This month I chatted to over 30 female improvisers from all over the UK to celebrate the talent that we have – we also discuss some of the important debates surrounding this topic as well. Today I talk to an improv teacher as well as an improviser that is part of Showstopper! The Improvised Musical, BEINGS, Bumper Blyton, and These Folk – Susan Harrison
Hello There! Tell us who you are and three random facts about yourself!
I’m Susan Harrison, but most people call me Sue. When I was at school my nickname was Sue Le Table & at drama school it was Sue Bear. Those were my three facts!
How did you get into improv?
I got in to improv when I was doing character comedy. I wanted to get better at interacting with the audience and Rob Broderick (improv hip hop legend from Abandoman) told me about a course he was running on improv for solo performers. I really enjoyed it and from there he told me about his friend David Shore who had just moved to London to teach improv. I took David’s classes (at Monkey Toast) and it was like a whole world of improv opened up in front of me.
What troupes are you are a part of?
I am part of Showstopper! The Improvised Musical, BEINGS (a two-prov group with Andrew Gentilli), Bumper Blyton, and These Folk with Justin Brett.
Tell us about the styles of improv you enjoy and why?
I love theatrical, narrative improv because I enjoy watching a story unfold and like watching strongcharacters and relationships. I also like Chicago style longform and love a good Armando and the freedom that it allows. I have pretty wide and varied tastes.
Who are some Improvisers that you find inspiring and why?
I find Dummy (Colleen Doyle and Jason Shotts) very inspiring. The way they play is so fluid and funny but they are always emotionally connected. Everything matters and I like that. I also love the players in Bugiardini The Improvised Silent Movie. They are an Italian improv company who improvise an entirely silent movie. Their shows are physical, playful and beautiful. And of course all my team mates inspire me on a daily/show-ley basis. Especially Justin Brett (who I perform with in These Folk) whose skill at rhyming complicated words never fails to delight!
What are some of the best bits of advice you have been given about improv and why?
One of the best bits of advice comes from Sarah Millican (via Ruth Bratt) which in a nutshell is stop worrying about what you could’ve done better in the show by 11am the next day. Let it go.
Another piece of advice I find helpful comes from Adam Meggido/Dylan Emery “If it’s good make it better, if it’s bad make it worse.” Finally by David Shore “Be aggressive”, by which he meant, don’t shrink away or get stuck to the sides. Be there! I remind myself of this if I feel nervous in a show. Another piece of brilliant teaching that I love came from Patti Stiles “It’s not the offer it’s what you do with it”. So wise.
I have read many articles around the debate that it is harder to be a woman in improv – what are your thoughts on this and why?
It’s tricky to answer this as everyone’s experiences will vary so much from person to person. I am lucky enough to work with men and women who I trust and who respect me as an equal, but I know that not everyone is so fortunate. I have heard from other (usually newer) improvisers that they have felt sidelined by their male counterparts. While I can’t expand on those individual experiences what I would say on a celebratory note is that London is packed full of brilliant female improvisers. You can go to Playground at Hoopla to see LOADS of women play to consistently
sold out crowds, or to go to the Ladies of FA County, or of course to Austentatious or
Showstopper or The Maydays, to see hundreds of professional female & female identifying improvisers smashing it. So regardless of whether it’s harder or not, women in improv are here, there are loads of us and we are pretty darn awesome.
What have been some of your favourite moments on stage?
Favourite moments on stage: Singing in Rome with improvisers from Italy and America. We played siblings at a funeral and sang a song about our relative who had died. It was very moving and felt like an honour to improvise with people who, despite being from all over the world and coming from different improv approaches, collaborated in such a meaningful way. From the sublime to the ridiculous, I LOVED being reality TV star Maura Higgins in Showstoppers on the West End. I was
so happy when an audience member asked for Love Island as a location. Other fun moments include being a bland couple in BEINGS and doing my first ever Harold with Monkeytoast. The audience were so supportive and it felt like magic.
What have been some of the worst and why?
One of my worst moments was in an Armando doing a scene about milking a nut. I won’t go in to the details but basically it was the kind of scene which we regretted starting and then couldn’t find a way out of. I am shuddering thinking about it.
You from time to time also lead female based improv workshops – how are these different to normal lessons and why are they an important thing to have i todays improv community?
I really like running workshops for female identifying improvisers. They are a chance for the participants to discus any issues that might have arisen for them in improv shows or rehearsals and for us to workshop solutions/strategies to those issues in a safe environment. These workshops are a bit more tailored to what the people in the room need rather than me coming in to teach a specific topic.
For new improvisers, what would your key bit of advice be?
For new improvisers I’d remind them that the only bad choice is not making a choice. So if you keep making choices you can’t go wrong. Also, connect with your scene partner. If you really listen to them then you’ll have all you need.
What are three things you want to focus on this season with your own improv?
1)This season I actually want to do less improv so that hopefully I’ll be better in the gigs I do choose to do. Sometimes less is more.
2)I’d like to experiment with taking time with narrative and not feeling rushed.
3) And finally I’d like to develop my new show These Folk so that we’re ready to play The Boulevard Theatre on January 3rd – exciting!
What is the future of improv?
The future of improv is alienprov. You’d better watch out. Those Martians find the game so quickly.
Excellent post with Susan. Any chance of interviewing some of the earliest female Improvisers (who still perform), such as Josie Lawrence, Suki Webster, Alison Goldie, Stella Duffy, Lesley Albiston, Beverly Fox, etc. They pioneered and persevered in a time when women had a much tougher time breaking into comedy and maintaining their standing – they are all heroes in my book! Xx
Thank you for this reply! I havent had a chance to interview them for this feature however I have interviewed Suki, Stella and Bev before on this site. I will try and do something next year and try and make your request a wish 😀