Improv

Improv Corner – SPECIAL EDITION – On The Road With Bumper Blyton

Welcome to a special edition of Improv Corner this week, where we are handing over the reigns to Bumper Blyton for a very special edition. The troupe are currently on tour right now, after a long 2 years of waiting to be allowed out to play. So to celebrate the tour, the troupe decided to interview each other about life on the road.

Whats is been like bringing improv to audiences that may not have seen it before?

Rhiannon: They just seem very up for it. And many of them say at the end, ‘you can’t have made it up. At least the songs – the songs we’re pre written… riiiight?’ It’s really nice to blow minds like that. I also think if they see us reacting in the moment, like trying not to laugh or bungling a name or a plot line, they can begin to tell it can’t be prewritten. They get all the info they need at the top of the show, and then they’re along for the ride with us.

 As long as they’re having fun, and enjoying our suspect puns, I do think they forget it’s improvised sometimes. The best thing is knowing you’ve got in as many suggestions of theirs as possible. Even now having done improv for ages, I still get a kick as an audience member when my suggestion is used! So I bet they’re chuffed. It’s also nice to meet them at the merch table at the end. We’ve had a fair few folk tell us they’ve had a rough year and they really needed the laugh we gave them. That feels really rewarding. Because we have a laugh too. More laughter please!

Amy: It really helps when sharing improv comedy with new audiences, that we don’t just make passing references to their suggestions,  but actually craft the core of the story around their ideas, reinforcing that the show is truly made up and tailor made to them.

I think people like feeling recognised as well as laughing at themselves along with their ‘neighbours’. It can be cathartic and bring people together in a period of time when we’ve had to be so distant.

Some of my most memorable moments in the show so far:

Rhiannon: I think in Telford our audience was so friendly and refreshed they started to respond to certain characters like you would in a pantomime! The kind of positive, super invested heckle. Clearly they were up for some audience interaction, so we made them part of the show from their seats – they got to collectively play a group of seals that we rode ashore. Naturally…

What’s been the most interesting part of touring so far?

Rhiannon: For me, it’s finding out where some places actually are. I’ve not travelled much within the UK, so it’s fun to end up somewhere you’ve only vaguely heard of. And if there’s time, it’s nice to have dinner before the show. We did that in Banbury and in Bognor Regis. It’s also curious to see different venues and support local business’. In Totten we were literally in a beautiful old barn. I thought we might all get married at the end. 

Amy: One of the benefits of going around the country with a theatre show is that you get a small amount of time to visit the nearby town, which means being able to visit local niche museums like the Pencil Museum in Keswick or Cuckooland in Cheshire. Or to try a local delicacy; like a Sally Lunn bun in Bath, A Fat Rascal in Harrogate or a Butter Bun in Shropshire. Did I say delicacy? I meant Buns. Just lots of buns. 

It’s also always genuinely fascinating having a chance to chat to local people about what makes their area special, or more often, getting to know the very specific local gripes in the area and have fun onstage weaving the knowledge into the show that night. 

For example; in Banbury, we learned there is always a strange sweet smell coming from the local ‘Fine Lady’ baking factory and then there’s the famous rhyme about ‘riding a cock horse to Banbury cross’. in that show, we had a running theme of people wanting to be considered a fine lady (very period appropriate) and I will let you imagine the very unsubtle ways we referenced riding a cock-horse… or was it a….

How do people react to a show that is based on Enid Blyton books?

Jonah: Everybody nowadays is well aware of what Enid Blyton was really like as a person behind her books as well as some of the language used in the old, uncensored editions.

We’ve never shied away from satirising some of her more problematic themes and then outright lambasting some her toxic opinions such as references of misogyny and xenophobia. I think the power of Satire to highlight hypocrisies and injustices cannot be understated as we so often learn through laughter and comedy is a great unifier. 

Sure, its a fairly mainstream comedy show but we’re using these children’s books from a bygone era to highlight the deep class divides and prejudices we STILL have today. We’ve worked hard to make this a thoroughly modern and self-aware comedy show, and even though the cast are a group of liberal hipsters from London, it’s actually a learning experience for all of us when our more rural audiences subvert our own expectations of their tastes and laugh at the same things that we find funny. I think despite ones metropolitan views and ideals it’s important as a comedian to be able to see what’s funny or just ridiculous on both sides of a political debate. 

What can be the struggles of touring?

James: Initially it can be a lot to think about. Getting to the different locations, streamlining your “get-in”. Meeting the venue staff. Warming up and then doing a great show, packing down and then moving to the next verdant pasture on another stage in another town. Maybe if you are lucky finding food along the way. It can wear you out after a bit, even if you are having the time of your life. Touring is sort of taking up this nomadic lifestyle. It has it’s own rhythm which is separate from that of home and it can be a bit disjointing when you return to your “normal life”, so you need to make space for that. Other than that. It’s just great! Our chosen V.O for the SatNav is Boy George. A super calming, tea obsessive. 10/10 Would recommend.

Tips for aspiring improv companies who want to tour their work

James: As ever, there is always admin. Get your show seen. If you land yourself an agent that will really help. When touring, delegate responsibilities for different tasks like tech and front of house and then rotate round who is in charge of what when you get to different venues. You never know what is going to happen when you are touring. From personal problems to travel, sickness and venue issues, life is unpredictable and it really helps if everyone is clued up on all roles that get the show on it’s feet in different places.

Also, be prepared for the unsociable hours. Shows often finish late and if you are far from home, that journey back may be hard or impossible that night especially if you want a ginger beer after the show. 

Jonah: Here are a few key points:

  • Know your product, and understands its audience outside of the big city you may live in.
  • Work and rework and rephrase your brochure copy and review it as well as any marketing materials continually. 
  • Start small by applying to as many brilliant UK and Irish improv festivals that you can, hone your show, and be open to changing it. (When we first started Bumper Blyton we pitched it as a family show at the EdFringe, to be honest we found performing that less than exciting and ended up resting the concept for a year while we figured out what was funny about it).
  • Don’t mention Brexit on stage.
  • You know what the 25/45/60 minute version of your show is as you’ve performed it many times, but what should change about your format or concept when performing a 100 minute show with an interval?
  • Balance giving the audience something that they have paid a lot of money to see, with your own artistic aims. 
  • Don’t presume anyone in the audience knows what improv is, also don’t presume that they don’t! Some people might not have even realised they’d booked a ticket for an improv show.
  • Remain vigilant of any self-indulgent tropes in your improv skills. 
  • Check out the House website, it’s has tons of useful info to get you started with touring; how to write a rider/ risk assessments and other necessary documentation. 
  • Don’t underestimate peoples sense of humour, irony and cultural awareness just because they live in the “middle of nowhere”.
  • Fleet service station is very nice, go there.
  • Don’t mention Brexit on stage.
  • Become best mates with the venue tech’s, you’ll need their support.
  • Stock up on M&S discounted food on the late night drive to your hotel.
  • Take your own pillow
  • Take a book, you’ll never read it.
  • Don’t mention Brexit on stage.

Find out if Bumper Blyton are performing near you via http://www.bumperblyton.com, and keep a track of their antics as they dash about the country’s on their Instagram, Twitter or Facebook @BumperBlyton.

Upcoming shows:

Watford Palace Theatre

Thursday, February 24, 2022

The Brewhouse, Taunton

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury,

Sunday, March 27, 2022

The Lowry, Salford,

Friday, April 15, 2022

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