For 10 years Showstopper! has been one of the must-see shows at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Hardly surprising as every performance creates a brand new musical comedy as audience suggestions are transformed on the spot into all-singing, all-dancing productions with hilarious results.
Go caught up with the Olivier award-winning show’s co-creator and director Adam Meggido to find out a little more...
Can you tell us what the audience can expect from the show?
A musical! With catchy songs, dazzling dance routines, sweeping storylines and hilarious characters. The only difference with our show is that EVERYTHING is entirely made up on the spot out of audience suggestions. It’s all 100% improvised.
What inspired you to develop the concept of Showstoppers!?
About ten years ago, some of us were working with the great theatre maverick Ken Campbell. Ken was inspired by a troupe he had seen in Canada called Die Nasty. He said their improvisation was so slick, entertaining and impressive that it was better than a great deal of scripted theatre. We decided to do the same with a musical. The Showstoppers love musicals - and we love improvisation - so this project was a perfect fit for us all!
…and how did you all meet?
Some through Ken Campbell, some through Dylan Emery (co-creator/director of Showstopper!). We are an eccentric rag-tag bunch of misfits and oddities and somehow that works perfectly for this show!
Is there a recipe for good improvisation?
The basic principles are actually quite simple. The rest is practice. Its mostly about listening. Real listening. Listening to each other’s ideas, agreeing with them immediately and building on them. For Showstopper of course we have to know our musicals so a huge amount of hard work is part of that recipe too.
I imagine that a strong relationship between the cast members is fundamental to the success of this show. Can you almost second guess each other’s responses?
Sometimes yes. But often the real fun is when we clash and don’t quite catch what’s happening. The audience sees everything of course so they enjoy seeing these clashes and wondering how we are going to get out of the trouble we have put ourselves in! The relationship is not just between performers but also the band, our lighting operator and of course, the audience. (Don’t worry - there is no awkward, forced audience participation!)
Do you have back-up material that you can pull out of the bag if necessary?
Nope. Never. It doesn’t help to do so. Trying to plan anything in advance actually makes it more difficult to improvise. It’s genuinely easier to stay calm, present and be in the moment. Riskier - yes - but ultimately that’s how the show is created.
Apologies for the cynical tone of this question, but do you ever get accused of planting audience members with specific requests?
All the time. There are some people who will never believe it’s improvised. I guess it’s a compliment in a way. After all, we set out to create a show that doesn’t look improvised. But what can we say? It honestly is entirely improvised with no plants or stooges. Some people have seen the show 50 or 60 times! They would have said something by now if they thought we were cheating. Anyway, where’s the fun in having plants in the audience? We genuinely want to be challenged.
How much of the success is rooted in the tension created by the feeling of ‘will they mess up’?
The element of danger is essential. It’s essential in all live theatre but often lacking. Well. you’ll get it by the sack full in this show.
How hard do audiences try and bamboozle you with outlandish suggestions?
A great deal. Usually the ideas are not as imaginative as they initially think. Setting our show ‘in a toilet’ or ‘on the moon’ sound outlandish until you realise 1) everybody says it so it’s not very original at all and 2) it would be interesting for about 2 minutes and wouldn’t necessarily sustain a 90 minute show. We ask the audience to try to dream up their best ideas and come up with something genuinely inspiring that makes a great musical. Having said that, if you really want it set in a toilet on the moon, we’ll do it!
You’ve created so many musicals. Any favourites?
Ahhh so many… I enjoyed a musical called Don’t Look Down about couples who go white water rafting as a kind of therapy. I also enjoyed ‘The Lyin’ King’ - a story about a newspaper editor (our opening night at the Apollo in the West End). Maybe, with your help, our favourites will be the night we’re there!
For tickets go to www.theatreroyalwakefield.co.uk