A Brief History
Claqueur Impro sprung out of the The Vanishing Elephant, a community play by Jon Oram, for Camden Road in Tunbridge Wells, but its roots go back to late 1950’s and the Royal Court Theatre, London. Keith Johnstone and Ann Jellicoe were literary manager and playwright at the Royal Court, when Bill Gaskill one of its directors asked Keith to take over the writers group. Ann joined the group along with Arnold Wesker, John Arden, David Cregan, Edwad Bond and others. Here they explored playwriting, not by discussion but showing, and doing through improvisation. The group began to find trends and rules of narrative, and discover how by being in the moment and saying ‘yes and…” to ideas made everyone appear more creative. There was huge amounts of laughter, Keith remembered and he wanted to see if an audience would be as amused so he gathered together a group of actors including Roddy Maude Roxby; they wer to become Theatre Machine. The problem was, public improvisations were illegal due to censorship laws, so Keith presented the ‘shows’ as lectures, describing the early discovered rules of improvisation and then have the actors demonstrate them. Audiences loved it. Due in great part to the Royal Court’s challenges to censorship, it eventually censorship was eventually abandoned.
Keith continued to pursue Improvisation with Theatre Machine and they travelled the world with their shows, his book Impro became a global phenomenon that not only added to the burgeoning of improvised theatre but radically changed the training of actors, and the directing and devising plays. Ann Dorset where she shaped and formed the Community Play and founded Colway Theatre Trust, renamed Claque Theatre by Jon Oram who took over the company in 1985. Jon was familiar with improvisation; he had met and worked with Roddy Maude Roxby in the late 1970’s when Jon was a Drama Advisor in Norfolk; it was Roddy who introduced him to Ann’s work. The Vanishing Elephant was Jon’s 30th Community Play, in the preceding years he had developed the process of community plays, taken them to Canada, USA, and Europe and moved the company’s home to Kent. Jon had also developed what he called the ‘Social Actor’ and based much of the process of finding, directing and performing plays on the rues of improvisation. Following the success of The Play the community formed Camden Road Education Arts and Theatre Enterprises (CREATE) to the momentum of creativity and support and sustain a whole range on community activities including a Choir, Lantern Parades, Book club and an educational programme called the Imaginarium. Jon Oram started a series of improvisation workshops, that eventually became weekly events . Thus Claque Impro evolved.
Some of our original players remain with the company and new members have joined over the years and the number of performances has increased. More recently they have been performing with European groups in Germany, Poland and Belgium. In response to the friendships we’ve made and the Brexit vote it was decided to change the name adding an ‘eu’ to adopt French Claqueur.
Claqueur like the community plays is inclusive and community based. The players participate in other activities such as Heritage and educational role plays, Mystery House three minute theatre experiences. They are presently working towards Legend of the Rocks a devised part improvised community play around Toad Rock in Rusthall.