Spotlight on: Ten Thousand Million Love Stories

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The Maydays will be celebrating a decade this May. As we approach our 10th Birthday we present a series of Blogs dedicated to the various side projects we are each involved in from improv to West end musicals to business improv.

Heather Urquhart and Jules Munns are both members of the Maydays and improvise in ‘Ten Thousand Million Love Stories’ a two-person show about love. Here, they ask each other questions about the show and the process.

HU: What has been the biggest contrast between working as a duo and in a larger team?

JM: The biggest thing for me is the simple maths of stage time. In a six person team, you are in one scene in three, or maybe every other scene; whereas here we are onstage the whole damned time, often playing two or three characters. You have less time to take breath, remind yourself of what has happened, consider ideas you would like to play with, and even appreciate the work of the other players. That responsibility to always be there is hard work, sure, but it also eliminates the question ‘Am I in this bit?’. So it’s a great liberation as well.

You also really get inside each other’s mind to an amazing degree. After a burst of rehearsing and gigging together, we are so in sync that sometimes I don’t remember who initiated what.  That feels great.

JM: Why is Jules so awesome?

HU: Oh bugger off!  Ok, if I have to answer. Why did I want to work with Jules? In a way the show came about almost by accident. We were both interested in realism and relationships in our improv work and probably both at a point where we we wanted to take on a new challenge. It was a drunken Edinburgh that made us go, ‘Ok, let’s do this!’

I have always held Jules’ improv in high regard because he is a truly collaborative and supportive player. I thought it when I saw him in Music Box and continue to think it in our work with the Maydays. The funny thing is, that we both tend to try and and play supportively (at least, I hope I do!) so my worry was honestly, ‘what if as a duo, we are not interesting or funny enough?’. We also both tend to play from emotion or character. Developing this show has pushed us to improvise in ways that we might not naturally do, more tenically or narratively. I echo Jules’ sentiment above about our group mind, it’s incredible to have that much trust between you onstage.

HU: Why did you want to do a show about love?

JM: It’s a universal thing, and gets little treatment in improv. We have all seen a million pick up and first date scenes, and a good few break ups as well, but what about all the other stages of a relationship? The happy, functional dates, the first nights in a new home, the kids? There is a rich vein of experience that is often unmined. There was also an impulse to make something which is both funny, tender and uplifting. Love is not really a genre or a storyline in itself, just a flavour. It gives us a feeling for the show without placing any genre or narrative restrictions.

I also think it’s a very exposing thing to play. When you are improvising, you are writer, director, actor all at the same time. That means when you’re playing emotion there is nothing to hide behind. That’s a wonderful challenge to the actor side of the brain. How can you be totally honest about the highs and lows, the successes and failures? How can you show people in that state accurately, amusingly and yet with compassion?

And from a practical point of view, it’s so easy to tour. The two of us, with a nice shirt for me and a nice dress for Heather, then a playlist on my ipad and we’re off!

JM: Who has been your favourite couple to play so far? 

HU: Oh man, there have been so many already and sometimes it’s dificult to remember if it was a show or rehearsal. In a sub-plot, we once played a late middle aged couple who were very happily married and nothing really happened to them. The scenes between him and his wife were the just the two of them in bed about to go to sleep. The wife was a little jealous of one of his colleagues, but not in a very dramatic way. They liked tennis, he would often put his foot in his mouth, they loved each other, that was it. They felt real I guess.

Also a couple of middle aged ladies who discovered a deep passion for each other in the cinema even though they had only had hetrosexual relationships all their lives. Plus, I personally love playing teenagers and we do tend to get quite a lot of audience stories from that point in peoples lives. I guess because people’s first experiences of love are so powerful and that’s fun to play.

HU: But there’s kissing and stuff. Isn’t that gross? What does your girlfriend think about all this?

JM: That was awkward stuff at the start of the process. We didn’t work with a director, so it was just the two of us in a rehearsal room, and that’s weird when you’re friends and find yourselves in those scenes. Plus, some of the things that couple say to each other can be even more embarassing than the physical stuff.  But you just get over it. We had a couple of rehearsals where we played all those intimate, embarassing situations out, letting the discomfort sit. And after that it was fine. It’s a part of the story you’re telling, and that’s it!

As for our own relationships, that hasn’t really been an issue. It’s storytelling and people understand that. People do ask us whether we are a couple though, which I think is a good sign.

But yes, it is gross kissing Heather . . .

JM: Have you realised anything yourself about love though doing the show? 

HU: It has reminded me of the complexity of it and that love is a choice you have to make daily. I’ve also realised that we’re a pair of soppy bastards.

HU: Finally, Jules, what is next for Ten Thousand Million Love Stories?

JM: Most immediately, the rest of our tour. Lancaster, Birmingham, Nottingham, Edinburgh, Canterbury.

After that, we have so many plans. We are also looking at all kinds of international festivals and touring destinations, as well as going to a bunch of British cities we haven’t been to yet. We would like to have a London residency. Just more opportunities to do the show, have fun and make it better as we do.

We have talked about filming some material too. People telling us love stories, as well as some improvised scenes. When we started doing this show, we planned no further than the few shows we were invited to do in Austin, but then we wanted to do more and a tour seemed like a good option, so we imagine it will happen like that. Slowly building from one thing to the next.

Ten Thousand Million Love Stories is touring the UK til May 2014, for more details please visit www.facebook.com/tenthousandmillionlovestories


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