One thing that I hope improv has brought to my life in the wider sense is the abilty to be open to anything so when John suggested that the Maydays spend the day with a spiritual Guru called Prasadam who he described as a cross between the Dalai Lama and Spike Milligan I knew I couldn't pass it up.
The day began with Prasadam informing us that we were going to create a play, with John playing the "beautiful princess." We then spent an hour and a half with Joe's music accompanying us creating a totally surreal adventure through forest and castles, with Zen masters and African dance healers. In short, it was mental.
I would be seriously surprised if we what we came up with was of any kind of performance standard, however it did make me notice something: In our normal Maydays rehearsals, (despite what we always say to our students about not being able to do it wrong!) we ourselves are constantly striving to get things right. While it's important to work on different skills within the practice of improvisation; when we're not on stage I wonder how much time as a troupe we actually spend just "playing" and not analysing what we are doing. Creating a free running structure with no emphasis on what we were creating had a totally different joyful quality and it doesn't seem like a coincidence that our show on the following night had the same feeling (see Joe's previous blog.)
I won't here go into what the rest of the Prasadam adventure entailed but I will say that for me personally it gave me the chance to remember the simplest rule of improv, to embrace it's mindfulness and bally well have fun!
Last night’s Maydays show at the Komedia was a fine example of how an audience can make a show take off. The studio bar was bulging not only with people, but with a warm excitement, a radiant benevolence for the show they were about to witness. 30 paying customers were turned away at the door and it was standing room only for those lucky enough to get in at the last minute.
With the help of Adam Kidd’s booming voice over, and my typically over the top musical entrance music, The Maydays arrived on stage in a storm of almost American style applause and whooping. I am very happy to say that the show lived up to its reception as the Maydays took articles from The Argus (Brighton’s local newspaper) and transformed them into magical, comical and downright surreal scenes (I still don’t know what an “ash-pumper” is!).
The second half flew past in a flurry of articles, quick-fire gags and longer, 5-person scenes (examples of both on the videos). The descent into crudity as we reached the climax of the show was fortunately approved by the audience and we ended on the line, “So you found the cream then?”. If you were not there...use your imagination!
It was gratifying to live up to the Saturday night slot we have managed to fill at the Komedia Studio Bar, and I am sure that this contributed to the large amount of people that were coming to see us for the first time. It really does feel like the wave of improvisation is building, and that I for one feel very excited and privileged to be paddling on my surfboard ready to catch it.
To come and see us in action, check out the Maydays website.
It’s been a fantastic run of gigs and general improv life this week. Maydays were at the Miller (pub near London Bridge that is fast becoming the London home of improv) on Tuesday, trying out our new Confessions! Show. The idea is to get down and dirty with the audience and extract some juicy anecdotes about love, life, triumph and despair. Then we turn these into magical improv scenes before their very eyes. A disappointing turnout at the Miller, but disheartened we were not, and gave one of our best shows so far this year.
Highlights? Probably the surgeon who had to sing in order to keep a steady hand, and the finest example of a “push the button” scene I have ever witnessed. A “push the button” scene is where you find something funny in a scene and you just keep doing it! In this case it was simply that Katie was to do a marathon tomorrow, but Steve was trying to point out that you have to do some training. After about 20 repetitions of, “You have to train to do a marathon”, “Yes but it’s tomorrow”, and various elaborations on this theme, my jaw ached from laughing and the audience were beyond salvation.
Last night I did a Music Box gig also at the Miller. The room was packed with people which was very gratifying and Fat Kitten improv supplied a riotous first half of Victorian short form. In the second half, Music box improvised an entire musical from a location, an object and a song title. Last night we were on the ski slopes with aubergines, reminded that “What goes up, must come down”. From a musical director point of view, this is very liberating to be in charge of the entire music that runs through a show. I find that I am beginning to ascribe musical themes to different characters so that when they come on, I can give a little musical ident.
<WARNING-the following paragraph contains strongly pseudo-intellectual and slightly patronising language>
I believe that Wagner (not X-factor but Richard) was the prime extemporiser of the leitmotif in opera. In his famous ring cycle he repeatedly used musical themes to represent the different characters, weaving the themes together as the characters interact on stage.
All in all, it was improv that won in the end. I was not quite sure if the characters had realised their dreams, requited their love, or acted out their epiphanies, but the journey was thrilling and magical. Long live improv. Amen
To find out more, visit themaydays.co.uk or www.hooplaimpro.com/
Heather Urquhart and Joe Samuel have over 15 years experience performing, teaching and writing about Musical Improv. Based in the UK they have facilitated workshops and graced stages around the world.