This month is a fantastic one of The Phoenix Remix, as we are interviewing a duo whose show debuted at Brighton Fringe. Meet The Bean Spillers, Sam and Alex, a musical improv show that works by using a single piece of gossip to create an improvised narrative. Today I speak to Sam and Alex about unusual suggestions, advice and fun shows.
Hello Sam and Alex! Can you tell us a little bit about the improv team The Bean Spillers?
Hey! We’re Sam and Alex and we’re ‘The Bean Spillers’. We create full-length improvised musicals based on a single piece of gossip from the audience along with a different special guest each night and an improvising pianist!
Tell us all about the premiere of your show at Brighton Fringe? That is a tough audience to start with isn’t it?
We love Brighton and, having performed there with Gigglemug Theatre’s debut show ‘Timpson: The Musical’, we knew what we were up against! We also had expert guidance from improvisers Justin Brett and Katie Pritchard who were the perfect first special guests. Luckily, the shows went down really well and, to be honest, we were just grateful to finally get the show on its feet (as all improv troupes know, the most important thing is being brave enough to get your show in front of an audience!).
How did you come up with the name of your troupe?
We had long discussions about the name ‘cause we wanted to make it gossip-related so people knew what they were coming to watch, but it took a while to find the right one. Unsuccessful names include ‘The Tittle Tattlers’ and ‘The Busy Bodies’ – I guess they’re out there somewhere in a parallel universe doing much better than us!
The Last show we did was about a drunk guy who left his takeaway noodles in a bush only to find them covered in slugs the next day… but he ate them anyway!– Sam, The Bean Spillers
What style of Improv do you do?
Well if you wanna get all technical about it, we do ‘longform narrative improv’. We have huge respect for shortform improv so try and include game-like elements within scenes sometimes, but we always knew this would be a longform show. We were keen to make something funny which had potential to go down more emotional avenues should the story head in that direction, which made this the perfect format for what we wanted to achieve.
What will make you different to other improv shows out there?
So we’re a small cast improv musical (3 players plus a pianist), which is generally smaller than other improvised musicals (fun when it comes to trying to play all the parts!). Also, 1 of the players is a different special guest every time, meaning that the flavour of the show is constantly shifting depending on who we have on that night (and you might get to see your favourite improvisers in our show too!)
What other improv groups are you a fan of and why?
Where do we start?! Austentatious and Showstopper are super slick, HELL YEAH! are joyous and so funny, the RH Experience have such a strong bond between the three of them that is super cool to watch, These Folk are masterfully grounded and patient – too many!
What advice would you give for people thinking about starting an improv troupe?
Find people who want to commit the same amount of time and money as you do. Make sure you have similar goals in mind, whether the troupe is just for fun or you hope to go on tour. And have conversations about those things early on too!
What about extra advice for those wanting to focus on an improv style or format they are creating?
Sam: It took us a lot of rehearsing to finally decide what our show would look like, so make sure you take the time to play and experiment because it will prove invaluable later down the line.
Alex: 100% – that incubation period was super useful, and also doesn’t have to be exclusively in-person – our first chats about Bean Spillers were on Zoom during lockdown!
Unsuccessful names include ‘The Tittle Tattlers’ and ‘The Busy Bodies’ – I guess they’re out there somewhere in a parallel universe doing much better than us!– The Bean Spillers
You have a show at the Alchemy Festival at the North Wall Arts Centre on the 9th of April – what can you tell us about this?
Yes! Alex did the North Wall’s ArtsLab comedy course back in 2017, so it feels like a full circle moment to be invited back to do our show as part of their Alchemy Festival! The North Wall is such a gorgeous venue and we can’t wait to round off their festival with a big dose of silly!
If people want to find out more about you where can they find you on social media?
@wespillbeans on everything!
What are your aims for your troupe for the rest of the year?
Alex: Keep going?!
Sam: We’ve got some shows both in and out of London pencilled in, so we want to keep working with different amazing special guests and getting better at what we do!
Tell us about some unusual suggestions that you have had?
Alex: Someone who stuck an ice lolly up their bum sticks out (lol), but to be honest they’re all unusual – that’s why we pick them!
Sam: The last show we did was about a drunk guy who left his takeaway noodles in a bush only to find them covered in slugs the next day… but he ate them anyway!
How do you rehearse a format such as your own?
So when we rehearse we often do a 2 person version of the show, which involves Alex jumping on and off piano for the songs – it’s harder than the real thing with 3 people and a pianist so it keeps us on our toes!
We also have conversations with our special guests and (hopefully) a bit of rehearsal time, though we have done shows before where we’ve only met our guest 20 mins before the show!
What is YOUR favourite sets you have done this year and why?
Alex: If we’re talking this past year (we’re actually less than a year old – our first shows were last June!), our show with Ruth Bratt in August is up there – she’s just brilliant to improvise with.
Sam: My favourite shows were actually the most recent ones we did with Karen Benjamin at the Old Joint Stock in Birmingham – there was something about the atmosphere there and the willingness of audiences to get involved (along with their mad gossip) which made the shows so fun.
What is the best thing about being in the Bean Spillers ?
Alex: Constant gossip
Sam: A different team every time.
What is the most challenging?
Sam: Yeah, we just want to do the silly stuff but there’s a lot of organising that comes with touring a show, especially one with new improvisers and musicians every show.
Alex: And promoting the show too
Sam: Yeah, that too.
Recently the improv scene has been very different – how have you adapted to doing shows online?
Alex: We have so much admiration for troupes who went digital but we thought there was something so personal about gossip that we wanted to wait until we could perform in person.
What have been some of your specifically favourite scenes you have created so far in a show and why?
Alex: I liked recently being an evil salt company with Karen Benjamin in Birmingham and singing a Fagin-esque song about our ‘Salty Plans’.
Sam: I enjoyed being a grumpy bloke with Ruth Bratt and singing about all the ways we could kill our neighbours for stealing our cat, and there was something kind of magical about being a tree in prison with Katy Schutte.
What have been the worst?
Sam: One that stays with me is trying to wrap up a potential helicopter crash, an app for kidnapping babies and rivalry within a family of sugar daddies all in one scene. I think it just about worked though!
Alex: Yeah, I think I introduced most of that unnecessary plot. My bad.
Who would be your dream guest to appear at one of your shows and why?
In all seriousness, we would love to one day get to play with stand ups who are household names but also with a musical theatre background. If that’s you, get in touch!
What is the best piece of advice you have been given about improv and why?
Alex: Half way through, you don’t have to make anything more up – just bring stuff back!
Sam: Don’t sing plot songs, sing when you find a solid emotion!