Brighton Community Focus On: Scoops!
by Jenny Rowe
Last month, I met up with Ben Tucker and Simon Goodway – the minds behind Brighton’s own Scoops. But what is Scoops? I hear you cry. Scoops is an improv cabaret night that finishes with a Jam. It’s a lot of fun.
You should go.
“You started it.” Says Simon, looking pointedly at Ben.
Ben smiles and turns to me, “Yeah I started it. When we first got into improv – realising how good it is for you and seeing all of these acts in different venues, each of them struggling to get their own audience with some poor to fair marketing. And I thought well it’d be nice if we all just had a show with all of us doing it.”
Simon interjects. “And then you could do all the poor to fair marketing for everyone!”
- “I could. Yeah!”
- “…..also, you wanted an excuse for us to perform as well.”
- “Yeah, me and Simon were doing stuff at Si’s place and we thought, well we’re ready now.”
When did it all begin?
- “I think about early 2018. Almost two years before we stopped for the pandemic. And then we started again at the beginning of October this year .
The new Scoops venue is Grand Central – the Nightingale Rooms. It’s a beautiful space with a mixture of booths and cabaret tables laid out in the middle. It’s also right next to Brighton Station, which makes it easy for visiting groups to take part.
In the past, you were using The Maydays studio. Now that you have a new venue space, has anything else changed?
“There’s not a huge difference. The main change is that, because it’s a more mainstream venue, the audience is maybe slightly more ‘general public’ and slightly less improvisers. Which doesn’t change the show particularly, the only thing I think it changes is the jam, which I’m trying to make more accessible – so playing games rather than just doing scenes. Things like Alphabet – improv where there’s a structure. Before, we might just do a scene set in a library, which would mean that people who’d never improvised before were flailing a bit. We’re giving them a thing to make it a little bit easier.
So are you working on the night together now?
Simon. “It’s sort of more me now, isn’t it? You were too busy [Ben] so I said, alright, I’ll run it and get it going again,’ you know.”
Was that different to before?
“Yeah, I mean it was sort of Ben’s thing originally, and Ric and I just helped out a bit.
B “Yeah, at first Ric and Simon and a lot of people were a bit like ‘ooh no!”
S (jumping in) “I don’t remember that!”
B “When I first had the poster and the flyers…”
S “I like the poster!”
B “I remember John Cremer saying”
S “oh yeah, he didn’t like it”
B “…it’s horrible I hate it”
B “cos it was sat amongst all this very classy-looking Maydays branding with lots of sort of reassuring messaging and this sort of mad-looking cartoon of someone’s brains coming out sat amongst them.”
S “I like it. Isabella said last night, we should have merchandise – I’m thinking we could sell t-shirts – that would be great.”
There followed a short discussion regarding what sort of merchandise we’d consider wearing.
S “I think I was always in favour of it [Scoops]…
B “He wasn’t enthused with positivity until probably about the third time we did it, when we realised it had…
S “Yeah, maybe I was skeptical at the time. I dunno, but after a while you wanted to stop and we were the ones who were like, ‘No we’ve got to keep this going it’s great!’
B “Yeah that’s true. What happened was that I left my first company and then had to build Buckbuck so therefore I had to put all my time into that, meaning no time for Scoops which meant Simon took it over really. We’ve kind of flipped and flopped depending who has the time and energy to do it.
And what about marketing?
S “I’m doing it all. [turns to Ben] you wanna leave? Think we’re done with you.”
Ben grins and stays.
S “I’ve got Facebook, twitter and Instagram for Scoops (@scoopsimprov), and then I’m posting on various event listing websites. I wrote a little article and sent it to the Brightonian that published it last month. I’ve done another one this month so hopefully, they’ll publish that. I think they’ll get sick of publishing one every month so I’ll see how long I can get away with it. It’s very hard to find out how people find out about this show – I ask people, but they give ‘the internet’ which doesn’t tell you anything.
Also, I put a poster up I haven’t checked if they’ve taken it down. And there’s a flyer on the noticeboard in the Co-op on North Street.”
B “With this wider market, when we’re presenting it, we talk about the Maydays as well”
B “…and it’s a showcase for improv and how easy it is to get into it and [as a result] I think our act has become a little bit more haphazard, like, we’re not really giving a fuck so much…”
B “…which allows for people to go ‘Oh, it’s easy, they’re just messing around’ and it’s kind of affected it that way.”
Ben muses for a moment…
B “Imagine if everyone in the world – almost like conscription – had to do a year’s improv – how the world would be so different. So many – men especially – would be a lot nicer.”
S “…at school would be perfect.”
B (shrugs)“…but we have to learn Geography and made-up orders.”
For someone who’s never been to one, what do you actually do at Scoops?
S “We have a variety of improv acts performing every month. Different acts at each show. Local acts and also ones coming from around the country.”
S “We’ve had some great acts, so far, we’ve had Tea and toast. They’re good. [Tea and Toast are Simon’s musical team], we’ve had Ben, Simon and Ric [Also Simon’s team] and, you know, a load of other people.
S “There’s plenty of people up for performing. But unfortunately, paying acts isn’t viable at the moment.”
B “Once you’ve worked out the average numbers coming in and the cost and marketing and venue costs and start looking….”
We continue the conversation about the lamentable rise of venue costs since the pandemic generally for the venues to be cleaned, but sometimes for no discernible reason.
We come to no discernible conclusion.
So who’s playing in December?
Ben looks hopeful.
B “We might even have some maydays performing…”
Unfortunately, I think there’s only one available this month
S “And of course the jam. Which I didn’t get to when you asked me about the show, we also have a jam.”
What’s the structure of the night?
Usually us first, but we’re flexible on the format depending on what the other acts want to do, really. Then another act, then a break, then two more acts, then another break before the jam – that’s changed.
Doesn’t that mean people can leave before the night’s ended?
S “And that’s why it’s good because some people don’t like jams, and yeah obvs with a jam it’s nice to have a bigger audience but probably not with people who don’t want to be there”
Ben asks Simon, “Are you still sending out a document to acts to tell them what sort of improv we do? Warn them about doing anything political or topical?”
S “No, maybe I should.”
B (turns to me) “It’s almost, like, to get that flavour of escapism – avoid topical newspaper matters. So, if there’s some particular group that veers into that territory habitually, then we would prefer for them to not.”
S “Ah…I’ve got Keir Starmer doing One-prov in January.”
What about boundaries? Is there anything you say to the participants beforehand?
S “Not to the acts, but before the jam I have a little speech I do now. There was a scene in one of the jams once that made some people uncomfortable, so I came up with a bit of wording that I say to try and keep things nice and… happy.
I basically say … ‘people who play together, they know each other’s boundaries but you’ll probably be doing a scene with someone you don’t know so you won’t know what they’re comfortable with, so just as a rule of thumb, avoid heavy topics and don’t do anything you wouldn’t do in front of your granny.’ It feels like that covers everything without going into specifics.
B “If it could go on Southpark – probably avoid it. That’s a challenge I’ve set myself actually, I mean there are billions of other things [scenes] you can do.”
What’s the atmosphere like?
S “A lot of fun, high spirits.”
S “…but friendly and fun…”
B “…a supportive space for rambunctious joy.”
What’s the future for Scoops?
S “Hopefully just to keep going, build-up audiences, bring in more people from outside improv, but also I want to keep it as a thing for improvisers, so I’d like it to be a mix of both.”
B “Nice to get it to 50/50. It’s probably 90/10 at the moment.”
S “I’d love to get enough audience that we make enough profit that we can a) Pay the acts, and ideally, b) that we can get the occasional big professional group. But that’s kind of my dream I, suppose. In the future – it’s always nice to have new people performing and it’d be lovely to have new acts come out of it. I’ve said a few times. If you’ve got an idea for a show or something but you’ve not really got the people to do it with, let us know. You can come along and pitch it cos there are improvisers in the audience and it’d be lovely if someone took me up on that and formed a little show and then they could come back and perform it a few months later. It would be nice for new acts to come out of Scoops that could then perform.”
What’s your favourite game or exercises?
B “The Henry”
S “It’s a toss-up between Alphabet or Standing Sitting, Lying Down, they’re both fun for very different reasons. Maybe both of those together at the same time.”
B “You should do that at the next one.”
What do you think of the Brighton improv community?
S “I think it’s brilliant. There’s a lot of great improvisers out there. I was worried that quite a lot would have left improv [over lockdown] and I’m sure a lot have, but there seems to be a good improv scene going. But I’d like to see more of them come to Scoops!”
B “I can only think that you have to compare it to another community and the only one I know is the London one and, like I’ve said with immersive theatre performers, as it is with people in general: London people are a bit more punctual and a little more stressed about stuff and Brightonians are a little bit more laissez-faire, and more focussed on beauty over professionalism.”
S “So it’s more about time-keeping for you.”
S “I suppose I’d like to see it thriving and growing and I’d like to see more groups putting on their own shows – not that I want competition, but it’s healthy – and anything that’s good for the community is good for Scoops anyway, really. There’s a lot of disparate improv – sort of sub-cultures – there’s the Maydays lot, there’s Short and Girlies, there’s the Noise Next Door, there’s probably Uni stuff… all these different groups that aren’t really connected and it would be nice to bring them together a bit.”
Is there anything else that either of you would like to add?
S “Anything you’d like to say, Ben?”
B “Yeah. John [Cremer] fed this [improv] to the Maydays, Maydays fed it to us, we’re feeding it through scoops, it’s all, like, passing it on. This pass-on of collaborative energy and, if everyone did it, what an effect it would have on the world? It’s good for you.”
Seems like a good place to end there. You can catch Scoops (and Ben and Simon) on the first Tuesday of every month, where you can also talk to Simon about pitching your show idea to the crowd. At the:
Nightingale Rooms, Grand Central Pub, by Brighton Station
Tues 7th December – 8pm-10.30pm
Oh, and what Scoops merchandise would YOU wear?