I’m taking Between Us to Edinburgh Fringe for the first time this year, so I wanted to hear from other seasoned improvisers about their Edinburgh experiences. I caught up with Sam Irving who’s performing with Men With Coconuts and Spontaneous Potter.
Rachel: This is your ninth year at the Fringe! Tell us about the shows you’re performing with in 2019.
Sam: Men With Coconuts this year will be running a new format which is exciting – expect snappy scenes, emotional integrity, toilet humour and songs!
Spontaneous Potter is an improvised narrative Harry Potter fan fiction, based on an audience title suggestion. We have no structure, no assigned characters and no idea where it’s going most of the time.
Rachel: And what keeps you coming back each year?
Sam: Edinburgh Fringe is my annual pilgrimage or my drug, depending on how you look at it. It has become such a part of my life I don’t know what I’d do without it. I love seeing shows (my own and others’) grow to new heights and try new things, as well as seeing new shows arrive every year. There is also an energy to Edinburgh in August that I haven’t found anywhere else.
Rachel: You must have plenty of energy to be doing two shows!
Sam: I find my energy runs out quicker every year. In my early 20s, I was doing 4 or 5 shows a day every day for the entire run. This year I’m sticking with two!
Rachel: Tell us about your Edinburgh highlight. You must have loads after nine years!
Sam: Every great show is a highlight, but an off-stage moment for me was when a friend invited me to a birthday party at one of the Edinburgh youth hostels. I didn’t know anyone else there but decided to head along anyway. As soon as I walked into the room, someone shouted “That’s the guy!” and people started cheering and clapping me. I was stunned. It turns out the hostel staff loved our show and had been recommending it to literally every guest and passerby! The shows are big enough now that I get recognised from time to time even outside of Fringe, but that’s still the closest I’ve ever come to feeling like a celebrity.
Rachel: And would you share your Edinburgh low point?
Sam: I remember making a lazy, poor taste joke in a show years ago which upset an audience member who spoke to me after the show. I was very apologetic, and saw it as a learning experience, and would like to think it has made me a better, more conscientious improviser today.
Rachel: That’s good advice. Have you got any advice for a new show at Edinburgh?
Sam: Put the work in and don’t be disheartened if it doesn’t take off immediately – my first year we were lucky to pull in crowds of 10 people, but last year we sold out a 120-seat venue every single night, and this year we are in a 280-seater. Also, don’t compare yourself to other shows, only to your own standards. Do the best show you can possibly do.
Rachel: That’s a lot of seats to sell! How do you promote your show?
Sam: This year is by far our biggest year for both shows, so we’ve paid for big posters and billboards around the city – you will see my face EVERYWHERE. Our marketing budget this year was eye-watering, but we stand to make it back tenfold if we sell out.
Rachel: How do you keep your improv fresh when you’re performing every day?
Sam: With some difficulty! I’m lucky to have two great teams of incredible supportive improvisers who always keep me on my toes on stage, and if any of us catch ourselves falling into a pattern we will mention it and try to be more aware of it in future. We also get a lot of super-fans who will come to multiple shows across the Fringe, so we know we can’t get away with repeating anything at all – someone will call us out on it!
Rachel: It’s great to have such a supportive cast. How do you prepare for each show?
Sam: We look every other member in the eyes and say “I want to do a show with you.” It gets us connected, and starting out with sustained eye contact is a good habit for the rest of the show. We also really mean it – every show with both groups is an absolute delight.
Rachel: How lovely! Just remind us where the audience can be delighted by you.