This week we have a very special event as out show of the week. It’s already well into its run but this week we are looking at Project 2’s very exciting venture that they are hosting at the Rosemary Branch Theatre. Thirteen Cycles is a show where Science Fiction and Theatre collaboration where a new story is created every night with a mix of a live soundtrack and a projection-mapped interactive visuals. This week is the last time you will be able to catch the show, I caught up with Katy Schutte and Chris Mead to find out all about it.
Hello Katy / Chris tell us all about who you all are and a little bit about yourselves?
KATY: I’m Co-artistic Director of award-winning improvisation company The Maydays, a cast member of Knightmare Live and BAFTA-winning online educational series History Bombs. I perform and write comedy, theatre and musical theatre plus teaching and performing internationally. My recent shows Schutte the Unromantic and Let’s Summon Demons were nominated for a comedy award and got a bunch of glowing reviews. My book The Improviser’s Way: A Longform Workbook is published by Nick Hern Books.
We also have Fred on the team who is the musician, designer and producer in our current phase of Project2. As half of the band Lemon Jelly, Fred has been Mercury and Brit nominated, sold over half a million albums and headlined stages at almost every major UK music festival. He is Professor of Interactive Digital Arts at the University of the Arts London.
CHRIS: My name’s Chris. I teach, coach and perform improv in London and internationally. I’m co-Artistic director of the Nursery Theatre and I improvise with The Maydays and, of course, Project2. I also co-founded a theatre company that does purely improvised work called Unmade Theatre Co. YesBot, my podcast about programming a robot to be the perfect improv scene partner is available on iTunes, Stitcher and … well, you know … the internet.
How did the show Project 2 come about?
KATY: After coaching Chris and Jon (Monkhouse) in the UK’s first Harold team, 8Bit, they broke off to make a two person science fiction show and asked me to coach that. After a handful of shows, they asked me to play in it. I was delighted, despite the fact that I stopped getting paid at that point!
CHRIS: It was the perfect plan. Get one of the best improvisers in the UK even MORE involved in our dumb sci-fi team AND save a large amount of money. We’ve been together over 6 years now and, although Jon stopped performing with Project2 a year ago, that kind of longevity is pretty rare in our community. So, that’s pretty awesome.
Tell us a little bit about the Project 2 shows that are happening this week?
CHRIS: It’s the last three dates of our Thirteen Cycles project where we’ve been improvising a sci-fi movie every night for three weeks. It’s at the Rosemary Branch Theatre, so it’s a proper little theatre space and we’ve really pushed the boat out – new costumes, theatrical lighting, our usual incredible soundscapes (courtesy of Fred) and a new set that can be rolled around and used in a lot of incredible ways.
There have been a lot of videos on social media about the interactivity and innovation that is part of this project. Tell us more about the technology and virtual reality you have been using to make this show possible?
CHRIS: It’s all come from the genius mind of Rob Armstrong. I don’t understand it fully (I don’t think any non-genius could) but from what I can gather we have a virtual reality version of the set and that’s mapped onto the real-life physical set using VR sensors. So if we move the set on stage then the computer knows we’ve moved them and adjusts all the projections accordingly. What that means in practical terms is we can move our set pieces and the projections on them will follow us round the room as if they’re ‘stuck’ to them. Which is pretty cool. We also have animated GIFs that we can control from wrist units and scale at will. Like Minority Report.
It is not the first time you have ventured into Virtual Reality for improv is it? Tell us about the shows you have done?
CHRIS: We were the FIRST improv group to do a full show in VR. We partnered with an amazing company called AltSpace VR – who built us a theatre in virtual reality and let us put on a couple of shows. It was amazing – we also got custom built avatars that looked like us right down to the variations in our costumes. We ended up doing short-form because suddenly not being able to read facial expressions, make eye contact or signal stuff through body language made it hard to keep a full long-form narrative going. On the plus side, we could draw things in 3D on thin air and then use them in the scene.
Also we HAVE to talk about your 3D printed leaflets – how did they come about?
KATY: Fred is a professor of Design at LCC and used his expertise to laser cut those beauties. If you have one, bring it along to the show for extra treats.
With the Festival season just finished – what have been some of the best acts you have seen this summer and why?
KATY: I didn’t go to the Edinburgh Festival this year, but I thoroughly enjoyed London Horror Festival where I was playing with a couple of shows. I saw The Darklings which was exceptional and I loved Bryony Kimming’s new show I’m A Phoenix, Bitch at the BAC. The best improv shows I saw this year were Ghosts of Love at the Amsterdam improv festival and North Coast who I’ve seen at various festivals and in London. Baby Wants Candy, 3033, Messing with a Friend and Dasariski are my international faves.
CHRIS: I’m loving La Carpe Haute who work out of Strasbourg – they’re such amazing, connected improvisers and they do marvellously detailed work while still being playful and supportive. It’s pretty mind-blowing. But I love so many improv teams – Dummy are my all-time favourites (I’m getting to play with them this February at the Nursery which is a huge honour) but I also adore Breaking & Entering, Cariad & Paul, Decibel and Dreamweaver Quartet.
What advice would you give for people thinking about starting an improv troupe themselves?
KATY: It will move and change, some people will be there because they want to be pros, others will be there just for a hobby. That often splits the company within a year, but that’s not a bad thing. People get clearer on their goals. My advice is meet often to rehearse, but also find time to hang out as humans. Don’t let one person do all the admin and don’t tell each other how to improvise because both of those things breed resentment.
CHRIS: Neil Gaiman says that to be a successful artist or creator you need to be three things: talented, reliable and nice. He goes on to say that you can probably be any two out of the three and still get work. I think aiming for all three is a good plan.
KATY: …if you’re a man. Then you can skip one of the three things. If you’re a woman you have to do all of them really well and deal with the shit you get along the way.
What is the best thing about a night at Project 2 for the audience?
CHRIS: We don’t have a format. Every show will be entirely different. We do what Katy calls “Game of the Show” – we work out what sub-genre we’re in during the first scene and then everything proceeds from that. I think that when we’re firing on all cylinders we are a genuinely unpredictable and thrilling show to witness. We’re serious about pushing out of our comfort zone and creating something new. Thirteen Cycles is a good example of that.
If people want to find out more about you where can they follow you on social media?
CHRIS: We’re on Instagram @project2scifi and we’re on Facebook at facebook.com/project2scifi. We’re not on Twitter – we got thrown off when we started talking about our fears that the Tweet algorithm might become sentient and become SkyNet.
What is YOUR favourite show you have done this year and why?
KATY: There have been so many, but I’ve really enjoyed doing Project2 Lates. We explored time loops, marriage on a barren planet and lots of other odd and wonderful things to a 10pm Wednesday audience. We had people pop in from several countries to see our odd late night experiments!
(I’m also very proud of my horror play Let’s Summon Demons… which will be showing at VAULT in March!)
CHRIS: I loved our Amsterdam show. It was a packed audience, hundreds of improv nerds from all over Europe and we got the best suggestion – a comic book store in a post-Apocalyptic wasteland. That was one of those shows where everything came together – it was funny and sad and punchy and glorious to be a part of – and it had a killer ending.
And Finally in three words – Why should people come and see the show?
KATY: Science fiction fun
CHRIS: What she said
QUICK FIRE ROUND
If you could be any animal what would it be and why?
KS: A spider. I used to be scared of them and now I think they’re ace.
CM: A cheetah. They’re actually nearer dogs than cats. They’re claws don’t retract.
Who is your favourite super hero and why?
KS: In this moment, Aeon Fluxx. She always dies.
CM: If I can stretch the definition a little – Delirium of the Endless. If I can’t – the Runaways.
If a movie was made of your life what genre would it be, who would play you?
KS: It would be the next Ghostbusters and Kate McKinnon would play me.
CM: Ealing comedy and I’d like to be played by Alec Guinness.
If you could go any where in the world where would you go and why?
KS: New Zealand. I am. I’m going to walk for three months as my Middle Earth Crisis.
CM: Japan. Always Japan.
What would you do with your “15 minutes” of fame?
KS: Hopefully get some Arts Funding.
CM: Not look at Twitter.
What is one item you could NEVER live without?
KS: Survivalists tell you it’s a machete. That can build you shelter, cut firewood and kill food.
CM: Oolong tea.
Last time you laughed very hard out loud?
KS: Watching The Good Place.
CM: This video about how Neanderthals might have sounded. It’s not meant to be funny.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o589CAu73UM
What is your favourite movie quote?
CM: “I can’t stand burnt toast. I loathe bus stations – terrible places, full of lost luggage and lost souls. And then there’s unrequited love, and tyranny, and cruelty. We all have a world of our own terrors to face…” Cheery.