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Live / stage review

The Diary of a Showstopper

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The hour before I performed in an improvised musical at the Lyceum, I was as ready as you could be for a completely made-up show.

I had started the week like all of the successful auditionees: eager to learn, eager to please, eager to net the ricochet of butterflies that had set up camp in my stomach. The rehearsal room was filled with a collective fear not seen since my year nine school disco. It was happening. There was no turning back.

"Congratulations and welcome to your first rehearsal," said an enthusiastic showstopping voice.

"We are one week away from performing an entirely improvised musical, which means you will never be more prepared for the show than you are right now."

Day 1 - The Basics

Well, this is a right bloody mess I got myself into. Whatever made me think I could perform in an improvised musical must have contained at least 13.5% ABV, probably a Côtes du Rhône.

Having performed improvised comedy for almost ten years, I should feel relaxed. I can sing (enough to get by), I can move (enough to pretend I know what I'm doing), but those pesky Showstoppers told me I need to do both at the same time.

It's my own fault, of course. During the audition I lied, reassuring the group that I'd absolutely seen The Showstoppers live and fully understood what we were about to do. I shall now be spending the rest of the night on YouTube. Oh, and the show has already sold out.

Top Tip: It was all about learning to trust others in the group, learning to go with any suggestion thrown out there, learning to keep things simple.

Day 2 - Vocals

As it turns out, learning to sing in an improvised musical is all about learning when to stop singing in an improvised musical.

Say a line and pass it on. Whilst this sounds simple, in the heat of the moment our mouths tend to waffle. There is lots of looking people in the eye too. Dead. In. The. Eye.

Top Tip: Musicals happen when dialogue alone is just not good enough. The whole thing is much simpler when the group supports one another.

Day 3 - Movement

When channelling Poseidon, always carry your trident in your left hand.

I had no idea how physical an improvised musical could be. We're really starting to get it now. Freedom can be found in improv. Let go of the fear and dance.

Top Tip: Movement is an important as words.

Day 4 - Nope

Today we tried to put everything together and I bombed faster than a U-boat. Apparently performing entire musicals on the spot in quite hard.

Top Tip: Wine.

Day 5 - Keeping it simple

It's a strange thing, when several individual moments collide, when separate ideas make sense as though they were obvious all along.

We managed to get through an entire improvised musical today. It even almost made sense. The basic structure seems to be: create an initial world based on the suggestion for the musical, incite an incident in this world, show the new upside-down version of this world. Disaster strikes, our heroes overcome and lessons are learnt. Now all we need to do is create this from scratch in around 25 minutes with absolutely no discussion.

Top Tip: Today we saw two 14-year-old bodybuilders overthrow the bullies at their school and a story about inept cowboys. Anything can happen if you let it.

Day 6 - Tiredness

It's easy to forget that everyone coming to this week-long residency has normal, everyday lives.

This week I've started work at 8, finished around 4.30, ate, gone to rehearsal from 5 to 9, and have been so wired as a consequence that I can't sleep till midnight. Voluntary theatre requires hard work and patience. This whole thing has been incredible.

Top Tip: Improv is all about supporting each other.

Day 7 - Show time

The group was split into three for the final performance. The first show explored a new civilization in space, the second saw two rival Moulin Rouge gangs fight to take over Paris, and the third depicted a cake store in Sheffield whose survival rested on the local football teams.

It has been an incredible week and I would encourage anyone who needs a confidence boost to give improv a go. It teaches you to let go of your fears and trust your instincts - and at the end of the day, it's just a bunch of people pratting about on stage.

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