by Jamie Lee
It’s an average Wednesday afternoon in late March and I’m trudging the platforms at Clapham Junction weathering the crowd controlled confusion of a ‘CANCELLED SERVICE’ announcement. Sporadic splutterings of rain breeze by in a lightly suppressive mood but these irregular arrivals and departures can do little to diminish my own feelings of expectant joy.
I am on the way to my first Maydays improv intensive at Osho Leela and the prospect of spending the next 5 days meeting a whole new bunch of improvisers and learning from some of the best improv teachers and performers in the UK has me built up to a gentle peak of excitement.
After a short, comfortable train ride and a pleasant walk through the Dorset countryside, I arrive at Osho Leela and a formidably Gothic, red wooden door that makes me feel like I’m entering the set of a Hammer Horror film or being invited to an Agatha Christie mystery.
The thought of having to imminently introduce myself to an almost entirely unknown group has me questioning why I entertained the crazy notion to attend in the first place but with a self-accepting pause, I dispel these final flourishes of first-day nerves, open the door and walk in to be greeted by a sea of smiling faces and the fun maelstrom of an admin circus.
I am welcomed in, given gifts and temporarily asked to sign away my improv soul as my photo is swiftly taken and put up on a wall. A whistle-stop tour of the facility then concludes with me setting up camp in the all-male dorm room that will be my shared home with 6 others for the next 4 nights. I choose suitable bed space, stow my effects and embark on the journey unfolding downstairs.
An array of name-badged well wishers duly urge me to put my own name to paper and I opt for an approach that proves (to myself at least) that I retain the childhood skill of colouring within the lines. These kindly matriarchs and more experienced veterans of the Osho experience help me to gently feather my nest and I start to feel comfortable and accepted. There is time to make pleasantries and settle myself in and before dinner is called I can consciously remember a handful of new names.
These friendly introductions then morph into a fully fledged ‘getting-to-know you session’ where we meet the Maydays, are designated teams and a ‘Buddy’ for the duration of the intensive (longer if you want) and I am publicly outed as the recipient of the Jason Chin Scholarship for this intensive. We are then treated to our first show by the Maydays and the awe level is set high before we end the night with drinks, chat and a negotiated chorus of light snoring (in my dorm at least).
Next day after an early start, breakfast and an active high-energy warm up, we bed down to the intensive proper and a pattern is set that will guide our activities for the next three days.
In the mornings we break into teams and develop core group and personal skills building towards a performance showcase on the final day. In the afternoons we choose two from a possible eight sessions that cater for a diverse range of tastes taking into account participant preference and according to the specific skills, abilities and creative choices of the attendant Mayday(s). Each evening we have a different jaw-dropping show from the Maydays and an open participation Jam – (with music) – for the brave and the adventurous.
Our team sessions focus on key skills of collaboration and listening, basic scene admin and work on the mechanics of character and the value of emotionally led choices. We are also given some individual direction and, based on self and team insights into our own personal strengths and weaknesses, each member of the team is given something different to work on.
The chosen buffet sessions comprise a number of basic introductory and more advanced sessions covering the full gamut of the improvisers toolbox. Whether technical or emotional, there are physical, musical and autobiographical sessions and the opportunity to play as objects, build collective stories or paint beautiful scene pictures. It is possible to become versed in Shakespeare, to be fully immersed in one single character or to just learn some techniques to better initiate or sustain scenes.
On the last day we work on a more defined show format in our final team preparation session and then have an anxious wait before it is time to perform for each other in the big final showcase. Needless to say that all teams go down a storm and after saying many encouraging words and some touching goodbyes we all have to console ourselves with the strength of any lasting bonds made and then weave our own ways home through a warm Sunday evening.
As an improv experience, the Maydays intensive is hard to quantify. Getting to work with 10 different teachers each with their own unique way of performing, understanding and imparting improvisation offers the chance to cross-reference the skills learned in one class with those of another. Gaining 40 like-minded peers from various locations in the UK and across the world provides an opportunity to build new connections and expand your improv horizons.
However, the abiding lessons of my time at Osho Leela are not so much about measuring any milestones of technical advance but more about embracing the spirit of collaboration and support that permeates the best improv and which is so central to common feelings of well-being and an appreciation of that often indefinable quality of life.
Within such a nourishing and encouraging environment, it is natural to become more open with others and with your self. Building confidence becomes something you do as a matter of course rather than as an exception to it and as the barriers to expression relax, you can start to explore yourself as an improviser (and as a person) in a safe and supportive setting.
At least that is my experience, and in reflecting on that time I recognise that I owe a great debt of gratitude to the Maydays and to all my fellow residents for the time spent together in their company. Not least because I was the recipient of the Jason Chin Scholarship; an award given for promoting the spirit of open-hearted collaboration in improv.
It is an award that I was simultaneously honoured and daunted to receive. Because it adds a little expectation but it is also something that I was closely supported in and that gave me the incentive and freedom to consider the benefit of others in my own practice. I hope that I have been able to do something to honour Jason’s memory and the continuing power of positivity.
Certainly if you are thinking of applying for the scholarship and you are committed to the ethos of kind-hearted cooperation in your own practice then I would heartily encourage you to do so.
In terms of the scholarship and my own future in improv, I don’t want to be too prescriptive. This is a fun journey that we share and it will lead in a number of directions. I do know that I remain dedicated to the spirit of play in all areas of my life and that the people I have met and who have helped me along the way remain important to me.
4 things I learned:
(1) I don’t have all the answers and I don’t need to. People will support me.
(2) Not everyone has the same motivations or abilities. The spoils are shared.
(3) Not everything we do will be the best we’ll ever do.
(4) It’s okay to fail. It’s okay to just be yourself.
Jamie currently performs with a number of teams, (Millions of Voices; Missimp in Action; Rhymes Against Humanity) as part of Missimp: Nottingham Improvised Comedy Theatre.