A Week Retreating with The Maydays

Why would an introvert who hates crowds drive four hours to Dorset to live for five days in a Buddhist commune with fifty-nine other improv punters?

All the Reasons

Well, a year ago my partner Dave returned from his first Maydays improv retreat at Osho Leela, brimming with tales of the weird and wonderful offerings there. The most animated, enthused and talkative I’d ever seen him be, the effects of the retreat were to be observed in my usually quiet and reserved other half long after it ended. And so my logic was: “Dave’s quite hard to please – if it’s good enough for him, surely I’ll enjoy it.”

On arrival Mayday Jen handed me the eight of clubs, and advised me to find my allotted ‘buddy’ in possession of the same card. My buddy Jim was a delight – the improv gods must have been smiling on me! There was a ‘compulsory activity’ of assembling and decorating a cracker –the Christmas ones rather than a Jacob’s cream or Graham cracker – to be pulled with someone at the evening’s festivities.

From there I threw myself into it: a smörgåsbord of improv classes, daily shows from experienced teachers and professional improvisers the Maydays, daily jams, and a showcase to show off anything you’d learned. All with veggie food provided.

The Routine

7:30am Wake up, stuff belly with breakfast.

Decide class preferences before 9am deadline using Maydays website. Be pleased I don’t have to use last year’s system of queuing for signup sheets when I’d rather be eating breakfast / asleep.

9.00am Find out what classes I’m in. Overhear someone say, “I got my 5th choice!”  Look politely puzzled but suspect it’s due to a user error submitting their preferences. Lie in food coma till 9:30.

9:30am Warm up. Choose the quiet, gentle, introvert option over the noisy extrovert stuff in the other room. Make this choice every day.

10:00am First class. Sleepily follow instructions, try not to snap at cheerful ‘morning people.’

11:30am Fifteen-minute break. Ablutions, fill up water bottle, make way to next class, chat with punctual people, consider giving evils to latecomers but remember I’m trying to be friendly on this trip.

11:45am Second class. Learn things, be impressed with quality of tuition, be in awe of other improvisers doing amazing scenes.

1:15pm Stuff tummy with lunch. Compare classes with other improvisers, lie in food coma.

2:45pm Third class. Take risks, be relieved people laugh when I sing “lalala” or other gibberish to stall for time when beckoned forward with precisely zero ideas in my brain of what to do.

4:15pm Get coffee. Fangirl at person who did amazing scene earlier.

4:45pm Fourth class. Hope coffee kicks in soon as learning is tiring, giggle at funnies, stumble through scenes.

6:30pm Stuff tummy with dinner. Be confused about new veggie foods on my plate, mistakenly dip dessert protein ball thing in ragu, decide combo doesn’t work and ball thing must be pudding. Brief food coma lie-down before showtime.

8:00pm Classes announced. Panic as I want to do them all, be relieved my decisions are made easier by some classes being marked advanced, ruling them out of my options.

8:20pm Be blown away by Maydays show. Look at Dave to confirm what I just saw on stage actually happened, facial expression says yes, decide to purchase Mayday Liz’s book, Own It.

9:00pm Put name in hat for the jam. Chuckle at scenes, abilities mixed.

10:00pm Chit-chat, drinkies, socialising. Decide eventually to go to sleep sometime.

Top Class

That’s all very well and good Orla, you say, but what about the classes? What improv is on offer?

In short, a lot! Some classes were marked as:

Physical a chance of getting sweaty!

Advanced immersive experiences such as the ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ (with its Fight Club rule) for the emotionally resilient, format learning, side coached scenes and classes on how to teach improv

Musical a chance to sing, accompanied by keyboard god Mayday Joe

There was also a buffet of classes to introduce or improve on basic improv skills – I found an intro to longform particularly helpful.

Thanks for the Memories

It was a jam-packed trip, with too much to include in one blog post. But some particularly memorable bits for me were:

Getting to do a villain song in the showcase with Dave, Guy and Lela – FYI Dave makes a very sinister villain, you have been warned!

Doing gigantic veggie poos and farts, so much musical improv coming out of everyone’s butts…

An allotted time for goodbye hugs, handshakes for anyone who doesn’t do hugs.

An improviser abruptly mounting their scene partner during a song, the word “BOUNDARIES!” being yelled from the sides, and the subsequent conversation about boundaries (as it turns out he was cool with it).

ALL OF THE MAYDAYS SHOWS! – Words cannot express how fun they were to watch, there are some things I cannot unsee from their ‘Journey Through Hell’ Rock Opera!

Adjusting back to the real world was difficult. I excitedly told my friends and family about the retreat but when my German-speaking customers politely asked how my ‘holiday’ was, I lacked the vocabulary to do it justice and said, “I went to Dorset, yes thank you, it was lovely.”

Learn more about The Maydays
The next Maydays improv retreat is in March 2020 

Photo credit: Ken Gordon

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