Interview with TheComedyLocal, NYC

Philippa Dawson, an English graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, New York, performs Monday, June 6, 2016, in "What's your Fracking Problem," an original comedy, featuring sketches, monologues and interpretive dance. The show, written by Charly Clive and Will McDowell, benefits The Pituitary Foundation.

What do you get to do in this show?

I will be acting in two sketches written by Charly Clive. I’m playing an NYU student, someone who we can all probably say, ‘Oh yeah… I know that girl!’ Someone who thinks themselves to be free spirited, at one with the planet and culturally aware, but really is learning everything on Wikipedia and Twitter. She has strong beliefs but doesn’t quite understand why she believes in certain things, and contradicts herself when she speaks. Oh, but she’s very funny and great —I love her!

Ah! We do all know that girl, and the comedic possibilities are endless. Tell us more about the show itself.

It’s going to be a great night! Charly Clive and Will McDowell are two of the funniest people I know. I was lucky enough to perform in a play last year that Charly wrote, “On Prosperity” and it was so fantastic — I can’t wait to be involved in her work again! The humour is going to be very on topic and relatable, plus … I find female comedians very inspiring and I think it’s great when there is a large level of support.

The night will be raising money for the Pituitary Foundation. Earlier this year Charly underwent surgery for a brain tumour, which is exactly what this charity helps with. This foundation is very close to home, and one that we all support. (Oh, also there’s going to be an interpretative dance performed by Will—definitely not to miss!!)

Did you perform improv or sketch comedy in England? What’s improv like over there? I mean, there’s no “UCB Liverpool” (yet).

Most of the acting I have done, has been here in New York. When I was last in London I tried to get to know the acting scene there and meet some people in the industry—as far as I could see, there wasn’t a great deal of improv. Anyone who said they loved improv explained it to me, and it wasn’t at all like the UCB training or the Harold structure etc, and more like games. If I went back to London for a longer period of time I would definitely try to start an improv troupe up and get people interested!

You studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, which included training in dance, camera, singing, fencing, stage combat and clowning. I think a quarter of improvisers have degrees in literature, and the stage presence of a wind chime.

Do you use all these skills when you improvise?

Gosh, I try to, but in improvising there is so much going on, I find it’s best to not think (even though, of course, I do!) as that makes it all so much harder. I definitely think training in improv at UCB has helped build my confidence in a much larger way than at drama school. One skill however that I do use all of the time, is my speech and dialect training. I love dipping in and out of accents, I have a habit of giving each character I play a different dialect.

How do your fellow improvisers react? What does it do for a scene?

A girl once told me that she couldn’t really focus on the scene or watch what was going on because she was so confused that I had changed into an American girl from Brit. I took that as a nice compliment for my American accent, but perhaps such a large distraction isn’t great for improv. It’s about the group as a whole, and not one person. 

Do you have a tip or two for improvisers who don’t have acting training? (Sometimes, I forget to face the audience.)

Don’t worry! I have found that with improv, acting skills aren’t the most important thing. It helps with stage details and accents and maybe confidence, but fast thinking and great timing is something we didn’t learn at acting school. Anyone can do improv if they put their mind to it and work hard.

Follow Philippa Dawson on Twitter at @probablypip

—@SaraHarvy

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