Tuesday, August 12, 2014

(Micro-mini) Geeking Out with...Susan Messing, Rachael Mason, and Jack C. Newell of "I'Mprovising Right"

By Pam Victor

[“Geeking Out with…” is a series of interviews with well-known, highly experienced improvisers. It’s a chance to talk about stuff that might interest hardcore, improv dorkwads like Pam. The series can be found in full frontal geek out version on My Nephew is a Poodle and in pithier version on the Women in Comedy Festival blog. For behind-the-scenes action, ‘like’ the “Geeking Out with…” Facebook page.

An initiation supports your preconceived left-brained agenda!” angrily spouts the disembodied head of Nadine Cansel (played by Rachel Mason, Head of Advanced Improvisation at Chicago’s Second City).Then up swipes the head her sanctimonious cohort Barbara Flick (played by improvisation guru-goddess Susan Messing) who decries, “It is a relentless support of your objective!”

And BAM! We’re crotch-deep in the improv geeky splendor of these two magnificent, biting minds. I’Mprovising Right: Initiating Right is the first episode of this improviser-insider web series written by Susan Messing and Rachael Mason, and
Hot moment from "I'Mprovising Right"
directed by Jack C. Newell, who also directed the improv-rich films
 Close Quarters and the up-coming Open Tables. The deep, dark, delicious sarcasm and you-had-to-be-there spirit of I’Mprovising Right seems to be aimed directly at the heart of people from my improv geek home planet. Watching it felt like receiving a rare transmission from space in our native language. And, okay, I must admit I allowed myself one self-satisfied smirk that Muggles/Normals/Civilians won’t get it at all. All of fucking YouTube is for them. This web series is for us.

Immediately after watching it (for the third time), I was itching to geek out with the heads behind this creation in order to put my antennae next to their antennae and say, “Thank you for getting me.” With trademark improviser generosity, Ms. Messing, Ms. Mason, and Mr. Newell met up with me online for this micro-mini Geeking Out with… conversation.

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PAM: I just saw I'Mprovising Right! I'M loving it! Such lovely insider baseball bad girl behavior.

SUSAN: Sooooo glad you like it!
Messing and Mason in
The Boys
(Second City, 2013)

PAM: Of course I liked it! What inspired you to make this video?

RACHAEL MASON: Susan and I wanted to make videos for a while now. We pitched half a dozen to Second City, narrowed it down to three, and this is the one we ran with. We had already been working on The Worse Improv Manual Ever, so this was easy for us to build.

PAM: What is The Worse Improv Manual Ever and where can I get it? Or even just lick it?

SUSAN: Everyone was coming out with books on improv and we thought it would be great to write a book on the worst improv manual ever … and that led to Barbara and Nadine. We want to write a tiny book to support it.

PAM: I must have that tiny book as soon as you write it.

SUSAN: I need to finish my stupid book first.

PAM: A Susan Messing book about improvisation! I can’t wait to hold that book in my sweaty palms. Though it's funny that you have to finish your improv book before you can write the send-up of improv books.

SUSAN: Right?

PAM: Have you been seeing students weighed down lately by agenda-heavy initiations?

RACHAEL: I personally think students are always worried about the initiation, as if there is some sort of magic. It just needs to be sincere and specific, in my eyes. All too often they are laborious and self-conscious.

SUSAN: I'm a big fan of justifying what's already in front of you, so I never did understand someone inventing something better than what you already have. Especially because as an audience member, that's what I am interested in. That said, I don't think it's WRONG to start a scene like that - I just feel that it's laborious to “prove” that thesis.

PAM: You say in the very opening of the video, "The first weird or odd thing you initiate is THE GAME."  Do you want to talk about the fact that this video can be read as kicking a little dust at the UCB philosophy?

RACHAEL: UCB calls ONE thing the game, when you are actually already playing many games (status, object work, character, relationship.) All of that defines the one game of the scene. 

Not everyone can jump right to the game, which is why the cream rises so quickly at UCB. You have to be very good to do that. However, I think everyone can sadly stir a pot in the kitchen with their friend and let something (THE GAME) develop from there.

SUSAN: I don't mean to bash any school of thought, including UCB, which is a great school for teaching their students heightening through one game and supporting writing on your feet. Just because it doesn't work for me doesn't mean it doesn't work.

This video in general, however, for me, was a response to hearing students telling me that another teacher told them how to play “right," which boggled my mind as I thought we were just fucking playing…which ultimately made me angry…and subsequently deserves to be mocked. I think Rachael and I believe (and tell me if I am wrong here, Rach, my lover and ultimate fighting club friend) that it is important to be malleable, to try on everything, and then pick and choose what works for YOU as a performer.

Susan Messing and Rachael Mason
"The Boys"
And yes, I am thinking of two women specifically when we channeled these characters. Both were inflexible dicks.

PAM: It does seem to be a general phase in the development of an improviser to move from the "there is only one way to improvise" (i.e., blindly abiding by The Rules) to more of a pick-and-choose method of finding one's own voice. I guess this video may challenge people - in a good way - to move ahead in that development.

SUSAN: I think that rules are suggestions that might get you off faster, but then again, that's just me.

PAM: Jack, what was it like to work with these sexy bitches?

JACK C. NEWELL: Shooting with them is like if you could somehow strap on and ride a tornado that is destroying towns below. It is this crazy stew of amazing, maddening, childish, incredibly professional, erotic, confusing, intellectually challenging, emotionally vulnerable, and ultimately satisfying.



JACK: I think any video that has two women kissing at the end of it and that also starts a constructive conversation about improvising is a good thing.

PAM: I finally get it! You're actually saying that every scene should be initiated by two women kissing?

JACK: It wouldn't hurt...

PAM: That would at least guarantee that every team has at least two women.

SUSAN: As far as more ladies kissing, episode two will handle that.

PAM: Perfect.



Except for last Friday's show's mouth-rape which creeped us both out – so maybe MORE SCISSORING!

PAM: This thread leads to the question: Why do you have to go first?

SUSAN: Because then your left brain invented agenda WINS. If you both have left brain agenda ideas for the scene, the person who speaks first is the WINNER.

SUSAN: YES AND LOUDEST- fuck, Rachael just won that round.




We were everything Jack said and more. Which is less.

PAM: I'm so sad I missed the scissoring show.

SUSAN: No, we mouth-raped Friday. Scissoring is less creepy.
Susan Messing and Rachael Mason

PAM: Another great improv tip! I hope that is covered in episode three.

SUSAN: It’s implied.

PAM: So you really are going to do more episodes? 

RACHAEL: We have two more in the can, and they will be released next Monday and the Monday after. We are prepared to shoot more.

PAM: Technical question leading to your next episode: How do you spell "womyen?”

SUSAN: Womyn. Then there are less men there.

PAM: At Smith, we spelled it "wimmin," "womon," and "womyn." (That's the honest truth. Goddess love the late '80s.)




SUSAN: Horny.

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Check out

(Hopefully very soon one day you can read Geeking Out with…Rachael Mason too!)

Pam Victor is an improv comedian, author, journalist, teacher, and nice person. TJ Jagodowski,  David Pasquesi, and Pam are the co-authors of "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book."  Currently, Pam teaches  "The Zen of Improv"  to the best students in the world, as well as bringing the power of improvisation to the workplace in her "Through Laughter" program. 

All her crapola is at www.pamvictor.com.

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