20th August – The Improsium
So we were very lucky to again this Edinburgh host the Maydays fourth annual Improsium. When we were here 4 years ago with the Maydays show ‘Guest Who’ I thought it just seemed like a massive waste to have so much improvisational stuff in one city and not have us all get together for a bit of a chat and so the Improsium was born.
That first year was all a bit Slapdash but with a bit of help from our friend Tom at the Underbelly box office we secured a venue and with a bit of stalking got our guests for that year who were Dylan Emery (‘Showstoppers’/’School of Night’), Tom Livingstone (‘The Noise Next Door’) , Mike Mcshane (‘Whose Line is it Anyway’ and let’s face it EVERYTHING) and our very own Katy Schutte. In 2010 we managed to get over 50 improvisers in the same room at very short notice but I’m glad to say the event has grown each year both in numbers and in organization!
So fast forward to 2013: This year saw us hosting the event in the Pleasance courtyard at 11am, which let’s face it, halfway through Edinburgh may aswell be 6am. We had a great turn out though over 70 performers from a good majority of representatives from each group performing at this year’s Fringe.
Our guests this year were Troy Conrad (creator of ‘Setlist,’ the improvised stand up show), Cariad Lloyd (‘Austentatious’/’Paul & Cariad’ a 2 player improvised adventure) and Al Samuels (‘Baby Wants Candy’/’50 Shades, the Musical’).
A little known Maydays fact is that Troy Conrad, who conceived Setlist, has an improv background himself. He and John Cremer, founder of the Maydays used to improvise together in Phoenix, Arizona, back in the day in a troupe called the Oxymorons, long before the Maydays were born. So in a funny sort of way, none of us might have been in the room together were it not for Troy. However I can’t think about that too much or my head will explode.
Troy’s presence at this year’s Improsium led to some fascinating discussions about the relationship between stand-up and improv. Though no conclusions were drawn there was a general sense that the gap is closing and that the lines between all forms of comedy and improvisation are becoming increasingly blurred. Many television production companies nowadays expect actors to be able to improvise their way around characters and scripts and perhaps this is something that will become more of a requirement in the future. I hope so – more work for me!
The whole of the Improsium will be available in audio form on the Maydays website soon.
9th August 2013
In true Edinburgh style, I now have no idea what day it is, I am often barely aware of the time and I feel like I have been here forever and will be here forever.
In between all of the drinking and the small inconvenience of having to to do a show everyday I have managed to see as many improv shows as I can. So far I’ve been lucky enough to see: ‘Voices in the Head; the Phill Jupitus Experiment’, ‘Lights, Camera, Improvise!’, ‘Improvabunga’, ‘The Shambles’,’ Austentatious’, ‘Baby wants Candy’ (twice) and ‘Puppet up!’ I’m intending to get round as many as I physically can by the end of the Fringe but so far I am thrilled to say that from where I am standing UK improv is in extremely good shape.
To me it is telling that this year for the first time I can remember, there are so many improv shows that I am just not going to be able to see all of them. The second thing we’ve personally noticed is that we’re being asked to guest at more of the bigger profile stand up showcases than we have before. We did a couple of songs at ‘Spank!’ the other night and I won’t lie, we were convinced we’d be eaten alive by the audience. If you’ve never been to Spank, it is a long running late night stand up show with one of the rowdiest crowds out there but we took them in hand and after a couple of extremely silly double entendres we had won them over. I think the boys from the Noise Next Door have paved the way for other groups to make the transition between the world of improv and the world of stand up – in their words they practice super short form, a punchline frenzy.
While I am less good at the type of improv that requires you to be ‘funny’ (and I take my hat off to those that are), I think the rising tide in improv has been hugely helped by the fact that audiences are beginning to understand what improvisation is and that they actually like it. This year, improv fans have so much to choose from, shortform, longform, musicals, genre based, multi media, even an improvised silent movie from one Italian group.
Whose line is it anyway is dead, long live Whose line is it anyway!
Meanwhile I am pleased to report that all has been going well in the land of Mayday, we’ve had some cracking audiences. Lovely reviews and some unbelievable confessions – I can never quite believe what people tell us when it’s anonymous. Here is the most shocking confession of the run so far:
“I once saw somebody hiding a dead body under a bridge next to a motorway. I did not tell the police but I took £50 from the murderer to say nothing. I was fifteen years old and I needed the money”
Woah. More on Confessions soon.
2nd August 2013
I’m writing this fresh from doing our first show up here. Oh sorry, didn’t I mention what show I was doing? That’s the Maydays in Confessions at 2.20pm everyday in the Underbelly, Belly Laugh. You’ll notice how incredibly slick that plug was because I’ve already said it many times of the many more times I’ll say it this month.
Anyway, back to yesterday. We had our tech rehearsal, which is relatively easy when all your props and costumes are mimed. We did a dress rehearsal and Alex our lovely technician wrote an entire show’s worth of his real life confessions down so that we could have a proper practice in the space and then sat and laughed heartily all the way through. That is the kind of technician you want.
After our technician we all got ourselves settled into Maydays HQ. If you want to stalk us, we are directly above the Mosque Kitchen. So on the one hand, we’re super close to everything and there is ridiculously cheap and delicious food downstairs on the other hand everything smells of curry.
After a good night’s sleep we awoke to a morning of flyering. We are very lucky this year to have a team of flyerers working for us but for our first day we thought all hands on deck in true Maydays style. The attached photos pretty much sum up our individual attitudes to flyering and some might say to life.
First show was great fun with a lovely vocal audience – including a man called Joseph who I got chatting to on the train up after our ticket disaster. I shall leave you with my favourite confession of today:
“Me and two friends spent an afternoon remaking Twilight: New Moon and I had to play all of the characters apart from Edward, Bella and Rosalie (which was played by my friend’s little brother in his mum’s dress). We filmed it all and then the camera got stolen.”
So this is an appeal to anyone reading this – we must find this classic remaking of Twilight as it sounds utterly hilarious.
31st July 2013
So here I am on the train to Edinburgh!
Today started extremely well when a lovely chap I used to teach improv to gave me a free coffee as fortuitously he now works at Small Batch (trendy, organic, expensive and delicious coffee stand) at Brighton station. Free things always taste better so coffee in hand and smile on chops I made my way onto the train with no disasters even though there are 3 human bodies, 6 bags and 2 musical instruments between us.
Things were of course going a little too well so it was only right that we should then discover that we were booked onto the 11am train and not the 11.30 from Kings Cross, which is the one we are currently on. Luckily, lovely lovely Duncan the train guard has decided to let us stay on for free ‘because our underground connection was delayed’ he says winking. There is now a bottle of single malt with Duncan’s name on it that will soon be winging it’s way to the East Coast train offices.
These things bode terribly well. A free, normally over-priced coffee and a sympathetic train guard are not things that one normally happens upon and should therefore not be taken lightly. I am taking this as a good omen for the whole Edinburgh trip.
It makes me think of course, as everything does, of improv. When things go smoothly in improv, we are quite often bored – it is the mistakes that we learn to love and the failures that we celebrate.
Would we even have improv without mistakes? There is a Miles Davis quote that says, ‘If you hit a wrong note, it’s the next note that you play that determines if its’s good or bad.’ I absolutely adore this and hope to live this fantastic improv lesson onstage as well as off. Several years ago, before I was regularly practising improv, I wonder if I would have been so calm about this morning’s train ticket debacle.
So as I sit here on the floor, next to the loo and all of coach D’s suitcases and bicycles, I’m wondering how many other things won’t go to plan this month and I’m thinking – Bring it on!
24th July 2013
The title of this blog is a lie, since other than the content of the shows I’m in, none of this festival is going to be improvised. With all the shows to see, do, guest in and flyer for this month is going to be more like a bloody military operation.
I was hoping for a more ‘sexy’ title for my blog of course. On the way back from last month’s Buxton Fringe during a long, cramped and sweaty car journey, we came up with many ideas for this. Here are some of the rejected titles:
Urquhart of Midlothian – Obscure reference to a literary work by Scottish Author Sir Walter Scott (there’s a really good doc on the iplayer about his house at the moment by the way, but I digress) and a play on my name. Too obscure. Bit Political. Nothing to do with Improv.
Get Urquhart – It’s like you’ve mixed up the consonant sounds of ‘Get Carter’, right? Except I’m Urquhart and through this blog you will get me, you get me? NO.
To V or Not to V – Obscure reference to the differing schools of improvisation in the Uk and whether or not they call themselves ‘ Impro’ or ‘Improv’. For the record, it’s ‘Improv’. (Ooh controversy already in Blog 1).
Flying V – As above but also the name of the model of Gibson Electric guitar played by Marc Bolan, Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards and Eddie Van Halen. So it represents that I’m like the rock’n’roll of improve, no? NO.
For your Extemporise Only – Less said about that the better
At this point, Jen who is also a Mayday and also travelling back with me on this sweaty road trip, points out that I am in fact here in Edinburgh to perform with the Maydays. Cue a million Mayday puns, 3 of which were:
Maydays are numbered
Maydays of our lives
Maydaysed and Confused
Still none of these were rolling off the tongue. Then a flash of inspiration. I shall call my blog:
The Vagina Blogologues
Maybe Next Year.
Heather is performing in The Maydays Confessions at the Underbelly, Cowgate, 2.20pm 1-25 August and Ten Thousand Million Love Stories in the Free Fringe, August 19th 6.30pm at La Tasca and August 21st 7pm at The Fiddlers Elbow.
Visit Heather’s Web site.
More to come.