FEATURE: Mixtape | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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For people with a passion for both music and theatre, Mixtape is one of the best regular nights you could possibly hope for. Using popular songs, and sometimes jingles, the performances use lyrics from songs to create short micro-plays that are no longer than the original track. Sometimes guest writers contribute sketches but always follow the rules and stick to the overall musical theme of the night.

Before the group prepare to take Mixtape to Edinburgh for the very first time, we talked to the creator, director and writer of the micro-plays Melanie Rashbrooke about looking forward to her first time at the Fringe for some time, and her dream concept for Mixtape.

For those who might not know, can you tell us a bit about what Mixtape is?

Mixtape is a sketch group that makes bite-sized comedy inspired by music. It’s part theatre show and part music quiz. We take songs and, using only the lyrics, create short micro-plays that can be no longer than the tracks that inspired them. We can reorder the lyrics in any way that we like but no additional words can be used (bar the occasional ad-lib).

Audience members play along in teams and have the chance of winning one of our highly coveted Golden Mixtape awards if they manage to correctly identify the songs, bands and solo artists that inspired each short sketch.

How was Mixtape initially conceived?

Mixtape started life as a one-off sketch written for a performance at The Bridge Hotel in Newcastle. I was asked to write a short play based on the theme “Who I am With You. Who I am Without You.” The theme immediately made me think of the song With or Without You by U2. So I thought it would be fun to challenge myself by writing a play using only the lyrics of the song. I also didn’t want the play to be longer than the running time of the track.

Following the performance, I decided to create a night of mini-plays based on song lyrics with an added quiz element. And thus Mixtape and the Mixtape rules were born.

How does Mixtape differ from other theatre you’ve done before?

The rules make it very different to other shows I’ve worked on before. It keeps you on your toes and I’m constantly double checking that we’re only using words that are in the songs. It’s also a bit of an art perfecting the sketches running time so that none of them are longer than the tracks that inspired them. There’s a lot of improvisation and play in the rehearsal room. The Mixtapers all bring loads of ideas to the sketches. It’s bonkers but a lot of fun.

How have you been preparing to take the show to the Fringe?

For the Fringe we’re using themes that we’ve done before, so it’s been great having the chance to revisit some of our favourite sketches and hone them. We’re currently in rehearsals for our Ed Fringe preview. For the preview, we’re testing out a variety of sketches from each of the different themes we’re taking to the Fringe to see what works best. It’s great to test out material before we go.

“It’s bonkers but a lot of fun”

Is this your first time at the Fringe?

This is the first time that Mixtape has been performed at the Fringe. I’ve performed at the festival before and I’ve also taken a show to the Fringe, called Warhol, which I co-wrote and directed. However, that was way back in 2006 so it’s been a little while!

How are you feeling about going?

I’m really excited about going to the Fringe and seeing how the show goes down in front of new audiences.

Your shows often have themes to them, what do you think is the most successful theme that you’ve done?

That’s a really tricky one; I have so many favourites! But if I had to pick I’d choose either our Brit Pop show, crammed full of NME attitude, or our Rock ‘n’ Roll Jukebox show featuring some reinvented 1950s jingles and a rather unusual Barbershop Quartet.

Can you give us any clues about what to expect from your Edinburgh shows?

Expect the unexpected. We’re doing a different show every night at the Fringe from the following themes: Brit Pop, Rock ‘n’ Roll Jukebox, Boy Band vs. Girl Band (another of my favourites), Solo Stars and The 80s. We’re also hoping to do a couple of Mega Mix shows too where we’ll perform a selection of our favourite sketches from each theme.

Have you got any personal favourites out of all the micro-plays you’ve done? 

One of the Mixtape classics has to be our failing Boy Band who bicker over lyrics and dance moves and have trouble saying “Chica ha ha ha.” We also have a few re-occurring characters whose sketches I really enjoy, including a rather feisty Australian Weather Girl, a not so smooth-talking Used Car Salesman, a truly terrible rapper called Mad Chuck and a Dad who likes to say “no.” A lot.

Do you have any particular song that you would love to turn into a micro-play?

I’d love to turn a song by the Manic Street Preachers into a Mixtape as they’re one of my favourite bands and we’ve not remixed them yet. I’d also like to Mixtape something epic like Bohemian Rhapsody or Stairway to Heaven as we’d have a lot of track length to play with!

Mixtape has been described as half sketch show, half pop quiz. What would be your pop quiz specialist subject?

Tom Waits, Manic Street Preachers or anything Black Books/ Dylan Moran related.

What have you got planned for after the Edinburgh shows?

We’ve got lots more gigs planned in Newcastle after the Fringe including a spooktacular Halloween special at Live Theatre on Friday 30 October. We’re also running some Mixtape workshops later in the year for anyone interested in having a go at creating their own mini-sketches inspired by lyrics. You can find out more about this on our website.

Mixtape present their Edinburgh Fringe Preview at the Live Theatre, Newcastle on Friday 24th July.

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