“It’s surreal, what goes on. I don’t hallucinate anymore. I’ve done so many now my brain knows what’s going on,” chirps Impropriety’s artistic director Rosie Wilkinson.
Final preparations are now underway for the fourth annual Improvathon, taking place this weekend at the Kazimier. The 33-and-a-half hour (2013 minute) show will start on Saturday afternoon and finish on Sunday night, and this year has a Wild West theme. Rosie, and the rest of the Impropriety company, won’t sleep and will keep the production going for the whole of that time.
“The first one I did nearly killed me, but afterwards it felt like the best thing I’d ever done,” says company director and performer Angie Waller. “It’s like one big dressing up game that magic comes out of. It amazes me that from absolutely nothing, amazing stories happen.”
The event now attracts some of the best improvised comedy talent from across the UK and Canada, and for the second time will see members of DIE-NASTY, including Mike Myer’s former comedy partner Dana Andersen, join in the fun.
The Improvathon is split into two hour ‘episodes’, with each performer introducing and recapping their character at the start for any newcomers – and, no doubt, to refresh the memories of cast and crew. It might seem that at least some of the event has been prepared in advance, but this turns out not to be true in any way, shape or form.
Some of the performers will already have some idea who their character for the Improvathon is going to be – others will be waiting to find an elusive bit of costume that will bring inspiration (last year, actress Lauren Silver spent the whole time as Aileen Quinn, the child star of Annie), some won’t even be entirely sure even what accent might come out of their mouth until they step into the spotlight and introduce themselves.
Some may have had vague chats with others before the start to establish their character’s relationships, but on the whole, this will all develop on stage, even if it looks as if it all might have been fully fleshed out in advance.
From a desk at the side of the stage, Rosie and other backstage crew will be trying their hardest to remember the developing plot and call the right characters together to keep it all rolling – to eventually make sure all the strands are wrapped up to a satisfying conclusion.
It might be all made up on the spot, but as John Goodman put it in The Big Lebowski, “this is not ‘Nam, this is bowling, there are rules”. And so it is with the Improvathon. If an actor gets bored of their character, they can choose to be killed off and try something else – but it is considered very bad form to kill off a fellow performer without their prior knowledge or consent.
It is also a rule that all fights must be in slow motion. And within each scene itself, there are a number of games and in-jokes that might be sprung on an unsuspecting performer, from being forced to interpret their current predicament through song, to the cast being called on en masse to do something outrageous in the background of a dramatic scene (for example, a favourite of Dana Andersen’s is to place these scenes by an ‘erotic fountain’, calling for the performers to contort themselves into a rather alarming, obscene distraction around the straight-faced leads).
Actors can rest and even sleep if they need to – Impropriety would rather that than the experience stop being fun for anybody taking part – but on the whole, the cast stays up for the whole thing, watching the show develop from around the stage. Sleep deprivation can eventually lead to hallucination, and to help with the tricks the mind can play, each performer also buddies up with a pal to help get through one of the more unpleasant aspects of the marathon show – paranoia.
Angie explains: “The paranoia can just overwhelm you. You start thinking ‘everybody hates me, the audience hates me, why are they looking at me like that’ – it’s the worst part of it and that never goes away. That’s why you need somebody to say you’re doing alright. You will get someone at some point coming up to you in tears wailing that they’ve broken the whole entire improvathon, and of course they haven’t.”
As a company, to get through the mammoth event Impropriety lives by the words of Andersen, and his reassuring mantra that “things will look after themselves”. This weekend’s Wild West show will be Rosie Wilkinson’s fifth improvathon in the last 12 months.
“There’s nothing else like them,” she explains. “I’m never going to run a marathon, but this is something like a theatrical marathon. The first time, you do it to see if you can. You have no idea how it is going to affect you or if you’ll like it. It’s hard to explain why you keep doing them, but at the end, the feeling you get is that every emotion is heightened by one million. The most heartbreaking, fantastic theatre I have ever seen has been in these things.”
So get down to the Kazimier this Saturday (April 6) from 1pm. You can pay by the episode, get a full weekend pass, or even take your onsie and go on the sleepover ticket. For more information, see the Impropriety blog.