Every Thursday night at Barons Court Theatre, Hamza and Jake are creating a completely unique and original one-act play through improvisation. The pair have discussed how they manage making this successful: read on to find out.
What is Avocado Presents- can you tell us a little about what the show entails?
Avocado Presents is a completely improvised show, more akin to a one act play you’ll never see again. We start with no script, no plan, and no bloody idea what’ll happen. We build the show moment to moment, with great music popping up randomly and surprises all along the way. For those of you keen to know, don’t worry, there is no audience participation!
How did the concept of improvisation come about, and how do you rehearse for a production where every performance is different?
There is a vibrant improv scene in London, but it all began with Viola Spolin in the early part of the previous century, first taught as children’s games to help people connect. Avocado’s style is inspired by the work began by The Second City and IO in Chicago, where it’s all about one thing: being honest on stage.
We do rehearse, but it’s more like practicing a sport or playing your scales. We just do what you see on stage without an audience, get our reps in, then break it down afterward (usually over a Jack and Coke).
How has your acting relationship with each other developed, as you must have to keep in tune to make the show work?
Although we met at an improv class, we didn't start performing together until many years later. Instead, we just hang out a lot and became tremendously good friends who have nearly all the same interests (if you’re looking for an acting partner, we suggest that!). But after that, the most important thing is listening and paying attention to each other on stage. Listen and respond honestly, the very base of improv.
As we rack up years of rehearsing and performing together, we're definitely more in tune with each other. It's surprising, mysterious and sometimes spooky, how many times we've had the same thought at the same time on stage and both of us know that the other is thinking the same thing.
What skills are needed for coming up with concepts on the spot that flow well with the piece, particularly if it is not the direction you anticipated it going?
If you’re anticipating where its going then it’s not really improv. We don't come up with concepts, we just try to play truthfully in each moment, and relationships or story flow naturally. It's a great complement that we've often had people question if we knew the theme of a show beforehand, or what parts were planned (none of course). When you let the improv takeover, things just connect.
How has the show developed over the years of performing it, and what inspired the creation of The Avocado Tapes?
We started off booking a rehearsal room and doing it once or twice a week just for us. It has developed organically since then, and through countless shows, we move forward each week and chase the illusive ‘perfect’ performance. Since moving to the Baron's Court, we've added our tech, Julia Miller-Bakewell, who is one of the finest working in London (maybe the world?). With Jules, we've finally been able to add music to our show, plus improve the stagecraft ten-fold. So a big development there, and so grateful to her for all she does.
Having all these ideas in our heads and nowhere to go during lockdown, THAT’S when The Avocado Tapes came about. All dressed up and nowhere to go, we recorded an improv album through Zoom, and eventually in person (when things eased for that brief moment in the middle). It was a blessing in disguise, since now we have some hard copies of an otherwise illusive and absolutely dreamlike experience.
What have been some of your favourite, funniest or most unexpected moments from performing the live show?
Every show is so unexpected (and usually very funny, if we do say so ourselves), and the audience brings such a different energy to each show. Our favourite moments are usually when we make the other one crack up. We don’t do it on purpose (usually), but every so often you hit a groove and just can't help it. And really, those are the most honest moments there can be.
One recent highlight has to be when one of our characters smoked a joint for the first time. We took a toke, then our tech randomly played a song with the lyrics, ‘she smokes pot, yeah!’. It was such a hilariously perfect moment that you couldn’t plan in a million years, [and] our tech had no idea those were the words! Then we had the smoke machine filling up the stage and suddenly we’re flying around like The Big Lebowski, having a full on trip! We loved it, the audience loved it, and I know our tech definitely loved it.
Are you able to give us some hints about further projects of yours?
We've always got somethin’ cooking. For one, we’ve got 5 or 6 films we’re ready to make, so look out for an Avocado film over the next 5-25 years. Currently though, we’re running an improv workshop on December 3rd, focussing solely on organic improv and starting from nothing. The whole workshop takes place in the Barons Court Theatre, and afterward the students will put on a show on stage, performing in front of a very live audience. Any ready and willing students can sign up here: https://www.eventcreate.com/e/avocadoorganic. Otherwise, we’ll be putting on a brand new show each week, hanging out afterward, and having a great time doing it.
Big thanks to Hamza and Jake from Avocado for sharing more about their shows and how you improvise so successfully! All the best for your shows and exciting future content.
Tickets to Avocado Presents can be bought here:
Additional thanks to Matthew Parker for coordinating this interview.