The final ingredient in our Jameson Ginger & Lime series sees Neil Curran, Ireland’s foremost champion of the vibrant improv underground scene, describe how he is mixing up his chosen art.
If you’ve never been to an improv show in Ireland, you're probably one of the few that hasn't come in contact with one of the fastest growing art scenes in the country. Not just confined to dingy basements splattered sporadically around the country, improv is hitting the mainstream market, and quickly.
When Curran was first initiated into the cult of improv, Cork’s Snatch club was the only dedicated outpost. He was at that time part of a theatre group, but found the world of theatre ‘elitist’ and ‘rigid’. Improv’s collaborative spirit, grassroots enthusiasm and lawlessness was poles apart, opening up a new world of possibilities for Curran.
Now, with Curran at the helm, we are hosts to one of the world’s fastest growing Improv Festivals, Improv Fest Ireland, whcih is attracting fantastic artists from around the world.
"A few years ago I was teaching a class in Shanghai," he tells us. "I was working with friend who had moved over and learned Chinese through teaching improv. Naively, I presumed there was no real scene in Asia – then I found out there’s festivals in Hong Kong, Seoul, Manila. Naturally, I thought: why don’t we have one in Dublin?"
The success of the festival has been built on the bedrock of years of hard work by Curran and the rest of the community. He leads from the front with his own show, Neil+1. The concept could strike the fear of god into any improv newbie: at each show he plucks an audience member, preferably one who’s never been to a show before (let alone performed) and invites them on stage to riff with him.
For anybody who’s been on the receiving end of abuse by stand-ups, this may sound like hell, but Curran is at pains to make the whole process a positive experience: "The aim is to make the other person look good – the philosophy of improv is that there’s no wrong way to do it. I’ve never had a disaster with Neil+1 – once the audience member moves out of survival mode, you can see a complete change come over them, and that’s when they get creative". This philosophy is one that sits perfectly with the Jameson Ginger & Lime ethos, that great things can happen when you try new things.
It’s not just on the stage that Curran is preaching the power of performance. Realising there are only so many mindfulness gurus you can lock employees into a conference room with, employers and institutions are booking improv crash courses for their staff. Neil visits the Googles, 3s and Facebooks of the country for workshops that are becoming an increasingly popular way of learning how to be comfortable making a eejit out of yourself in front of your peers. Plus you'll realise just how elastic your brain and body can be. In improv, he says, "it’s not what you teach; it's how you teach it".
His craft faces an uphill struggle: from setting its stall apart from stand-up to a lack of funding recognition of it as a standalone art. Rather than a charm offensive though, Curran explains that the beauty of improv is its virality. "There’s not much that compares to the hit, the thrill of getting your first laugh or round of applause. But it’s the kind of thing that you can’t relate through words, so you go off and convince your friends to try it too. You know, like cults."
We're not suggesting joining a cult, unless of course it’s the Jameson Cult Film Club, but Neil Curran has talked us into at least trying out some improv.
This summer Jameson, Ginger & Lime is challenging you to experience something new and different.
To enter their competition and be in with a chance of winning a Jameson experience for you and two friends just visit http://www.jamesoncultfilmclub.ie/jameson-ginger-and-lime
*Competition closes May 30th. T&Cs apply. The competition is valid for over 18s only.