It’s a spooky day at the Binge Fringe Virtual Ye Olde Tavern today! I’m joined by Liz Peters from long-running Brighton improv troupe The Maydays for a pixelated pint. Fitting for May Day 2022! We’re talking about their brand new show Happily Never After which is running at Brighton Fringe this year. The Maydays are also running another show where they create improvised versions of other people’s shows based on the Fringe programme!
Jake: So tell me about your inspiration to do a Tim Burton/Grimm Brothers inspired Improv show. Where did that idea stem from?
Liz: I think the idea really came because that was a sort of style that we were naturally going towards anyway. Our musician is amazing and he can play that kind of Danny Elfman quite broad, orchestral and creepy music. And we were finding that we were generally going towards these sort of darker, fantastical themes, but with that with that sort of playful edge as well. So it grew from the sort of stuff that we were naturally wanting to do anyway. And then it sort of evolved from there. We were like, hang on a minute. This is a bit like Tim Burton. This is a bit like the Danny Elfman music. So we let our demons out.
Jake: So you say the show often features a lot of dark humour, how have the audience been responding to it?
Liz: People who have been to the show have really loved it and had a lovely time. When we say dark, it’s kind of playful dark like, it’s not offensive in any way. It’s sort of grotesque and playful rather than stressful, if that makes sense. People have been responding to it in a great way. I think it’s been really fun and I think we like to keep the comedy in it as well.
We’re willing to go to those places where maybe the soul of a tree explodes out and takes over the land or someone gets put into a picture frame and then they’re stuck there for all of eternity to rue the day that they did something terrible to someone. It’s dark in those kind of fantastical terms, but it’s not dark in the sense of anyone would be offended. Unless anyone would be offended by trees coming to life and then attacking a town. There’s pretty much always death in it, but death done in a fun way. It’s a fun evening, and it will be dark and playful.
Jake: So you guys have been doing Improv for some 18 years, everyone’s going to feel, I’m sure that they’re in safe hands with you. How are you keeping things fresh and exciting doing this year after year?
Liz: We do various different styles of shows, and I think this one particularly people just really love it. We really love doing it. How are we keeping things alive? Well, we all live in very different parts of the country now, so what started as a Brighton company is now really spread across the country, so we don’t actually meet very often anymore. And certainly the Pandemic made that quite difficult. So we’re kind of keeping things alive by the joy. When we do get into a room together, it’s like there’s this sort of electric kind of, yeah, we love doing this together.
I think just the excitement of being able to do it because it’s quite a luxury to be able to get together with a group of people who you think are really talented and you find really fun and just see what happens when your creativity collides in that moment, and because that is going to be different every single time, and it’s going to be different with every single line up that we have. I think that it’s quite easy to keep it alive again. And I think as well the music is a huge thing because Joe is our musician who is absolutely brilliant.
And then when we come together and we can sing in harmony and we can just feel how good that sounds in that moment. I can look at my other players in the eye and be like, I know she’s going to do something crazy, I’m ready for it. And likewise, you can fall into each other’s creative orbit. So keeping it fresh is easy, I just love these people. I love playing with them, and I love working with them, creating fabulous stuff.
Jake: I think you guys have quite a unique position that you teach other people Improv. I was wondering how you feel that affects your practice with these kind of shows, how that kind of informs the way you guys do things?
Interesting question. I think when you teach anything, you learn more about it. And certainly from my experience as being a professional improviser and performer, I think my own practice has developed because of having to watch other people and see how I can help them and see what tweaks and see what works and what doesn’t work. And you see it in a different way when you’re not in the show, when you’re helping other people and guiding other people you can view things in a more separate way and so I would say teaching has helped me get better teaching has helped me just become more aware.
When I first started I would just blindly roll onto the stage and see what comes out, which sort of is basically what I do anyway now ,but it’s a bit more informed because I’ve had to find a way of articulating what I know to other people and guide their work. Also in rehearsals we have to guide each other and be able to articulate ideas and be able to suggest new approaches. When you’re planning classes you’re often thinking of new ways to do something or new exercises you can bring them into rehearsal room as well.
Jake: You’re in a 300 seat theatre which is an exciting thing! I’m sure it’s a very daunting one as well for an improv troupe. How have you found the audience participation element working on a large scale?
Liz: We only ask for one suggestion at the beginning of the show and what we’ve always done with this show is just to ask the audience to call out the profession of one of their grandparents, like the real genuine one You end up getting lots of interesting things like a tailor or a coal miner or things that sort of have a more vintage sort of curious feel. Maybe if we were doing this still in, like 20 years we’ll have like “software programmer.”
We get everyone to shoutout the job that their grandparents did and then we just pluck one of those, say clockmaker, and immediately that will then go into an opening song which has the whole company in and explodes the show. That creates an overture for us to use as throughout the show. Usually in the past where we’ve done festival shows and Edinburgh and things like that, we’ve usually done an hour straight through but this time we’re doing it with an interval as well. It will feel like a full evening of entertainment.
Jake: I’m interested then what’s the weirdest profession you’ve had shouted at you so far?
Liz: The weirdest one we had fighter pilot. I think we had that in Edinburgh once. That was really fun. We get a lot of tailors and seamstresses and librarians. We can run with that to then take a Tim Burton edge on that. It is quite a unique experience.
Jake: And how are you feeling about it kind of being on such a large scale with such a large audience?
Liz: We’ve done quite a few shows in Europe with large numbers like that. This would be the largest venue that we’ve played in Brighton. So in terms of handling an audience that size, that’s no concerns. I think it can be a challenge sometimes to sell enough tickets but in terms of handling an audience I think it will be absolutely fine.
We play regularly at Komedia, which is quite a small little room, a cabaret base and that’s fun. The stage is quite small there and the audience is very intimate and so going on to the larger stages like the old market and some of the festival things we’ve done, you’ve got so much more space to play with. So I feel like that really infuses the performance because you can feel the stage and you can be much more physical and create things that you maybe can’t do on a smaller stage.
But I think audience wise, ultimately performing in front of two people versus performing in front of 1000 people is ultimately the same, isn’t it? You just want those people to have a good time and you do the best you can. I think I get as nervous regardless of the number because even if it’s just one person I’ll be like I hope they have a nice time.
Jake: So to link your show back to the theme of our magazine, if your show was an alcoholic beverage what drink would it be?
Liz: Well my first instinct, and it’s more it’s visual , is a sort of creamy cocktail that has a twist of smoke coming out the top or like a blue thread running through it. So I’m guessing it’s got to be cream and Blue Curacao, some sugar and the mysterious drop of some alcoholic thing that will make it sizzle and swirl into the atmosphere. And is there any kind of we’ll call it the smoky blue. That’s what it’ll be called. It’s a brand new cocktail.
Jake: Well, I think you’ll probably have to get onto the old market bar team about that one pretty soon because that’s fabulous. That’s a wonderful answer. Thanks for joining me Liz!
Our Editor-in-Chief, Jake is a theatremaker and playwright interested in political theatre, new writing, comedy and international theatre. They have a particular interest in the post-Soviet space, Queer performance, British grassroots politics and Scottish new writing. They started their Fringe journey in 2018 and is an avid festival-goer. Their favourite drink is an IPA – no hops held back.
Festivals: Edinburgh Fringe (2018-2019, 2021-2022), Brighton Fringe (2019), Paris Fringe (2020)