The Bristol Improv Theatre's longest running associate company Degrees of Error have become well-known for putting their own hilarious spin on genres through narrative improvisation. This includes the wildly successful Murder She Didn't Write and their new(er) show Fairytale Ending, which is making its triumphant return to the BIT Friday 26th and Saturday 27th April.
In this blog we talk to Degrees members Rachael Lane and Alex Hoyle about all the pitfalls and joys of developing, as a group, a genre improv show.
As a company, Degrees has worked almost exclusively in the world of Genre improv. Fairytale Endings is fantasy-based, while your last show – Murder She Didn't Write – was a successful parody of Murder-Mysteries. How did you choose which genre to parody next?
Rachael Lane: We had a pitch meeting. People came with their different ideas for shows and then we had a vote. It's all very democratic.
Alex Hoyle: Yeah, I think most of Degrees was in the same boat in that we wanted to keep working within a particular style – instead of doing more free-form improv. We had pitches for a Western show, Cyberpunk and 1930's Noir – all of which I loved.
Fantasy won out as it gave us the chance to play around more in the world of Physical Theatre, plus the world and characters were sufficiently removed from Murder's 1920s Farce that we wouldn't end up repeating ourselves.
Are there are any roadblocks to look out for to whilst developing this kind of show?
RL: When trying to form a narrative, you have to figure out a shared language that brings the show together. Rules can be freeing. In Fairytale Endings -unlike Murder -any of us can be the Narrator if we follow the rules – stand in that spot, speak to the audience.
AH: For Genre parodies specifically, it's good to consider whether the aims and rhythms of the stories you're sending up are suited to improv. Horror in particular can be very difficult to do well in improv, because most performers' instincts are trained to send them looking for laughs. A laugh is a release of tension, which is usually the opposite to what you want a horror
audience to feel.
How do you still surprise the audience when performing such a well-known genre?
RL: The gift of improv is that it's always surprising. Also, we're just as likely to subvert a genre as we are to conform to it.
AH: Exactly – and a huge part of comedy is fundamentally about subverting expectations. Otherwise it's just pointing out stuff.
Do you ever still surprise yourselves when performing a genre based show?
RL: Yup. I ended up playing an Eel in the last show. That surprised me.
AH: There is a huge lack of strong roles for Eels in this industry.
And lastly, if you were any fairy-tale character who would you be?
RL: A Witch, for sure. They're badass.
AH: I would want to be a Satyr. A drunken, lustful greek spirit – appearing as a man with goat legs. It just sounds like a good time, plus I like the idea of never having to buy shoes again.
Well there you have it folks: make sure you have a shared agreement on the show and its rules, subvert expectations and perhaps most importantly, empower eels.
Degrees of Error present Fairytale Ending is on Friday 26th April and Saturday 27th April at 8pm. Doors and bar open from 7.15pm. Tickets are £7 and can be bought HERE.