Interview: Adam Meggido of Showstopper! The Improvised Muscial
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Showstopper! The Improvised Musical is a fully-improvised musical that had its first run in 2008. Since then, it's received rave reviews and several awards, and has played to audiences across the world. We caught up with Adam Meggido, co-creator and director of the show, in advance of its Edinburgh run.
Image: Steve Ullathorne
Hi Adam! Are you excited to bring Showstopper: The Improvised Musical to the Fringe this year?
‘I’m always excited for Showstopper to go to Edinburgh. It started in Edinburgh, the audiences are great, and we love performing there, so every Edinburgh is a treat for us.’
Tell us a bit about the show.
‘Showstopper is a musical. It has everything you would expect to see in a musical – big sweeping storylines, great characters, song and dance routines… the difference is that we make everything up on the spot. Nothing is pre-planned or prepared.’
Do people ever tell you they don’t believe it was really improvised?
‘All the time. I’m used to it by now – if people really want to believe something they will. The theories people come up with are so ludicrous, they’re much harder than actually improvising a musical! One idea is that there’s a group of people backstage who are communicating with us via our earpieces, telling us what to say and do... So in other words the people backstage are improvising a musical and communicating it to us! It’s madness, they just haven’t thought it through. But we have other people who come back again and again, and see the show 50 times or more. They would say if we were doing the same things. Another thing people say is that we must have a set structure, to fall back on. We don’t, what we have is a group of people who have put a lot of work into understanding how stories are created. In the first few moments of the show, the company is trying to discover what kind of story this is. We might think something like ‘oh, this is probably a tragedy with a single tragic hero’, and then we have to use our understanding of tragic form to develop the story. So it’s not something we pre-determine, it’s something we discover in the first five minutes of the show.’
You’re also performing a children’s show at the Fringe, The Showstoppers’ Kids Show. How is it different to the adults’ show?
‘The kids’ show only takes suggestions from children, and children can sometimes get up and be part of it. We will do whatever the children want us to do.’
Is the storyline made simpler and easier to understand for children?
‘Nope, children are much better storytellers than adults. They’re immersed in storytelling, reading and watching stories all the time. They know how to tie up a story, how to reincorporate, how to bring back ideas. The suggestions we get from kids are generally way more fun to play with than the suggestions we get from adults. It’s a joyful romp of a show.’
The adults’ show has been running for more than ten years, how have you seen it develop in that time?
‘It’s grown. It’s a big team now – sometimes we even play on two continents at once! It’s difficult to know when it’s your own project, but we do look back and see how much we’ve developed. Bringing in new people is important, because every new person coming into the group brings a new dynamic and a new energy and set of skills, which is then shared with everyone.’
You mentioned playing in several different countries, do you adapt the show for different audiences?
‘Because the show is created out of audience suggestions, different audiences and different cultural approaches will influence the action differently. But generally speaking, audiences the world over are the same. The majority of them want to have a good time. They love the fact that we’re going to make it up out of their ideas, and they love being involved. And then there’s a handful of people who always want to destroy it, and trick you, and won’t believe it’s real. It’s interesting as a sort of social yardstick. And that’s the same the whole world over.’
How would audience members try to ‘trick’ performers?
‘For example we ask for an ‘inspiring’ setting, and people will suggest a toilet. They think the subversion of it is funny, but they don’t realise that someone in every single city we’ve ever played has shouted out ‘toilet’. And we say, we could set it in a toilet, but how about somewhere a bit more dreamy, somewhere you would really like to be?’
Do you remember any favourite performances, perhaps not set in a toilet?
‘We have so many favourites. Nowadays we remember the ones that feel like a breakthrough for the group. We did a run in Toronto and one of the suggestions was a cabin in the woods, and we did a musical about a group of friends who had left college, who all had these interplaying relationships – it was a bit like A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It somehow felt very different to anything we’d done before, and we all came off stage feeling thrilled.’
Do you find yourselves knowing what other performers are thinking, because you perform together so often?
‘Possibly, yes, but that can also be dangerous, as it can make you a bit lazy. You think ‘oh I can do this, because I know they’ll do that.’ But actually, it’s nice to be surprised.’
And do you find yourselves slipping into archetypes – someone always playing the hero, or the sidekick, or the love interest?
‘Not any more. Thankfully that’s become completely fluid now, any one of the cast should be able to play any archetype, at any time. When we started the project different people had different strengths, and of course they played to their strengths. But as the company developed, we started changing things up.’
What advice would you give to young improvisers wanting to make a career out of performing?
‘I would say to remember that improv, whatever kind of improv you do, is still about performing. It’s still about getting up in front of people and being able to communicate, so you should be working your theatrical skills as much as your so-called improv skills. The second thing I’d say is to remember that it’s more about the audience than it is about you. Improvisors often have a tendency to be rather indulgent, because they’re having such a good time. And that’s great, if it’s a hobby. But if it’s a performance where audiences have paid money to come and see you then you have a duty not to indulge yourself, and to learn how to entertain and engage an audience. That’s a big step, and is not really rooted in a lot of improv training. A lot of improv training tends to be about how groups of people interact, rather than how that interaction is shared with an audience. Thirdly I would say be very, very suspicious of anyone who appears to be a guru. There are sadly quite a few self-styled gurus, who tell you that they have the answer, and ‘this is how you do it’. You want teachers and practitioners who share the craft, and encourage your self-expression, not someone who will shut you down and say you’re doing it wrong.’
Showstopper! The Improvised Musical is on at the Pleasance Courtyard from August 1st to 26th, excluding the 14th. The show will preview at the Lyceum, Sheffield on July 25th and The Waterside Arts Centre, Sales on the 26th. The Showstoppers’ Kids Show is at the Pleasance Courtyard from August 1st to 19th.