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 improviser that is part of 20% Less, C3?, Portugaysian and Queerdos – Mariana Feijó
Hello Mariana! Tell us three random facts about yourself!
I’ve learnt to ride a bike at 31. I practice capoeira. Currently waiting for a screening of the Lion King to start.
How did you get into improv?
Sonia Waszkowiak encouraged me to take my first class. I took a few C3?’s drop ins and met some people I got along with well, with whom I started my first improv team – Talking Dog.
What inspired you to start improv?
I saw Two Men Movie – Anthony Atamaniuk and Neil Casey – perform in London and thought it was magic. It took me a year to try a class after seeing weekly C3?’s shows and hanging out with improvisers.
What troupes are you are a part of?
I’m a part of 20% Less, C3?, Portugaysian and Queerdos
Tell us about the styles of improv you enjoy and why?
I enjoy almost all longform improv. When done well it’s fast, surprising, and a mirror into different experiences and points of view.
Who are some Improvisers that you find inspiring and why?
20% Less have had the chance of being coached by Lydia Hensler and Kirby Howell Baptiste and working with them, while developing our own forms was a great experience. Shannon O’Neill is a wonderful performer and seeing The Stepfathers a joy every time. Alexandra Dixon is phenomenal and her one person Harold you can find on YouTube a lesson in commitment and perfection.
Chelsea Clarke is a great improviser and a kind player and was wonderfully supportive at my first jam in NYC. Abra Tabak’s choices are so joyous and silly, yet so grounded and real. Alison Thea-Skot is a wonderful performer and very supportive of the community. I could keep going, but this is already a huge answer!
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 harder being a woman in every field. Improv has the particularity of being an art form where people are pretending and where anything is possible. Some people still have a narrow view of the world, and their perspective of the place a woman can fill in a limitless universe is the wife, the mother, the sex object. As inexperienced improvisers who were taught to “yes and” that’s sometimes a hard thing to deal with when you’re many times playing and being taught by more experienced improvisers who are many times men. It’s lovely to see things starting to change a little in London, but there’s still a long way to go.
What are some of the best bits of advice you have been given about improv and why?
Commit. The improvisers needs to “yes and” and agree with the reality, but your character can say no. Being yourself and your experiences to your scenes.
Do you find that being a female in an improv show that the suggestions you can get are traditional and stereotypical? How do you feel when you get given these?
I consider myself a more experienced improviser now, and I’m able to respond to it within the scene. As a more inexperienced improviser, I felt the need to not destroy the scene and had difficulty saying no as the character, which has sometimes put myself in uncomfortable spots. I’m lucky to have started improvising in the supportive arms of C3?, who were always there to call out misogyny in scenes, classes and jams!
What have been some of your favourite moments on stage?
Playing with 20% Less is a joy and I couldn’t choose one moment. Playing in international festivals is always exciting. I’m lucky to be a part of C3?, who are an extremely supportive group and each time we get on stage together makes me happy.
What have been some of the worst and why?
I remember one of my first jams where I did a monologue where I said I was very uncomfortable hugging people and couldn’t understand how that was the way people in London greeted each other, even when they were mere acquaintances and sometimes even strangers – some years have passed now. I’m able to greet with a hug now! The initiation that came after that was from a stranger who was a man and hugged me with the whole of his body. EWW!!! I also had an older male improviser look me up and down and mimic my boobs with his hands. EWWWW!!! Both times there were more experienced improvisers around who nipped it in the bud.
For new improvisers, what would your key bit of advice be?
Reach out to more experienced improvisers when you feel uncomfortable. Don’t forget your character can say no. Commit to your choices. Don’t take improv too seriously.
What are three things you want to focus on this season with your own improv?
Be sillier and more of a pirate. Bring more of myself to scenes. Commit, commit, commit.
I have read in articles that all women improv troupes have the capability to break down stereotypes – do you find this the case and why?
I was lucky to always be in teams with great men who let your choices breathe, but it’s always great when people with the same kind of experiences as you are able to take the scene further as they immediately understand where you’re coming from.
What is the future of improv?
That’s a tough one! It seems to be growing in London which has its benefits and disadvantages. I hope the future sees a more open environment which allows for a more diverse group of people with different life experiences and backgrounds to feel comfortable to come into it and build richer imagined worlds from their lived experiences.