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.
Katy Schutte and Joe Samuel are both members of the Maydays. They worked with improvisers Jonathan Monkhouse and Chris Mead (also a Maydays swing) and theatre maker Tom Frankland to make ‘Who Ya Gonna Call?’ It is a fan tribute show to the best film of the 1980s and an original musical comedy. It received a 5 star review, standing ovations and a sold out run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe least year.
Katy chatted to Jon, Joe and Tom about the writing process, the live show and the differences between working on a script and an improv show.
What’s different about working on scripted stuff?
KS - Improvisation is just the first stage of scripted or devised work. It means that you have the luxury of going back to those ‘should have/could have’ moments and making them even better. The difficulty as performers is in keeping the spark that you have in an improvised show. We have some specific points in the show where the script is pretty loose (normally during monologues) and we have one song where we totally improvise the lyrics every night. Playing with other improvisers means that when something goes wrong, or something strange happens in the room, you are not afraid of it, you fold it into the show and the audience really enjoy that.
JM – We spent a week working on the tiny little details of WYGC, tipping our hats to the film and being meticulous. We have a montage sequence for instance that is like a shot for shot physical comedy piece to music. In rehearsal it’s the same song over and over again, who was walking in which direction and how many paces they would do. We spent a day on that. The level of detail was so high; we even have a cardboard car going in the right direction.
KS – Writing the montage song was a crazy process. Chris mead wrote the lyrics, I had an 80s rock style idea for the tune and Joe jammed with me until we found something that was perfect. That’s now the song that gets the biggest applause in the show.
JS – It was a different approach musically to a live improv show. When you get an audience suggestion for a style or genre, if they want something that sounds like Oklahoma, it has to sound like that. If Katy says cocktail jazz, it doesn’t have to hit the parody bits of the genre, just use the bits that are relevant and powerful, not the bits that obvious.
Tom is a theatre maker who also improvises and we are improvisers that also make theatre. Is that tangible on stage or during the creation process?
TF – When I am making a theatre show, I normally end up following a really similar process as we did on Who Ya Gonna Call. That means a period of making through improvisation, a short period of rehearsing and then just getting it up in front of an audience. I try not to say no to ideas, you just have explore everything and then ditch the bits that don’t work. Partly led by financial restrictions we don’t have the luxury of rehearsing for ages as with a devised piece, day one of “rehearsal” doesn’t come with a finished script!
JM - Tom wants to know details of things beforehand. Jon & Katy fuck around a bit more. We forced Tom to do an improvised song & taught him how to set up rhymes. I have learned that when I am totally allowed to improvise, I will just go on forever and it’s really boring. Tom has helped me be more precise.
When we were putting stuff together, we used an improv mentality. Improv solved a lot of problems. We’d just trust an idea and see what worked. We didn’t decide beforehand whether something would work. We play with it and when it works, we write it down.
KS - There are a few bits that we lie about and pretend they’re spontaneous on stage when they’re not. They came out of shows where one day someone adlibbed and it got a laugh. We’d try it again for a few days and if it kept working, we’d adopt it into the script. We actually did a rewrite after our Edinburgh run last year that was just adding all the stuff that had become part of the show.
TF – More often than not, the shows where we got slacker were less successful than the ones where we stuck to the script. There’s a certain amount of momentum that we need to maintain and the well crafted jokes are just better.
JS - The creative process was joyful all the way through. It never felt like ‘oh, God we have to do this’, or you’re up at 2am worrying about it. It was just getting together and seeing what happens. After the improv, you can knock it into shape and that has more value than sitting in front of the piano and sweating.
To me it’s separating the creating bit from the editing bit. You need to get it all down there on the page and then you can weed out the stuff that you don’t like or whatever. Too many people try and do the creating and the editing at the same time. Working with improvisers can be a bit too loose at times!
KS – Yes, because we’re all used to working with nothing at all, there is no fear about whether it will work and the danger is that we won’t take the time to perfect it! Tom was a good guide for that and so was putting early scratch shows in front of an audience and getting feedback. I found it scary to ask people what we could change to make it better, but it really helped form the show into something much stronger.
TF – I suppose the big difference is that because you are forced to revisit the material every time you perform, and the audience know that you have done it before, so there are less excuses for moments not landing or for the quality of the material being more varied. You don’t have the get out clause that improv provides.
KS – Yes, general notes are the only things we can take forward in improv rehearsals; ‘make more positive choices’, ‘vary your characters more’ and that kind of thing.
After the initial song writing, you didn’t really get to see the show until it was up and running in Edinburgh. What was it like hearing your tunes again?
JS - It was incredibly weird; one, I had forgotten half the tunes – did I make that? Also, I suppose not knowing how it had all changed and morphed. The writing processes were very focused on little bits. I wouldn’t recognise the songs if they were on the radio. I only came across them 4 or 5 times, an initial idea, some changes and then a better recording. I didn’t know the flavour of the whole show until I saw it. I don’t often get to hear stuff I’ve written back. It’s nice to know it has longevity.
Joe, didn’t you have some Bristol folks sing the songs back to you? How was that?
JS - Ah, man that was a good moment. They didn’t know that I’d written the music. They started singing ‘Dark Afternoon in the Library’. This was on the second day of a music workshop. I thought they were doing it because of the workshop. I said ‘That’s very sweet, you don’t have to sing my songs because I’m here!’ They were like ‘they’re your songs!?’. It’s like they were meeting Andrew Lloyd Webber or something. That’s the first time I experienced that.
What’s next for Who Ya Gonna Call?
We will be doing previews around the UK in July this year and then taking the show back to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. To find out more and to hear about our next show as it emerges, go to www.whoyagonnacall.co.uk