Josie Lawrence on the Comedy Store Players
By Open Air Theatre
The Comedy Store Players return to the Open Air Theatre for the 26 consecutive year on Sunday 3 July. We caught up with Josie Lawrence, a member of the original players when they first performed at the Park in 1990, to find out what brings them back time and time again.
The Comedy Store Players have been performing at the Open Air Theatre for an incredible 26 years; what makes this space and this audience so special?
It is lovely to be surrounded by trees and nature. It is a beautiful theatre to play. We start in daylight and gradually the night draws in, almost unnoticed. We like the fact that we have chance to play on a different set every year, depending on which show is in the middle of its run. It might be a musical or a Shakespeare. We are always surprised and intrigued, especially Andy Smart, who finds new ways to make an entrance through an unexpected door, or from above (or even below one year!) The audience give us great suggestions too – interesting theatre or film styles, for example. They always come with their brains in gear.
To many, having to improvise would be a terrifying experience. It clearly isn’t for you. What still excites you about performing improvisation?
Every night is different. It’s fantastic to play with my improv family, the Comedy Store Players. Each night – actually each sketch or story – is a different adventure, as the audiences vary in what they suggest.
Describe one of the best moments you’ve had here? Do you have any interesting anecdotes about The Park?
One year a man proposed at half time. Neil and I took the mic down to him (at his request) and he got down on one knee in front of over thousand people. And, by chance, someone filmed it and put it up on YouTube. They have a little boy of six now. If they had had a girl, I’m sure they would have called her Josie…
In all this time we’ve only really had two really rainy nights. One time, it bucketed down. Many of the audience just put on black bin bags to try and keep dry. We were soaked by the end, and the boys just lay down in a puddle to complete the job. Yet that was one of the most memorable nights.
Another time, our friend, Mike McShane, who people will remember from Whose Line Is It Anyway, came to see the show. There was a piece of revolving scenery, and the crew turned it round just as we took our curtain call, to “discover” Mike pouring himself a nice glass of wine.
What’s the most bizarre improv that you’ve been asked to do?
It’s a joy to think back to all the different roles I’ve improvised. I have been a piece of coal, a pip inside an orange, a fork in a cutlery drawer, a Victorian ghost, a ship’s captain, an airline pilot, an evil chief executive and a cheeky elf. I’ve played women, men, aliens and even a medical giraffe. I’m not sure how that happened.
I guess you must have amazing team work skills to keep an improvised scene going. Have you ever been completely stumped?
We can often be stumped – and it’s fun, actually. The audience relishes those moments while we struggle to think of something to say or to get out of a hole of our own making. Often one of the other Players steps in and tries to make sense (or even more nonsense) of the situation. Each of us is different, but we are all doing our best to make the others enjoy themselves.
What should be tell them to come armed with (eg, styles, scenarios etc)?
Come armed with suggestions that are not simply jokey. Great examples of suggestions for locations might be a cobweb-strewn attic or inside the fridge or the last tube home – something we can get out teeth into. Mostly come with your silliness too, so we can all enjoy playing together under the stars. (And maybe a blanket or insect repellent.)
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