Venue Fall In Love, It Can Last Forever


by Jason Blackwater

I read this article yesterday.

It’s a short piece about Charna Halpern, owner of iO Chicago and Del Close’s partner in crime, having bought a new venue to move iO into, A $6 million project that will open it’s doors in 2014, and it got me thinking about the UK improv scene and it’s quest for a unified venue.

The time has come, it seems very apparent to me, for us to come together and focus our attention on creating a space that is synonymous with improv and not only that but a venue that the general public can regard as synonymous with good quality, challenging, risky, entertaining work. The Nursery, an oft spoken about, London-Bridge-based venue under the railway arches, is making its first tentative steps into becoming a primarily improv-based venue and has been doing a damned fine job of it for a year or so. However, it is powered by a team of three people, our own Jules Munns, his other half, Judith and a third party who “handles the money side of things” who I shall refer to as partner X. This can only go on so long.

A venue needs a lot of manpower over and above the behind the scenes working. There’s bar staff, tickets, ushers for popular nights, tech crew, flyerers, posterers amongst others and can only draw in so much money. So, I call on the improv community as a whole to offer the same hand that a few have before and say “if you need someone to volunteer at any point….”

If we want it and, actually I think we need it, we have to come together to make it work. Those of us who have ideas on opening our own venues need one to be successful to prove the model that it can be successful. We need the public to come around to improv being as important an entertainment art form as stand up or theatre. This will be achieved through the legitimacy of it. A statement in the form of a successful theatre space being able to devote it’s entire program to the art.

Beyond the success of our first venue, it’s in my mind to look to the future and our venues in Brighton, Nottingham, Bristol and beyond where other communities have been forming, their tentacles reaching the wider improv community and establishing themselves as real engineers of their own success.

I read an article a little while ago about students from the University of Leicester who, having visited Chicago and seen the shop front theatres there, decided to approach their city council and open their own in their city centre. As a university project, their results are published and available online and I have been reading these with great interest.

I live in Brighton. a city with beautiful architecture, a busy shopping precinct and gorgeous, empty shops everywhere. I know of a new venue being opened in the near future, a cabaret venue, but it shows me that the council aren’t too averse to new artistic spaces springing up and I can’t help but drift away into imagining a menu with Maydays themed drinks on it, a black and white framed picture of John Cremer being clung to by George Birtwell, a stage with a door in its set.

However, before we think big and local, let us think singularly. We know we have something to grow in the public consciousness and where better to grow it than a Nursery.

1 Comment
  1. Jason,
    Great post!
    As audiences and member numbers have expanded, we’ve talked about this as a future Nottingham project. I think it would benefit all places with a decent improv scene to come together and talk about a permanent space and future spaces. There are plenty of us in Nottingham who would welcome. Let’s make it so.

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