News: Improbable Announces First Ever iii! (International Institute of Improvisation) Summer Academy

Lee Simpson and Phelim McDermott, Improbable’s Artistic Directors, have been at the forefront of the unfolding story of improvisation since the mid 1980s, leading impro into new forms, widening its scope and taking it to places it wouldn’t otherwise have gone; everywhere from scrappy rooms above pubs to grand operatic stages. They have used improvisation 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 how meetings happen, how companies and buildings are run.

Over three weeks of workshops, practice and research, the iii! Summer Academy is an opportunity to come and learn everything Lee and Phelim know about the art of not knowing….

What will happen? The iii! (International Institute of Improvisation) Summer Academy is split into three week-long workshops. Each week explores a different area of improvisatory practice. It is designed as a complete curriculum for making remarkable theatre. Participants can book for the whole Academy, or for individual weeks. The Academy concludes with a day-long Open Space session, open to everyone who has attended any of the workshops. It is presented in partnership with Theatre Arts at Middlesex University, who will host the academy on their London campus. Middlesex University last partnered with Improbable on the GII Symposium, a global gathering of improvisers in May 2019.

Week 1: Core Improvisation: This week will unfold the core principles and processes of Improbable’s improvisatory practice. It will look at improvisation for performance and key meta-skills such as listening, awareness and presence. It will cover impro basics but in Improbable ways, showing how, for example, impro might involve slowing down and feeling more, rather than speeding up and thinking fast and 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.

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 (not necessarily improvised) performance? How do you get from an understanding of improvisation, or from a set of research questions, to a show? The third week of the academy will look at how to go from theory to practice, and will look at Improbable’s ability to adapt and create hybrid techniques from both within and outside theatre, as well as originating their own processes. This will include work on devising techniques, creating and shaping narrative, Open Space as a rehearsal tool, Process Work and improvisation with a script.

The academy concludes with a one-day Open Space event for anyone who’s attended the workshops. It will be a chance 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.

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 in which you work. You might be a performer, director, researcher, writer, improviser, manager, facilitator, teacher or none of the above.

Phelim McDermott and Lee Simpson are Artistic Directors of Improbable. Together, they have directed, devised, written and performed in Improbable’s multi award-winning productions, including: 70 Hill Lane, Lifegame, Animo, Coma, Spirit, Sticky, Cinderella, The Hanging Man, The Still, The Stars Are Out Tonight (with Amici) The Tempest, Still No Idea, The Paper Man, Theatre of Blood and Lost Without Words (both with National Theatre), Satyagraha, Akhnaten, The Perfect American, and most recently Tao of Glass.

Lee started improvising in 1979 when his English teacher read Impro by Keith Johnstone and from then on, in lunchtime Drama Club, they worked through every exercise in the book. He’s been performing and teaching impro since then, and for over 30 years has been one of the Comedy Story Players. Lee’s directing outside Improbable includes Paul Merton: And This Is Me…, The Two Faces of Mitchell and Webb, Travels with my Virginity by Guy Dartnell, My M.S. and Me by Jim Sweeney and Palace Dreams, an outdoor show on the site of the Crystal Palace. Having taken improvisation to the roughest comedy clubs, the grandest theatres and everything in between, there can be very few people in the world with this breadth of improvisational experience.

Phelim has been directing and performing since 1984, when he co-founded derek derek with Julia Bardsley. Other directing credits include Verdi’s Aida in collaboration with English National Opera; BambinO, an opera for babies; the Olivier award-winning Shockheaded Peter; Alex (The Arts Theatre); The Ghost Downstairs (Leicester Haymarket); Dr Faustus, Improbable Tales (Nottingham Playhouse); The Servant of Two Masters, The Hunchback of Notre Dame; The Government Inspector (West Yorkshire Playhouse) and Artistic Collaborator on She’s Leaving Home (produced by 20 Stories High). In 2003, Phelim was awarded a National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) fellowship to research new ways of rehearsing and creating theatre using improvisation and process-oriented conflict facilitation techniques. As part of this work he has facilitated many Open Space Technology events. He was made an Honorary Doctor of Middlesex University in 2007.

Listings & Booking Information:

Where : The iii! Summer Academy will happen on campus at Middlesex University, The Burroughs, Hendon, London NW4 4BT.

Cost: £1,250 for the full course. You can also book for a single week, Monday-Friday, at £500. There is no VAT on the workshop places.

Apply by Sunday 22nd March and receive an early bird discount of 10% off – £1,125 for the full academy or £450 for a week. Just quote “Early Bird PR” when emailing your application.

The capacity is 20 places/week.

Places on the iii! Summer Academy are by application only.

Email with a short (approx. 200 words) on why you would like to come to the academy, which week(s) you’d like to attend, and what you hope to get out of it. Please also attach a biography, CV and/or a link to examples of your work. We will get back to you within 10 days to let you know whether you’ve been offered a place, and if so will send you a booking link to confirm your place. We are happy to accept payments in instalments.

There are three supported places available for each week of the academy. These places are free and come with a stipend of £250 towards expenses. These places are available to:

  • People who would not be able to afford a full-price place.
  • People of colour, people who identify as D/deaf or disabled, and people who identify as trans*/non-binary.

People with these protected characteristics are historically under-represented in improvisation, and we think that offering bursaries to these people is one way of helping to redress the balance.

Bursary Applications to: with a brief paragraph (around 100 words) on why you would like a bursary place. Deadline for bursary applications is 11pm on Sunday 5th April.

The iii! Summer Academy is presented in partnership with Theatre Arts at Middlesex University.

Access Information:

Booking: You can book your place via TicketTailor here:

Further enquiries: or 020 7240 4556.

Photo credit: Cornershop PR

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