“You’ve just woken up, and you realise the world is in slow motion,” says the director.
All right, I’ll play George Bush just doing his regular thing. That’s pretty funny. But I guess that’s been done before; maybe I should just make a character. Yeah, I’ll play a farmer who thinks his molasses supplies have broken loose. And I’ll call my wife Barb — yeah, that’s a funny name.
All right, go!
That was a take on one of the most nerve-wracking parts of the Capping Show audition process. There’s some dancing involved, some pair work, but the improvisation is the best part (for those sitting on the sideline).
“You’re a superhero whose archnemesis is the sun.”
Those are the instructions for the next student auditioning.
“You’re a man trying to get people to join your cult.”
You’ve got seconds to think of something funny, and you’re in front of more than 30 other people your age who think they’re funny too. You’ve got to be funnier. And you’re sweaty. Much sweatier than usual.
The main script for the Capping Show is usually written by someone outside the show. The other half, with all the side gags and cutaways, is written by the cast and another group of writers. Fourteen people act, 10 people are writers (who help write the side gags), five people are backstage and shift the sets for each scene, there’s your makeup artist, the costume designer, the set designer, the choreographer, the producers, the assistant producers, the directors, the audio technicians, the lighting peeps and the music group.
The whole thing kicks off with writing. You show up for three hours every night, grab a few mates, and start writing up something funny. I’m not very funny. I wrote a few good sketches (some even got into the script), but I also wrote a lot of shit. I think I wrote a sketch about a giant elephant that shows up throughout different scenes and just tells stupid elephant facts, and the punchline right at the end of the show was that her name was “Irrelephant”. It’s a good thing there’s a team there who make the cuts.
There’s also a Capping Show writers’ retreat. Sometime in the months before the show, all the actors and writers go off to an undisclosed location for a night. You get shitfaced, you write a bunch of comedy and you play party games. We created a game that whenever the song “Hide and Seek” by Imogen Heap started playing, the lights were turned off and everyone had to run and hide. I don’t know who was meant to start the search each time, but someone would.
For the parties, OUSA supplied us with a keg or two, a couple of boxes of wine and some non-alcoholic stuff. Most of the time someone would bring weed, and in my years it was usually the legal Thai High shit. But you’re still theatre kids. So you rock out to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” everyone gets drunk off three beers, and everyone is trying to get each other’s attention and make each other laugh.
There are often strange traditions at every party. At midnight, there is a weird eating challenge. I believe I once ate an entire can of raw baked beans but, even then, that pales in comparison to a guy who had to eat an entire orange (skin included). One of these parties was at my old flat on Howe Street, and there are probably still orange skin vomit remains behind the house. I’ve also got a video of some people eating a big raw potato and an entire banana — skin and all.
When I wrote and acted in the Capping Show, most people wrote good stuff, but there were a few that really stood out. A talented trio wrote a skit around Maui and the Son (not sun). At the writers’ retreat we were blown away by some of the best amateur comedy we had ever heard, and then about five hours later, we were all showing off some of our writing.
The retreat provides a space for everyone to write, perform and develop their comedy skills together. Once the writing is done, we hand in all our manuscripts. The writers leave us. The directors pick the best sketches, pick who plays them, and we start rehearsing.
The schedule for rehearsals was very strict, taking up at least three hours every night. You don’t miss a rehearsal. Typically it starts off with warmups, before you split into sketches and play around. Then you move onto harder rehearsals, in front of the directors, delivering your lines differently every time until you find something funny.
You work with lighting, sound effects, costumes and makeup until things start to come together. Your uni assignment due date whizzes by, and you fail by default.
Then comes the big weekend. You’re getting close to show time and the directors keep counting down the days. The weekend starts around 8am Saturday and doesn’t stop until 11pm that night. You’re there early on Sunday and stay until 11pm that night.
Then it all comes around to show time. It’s hard to explain those precious, gorgeous hours before opening. You look outside the changing rooms and see a massive line of people wanting to see your work. It’s a wonderful feeling knowing that everybody in this room is as excited as you. You do the warmups where you bleat like sheep and make the sound of wheat fields (don’t forget, most of us are theatre students), you smash two cans of V, and you hear the hall outside fill with chatter.
It’s tradition to dance to the music on stage before curtains open, so it’ll probably be shaking about as we try to amp ourselves up. Energy is such a big thing and it has to beat nerves. The stage clears, the intro video plays and finishes. You’re bouncing on the spot to keep your energy high. People might be cheering — it depends on the crowd. The curtains rustle open, and you hear your cue. So much preparation, so much effort and so much time, but not just your time — that’s the thing. So many people have invested in this, in you; all these people are ingredients and the audience wants a slice of the cake you’re dishing up. Don’t drop it.
No one ever forgets their first laugh. It’s indescribable. It’s a wave of sound that brings you unequivocal happiness. It’s literally the best sound you could ask for in that situation.