Stranger Things Have Happened, an English-language improv group based in Groningen, has been making it up as they go along since 2009. In August, the Strangers will be heading to the Edinburgh Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world, for the second year in a row.
The international improv group’s current cast includes German, Spanish, South African, Scottish, British, Canadian, American and Dutch actors. Izzie Chandler and Jeny Yáñez Villahermosa both started out in the student team, Friends of Mine, a couple of years ago and joined the main team earlier this year. Yáñez Villahermosa has been the group’s accompanist since 2016, setting the mood for musical improv scenes. The Northern Times spoke with Izzie and Jeny about what the Strangers will be getting up to in Scotland next month.
The Northern Times: How are you guys feeling about being part of the Edinburgh Fringe?
Izzie: I’m really excited to be going to the Fringe again! It’s a really unique and exciting festival and it’s great to have a chance to be a part of it for another year. I have been going to the Fringe since I was in high school, but only as an audience member and it was really exciting to actually be a part of it last year!
TNT: Since you guys are an improv group, will you literally make up everything or is there a structure? What is the show about this year?
Izzie: Plot-wise and character-wise everything will be improvised; however, the show is a murder mystery format, so we have a structure that allows for this. We as actors have no idea who the murderer is until it’s revealed at the end of the show, so it’s exciting for us, too!
|Stranger Things Have Happened: A Murder Mystery
Some people plan their murders meticulously. They formulate their plan step by step, spend months drawing up schematics and finally fulfil their goals with the precision of a true professional. Too bad our investigators are all a bunch of improvisers. Stranger Things Have Happened tackles crime scenes in the same way they tackle everything else: wildly unchecked, thoroughly uninformed, and above all, completely improvised; so very much like the real FBI. Join them for a show where crime and comedy collide and watch improv at its most murderous.
Venue and showtimes: Just the Tonic at La Belle Angele, 3:30 p.m. on 2-12 August and 14-16 August. Tickets are 12 pounds and are available at tickets.edfringe.com
TNT: How does musical accompaniment change an improv performance?
Jeny: Understanding the role of music in each game or show is the key to making good use of it. Sometimes I get to influence the tone of the scene or the mood of the players by modifying the type of music I am playing. I can also create a different atmosphere myself, but other times, I am led by what the players are offering and I support them in their choices. In many improv groups, music and the musician are just part of the background, but Stranger Things wanted the musician to have the same role as the actors, which I thought was a great idea.
TNT: What do you enjoy about doing improv?
Jeny: As a classical musician, I’ve been training complete different skills throughout my career: being as perfect as possible, playing within the restrictions of the score and avoiding mistakes were things I always needed to have in mind. Doing improv, I experienced freedom and novelty in every show, and a great sense of satisfaction when something completely unexpected pops up and you get to see the whole team pulling things together to make the scene work out. All those aspects created my passion for it.
TNT: Does the mix of nationalities in the group make for a unique dynamic (i.e. references, sense of humour)?
Izzie: I find the instances of understanding – or not understanding – references great for the group dynamic. This happens especially during guessing games as some of us have very different pop culture references than others. My favourite moment from a recent show was when I mentioned something about a Victoria Sponge (a vanilla sponge cake, with jam in the middle) not realising that not everyone knew what this was; a fellow stranger interpreted this as a form of padded bra (Victoria’s Secret) which led to an extremely confusing but very funny scene.
Have you guys looked at the Fringe programme to see what stuff you might like to see while you’re there?
Izzie: Yes! I have been going to the fringe for a number of years now and so have a few groups that I always want to see. Showstopper! The improvised musical, are some of the best improvisers in the world: during the rest of the year have a show on the West End of London, so it’s really expensive to see them, but at the Fringe, there is a ticket price cap so poor students can see them too! A few of us are also planning on going to see Austentatious, an improvised Jane Austen novel.
|What is the Fringe?
The Fringe has been a tradition in the Scottish city of Edinburgh since 1947 when eight theatre groups crashed the Edinburgh International Festival. The uninvited performers gave their shows in less traditional venues in town, on the “fringe” of the conventional theatre scene.Throughout its history, the Fringe has featured shows by famous British acts like Rowan Atkinson, Billy Connolly and Eddie Izzard, and hosted the debuts of famed plays like “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” and “Stomp”. During the 2018 edition, 3,548 comics, theatre acts, musicians and artists of all stripes will flood the city with performances – and flyers – between 2 and 27 August.Stranger Things Have Happened is not the only Dutch act performing at The Fringe this year. The 2018 edition will also include shows by the following Dutch artists:
Caustic Comedy Events: “Caustic Comedy Nights”
Patchwork Theatre: “Don Quixote”
Lisanne Fridsma: “Fitting Image”
Captain Cane and Brace Boy: “Prophets of Imperfection”
Sven Ratzke: “Starman” and “Homme Fatale”
Sören Bergen / Jonas Müller: “The Shallow Entertainment Tour”