Chicago Improv Summer: Messing's Insane Workshop!


susan messing - 2



photo by me via Flickr. Click photo for more

As I've mentioned before, Susan Messing is an i.O. teacher and co-founder of The Annoyance theatre. She's pictured above performing in her weekly two-man show, "Messing with a Friend." She's insane.

Susan designed the Level Two curriculum for i.O. Level two is focused a lot on creating environments on stage and using your body, not just your mouth. On Friday, she ran a special three-hour optional workshop for summer intensive students in "Story Theatre," where we narrate our own tales and fantasies, using our entire body and stage to create the previously-imagined. Susan had us fly people around, build cars and undersea schools of fish.

We even had the smallest fish in the sea return as a messiah and vow a fiery vengeance upon those who would fail to follow his example.

But back to Susan Messing being insane. All last week, our teacher, Rachael Mason, was as dirty and foul-mouthed as could be! It turns out, she was just channeling Susan. This lady has Noooo inhibitions at all, and is easily the most absurdly quotable teacher I've ever had. Here's a sample fun pak
"I do improv to get me off. If it doesn't get me off, it's not worth doing."

"Don't be a wandering Jew." She said this to a student who took too long to find his place in the scenery.

"You whore! Get your hair back." to a woman who hadn't tied her hair up or in a pony tail.

"Have you ever almost cum, and then your mom calls." on following through with a sequence.

"Thank you for giving me polio." one of the few places you can say something like this is in an improv scene. Polio might have saved it!

So those were the outlandish ones, but I'm not doing the workshop justice with just some crazy quotes. Susan believes seriously in improv, and she pushed us to create and build in just a few hours. A few more lessons she dropped on us:





  • When you're flying another player around on stage, don't stand directly under her. Always support the neck and head. Set her down feet first

  • "half of improv is talking yourself into improv."

  • "lead with people instead of plot." Plot will come after the people are established in a scene

  • "you don't know where the product is gonna be, so enjoy the fucking ride." a metaphor for everything we're doing in improv. There's no script, just the players. The point will arise somewhere. Enjoy finding it.

  • "speak in sentences, not paragraphs." It's hard for your fellow player (especially in Story Theatre) to respond to long-winded paragraphs

  • "a game is anything that happens more than once." The idea of The Game in an improv scene keeps coming up. Susan's breakdown is simple. A "game" is something repetitive. I walk on-stage and ask for bread. Next player asks for a sandwich; next, a buffet; next, the castle; next, the world... That could be a game. Weird example, I know, but I'm movin on peoples!

  • When in doubt, match your scene partner's energy