I had a chance to sit down with Cariad Lloyd the other day. She does this thing, you may have heard of it, impro? I have enjoyed Cariad’s improvising ever since I saw her perform with The Institute many years ago. So it was a pleasure to find out about her journey so far.
How long have you been improvising?
Officially since 2005 though I did some at school and a show at university. In 2005 I did a course in short-form improv, run by Mark Phoenix.
That course was a changing point for you?
Yeah, definitely. I did a bit at school in drama lessons, and watched Whose Line is it Anyway? obsessively. I loved it but didn’t think you could do it as a job. I did a one-off impro show at university with Sara Pascoe (Sara and Cariad both went to Sussex) and it wasn’t great. I thought I didn’t really like improv because of that one night.
Then I saw this ten-week course that was run by Mark Phoenix, so I rang up and they said it was booked. A week later, they rang me back and said somebody had dropped out – do you still want to do it? I remember being in Richmond and thinking “Yeah, actually I do.”
I went and I was instantly at home. I found it easy. It felt like I just got it. It was the first thing I had ever really done that I just got. I bought Keith Johnstone’s book and it just blew my mind, all the things he was saying. I thought: I do that. And I realised I’ve always been improvising. I used to talk to myself in my room. I thought it was just a weird thing I did. I didn’t know I could do it out loud with other people.
The first course was simple basics; “Yes and”, “Who, What, Where”. I just loved it and we did a show at the end. Other people on the course were dreading the show and I just couldn’t wait to get on stage.
It just blew my mind. I felt like I’ve found my people, this is it. I did that course then I started doing bits of improv, and because there weren’t many girls then, I got recommended and I met people and did shows and then the next year I met Paul Foxcroft. The rest is history… *laughs*
When I talked to Lee Simpson he mentioned how few women were doing improv back in the 1980s and 1990s, and it seems only recently that has changed.
Yeah, sometimes I got a job because Pippa Evans or Ruth Bratt couldn’t do it. But then when I started The Institute (the improv group Cariad ran with Paul Foxcroft for two years in 2006) it had seven women, and three guys. It wasn’t conscious it was just the best people I could find coming up. It is a generational thing and has changed hugely since I started.
So was finding improvisers like finding your tribe?
Yeah, I was very scared of doing stuff on my own. I was so unconfident at that point I just wanted to do stuff that was fun. I wanted to be an actor, and acting was hard. I couldn’t get auditions or jobs but improv was a thing I did that was just fun.
Paul and I had been involved in a one-off charity impro night at The Canal Café in London, and after that we were both involved in a show that went to Edinburgh, so we sort of decided to continue doing it up there. Paul and I ran three nights in Edinburgh. They were late-night, rowdy TheatreSports type gigs. Three sold out nights to 200 people in C Venues. We got on so well, we spent the whole summer talking about improv. He knew a bit more and knew other people, and he took me to see the Penny Dreadfuls’ improv show Shamwagon, which was longform, which I had never seen before.
When we came back to London we decided to form The Institute and The Canal Café gave us a residency. It was so easy to form a group, there was just a lot of talented people around at that time, especially at The Canal Cafe: Sara Pascoe, Jess Fostekew, Gemma Whelan, Gemma Arrowsmith, Shelley Islam, Lucy Trodd, Vanessa Hammick, Ben Van De Velde, Nick Ewans, Steve Mould. As I’ve found with all things in my life: when you are doing the right thing it’s easy, it’s not hard. We had a free rehearsal space every Sunday near London Bridge in a Georgian building. We had a giant hall to run around in every Sunday for two years, and we didn’t have to pay for anything. It got harder as we tried to build it up, but that first year . . . !
That room. I still describe it as the perfect improv space. Wooden floor, long but wide and windows both sides. Natural light but the sun never hit you. Ahh, it was a dream room!
Do you believe that the universe works by giving you opportunity when you are in the right place?
I’m a massive hippy, yeah I do. So, improv changed my life and two books changed my life. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and You Can Heal Your Life by Louise L. Hay.
I think when you are doing the right thing, doors fly open. The moment I went into comedy it was easy. Of course I had hard moments, I didn’t swan my way to writing an Edinburgh show. I was trying to be an actress for so long, but the moment I started writing my own comedy, I got “Oh do you want to do this gig, this person wants to talk to you,” stuff that had never happened before and the same thing happened when I started doing improv.
How did the Artist’s Way help you?
I stopped doing improv for 18 months because my heart was broken when the Institute broke up. It was just so sad, that it didn’t work out, it was no one’s fault, just sad. I thought I would never do it again, then I did the Artist’s Way which made me write my Edinburgh show which changed my life, so I am a bit evangelical about it, sorry. There is a chapter about creativity you have closed the door on that you don’t need to.
I remember saying to my now husband “I haven’t done anything like that.” And he said “You don’t do improv any more”, and I thought “Oh god that’s true”. So I started guesting for people, and I did the rounds with various groups, and started being an improviser again. I didn’t have a group, and that was when Amy Cooke-Hodgson asked me if I wanted to come to a workshop for this Jane Austen show she wanted to try. And I was so ready for a group, and was finally saying yes to things in my life again.
So yeah, I firmly believe if you are doing the right thing and ask the universe for it and believe in what you are doing then that journey becomes easier.
What is it about improv that makes it special for you, as opposed to writing or standup?
I think what improv does that other things doesn’t is that you have to play nicely. You can do standup and do writing and not play nicely. But you can’t do that in improv. Somebody on that stage has to like you.
I teach actors sometimes that have never done improv. I always say you know when you see a group of kids and there is one kid who doesn’t play nice: don’t be that kid. Don’t be the grumpy one, don’t be the one throwing your teapot across the room.
Listen, take your turn. That is what improv really hones. It makes you aware of your behaviour with others.
You have to get on with people. Especially with the work I have done since then – it’s been a great tool. If you are in a writing room, you may hate an idea or be pissed off with a person, but you don’t have to block; you make them look good, let them win their game. It teaches you to work well with people, which is a really good and useful skill.
It teaches you to listen to others.
It’s interesting: I just started teaching drop-ins again for David Shore, and I think the biggest problem is people not listening to themselves. You do get a few people who don’t listen to other people and won’t let them in, but most people don’t listen to themselves. You have to Yes and yourself. People judge themselves before they have ever done anything.
That’s why those two books changed my life, because they are about stopping judging yourself and that voice that blocks creativity, and turning down that voice.
When I teach a class warm-up I say: “All of you had a voice in your head when it went wrong, saying I’m rubbish, I shouldn’t have said that. That person hates you. That person thinks you fancy them. We all have it, but when we realise we all have it, we can all turn it down.”
It’s useful for outside life, for crossing the road, but you can practice turning it down on stage. Judging yourself is the biggest problem for performers. Not willing to be bad, there is a whole chapter in The Artist’s Way about being willing to be a beginner, the humility of beginners is so important. Years ago I thought to myself if I ever think I’ve ‘got’ improv I probably shouldn’t do it any more. I’ve had moments where I think I know what I’m doing and then for six months the shows are bad!
I don’t care if you hate that teacher; go to the workshop, because you will learn something. You can take at least one thing from it. Those are my favourite improvisers, people who have done loads, done workshops, done clowning, writing, stand up, music, other things. They are taking from everything. When you talk to them about their favourite shows they are not just improv shows, it’s other things that are inspiring them.
I think you do need to create space between improv and life sometimes. You need perspective otherwise you have nothing to say.
I think the time I had off improv was the best thing I did for me. I had to think about what I thought about performance, what kind of improv I believed in. At that time it felt awful, but you can look back and find it useful, see what got solved during that time off.
How do you use improv in life?
After I read The Artist’s Way I sat down at the computer and started treating writing like improv. Before I would sit down and write one sentence and go “It’s shit”. If that was a scene and I was teaching and they did that I would scream at them! Why don’t you just Yes and your writing?
So I did that, then I showed it to people and they liked it and I did the show and people liked it, and I got more confidence with myself.
It’s the same things you do in improv that work that work in life. I was blocking myself, not writing anything down, not gigging. It took me four or five years to do standup, and people kept telling me to keep doing it and eventually stopped, and it took everyone stopping to make me realise I needed to do it.
It just gave me a kick up the arse made me think “If you want to do it, do it. Don’t talk about it.”
That’s a good last line for an interview.
Just do it! *laughs*