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.
Two 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 second of a couple of posts about our thoughts.
I had heard of Ms Messing indeed, who had been in films such as ‘While You Were Sleeping’ and ‘The Break-Up’ and has done extremely, talented and quirky Improv.
This fabulous, charming, and brutally yet quirkily, outspoken; not at all orthodox (which, by the way, is her personal USP) lady reminded me why I fell in love with Improv in the first place, and that I should keep doing it for myself, rather than trying to prove myself to other people…
The past few weeks/months, I’d felt a lull in my improv, I never got the high because I felt my confidence in it was flat, and I was like the monitor on a life support machine, going ‘beeeeeeeeeeeeeeep’. My improv high was dead. I attended jams, missed 3 in a month recently, due to yes being busy, but also truth be told, not feeling good enough about my improv.
For the first time in a Gorilla Burger, I wanted to be the relish, the coleslaw on the side, or salad leaves on the side, wilted, rather than the juicy fleshy meat waiting to be bitten, with Improv juices running all down my chin, my arms and my boobs. In fact, my nipples were rather dry, for Improv jamming.
So when I attended the [Susan Messing] workshop this week, I got barbequed, grilled, in the hottest way possible. Screw the salad leaves, I was the animal wanting to be put in the burger and eaten!
What a week! I’m no improv nerd, I don’t know the names and faces of the US improv scene. I’ve got a passing familiarity with the history and some of the major influences, but beyond that I don’t really care. I’ve got plenty of other stuff to geek out about in my life! What I like is adding something new to what I know and feel about improv. I have zero interest in just copying what someone else is doing and I don’t care how successful they are at it. That’s not the point – improv to me is not a formulaic exercise, it’s a continual learning experience of human synthesis. I don’t like being told what to do – it makes me walk away.
So Susan Messing was a blast of fresh air (much like the thunderstorms that accompanied her arrival). Monday and Tuesday were twin three-hour evening workshops on the themes of Joy and Specificity. A lot of it was listening to Susan expound on her feelings about improv and how she continually reinvests in the sheer joy that it gives her. She finds that joy by committing herself to the details and using them to generate and inform characters. It’s a fun approach and it certainly pays off. The organic way of beginning a scene, of discovery that leads to further and frequently more bizarre revelations certainly appeals to me. It’s great to hear someone else describe how you feel about something – hearing it from another’s lips makes it more real and concrete. Susan has numerous mantras that run through the workshops about being immersed in the reality of the scene, sticking to what you’ve established and milking the joy out of it.
I found it useful and I laughed an awful lot. It is always useful for someone else to confirm your experiences and feelings. We’ve had teachers before who have said much the same things about improv, but I’ve rarely encountered anyone who is so passionate about it and who believes so deeply in the art. That impressed me. We also spent a chunk of time with the Fisticuffs team, learning some new ways of playing and reinforcing the group. We talked quite a lot about our hopes for MissImp and what we could achieve together – it feels pretty good and hopeful for the future. Personally I shall take away the feeling of adding to a scene by participating in the world rather than trying to make an entrance funny or valuable as an end in itself, the value and fun of adding detail (something I already enjoy) and remembering and using it later, and of just how much I enjoy playing with my teammates.
We had a show on Wednesday, allowing Fisticuffs to play together and see if we’d picked anything up. It was a great deal of fun, though I felt we were affected by the usual problem of jamming our heads full of information and trying not to trip over it. So unusually it was our group scenes that were the best and funniest rather than our two player scenes. Cool! We were followed by the glorious Project 2 with Chris Mead and Katy Schutte. That’s a sublimely entertaining science fiction longform show, exquisitely crafted out of accident, ingenious choice and raw geekery. Fucking brilliant. The final act was Susan’s UK edition of her long-running show Messing With A Friend, in this case our lad Lloydie. It’s lovely to see other people perform and produce a show unlike any other (hell, ain’t that the whole damn point of improv?) and I think we nailed that as a show – three completely different sets by individuals and groups working together beautifully. Now we should have world peace.
Two 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 first of a couple of posts about our thoughts.
If ever we needed proof that Nottingham’s improv scene is growing, this last week can prove it. From Monday to Wednesday, MissImp played host to Susan Messing, one of the most well known members of the improv community worldwide.
Running two workshops at the start of the week on Specificity and Joy; Susan, in her patented blend of wisdom and filth talked about the richness that detail and clarity can add to a scene in the first of her workshops and in the sheer importance of having fun in her second. Drilling the mantra “If I’m not having fun, I’m the asshole” into our heads.
As well as the two public workshops which attracted improvisers from London, Cardiff and Birmingham; Susan also ran an afternoon workshop for Missimp’s main players. The whole visit was capped off with a show on Wednesday night which featured MissImp’s Fisticuffs and the UK’s premier Sci Fi improv, Project 2, before Susan took to the stage, performing her eponymous show ‘Messing with a Friend.” (★★★★ Chicago Reader) with our very own Lloydie. A week of incredible improv.
Two great things happened on stage last Wednesday; both were down to Susan Messing.
The first thing didn’t involve her being on stage and it was so pleasing and incredibly impressive. Whenever we have had a guest trainer come to us we have noticed a difference in what we do. Sometimes it’s a subtle one. Mostly it takes us a few weeks or even a couple of months to really integrate that element into our performances. Last Wednesday was different.
Susan did a lot of group work with us and emphasised how you can play multiple “games of the scene” and how matching the existing energy can be really effective. When Fisticuffs perform we usually have a form in mind. We deliberately didn’t do that in this particular performance. We trusted that our scenes would be enough and that we would work together as a group to make whatever we did fun for us and the audience. The group scenes we did were some of the best we’ve ever done. We’ve certainly never done so many consistently good group scenes in one performance piece. It was really exciting to be on stage during those moments, lovely to get the audience feedback on them and the notes Susan gave us after the performance reflected how well they had gone too.
We have never had a teacher come in, work with us and get such tangible, noticeable results so fast. I never anticipated this would be an outcome from the visit.
The second great thing was Susan performed. I got to join her in this but I’m under no illusions who the star of the show was. Her ability to notice what’s happening on stage is incredible. Whilst she made me look way better than I actually am, I was very aware of what was happening. I did things and she not only made sense of them but used them as inspiration during the scene. Susan notices things so many of us never consider when we are in a scene. Performing with her wasn’t just an honour, but it was an education.
I’m an unapologetic flag waver for long-form improv within MissImp. I believe when it is done well, it is richer, more surprising and more engaging than other types of improv – and it’s funnier too. To have me preaching that is one thing, but Wednesday’s show was an illustration that when it’s good it’s really fantastic. I’m so glad Susan taught us how good we all have the potential to be and inspired us by showing us how great she is too.
This week’s jam: Screw it and do it – IMPORTANT: LOCATION CHANGE
This week’s improv jam is run by: Lloydie
IMPORTANT: THE LOCATION THIS WEEK IS THE CITY GALLERY ON LONG ROW! (The Corner where we usually jam is in use for an event this week).
We will do lots of scenes and we will even team up and produce lovely group work. Who knows, there may even be a few songs. Yes, music. It’ll be a selection box of lovely – and the overall aim is to remember why we love improvising.
In a wonderful article (see here) by the lovely Jason Blackwater of Brighton improv group The Maydays, there is talk of how we need a dedicated improv venue in the UK. Jason is 100% right and given that MissImp is one of the UK’s larger improv groups, we have a golden opportunity to be at the heart of something pretty astonishing.
There are some improv teachers who are consistently referred to as “legendary”. This sort of status usually comes from considerable performing and teaching experience. Susan Messing doesn’t just tick the boxes, she pretty much invented them and then put a filthy, dark doodle inside them. She’s been a performer on The Second City mainstage in Chicago where she also now teaches. She’s been a performer at iO in Chicago – and still performs there. And she teaches there. And she wrote the level 2 syllabus. She was a founding member of the Annoyance Theatre in Chicago where she teaches and performs her highly acclaimed “Messing With A Friend” show. If you open The Lonely Planet guide to Chicago it has a lot of listings for clubs and theatres on its comedy pages – however only one actual show gets mentioned in their whole guide to comedy… and you guessed it, it’s Susan’s show.
In July I was lucky enough to go to Chicago and learn from Susan. I was one of five Brits in the class of 16 and we loved her so much we are arranging for her to come to the UK. (By the way, two of those five Brits were Chris and Jonathan who played in our Consenting Partners show as “Project Two” at the weekend).
Also on the podcast you can hear Nick, Parky and me discussing various things we have learned from improv recently. It’s quite the nerd-fest!