It is festival season and last month we were going Excited for Edinburgh Fringe and this month we are going Crazy for Camden Fringe! This month we are talking to acts performing at the festival so you have a strong idea as to what is happening this month in London. Today we interview an improv troupe who we have already had the privilege to meet already this week for Improv Corner and now we really go behind the scenes to find out about their show. I caught up with another troupe member, Michael Such, who is also the Co-Director to find out all about the show.
Name Of Show: Open Roads
Date: 30th July to 2nd August
Location: Hen & Chickens Theatre
Hello Michael! Tell us about Open Roads?
Open Roads is an improvised road trip movie, driven by audience song suggestions and inspired by Avery Alder’s Ribbon Drive. Two people on a journey, their hopes and struggles strewn along the highway. A play made up on the spot; it might be funny, sad or just plain beautiful.
What’s the name of your show this year?
Open Roads, we cast specifically to do this show.
I’m interested in doing improv shows with a clear artistic direction and focus.
This show started out as part of the Nursery Theatre’s Originals program a few years back and we did ImproFest UK in 2016. Each time we’ve had a different cast. But I’m really excited to take the show a bit further and do a four night run.
How did you come up with the name of your show that your taking to the Camden fringe?
Our show and format were inspired by the story game Ribbon Drive by Avery Alder. The tagline for that game is “we tell stories about letting go on the open road.” So it’s a gentle homage I guess. It’s also that the characters on the journey are cut loose on open roads, able to explore different directions in their future.
Tell us a little bit about your style of improv?
Broadly it fits into the “organic” style of improv, if that means anything, it’s more about discovering than inventing. We are also very focused in the scenes being lead from the heart and the character relationships. The show is also narrative but we’re doing it in a different and quite of indirect way. To have that playful, meandering feeling a lot of road trip movies have.
What will your set be about?
We’re aiming for the experience to be like watching an indie road trip movie. Think Little Miss Sunshine or Everything is Illuminated. A light, fun tone overall but with a serious heart able to go into beautiful poignant moments. Although the characters are on a road trip, the focus of the show is a big personal decision they have looming in their life. Underpinning this all is the use of music. We get the audience to suggest songs, which we’ll play throughout the show to inspire the scenes and the journey overall. It’s really fun to hear something you suggested be played out loud and see what direction the performers take it in.
What other acts are you looking forward to seeing at the fringe?
I’m super excited that two other really interesting improv shows are actually on at the Hen & Chickens the same nights as us. On the 1st August it’s Improbotics, who are doing a very strange show where improvisers are fed lines by a mix of AI and other performers. They describe it as a theatrical Turing test; can the audience tell who is being lead by a machine? On the 2nd (and the 3rd) it’s Three Worlds. They make beautiful improvised theatre work which is very grounded. Their theme for this year is “re-working the city.” I guess this is a bit of a cheeky cross plug within the improv community, which is sometimes a bit insular, but it is genuine.
Have you done the fringe before? What have been some of your favourite shows to date and why?
Last year I directed an experimental improv show called A Machine for Fools at the Etctera Theatre. It was an attempt at an improvised theatre of the absurd piece, both funny and quite dark. For favourite shows, if we’re talking about fringes in general, I loved Milly Thomas’ play Dust, which I saw in Edinburgh last year. It’s a solo piece with an amazing journey of emotions and characters. And a very important anti-suicide message at the core, whilst feeling very lived in and not at all a laboured Important Message piece.
Some acts have already tried it and done shows in the environment but do you think virtual reality has a space to be used in improv and what other modern technologies do you think could alter the way we interact and watch improv in the future?
Yes. In a broader sense I think there is a lot of growth space in improv for people to focus on making a show and a full theatrical experience. Don’t get me wrong, just getting up and doing some scenes in your jeans is great fun. But I think sometimes aspects like costume, tech and how the audience engage with the show are overlooked. One thing I love about improv is that, being really more of a method than an end goal, it’s very open. You can have opera improv or sketch improv or theatre improv. And improvisers are great to work with in their capacity to deal with having things thrown at them. I always encourage people to make the show they want to see and use everything they have. How about a show where performers can Skype in (it’s been done but a thought)?
I also think it cuts both ways. As you can see from the heritage of this show, I’m also involved in the roleplaying and live action roleplaying (larp) communities, which intersect with improv. There are so many problems that people making VR works are running into, like how to design a collective narrative, which have already been worked on from a more analogue perspective. I like collaboration across mediums and different areas of expertise, I think it’s very fruitful.
What have been some of the most unique and different comedy shows you have seen this year and why?
Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette. If anyone hasn’t seen it live or on Netflix yet, then do so. I like that it is a journey of such distance from great jokes to something personal, serious and moving. It’s clearly a show which Hannah Gadsby poured herself into, whilst questioning why stand-up demands that she do so. It’s a reconsidering of what comedy is and how it is made.
I feel we’re at an odd moment where a lot of political and cultural norms are changing. Quite rapidly and not for the good. It turns out history didn’t end. I was probably far too naive and privileged to believe that was ever the case. I hate myself for using this phrase but, ‘as an artist,’ I think it’s definitely time for reflecting on what kind of works we make and how that interacts with the ideas buzzing about in society. I think art can be a very powerful and useful reminder of the universality of the human experience and that is very much needed in the current climate.
In the run up to the show we watched the road trip movie Everything is Illuminated. Which is an excellent film. It centres on a young American Jewish man travelling to Ukraine in search of the woman who saved his Grandfather during the Holocaust. It was released in 2005, whilst the Iraq war was raging and after the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. But it felt like such a piece from different, more innocent, time. Back when pretty much everyone agreed Nazis were bad. With these political and cultural changes I do feel the kind of shows I make in the coming years have to change in response.
Although I should also say that as a “default man,” using Grayson Perry’s term, it’s on me to be stepping back more and supporting other people from different backgrounds making shows. Without somehow making it all about myself anyway…
If people want to find out more about you where can they follow you on social media?
And Finally in three words – Why should people come and see the show?
For beautiful, personal, journeys
CAMDEN FRINGE QUICK FIRE ROUND
Best thing about performing at the Camden fringe?
Being able to perform on an actual stage in an actual theatre. These days there are definitely more improv-specific theatres open and more opportunities. But I’ve done a lot of improv gigs in plain rooms in pubs and I feel having proper lighting and sound really upgrades the show.
What are your pre show rituals?
For this show I like making the cast flock to weird music. In general I really like being playful and stupid, it puts you in the right headspace. I never say “I’ve got your back.”
What advice would you give to others who want to perform at Camden Fringe next year?
Start planning really early. Give advice to others you don’t follow yourself.
What are the best venue’s at the fringe?
Tough question. I have to say the Hen & Chickens of course. But what I really like about the Camden Fringe is that there are so many venues and they are all doing different things. I feel that it is seeding fringe arts throughout Camden.