Preview: The Zero Hour Musical

Gemma Sheehan 6 March 2017

Could you tell us a bit about your groundbreaking production? 

The Zero Hour Musical is a fully improvised musical. Every night, we’re going to make up a musical on the spot, according to what the audience tells us to perform. Give us the title of the show and the location where it starts, then sit back and enjoy the opening and closing night of a sixty-minute musical which only that specific audience will ever see!

The ZHM is groundbreaking because it’s the first ever improvised musical to be put on at the ADC theatre, and the first time the Cambridge Impronauts and CUMTS have co-produced a show! Being the first show of its kind at the ADC has presented both fresh and interesting opportunities and challenges. Joining up two of Cambridge’s most popular societies has been a dream.

Tell us a bit about the performers

We’re working with a cast of six, who came from vastly different backgrounds. Some were Impronauts, some came from CUMTS, but ultimately we have all learned from each other to become a cool hybrid of the two! We also have a band of three of the most talented musicians I have ever seen. They come at this show from the background of jazz music, so they’re very comfortable with improvisation, going with the flow and generally just creating something awesome without a moment’s notice.

You mention that this is a joint endeavour: has this impacted how you rehearse? 

The partnership between CUMTS and the Impronauts allows us to pool our collective skillsets, areas of expertise and ideas. Through it, the Impronauts have been able to learn a lot about musical theatre performance technique, and CUMTS have been able to learn a lot about improvised storytelling and song creation. What we’ve arrived at therefore is a cast who have benefited from the best of both worlds, and that is solely down to this historic partnership.

In terms of rehearsals – the better word is practices, since this show is purely skill-based. All we ever do is practise the skills we’ll be using on the night, just like a football team might prepare for a big match. As far as whether the process has been impacted by the partnership – not really! We’ve prepared for this show as rigorously as we would for any other, and that is ultimately the most important thing.

Has the musical element added any technical challenges compared to previous shows?

Absolutely. We’ve done an improvised musical before, but now taking one to the ADC stage, which requires cast and band microphones, provides all sorts of technical challenges to Sushant, our sound designer – for example getting that mix just right whilst avoiding feedback or any other issues. We’re actually running two different technical rehearsals for this exact reason – the goal is to hit the ground running come opening night.

The second big change to the musical side of things is that our band has expanded from one pianist, to a three-piece band. So getting the balance right between cast and band is more tricky than ever. Safe to say I’m buying Sushant a few drinks after this!

Will there be dancing involved? If so, how will routines work?

Yes! This show will have singing, acting, storytelling and what we lovingly refer to as ‘choreography’. This is an area into which no improv musical troupe I’ve seen has really explored and so it’s been up to us to carve our own path with it. I don’t want to give too much away but I can definitely promise you dancing!

Anything else?

All improvised shows ever aim to do is to make the audience feel like they got their money’s worth. I have never been surer in my life that an improvised show will exceed the value of its ticket than I am with this one. It’s one-of-a-kind. It’s never-before. It may just be never-again. It’s been a dream of mine for three years now and common sense dictates that it shouldn’t work. But it does. Oh boy, it works. And if you come see a show, or two, or three, or four, you will be blown away.