Saturday, February 6, 2010

Attention Office Fans! Interview with The Office's Kate Flannery

The Lampshades at the iO is a hilarious spoof of lounge act shows performed by Scot Robinson and Kate Flannery, who plays Meredith on "The Office". The Lampshades returns this Saturday, February 6that 8 pm. Back in December, I had the opportunity to talk to Kate Flannery about The Lampshades, her training in improv, and how she uses improv on the set of the T.V. show "The Office".

Jimmy Mac: Can you tell me a little bit about how you guys got the idea for the [Lampshades] show?

Kate Flannery: We were in Chicago, so long ago... I wanna say, '93? And we were at a club that had a lot of great music acts, and it was one of those places that has white tablecloths, and everybody ... a lot of people kind of tickled us, like they took themselves a little too seriously. I think we kind of enjoyed that. We started to do a set a weekend at the Annoyance on Friday and Saturday nights, but we did it while people were coming in to see another show. It was like, the house lights were up, and we were just at the foot of the stage, and we would do three songs, the same songs on Fridays and Saturdays, and the next weekend we'd work on two new songs, until we felt we had enough to perform for the act. That's basically how it started.

JMac: Great. Can you tell me about your improv training, and if there were some improvisers who you looked up to, and who inspired you?

KF: Well, I moved to Chicago after I came out to visit, to audition for the training center at Second City. I just really wanted to be funny, and I think I was there for about three months, and I remember going back, and a writer on Conan told me about Improv Olympic. ... I have to say that before I moved there, the weekend I auditioned for Second City, I saw Bonnie Hunt on the Mainstage during an improv set, and she showed up in a wedding dress. She got married that day, and she came after the wedding. I was like, my brain almost couldn't figure out what I was seeing. ... She had literally just gotten married, and I thought, that is amazing. Talk about ultimate freedom. Crazy, but really ultimate freedom... There's something so smart about what everyone was doing in Chicago. I thought, "What a great place to be." It's the real training, the real foundation. And I feel like all this improv benefits my writing and everyone else's writing and it helps with patterns, and actually, I think Del, I was so scared of Del. I always heard that he didn't like women. And he didn't. [Laughs]

JMac: [Laughs] So that's where this whole stigma comes from.

KF: Yeah, that's kind of true. He was hard on me, he was so hard on everybody, and I felt like Susan Messing was the only woman that he actually respected when we were there. But I kept going back ... and I almost felt like, "I'll show you," and I don't think that I needed to show him, but I needed to show myself. At some point, I just needed to stop worrying about him. I just remember that occasionally Chris Farley would step into my class, and I remember he really made an impression on me ... because I thought, you don't graduate improv, that you always have to work at it, and it doesn't happen by itself. You don't just reach a point, and then never have to work at it again. It's a muscle. And that's why I have so much respect for the Beer Shark Mice guys, who don't stop. We've been doing The Lampshades for eight years now. We did it for five years straight, and... the whole thing isn't improvised, but it's based out of improv, and I feel like we have points that we get to, but sometimes we don't know exactly how we're gonna get there. And it's such a joy to perform with Scott, who it doesn't matter how far we get off track, how far we go, we trust our characters, we trust each other, you know? We always know that we're gonna end up in a good place. And sometimes a train wreck turns out better than anything we could have written anyway. And then we go, "Whoa! Okay." We perfom in other venues, too, but I always feel like it's more of a commercial for us, because sometimes we don't get a whole lot of time to improvise. It's always unusual being in other spaces, because it always affects the work no matter what. You know, the songs are set, but usually what's between is kind of a free-for-all.

JMac: Yeah, this is my third time seeing and I've noticed sometimes it's more of a stretch getting back on track, but it's always funny to see it happen. Can you tell me how you've applied the principles of improv to your work on The Office and also maybe in your life?

KF: I think that making your first declaration really sticks you to it, and heightening it, and not worrying that wasn't the right thing to do. Because I really feel that it takes two people to make a scene. You know, no matter what head-strong thing I have going on, it will always get knocked out. I mean, I think that's a great thing, because I don't know shit. I really don't. And other people will tell you who you are in a scene, and if you don't let them, that's going to be a terrible scene. You know, and also, you don't talk about what you're doing, uh, which is kind of a relief. I don't know.
I feel like as far as The Office, sometimes I only have a little window to improvise in, and that means that sometimes I have seven words in the script, and sometimes I only have one word in the script, and I've learned that if I stick to those seven words, I can change those seven words, but I have to get those seven words right, because what happens is you, as a character, have a function, and if you try to change the function, it usually doesn't really work. I mean, especially the way that our show's set up right now, the writing's so great, that if you say something crazy, it doesn't always get used. Occasionally it does, and occasionally I've had something and I'd kinda heighten it to the point where they couldn't cut it out. Which is rare. ... what I think is hilarious in my mind isn't always better than what is written. ... And also, understanding and respecting the game that's set up for a show. You know, there are patterns that you have to respect, and if you don't respect them, it doesn't work.
I feel like it's a privelege to improvise in front of these people, because that's when you really... that's when you find out how you navigate. [One of the theater patrons hands Kate a CD for his band and asks her to come out to his show.] See? It's a privelege to be invited to someone's show, as well as to invite someone to your show. You know what I mean? If you really are serious about doing this work, and you love it, you don't graduate. I don't know, I just think... it's been such a gift. And I just hope that all the people who come to L.A. don't just look at all the commercials, I mean, you don't have to go to Chicago, but if you do, you gotta go to iO.

JMac: So are there any other projects that you're working on?

KF: I'm going to the Second City 50th Anniversary. I've got a panel with Scott Adsitt and Jennifer Greer, and I'm very excited. I feel like it's so great to be a part of that history, and it's such an honor to be, you know ... there are so many people that I respect and admire. It's gonna be an SCTV reunion show that Friday, and then an alumni show that Saturday. There's a lot of people that I knew there in Chicago that I had no idea were capable of what they're doing now, you know? You never know, man, you never know! It's who you'd least expect, you know? It's pretty great.

JMac: Great. Thank you so much, Kate!

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