Updated: Jan 19
In Part 1. Kate and Ian had found their characters (Susan and George) and discovered the game of the scene. All was going well until a sticky question was asked…
So far, my character was achieving what she was here to do.
She was learning more and she was having a good time, as the friend I had in mind seems to do in all moments of life. The man with whom she was sitting was called George, a gift of a name to repeat in her accent, and one sound away from what she was doing with her world-swallowing voice: gorging on it. And he was a consultant. “Fun,” she labelled it.
George, this intriguing mix of raring to go and frozen on the spot, was now leaning forward with a tilted head and those huge stunned eyes. He wanted answers. Something was driving him. As if he was writing a piece of journalism in his head as we spoke, and couldn’t move the pen quick enough, he asked me what I did. I told him I was a masseuse by day and did comedy by night, mentioning the latter first.
“And how long have you been doing that?”
Something shifted when I said this. The Susan I know in real life is a successful comedian, but my Susan suddenly seemed to have a different story. My voice, very slightly easing up on its get-up-and-go energy for the first time in the scene, seemed to suggest these hadn’t been a great eight years.
“Is there a future in that, miss?”
“Well, uhh . . . no.”
The pivot of the scene was that question, “is there a future in that?”.
Not that there was any doubt, but it cemented Susan as the “hero” of the scene because she was presented with a challenge.
Basically; justify your life, Miss.
And the change was beautiful, still energetic, still verbal, still optimistic in tone but the words didn’t match. Amid the shower of platitudes was the acknowledgment that reality wasn’t quite as rosy as she’d like.
“It is what you make it”
She stumbled on that, and George felt sorry for her, or maybe he felt of a mind to give her some no-nonsense, paternal life advice.
For a split second I was tempted to ask if she’d accepted Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior but this felt like a gag and distracting from the truth and focus of the scene.
The reaction was on her now and both George and I were eager to hear it.
I was surprised by Susan’s honesty. No. There is no future in it. So what are you doing, Susan?
Oh, that’s me! What are you doing, Susan?
In the space of ten seconds she had become a character with something almost tragic about her, and so she was going to live this out as all tragic heroes do: fight till the end, till there’s absolutely nothing left. The final thing out of my mouth was her last attempt to keep a bright side lit.
“So for right now, I’m just gonna keep, y’know, burnin’ the midnight oil” was what I tried to say, but in a fitting hiccup, I couldn’t actually remember how the phrase went. So what came out was:
“I’m just gonna . . . keep . . . y’know . . . greasin’ the wheel.”
At “greasin’ the wheel” the room laughed, hard, and it felt like highpoint.
Bev called “scene” and that was that.
We left the stage shedding our newly minted personas like winter jackets, mentally shifting gear back from performers to students, eagerly awaiting feedback.
It was a good scene, and a reminder of how powerful inhabiting character can be. Susan was not Kate, she was some alternate dimension American woman inhabiting Kate’s body for a few minutes and a manic joy to be around. The commitment Kate brings to a scene is always infectious, but here she found a character that was so genuine it was a privilege to play against.
On reflection, what the exercise really underlined to me is how easy it is to find a story, even when you’re not looking for it. Between the high energy and verbal Susan and the passive, mild mannered George we somehow started the tale of a comedian in existential crisis.
Reflecting on the scene, I’ve learned two things. Firstly, doing accents is not hard. You might not be good at them, but they’re not hard. You’ve got a throat and a voice box, so you can do an accent. The skill with which you do it doesn’t matter if you’ve got gusto and you remind yourself you’re not deconstructing a bomb here; you’re just playing.
There is nothing here to take seriously.
Secondly, it’s all about the audience. When you walk into a scene, there is no use in worrying about how things are going to go, because improv exists moment to moment, and it can turn around in an instant. Being uncomfortable will not help anyone. An audience don’t want to see an uncomfortable person on a stage. They just want to be part of the thrill of seeing two people get up and try and drive this thing.
And if it starts going well, try it with no hands.