“I wanted to do a book launch that was completely different,” Steve Chapman told me this week. “To practice what I preach in the book – which is to do scary stuff, and see if it’s as scary as you think it’s going to be.”
We were at London’s South Bank. Steve had brought a pile of copies of his book, Can Scorpions Smoke?, along with a guitar and a harmonica. His plan: to improvise songs about the book that might lure passers by to take a copy. I went along with my camera to film this bold venture. It was the least I could do.
In less than an hour, Steve had got rid of all his books, and made a lot of people smile. “I’m pleased,” he said, before bursting into a few bars of paradoxically cheerful blues.
The book, subtitled Creative Adventures in the Corporate World, captures much that Steve has learned from impro, gestalt psychology, and organisational development – including lessons about creativity, play and the fear of failure. Truly, he has taken those lessons to heart.
I first met Steve two years ago, learning theatrical improvisation on a course run by the legendary Keith Johnstone. I had no preconceptions about Steve, but was surprised to find myself playing an outrageously violent two-man scene with him. (As i recall, I poked his eyes out, then he cut off my bollocks (his words) before we were both run over by a train. It was entirely exhilarating.)
Later, we played a scene from The Life Game that really stuck in my head, in which Steve played me, aged 20, while I played myself, now – but I’ve written and spoken about that elsewhere.
After the course finished, we agreed to work together in some way, though we had little idea what that might be. (Just to be clear: it was probably the uncertainty that made the idea compelling.) And one of the first things we did was compare notes about book ideas we both had, then still rather formless.
I interviewed Steve into his iPhone about what was to become Can Scorpions Smoke? And he raised several exciting ideas about my forthcoming historical novel, What If The Queen Should Die?
Since then, we’ve run impro workshops together at The Idler, and Steve created one of the most exciting days of my life when he organised a one-day musical impro workshop, in which I sang publicly a number of songs that I didn’t know until they came out of my mouth (again: entirely exhilarating).