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 Rebecca MacMillan who’s performing with The Maydays’ Happily Never After and Impromptu Shakespeare.
Rachel: I have a soft spot for Impromptu Shakespeare because you were the first live improv show I saw. Tell us about it.
Rebecca: This will be Impromptu’s sixth time at the Fringe and this year The Nursery are managing us. We basically make up a new Shakespeare play. We have a very fun opening where the audience helps us choose ingredients for the play by chucking ping pong balls (with themes, locations, character types etc. written on them) into one of the cast member’s britches while we all do a silly dance. After that the Shakespearean language begins as we dive into the play! This little trailer sums it up nicely.
Rachel: That’s a great way of getting the get! Tell us about your best ever Edinburgh performance.
Rebecca: A couple of years ago I played a witch and was endowed right at the start of the show with a curse that meant I could only speak in rhyming verse. Somehow I managed to nail it despite being a little bit hungover, and the audience were all, “What?! How is she doing that?”
Rachel: What do you love about Edinburgh?
Rebecca: I’ve been to the Fringe almost every year since 2006. It’s got a very special vibe I’ve never felt anywhere else and whether your run goes well or not you can feel an almost tribal connection to your castmates by the end of it.
Rachel: I think that puts you in the veteran category! Can you share any marketing tips?
Rebecca: It’s worth spending money on your marketing. If you do that right you more than make it back. In terms of what to avoid, I don’t find improv works on the street stages particularly well, and rarely scores highly in short promotion show spots. We don’t spend too much energy on those unless there’s a very particular show that we know we’ll definitely find new audience from.
Rachel: What about tips for dealing with reviews?
Rebecca: Get a trusted friend to read any bad reviews and tell you if there’s anything you actually need to know. I can’t pretend I don’t love a good review, especially from a reviewer who actually knows and gets improv.
Rachel: Is there anything you find difficult about the Fringe?
Rebecca: Childcare and not being able to be in digs with my castmates due to having a family is quite a biggie. If the Fringe organised creches and summer clubs each day for performers to book their kids into that would be a total game-changer and I would be able to come up for the whole month again.
Rachel: Amen to that! Have you had any Edinburgh low points?
Rebecca: A few years back The Maydays were in one of the free fringes in a Cowgate space, performing an improvised Quantum Leap show with lo-fi props which needed a proper theatre presentation in order to pull off and not look like a bunch of idiots pratting about. We got there to do our first show but our space hadn’t been built yet. We managed to pull off some semblance of a performance on a rickety old pallet with the sounds of electric drills all around us and the lights going on and off as they rigged up the electrics. It was definitely not our finest moment, but I guess you can’t fault our commitment.
Rachel: How do you prepare for each show?
Rebecca: I get rather ritualistic about the route I take on the way to my venues from wherever my digs are, and what food I eat and drink before the show. It’s actually not about ‘good luck’ so much as finding my favourite experience of the way in and enjoying this moment to myself in the day, and using it to find the right headspace to perform. For the show itself, Impromptu have a series of different warm ups we like to do. My favourite is probably where we all do jokey Shakespearean style insults to the other members of the cast in turn, using a different theme each time to keep it interesting.
Rachel: And where can we see your Shakespearean insults?