In the lead up to our next Cool Story Bro on June 10 at Room to Play Independent Theatre in Paddington, Big Forker Jim is interviewing a few of our players about improv, life and anything else that may come up.
Kicking off our run of chats with some of the players that have been with Big Fork from the start, Jim sat down before last week’s jam to chat to Big Fork mainstay, Leanne Shellshear. Jim brought biscuits, Leanne ate a salad.
Leanne: Yes please. I should probably finish this salad first, though, right?
Yeah probably. Hey thanks for coming in early to do this interview!
Thanks for having me.
I don’t think I’ve seen you since it happened, but congratulations on representing Queensland in the Theatresports National Championships in Sydney!
I think you’ve probably been the form improviser around the Brisbane scene lately, so it’s well deserved.
Wow, thank you! Are you going to put that in the interview?
Maybe, this is just the introductory patter, so it might get edited out
I think you should put that in the interview.
Well I have full editorial control of these, so we’ll see.
How are you Leanne?
I’m good Jimothy! How are you feeling about this nickname, Jimothy?
It’s like, maybe the second or third worst nickname I’ve ever had. You don’t have a nickname though, do you?
I used to be called Lem.
How long have you been improvising, Lem?
A long time, like, I started speech and drama classes when I was like 8 or 9, and then Theatresports in grade 8, so it’s always been around. I’d done lots of community theatre stuff in the past too.
Was Cameron your first grown-up improv teacher?
Yep, back in the Sherbert Underground days. Cam and I have been friends since high school.
Did you ever give acting a go, as a career?
I auditioned for NIDA once, and it went pretty well. They like asked everyone to leave except me and one other girl and we were the only two who got to do the third piece we’d prepared. But then I choked. I think it was Chekov of something, but I was just so just so nervous, like paralysed with fear. But I still felt like I had kicked some goals. When I auditioned for NIDA I was working full time as a Speech Pathologist, which I still do and enjoy, so I felt just making it that far was validation enough.
So what keeps you coming back to improv?
(long pause) Hmm…
You’re going to be much harder to edit than the new people, they were on to all of these questions immediately.
Because it’s all so new to them! I’m an old hand now – they’re probably all like (confidently, with panache) “I have been improvising for four months!” I don’t know – I have a tonne of fun doing improv. I don’t tend to take improv very seriously, which means I can just get up there and have an excellent time and not worry about it afterwards.
That’s perfect though, that’s the best way to improvise
But I prefer improv to the theatre just because of the community. So you do a show in the theatre, and spend all this time around this small group of people, and get really close, and then the show ends and they’re gone. Whereas here, it’s an ongoing thing, with great people.
Do you still get nervous on stage ever?
Um…maybe for a couple of minutes at the very start if it’s a big crowd or a big show. Like I just did a run at the Brisbane Comedy Festival with Impro Mafia, and the first few minutes were always a little tentative. People have paid upwards of $20 to be here, so it has to be good. But otherwise, not really.
Well you did just do a show at the Enmore Theatre…
Yes, and Dave and Luke, my teammates, who had gone before, came up to me all nonchalant saying “the Enmore is a sixteen-hundred person venue but they’ll probably only have about a thousand people there.” Like, *only* a thousand people.
By all accounts you smashed it, and you were playing with like, literally the best players in the country.
The thing is, I had very little idea who these people were. Luke and Dave were like “Oh you’re going to meet Tracey” and like…I have no idea who that is! I’m a bad student of improv! I think that fact that I don’t know these people’s reps might actually have helped me.
Do you have a favourite show you’ve been in, across your improv career?
I do really like doing Cool Story Bro. It feels kind of like a best friend that I can just come back to whenever and pick right back up.
Exactly, it’s modelled on the ASSSSCAT at UCB, which is famously a drop-in show for whoever is in town.
And the audience at Visions Gallery is always so on board – it’s always just a fun, easy show.
Speaking of Visions, it is no more, and we have a great new venue in Paddington that we’re very excited about, but we’ll miss Visions. I feel like you’ve been in or at almost every Big Fork Theatre show at Visions, so you’re a great person to ask: do you have a favourite Visions Gallery memory?
I did one scene in a Cool Story Bro where I just – it was like the most blatant period scene you’ve ever seen.
See, only with you would I know instantly, she doesn’t mean period era, like Jane Austen or anything. She means menstruation.
Yes. Of course. And it was just the most aggressive offer. I was me just basically screaming “I’m got my period”. It was great.
Who is your favourite person to play with?
Well, I’m sure a few people will say this, but I just love Anne. She’s like the improv dream, and a dream as a person. I love that she starts scenes from nothing a lot of the time, which is a really…it just opens up all these possibilities, and really gets you out of your head, because you have to stop thinking about possibilities and just go with it. She’ll do a crazy action and you’ll just be swept up.
I love Anne’s crazy actions. Ok next question - How has improv improved your life?
(sarcastically) Aww Jim that’s beautiful question. You’re like a ray of sunshine right now.
That’s definitely not true.
(mock seriousness) Improv has improved my life because I met great friends like you.
Aww right back at you – but you’re leaving, right? You’re going to live in London for a while. How’s that feeling?
Exciting but sad. I’ll miss my Brisbane improvisers.
You’re going to do improv in London?
I hope so. No but improv has changed my life because it’s taught me just to say yes to any and all opportunities that come up. The more I say yes, the better my life is.
A great answer to a great question. Are you from Brisbane originally?
I’ve been here MY WHOLE LIFE.
Ohhh, so that’s why you’re leaving!
Get out of here! Get out of here girl! See the world!
We’re big on community at Big Fork, obviously.
Part of that is trying to bring in and retain women – and to have as close to an even gender split as we can. I think we’re at about 60/40 at the moment, so do you have any advice for women who are thinking about getting into improv?
I would say that Big Fork is a very supportive environment for any women who are interested in learning to do improv. It’s very much not a boy's club, there are awesome, strong women everywhere here.
So the person who I interviewed last gets to ask a question to be answered by the next person, and so this question is from Ryan Goodwin…
Ryan – my favourite man.
Your favourite man. He asks: Describe your biggest onstage fail, and how you have learnt from it?
That is such a Ryan question.
He prefaced it with “I love failing.”
He’s so adorable.
He is a delight.
This is the problem we had earlier, I try not to dwell on the failures! Failure is fine! I don’t sit around thinking about why I failed, because I don’t think any improv really ever fails. Saying “I failed in that show” or something like that implies that improv is about success or failure, when really, I think all improv is successful because it’s doing what it says on the box. There are degrees of success, of course, but no outright failure.
To try and answer his question though, like, in high school, I just didn’t have the confidence to come into scenes and contribute. But just from watching people, I built the confidence to try things, and to fail if I need to. Who cares, right?
Perfect. The jam is about to start, so let’s go do that! Thanks Lem!
Thanks Jimothy! I’ll have a biscuit now.
You can catch Leanne at Cool Story Bro, check out our upcoming shows for our next performance.