Friday, November 14, 2008


Cuthbert is a great storytelling musical game, a sort of a cross between a shared story and a musical. It's a bit on the long side with a slow build, so it definitely leans towards arty; it suits a theatre venue more than a stand-up-comedy/bar venue. If you're performing to a dedicated impro crowd, they'll love it.

The description below is one way to play it. Like most games, you can fiddle with the format endlessly until you find something that works for you.

The basic idea

In a Cuthbert, the MC gets a word, a single word, from the audience. The players take turns to tell their story a sentence or two at a time, as a monologue. At some stage, that offer word appears as a primary element of their story. A simple word with multiple meanings works best, for example, "Ball". That could be a round bouncing ball, a dance, part of your foot, having a good time, and so on.

The players are going to get three or four turns each to tell their story. Sometime during, say, the third round of stories, the musician will see that the stories appear to be approaching a natural end. The muso starts to play a tune, quietly, well underneath the level of the actors. That music builds slowly, until one of the players instead of speaking their part, sings a verse of that song to complete their story. When that player finishes their verse, another player sings a verse to complete their story, and so on, until all of the players are done and the stories are complete.

To maintain the focus on the single player speaking/singing at any time, the other players are remaining still and not reacting, just blankly looking towards the audience.

The characters and stories aren't necessarily related to each other, but they can be; it's nice when two stories cross paths without being totally intertwined.

We like to play it with five or six players, generally 3 of them sitting on chairs, and the other 2 or 3 standing behind them. I like to see them bunched together, almost family-photo style.

To avoid getting trapped with a word that gives you no where to go, generally MCs will get a couple of words and pick the one best suited to the game. "Apple" is going to have more scope for this game than "Rabies", for example.

I wait to see how the tone of the stories is going before figuring out what sort of music to play. Of course you have to be prepared to alter that style slightly as one singer passes control to the next; if four of the stories are downers, but one is happy and optimistic, it's important to find a way to modify your downer music to suit the happy verse when it happens.

"Cuthbert"? Really?

Kind of a strange name for a game, yes? I met Cuthbert working with Headgames in Boulder, Colorado in the mid-90's; I think it had a generic name like "Madrigal" there. After I came back to Brisbane, we adapted it for a short season of musical shows at The Hub cafe. and When we were hunting for a name, the talented Kiesten McCauley suggested Cuthbert. And now that's what it's called, in Brisbane anyways.

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