21 Improbable Years

This week its HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO IMPROBABLE and so here’s a little something from their artistic directors about what they have been up to for the last 21 years.


Hello. Lee and Phelim here – Artistic Directors of Improbable.

Improbable is celebrating its 21st year of existence this year so we’ve been around for a while. We thought we might share a little bit about what we do…

‘So, what kind of theatre does Improbable make?’ is a question people often ask. It’s a good question but it’s difficult to give a simple answer because, over the last 21 years, we’ve found that we seem to go in lots of different directions at once.

Each Improbable project has a different creative team. Sometimes they’re people we’ve worked with a lot, sometimes people we’ve never worked with before. Sometimes the work is big. Really big, like Sticky, an outdoor piece with giant Sellotape structures; or it might be in big theatres like Theatre of Blood or Lost Without Words at the National Theatre, or Satyagraha, The Perfect American, Cosi fan tutte and Akhnaten at ENO. But some of it is much smaller like Animo, The Still, Permission Improbable or BambinO, our opera for babies.

STICKY (Image©Nick Read and Richard Haughton

The shows could be improvised, scripted, devised. They might feature fireworks, puppets, opera, music, mayhem, and sometimes even some acting. We’ve taken these shows all over the world, from Sydney to Syria, New York to New Zealand, Europe to nearly everywhere else.

Alongside the shows, for the last twelve years we’ve been hosting and facilitating Open Space events under the banner of Devoted and Disgruntled. Open Space is a self-organising process that enables large groups to tackle complex issues with no formal agenda. An unconventional convention if you like. These events have seen the emergence of a nationwide community of artists and theatre practitioners who, in turn, have created projects, partnerships, shows, companies and venues.

We have another strand to our work in the form of our participation projects, where we take improvisation to people and communities who may have had little contact with the arts before. Our latest was our Impro for Elders, working with a group of over 60s in Westminster and presenting an improvised performance alongside our show Lifegame.

We’re also creating the International Institute of Improvisation (or iii for short), a global project to shape, secure and celebrate the future of improvisation.

We believe that art is for everyone and that this doesn’t simply mean they get to be part of an audience. Our society needs a cultural shift that puts creativity at the heart of everyday life. The prevailing perception sees culture as an add-on after the important conversations have been had. In the world we envisage, theatre, art and culture are not confined to the spiritual or emotional, they are central to the development and decision-making in social, organisational, and political spheres. In this future world, an international crisis would mean a government doesn’t send in the army, it sends in an orchestra.

So really, that’s us in a rather nobly nutshell.

Lee Simpson and Phelim McDermott

Artistic Directors, Improbable http://www.improbable.co.uk/