Friday, May 21, 2010

Interview with Susan Messing

Danielle Solzman: Thank you for joining us today. How are things going in the Windy City?
Susan Messing: Besides the fact that the infrastructure of the Chicago Public School system is crumbling, great.

DS: Congrats again on winning Improviser of the Year at this year's Chicago Improv Festival. How does it feel?
SM: Awkward but very kind of Jonathan Pitts and the rest of the gang. It's strange to have that kind of acknowledgement when I know that any success I have is due to my friends making me look good and the simple fact that I wouldn't give up, even when I wanted to do just that.

DS: How did you discover improv and sketch comedy?
SM: I was a theatre major @ Northwestern University. There were auditions for the Meow Show, a campus revue with short form and sketch. It was directed by Dan Patterson (I think that was his name) the guy who ultimately created the original "Whose Line is it Anyway." Sophmore year. Didn't get cast. The next year I heard about some improv audition off campus and it was @ ImprovOlympic on Wilton Street in Chicago. Didn't get cast. Still, it must have stuck out in my mind after I graduated, because I started @ ImprovOlympic.
Sketch was always around- Monty Python, SNL, SCTV. Finally discovered SC when I was studying @ ImprovOlympic and took classes there too.

DS: When did you start performing Messing with a Friend?
SM: 2005? Ask Jack Farrell @ Second City because the opening night @ Second City's Unhinged Series was also the day that Jack almost died in my class. Since he's still alive, he's probably hep to that day. After that run, I did two runs @ iO and we're almost at the four year mark @ The Annoyance.

DS: What about Children of a Lesser G-d? When did that start? Any chance of a new run in the future?
SM: COALG was just a bunch of awesome lady friends who felt like playing together. Charna had nothing going on upstairs after student shows on Sundays and gave us the slot so Rachael, Kate, Emily and I grabbed it. It's a nice time slot. I'm bad with dates- 2007? 08? It ran for about a year and a half and then Rachael made a baby, Kate went on a SC boat, and Em moved to San Fransisco. We had a fun reunion during CIF this year and I'm sure we'll meet again onstage together in the future.

DS: How did Pleasant Valley start?
SM: Jet and Holly have done my show before and we missed each other so threw it together. Fun is winning.

DS: You created the level 2 curriculum at IO, right? How did that happen?
SM: After years of performing, I felt like I had enough experience to teach. Mick had me teach a class @ the Annoyance with Jodi Lennon and when I approached Charna, she told me that I had to coach first. I was annoyed because people who started years after me were already given teaching opportunities but I plowed ahead. For a year I coached three teams simultaneously and made up exercises that I thought would support them. Wrote it out on some yellow lined people, handed it to Charna, and thankfully, she liked my curriculum.

DS: You're one of the founding members of The Annoyance. How did that come about?
SM: Mick was one of the first three improvisors I met @ ImprovOlympic. He was working with some people creating new forms- it was called Nimbus under the banner of Metraform. He'd get someone like Noah to direct a bunch of newbies, give us a theme like "clown" and then walk away and have us figure it out. At the same time he was directing a show called "Splatter Theatre," which was hysterical. When he did "Splatter Theatre II" I auditioned. I think I had to walk into a room and scream. That show was a pain in the neck, too many people, money mismanagement, bad landlord, whatever. At the end there were about ten people who Mick could stomach and we created a musical called "Co-Ed Prison Sluts." We were still under the banner of Metraform, but when we got our own space on Broadway/Briar, it was renamed The Annoyance.

DS: What did you think of your Mainstage experience at Second City?
SM: It was great and humbling. Never thought that I'd have the opportunity to work there. I knew that it would be one of the hardest and best jobs that I would ever have- you walk into the building and you can feel the history. I don't think I did my best work there, which I regret, but I think I always feel that way- that I can still do better. That said, I learned an unbelievable much about myself and about the work. Invaluable. I am very grateful to Mick, who was my director, and everyone who produces and works for Second City for the experience.

DS: What were the 50th anniversary celebrations like?
SM: Surreal and lovely.

DS: What advice do you give to beginning improvisers?
SM: Don't give up. Learn table manners. Put your blinders on and take the hard note. Don't give up.

DS: Thanks again for speaking with the Chicago Improv Celebrity News? Is there anything else you would like to add?
SM: Thanks for having me.

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