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James Dart - ShakeItUp The Improvised Shakespeare Show Interview

The raucous improvised Shakespeare comedy led by the audience will make its Off-West End debut this July at The Other Palace Theatre and returns to The Edinburgh Fringe in August. Using the language of Shakespeare, audience suggestions, and the actors’ imaginations, ShakeItUp perform a completely new and made-up Shakespeare style play live on stage each night, complete with music and songs. 

The audience are invited to pick their genre: Epic History, Romantic Comedy, or Gruesome Tragedy, as well as name the lead character, side characters and location of the play. As an added bonus, the audience get to play the Bard by penning their own wittiest Shakespearean line for the brave actors to pull from their breeches when they need a helping hand – despite having no idea what the line will be before they say it. 

Created to be accessible and enjoyable to all, The Improvised Shakespeare Show is designed for everyone to take part in, from Shakespeare aficionados to novices, with laughs, drama, and plenty of bard-based Bedlam.  

Ahead of the run in London we caught up with ShakeItUp founder
James Dart

Where did your arts career begin?
I began acting at a local youth group at the age of 10 and have been performing regularly ever since. However it took me a while to make the leap to professional acting. I did a Geography degree and even worked as an accountant before the call of the stage became too strong. I have been working professionally for the past 7 years. 
Were there any people or performances that had a big impact on you?
I always remember watching a version of The Winter's Tale at the RSC in Stratford Upon Avon when I was younger. It was the first time I had seen Shakespeare live on stage and I was blown away. It is such a powerful play, it's funny, it's sad and it's also completely wacky (Exit pursued by bear???). The show captures everything I love about theatre, it makes you feel a whole range of different emotions, it challenges you and it also takes you to another World for a few hours.  
What led you to starting ShakeItUp?
It was my wife's idea. I was saying how much I enjoyed improv and Shakespeare and she said, well why don't you combine them, she came up with the name on the spot as well. 
How do you reflect on the journey of the troupe up to this point?
I am really proud of the company. We started off in a spare room above a pub in Wandsworth. Our first year of shows involved us building and dismantling the stage from a set of old shipping pallets. To think we have now performed across Europe and at some truly incredible venues such as the Minack Theatre in Cornwall and now to be doing our first Off-West End show is amazing.  I am really grateful to everyone in the company who has stuck with the idea from the beginning and put so much hard work into making a fantastic show and company to be part of. 
How do you approach a performance?
Each performance is completely different but our approach is the same. We rehearse every week, building our acting, storytelling and listening skills. The key thing is trusting each other. Going out on stage and not knowing what the audience are going to throw at you can be very daunting but if you are able to relax and trust your team mates then you can create something amazing. 
Performing improv how do you manage to throw away ideas that have worked previously?
We learnt early on that reusing ideas doesn't work, the audience know when something isn't fresh and in the moment. The bigger challenge is that we ask audiences to choose where they want the play to be set and, for some reason, no matter where we are in the country, they always want Bognor Regis or Skegness! I have nothing against those places but you know, Venice is nice this time of year...
The show will be running at The Other Palace in July, what can London audiences expect from the show?
They can expect 90 minutes of Bard Based Bedlam. Whether they love, loathe or barely know Shakespeare they will laugh, maybe cry and definitely have a great time. 
If you had a Shakespeare play written about your life, what would it be called?
Much Ado About Nothing.... Oh wait that's taken... Alls Well that Ends Well... Nope.... Comedy of Errors!!! 
If you were able to ask Shakespeare one question what would you ask?
How? Just... How?
If you were able to have dinner with 3 Shakespearean characters, who would you invite?
-Lady Macbeth - She is so interesting, I would love to understand her motivations and what is driving her, ambition? Love? Necessity? 
-Ariel - He/She/It creates an incredible feast in the Tempest so that would help, also who wouldn't want to have dinner with a supernatural spirit?
-Falstaff -For the banter!
What keeps you inspired?
Shakespeare's work is so broad and reaches so many parts of the human experience that even returning to texts I know really well I often find new meaning and ideas. 
What do you hope an audience member takes away from seeing ShakeItUp?
Firstly, I hope they laugh till their sides ache and have a lot of fun - absolutely anything can happen in a ShakeItUp show, not even we know where we’ll end up at the start of the evening! Secondly, I hope we can inspire a new appreciation of Shakespeare, which doesn’t have to be old, or stuffy, or even anything you’ve seen before! Shakespeare can be something completely different, fresh, and new - and that’s exciting!

ShakeItUp - The Improvised Shakespeare Show plays at The Other Palace from 9th - 13th July. The troupe play at Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose at the Edinburgh Fringe from 2nd - 26th August. Find out booking details and further dates from

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