Southend Improvathon 2019.

My heart is very full.

This weekend I got to work alongside some of the greatest and most depraved minds in Southend’s second 24-hour improvathon. For those of you who have not seen an improvathon, it’s a long-form improvised theatre production featuring the same cast and characters. Some did shifts, others did the full twenty-four. I was already booked up for the Saturday so I did a simple twelve hours, from 7pm on Friday (when the show opened) until 7am the following morning.

The improvathon was set aboard the spacecraft, the S.S. Galileo, in the distant future. We were invited to bring a character idea and a costume, but that was as far as the planning went. The entire thing was directed by the incredible Ali James, alongide Jim working the lights and sound, and the introduction of Jordan, our resident pianist.

Ali would request specific characters to the stage, give a one liner for what would happen in the scene and away we went. While I struggle with terrible stage fright and anxiety if I am getting up to perform anything organised, I find getting up with no idea of what is about to happen a much more freeing experience. You build trust with your scene partners and let your mind go to the weirdest places.

I played John Doe, a spaceman rescued from deep space after being cryogenically frozen in an escape pod. When he comes to, he has no recollection of who he is or where he has come from. I thought it was a great setup for a character, fit in with the tropes of science fiction, and would limit me overthinking the scenes ahead of me too much.
The best thing about being in the improvathon is watching your very talented friends as they build an incredible world around you. I was constantly overwhelmed by how their brains grabbed at ideas and witty dialogue, puns galore, a little pause and a look to the audience that did so much.
I got to work with Wendy in my first couple of scenes, and shared a duet which she thankfully led. I had never improvised in song before and it’s a different battle entirely. I managed a bit of call and response. It always amazes me how I am continually learning when it comes to improv. It’s like finding that you aren’t as fit as you thought you were when you try a different exercise. Anything outside of my wheelhouse immediately makes me wonder if I have learnt anything at all.
John Doe then met Jen’s character, Connie Lingua, the ships’ communications expert who recognised him. They discovered they were long lost twins, a move cemented by Jen and I pulling up our sleeves to reveal half sleeves of tattoos – our “matching birthmarks”.
Connie taught John – now named Fellash (short for Fellatio) about their home planet, B127-Speed and he recovered a repressed memory about the death of their father, The Tattooed King, at the hands of time traveller Lordy Lordy (played by the wonderful John Oakes and Lee Tearrell). They fought to the death and The Tattooed King was defeated.
Connie and Fellash then battled Lordy Lordy for revenge and relived their entire lives in separation before their father appeared through a transporter and told Fellash it was time for him to return to B127-Speed and lead his people.
I am not ashamed to admit that I felt a tear at the corner of my eye as I was transported back to my home planet (via some strung up fairy lights).

I sometimes forget that taking part in improv is not a normal thing that everyone I know does. It’s fair to say that I have a lot of friends who do improv, but it’s more the case that improv introduced me to these people and I am now fortunate enough to call them friends. In a world that is so split and destructive, how wonderful it is to work with a group of people who just want to play and make each other laugh.
My arc and my shift were just one star in the constellation, the swirling galaxy that was this year’s improvathon. Getting to watch Dork be killed off and scalped, Keith Moon learn to play AI golf, seeing Gareth Gates and Jackov trying to disguise a poo, seeing Albert killed by a dentist, Alexa answering all of the questions, Brother Barry and Elder Edward perform a baptism, Emperor Zog exposing himself and Flash winning the ship against Sahara in an epic game of Rock, Paper, Scissors, I can’t help but beam that I got to be part of something so wonderful.

I loved it all, to infinity and beyond.

Photos by Gaz de Vere

Published by Paul

Paperback writer.

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