Dave’s Second Visit to The Maydays Improv Retreat

The chance to repeat an amazing experience presents somewhat of a quandary: Will it live up to the memories? Or was its attraction largely one-off novelty? After consulting a few people, and seeing circumstances had aligned again, I found myself headed for another five-day improv retreat with The Maydays.

First, a word on the venue, Osho Leela: Curious.

Navigation

The second time at the event, you know what’s coming, and you know how to navigate its oddities – positive and negative:

Embracing all opportunities presented

Warming up properly each morning in a way that suits you

Knowing where various bathrooms are, so queuing can be minimised

Locating the chippy, should you need refuge from the vegetarian kitchen

Pacing yourself through an intense week of workshops, shows and socialising

The sixty punters constitute quite the range of people, across disparate backgrounds, experience, ability, interests and humour. Some friends from previous visits return, while others do not. However, any sadness at their absence is gradually allayed as rapport builds and the buzz rises.

With such a melting pot of creativity brought together away from normal life, it is reassuring that some universal truths still apply: some very interesting and charming people are so doubtful as to the worthiness of their input that they rarely speak up. And vice-versa. And, it is impossible to explain any technological system without eliciting endless questions about hypothetical edge cases that will never occur in practice.

Education

Which brings me to the selection of workshops. No longer the bemusing experience of people queuing up for the best part of an hour to get into the class they’d have got into anyway. No, now there is an online system for submitting preferences. Which offers the rare and refreshing sight of a large group of people all staring intently at their phones.

Generally there is pleasing breadth across the workshops, with a choice of five in each of the fourteen ninety-minute slots. Recognising some titles from last time, thankfully there were usually other options to capture the interest. Some choices can be tricky, however: the fun option of repeating a musical class, or the more useful option of developing other skills?

I am reluctant to single people out, much less praise them publicly. Nevertheless, as a fan of musical improv I must bring mention of Joe, musician of The Maydays. His skills make the creation of songs significantly easier, and the two-way following between singer and musician is quite something to experience. Quite apart from the range of musical styles he offers, his ability to continually adapt the music for those newer to the discipline is masterful.

In conversation, Joe claimed he is having success in getting more people involved in musical improv. Though such gospel spreading is admirable, selfishly I can only hope he is cultivating a commensurate supply of musicians.

Though collaboration is known to be vital in improv, complementarity is its lesser mentioned partner. On this, The Maydays excel. In teaching they offer different approaches, offering varied learning. In performance they get the very best out of each other, and enable their distinct respective strengths to shine.

Recreation

Which brings the nightly shows into focus. Alas, a great downside of improv is that justice can never be done in the retelling, and so such attempts will be saved. Suffice to say, however, each evening was a treat. Not being public ticketed shows, the performers had licence to muck about with each other more than usual. This ensured a high level of fun and mischief, in addition to the qualities each show would ordinarily have.

Then there was the rock opera. Oh, the rock opera! Undoubtedly the week’s zenith. One night’s show used a format suggested from the crowd: “A Rock Opera Journey Through Hell”. This was staggeringly good, resulting in a prolonged standing ovation from a dumbfounded audience. Quite simply a level above any other improv I’ve seen.

By the denouement of the retreat, there is a real buzz and energy among the group, which is delightful to be part of. Confidence in one’s abilities is high heading home, aligned with a futile hope of keeping hold of that belief for a good length of time.

So having enjoyed the event greatly, learnt much, and returned feeling great, the obvious question arises: Would I do it again?

Haven’t a clue.

But then I said that last year…

Dissemination

And so, to share some learnings from the week:

Broccoli can be a restricted substance, protected for the named few.

Improvised rock music is something that needs to exist (and I want a piece of it!)

One vasectomy can produce several anecdotes.

At least one of The Maydays has not had a vasectomy.

The final of a Rock, Paper, Scissors competition is a highly pressurised environment.

“Hit a rat with a frying pan” is not a literal instruction.

A fire alarm becomes more amusing once you realise it has interrupted a naked sauna.

Even with the word “dragonfly” involved, a phrase can be reworded numerous times.

Two men repeatedly immersing their heads in a bucket of water is highly entertaining.

While gazing lovingly as part of an exercise, the lady on the receiving end may just be thinking, “Ooh, this is nice!”

Photo credits: Dave doing his stuff by Daniel Kiss. The Maydays rock opera by Ken Gordon

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