In the lead up to our first Cool Story Bro at our new venue in Paddington, Big Forker Jim is interviewing a few of our players about improv, life and anything else that may come up.
Up first is one of our newer players, Mandy Plumb, who arrived for the interview bearing a box of fried chicken.
Jim Reynolds: Hi Mandy – thanks for bringing chicken I guess – are you trying to destroy me?
Mandy Plumb: It was like $9 for a burger and for 95 cents more I could get nine pieces of chicken so I made the obvious choice.
People reading this can assume we’re making lip-smacking noises all throughout this interview.
Thank you for doing this.
So how long have you been improvising for?
Well I did it a long long time ago. I worked at a Gold Coast theme park, and sometimes we would have to do improvisational work, like interacting with park guests and just maintaining a character over long periods of time.
Who were your characters?
Well we got to choose what we wanted to do – sometimes it would be like a 1950s rocker, sometimes a five-year-old girl, sometimes a cavewoman. We would go 45 minutes on 45 minutes off, and just have to improvise in our characters and just be general entertainment for people waiting in queues. But really, mainly what I did was try and make friends with the kids so that they would take me on rides. The rule was, if they invited you on the rides, you could ride with them.
So this job was just a big scam to get paid to ride on rides for free?
Yes. You’ve found me out.
What character did you prefer?
Anything in the bushranger show. That was my jam.
So it wasn’t just wandering entertainment. You were a professional theme park actor.
Yep, l was fresh out of uni. It was a heady time.
That was some time ago now though. What brought you back to improv?
I felt like I’d lost a lot of creativity in my life – I’d spent a long time focussed on my career and felt like I had lost my creative side and I really wanted to bring that back. And it’s taken me a little while; the improv thing didn’t automatically switch on.
What was the moment when it switched on for you?
I think it was coming to the Big Fork Theatre jams. I think that really helped me figure out my play style and how I like to improvise. I think just one jam the penny dropped and then I realised, “Oh yeah – I can do this.”
Do you remember what that was?
It was an exercise that Taylor did: “Make feel good try something different.”
One of the best.
Yes – so it’s where you're up on stage by yourself and the group tells you all of the things they love about your play for about five minutes, and then tells you a few things they don’t see you do very often, and then you improvise a scene where you try to do a thing you don’t do that often. So that was really helpful for me – I’d been playing things down a lot – something someone said in my level one workshop made me think I had to contain my play and play super realistic all the time and I wasn’t having fun, and people in this exercise were encouraging me to go with my gut and play big characters if the situation called for it.
I love when you play big – I remember I saw you at a grad show recently, and you were playing with a guy who does a lot of big stuff, and you came on and just had this tremendous big-character-off with him and totally out-bigged him. It was probably my favourite thing in the show.
I like that word "out-bigged".
It’s a great word. You’ve done a few shows with us now. How’re the nerves before you go on?
I haven't been feeling the nerves that much - I think because I used to do acting as a career a long time ago.
So more than theme parks?
More than theme parks! I did musical theatre and commercials here and there. Little bits and pieces.
But a paid actor.
Anything we’d know you from?
Probably not! A lot of bit parts!
Still cool! What did you do a bit part in?
I did a lot of work on Beastmaster.
You should not be downplaying this – that is awesome!
It was so long ago! I don’t talk about it too much – I don’t want people to think that I’m a fancy actor – it’s not why I’m doing improv. What I love about improv is different to what I loved about acting, and I’d never want people to think that I put myself on a pedestal as being somehow better than anyone because I’ve done a bunch of acting before.
Fair enough. This chicken is super greasy, right?
Yep. Good for the soul.
So outside of improv, what makes you laugh?
I don’t have a very nice sense of humour.
What does that mean?
I laugh at…not very nice things.
Like dark things?
Maybe? Lots of uncontrollable laughter when people hurt themselves. I’ve seen a lot of people hurt themselves quite badly and I’m not very good at being serious about that. Like, I was doing a musical and one of the cast members… There was something in one of the songs where we had to get quite low to the stage quite quickly – and when he got up again there was blood streaming down his forehead. I kept singing, being a professional, you know, but when we went off stage, I just started laughing uncontrollably at the guy. I didn’t even ask if he was OK. Everybody in the cast turned on me after that!
Wow. No, I think that’s common among improvisers – we’re all really nice on the surface but we have this secret horrific dark side where we find awful things funny.
That makes me feel better.
You’re not a local Brisbanite. Where are you from?
The Gold Coast. I only moved to Brisbane at the end of 2009.
What’s it like to grow up there? To me it’s a place that only exists during holidays. How do you live there?
I love Brisbane, but I really loved growing up at the Gold Coast. I love the beach – the lifestyle of rollerskating on the paths along the beach, and the opportunities that are there that I couldn’t have got anywhere else, like, performing-wise.
We’ve just lost our beloved venue, the Visions Gallery, but we have a new venue in Paddington, which is very exciting.
Do you have a favourite Visions Gallery memory?
The first Cool Story Bro I saw, I guess the October show? It’s maybe my favourite improv show I've seen. I just remember Kath Griffin and Drew were playing sexy bunnies, everyone was so in sync, the ensemble just gelled - it was great.
It’s hard to know where to put the chicken bones when you’re done with them, right?
Yeah, it’s awkward.
OK – a few rapid fire questions. What do you want to do in improv in the next few years?
I’d just like to keep getting better at it! I’m keen to keep performing – I’d missed performing for the longest time, so it’s really exciting just to be back on a stage. I’d like to do some more narrative-based shows, playing with shows that have a bit of structure around them – like what Act/React have done at the Comedy Festival the last few years.
They do good shows. Who is your favourite person to play with?
Gosh! Too hard! I like playing with Janette. We started off doing level one and two together. I think having that background and working through together, we really understand each other when we’re performing.
You’ve both done a lot of acting before coming to improv, so that makes sense. What would you say to encourage someone to come and do some improv with Big Fork Theatre?
Give it a go! Even if you feel like you feel like you suck at first, come back a few times and you’ll realise that you can’t really suck at this. If you can talk, you can improvise.
Good caveat. Last question – the jam is about to start – you get to ask a question that I ask the next person I interview!
Where would you like to see improv in Brisbane in the next five years?
Nice one – do you have an answer to that question?
I'd like our Brisbane improv community to keep growing – I’d love if the people of Brisbane had a place to go to see improv regularly, that hosted a variety of improv shows. We need our own improv theatre!
I agree! That’ll do it Mandy, let’s go jam! Thanks a lot for sitting down with me.
You can catch Mandy at Cool Story Bro, check out our upcoming shows for our next performance.