This weekend I was lucky enough to be one on the performers in Liverpool’s annual ‘Improvathon’, a 33 hour long show organised by fellow Mersey based improv troupe Impropriety, and it was pretty amazing. I’ll hold my hand up now and say I wasn’t in all of it, as a guest being my first one I partook in around 20 hours of it. The theme for the shows was a fairy tale, and it was epic and sweeping but I know what you’re thinking, how does such a thing even work?
It’s based on a show developed in Australia called a ‘Soap-a-thon’ where previous shows at the Adelaide Improv Festival have run to fifty two hours! Each performer picks a character and the scenes roll on in hour long chunks with a fifteen minute break after each one for the audience to strech their legs and the performers to re-group. Hang on that’s cheating! No, not really.
Before taking part I had no idea how it would work and envisaged an epic ‘relay race’ where performers tag teamed each other from one scene to the next for the whole duration, which of course would be exhaustive for both performers and those watching, the narrative would sprawl and audience members would be lumbered with an ‘if I go to the loo I might miss a plot point’ dilemma. Hence very breaks are needed, to keep it fresh and focussed.
The show I took part in had around twenty performers in it, all really talented guys. There was a sizeable contingent from London as well as former Comedysportz guys Mark Rawle and Sally Hodgkiss. I did feel like a bit of an outsider at first but I shouldn’t have, these are improvisers, and inclusivity and trust are just what they do. I just plugged in.
In the first half of my stint I was ‘Dennis Boggins’, the only Hobbit who works, then some hours later Rosie the director indulged my whim to switch character and I did a big fat ‘Yes And’ on doing some puppeteering. Ian, one on Liverpool’s guys had made some pretty awesome Jim Henson style puppets which fitted in really well with the fantasy aspects of the show. I’ve never done anything with puppets before. In The first scene I didn’t nail the lip syncing or a consistent accent. Then went off stage and had a personal crisis about what the hell I thought I was doing and I was rubbish at all of it. Then owned it. A couple of scenes later ‘Wispy Neil the forest messenger’ was singing and floating around like a pro. Not unlike sticking on my duffel coat for doing Danny Pensive, I could literally stand behind the character I was playing and observe the scene more objectively while still being present in it. Always learning.
As the hours rolled on, Rosie directed, or to be more specific I think, ‘curated’ the scenes lightly to give the show a narrative direction. In the short breaks highlighting to us performers particularly interesting plot threads which had evolved over time.
Audiences came and went, then came back, then slept, then woke up and carried on watching, both evenings were full until the early hours. Towards the end it became emotional as the lines between tired performers and their character blurred, creating some amazing scenes, powerful, funny and full of pathos.
At the thirty third hour there was still plenty of energy in the room, I could see how it was possible to do a fifty five hours show. Wow. I have a new found love of improv. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Photos by Patrick D’Arcy and Jo Na.