Thursday, 29 May 2014

Doctor Synistra's Brighton Debut

I perform with a group called 'The Sinister Tales of Doctor Synistra' and we do improvised horror stories. Devised by Antony Noad, they had already been performing for several months by the time I joined after returning from the Edinburgh Fringe last year.

The premise is bit like an improvised tales of the crypt, but so that we don't have one person stuck as storyteller for the whole show, our storyteller is a hat that possesses its wearer with the spirit of Doctor Synistra. "Whoever wears the hat tells the tale - Whoever wears the hat is Doctor Synistra!"

The structure for an hour long show is three short stories and a commercial break, which is just a quick fun little scene. For each short story we have a slightly different structure, which have each been conceived initially and then evolved as we've played with them, so now we all have the main structure set in our minds to free up our thoughts for important things like character names and details for re-incorporation.

Getting the right balance of actual horror, comedy horror and being friendly to the audience, whilst delivering horrific cautionary tales, is something that has taken a lot of practice to get right, but I feel we have now achieved it, and there's nothing more satisfying than being able to scare or disgust an audience one minute and make them laugh the next.

I wrote some ambient music for when the audience is taking their seats. Discordant music on strings, piano and Hammond organ coupled with muffled and echoed screams and monstrous noises. Cheesy horror music, essentially. Then, over church organ chords, a big scary voice says "ladies and gentleman please welcome to the stage, The Sinister Tales of Doctor Synistra… Mwahahaha!"

And then we chat to the audience a bit to make them feel comfortable! This has taken us a long time to find the right approach, but we use a variation of the Get-to-know-someone intro, but instead of their favourite cheese/dinosaur/biscuit, we ask for their favourite horror movie method of gruesome death; and instead of getting them to shout "I love you" followed by the name of someone else they've just met, we get them to shout "No Satan, don't take" followed by the name of the person they've just met!

We did three shows at the beginning of the Brighton fringe and we have three more to go starting tomorrow. Those first three felt to me like the best shows we've done so far, and that the show is finally achieving the right balances of horror and humour, friendliness ans scariness.

In London, we're often used to our audiences being the improv underground. People who regularly seek out and support improv and other improvisers. It makes for a very supportive crowd which is very nice, but in Brighton we have had audiences who had just come to see a free show, or from the description in the guide alone, so it felt a little more like we had to work harder to earn our laughs. It has been a great experience so far, and I'm looking forward to the next three. They willl be awesome…

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