is a three-week workshop programme led by two of the world’s leading improvisers – and co-Artistic Directors of Improbable – Phelim McDermott and Lee Simpson. It is a complete curriculum for making unforgettable theatre.

The academy is split into three week-long workshops. Taken together, they echo Improbable’s process for creating a show, beginning with core improvisatory processes; delving deeper into a new question, subject or process; and bringing everything together in a performance. Participants can attend the whole academy, or they may wish to focus on one aspect of the work in a single week. The academy concludes with a day-long Open Space for anyone who has attended any of the workshops.

Places on the iii! Summer Academy are by application only. Please see our website for more details.

Why this academy?

Phelim McDermott and Lee Simpson have been at the heart of the story of improvisation since they first met in the mid 1980s, leading impro into new forms, widening its scope and taking it to places it wouldn’t otherwise have gone. With their company Improbable, they have taken improvisation everywhere from scrappy rooms above pubs to grand operatic stages. They have used it to research and present topics mythic, scientific, biographic, historical, medical and spiritual. They have transformed what it is possible to put on the stage, what happens in the rehearsal room, and even more than that – how meetings happen, how companies and buildings are run. The Summer Academy is an extraordinary chance to be part of their creative practice, to come and learn everything they know about the art of making it up as you go along.

Who is this for?

The iii summer academy is for anyone interested in developing their improvisational experience, and/or learning from and using Improbable’s practice, whatever the form of your work. You might be a performer, director, researcher, writer, improviser, manager, or other practitioner. The workshops will be a supportive environment in which we’ll attempt to be responsive to the individual and collective needs of the group, and where you are encouraged to be both courageous and vulnerable in the examination of your practice. You will be given strategies to notice, nurture and manifest the work you want to do. We will aim to create a culture of play and creative risk-taking.

Specifically, the iii summer academy might be of interest to…

  • Improvisers
  • Theatre makers and practitioners
  • Actors interested in improvising, devising, or expanding / developing their practice
  • Directors, designers and practitioners working in stage or screen
  • Writers, especially those interested in devising, verbatim work and collaborative processes
  • Performance practice researchers and performance theory academics
  • Drama educators in schools, HE and FE organisations
  • Facilitators and counsellors
  • Skill seekers and professionals working in sectors beyond the arts
  • Fans of Improbable’s work

What you will learn

Week 1: Core Improvisation

This week will explore core principles and processes of Improbable’s improvisatory practice. It will look at improvisation for performance, and explore meta-skills such as listening, awareness and presence. It will cover impro basics in Improbable ways, showing how, for example, impro might involve slowing down and feeling more, rather than speeding up and thinking fast. You will learn how to include and use everything that is present in the moment – emotions, worries, the weather in yourself, in the room and in the world.

Improbable’s approach to improvisation has been shaped by the work of Keith Johnston, Viola Spolin, Arnold and Amy Mindell, Michael Checkhov, Jeremy Whelan, Wesley Balk and Harrison Owen, and by processes including Open Space and Worldwork. No knowledge of this work is required (or necessarily helpful) – we provide the list in case it helps you imagine the sort of landscapes we will be traveling through.

Week 2: A deep dive into the unknown

This week addresses how the impro and performance skills explored in Week 1 can be used in conjunction with other theatre traditions, as well as other areas of practice and research, to create new forms, reach new depths as well as revolutionise the familiar.

Over its history, Improbable has brought set design, costume, puppetry, music, movement and personal testimony into the improvisational orbit. We’ve also taken improvisational practice into new writing, Shakespeare, different acting techniques, opera, and beyond theatre, out into the world for social activism. We’ve used improvisation as a methodology for exploring new areas of research be they scientific, choreographic or dramatic. In Week 2, Lee and Phelim will lead the group into an exploration of the unknown. They will look at the deeper beliefs and methodologies behind Improbable’s work, and show how they can be used in a tremendously diverse range of creative contexts. This is your chance to join two of the great theatrical experimenters, teaching how to try what has not yet been tried, or even yet imagined.

Week 3: Bringing it home

How can improvisatory processes be used to generate and perform material for performance? How do you get from an understanding of improvisatory process, or from a set of research questions, to a show?

The third week of the workshop will look at how to go from theory to practice, and will work on, among other things, devising techniques, creating and shaping narrative, Open Space as a rehearsal tool, Process Work and improvisation with a script. It will build on the core questions explored in the first two weeks of the workshop, and will be a chance to spend time working through an Improbable process and taking whatever works for you away to your own practice.

Final day: An Open Space conversation

The academy concludes with a one-day Open Space event for anyone who’s attended the workshops. It will be an opportunity to meet and spend time with other participants from the academy, reflect on the workshops, and look ahead to future questions, collaborations and next steps.



Middlesex University, Hendon, Greater London, NW4 4BT

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