The Bish Bosh Bash’s special guests this month are two cornerstones of the Bristol Improv Theatre. Caitlin Campbell and Imogen Palmer have been performing improv together since they met a decade ago. In this sentimental and touching blog, they reminisce about their favourite moments on stage together, why they enjoy performing with one another so much and how their friendship has evolved over the years.
I love performing with Imogen because she’s brave and generous and a little bit wicked. Since we joined forces in our student improv society in 2011, here are some of my favourite moments from improvising with Imogen:
Edinburgh Fringe- 2013
At the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013 in a dingy night club at about 3pm, we did one of my favourite improv shows ever. I was playing an assassin, sent to kill her former partner who had fled a life of crime and attempted to start afresh. Imogen played his unknowing, adorable ditzy artist wife and had invented the signifier of their idyllic domestic life, a dog called Sausage. Playing with Sausage, getting tangled in its lead, talking about how cute he was became the game of the show. When I confronted Imogen (planning to take her hostage to lure my ex-hitman partner), she made an emotional appeal: “please don’t hurt me! I have so much to live for. I have a wonderful husband. We have a wonderful dog”. I took out a gun and shot Sausage. Blackout!
Murder She Didn’t Write – 2012
Imogen and I were in the original cast that created Murder, She Didn’t Write back in 2012. In those very early days of devising the show we were rehearsing in a room above the Hatchett Inn and experimenting with playing scenes with complex characters in a period drama style. I was playing a young, sporty, high-achieving debutante, preparing to make her way in the world (probably through a prudent matrimonial match). Imogen was playing a slightly older friend of the family, a single woman who had achieved financial independence through her writing. Over the course of the scene it became obvious that these women were in love, and would not be able to be together. I would have been about 20 years old and it was the first time I had ever played a queer love story. I remember feeling profoundly lucky to be practising an art form and working with collaborators like Imo that enabled me to tell those stories.
‘Friends Like These’ – 2018
Six years later, Imogen and I were performing ‘Friends Like These’ at the Zeal, the Pride Improv Festival in London. Imogen had come up with this dream of an improv format where we asked the audience for stories about their friends and then made up scenes inspired by them. In our pyjamas. It was always a riot to perform, but I remember on this occasion there was one long scene which devolved into an incredibly meta discussion of how bisexual characters were portrayed and what message that was sending about bisexual people – which ended with us concluding that as it was only the two of us in the room (in the scene) it didn’t really matter how we came across.
The Bish Bosh Bash
Although Imo and I came up with the concept for the Bish Bosh Bash together back in 2017, we have never actually played a scene in that particular show together – back when I was in the show in 2018, Imogen was always the host. But I’ll never forget her entrance for the debut performance, when we wheeled her onto stage lying on a table, decked out in a gold cycle helmet, elbow and knee pads over a bowtie, suit jacket and lemon gym shorts, accompanied by stirring classical music and a smoke machine. It set the tone for those early BBB performances – glorious, unbridled chaos and fun.
Caitlin is leaving Bristol Improv Theatre as Artistic Director this week and we are performing together for the first time ever in The Bish Bosh Bash on Friday. I met Caitlin doing student improv comedy at the University of Bristol and we’ve had some incredible creative collaborations over the past ten years!
A story I often share is how, when we first clocked eyes in the male-dominated student improv society, there was a layer of tension and animosity, stemming from (on my part) envy!
Caitlin was younger, hilarious and bold in her opinions- something I struggled with at the time and felt insecure about. I remember thinking ‘Who is she and how does she have such strong opinions on everything?’ Caitlin has later told me she found me really intimidating to begin with…cut to a year later and we’re cast together in an improvised film noir… through rehearsals a fast friendship and deep mutual respect was formed! Caitlin supported me through a Sylvia Plath induced existential crisis without judgment and I knew she was a gem.
She is still younger (sigh), very hilarious and I have managed to catch up with her on the bold opinions front… In addition she is incredibly talented and has been a great leader for the theatre during some hard years. I will be sad to see her go but looking forward to the next step for the organization with Kierann joining us at the helm.
Picking some highlights of performing with Caitlin has been tricky – there are so many ! These are some of the ones which stick out.
Being my boss in a lobster restaurant in ‘A Night of Noir’- 2012
In 2012 the student society Bristol Improv attempted our first ever hour long improvised narrative show- an improvised film noir. Caitlin and I were the only women in the cast and became fast friends during rehearsals. In the premiere show, at the Bierkeller in the city centre, we were incredibly nervous about this brand new style of show and what people would think of it. I remember stepping out in that opening scene, with Caitlin, she playing a demanding boss of a mafia-ran lobster restaurant and me being her hapless new waitress. Every time my waitress character set the table wrong, the boss would clap, making my character more nervous and dropping more things…. It was such a fun opening scene and the rest of the show flowed from there.
A sign of things to come with Caitlin having been my boss in Real Life for the past 5 years!
Thankfully, she doesn’t clap when I get things wrong.
The Delight Collective – Zeal Festival 2017
This show is a special one for me. I was fresh back from traveling and finding my feet in the UK…I’d applied to perform in the Zeal Improv Pride Festival with the name ‘The Delight Collective’, got accepted and then had NO IDEA what to do. I asked Caitlin if she wanted to revive an old format ‘Friends Like These’ at it and she was up for it! The show was really fun, exploring themes of friendship and Caitlin and I both love playing a range of queer and alternative characters…I have a memory of one scene where the characters were talking very opening about their sexual life and I was like ‘I’d only go there on stage with someone like Caitlin’.
Imogené and Catarina Campébell – Pride 2019
I normally work with a musician for my improvised pop diva show but on this occasion no one was available. I asked Caitlin how she would feel about stepping in and doing music on my laptop and she was totally up for it ! What I loved about this dynamic is that Imogené is totally out there and full of love and Caitlin developed this character of Catarina Campébell using some excellent big sunglasses and swept back hair who was so too cool for school. My favourite moment was listening to her ‘interact’ with the audience in an incredibly deadpan and direct way: ‘What are you doing here?’.
I was trying to do a costume change behind a curtain at the time and it was really hard not to laugh.
Catch Caitlin & Imogen performing together in the Bish Bosh Bash this Friday!
Bristol Film Festival are bringing their first ‘mini-fest’ to the Bristol Improv weekend. On Sunday 1st May, they’ll be screening four films directed by the innovative and iconic director Wes Anderson at the Bristol Improv Theatre. We chatted to their founder and director, Owen Franklin all about what makes their events so special and where this sterling partnership is headed next!
Q: Hey Owen, we’re really excited to be hosting Bristol Film Festival’s Wes Anderson mini-fest at the Bristol Improv Theatre! Can you tell us a little bit about Bristol Film Festival, what you do and where it all began?
We’re excited to be hosting our first event with Bristol Improv Theatre! We’ve been hosting screenings across Bristol since March 2016, and from day one we have focussed on bringing classic films back to the big screen in iconic Bristol locations, to create unique experiences and evenings out.
Q: How does holding a screening in a unique and tailored venue add to the experience of watching a film?
It can really help bring the film to life, especially if the environment is fitting (The Descent in Redcliffe Caves being the most obvious example of that!). But it also adds to the evening, be that a drinks reception with compered wine tasting or exploring Concorde then watching a film beneath its wings. Plus, it gets Bristolians back into amazing local venues and seeing them in a different setting to what they may normally be used for.
Q: Why have you chosen a Wes Anderson mini-fest for our venue? And how do you envision the day to pan out/ what should people expect?
This will be the first of our “mini-fests” dedicated to the work of particular actors and directors, and Wes Anderson is such an iconic name, with an instantly recognisable style and tone. We’re starting with his latest release, The French Dispatch, but have tried to select a broad range from his filmography to encapsulate Anderson’s whimsical spirit in all its glory!
Q: What has been your favourite Bristol Film Festival experience to date? Any standout moments?
I definitely can’t pick an individual favourite, but some of our one-off events for anniversaries stand out; for example, a 30th anniversary screening of Withnail & I, led by Paul McGann, was a real treat and a fitting celebration of the beloved cult comedy in a milestone year.
Q: Why is keeping things local such an important aspect of Bristol Film Festival’s work?
I’m a lifelong Bristolian and love the creativity of the city. When you put ‘Bristol’ into your own name, you have to live up to that expectation – but the festival grew organically out of working with local venues and suppliers, so it seemed natural.
Q: Who is this screening for and why should people come along to this event?
Naturally, it’s a must for any Wes Anderson fan – but also for anyone curious about his work too. It’s a relaxed series of screenings where no deep-rooted prior knowledge is needed to sit back and appreciate his filmography – and by extension, it’s also a lovely way to introduce yourself to the Festival, as we start our Summer programme. We look forward to seeing you there!
We have some very sad news for Tales of Adventure fans… Thursday 28th April will be Ste Brown’s last show! Ste has been with the show from the very start and after 5 incredible years he’s decided it’s time to say goodbye to the gang to move on to exciting new things. Have a read of our chat with him below all about his favourite memories, what he’ll miss the most and where the show is headed next. And of course, don’t forget to come along to Thursday’s show to give Ste/Marcus a proper send off!
Hey Ste! Taking it all the way back to the start, how did the show come about/how did you start getting involved?
Just over five years ago an improviser friend and I were chatting over a pint about a new game we’d just experienced called Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). Being new to it, we were extremely enthusiastic and we thought it would make a great, regular improv show for the BIT. After throwing a few names around of funny, nerdy people we knew who might be interested… we pulled together the cast for our trial show and ‘Tales of Adventure’ was born.
How has the show evolved over the last 5 and a bit years?
So much! The biggest change for me was when our live illustrator, Graham, joined the cast a few years ago. His artistic skills and comic timing add so much to the show and allowed a greater level of shared experience for both the cast and audience.
How similar are you to your character, Marcus?
Well, Marcus is very posh, and I’m from Derby, which is obviously world renown for being at the epicentre of being right proper posh… so we have that in common. I would also call my horse “Rupert” if I had one. And we both have great hair.
What has been the best thing about improvising with the rest of the TOA cast?
The joy of the show is that you’re essentially playing D&D with your mates, and as anyone who has ever played D&D can attest… that basically means whacky, unexpected hilarity is guaranteed. We’ve been on a lot of adventures in 5 years! They’ve always been so much fun to be involved in and the cast are some of the funniest people I know… which makes it quite difficult to perform if you can’t speak from laughing!
What are some of your favourite memories from being part of the show?
The audience’s art and suggestions! Genuinely some of my favourite moments seeing what they came up with for both.
We’ve been fortunate enough to have had a few guest stars along the way as well and it’s always been so much fun getting to play with so many funny, silly, talented people.
Also being a part of both campaigns and the development of our characters. I loved coming up with the concepts for Geoffrey and Marcus, but seeing them both grow over time through their interactions with the other characters was so much fun.
What makes the TOA community so special? What will you miss the most?
I’ve mentioned some before, but just how much fun we have with the audience. From the suggestions and sound effects to the running joke of things being made of brass, which I’m pretty sure has lasted since the second show…
It was also incredible to see the support during lockdown when we started streaming and for the podcast as well! Any time I see people wearing a ToA hoodie or using a ToA tankard it really makes me smile.
How are you feeling about leaving the show? Will you be making any guest appearances in the future? Will we still be seeing you around the BIT?
Definitely sad to be leaving, but it’s been such an incredible experience and I’m really looking forward to some potential new projects on the horizon… watch this space!
What do you think comes next for the show? Where would you like to see the rest of the gang head next?
I’ve heard rumours that there will be guest stars, so I’m very excited to see what characters they bring to the table!
Any final words for the rest of the cast/ the TOA audiences?
Just a massive thank you to everyone who has been involved in the show, behind the scenes and in the audience. It’s been such an incredible journey and I never imagined during that first chat about D&D over a pint that we’d have a show that’s been running for over 5 years!
It’s been a genuine joy to be involved in it and I can’t wait to see where it goes in the future.
London’s premiere improvised Hip Hop group, Track 96, are coming to the Bristol Improv Theatre this weekend- and we cannot wait! We chatted to them all about how the group began, their Hip Hop inspirations and why everyone should try improvised Hip Hop.
Hey Track 96! Tell us a bit about your company. How and when did you form?
We are a group of improvisers that hail from different places in the UK (and the world) and are all passionate about hip hop improv. Our group originally formed over 3 years ago after many of us participated in a hip hop improv workshop. Immediately after, we felt compelled to continue mixing bars with improv beats. One of our founding members, Cartsten, hosted ‘rhyme & dine’ at his flat every Sunday. Funny enough, vegan food goes really well with rapping! After some months of dining and rhyming, the idea came to form a group and Track 96 was born.
Tell us a bit more about the show; what do you love about performing improvised hip hop?
We take audience suggestions, creates a world of rhyme and rhythm. We freestyle on the spot and, as improvisers, invent a story/scene that audiences can connect with.
There are many reasons we love hip hop improv! Of course, we get to make stuff up on stage with our friends. In addition, we like the challenge of creating never heard before track and bringing together rhymes that actually make sense 😉 Lastly, we love laughing along with the audience and showing how we can transform their suggestions into a song that may linger in their head for days, months, or years!
What’s your starting off point for the show, have you had any unexpected/ remarkable suggestions?
We once performed in a shopping centre and, as we discovered, our audience was primarily young children. It was great to learn about what makes kids angry and incorporate that into a rap. Apparently, when a younger brother plays with his older brother’s toys…it’s a big deal.
Who are your greatest hip hop inspirations?
There are too many to list! Off the top, Notorious B.I.G., Snoop, Dre, Eminem as well as some more recent artists like Lizzo, Stormsy, Lin Manuel Maranda are also spectacular.
We’re also really looking forward to your class on Saturday! What can people expect from the workshop?
During our workshops, people get the opportunity to learn some rapping/free-styling fundamentals and how to integrate these into an improvised scene. These workshops have a laid-back and fun atmosphere. Regardless of your experience level, we’ll ease you into the world of free-style and you’ll be laughing a lot!
What would you say to someone who’s thinking about trying improvised hip hop but is nervous about starting?
Just come along. We’ve taught many people over the years and have developed a workshop that eases people into the concepts and techniques of hip hop improv. To use a common improv expression, we’ll have your back & will make sure you have fun!
What’s your favourite thing about running classes on improvised hip hop?
When we have people that come in doubting that they can rap and, by the end of the class, see those same people spitting mad bars! It is great to see people progress and it is a privilege for us to be able to share this artform with others!
Get to know the amazingly talented casts of our Unscripted Players’ Big April Shows!
Favourite moment in rehearsals? Probably when the whole cast had a showdown whilst surrounded by personal protective walls made of Lego. It turned out lego isn’t actually bulletproof…
What’s your favourite thing about UP? The opportunities to perform through a supportive community that allows you to grow as an improviser
Why should people come and see the show? It’ll be rootin’ tootin’ fun! Expect top notch cowboy accents all around
What’s your favourite thing about improv? Finding comedy gold in the unexpected. Plus the chance to channel the terrifying anxiety of performing into something fun and hopefully watchable!
Favourite moment in rehearsals? The sounds made to imitate a whip in the warm up games. Come to the show and I might recreate them for you!
Why should people come and see the show? It’s going to be lots of fun! An adventure in the Wild West with wonderful characters.
Favourite thing about UP? The opportunity to perform in shows that have never been seen before. I love the wealth of ideas and feel very lucky to be part of such a creative group of people.
If you were a character in a western, who would you be and why? Biff Tannon because I hate manure too.
What are you looking forward to about the show? Looking forward to being silly and westerny.
What’s your favourite thing about UP? I like that anyone can roll up and have a go.
Why should people come and see the show? If you wanna a fun show full of rootin’ tootin’ folk then come on down.
What’s your favourite western film? A Fistfull of Dollars.
If you were a character in a Western, who would you be and why? I would be one of the farmhands you see in the background of exposition shots
What are you looking forward to about the shows? Embracing the western genre, speaking in a dodgy southern drawl and unnecessary stand-offs.
Why should people come and see the show? It’s a really great idea for a show. James Cottle has really done his work on what makes a great western and it’s now been 2 years in the making!
What’s your favourite thing about improv? How every mistake is a gift!
What’s your favourite Western film? I love “True Grit”. I’ve only seen the remake think the Hailee Steinfeld smashes it with her charisma and chemistry with Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon
If you were a character in a Western, who would you be and why? I have a soft spot for the bartender in a saloon, I think there is just something delightful about polishing a glass and asking strangers to unload there troubles on you. They definitely get to hear the best stories!
Favourite moment in rehearsals? We did a show based entirely around lumpy milk, the protagonist Pete was given a blender, which mean for the first time ever they could have smooth milk. This led to some brilliant moments where Emma spent a good few minutes just drinking a glass of milk on stage, this cracked me up so hard, with Pete finishing it by saying ‘you see’.
Why should people come and see the show Because everyone involved has worked so hard and it’d just be amazing to get to see the audience reactions. I’ve also been lucky enough to see both shows progress over the weeks and they are so brilliant – and since you get two great shows in one night it’s an absolute bargain!
What’s your favourite thing about improv? What a hard question! There is so much I love about improv, but predominantly I think it’s that you get to create something in the moment that responds to the audience and for the time that you’re on stage, you create a strong bond based around a shared experience.
If you were a character in a western, who would you be and why? The bar person because I’d get to chat to all the interesting people passing through town.
Favourite moment in rehearsals? Our first rehearsal after covid. Seeing the old gang back in the theatre was amazing as we didn’t know if we’d get another chance to do the show or if everyone would come back!
What are you looking forward to about the show? We’ve tried to honour the western genre and explore a more modern twist. I’m looking forward to pulling it all together and seeing what we come up with on the night!
What’s your favourite thing about UP? It’s a great opportunity to get more experience and be part of the show-making process.
What’s your favourite western film? The Magnificent Seven – I remember watching it as a kid and it reminds me of my dad.
If you were a character in a western, who would you be and why? A simple country doctor with a shady past.
Favourite moments in rehearsals? Coming up with ways to torment a man dying of thirst in the desert.
What’s your favourite thing about UP? The opportunity to try out new show ideas and work with lots of different people.
Why should people come and see the show? They’ll get to see two great shows and the sort of fun they could be having if they join UP.
What’s your favourite western film? The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Get to know the amazingly talented casts of our Unscripted Players’ Big April Shows!
Favourite Breakfast TV host? I don’t know if he counts but it’s got to be Gino D’acampo. A chaotic man.
Favourite moment in rehearsals? In one run through a Deirdre gave me advice to step into a room proclaiming ‘I AM POSEIDON GOD OF THE SEA’. I think after about the 4th time I did it they began to regret that advice.
Why see the show? If, like me, people enjoy the variety of a breakfast show format but lack the waking-up skills to see them on TV then this is the solution! Breakfast TV at reasonable hours? Yes please. But also you can influence the content of this one, and it’s just the fun stuff (no Piers Morgan)!
Favourite thing about improv? There are not enough opportunities as an adult to be incredibly silly. If there is one thing improv is great for, it’s giving you the freedom to be profoundly silly – and to just enjoy that!
Favourite Breakfast? Bananas
Favourite moment in rehearsals? When we all started working together as a team and can laugh at ourselves as well as each other. And the friendships we made along the way
Looking forward to? Performing in front of an audience and seeing how much all our hard work has paid off
Favourite thing about UP? It’s a really good opportunity to laugh, see some really good improv and to just have an all-out great time.
What’s your favourite breakfast? Porridge because I have it every day! In an ideal world, it would be coco pops.
Who’s your favourite TV Breakfast Host? It would have to be Ant, Dec, and Cat in the days of SM:TV Live.
What’s your favourite thing about UP? Where do I start? That it gives performers and directors an opportunity to get on stage and try out ideas, even if they don’t have much experience of either.
Why should people come and see the show? Because it has been over two years in the making and is FINALLY being performed! Plus both shows are really, really good, don’t miss out!
What’s your favourite thing about improv? The opportunity to be silly whilst thinking I’m actually being really, really clever for a few hours each week.
What’s your favourite breakfast? I personally enjoy the classic Weetabix, they are versatile enough to add a variety of toppings to, which allows me to keep my mornings fresh. But! It’s a fine balancing act of eating them at the optimal crunch & sogginess. If they become too soggy then my whole morning could be ruined. It’s a risk I’m willing to take.
What’s a memorable TV moment/news story? Without a doubt, Holly Willoughby suggesting ham in a carbonara to Gino D’Acampo and the phrase “If my grandmother had wheels, she would have been a bike” will forever live in my brain rent free for the rest of my life.
What’s your favourite thing about UP? The Unscripted Players is such a welcoming envrionment regardless of experience! It gives improvisers a chance to take their improv to the next level by connecting with a fantastic group of likeminded people to create and bring to life some fantastic ideas. I can’t wait to see what else happens after these shows!
What’s your favourite thing about Improv? The supportive environment! It feels like people you do improv with have your back! No matter what happens, it always feels safe to fail or mess up because at the end of the day, we are all just trying our best!
Who’s your favourite breakfast TV host? Zig and Zag (The puppets)
What’s a memorable TV moment/news story? Coming home from a holiday in Crete during the news that the twin towers were being attacked, I’ll never forget that.
Favourite moment in rehearsals? Getting back together after the 2.5-year gap of waiting for this show to kick off again
What are you looking forward to about the shows? The beautiful moments where I get to support the cast and help them out in a scene or aid them to have more fun or a poignant moment
Why should people come and see the show? Quite simply… It will be fun and you get two 45 min shows for £12
Favourite breakfast? Buttermilk pancakes with crispy bacon and maple syrup
Memorable TV moment? The guy who was reporting from one of the US National Parks and had to quickly pack up as bison approached him. His whole demeanour was one of quiet, professional panic.
Favourite rehearsal moment? Too many to choose! But always love any of the physical arrangements the cast find themselves in during the Expert Interview segment…
Favourite thing about improv? I love performing improv as it’s truly a time where you allow yourself to let go and live fully in the moment of what you’re doing.
Up the Antics have been experimenting with a new format recently- ‘the pretty flower’. This has brought up some interesting results in rehearsals as Luke Mallison explores in this blog.
At Up The Antics, we have a long standing tradition of taking the “rulebook” of improv, ripping it up, setting it on fire and then throwing it out the window.
We once did 15 minutes of explaining GDPR to the Lib Dem alliance in Thornbury. And it killed.
This has become especially handy as we have been rehearsing our new format “The Pretty Flower”. This is an established american-style longform format with one grounded scene that the group will return to throughout the show, as they explore characters and comedic ideas around it. Last month’s show was set largely in Woolworths, and was centred around the blossoming relationship of two co-workers. However, their romance was interrupted by Waqar’s career as a trainee pilot, a luxury elevator service and Vicky’s dreams of being a PR Queen.
Naturally, the opening scene becomes more “story based” with the sketch comedy coming from the tag runs. As it’s a scene we keep returning to, it makes a lot of sense that the audience would want to see a satisfying narrative with a clear beginning, middle and end.
My urge is to fight this with every core of my being and make it all about the sketch comedy. Recently, I have been questioning if this is right? Should I calm down and let the narrative threads unfold? To provide some kind of justification to my gut reaction, I think it would be hard and incredibly frustrating to perform a narrative that is constantly interrupted by tag runs exploring random stuff. You would think of a great idea, only to be interrupted by 10 minutes of Waqar pushing Scott to the floor over and over again (this happened in January)
One of the things we all agree on is there isn’t a “right way” to perform improv, apart from the obvious need to protect each other’s safety (in particular, Scott’s hands and knees). This is an artform by its very definition we define the rules of as we go along. I had the very useful note recently when leading a workshop that the language shouldn’t be “here’s how you do it” but “here are some useful tools and techniques that will help you improve in this specific area”. This allows your group to not get obsessed by the idea of doing it right, but to share their experiences and learnings amongst a group of people who all want to achieve the same thing; a great show.
So in conclusion, I don’t have an answer, but I’m learning that my steadfast resolve to only do one kind of improv probably isn’t the healthiest habit Treating all the wonderful and different theories out there as a mezze board of useful techniques will help me and the groups I’m in during our performances, and enable us to feel comfortable enough to keep on setting fire to that rulebook.
Catch Up the Antics Performing this Friday, 25th March at the Bristol Improv Theatre!
In the lead up to International Women’s Day 2022, we’ll be releasing a series of blog posts around this year’s theme, #BreaktheBias.
We’re re-visiting this wonderful blog written by Imogen Palmer in 2020. Imogen talks about her immensely popular course designed to empower womxn and upset the patriarchy.
What makes someone a ‘Difficult Woman’?
According to some of the views this question drew up on my news feed, it can be anything from ‘not smiling’ to ‘asking for money as a freelancer’ to ‘existing in any way which upsets the patriarchy’.
The term ‘Difficult Woman’ came to my head recently when I watched Hannah Gadsby’s stand-up special ‘Douglas’ on Netflix. I am a long term fan of Hannah and this was my favourite show I’ve seen her do yet. In between laughing my head off, I kept shouting ‘yes! Oh my God, yes!’ much to the amusement of my partner. I finished it feeling high on life. Why? I’d just watched a queer woman take up space and confidently ‘bait her haters’ and own the fact that they hated her. She was proud that arseholes hated her. And why shouldn’t we be?
I have spent most of my life trying to be brave and sticking up for my values. The truth is (like loads of people) conflict makes me really anxious and scared but as a kid I decided I would rather stick up for myself and for other people when I thought things were unfair than keep quiet because that made you just as bad as the bullies.
This can be really hard. It can be particularly hard to do this when you look like a woman because of how we have been socialised. We have been taught to smooth over difficult situations and ‘get on with everyone’. Society LOVES prickly, rude white men (just look at how we glorify any one of the characters Benedict Cumberbach is typically cast in) but a woman? Being rude? Having an opinion different to others in the room? Negotiating for a fair wage? What a B****.
Some of the reasons we can struggle with speaking up is because:
1. We like to be liked
2. We are people pleasers
3. We were raised to be ‘polite’
4. We don’t think of ourselves as ‘difficult’.
I have had really weird experiences over the years when I expressed discomfort over sexist, racist or homophobic choices in the rehearsal room, challenged inconsiderate behaviour or when I expressed artistic opinions. In companies where everyone ‘talked the talk’ of being a friendly, liberal supportive place, their reactions baffled me.
When I questioned moments (in as light and friendly a way as possible, being the sweet little woman I was), both men and women became defensive and sometimes angry in response. I now understand more about DARVO (which is worth looking up if something similar has happened to you) but at the time, these reactions made me believe I was wrong and I wasted way too much time feeling ashamed for having spoken up, worrying I was ‘rude’ for having done so and sometimes even (now embarrassingly) apologising for having ‘rocked the boat’.
I know the treatment I received would have been different if I was a man. We praise men for being assertive. We’re used to men having opinions and views which deserved to be heard. We stop, listen and don’t interrupt them.
One of the many things movements like MeToo and Black Lives Matter has shown me is, if you want to live in a more liberated world, we need to practice being ok with people finding you difficult when you challenge offensive or problematic behaviors which support a system of oppression.
We also need to practice being self-aware when we become defensive or prickly in response to a woman or member of another oppressed group speaks up.It is not enough to expect women and POC to do all the work. An improvisation class or rehearsal room can be a great place to practice this because in improv, we practice listening and also over-riding our self-censor which means a whole heap of subconscious biascan come to the surface. Great- a chance to learn from each other about this bias and how being aware of it is the first step to helping us unpick and override it.
Queer, black feminist Audre Lorde was on this 40 years agowhen she wrote:
‘Our speaking out will irritate some people, get us called bitchy or hypersensitive and disrupt some dinner parties. And then our speaking out will permit other women to speak, until laws are changed and lives are saved and the world is altered forever.
Next time, ask: What’s the worst that will happen? Then push yourself a little further than you dare. Once you start to speak, people will yell at you. They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it’s personal. And the world won’t end.And the speaking will get easier and easier. ‘
Thanks to a lot of practice, inner work and queens like Audre and Hannah, I have officially given up on being liked.
I am proud of the people I’ve annoyed because if they want to live in a world where art forms like improvisation continue to be only accessible to white men then why would I want them to like me? F*** that.
I would rather work with people who believe in trying to make the world and the art we make as empowering and inclusive as possible by listening and learning as best we can, and creating spaces where feedback and difficult conversations can be practised in a sensitive way. This is an ongoing process but we can start by speaking up and listening when others speak up.
The workshop I have made includes some tools I have found useful to help me practice navigating some internalised misogynistic blocks around owning being difficult and supporting and championing women and oppressed groups. I don’t have all the answers, I don’t have the energy to fight all the fights all the time but what I do know is this: difficult women get shit done and being difficult is an art that can be practised.
Imogen will be running a taster session of ‘Being a Difficult Woman’ on Saturday 5th March.
In the lead up to International Women’s Day 2022, we’ll be releasing a series of blog posts around this year’s theme, #BreaktheBias.
Our second blog of the series is written by fellow Bish Bosh Bash cast member and mother, Hannah Franklin. Hannah gives us an honest and thought-provoking account of how becoming a mother has morphed her into the performer she is today.
It’s 6.05pm, my toddler is pretending he’s a plesiosaur in the bath and the baby is still attached to me having his bedtime feed. I need to be at the theatre at 6.30pm. I run out the door, get in the car and put the radio on. The motherness that washes through me day in and day out diminishes to my centre and my other self, the actor, slowly starts to emerge. It feels amazing.
I’ve been performing for the Bish Bosh Bash since 2017 and I have had two children since then. I’ve been on stage feeling sick, feeling enormous (with a bulging belly), feeling exhausted. You never forget you’re a mother, this new being that you’ve morphed into, you have a new conscious that is always wondering…are they hungry? Will they take the bottle? Are there enough nappies at home? But this stops on stage. It’s the only time in my new life I’ve known this consciousness to disappear into a place so deep that I can momentarily transform to Hannah the actor, the improver, the character.
All that space where anxiety, nerves, sabotage used to sit, is now filled with my responsibilities as a parent
I used to get nervous before auditions, castings, performing: but motherhood makes you give so many less fucks. I’m just too tired to overthink anything, time is a commodity I don’t posses and I have to be entirely focused. I have 20 minutes to smash the self tape before the kids wake up from their nap, I have 2 hours on stage to enjoy my craft and no time to wallow in any self doubt…All that space where anxiety, nerves, sabotage used to sit, is now filled with my responsibilities as a parent.
I’ve found it hard at times, there’s no doubt. I got asked to do a show when I was 8 weeks post partum and I just had to say no. Something that I’ve not done before, but there’s power in that too, it makes the yes’s sweeter. When everyone rushes to the bar for a post show debrief over wine, I have to get home. When everyone kicks back in their bed to sleep, decompress, I’m getting ready to wake every two hours to feed and wind the baby.
In law, being pregnant is a protected characteristic but unfortunately I’ve found that just isn’t always the case as a performer. I’ve lied about being pregnant, knowing if the director knew, I wouldn’t get cast. I turned up to a commercial job for a well known gym brand, trying to hide the fact I was 4 months pregnant. I got the job before I knew and because of covid, filming was delayed…there I was on set, 16 weeks later with a tiny human growing inside. Costume were throwing me a few funny looks as they handed me their size 10 leggings…I had to rip them at the seams in the changing room to make them fit, pulling my top over my fairly obvious secret. Maybe it’s not a surprise that the cut they went with, was a close up of my face!
The truth is, being an actor has always been tough but now in a funny way, it’s got easier.
There will always be a few bad apples but I want you to know it’s not always like that. I recently got cast in a film, they knew I had a young baby and did everything to make me comfortable. Making time for me express (getting rid of milk build up) on set, checking in with me, adjusting the schedule to send me home early. I was so happy to be there as an actor and a mother – they were not mutually exclusive.
The truth is, being an actor has always been tough but now in a funny way, it’s got easier. When I used to be ‘resting’ between jobs, I was frustrated, disappointed, wondering if I was I good enough, wishing I wanted to do something else. I don’t have that anymore. I’m grateful for the job, love doing it and then …I love coming home to my boys. There is no resting between jobs anymore, there’s only early mornings, late nights, snotty noses, laughs, tears, smiles and dinosaurs. Motherhood doesn’t get in the way of being an actor: it makes me a better one.
THE BISH BOSH BASH INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY SPECIAL IS ON AT THE BRISTOL IMPROV THEATRE ON FRIDAY 4TH MARCH
In the lead up to International Women’s Day 2022, we’ll be releasing a series of blog posts around this year’s theme, #BreaktheBias.
The first blog in the series is from our wonderful Bish Bosh Bash cast member Marie Ellis. Marie’s moving and powerful piece reframes the narrative of giving up the things you enjoy when you become a mother and explores her journey through being a mother and artist.
I sometimes think of performing improv as a series of tiny births and ends. You send a fresh new idea out into the world in a unique moment of creation, it lives and breathes for the length of the scene, and then, as quickly as it was formed, it vanishes.
As a performer and mother, I was asked to write a blog about International Women’s Day. The theme is #BreakTheBias, asking us “to imagine a world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.” To celebrate this day, I’ll be performing in the Bristol Improv Theatre’s (BIT) all-female production of the Bish Bosh Bash, an improv game show where two teams go head-to-head to compete for the audience’s love.
My first love has always been performing. I’ve been acting since I was 8 years old, and while pregnant with both of my children, I continued performing in front of live audiences. My first pregnancy, about 8 years ago, involved hiding my nausea and sickness from my cast mates while performing in a touring theatre production. And during my second pregnancy, I performed regularly at the BIT while VERY pregnant with my daughter, who is now 2.
I remember one particular improvised scene in which Cat Murphy, in character, placed her hand on my huge pregnant belly. My daughter kicked, upstaging the show, as Cat had to break character and tell the audience that “The baby kicked!” It was such a heartwarming moment for us as performers, and a joy which the audience shared with us.
But here I am, talking about my children when I should be talking about myself. For this blog, I was asked to write about how I’ve overcome the stereotype of giving up everything you enjoy when you become a mother.
The truth is, I’ve had to fight to retain my identity as an individual human being, and not “just collapse into the identity of merely mother.”
I imagined that I’d write about how I still have an agent in London and attend auditions. That I perform improv every month. That I have a successful career as Editorial Director of a start-up. That I still go swimming once a week, meet friends for drinks, and even still, occasionally, earn some pretty epic hangovers.
To the outside world, I really do still “have it all.” And, truly, inside my world, I feel like one lucky woman. The truth is, I’ve had to fight to retain my identity as an individual human being, and not “just collapse into the identity of merely mother.”
I put that last part in quotes because I can tell you that of all the jobs I’ve ever had in my life, that of mother is the hardest I’ve ever inhabited — a universal truth that society is only just lifting its head to recognise, in the wake of mothers holding everything together during the pandemic.
But I can’t “write about the stereotype of giving up everything you enjoy when you become a mother” without acknowledging that when you become a mother, a part of you does come to an end.
I can remember performing while pregnant with my daughter and feeling as I was onstage that I was a totally different person during that time. I was like a chimera. I was neither myself, nor my daughter, but rather some third person who existed for 9 months.
And did you know that cells from a baby stay in their mother’s body for the rest of her life, even mixing with subsequent babies? So, I’m walking around with cells left over in my body from both my son and my daughter (and the other babies I carried that didn’t make it into the world).
I want to talk about this because I think it’s important — more important than encouraging women to try to be the same person they were before they had children. I know that’s not what I was asked to write about, but I think it’s a common trap that new mothers fall prey to: How can I maintain the life I had before children? Because if I don’t, I’ve somehow failed.
I tried that, for sure, for many years after my son was born. I resisted the series of tiny ends that occur when you change. I vowed to not be “one of those mums” who only talks about their children.
I pushed back against my body changing. I was one of those magical unicorns whose body “bounced back” straight away. But that was a mask I wore. One that I suspect is actually rooted in my feminism. I felt that to admit I had changed and that priorities had shifted meant I wasn’t being the strong woman I felt I should be.
To women who are artists, creators, AND ALSO mothers, I say: Bring on the tiny ends
I now know that strength comes in many forms, and being malleable is my new superpower. (Well, sort of…I think my husband would strongly disagree with this, but it’s my blog, so I’ll write what I want to.)
Change is scary, but it can be beautiful. To women who are artists, creators, AND ALSO mothers, I say: Bring on the tiny ends. Bring on the little so-called failures. Bring in the element of a “happy fail” — which we hold so dearly in improv — and give yourself that gift of enjoying where your life is taking you, even if it’s a path you hadn’t planned.
I do still follow my joys. But the reality is that I can’t follow them in the same way I could before I was a mother. When your 7-year-old is melting down because all his friends know about Pokemon but he doesn’t, and your 2-year-old is about to jump down the stairs, you can’t just f&ck off to rehearsal. You have to stay and ensure the situation is under control and then apologise to your castmates when you show up 10 minutes late (which I almost ALWAYS do now).
I was supposed to write about smashing the stereotype that becoming a mother means you have to give up the things you enjoy. I hope I’ve reframed that as: Becoming a mother means being open to changing the way you experience the things that bring you joy.
I will end this blog by inviting you to listen to the song, “Closing Time” by Semisonic. Aside from being an absolute 90s pop classic, this song is secretly about the birth of the lead singer’s daughter. Halfway through writing the song, Dan Wilson realized he was actually writing about birth, and I think the ending lyrics are apropos for women who are mothers, artists, and creators:
Closing time, every new beginning
Comes from some other beginning’s end