When Tom and Emma asked me to blog at Bristol Jam, I’d never blogged before. It occurred to me that blogging is a little like improvising – tweeting even more so. It’s about first impressions, publishing quickly.
I haven’t always managed to do that; the urge to reflect and the hectic schedule have introduced a time lag. But I find I like the (relatively) fast rhythm of blogging, and at least some of the posts were written as they should have been – on the fly and/ or under the… Continue
Added by Stephen Brown on October 27, 2009 at 10:27 —
Gone midnight, Saturday night / Sunday morning
The Jam is toast.
In 51 minutes, the clocks will go back, giving us just the extra hour we need to reflect and renew.
For the final glorious hour of the Improvathon, perhaps about 100 people piled into the studio. Captain William Halfpenny was revealed to be not the nemesis of the evil Smithsonian but in fact his alter ego. Mad Mary therefore ate his spleen. Five happy couples were married. Choice moments were… Continue
Added by Stephen Brown on October 25, 2009 at 1:00 —
The 29-hour Improvathon is now in its final 20-minute break. At 11pm, the 15 or so performers will regroup for their 29th and final hour of improvised theatre.
29 hours? Yes, they began at 7pm on Friday and are playing through to midnight today – some 80 minutes away. Every two hours they have a 20-minute break, but that’s it…
My original plan had been to watch through the night, but the Bristol Jam schedule – art, life, new friends and endless… Continue
Added by Stephen Brown on October 24, 2009 at 23:00 —
After their shows, I talk in the bar to some of the School of Night performers. Two of them tell weirdly similar stories of getting out of bad relationships and finding improv. ‘Impro changed my life,’ says one, and the rest agree. ‘We live in a very “no” culture,’ says another of the troupe. ‘If you really work on that central discipline of improvisation – the “yes and . . .” – it can’t help affect how you live the rest of your life too.’
‘Look at children: up to a certain age they… Continue
Added by Stephen Brown on October 24, 2009 at 20:12 —
I am chatting to two women who saw the improvised musical Showstopper the day before me. We agree it was amazing.
One of them checks with me whether the show I saw was different. We confirm that it was. She ponders this for a moment.
‘They must have some of those songs prepared in advance,’ she says.
‘I don’t think they do,’ I say.
‘But they know the tunes though.’
‘I honestly don’t think they do,’ I say. ‘It really is all… Continue
Added by Stephen Brown on October 24, 2009 at 19:58 —
Thursday was the day the Jam took flight.
The Sticking Place and The School of Night – two overlapping groups of improvisers – performed two of their three shows in the festival. I watched first of all Showstopper, a completely improvised musical, which has already been a hit in Edinburgh and elsewhere. They duly concoct a rather dark morality tale set in a lunatic asylum in the 1950s, with unbelievable songs in the style of Sondheim, Jason Robert Brown and Gilbert O’Sullivan. (All… Continue
Added by Stephen Brown on October 23, 2009 at 19:00 —
Wednesday night and the theatre was packed for the appearance of Beardyman and friends, billed as a ‘Complete and Utter Shambles’.
I didn’t really have any idea who Beardyman is or what he does; but clearly a large, mostly young, Bristol crowd knew very well. Many, I’d guess, had never been into the Bristol Old Vic before.
Beardyman is a beatboxer – that is, he creates music, particularly percussion, using only his mouth and a microphone. He’s twice been the UK champion,… Continue
Added by Stephen Brown on October 22, 2009 at 18:32 —
Wednesday lunchtime, and I am an observer at Oogly Boogly, a piece of improvised performance for around eight babies (12-18 months old) and their grown-ups (and the odd writer in residence).
Oogly Boogly takes place in a large inflatable tent – on the main stage of the theatre. Inside, we take off our shoes and enter a hexagonal space, with a padded floor and sides.
The five or six performers, dressed in T-shirts and tracksuit bottoms, are waiting for us. Tom Morris – who… Continue
Added by Stephen Brown on October 22, 2009 at 18:28 —
The call for volunteers for the ‘feral choir’ says ‘If you can breathe, you can sing’ – which suggests a very simple audition process, requiring only a mirror, or a feather.
Phil Minton has been touring around the world creating experimental improvised vocal music and assembling impromptu ‘feral choirs’ for at least twenty years. Phil’s background is in jazz, he tells me in the bar afterwards. In his late teens he was in love with black American music – Little Richard, Motown, Miles… Continue
Added by Stephen Brown on October 22, 2009 at 18:24 —
To the studio of BBC Radio Bristol this morning for Graham Torrington’s morning show. I’m a guest along with a couple of members of The Suggestibles, a Newcastle-based sketch improv troupe, who are performing here tonight.
My role is to plug the whole festival with as much vigour as possible (though I like to think I smuggle in a few of the thoughts I’ve been developing on this blog about the democratic nature of improv, the relationship between musical and other kinds of… Continue
Added by Stephen Brown on October 20, 2009 at 18:30 —
All this talk of making writers redundant – or making everyone into a writer – I feel a chill wind on the back of my neck – leads me naturally to The Factory’s sort-of-improvised version of The Seagull.
The way it works is this. At the beginning of the show, the cast draw lots to see who will perform which role. Perhaps three actors are able to do Konstantin, for example. Every time, in other words, the ‘pack’ of actors is shuffled. No two shows will… Continue
Added by Stephen Brown on October 19, 2009 at 22:00 —
Saturday, around midnight:
As people put their final touches to the four boards on the mezzanine level, we counted down to midnight, feeling a little like an episode of Ready Steady Cook. At midnight we downed brushes, pens and charcoals. Stu Barker, regular composer for Kneehigh Theatre, who had been gigging in the bar, played a kind of last post on his bagpipes.
This was itself a spur-of-the-moment idea, and felt just right: slightly grand, slightly absurd. The four… Continue
Added by Stephen Brown on October 19, 2009 at 9:30 —
So last night I went to see Cartoon de Salvo again, and I have verified that the whole show was COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.
Last night the title was ‘Mollusc and Patch’ (heaven knows who put that one forward) and the story was of rival oceanographers (one with a comedy German accent), a previously undiscovered coral and – best of all – a romance between two molluscs (on a patch of coral), aided by a surprisingly public spirited tiger shark.
They really are… Continue
Added by Stephen Brown on October 18, 2009 at 17:53 —
Whisked a clown
And sent it to
His aunt in
He drank his
Bitter in a
Giraffe that was
I like Giraffes.
The surprise hit of last night was ‘Especially for You’ – a sort of improv gift service run by the youth theatre group at Bristol Old Vic.
The members of the Bristol Old Vic Young Company (7 to 25 years old) set about running this service with charm, camaraderie and self-confidence. When the… Continue
Added by Stephen Brown on October 17, 2009 at 17:39 —
The Black Toe
Day Two and the Good Ship Bristol Jam has launched. Some of the staff here are feeling a little seasick, after the revels of last night.
Last night I saw Cartoon de Salvo’s brilliant Hard-Hearted Hannah and Other Stories. It’s a long-form improvisation show, which is – I am told – a pretty unusual thing in the UK (and still pretty rare in the US). Long-form improvisation means that the three members of Cartoon de Salvo make up a play… Continue
Added by Stephen Brown on October 17, 2009 at 14:00 —
Friday 5.24pm: Thirty-six minutes to go, and the theatre is filled with busy expectancy.
On the mezzanine above the entrance to the theatre, Chris and Harriet have laid out great piles of paints, charcoals, chalks, crayons, pencils alongside four large white boards – blank terrain for the ‘The Great Mass Improvised Draw’ over the next 24 hours.
The Factory – the people who are going to be performing their improvised Hamlet and The Seagull over the next couple of days –… Continue
Added by Stephen Brown on October 16, 2009 at 20:00 —