Hysterical Artefacts has been a joy and a wonder to direct, and even more delightful to watch grow to fruition. To explain a little (one cannot truly give a full synopsis for an improvised show), one performer (known as ‘The Curator’) takes suggestions of a time period and an object from the audience, and then guides them and the cast through a story relating to that object, embedded in the past.
Sounds simple? On paper, quite possibly.
It may seem on the surface that improvised comedy is impossible to direct at all. After all, there is no script, there are no stage directions or, indeed, prior performances to refer to. One cannot advise a performer on their depiction of a particular character, because that character will not and should not be seen again. On the surface, it appears ridiculous to consider. However, this cannot be further from the truth. Much like a sports team, one cannot rehearse the game as it will be on the day. Instead, we drill core skills: character, stagecraft, and support, amongst others.
We consider how best to construct a story– we emphasise the need to help our fellow performers and how best to go about it. Above all, we stress the importance of aiding our fellow castmates, as one cannot perform an improv show alone. There is no script, so there are no starring roles, and therefore, whoever takes a main role on any night will only be the first amongst equals for a short span of time. Moreover, that is only possible through the support of the wider cast.
Directing together has been a truly wonderful experience: we came into improv at the same time and have been performing together ever since, including at the Edinburgh Fringe last year. Our respective knowledge and experience of improv compliment our differences, and we know that we can rely on each other to bring Hysterical Artefacts to the Durham and Edinburgh Fringe Festivals. Watching our combined creative vision be realised before us onstage has been a delight that I really do not know how to describe, and it is entirely due to the concentrated efforts of our brilliant cast. In improv, we are only as strong as each other, and we really could not have done this without their dedication.
Indeed, we cannot go any further here without commending the cast of Hysterical Artefacts. The format of our show is an interesting one to perform as well as direct, and has the potential to trip up our improvisers at various points. Our cast have had to develop an understanding of a broad range of historical settings in order to be prepared for whatever suggestions the audience throws at them. However, we have watched our cast grapple with and overcome every difficulty at every stage, covering each other’s weak spots, and growing better and better with each passing day. They have gone from strength to strength as improvisers before our very eyes. Often by the time we go to give feedback for their skills, any places for improvement have been made obsolete by the leaps and bounds in progress that they have made and continue to make.
They are funny, intelligent, and fantastic to direct. We see them analyse their actions on the spot in every performance, considering the ramifications of their choices before, during and after they make them. In a scripted show, a mistake may be the death of a performance– the death knell for any mood or theme the director may have intended to portray. In improv, this is quite the opposite: mistakes are to be celebrated and in fact every mistake is an opportunity. We have seen that our improvisers have the capacity, skill and dedication to take every apparent slip-up, and to transform them into the core of a beautiful, chaotic, and always hilarious story.
We hope you enjoy the show just as much as we do!
Shellshock!’s “Hysterical Artefacts” is performing at the Durham Fringe Festival on 26th-27th July, and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival on 4th-12th August (not 6th).
By Asare Marriott-Semper and Nemo Royle
Photo Credits: Shellshock!