Welcome to this years Phoenix Remix Awards – every year as Editor I like to celebrate the talent that I have witnessed on stage and give that particular group extra promotion to introduce new audience members to them as well as also celebrate their talents. For this years Show of The Year award I am presenting it to a brand new group that only formed in 2019. Ever since their formation they have been impressing audiences and even sold out every night at their first ever Edinburgh Fringe – Banana Hut Gang.
Hello tell us all about who you all are and three unknown facts about Banana Hut Gang ?
Chris Warner – Banana Hut Gang a is an acronym for BHG, which is also the acronym for where we rehearse in an old library on Brewers Hall Gardens near Moorgate. We’ve never done a scene that focussed on bananas.
James Stone – we broke the world record for stapling reviews to flyers on a train*
How did your group form?
Chris – lots of us were regular attendees at a Friday drop-in class for members of Sedos, London’s premiere amateur dramatic society. We formed a little company outside of the drop in and were trained by Jules Munn from The Nursery Theatre to do an Armando and a Harold, and then Banana Hut Gang evolved from that.
How did you come up with the name of your troupe? Was it difficult?
Laura Capaldi – We did a lot of brainstorming that involved saying random words and mind melding them. But in the end our name came about as a reflection of where we rehearse. We’d started affectionately calling Brewer’s Hall Gardens (or BHG for short) the Banana Hut and so the Banana Hut Gang was born.
How did the show Choose Your Own Improv come about?
James – We were playing with storytelling and how you could tell a story without knowing how it could end. We also wanted the audience to feel connected and involved. We all remembered the books from way back so once we started playing with a choice mechanism we knew we were on to something.
You have been awarded the Phoenix Remix ‘Show of the Year’ award – I came and saw your show at a preview, and since them have seen it about three more times – even a 10 minute set where you managed to fit the whole hour show into it! How do you feel?
Laura – It’s an absolute honour to be named ‘Show of the Year’. We’ve had an incredible 2019, creating our first Ed Fringe show and selling out in our debut year. This is the icing on the cake!
I have found your show one of the best that I have seen this year because the narrative, the characters and improvised stories are so good – how did you get to this being so strong?
Chris – That’s very kind of you to say! To be honest, there isn’t really one thing. We work hard – and by that I mean we rehearse every week and are chatting most days on Whatsapp about things we’ve seen or exercises we want to try. On the story front, we’ve done a lot of work around the Pixar story formula, and return to that a lot.
Also, I am not alone in thinking your show is great – your first year at Edinburgh Fringe and you sell out every night!
Laura – Yes, it was incredible. None of us could have predicted that we would have sold out one performance let alone all of them. We are so so proud of what we’ve achieved this year and we can’t wait to go back up to Edinburgh next year.
For those who have not seen your show – throughout the narrative you can play more than one character – how do you decide the strong traits you give them to separate them for the audience to understand?
James – it’s really driven by the genre and story we find ourselves in. We try to compliment and contrast with the protagonist, this really helps when coming up with the choices as they can then be driven by the protagonist’s needs or the other character’s.
We have to talk about the situations that happen when the audience make the wrong decision – how did you decide that to be part of the show? Did you ever think it was a risky thing to do to go against an audience suggestion?
Laura – We try not to ever go against what the audience want, which has occasionally meant that we didn’t complete the ‘quest’ that was set for the main character at the start. But if that’s what the audience want then that’s the journey they go on! Occasionally some of the choices lead us down a narrative dead end so we can choose to end the story at that point and go back to a previous choice. Obviously we never know what’s going to happen, but we like to think that we can make the story work whatever the audience throw at us!
Chris – In one of our Edinburgh shows, the audience literally chose every decision that would throw us off the more expected narrative…. And in that show you just have to lean into that and go – that’s what they want, that’s what they’ll get!
How much research has had to go into the show?
Laura – A lot! We learned as many different genres as we could think of, studied them and worked out how we could make each genre work for our format. It was extremely challenging at times but looking back I think that the effort that we put in shows on stage.
We have a lot of Improvisers who read this site – what is the best piece of advice you would give any improviser, experienced or new?
Chris – I love watching the UCB cagematch fights on YouTube. They’re HILARIOUS and because it’s different teams you get a great insight into different styles.
James – be truthful and in the moment, audiences love seeing a performer who’s involved and interested
How did you all get into improv?
Chris – I studied theatre sports at school and that got me interested!
James – I had done a fully immersive production of The Tempest with SEDOS and that involved a lot of improvisation and in wanted to continue with that
How do you warm up before every show?
Chris – It varies. Alex brought something to the very first drop in session which we have always maintained – it’s called Share the Week, and it’s just a way for each of us to share a simple story (funny or sometimes really mundane!) – and we talk about how it made us feel, but also try and pick out ‘shiny things’ that we use to colour scenes later that session.
What are your plans in 2020?
Chris – We’re taking Choose Your Own Improv back to the fringe. We want to perform it in a slightly larger venue, and there have been discussions around how we might change the format slightly…. But exactly how is a secret for now!
If people want to find out more about you where can they follow you on social media?
We are on all the social media:
@bananahutgang on Twitter
@bananahutgang on Instagram
And Finally in three words – Why are Banana Hut Gang, Choose Your Own Improv show so unique?
Chris – The audience decide!
QUICK FIRE ROUND
What makes your smile?
Laura– how many eggs we ate in Edinburgh
What is your biggest strength as an improviser?
Chris – I like to think bold characters. The further away from my own character, the better!
Dream venue to perform at and why?
Jonny – The Moon. Why not?
Are you a dog or cat person?
James – definitely cat. As humans we don’t deserve dogs, so we have to appreciate what cats are willing to give us
What is the most delightful suggestion for a scene you can think of?
James – oh wow, we had so many you think might be awkward but turned out to be amazing, like Biblical! So the most delightful suggestion would be something that surprises us
If you had to have a tattoo to represent improv what would you have and why?
P.U.V.E: (an acronym reminding you to start scenes with something Physical, Unusual, Verbal or Emotional! – credit to Jules Munn at The Nursery for that one!)
Who is your improv hero and why?
James – I always think back to Whose Line and would have to go with Colin Mochrie
What is the last thing you liked on social media?
Laura – An invite to us performing at the Lord Mayor’s Show!
Something on your bucket list?
James – performing in a West End Theatre