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Latitude 2011: Showstopper

As the rain falls at Latitude an actress in pink wellies is waiting for her fellow cast members to arrive at the Cabaret arena. It is less than three hours to showtime but for Sarah-Louise Young and the rest of the Showstopper team they aren’t quite sure what shape that show will take.

It’s not a sign of lack of preparation, far from it as this is a honed troupe of musical theatre performers, but the concept for Showstopper! The Improvised Musical, is the team create a brand new musical each night based on suggestions from the audience. Considering that your average stage musicals has weeks of rehearsals and numerous rewrites en-route to opening night it’s an impressive, if scary prospect.

For Sarah-Louise Showstoppers is an ideal show for a festival audience. “There is so much choice for Latitude audiences that you can become blasé. We offer an interactive show that’s fresh for each audience and, without our audience, the show wouldn’t exist. This is my second year with Showstopper! at Latitude and we always have a great festival.”

Given that there is no script and the audience can, and frequently do, suggest anything for the subject matter, how on earth do you rehearse a show like this?

“The best analogy I can think of is to liken it to a football team. We spend a lot of time building on team work, passing and getting to know how we all think and react.”

The football analogy strikes a chord with Duncan Walsh-Atkins, musical director for the show.

“We spend a lot of time looking at different musical styles, what makes a Cole Porter song a Cole Porter song for example, and then spend a lot of time training in those different styles.”

For Sarah-Louise the story is equally as important as the music;
“We spend a lot of time looking at story structure and what makes a good structure. Even if you don’t know much about the suggested subject you can use a strong structure to turn the piece into your own interpretation of the story.”

With the audience free to suggest any subject it is actually the mundane rather than the bizarre suggestions that scare the company more.

“Bizarre is good” explains Duncan. “One suggestion we had was entitled ‘In Ken’s Brain’ a look into the mind of Ken Cambell {{WHO?}}. Even if you know nothing about the subject, you can create your own world. Some of our historical pieces have been far more exciting than the actual historical accuracy!” For some reason, perhaps connected to festival life, popular suggestions apparently include portaloos and cheese.

So what will the Latitude audience come up with for tonight’s improvised musical? Who knows, but for Sarah-Louise, Duncan and the rest of the Showstopper! cast, that’s the appeal of the show – the unexpected, the unplanned, and the thrill of creating something new each performance.

As Sarah-Louise explains “You never fully master it but each show adds a new dimension to the performance.”


— Glen Pearce — Follow Glen’s Latitude Tweets on Twitter @glenpearce1

Glen Pearce is based in Suffolk and his reviews focus on the vibrant arts scene in East Anglia but also cover frequent trips to London and beyond. On average he sees around 150 shows per year, from small scale fringe shows to major West End productions.

Glen trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama and has worked as a stage manager, lighting designer, box office, front of house, in theatre management and arts marketing. He has reviewed for the regional newspapers in East Anglia.

In addition to his own blog he also contributes to OneSuffolk, blogs for Arts Professional Magazine, contribute to UpTheWestEnd.com and is also the resident theatre critic for BBC Radio Suffolk’s Drive Time show.

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