“Has anyone got a copy of the script?!”, one of us joked about 10 minutes before the audience entered. There was no script. Not tonight. There were plans, indicators, a vague structure, but no script. We were about to try and convince an audience of 60 that some woodland fae folk could cast spells on a set of mortals that would create an engaging dialogue about the nature of love.
It sounds more Shoreditch than it is.
The last time I acted, I was in a role as a priest. This priest was dealing with significant budget cuts to his facilities and resources.He had to manage requests for a marriage, a christening, and a funeral in one moment. Bundled together. Such drama.
It was actually a comedy sketch, called St Budgets Church, that I was also directing as part of a university comedy sketch revue, about two years ago. I think the point still stands.
I did plays in college, loads. I did a town hall version of Moulin Rouge between college and uni. I got one part in one university drama society play. I turned down another in Godspell.
I was terrified of acting. I loved stand-up. I’ve always loved stand-up. Stand-up comedy is just a matter of saying things you think are funny. That’s what I believed at first. Stand-Up comedy needs people who want to perform as well as write. There’s so many comics one sees out on the circuit who go up behind the microphone and spill gags out without selling them.
The nature of comedy is in the gag-telling and the delivery, and the timing. The delivery and the timing come down to performing.
This is my pathetic realisation. I always consider myself an energetic and fast-paced performance on stage, can I actually perform?
So, when in January, facebook creepily told me about an audition for an improvised version of Shakespeare, I clicked maybe, and then went. After auditioning with people who clearly possessed more confidence and stage-craft than I, I chuckled to myself about being such a good Londoner, finally doing something arty other than beg for laughter in basements or produce radio shows on my own.
To my surprise, I got a recall. After that, I wanted it. I wanted the fact that I tried and failed to portray a Kaola Bear to mean nothing, and I wanted the respect and confidnece a stage role might bring. I remembered that energy. I remembered what I had been too scared to be rejected from. So at that recall, I silently portrayed love to another guy, and portrayed a human version of a pinecone. Lacking anything distinctive in terms of dialogue at the time, I fell off the chair in a very controlled way in this odd scene. I have no idea what it was that won me a role, but looking back, that was the only concious effort I can specifically recall.
And so 8 weeks have been spent crafting this. Learning how to generate a story with parts for 10 actors in five minutes. Relearning key skills for performing. Projection, phsycial presences, listening, and characterisation. We’ve done so much. The plan to improvise not a two minute improv scene, or within a game of Just a Minute, but to do two hours of A Midsummer Night’s Dream seemed mad initially. To all of us.
Over eight weeks, I’ve worked with some wonderful people. They’re precise in what they offer in their performance. They’re aware of what will and won’t work and know how to take a character from nothing to extensively developed. They know how to create long-standing relationships. They’ve become an important set of friends to me.
Did this effect my comedy? Well, on Tuesday night, I portrayed a Rik Mayall stylised hipster in charge of the fairies. I held back from some lines. One of the key notes I recieved in our final rehearsal on Sunday was ‘don’t laugh at your own jokes’, which is very telling. Its easier not to laugh at yourself if you haven’t carefully calculated and fought for a joke to appear amongst a plot being held together by the other 9 performers.
I make this pretencious post for three reasons. One, it half-validates why I haven’t posted anything in ages. Two, to promote the remaining nights of Dreaming on a Midsummer’s Night.
And thirdly, finally, a challenge to comedians. Perform more, don’t write more. We will all be more entertaining and exciting if we are real characters or versions of ourselves on those stages, be it fringe or no fringe. Quite how I’m going to communicate this life lesson into my Edinburgh show, I don’t know, but I know I’ll be able to communicate everything with more confidence than ever before.
I’m improvising a shakespeare-esque romance for two more nights. Do come and see.