How Chicago’s Second City bred a new Overlooked Edinburgh Fringe show

Lizzy Mace in Soho this week

Lizzy celebrating in Soho pre-Brighton this week

I first saw Lizzy Mace as half of comedy duo Mace & Burton – the other being this blog’s regular Juliette Burton.

“Juliette’s up in the air right now,” Lizzy told me when we met in Soho this week.

“Juliette is always up in the air,” I suggested.

“Physically in the air,” said Lizzy. “On her way back from Australia.”

Lizzy was just about to leave for the Brighton Fringe. She is previewing her new soon-to-be Edinburgh Fringe show Overlooked: A Roll Call of The Small there tonight, tomorrow and Monday. She came up with the idea for the show’s title and theme when she was at The Second City in Chicago last summer.

“I was there for six weeks,” she told me. “I did a 4-week intensive improvisation and sketch comedy course where we did improv for 3 hours every morning and then sketch comedy for 3 hours every afternoon. Then, for my final week, I did a solo performance class which was 10.00am-5.00pm every day, just working on solo stuff. At the end of the week, we had a showcase where we had to pitch an idea for a solo show – we didn’t have to do the show, just the 5-minute pitch of an idea – and the idea I came up with just lodged in my brain and I kept working on it and decided I would go ahead and do it in Edinburgh this year.”

“You went to drama school,” I said. “Why did you have to go to Second City?”

“Because drama school was about acting,” explained Lizzy. “Second City focussed on improvisation and sketch comedy writing. Different skills. Slightly different focus. Also, it’s important to keep your skills topped-up.”

“Why did you go to Second City in Chicago,” I asked, “and not that Gaulier bloke in Paris who seems to be terribly trendy at the moment?”

Brighton poster for Lizzy’s new comedy show

A Brighton poster for Lizzy’s comedy show

“I think he’s mostly physical comedy – clowning,” said Lizzy, “and what I really wanted to work on last year was my writing because I was more confident as a performer than I was as a writer and I wanted to do more character stuff but didn’t feel confident in writing it for myself. Second City felt like the best place to go for sketch and improv.

“Also, I read in your blog in 2012 that Luisa Omielan had been there a couple of years ago. Until I read that, I hadn’t realised you could do summer courses there. Then, when Juliette and I had a chat with you last April, you mentioned in your blog that I was going over to do Second City but I hadn’t actually booked it at that point; I had been humming and hahhing. Your blog appeared and Juliette told me: Well, you have to do it now because it’s in John’s blog!”

“You mean, ”I said, “my increasingly prestigious blog.”

“Increasingly prestigious and influential,” laughed Lizzy. “Then, when I was back from Chicago, you blogged about seeing the Red Bastard show in Bethnal Green and you mentioned me among a group of what you called ‘potentially not-far-from-breakthrough acts’ and I thought Well, I’d better get on with it, then. I’d better write my show. Did you realise you had such an influence on my life, John?”

“I am increasingly prestigious and influential,” I said. “So what’s Overlooked about?”

“Characters who all feel overlooked.”

Catherine Tate?” I suggested.

“Well, it’s me, not her,” said Lizzy, “though people have, in the past, likened my performance style to Catherine Tate’s.”

“I’m notoriously allergic to most character comedy,” I told her.

“Why?”

“I think I don’t like character comedy when it’s too close to being believable people,” I explained, “because I spent a lot of my TV career finding eccentrics and one-off originals, so I always think Why am I watching this fake, acted eccentric when I could be watching the real thing? But I do like cartoon character acts like Charlie Chuck and Frank Sanazi because they’re so over-the-top that they are not fake versions of possibly real people. Are you cartoony or fake-real in Overlooked?”

Lizzy Mace - overlooked

Is this a character close to the real Lizzy Mace?

“I think I have a bit of a range,” said Lizzy. “There’s one who is pretty close to myself. She’s a stage manager and she bookends the show. She’s possibly the closest one to me. She’s basically all the negative thoughts I might have about myself. So she just bitches about the performer the whole way through and talks about how terrible the show is and how, if it was her, she would have done it differently. But, then, I’ve also got one sketch where I play three different fruits…”

“Fruits?” I asked.

“Fruits,” said Lizzy. “The overlooked fruits. Little felt fruit things on sticks with silly voices. They get into an argument over who is the most overlooked. I think there’s a range from the realistic to the closer-to-the-bone and over-the-top cartoony characters.”

“All human life is there,” I suggested.

“All overlooked human life,” said Lizzy. “In the solo performance week in Chicago, we were doing a lot of solo improvisation and – at the end of the week when we had to pitch an idea – we had to look back at all our week of characters and try to see what the unifying theme was. I noticed that all my characters just felt secondary in their own lives. They felt like supporting characters in their own story and felt undervalued.”

“So you know what my next question has to be…” I said.

“I clearly,” said Lizzy, “have a lot of…”

“Issues?” I suggested.

“Material I can mine from my own…” started Lizzy, then she said: “I’ve always enjoyed acting, as in being someone other than myself. That’s why I’m excited about doing a character show.”

“Have you done straight stand-up?” I asked.

“I did Logan Murray’s Stand Up And Deliver course two years ago,” Lizzy replied. “He was very good at helping people discover their unique voice and bring it out. I just never got into the whole open-mic circuit – it wasn’t quite me. But, in January, I teamed up with Logan to devise Overlooked. He’s been my director. I’ve written it all myself, but he helped me to bring out what I had to bring out.”

“You’re also doing a second show at the Edinburgh Fringe, aren’t you?” I asked.

“That also came out of Chicago. Everything I’m doing this year has come out of that trip to Chicago.”

“And the second show spawned by Second City is…?”

The Cleek (with Lizzy bottom left)

The Cleek’s new international troupe (with Lizzy bottom left)

“It’s an international sketch and improv troupe called The Cleek, made up of people that I met on the course last summer. It’s quite ambitious – people from the UK, America and Australia. We’ll be writing it remotely, arrive in Edinburgh, probably have one day to rehearse and then we’ll be up-and-running at the Fringe.”

“Are Mace and Burton dead?” I asked.

“We’re not doing any live stuff,” replied Lizzy, “because we’re both pretty busy on our own projects, but we’re still working on some YouTube stuff. We’ve recorded some audio of us having silly conversations and we’re working with an animator. Fingers crossed there will be videos on YouTube sometime this year. And the movie screenplay of our Rom Com Con show is still in the works. Plus I’m working on the Powerpoint for Juliette’s next Fringe show Look At Me – and on the flyers and posters.” (Lizzy is a freelance graphic designer.)

“So whither then?” I asked. “A TV show? If you do a one hour solo stage show, you normally can’t transfer it to TV because there are no one hour slots for that sort of thing, but TV can pick up a sketch show or a character show. Is that your idea?”

“Well,” said Lizzy, “I’ve always loved acting and I’d love to be in a sitcom, but just being represented by an agent and waiting for those roles to come in doesn’t work, so that’s why I started writing my own stuff.”

“Are you represented by an agent?” I asked.

“I was until yesterday,” Lizzy told me. “I belonged to a co-operative agency but it’s on rocky ground at the moment, so I’ve left and I’m now representing myself… I am, as they say, available for representation.”

“You just need to get mentioned in an increasingly prestigious and influential blog,” I said. “But where can you find one of those?”

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Filed under Chicago, Comedy, Theatre

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