Three Shows in Three Days
I’ve just had the good fortune of performing in three completely different shows in three days, featuring four different groups. A couple of years ago performing in three shows would have taken about 4 months, and performing in completely different shows wouldn’t have happened at all, so I feel very honoured. This means that whereas previously lessons learnt from a show would lurk around in my sock drawer for a month just before being forgotten in time for the next one, I could actually take them into the next place and do something with it.
Monday 13th September, Music Box, The Troubadour, Earl’s Court
Tuesday 14th September, Hoopla and The Maydays, The Miller, London Bridge
Wednesday 15th September, Shotgun Impro, The Miller, London Bridge, with Jane Colenutt, Kath Martin, Nick Murphy and Rosalind Blessed.
At the moment I’m fresh out of the Shotgun show, which was completely awesome. I was a guest performer and had only met them all briefly at an audition last year sometime, so it’s slightly nervy walking in, although actually I’m probably just saying that out of Englishness – actually I wasn’t nervous at all and was very excited. They were exceptionally friendly and welcoming, I was greeted by the lovely Jane Colenutt and we talked through the show together in a calm and fun way. The show was a mix of games in the first half, and then scenes in the second half. In fact it was remarkably similar to a Hoopla show so I felt right at home. The Shotgunners were very calm and organised with setting things up before the show, which meant I could actually concentrate on the acting for a change – and I loved it! They were a very professional yes-anding bunch so everything got picked up on and some really funny scenes happened.
At Music Box my expectation, or more importantly my ‘minimum requirement for happiness’ was the room packed to standing room only with 150 people, a perfect set from us, followed by a standing ovation. I’m not joking, that’s what I secretly wanted/needed from the evening. In fact the audience was no where near this, and so the whole evening I was having to cope with my mild disappointment. However with Shotgun I really didn’t expect anything at all, as I hadn’t been involved in organising, my expectations were low and so when we opened the doors to the audience and found a group of American drama students patiently waiting to come in I was thrilled to bits. All night I couldn’t believe these people were coming to see us, it was amazing.
Only after the show did I realise that it had been exactly the same amount of people at Music Box and Shotgun. Except one I acted with mild disappointment, and the other I treated them like I was thrilled they were there.
Lesson: By all means do all you can with your organisation, but on the night drop all this, expect nothing, and be grateful, humble and joyous for everything.
At Music Box I ended up doing front of house right up until the time I went on stage, so my warm up was basically ‘£7 please’. At Hoopla and The Maydays I was setting room, then welcoming audience, then moving actors around in a bossy fashion, then compering, then directing, then audience, then acting, then compering. At Shotgun I was just acting – what a difference! I really felt ‘out of my head’ and able to just concentrate on all the fun stuff on stage.
Lesson: Err, get someone else to do all the other stuff? Sign up to an experience agent and producer? Failing that I suppose it’s just to be aware that this happens and to be conscious that you are moving from one mode to the other – front of house mode to acting mode. If you’re on stage in a scene and you’re worried that the door has been left open and the air conditioner is set 2 degrees too cold, then you’re in trouble.
Audiences Come From Lots of Different Places
Sometimes we’re under the delusion that there is a magic Nirvana where you put your show in Time Out and thousands of people turn up. The only person this worked for was Michael Jackson at the O2, and he died before the show anyway. Actually audiences come from all over the place – you might end up with 5 who know one cast member, 6 you’ve met at a workshop, 3 who read about it on Time Out Website, four from facebook, 1 from a flyer, 3 from the pub downstairs, 8 on a student outing they learnt about from a website I’m too old to know about, 1 in the wrong place etc etc. Theatres don’t just put on ‘a play’ and then badaboombadabing loads of people turn up – they have complex marketing strategies and large teams getting the word out there and getting people along.
Lesson: The audience arrive fragmented from different places, it’s your job to unite them in a common experience. If you want an audience, work at it. Everyone who comes is special.
The ‘Simple’ Impro Exercises are the Most Important Ones
I say this all the time in workshops but if you’re in a performance group and you’re not playing games like ‘Word at a Time’, ‘Yes And’, ‘What Happens Next’, ‘Where Who What’, ‘Blocking/Not Blocking’ then you’re in trouble. If you think “I learnt all that yes-and stuff three years ago” then you’re in even more trouble. It’s always these simple things that make a massive difference, and they do work. Just before Hoopla and The Maydays I got Hoopla playing the present game, then word at a time story, then what happens next in quick succession. I told them to only concentrate on building a platform and saying yes in the show, and I was really proud of how they performed. At Shotgun they played a big circle of word at a time story before the show, and a simple game like this can get everyone in the right frame of mind.
Lesson: Do these games a lot.
Just be in a good mood, it’s fun
This was reminded to me by the lovely Jane Colenutt at Shotgun. They were all in a very good mood right from the start, no stress and no worrying. ‘We might not have an audience at all’ – ‘Oh well, we’ll have some fun anyway, can’t wait’ – ‘Actually, there’s a lovely audience, they’ve just been waiting on the stairs’ – ‘Even better then, show them in’. At Music Box and Hoopla & The Maydays I was the stress head but everyone around me was uplifting and happy. As Jane said all you’ve really got in a show is some people on stage interacting, and all that really matters is whether they’re in good mood and supporting each other or not. Otherwise the audience do pick up on bad feelings, you’re under the microscope.
Lesson: Make sure you sort out and address issues within a group beforehand so that on the night you can turn up in a good mood and have some fun.
Get Some Acting Lessons
Shotgun were interesting because they are all professional actors and do lots of other acting and have done various serious acting training. It’s hard to quantify exactly what difference this makes, but it does make a big difference. I think if anything it carries the show, especially the gaps between the scenes, as the audience have faith they are seeing ‘something’. I think things like being heard, not fidgeting and being open to the audience and confident on stage make a massive difference.
Lesson: Get some acting lessons, not just impro.
Say Yes, even when you’re not sure why.
In the Music Box show I got really confused by the plot. I started as a small time toy factory owner in Swansea but found myself caught up in an invasion of the underworld featuring a tardis and multiple Dr. Who’s and a character who was a Baked Bean. Come to think of it, confusion was probably the perfect emotion for my character. At one point the offer came of ‘look, there’s a tardis full of baked beans’. I initially didn’t react as I felt I still hadn’t worked out where we were in the story. Then I though sod it, say yes, and picked up a chair to represent the tardis. This then span around to music, emptied beans on the bad guy, prompted me to do a rap (with the line “yeah motherf***** yo weren’t expecting a tardis full of beans), which then ramped into the end closing number.
Lesson: Even when you don’t know what’s going on, say yes to offers. Especially when you don’t know what’s going on, say yes to offers.