Three weeks ago MIssImp had the great fortune to spend time in workshops and show with the legendary Susan Messing, What fun. Lots of people have things to say about her, and the improv we did with her. This is the third post about our thoughts.
I went to the Specificity with Susan Messing workshop. I wrote about it in my diary after and I’m glad I did: looking back I’ve forgotten a lot of the detail.
Susan talked non-stop, it was more of a lecture, but that’s no bad thing – she had a lot of insights and the exercises were really helpful.
We played caligula twister which involved a group of people committing to big bold bodily movements and letting them develop, expand. The point here (I think) was to follow, allow and escalate: to let a scene develop naturally by seeing where it goes, then heightening it.
Another game was a load of random acts altogether – some people played slaps, at the same time others were being spiderman, more people were pretending to be chickens and the rest were doing ring-a-ring-a-rosy round the slappers. At random points we all had a group hug then went back to the random acts. Obviously this sounds like nonsense, and that was the idea: if we commit to what we’re doing without trying to fit it together rationally we can still justify it, here for example the group hug brought everything together. Trust the scene without thinking about it!
An exercise i liked was acting out cooking a midnight dinner for an unexpected guest we wanted to impress. Thinking about what we’d actually do in that scenario made it easier to add detail, and consider how we’d feel in that circumstance.
Susan had a number of mantras that involved the words fuck, shit, and rape. The one that stood out for me was ‘I’m shit, you’re shit, this is shit’ which is about committing and having fun. I often have the problem where i think it isn’t going well, or I don’t like the game, and I kind of give up… but of course that’s exactly the time to make an effort and get back into it!
For me though, the main point of learning was about self-awareness and focus: every little detail can be used.. the way i’m standing, if i’m smiling at the start of the scene, where i’m looking, emotions, sensations. I often think ‘shit i’ve got nothing’ but there’s a wealth of stuff going on. I’m really into mindfulness and that’s about awareness of the little things, of being present in the moment, and there’s real parity here. There’s a tendency to get led by the scene, by not sticking with your character, but making that rational choice of where it’s going… but it’s not necessary, it’s more interesting to stick with whats going on and justify. (i think the mantra was ‘see it, hear it, feel it, fuck it’).
My confidence as an improviser is starting to come back and I’m really looking forward to all this stuff integrating deeper into my personality. Learning all this, and then seeing some of these ideas played out brilliantly by Fisticuffs, Project 2, and Susan & Lloydie, I found really inspiring and am enjoying practicing again!
It is with my deepest sorrow that I regret to announce I was unable to attend the Susan Messing workshops due to cash flow issues. A little over-dramatic, you say? I think not my unenlightened friends. This lady is an improv legend and missing out feels a lot like catching a glimpse of a riotous party through some stranger’s lounge window as you trudge past miserably in the driving rain.
I heard such great reviews of how inspiring she’d been that I now have a small, raw improv-shaped ulcerous wound inside that will remain sore at the edges for the foreseeable future. Next time an improv legend’s in town, I’m selling a kidney on the black market. If need be, I’ll sell all my organs and have my bloated, decomposing corpse dragged to the workshop and propped up in the corner.
I was, complete with my full quota of internal organs, smart enough to catch the performance night, however. It was a nice, novel and relaxing feeling to know I wouldn’t be called up on stage to attempt, what always feels like mediocre improv in the midst of some rather talented individuals I have had the pleasure to share the stage with. I could just sit back and drink in the performance (and the beer). Let the magic begin….
First up were our very own longform improv team Fisticuffs. It felt like Fisticuffs had stepped out of a comfort zone that night. A little like the stimulus of the workshop had shaken things up and there were rumblings anew. I could almost sense they’d been rummaging around in the improv dressing up box, finding new sets of clothes each and were just stretching them out to fit.
They seemed to expand to fill the space with a new, confident movement around the stage. Players flirted with their character choices and there was a lovely, playful edge to scenes. I liked this. I liked this a lot. It felt like new skin being exposed, all soft and pink.
The multi-player scenes worked really well and I particularly enjoyed the scene where Lloydie was about to jump to his death, only to be ‘rescued’ by Martin, the recovering alcoholic, and Nick and Ben shouting quite clumsy and inappropriate ‘support’ from the sidelines. It seemed to build really organically and I was delighted when Martin’s resolve started to crack and Ben and Nick’s ‘support’ deteriorated, pretty much convincing Lloydie that ending it was indeed the best option. I felt all warm and satisfied at the end, smug that it had turned out exactly as I’d hoped it would.
Marilyn’s monologue about the perils of living with men was beautifully observed and eloquently delivered, whilst Nick and Ben sat in the background confirming the most horrendous bits about said men, by wordlessly scratching balls and fighting for the remote.
I’m really curious to see how Fisticuffs progress from here…
Like Rita, Queen of Speed, this woman goes from 0 – 60 in 2.5 seconds. The utter joy she took in the characters was palpable. She moved between them so seamlessly and with so little effort, I felt like I was sat in an audience full of psychiatrists watching a live case study of Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Her characters, sometimes obnoxious, sometimes warped and sometimes charming were not always wholly likeable but were all so crisp and clean, I can still remember each one vividly. Every one of them so distinct and vociferous, they can’t help but stay with you…whether you want them to or not.
Whether it was the royalist advancing towards the BBC camera, contorting her face; loud and brash, the sweet but manipulative school girl who joined the audience and spread poison or the foul-mouthed school teacher who continually tried to score weed from her class, they were fully formed people. This was not just Messing delivering lines, which is what I feel I do; these were real people.
The audience felt like it was being shouted at in the face by a drunk in the street. This lady has no inhibitions and my crushing self-consciousness revelled in her obvious exuberance and joy at revelling in every scene. She doesn’t give a shit if she looks ugly or crazy, just that she gives her all to the scene and fills the space with expanding improv foam that gradually engulfs you.
Her characters bounced off the walls and stuck their arses in everyone’s face whilst laughing and giving the finger. I personally take real joy in watching such an uninhibited performance when I feel my own performance is so lacking in this wonderful commitment to character, in all their despicable glory.
- Messing Around – Adi and Nick (missimp.co.uk)