You Can’t Make This Up, With Annie Niehoff

EXCITING UPDATE (WHICH YOU KNOW MUST BE IMPORTANT BECAUSE IT’S IN ITALICS AND ALL CAPS!). STARTING WITH ANNIE, EACH INTERVIEW POST WILL BE ACCOMPANIED BY A SHORT, IMPROVISED SCENE BETWEEN ME AND THE INTERVIEWEE. WATCH ANNIE KILL IT BELOW.

Although you can’t tell from the sophistication and thoughtfulness of her answers, Annie Niehoff is the first student I have interviewed for this series. She is currently taking Level 4 at The Improv Shop, but dedicates as much, if not more time, to the art form than most veterans between her two independent teams and a Halloween sketch show that is currently in development. Unfortunately for Annie, aside from her classes, each of these projects involves me in some form or facet. She cannot escape.

And while she has only been in the improv game for six months, Annie has quickly found her voice and place within the St. Louis community. She serves as a great inspiration to those of us who sometimes forget to find and follow the fun. She enters each scene with excitement and energy and approaches each new project with enthusiasm. She also fearlessly approaches new students and seasoned veterans, easily forming new friendships. Her energy is infectious.

Here is Annie and I improvising to a suggestion of SCISSORS.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eor_AgtEo5M]

Now, meet Annie Niehoff:

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Why did you get into improv? How long have you been doing it?

I found The Improv Shop in January 2014 while searching for a comedy community in St. Louis. I didn’t have any training in theater or comedy but I was interested in it and wanted to start somewhere. I didn’t really know what it actually meant to study improv. Before I started taking classes at The Shop, improv was sort of an abstract idea. I knew cast members of SNL had big backgrounds in it, and I knew they used it in Who’s Line Is It Anyway, but that was it. I saw the Vonnegut quote on the website and decided to sign up for the first class right then. I went to the first class and I knew immediately improv was going to be something I would be doing for a long time.

How would you describe your style of play? In other words, what sort of scenes/shows do you have the most fun doing?

The style I enjoy most is deep character development in outlandish characters. What does it look like when two Martians struggle to fit in in highschool? What do the drones in a beehive think about taking all their orders from the Queen bee? These scenarios really hit my funny bone and pull me in.

I’m working on both playing characters and digging in deeper so I can’t say for sure that that is my style of play, but I’m trying to get there. Lately, I have been going into scenes neutral and building to discover the scene as we go, but my challenge to myself is to practice playing (and staying) in strong characters.

Can you regale us with a tale about the best or worst scene/show you have ever done?

Why yes I can. Nefarious Bakers is an independent team I play on, and we had our first show at the Compass All Nighter. Our form was the Harold, and we hadn’t even taken level 3 at that point. We went on at 4 AM, so I ended up drinking way too much before we even got on stage. I don’t remember a lot, so I know I wasn’t listening very well, and I ended up in a 3 person scene in the first or second beat. I was playing some kind of character that was helping two travelers find their way in a subway station…by holding a cat whose tail would point in which direction they should go (North, South, East, West). Even now it’s hard to explain because it doesn’t make much sense.

So case in point, you can’t be a supportive team member if you’re not listening (and for me I know I’m not listening after taking a bunch of shots!) So at least while performing, I lay off the booze.

What do you do to find inspiration for improv? In other words, do you have a life? If so, how do you spend it (besides pretending you are someone else on stage in front of large groups of people)?

I love reading this answer for your other guest bloggers because even though I spend more time with improv people than any other people in my life, I sometimes find that I don’t know very much about their outside lives.

So anyway, I work full time at a marketing company on Cherokee, I’m in grad school at Webster, and when I’m not already scheduled to some type of wedding or baby shower for the weekend I end up staying up way too late with friends drinking because I am trying to squeeze all the fun into one night. I don’t really have a lot of relationship drama going on with friends, boys or otherwise, so I try to draw inspiration for deeper relationship scenes from other people telling me about their lives.

My biggest inspiration comes from watching TV series, movies, and reading as much fiction as I can get my hands on. Consuming a novel or a chunk of a tv series in a weekend gives me great inspiration for a character’s motivations, internal thinking, and external actions. Honestly, improv gives me inspiration for life, so if I’m trying to get better at deepening relationships in scenes I guess I should go out and get real with the non-fiction people out there…ah but baby steps for me!

Can you share some words of wisdom with those just starting out?

Have fun. Take it step by step. If you’re like me, you’re probably your hardest judge, so forgive yourself and move on. And please go out and introduce yourself to people at The Shop. This place is a community and you will reap the benefits if you just say “hi!”

What is the best improv advice or note you have ever received?

Everything that has come out of the mouths of my teachers and coach (psst. My coach is Ben Noble so read this blog up people!). A specific piece of advice that Susan Messing shared at her workshop that I hadn’t heard before was that your character’s relationship with themselves is just as important as your character’s relationship with your scene partner(s).

What is the best lesson you’ve learned from improv that translates to your real life?

Again, everything. I have drank (drunk, drunken, dranken?) the improv punch so I try to practice improv philosophies in real life. Listen. Make choices instead of making plans. Use “I want, I think, I feel.” YES AND. Be vulnerable. This moment will never again happen anywhere in any time or space just the way it has happening now, so be present. You already have enough; dig deeper. Take risks. Be a supportive partner to others in your life and to yourself. Hmm…how much more cheese can I fit into this answer but is totally the stuff I subscribe to? Ha.

Anyway, freaking enjoy your shit and have fun. If you’re going through a tough thing in life embrace it, harness it, and use the shit out it in an awesome scene.

Do you have anything going on that you’d like to plug?

Yes of course! We humans love to self-promote! My independent team, Nefarious Bakers, doesn’t have any scheduled shows but if you ever see one coming up, you need to go to it because my teammates are unbelievable in the best way possible. Get your calendars out right now and commit to coming to all 3 Halloween Sketch Shows coming to The Improv Shop Oct. 18, 25, and 31st. It’s my favorite project at the moment and the people involved in this are all my improv heroes. Finally, look out for a new team coming to Monday night 2sies @ 10, where I am joining a brand new independent team with Analicia Kocher!

What St. Louis improviser(s) would you like to see answer these questions?

Katie Nunn, Melanie Penn, and Matt Martin

(Optional…well, more optional than the others). Is there a video, podcast episode, blog post etc about improv that you find particularly inspirational or inspiring?

I read this-superior to all other internet contentblog weekly. It’s kinda like an inception thing so check it out.

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