Liz Peters from improv group The Maydays says now is a good time to embrace uncertainty...
2016 was quite the year. Stuff happened. Stuff that was so unbelievable that you thought someone was going to pop up and tell you it was all a joke. If we added up all the mornings that people woke up and thought they'd had a crazy dream before realising, with all the grace of a wet fish slap, that 'stuff' really had happened, maybe we could build a whole new year instead.
Yes, if 2016 taught us anything it was to expect the unexpected.
Improvisation accepts the unexpected. It relishes it. It grabs the unexpected, gobbles it up and turns it into something new. Then it sticks a cherry on top. In improv there's no such thing as a bad idea, it's how you deal with it that counts.
More and more people are discovering improvisation. In amongst all the noise created by 'stuff' it could appear that the world is falling apart. But, in many ways, it's getting closer. Little connections are sparking around the world with people making comedy together, embracing the unexpected and flying by the seat of their pants.
In November hundreds of improvisers from all reaches of the globe descended on Barcelona for BIG IF. A four day festival of improvisation where people who'd never met before stepped on stage together and performed entire shows, united by a simple common ethos: listen to your partner, build on what they offer and don't be a dick!
And it's not the only one. Improv festivals are popping up everywhere; Greece, Finland, Iceland, Portugal, Dublin, Sweden... the list goes on. People intrinsically want to play and it's spreading like a joy ripple. Accept the unexpected, feel alive and have fun together.
What's brilliant about all this cross pollination is that new things grow. The scene is expanding. Perhaps, when you think of improv, you think of Whose Line Is It Anyway?. Of course; it's a great show, hugely successful and deservedly so. But that style is just one part of an artform that's bubbling and busting forth with possibility. From improvised silent movies to full blown action epics, there is so much going on where a script isn't relevant. When people in the right state of mind get together, it creates itself.
British improv company The Maydays have been a big hit on the festival circuit with their Tim Burton inspired musical, Happily Never After. It received a 300 strong standing ovation in Barcelona and had audiences coming back time and time again at Edinburgh Fringe for its unique combination of macabre comedy and skin prickling music. Dark and playful, this homage to the cult director's style is a musical for people who don't like musicals and have a deliciously twisted sense of humour. And it's all created in front of your eyes.
That's the beauty of improvisation. Every show is one of a kind and takes on a life of its own. There's a buzz in being part of both the conception and the execution. You discover it in the same instant as the performers and you're all there, along for the ride wherever it goes. If things go wrong; i.e. if 'stuff' happens, you just accept it, build on it and turn it into something new. And there you find comedy. There are no mistakes, only gifts.
If all this freedom sounds fun, then you're in for a treat over the next couple of months as some of the UK's finest improvisers take to the stage as part of London's VAULT Festival (25 Jan - 5 March 2017). Along with The Maydays there will be shows galore from The RH Experience, Battleacts, Do Not Adjust Your Stage, Phil Mann, Waiting For The Call and Project 2. There's something for everyone, from Sci-fi to Ted Talks to musical movies, and it's made up on the spot, exclusively for whoever and whatever turns up on the night.
So, in a world where the script seems to have stopped making sense, now is a good time to embrace the uncertainty. Take a class; see an improv show. Fly by the seat of your pants. Stuff will happen. And that's cool. Cos we'll accept it, gobble it up and make it into something new. And stick a cherry on top.