How to Survive an Improv Marathon: Part One

There it was! My invite to be core cast for the 26 hr improv soap opera, Time Busters, run by Closer Each Day in association with Bristol Improv Theatre (BIT)

Time Busters - Promo Image

It started at 8pm on Friday evening so I’d already be up for 12 hours before we even started. How was I going to stay awake, stay in character and still be a functioning improviser? With folks I had never played with before?

Well! Not only did I survive but I had an amazing experience which I largely attribute to the excellent organisation and generous playing style of the Bristol improv community.

Here are a few tips I learned from the super team in Bristol and by just doing it.

Part One: Physical

I felt more awake and ready to improvise through the whole thing than I expected to. Was that luck or did some if these tips help?


The marathon was divided into sections of two hours with the soap episode being 1 hr 45 and the break / audience turn around being 15 mins. In that 15 mins you have to do everything you need to do: queue for the loo, drink, eat, hug, rest your eyes…

Bristol folk provided coffee, tea and LOTS of water. I brought water, a small bottle of emergency cola and a fruit smoothie.  I thought I’d be into the coffee all the time but it turns out that what you need and crave is the water. Lots of it. I had a few sips of cola between each episode and my normal intake of coffee (two a day).


I learned that the salads and tuna meals I’d brought with me, lightweight as they were, were just too bulky and unappealing. BIT provided fruit (mandarins, apples), breads and cookies. For me the fruit was perfect and I had some whole food bars as well. I ate much less than I expected to. What I did eat was light, quick (between episodes) and high in energy.


I get tension and tiredness headaches any way so I took a cheeky painkiller about 10 hours in. I have no idea if it helped!


Stage adrenaline keeps me going. And it can also make me shaky if I’ve just done a big emotional episode cliffhanger on no sleep. I took those 15 min breaks as a chance to breathe, go outside for air and give my body signals of relaxation. The come down from adrenaline is exhaustion so I felt significantly tireder sitting on the train coming home than I did during the show.

Staying upright

The organisers were clear about health and safety; who the first aiders were, no real shovels or sharp implements in stage. Still, we had a two tier stage, a dodgy step stage left, lots of props and fabric, and very tired improvisers zipping in and out of crowd scenes. Let’s not pretend I’m my normal alert self able to avoid all tripping hazards in a single bound.

One of my strategies was to stop and look briefly before I move; to allow myself not to rush so I could really see what and who was in front of me.

There is the opposite matter of keeping show energy up with slick transitions so (when I remembered) I began to move gently as soon as my character name was called (before the facilitator had finished calling the full set up). Later in the show those who came in fresh kept the show energy moving thank goodness!


Every improviser was scheduled to have some episodes off entirely. Some folks didn’t take them. Some slept for an hour or so on one of the benches in the bar. Some folks knew they needed real sleep to survive mentally so went home for a while.

I didn’t take my first break at four hours but by 14 hours in I was confused about my storyline and sluggish with my offers. I had no home to go to but I swear by a good nap! I discovered while working split shifts in my twenties that my body takes an exact 20 min nap, no matter the noise, no clock needed. And that’s exactly what I did!


Taking my toothbrush was the most awesome thing. This cannot be underrated. Cleaning my teeth was like cleaning my mind as well so really helped with the adrenaline release. And that minty zing had me feeling awake and ready for the next episode.

Also – you’ll have noticed that I’ve only used 20 mins of my 2hr episode break right? I also took the time to wash my face, change underwear, socks, shirt, reapply make up, deodorant, have coffee, clean teeth – giving myself signals of a morning wake up routine. Then I watched the last 15 mins of the episode so I had a sense for what was going on. I felt soooo ready to get back in that stage!!!

So that’s the physical side of surviving an improv marathon.  Did I just get lucky? How do you manage? Have your say in the comments below.

Next: Part Two of How to survive an improv marathon: Emotional and Part Three: the Improv