by Ed Pithie
I was generously granted the full Jason Chin Scholarship to the September 2016 Maydays Improv Retreat. I planned to sanctify my notebook with the sacred teachings of the Maydays and bring the Good Word back to the folk of Horley, where I run a weekly drop-in. I can honestly say that the retreat was one of the most positive few days I’ve ever experienced. My growing wisdom teeth, which seldom trouble me, began to give me grief. This can only be due to five days of solid grinning and laughing or the overdose of improv wisdom which was imparted on me.
From the exciting arrival at Osho Leela on Wednesday evening to the reluctant departure on Sunday, the retreat was non-stop improvising, socialising, laughing and eating. Each morning, after a breakfast of surprisingly delicious vegan porridge, a queue would form from the door of the main hall where we signed up to the classes we wanted to take that day. There were two classes in the morning and two in the afternoon. We had a choice of five classes for each time slot and those at the front of the queue got first dibs. All of the classes sounded awesome so I wouldn’t have minded not getting my first choice. I wish I could have split in two and do more than one course at the same time! However, if I had the power to duplicate at will, I’d probably be off fighting crime and not learning about improv.
The classes were fantastic. I wanted my experience to be a colourful cornucopia of improv so I made sure I did a class with each of the Maydays in different styles and forms. The retreat is a perfect chance to identify your strengths and weaknesses by trying a variety of improv back-to-back without any time to forget what you’ve done. All the Maydays are brilliant teachers who create such a supportive and comfortable environment to help stretch your improv muscles further than you would normally…
- In Easy Singing with Joe and Heather, my first class of the retreat, I was perfectly at ease serenading a doorknob with the sounds that I feel expressed the ideas and shape of the doorknob.
- Truth in Song with Katy wouldn’t have been the Rumba Rapids of emotion that it was, if we hadn’t felt comfortable and free from any judgement.
- Freaks and Weirdos with Rebecca and Jules was one of my favourite workshops as it was okay to say or do anything however freakish or weird it may seem. I was in a scene where the only line was “It’s my turn with the frozen cock” and it was fine.
Just like the eponymous Sweet Porridge from the Brothers Grimm tale, the supportive environment, which is brewed in the classes, floods the rest of Osho Leela for the rest of the day and you have no choice but to become enveloped in this warm oaty glacier of positive energy. My notebook wasn’t just full of games, warm ups and scenes to remember from these classes, but also filled with ideas that came to me between classes as I had a chance to muse upon the morning’s lessons or discuss these thoughts with fellow improvisers and the Maydays.
If I felt the need for a conversation about things other than improv, there were lots of opportunities to socialise with my fellow retreaters. Everyone was very friendly and I had many fun evenings getting to know people at the bar, playing late-night Werewolves in the foyer and, on the last night, talking absolute bollocks round the campfire.
Each evening the Maydays would perform a show, which was always hilarious. There would also be an opportunity to perform in an improv jam. The Maydays Confessions was my favourite show of the retreat. I really enjoy watching this show as it plays with the true actions and thoughts of the audience who wrote down their confession to be made into scenes. One of the many things I learnt from the classes was about truth in improv and how it is vital to ensure your scene, however bizarre it may seem, is engaging to the audience.
What did I learn?
I couldn’t fit everything I learnt in this blog post, but I’ll pick 12 things that come to my mind as I write this. Some of these were directly from the classes and others came from conversations I had with Maydays and other improvisers in the down-time:
- Be truthful, as I just mentioned
- Who, What and Where are all fine and dandy but Why and How (does this make us feel) are what we should be thinking to develop the scene
- Being an object with human desires is very funny
- If your scene partner starts with object work, join in
- Don’t solve problems
- Musical improv is not just about spitting sick rhymes
- The importance of eye contact
- Improvised Shakespeare is hard but incredibly fun!
- After improvising with so many different people in different classes, I found how important it is to adapt my own performance style and my way of playing to the person I am in a scene with. I leant how beneficial it can be to be versatile and not think ‘what can I do in this scene?’ but ‘what can I do for my scene partner in this scene?’
- Gnomes can be incredibly scary
What I learnt at Osho Leela in September has vastly improved my Horley workshops already. It has not just given me lots of new exercises and warm ups to play with, but it has given me a greater understanding of how to teach and what different people want from improv.
My good book is full to the brim and I now feel like an improv disciple, ready to convert the script-carrying heathens of Crawley (where I am starting to run workshops in 2017). Just like some bearded blokes kindly did for Jesus, I will wave the flag of spontaneous performance through positive collaboration. Will I face St Peter’s fate and be crucified upside down? Preferably not.
– Ed Pithie