Improv Conspiracy Blog

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  March 25, 2015

During 2015, Improv Conspiracy member Mike Brown is going to have a chat to every single member of the Conspiracy - about life, about improv, and everything in between. This is: You're Going To Meet Some People.

Today, Mike chats with Sophie Fernandes. Sophie performs on Harold Night team Dirt Squad, and directs and performs in the Improv Conspiracy's all-female Comedy Festival show Play Like A Girl.

Mike Brown: Hello Sophie, welcome.

Sophie Fernandes: Hello.

What's your favourite thing about improvising?

I think my favourite thing is been the fact that you get taken completely out of your head and I'm the sort of person that over-thinks everything or analyses everything and is anxious about everything, and so to be put in the position where you don't have the time for your brain to even process what's happening. It's just all instinctual which is really nice and I found that it could be quite a relaxing thing, even though...

It's incredibly stressful?

Your adrenaline is pumping. It's also relaxing in a way because you're not thinking about work or thinking about all the stuff you've gotta get done on the weekend, your sort of day-to-day life, yeah.

In your day-to-day life, are you the kind of person who will go over and over things before doing them? Because I found I was the same and that changed the more I did improv.

Yeah, I have found that I have been able to become more flexible. Particularly with work, because I work in events and that's something that you need to do is be prepared for anything to happen and not stress about it too much when it does, just go OK, this thing's happened now and I have to deal with it. And I found that both of those skills - my improv and my ability to deal with unpredictable circumstances has kind of increased at the same time. Which was, I guess it's not surprising when you look at it, oh yeah that makes sense [laughs].

It sort of seems like "where was this in my life all that time?!?"

Yeah. Because I am a huge control freak, and so you know I'm in a job where you have control to a point and then you have no control because anything can happen and it's not something that you're able to predict because it's relying on other people or the weather.

I know for me it used to be that constant thinking about "oh this is not right, oh this is so bad" and now it's like "let's throw something at the wall and try and make it work."

Yeah and just that rolling with the punches idea. I guess I've discovered that I'm a contrariety person where on the one hand I am just this huge control freak who has anxiety issues but I'm quite open and flexible to the possibility of anything happening. Which seems like a paradox [laughs], but...

They somehow work together, which is nice.

Yeah just enough! Sometimes one tips up over the other.

It's like those scales in court.

Yeah [laughs]. Those judge scales.

Ok, so. What do you do when you want to relax then? Apart from improv?

Oh I'm not very good at it, I'm not very good at relaxing [laughs], which I think is because I think I need to be busy all the time, and it's something that I've had to really work at, having real downtime where I don't, it doesn't have to be productive time, I don't have to be actually getting something done and kind of the way I look at it now which is probably wrong in it's own way, "this is productive in that I am resting". So I'll do the usual things like watch TV or listen to music, go for walks, hang out with my cat.

You do post a lot of photos of your cat on Facebook.

She is, you know, she's great. [laughs] Yeah but it's really that idea of actually just lying down and reading or watching some kind of television that's mindless enough that you don't have a stressful process watching it? Yeah. But also interesting enough that your mind isn't drifting off to think about all the things that you possibly should be doing while you're watching TV, so finding that show.

What is that show for you?

So I go through series, so I have my "girly shows", this is what Dave my husband calls them because they are the shows I will watch because he doesn't want to. But I've watched all of Veronica Mars.

That's not a girly show! I take offence to that Dave.

Oh no this is what happened. I was like "I'm going to watch Veronica Mars." Dave was watching it one and went "ohhh, this is really good."

It's really well written, great performances.

It is really good and so he was then watching it, but we were watching it in different, so I was watching it in my own time, and he was watching it in his own time, because I had gotten way ahead of him.

Constantly the DVDs are out of the box, in different orders.

So Veronica Mars was one, that was a good one, because it's not a sort of mentally taxing show to watch like, The Wire or something but it's also engaging enough that you want to know what's going. The one I've been watching lately has been Gilmore Girls, it irritates me but I can get through one or two episodes before I can't watch any more.

Gilmore Girls is known for it's super-fast dialogue. If you had the opportunity would you have ever wanted to be on the show and deliver that kind of dialogue?

I don't know, because I do speak fast so probably could do it, but that's one of the things that really does bug me a bit about it. It's too much banter, a bit too much banter going on. Too much fast banter [laughs].

Was there ever one particular lesson or note that has opened up your mind about improv?

Probably [laughs]. Let me think. I've been learning improv for quite a while now, because I did, I started off with classes with Impro Melbourne, and I've done acting since I was really little, and a lot of that was, looking back now a lot of it was improvisation based, because doing acting a kid is basically making stuff up, making up your own plays or whatever it might be.

So just the idea of being open and listening to what the other person has to offer and not coming, because it's very easy to come in with a preconceived idea about what should happen when you say something? And to be able to just let that go completely and be open to the possibility that the other person in the scene might interpret your offer as something completely different to what you are trying to get across, and just going "OK".

I suppose it comes down to that ability of, and I had that problem when I was starting out, of planning stuff in your head? It's like a Y-section on a road with those two bends that go left and right, and you expect them to follow on left and they've actually gone right. You have to drop that thing that you've crafted, even quickly on the side of the stage.

Yeah and even though, I mean obviously with improv the idea is that you're not planning, but it's very easy to plan, at least one or two steps ahead of what you're saying because you say something generally to get a reaction, and you will say it and expect a certain type of reaction, but that isn't necessary what you're going to get. So just having that, your mind open to "if I say this, they will say whatever they're going to say", and you respond to that, not to what you want them to say. So I guess it's taking that step back and learning to..

Accept it and play with it.

Yeah and just roll with it. Not be weird about the fact that, "but I had this really amazing", I think that's that's it too, not dwelling on whatever you wanted your thing to look like, or whatever direction you wanted it to go in, because once a scene's happened it's happened.

Do you collect anything?

No, not really. I went through a phase as a kid of collecting teddy bears, small kind of more ornamental teddy bears rather than big stuffed teddy bears, but it was only because I felt like I should be collecting something, and I wasn't really that into it?

[laughs] So you had friends who were big collectors of things?

They had a sticker collection, and they had.. I also collected glitter, which was...

How? [laughs]

I had different types of glitter in a container that I had, that had different types of glitter in it. I also collected pencil leads, if you'd sharpen a pencil, you know when you sharpen a pencil and it snaps right away, you get that really nice lead. I collected those in a lot of different colours, I think I really liked the colours. And glitter. But it wasn't really a collection you could go through, it was..

Was the glitter all in one box, just mixed together?

Yeah it was, it was different types of glitter.

[laughs] Not even separated by colour!

Yeah, it wasn't an organised collection. It was just miscellaneous glitter. 

Just throw it in the box!

Put it in the glitter box! You'd have different shapes of glitter, like music notes or stars, all in there. But I was never really dedicated to any of these things, it was more like a feeling that I should be collecting things. Because you have people who had elaborate stamp collections, or a friend of mine collected these little ceramic ornaments and I was like "I need to get in on this". But I never saw it through.

I love the idea of collecting glitter in a box and mixing it all together. "We have to go down to Lombard's mum and dad, I need some more glitter for my glitter box."

They were more circumstantial collections. So if I came across, if a lead broke, I'd add it to the collection. I don't remember how I'd get the glitter, but if I came across some, it was more "oh! this is an interesting glitter specimen!" [laughs]

 If you had to live in a sharehouse with three other Conspiracy members - who would you pick and why?

Well I did that sharehouse quiz on Facebook, the one where it says who you should live with, and it said Ellyse [O'Halloran], which I think would be fine. I think we could live together quite easily. Actually, probably the Eye Curtains girls - Lucy [Horan], Ellyse, and Nadine [Sparks], I think we'd do very well in a house together. We are very fast at the game Convergence, so I feel like our minds are aligned to living in a house together.

Yeah, I haven't really done the sharehouse thing that much, because I've moved out of home and moved in with Dave straight away, and we've kind of had people live with us occasionally for certain periods of time, and it's almost like sharehousing, but because they're coming into our house and we're always established...

Yeah, more of a guest.

More of a guest, more of a guest living with us for a while. I have stayed at people's houses which were sharehouses, and I was kind of like "I'm fairly glad I'm not involved with this." [laughs]. So I think the Eye Curtains girls would be a good fit.

So that was a team that came up at Melbourne Fringe Festival last year for the show Small Plates. How did the four of you come together?

So I wasn't originally part of that group that came together. [laughs] Just gonna say! [laughs]

Trouble in the sharehouse already!

Yeah look. We're coming in with some baggage. [laughs] Yeah it was originally someone else who had to pull out, because when all the groups were being formed I was overseas, so I was kind of...

Not really keeping an eye on things.

Yeah, like whatever, I'll work something out when I get back. And they'd ask me to take notes for one of their shows, which I did. Then the other person dropped out of the group, and I was like "do I actually want to be in this?" And it was good because I noted them on some stuff, I don't think this is working or the format was working in the particular way it was heading, so the four of us were able to workshop a different idea and kind of able to create our own format from that. So the final product was quite removed from what the original thing set out to be, but it was sort of this weird organic root to getting to the group, but it ended up being a really really fun experience and that kind of what led to Play Like A Girl too.

So yeah, the four of you are looking after Play Like A Girl for Conspiracy [at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival]. What can you tell us about that?

I can tell you that it is very fun. Since I started Conspiracy, I always wanted to do an all-female project. Originally it was an all-female Harold, and I think part of the allure was that we never had enough girls to actually make a team, and so once we started getting more females into the Conspiracy, I said let's do it, let's do an all-female Harold, and that's where Nightingale came from. That was during the time when lots of people were in Chicago or elsewhere, and we were able to do Harolds and it was just so much fun. And it's just so different to playing in a more male dominated team which generally all the teams are. I'm not sure if there's any that have an even split... Airblade might?

Yeah Airblade and Bass Drum Kitten have a four/four male/female split.

I was more used to being either the only girl or one of two with five or six guys [on a team]. So tipping that and being all women was different, and it was really fun, and people play differently as well with women.

For you personally, have you found that it has opened up your choices because you're playing with other women?

So the format that we're doing as well, it's a character driven format, so that's sort of forced everyone to engage with character, and come up with all these different kind of characters that you're not used to playing. [With guys] you'll end up playing the mum or the wife, or you're kind of go-to female character. Whereas when you're playing with all females...

Those restrictions are almost lifted.

Yeah you can be anyone, and no-one's sort of expecting that you're going to be the wife, because anyone could be. So I think that's opened a little bit which, you should really be able to play whoever you want and sometimes you can, but it's also the other players realising that you're not playing the wife, that you're playing another guy. But that's not the assumption generally that gets made. When you're in an all female group, that assumption is kind of gone because you're all starting from the same thing. Because it's the same when all guys are playing, it's generally a little bit more obvious when a guy is playing a lady character rather then a male character but that's I guess because there's more guys on stage. You sort of see that variation in character a bit more.

We're already seeing it with two of the Harold Night teams here in Conspiracy in having a fair gender split. Do you think it's just a matter of time before it happens more?

Yeah I think so. And I think the other reason to kind of go down this route of having all female performances is also to help the girls who are going through classes to see a real range in female performers too. Because there's lot of different types of performers for everyone. The performers who are really loud, really extroverted, and you have the ones who are a bit quieter and a perhaps playing a little bit more cerebrally rather than physically. And I think you see that wide spectrum more in the male players than you do in the females, which I think is because the kind of women who are bolder find it a little bit easier to play with those male characters than if you're a bit more introverted, which is me, this is me talking about how I found things coming through. Because I came into Conspiracy already reasonably confident with improv and my sort of ability level, and having been around that kind of I guess, male...

Centric?

Yeahhhhh environment, I was kind of okay with it, but I could easily be the kind of person that finds it very challenging. So it's nice to kind of open up and go "I kind of found my place".

Do you think that changes the experience, like going from meek to bold or do you think that's engrained in the kind of personality a person has.

I think part of it is personality, part of it is self confidence, it's easier if you feel confident that you don't have be a particular type of player to be successful, whatever that means in improv. I think there is this desire to be a loud, bold person for people who are not necessarily the ones to be noticed. Loud people are more obvious because they're louder.

That doesn't necessarily mean better.

No it doesn't, but it is just then about feeling confident in what your skills are and identifying what your strengths are and also your weaknesses, and also being able to fill those up. Saying "OK I can be a confident player, I don't have to be a really loud, extroverted player. Sometimes I can play that character, but I don't have to play that person all the time." And I think that once you realise who you are and how you play, you are less affected by how others play and feeling like you need to be more like them.

If you could come back as a item of clothing in the next life, what would you pick and why?

I think I'd be a hat, like a cool hat. I feel like hats are an underused accessory item. They are more something people wear out of necessity. But I have a bit of a hat collection, it's more of a winter hat collection because hats are better in winter, they keep your head warm. It's really funny, because when I wear them people say "that's such a great hat!", and why don't people wear hats more often? I don't know. Hats are great. [laughs]

Any particular style of hat?

Like a felt, almost like a Cloche hat? Like those 20s style.

Are those the ones with the sort of rim?

Yeah like close to your head. It's almost like a beanie but not a beanie because it's a hat. It's quite a statement piece when people do wear hats, because they're not, you get up in the morning and say that I'll put on my pants and my shirt, I don't put on my hat. The hat is a special occasion accessory, but it's a bold thing but such little at the same time. It doesn't require a huge level of commitment. It does actually, because once you've got it on, you do have to commit to the hat, because then you get hat hair.

You don't want to be carrying a hat it's annoying.

It is. So you're committed to the statement of the hat.

We have a question from the Improv Conspiracy Student Group. Daniel P asks: What is the kindest thing you've seen an improviser do, either in or out of a scene?

I'm trying to think of a specific example. I think when someone actually identifies that someone is really struggling, and manages to get them out of the situation without having that person feel humiliated or rescued, it's really nice when you can tell someone is on stage or you're watching and you're thinking "that person is not really coping well with this scene" and someone brings them out, either brings them out of their shell or gives them something they can work with without making them feel like they've been crying out for assistance. Because then that...

It's the two people performing the scene rather than one person carrying the other.

Yeah and, I mean you see it with experienced players playing with less experienced players, but you also see it with players of the same level, when one person has lost the scene for whatever reason, and the other person is picking them up. I guess other improvisers would see it, because you know, particularly if you know the players and you would be able to recognise that player struggling. But for an audience, they would just see a scene and they wouldn't see that one person was really not having a great time or really not coping. I think it is a kind thing for an improviser to do, because they could just as easily bulldoze that scene and keep going with their whatever their thing is and be the supposed star of the scene while that other person is flailing. Instead you need to take a step back and support that other person so you can do the scene together.

That's not the point of a two person scene either.

It might not even be a two person scene, it could be when you've got a group of people and there's someone who's for whatever reason is not part of the scene or is a little bit on the out and being able to bring that person into the group into the scene is, it's just looking out for each other on stage. 

So you like it when that happens?

Yeah I think it's nice, and I think that, it's something you see in Conspiracy quite a bit, but you also see in other groups where it's not happening and you can see people aren't enjoying themselves, and you think "why isn't someone making sure that they are?" It's not that hard but it does require you to be more aware of where everyone else is at while you're on stage with them, and bringing them into the fun rather then leaving them to have a crap time by themselves [laughs]. I think it's also about people being friends on and off stage, and having that same, the same kind of relationship where you're just as friendly and lovely on stage as you are off stage, and their shouldn't really be a difference between that interaction.

We say it before we go on stage, where we pat each other on the back and say "I've Got Your Back". That's really showing it on stage.

Yeah because you could say it and not do it...

It's just hollow things to say before a show right?

Yeah it's like you say break a leg, for someone who you might not care how they do on stage. It's just a habit thing, but it's nice to feel like you're in the environment where you actually, you have actually got each other's backs, and you can come off stage and be honest and be happy and be friendly about what you've just done, and your interactions when you're not performing, and just hanging out or training.

Anything you'd like to plug before wrap this one up?

Well Play Like A Girl is running!

Starts this week!

Starts, yes, it does!

Can you believe it?

... Oh my god!

[laughs]

It starts Thursday. We're running the first two weeks of the [Melbourne International] Comedy Festival. The shows are a bit weird - this week we are doing Thursday, Friday, Saturday, then Tuesday. Next week we are doing the following Thursday, no show on Good Friday tho, then Saturday and Tuesday. Saturday is sold out at the moment so, sorry.

Can't go to that one if you haven't got a ticket.

You missed out, sorry. I'm really really excited about it actually, I'm very much looking forward to it. And then my last Harold's coming up before I go on Improv Conspiracy Maternity Leave [laughs] which is something that I have invented for myself.

Well that's happened already for Ryan Patterson.

Yes, that is true. It is a little bit easier for a guy.

True, yeah. I'm not going to suggest otherwise [laughs].

It's kind of a good time, post-Comedy Festival to finish up before I start getting too huge to move.

Before the animated series "Conspiracy Babies" begins.

Yeah, which is my next project.

When's the final Harold Night for you?

I don't actually know then, it's sometime during Comedy Festival. 

Well really the solution is to go to every Harold Night during Comedy Festival.

Yeah! And if I'm not playing, other amazing people will be, then afterwards I'll be resting and yeah.

And hopefully coming back sometime in the near future.

Yeah, well that's the plan. We'll see when that happens. [laughs] Unpredictable future.

So we have a question from the last person who was interviewed. Mario Hannah asks: If money's no object and you are getting paid enough to do whatever you wanted to do, and not worry about bills and necessities. What would you do for a living?

So many things. It would probably be something creative. I did always, I have done acting for a long time and I did consider pursuing it but there was a part of me that really liked not having to rely on it as a source of income, so I still work in the arts and it's not quite a compromise, but still be involved in working in the arts.

The creative side that still gets you money on a regular basis.

Yeah but then also which is why I still do stuff like this because I can still have that outlet of creativity but not have it as this sort of oh I have to make my money off this and create stress of it as well. I would say that it would be something creative whether it would be something like acting or music, there's also stuff I'd like to learn, I'd really love to learn piano or learn guitar, and have the time to really dedicate to that instead of trying to find bits of time in between everything else that I'm doing. 

Or foster cats. Just look after cats all day. Yeah.

Passion project for that one.

Just heaps of kittens in my house.

Would your husband be fine with it?

There'd probably be a cap on how many cats we could foster at any one time but [laughs]

Do you know that number? Could you guess?

Probably 10. No more than 10. Yeah. I think 10 would be a limit. But that would great, just to be able to look after the little foster cats and [laughs] feed the little kittens, play with them all day.

Smiles a plenty.

You don't get paid to do that.

Not yet. You could be the innovator if someone was paying you to do that.

If someone was paying me to do that, foster kittens, I would..

Jump at that opportunity?

I would, I would. Totally. Just lie on the floor and they can all run on you [laughs].

Do you have a question to ask the next person being interviewed - improv or otherwise?

Well continuing along the animal theme maybe... What is your spirit animal and why?

Ok, what's your spirit animal and why?

Well look it's going to be some sort of cat. 

I sort of led into that one.

Which is also because I mean one, I obviously quite like cats. I'm also a leo and I was born in the year of the tiger, so I feel like all of these things align to having some kind of feline spirit animal. And I think that it's one that you can, it depends, so sometimes when you need that boldness you have the tiger, then other times when you need to reset and relax, you're the domestic house cat that just sleeps for 18 hours in the sun.