Marian Blythe on improvised storytelling, creativity and her Melbourne Fringe show Lose The Plot

Marian Blythe loves some good ‘ol creativity. She podcasts it up regularly with Lucas Testo for her show, Devotee, a delectable insight into what inspires creative people. She also has written words for The Big Issue and RRR’s own Trip Magazine, as well as hosting the odd show on RRR where her creative witticism shines.

But all that imagination that’s been placed onto those mediums will convert itself to some fun vision on stage care of improvised storytelling. As part of Melbourne Fringe’s Open Book initiative, Marian will be hosting Lose The Plot, a “raw and chaotic” night of awesomeness at Wick Studios in East Brunswick over four shows at Melbourne Fringe.

Marian was kind enough to chat over some coffee about the show starting this week.

What was the spark that brought Lose The Plot to being?

Well, the Melbourne City of Literature Twitter feed is one of my favourites. They tweeted about a competition they had going with Melbourne Fringe for people who could think up shows that would promote Melbourne as a UNESCO City of Literature. I told my friend that I could think of at least three shows immediately, and she said, “Well put one in!” So I submitted my favourite which turned out to be Lose The Plot. A few weeks later I was contacted by Fringe, and they said, “Marian, we love the show. This is happening!” I had actually forgotten what the show was! I have at least 10 creative projects going on in my head at any given time, but they reminded me and I remembered, thankfully.

I was more or less immediately excited and started putting things together and prepping for it like crazy. It wasn’t until a month later when I got Dan Salmon on board as my trusty sidekick/assistant that I thought, “I wonder if this concept will actually work?”

Can you explain the concept of Lose The Plot?

Lose The Plot is an improvised storytelling panel show. Myself as host, and my trusty assistant Dan Salmon (from Triple R’s Byte into IT program), guide three Melbourne creatives through telling a story — one minute at a time. Every now and then I interject with a plot-bomb that will change the story — just to keep things interesting — Because who ever said writing was easy?

It’s a really fun, chaotic show. There’s going to be the non-confrontational kind of audience interaction where they fill a form before the show naming a person, place, and thing, and we may use those in the story. That’s another little challenge the creatives will have. The whole thing that got me thinking about it was that Melbourne’s storytelling culture isn’t just about books and writers. We tell stories through song and theatre and visual art and in lots of different ways. I figured I’d get people from all of those artistic fields and throw them into this environment and see what happens!

With such a mix of creatives from all those fields, how do you see a story turning out as a performance?

They are literally sitting in chairs and chatting. There’s no need to perform, or sing. There’s no need for interpretive dance or anything like that. The story is the entertainment.

I wonder how or if people who are particularly connected to a craft will take the challenge of getting out of their comfort zone. Do you expect a musician to belt out some dance choreography, for example?

The creatives can use their craft if they want to. I’ve left it open to them to interpret the storytelling aspect any way that they want. In our test shows, we’ve had such a great reaction. It works better than I ever could have expected. The beauty of it is that we’re telling a story that is fiction. Absolutely anything can happen.

We can be in a parallel universe, or you can go through a timehole. It is so open that anything is on the table. In a way, that’s what we are counting on because that’s what makes it exciting.

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Despite the flexibility of the night, you do have themes that you stick to for each of the nights of storytelling. Can you explain how they’ll work?

The themes are sci-fi, crime, horror and romance. The reason I made the themes is because it is so big and crazy a concept, I wanted to bring in these elements that can guide the story. We say that we are challenging the creatives, but we are also guiding them to tell the story.

To be honest the themes are also an excuse to dress up. We’re encouraging the audience to do the same and will have prizes for best dressed. All in all we just want people to have a great night — people can come to every show and they’ll get something different. That’s the beauty of it.

Which theme are you looking most forward to performing?

I’m excited about them all for different reasons and can’t wait to be a part of each and every one of them, but I’m absolutely intrigued to see what our horror gals get up to. We have Rama Nicholas: theatre and improv actor and just an amazing talent, Alex Heller-Nicholas who writes about horror and is obsessed with cinema (she also co-hosts Triple R’s Plato’s Cave and edits Senses of Cinema), and Isabel Peppard, who is an amazing claymation animator who’s made some really fantastic short films and is an expert in horror and creature-features. I was so excited when these three fell into place together!

Let’s talk about the improvised aspect of this show. When you think of improvisation, many think of improv acting. And when you think of storytelling, you think of things like The Moth podcast or Now Hear This on ABC’s RN. Improvised storytelling brings a unique twist to all this. Can you explain what improvisation can bring in narrative and storytelling

I love talking to people and interviewing them for my podcast (Devotee). I’m also that crazy person at parties that puts questions to people like, “If you were going to get eaten to death by an animal, which animal would you choose?” I’m intrigued by people. I want to know what’s going on in their brain. I love to see them ticking.

There are other improvised storytelling shows out there. Even things like Who’s Line Is It Anyway? is a storytelling performance. Storytelling as a broad term is just being creative. Every story has this creative element. If you put creative people in a space together, then you get beautiful things.

You’ve mentioned you’ve done test runs of the show. What did you learn from those and what kind of preparation have you put into the Fringe show?

It’s actually a lot of prep. I’m not sure if it’s me being anal-retentive and wanting to organise things. I think it’s just generally the structure of the show and wanting to ensure that the storytellers have somewhere to go and are supported, and that everyone can just enjoy themselves.

What do you hope doesn’t happen in the show, considering it’s improvised?

The main thing is that I just want people to have fun — both on stage and in the audience. Regarding things I don’t want happening … umm… small fires? Chairs being thrown probably wouldn’t be fun, and there’s definitely the potential for wardrobe malfunctions, considering some of our costumes!

Getting away from the improvised aspect and onto the literature side of things, considering you responded to a tweet from the Melbourne City of Literature twitter account to start the idea of this show – how much importance would you consider prose or words are to this show? Would you think it’s more important than the improvisation?

Absolutely. When I pitched the show the focus wasn’t on “improv” as such — well not in the theatresports kind of way.  I just wanted to throw some creative people together and get them to chat, make something up, tell a story. I absolutely hope it catches on here in Melbourne, even if people want to do it in their garages! Have little storytelling shows in there! Why not?

When I first dreamed up this show, the image that was strongest in my mind was a game I played as a kid. Someone would write the first line of a story, then they would pass that onto another kid who would write their line, and they’d pass it on, and so on. It inspires you because suddenly things are happening that you wouldn’t have dreamed of yourself. It makes you push boundaries and dream up something that you otherwise might not have.

I basically want that to happen — on stage. It’s very fun.

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Lose The Plot is performing four themed shows at WICK Studios in Brunswick on the 16th (Sci-Fi), 17th (Crime), and the 24th of September (Horror and Romance). Get tickets on the Fringe website, and like the event on facebook.

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