The Showstoppers visit 2013 Edinburgh Fringe with kids show
Seasoned improvisers base 2013 comedy show on children’s suggestions
This article is from 2013.
We’ve had comedy for kids, but how about improv based on children’s suggestions? Kelly Apter finds that the Showstoppers crew are more than game for this daunting challenge
As a parent tired of putting your hand in your pocket, the prospect of paying £10 for a show that hasn’t even been created yet may not appeal. But it’s worth bearing in mind exactly what you’re getting when you buy a ticket for The Showstoppers’ Family Hour: essentially a whole lot of talent.
Most well-trained musical theatre actors can remember a script, learn the rudiments of a dance routine and turn out a serviceable harmony. Making up all three on the spot, however, requires a whole different skillset that few can master. Especially if you want your words to rhyme, your legs to kick in sync with the person next to you, and your harmonies to be in key.
Welcome to the life of a Showstopper, where the only guarantee you have about the show you’re about to perform is that it will bear no resemblance to the one you did the day before. Everything the Showstoppers sing, dance or say is based on audience suggestions, so a new crowd equals a new show. Seemingly the only similarity between each musical they turn out is that it’s as good (sometimes better) than a show people have spent months writing and rehearsing. From the outside looking in, the general audience response is ‘how is that possible?’
Showstoppers co-founder, Dylan Emery, has the answer. ‘In the simplest terms, you listen and you copy,’ he explains. ‘You’re watching like a hawk, so if someone lifts their leg on stage, you lift your leg at the same time. Or as somebody is singing, you look at their mouth and sing the same words a fraction of a second behind them. The basic rule is, if somebody starts something, you do the same thing. But it requires a lot of practice and is hard to do well.’
London-based Emery and his team have been crafting improvised musicals since 2008, and after five successful years at the Edinburgh Fringe, they’re shaking things up a little. According to Emery, some of the most inventive shows they’ve created have had contributions from children in the audience. So this year, for the first time, they’re supplementing their evening show with The Showstoppers’ Family Hour.
‘Children are brilliant to perform to, as long as you don’t try to give them the show that you want to give them,’ says Emery. ‘You have to give them the show that they want: that’s very important.’ With that in mind, Emery and his fellow-performers will be taking a more relaxed approach to storytelling and letting the young, untethered imaginations in the audience work their magic.
‘When we do the regular Showstoppers, we try and make it look slick, to tie everything up and not lose any narrative threads,’ says Emery. ‘But I suspect we’re going to have to let a lot of that go in the Family Hour and just have fun instead. If a kid says, “and then they all go to space”, it doesn’t matter that the story up til then has been set in a Viennese café: they’re all going to space. We’ll have to let go of the niceties of neat storytelling, and make sure we have funny, bold characters, lots of scene changes and loads of props.’
The Showstoppers’ Family Hour, Gilded Balloon Teviot, Bristo Square, 0131 622 6552, 3–13 Aug, 2pm, £10. Preview 2 Aug, £7.50.