The Spotlight Podcast: Exploring All-Female Creative Spaces & Improvising

We speak to Aisling Groves-McKeown and Emma Read, members of the five-star, award winning, all female, improvised musical comedy, Notflix: The Musical.

48 minute listen or a full transcript of the episode can be found below.

Podcast Transcript

Hello and welcome to the Spotlight Podcast. My name is Ilayda and on today’s episode, we’re talking to Aisling Groves-McKeown and Emma Read, members of the five-star, award winning, all female, improvised musical comedy: Notflix the Musical. That is a lot of very cool words! We talk at length about the craft of good improvisation as well as the comedic and creative rewards of working in an all female ensemble. It’s an animated chat from start to finish, and I’m sure you’re going to have a lovely time listening to it – hopefully almost as lovely a time as I had recording it. So let’s get stuck in!
Ilayda Arden:
Notflix, hello.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Hello.

Emma Read:
Hey.

Ilayda Arden:
Thank you so much for joining me. Would you like to introduce yourselves?

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Sure. I'm Aisling. And…

Emma Read:
And I'm Emma. And we are part of Notflix: The Improvised Musical.

Ilayda Arden:
Okay, amazing. And Notflix: The Improvised Musical, let's talk about what that is. What it is that you guys do.

Emma Read:
To put it in a nutshell, so basically the audience come in. They write down their favourite film, maybe it's a film they've seen recently, or a classic they really like. They all get put into a bucket, the Bucket of Destiny. Two of them get picked out at random, and then the audience votes by ways of oohs and aahs which one they want to see made into a musical.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
And then our lovely Claire gets a couple more details from the lucky audience, or unlucky, audience member.

Emma Read:
Depends how you look at it.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Depending how shy they are. So their favourite moment from that particular film.

Emma Read:
An interior location.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
An interior location. So they'll often say, "America."

Emma Read:
Or, "A cliff."

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
And we're like, "Can you make that interior, please?"

Emma Read:
And a positive, uplifting message, which is the basis of the musical element of what we do. And then maybe 20 seconds later we start the musical with a live band and make it into a musical.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
An opening number.

Emma Read:
An opening number. And then that's it. And then we never leave the stage, and so then the audience get to see in real time it being created. And it's an all female cast. And also they write down a little synopsis, so it's sort of we're making your musical version of the movie.

Ilayda Arden:
Okay. So just my mind is blown. I kind of want to see it in action. Can we just do, for anyone listening at home, a little practise, teeny tiny little dry run of it? I'll pretend I'm an audience member and you guys can vamp with me, and we'll see how we go.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Yeah. So what is your favourite movie?

Ilayda Arden:
Well, recently I watched Paddington 2.

Emma Read:
Paddington 2, okay. And if you were to sum up Paddington 2 in a quick synopsis, what would it be?

Ilayda Arden:
A very heartwarming story about Paddington the bear saving the day against a serial thief.

Emma Read:
That's a really great synopsis, by the way. We get some truly terrible ones, so that is very good.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Like, "Not good, don't watch it."

Emma Read:
Yeah. Or like, "They save the world." Okay. So that was great. And so can you give us an interior location that you see a lot of in Paddington 2?

Ilayda Arden:
The Paddington's family home.

Emma Read:
Perfect. And what would you say is your favourite moment, the thing you remember the most from the film?

Ilayda Arden:
The bit when Hugh Grant's character is changing all his characters and stuff, and he's trying on the different voices and wigs, and stuff. And he's just a little bit odd and crazy.

Emma Read:
That would be so much fun to do.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Emma Read:
I would love that. And what would you say is a positive, uplifting message of Paddington 2?

Ilayda Arden:
That family is always with you.

Emma Read:
That's lovely. So, after that we would literally go into an opening number. Our keyboardist would be like, "Duh, duh, duh," or whatever vibe they were going with, whatever sort of musical genres came to their head. And we would start an opening number.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Yeah.

Ilayda Arden:
Oh my god.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
And we try to always plug in that uplifting message into the chorus of that opening number. We wouldn't be any of the characters from the film yet, but we might, as you say, give a nod to the genre. Or just say if it was something like Jaws, everybody knows that line, "We're going to need a bigger boat." So maybe your uplifting message would be about perseverance, or it's not over until it's over.

Emma Read:
Yeah. So what was the positive message in Paddington? It was family is always with you. So we might have a chorus like, "No matter what, through and through, family is always with you." We would incorporate that in it, and give you the vibe of a musical, because that's the thing that brings you in, that opening number, where it just envelops you into that movie. And then after our opening number we would start the show.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Yeah. And you'd see maybe two people walk forward, you'd see at least one of them being Paddington. And you'd get the characters. For example, you mentioned Hugh Grant and Paddington, so we know we'd definitely have those characters somewhere in the show. Not necessarily together at the beginning, but obviously as the narrative goes on and things get tied up and weave together, you'd see all this. Also, we have a lot of back line characters coming in too.

Emma Read:
Yeah, a lot of madness.

Ilayda Arden:
Okay, it sounds like a properly, properly good night out, form an audience perspective. And I guess also from your perspective as the performers.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Oh, it's so much fun. The way I'd say it is we're silly in a smart way and smart in a absolutely silly way.

Emma Read:
Yeah.

Ilayda Arden:
It's a lovely way to put it. Oh, I love that.

Emma Read:
And as actors we get put in so many boxes all the time, we play typical characters, which we love. But in Notflix we get to come forward in whatever gender we want, we can be an animal, there's just so many possibilities. And we get to really flex our acting muscles, depending on if it's in America, or the US, or in Ireland. There's lots of possibility of who we can be, which is so freeing and so nice. And that's really rare in this industry, so we're super lucky.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Yeah. It's not dictated by the body you're in, which often casting is.

Emma Read:
Yes.

Ilayda Arden:
I mean, well, yes absolutely, it often is, isn't it? Well, let's talk about a few things. I've picked up on the fact that it's an all female troupe. Do you call yourselves a troupe? Do you call yourselves a theatre company? I don't know, what do you...?

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
It is very much a theatre company, but we do tend to call ourselves a troupe.

Emma Read:
Yeah. I think we're a mixture, we're a cast... we've got a really good, solid team right now, but there's no ending to that, we're always on the lookout for new Notflixers. So I guess we're a cast, but we're also a troupe because the way we work together is very that.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
And because of the nature of it being improvised, we are creating the narrative. And you can't help that, for example, often the films we're being given, they're from Hollywood, they're maybe originally being made by maybe a very male centric team, very white male voices. And then we're retelling it, it's being filtered through 21st century women. And you can't help but that somehow having an effect on the end product.

So it feels like we're in this team together, and you can't help that our own personal histories, or maybe beliefs, or things like that, somehow get filtered into the end product. So it feels like we're this troupe, we're this gang, that are working together as a team. And also raising our voices, and hopefully other peoples voices as well.

Emma Read:
Yeah. A voice that's not usually heard, not until recently especially in Hollywood, women voices. A lot of these films just naturally, because of how old they are, have really male, misogynistic undertones. Which when you're an all women cast really feeds into it. So we're kind of retelling it as well, from a women's perspective.

We just did The Breakfast Club, which was really interesting. And that's a great film, but it's got some problems. Really bad problems in it. And it was really nice to do, because without even trying you're telling it from a more-

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Contemporary?

Emma Read:
Yeah. Or more resolved. It feels more like you're telling it through different eyes, you're not being like, "Oh, this is all fine. This behavior's okay." It's like, "No, this actually needs to be addressed."

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Yeah. When you start picking it apart to put it together you're like, "Oh yeah, you give her this makeover which was all about her suppressing her authentic self." And everybody knows she also looked worse after it, but anyway. Or you're like, "Oh, you've got-"

Emma Read:
Looking under her skirt, and then you end up together at the end. And you're like, "Why?" So we can't help to, I don't know, resolve those kind of things. I feel like sometimes, not to put us on a pedestal, but I feel like we right the wrongs of a lot of the films we do. We resolve a lot of the... especially a lot of our toxic masculine films, like The Fast and the Furious films, they always end up in some kind of homoerotic... because it's so that.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
"I'm a man. I'm a straight man. This is how I must operate."

Ilayda Arden:
"I like cars and women." Yeah.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
"And barbecues."

Emma Read:
"Barbecues." There's always a family barbecue, cars are life. Everything is resolves by a car. We're robbing the bank. "Got a car." We need to fly from one building to the next. "We're going to use a car."

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Why talk through your feelings when you could just press accelerate?

Emma Read:
When you could just have cars? Yeah, literally. And in our version we had Jason Statham and The Rock just have this-

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
We had The Rock Johnson and Jason the Car.

Emma Read:
Jason the Car. Yeah, we was the car. They just had a love that was there's this barrier between them and they couldn't really figure out why they just had all this masculine energy. And it's actually just because they're in love. And that's one of the things I think I love doing the most, it's just that resolving of bad things that films put out.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
And taking these sometimes classic lines that we'll turn on their head. Like when we had Titanic and instead of her being like, "Paint me like one of your French girls," she's like, "Objectify me like one of your French girls." Just simple little twists.

Emma Read:
Yeah, that's a good time.

Ilayda Arden:
And what happens if someone suggests a film that you just have no idea what it is? Are you able to muddle through it, or?

Emma Read:
Funnily enough, it actually happens a lot. And it's kind of fabulous, because you're giving us a little synopsis. So I've never seen Paddington 2, but you gave me such a great lineup of what it is, I know exactly what kind of things that we need. I think we're very genre focused.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Yeah. So even if I hadn't seen Paddington, I get what sort of genre it is. And genres, there's just so many tropes you can hook onto. And so you can accidentally end up feeling very close to the end product. And also because so much of when we're creating it brick by brick is so driven by the dynamic between characters, and then plot is this little thing sprinkled on the top, that you end up getting there as well. Because as much as it is comedy and it is silly, we do try to imbue it with heart and let that dictate our next moves, so to say.

Ilayda Arden:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Emma Read:
Yeah. And you'd be surprised how much we get right just by doing that. Because obviously Hollywood's super predictable. But also it's like, well, if you just get the core of the relationship between characters you'll get a lot of things right, because the way things are resolved, it feels very natural. And also when you don't know the film it gives you less pressure to do the film. You're like, "Oh, I can just do this. And I know the audience has given me a good idea of what I need to do, so I'm just going to do that." And that's actually quite nice.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Whereas if you get Marvel you're like, "Oh, I'm going to be in trouble if I don't have some of your favourite characters in there." Or I get Star Wars, or Lord of the Rings, you know, "Okay, they're going to be real upset if Frodo doesn't make an appearance."

Emma Read:
He never shows up!

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Or like, "Wasn't there meant to be a wizard in that?"

Emma Read:
That's not important, don't worry about it.

Ilayda Arden:
Yeah, it's just Samwise Gamgee the whole time.

Emma Read:
Oh, yeah. That would be great, though.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
I mean, they love him. Yeah.

Ilayda Arden:
He is the true hero, let's be real.

Emma Read:
Yeah. Facts are facts.

Ilayda Arden:
Okay, that's amazing. So I'm getting a good picture of how you guys navigate it on stage. Well, I mean, a beginners picture of that. Because what you do blows my mind, I can't even begin to imagine the skill that it takes to be able to make up a rap... I don't know if you guys have ever rapped.

Emma Read:
Oh no, we do.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
And even when we're not rapping lyrically in song, we've got to rhyme.

Emma Read:
Yeah.

Ilayda Arden:
Yes, exactly. I sometimes play a rhyming game with my friends, and within three round I'm like, "I'm done. I literally don't have anything else that rhymes with shoe, I'm so sorry." So I guess the question that I want to ask is how did you hone, and improve, and get your skills in musical theatre, or songwriting, or improv to the place where they're at now, where you can do it as well as you do?

Emma Read:
So I went to ArtsEd as a kid, so musical theatre-wise I was very well versed. But I actually didn't learn any improv, or do any professional improv. I did it in drama school, the lovely Ruth Bratt who's in Showstoppers, came in and gave us improv lessons. And then she did some musical improv, but it was very class based and I never actually did an improv show until I did Notflix.

I think the thing with Notflix, and obviously Aisling's training is different, but I think the thing with Notflix that we really realised is that this sort of thing, this concept, is really great. And we wanted to make it great. So it was about taking the things that were already in Notflix, because we both joined as it was still in motion, we were cast in it while the show was still going.

It was like, "Okay, this thing is really awesome and we want to be the best at it, so how do we make this great? How do we use our skills?" Even if someone has more improv skills than you, or musical theatre skills than you, it doesn't matter, we want to make this great. So I think it's down to that.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
I think this particular show, because it is a long narrative and it's about story weaving. And you also have short form improv which is a lot shorter, you play a game, there's an obvious conclusion, the laugh climaxes it, it's done. Whereas this, also there's about a sustainability, and this long form. So actually it almost helped that all of us really came more from an actor background than maybe standup background. And some of us had more experience in comic acting maybe than others, but there was still that, which I think helps us weave the story.

I think with myself, I had done a lot of devised theatre. Which is about... or especially with the theatre company I work with, called Curious Doings, they [inaudible 00:15:46] a lot back home in Ireland. They did a lot where you just create something in a really short space of time, just get it out there, blurt it out there, don't monitor yourself, don't try and make it the end product just yet.

And then the others would sit back, watch it, and then go, "Okay, what bit was I interested in there?" And it could have been something as simple as just the way somebody moved in that, it could be something they said, it could have been the themes that it made you think about, it could have been the prop that they used, it could have been how they transitioned from one thing to the other. It's like, "Okay, we'll take that and we'll play with that."

So I think a big part of it is also, especially when we're in the rehearsal room, not overly self monitoring yourself, and revelling in those mistakes or silly things that you say. And that can become a whole thing really, from there.

I also think sometimes in the training, not necessarily going, "Oh, what the punchline? What's the punchline of this?" And actually the humour often coming more almost from the... obviously the physicality is so important, all the characters we play are quite heightened, so there's that. We do a lot of exercises that get you in your body, and whether something as simple as your character being dictated by the fact it's moved by a certain body part, or things like that.

We do a lot of exercises that really involve us listening to each other, and not preempting, really building things brick by brick, which I think helps a lot. I think it really helps that even though we're all actors we do come from slightly different backgrounds, whether that's in life or in our theatre training. For me, I think, weirdly, my initial degree was in Maths, and I think that weirdly helps.

Emma Read:
No, it does. It's great.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
I think actually because both of them, maths and improv, are about creative problem solving. And it's about when you're offered a maths problem, it's not always obvious that, "Okay, you use this route." Especially when it becomes more advanced it's going, "How can I take all my knowledge that I have at this point and then push it a step further?" And you're having to spot patterns and connections.

And you're doing the same thing in improv when you're trying to weave a story. You're trying to spot patterns and connections, and how you can weave it all together. And just go into that filing cabinet of everything you know about acting, everything you've experienced ever, and go, "How can I connect it to this?"

Emma Read:
Also, there's nothing better than watching Aisling play a character who is singing a song about metaphors about maths, or rapping about maths. It's the most mind blowing thing you've ever seen. And if you're in the scene with her you're just like, "This is amazing." So it's definitely taking those other skills you have and thinking, "Oh okay, how can I apply this?"

I also think it's really interesting what you said, I agree. Stepping into it as actors rather than improvisors, because at the end of the day we're playing characters. And those characters have to feel real and authentic, that's how an audience connects with you. It's all very well being funny, but you should naturally be funny. And if you're authentically in the character you probably will be.

But actually, even though we are comedy, it feels funnier when you're not being like, "Ooh, the punchline is at the expense of someone else, I'm dobbing you in." We'd rather play a scene through as the characters and that will be funny, because it will be, eventually. But it just feels more real to us. And I think if you step forward as an actor, as a character, that is where the magic of our show comes in.

Ilayda Arden:
Well, they often say that one of the golden rules of comedy is not to try and be funny, but to just simply try and make a connection. And if you guys are making connections on stage, as actors doing their characters, then the audience is going to be laughing. Without you having to go out and sort of beg them, metaphorically, for the laughs.

Emma Read:
Yeah.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Yeah. And you can see the moments when we panic or things like that are being done, this very quick laugh thing. But then it's kind of actually stopped the narrative dead, or the momentum of that scene dead, because, "Oh, that was a great little punchline. But actually completely collapsed everything we've just been building for the last few minutes."

Emma Read:
Yeah. "Now where do we go?" And also there's just better ways you can make a joke, something funny. You can actually make something sustainable, and grounded, and great. Like, I don't know, sometimes we've had it where it's like, "Yeah, there's been a cheap joke." And we've really learnt well, I think, that we've grown over the years. But you realise, "Oh, yeah, this joke was great. But we could have had something that you could have built throughout the whole show which is even funnier." And it wasn't at the expense of anyone else, it wasn't because you were trying to bulldoze somebody, that's a really-

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Trying to outshine them.

Emma Read:
Yeah. And because we're all on stage al the time and also our stage time is all the same, as in how we step forward is all the same. So it means even if you're playing the main character, Rose or Jack in Titanic, you're going to have as much time as the random janitor that we might make up. And they have the power, actually, to be as important and as resolving as you.

So I think that's really important for us, no one is a lead, we're all just trying together. All of use, no matter how big the role is, are working together to resolve the story. And I think that really helps us in terms of the comedy aspect, because no one is the front runner.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Yeah. And with the improv you don't feel like anybody's competing for stage time, there's not that panic.

Emma Read:
Yeah. You can't do that, we're all on stage. We never leave.

Ilayda Arden:
Well, that feels like a very non-hierarchical way of doing things creatively. Which is gorgeous because it's quite rare, I think, for companies to be able to manage that effectively. And it sounds like you guys really do.

So let's talk a little bit more about the makeup of not Notflix and how it all started. And I'm particularly interested in the fact that it's an all female, all women, group.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Yeah. Our director, Sarah Spencer, when she originally came up with the idea and started forming the group it was actually a mixed group, it wasn't all female. But I think something happens whenever... Well, the casting wasn't dictated by gender. And sometimes a lot of scripted stuff, it can be quite male heavy, or there needs to be certain amount of males.

But with this, because it was open, and because it wasn't dictated by the way you look, or anything like that, I think it actually became easier for her to find, it just so happened, more females with the particular skills that were required. And also the motivation to do it, wanting to take part in this type of project. And so slowly the balance started to change and there was more females.

And then she realised, "Actually, this is really interesting when it's all females. Actually, let's keep with that and see where it takes us."

Emma Read:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And I think just realising, "Oh wow, this perspective is really cool. There's not a lot of things out there like this." Of course there's women improv groups, but I think the musical movie aspects, I just don't think there was that element out there. And I think she really saw that and really hooked onto it.

And then different people came along as it came on. And then it led us to finding a certain group. And then we realised, "Oh, this really works, this group." And actually that's when things started becoming added, and that's when Notflix started to really take shape. So the group has really been around since 2015, a really long time. But it-

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Evolved a lot.

Emma Read:
I think definitely in the last three years, three or four years, it's definitely taken the shape it has. And that's, I think, where the success of it has been, for sure.

Ilayda Arden:
Okay. And I can already see why having all... I mean, you've actually already touched upon this when we first started talking, but I can see why having an all female cast reliving or rewriting ordinarily very male dominated films would be both very interesting, but also very funny. So I can sort of see how that came to be, its gradual metamorphosis of evolution into where you're at now.

And I guess the question that I have for you is, I presume that both of you have been in rehearsal rooms where there's a mixture of men, women, or non-binary people as well. And I'm interested to know what is different about an all female creative space, for you guys?

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Well, what has caught my attention is, I guess especially when it comes to improvisation and in those types of rehearsal spaces, which in some ways should be the most freeing of spaces. Despite that and despite the fact I could be, I've played The Hulk, you could be anything, still, often when I am with a mixed gender group of players, I'd automatically be gendered as female. Even though I'm like, "I could be anything. I could be a spider right now. I could be a non-binary spider."

Emma Read:
I want to see that.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
I don't know why I'm thinking about spiders.

Emma Read:
Can we do that?

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Charlotte's Web. And not just that, but also automatically the dynamic, especially if it's a man that steps up with me, automatically this dynamic must be a romantic dynamic, or flirtatious, or sexual, or something. And it's like, "It doesn't have to be."

And also, even with ours, obviously because we're nodding to films, there are characters that are obviously a specific gender in that film. But at the same time, sometimes you're playing other characters to support those central ones. The other day we were doing a film and I didn't realise until the end, I thought this pair of characters, I hadn't actually thought about what gender they were, until one of them gave birth at the end. And I'm like, "Okay, your character has a womb. Okay, great." But it didn't matter, because their characters-

Emma Read:
It wasn't the most important thing about them, their relationship.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Or their identity. It wasn't the thing that defined their identity, what gender they were. So I think there's that too, there isn't that assumption of what type of role you're about to play.

Emma Read:
Yeah. I feel like, in our space, I can speak for our space for sure, as an all women's creative space, but it just feels there's just a really big freedom in the possibilities, what you can and can't do. And I think that there is just such a joy. And I think it's not that being in a mixed gender space isn't joyful, but I definitely think with our space it's because we're coming forward and there's endless possibilities.

And I think sometimes when you're in a mixed gendered space, especially in an improv space, your possibilities are stopped. Not because you want them to stop, but because a lot of time men will put things on you as a woman stepping forward in improv, that you didn't ask for or didn't want. And I don't think people intentionally mean to be mean, I just think it is just what happens.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
A default.

Emma Read:
It's something I think that we are slowly talking about and breaking out of. And I think that's amazing. I think just the assumption, it's just automatic. And definitely in our show, because we're looking at an endless possibility of things, there's just an endless possibility of relationships, of gender, of who the people are. And I think that's just a very open space that I just don't think happens enough in mixed gender groups.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
I also think, when you're creating a thing, even thought we're all from different backgrounds, different lives, there also in some ways is a shared understanding of certain experiences. And I find that... For example, I work with a theatre group, Curious Doing, and we did a show called The Things People Say. And originally, actually, there was going to be a male in the cast but the way it worked out it was four females.

And because we were creating the work, and it was about how the things we say about ourselves, how the things other people how the things society say to us and about us, how that affects you. And just it being automatically, just as four females, it went in a certain direction. But there was also a starting point of a certain type of understanding.

I also think from a really practical point of view. And I guess this is something that you saw a lot of especially in Ireland with the whole Waking the Feminists movement and things like that. And just trying to make theatre especially a space that operates a bit more in mind with different things that females need, also trying to hear more female voices. For example, I'm pregnant at the moment-

Ilayda Arden:
Congratulations.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
And automatically our director was like, "Oh, so you're going to take the baby to Edinburgh with us?" I'm like... and obviously it doesn't have to be an all female space for that to happen, for that sort of understanding. But her understanding like, "Okay, you're going to want to juggle things."

Emma Read:
Yeah. And we'll make that happen. And I think that there's definitely a, "Okay, how do we...?" Nothing like an, "Oh, okay. How's this going to work?"

Ilayda Arden:
"This is a problem."

Emma Read:
"Ooh, this is an issue." Everything is, especially when it's we're all in this, especially right now, this crazy time, this crazy space for the entertainment industry. And there's been such a... in our group we really took the pandemic and the lockdown as like an, "Okay, well, what can we do?" We need this mentally and also for our careers, so how do we create something that is mentally stimulating for us and also still keeping Notflix fresh, and our lives fresh?

And I think that there's definitely more like a, I don't know, an emotional grounded space, it's not so cut throat. Obviously we're a professional show, but we're just in a space where we're ready to hear things and do things that work because we want the show to work. And the people in it currently are the best people for the job, so we want to make things work. We're not just like, "Oh, well, you're cut tomorrow because you're pregnant." Do you know what I mean?

Ilayda Arden:
"Because you're pregnant."

Emma Read:
I know, yeah. It's happened.

Ilayda Arden:
Yeah. No, it has. I mean, it's quite common, isn't it, for a lot of women to experience the world that in many respects was built by men, and whether intentionally or not for men. And as a result the systems and processes that we encounter in working spaces, even creative working spaces, can be a struggle. And I guess it sounds like one of the lovely things about Notflix is that part of that struggle is lessened and removed, because you're all sharing a language from the beginning, of needing to exist outside of those sometimes quite restrictive systems and processes.

Emma Read:
Yeah, definitely. Especially with what, like I said before, there's so many little things we have to do in this industry, different characters the industry like us playing. Which is great, we love that. But there's something extra liberating about Notflix, because not only are we improvising so we're playing any character, but we're also playing any gender, so it's like an extra free space.

And actually I think, definitely for me, it's made me a better actor. Because I step onto Notflix stage and flex muscles that I would never be able to flex before. And I come into an audition room more prepared because you're going to probably give me something that is more prepared than I do when I step on stage. So I think that there is that extra liberating thing.

And the process of auditions and everything, it's still very stressful, very scary. And even though Notflix is a stressful environment in terms of... good stress, we're creating a show, it sort of makes your brain work in a really positive stressful way. Which I think is encouraged by the fact it's all women, so it's a safe place, a good place.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
I think it makes you make braver choices, whether in this show or any other sort of acting situation. But also in life, I think. And also I think a really big turning moment for me was I think when I first started doing it, I was almost separating, "Oh, this is screen acting, this is serious, this is Notflix." And it was like there's something about you can bring all of you to the table, at any time.

And that's something actually I carry with myself now in any sort of performance thing. Actually I can bring all of me to the table. And even thought actually, initially, looking at this role it can look quite limiting, I can bring actually a lot of parts of me that I maybe wouldn't have thought I could bring to the table before.

Emma Read:
Yeah. You definitely look at roles in much fuller way. You'll look at something that might be seen as quite small, but you'll see it in quite a fleshed out way because that's what we do. We'll take something really small and make it into a more fleshed out thing. So you'll see a role that on paper is quite simple, and we're like, "Oh, but I could do it in all these different ways, because that's what I do on stage." So you feel a bit more confident you can bring things to life in a more special way.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
I also think that for improv to sustain itself and exist it requires a certain amount of listening. And sometimes when you see maybe bad improv there's less listening going on. But also that filters through to all acting, there's always going to be listening. And I think that, it's improved my screen acting, because I think I'm just listening so much more than I was before.

I also think a big thing with our group, especially in the rehearsal space, you're trying to create a nurturing, safe environment for people. And then that safety and that nurturing feeling allows people to experiment and create characters beyond what they normally would, and play.

Emma Read:
Yeah. People are always better on stage, in life, when they feel like they're in a good environment. They feel lie there's room to make mistakes and that there is time and space for them to grow. We didn't all start off being this way, it was nurtured in the terms of there is... A lot of the times I definitely felt when I first joined on Notflix I was growing as a performer on stage, in real time.

Because part of your training and part of your getting better is doing a show, so the audience are watching it happen in real time. And I think that you've got to have the kind of environment that is able to nurture that, that that is okay. That you can go onstage and not be at your best. I mean, to an audience it won't make a difference because it's great. But I think that what we do when you really break it down is terrifying. And so I think that that environment has to be so at a temperature when everyone is able to be like, "It is okay, we will catch you."

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
I mean, before we go onstage we literally look at each one of us in the eye and say, "Got your back."

Emma Read:
"Got your back."

Ilayda Arden:
Oh, I love that.

Emma Read:
"We will catch you." We will literally do this. And someone loses their voice, "We've got you, don't worry." If someone is, whatever's happening, we just have each other. And whatever happens we will circle around each other.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
I mean, we've even gone, I was like, "So what would you do if my water broke while we were onstage?" And then they're like-

Emma Read:
"If it was beat one, we'd cancel the show. If it was the last five minutes, I'd make it work."

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Yeah, add a bit of extra drama for the climax.

Emma Read:
I'd make it a part of something. We'd find a way. And we did Yesterday at The Warren Festival in Brighton, Aisling managed to get her pregnancy in where she suddenly burst forward with her jacket to reveal a pregnant bump.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
But then also, I don't know if you've seen the film, but there's a Russian character and there's a Liverpudlian character in it. And they also, I don't know...

Emma Read:
And so Vicky stuffed a jacket under Claire's t-shirt, and suddenly she was pregnant too. So we were just like, "Ah, we'll make it all work." There are no mistakes.

We were in the one festival where it just so happened that the thunder and lightning decided to erupt on a very, very outside stage. And what did we do? We made a song called The Thunder and The Lightning.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
And also based our dance routine around the keyboard, so we could protect it.

Emma Read:
Shielding with jackets, dancing. There's a clip of it someone took from the audience online, it is so funny because me and [EJK 00:37:52] are onstage being like, "The rain, yes." And everyone else just has their jackets open just protecting. Jordan, our amazing MD, just trying to play, trying to not get electrocuted.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Vicky drying the keyboard in time with the song.

Ilayda Arden:
I love it.

Emma Read:
Yeah. We'll make it all work, there's no wrong things. There's just fun times.

Ilayda Arden:
No wrong things, just fun times, that should be on your marketing material [crosstalk 00:38:24].

Emma Read:
Yes.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Have to be careful who uses a statement like that. In the wrong hands...

Ilayda Arden:
Well, I mean, what you're talking about is a very natural progression that I think a lot of theatre companies do. Where they create, as we say, a sort of shared language, a safe space between each other, and an ultimate level of trust that does say, whether tacitly or implied, "Yeah, I've got your back." That there is no bad version of this. And if there is, that's okay.

And I think it would be easy for people listening to try and draw a correlation between that level of trust having been built and the fact that you're an all female troupe. But it would also, I think, likely work just as well with a mixed gender group. I mean, it certainly does because there are plenty of those out there. I guess the question is whether it could happen faster or slower in either setting... I don't know what the bloody question is that I'm trying to ask here. Hold on.

Emma Read:
No, I get it. I think that it's possible, and it is happening. There are shows where that language, you definitely see it. I think that what I think could happen is just more open conversation where people are able to be wrong, or people are able to just think about things from not a defensive place, just listening, just that kind of language.

There might have been things on stage that maybe someone did to you onstage that they might not see as a problem, but just hearing it, listening, might not be the worst thing on the planet. Like, "Hey, you did that thing and actually that's not what I was saying to you, or where I was going." I don't know, just hearing each other. Because I think that it does need to happen faster.

Because also we've seen it, and it's possible. I just think it needs more of an open conversation and people to be just a bit vulnerable. Be a bit wrong and take in what people are saying, I think.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Yeah. Because I have seen shows where the actress has clearly labelled herself as Something Boy, and then gets constantly referred to as she and her. You're like, "Oh, you weren't listening, you were just being dictated to by what you saw in front of you and what you thought that means."

Emma Read:
Yeah. I was just saying to Aisling, actually just before this, I've seen shows where there's a mixed gender cast of an improv show. And the premise, I won't go into it, but the whole premise is that the lead could be a woman, it should be. But the women are all offstage halfway through the show, and it is literally, I don't know, two guys at one point. And one guy who is literally turning from side to side just being two different characters. And you think, "Why?"

Because you've got people off stage who could be on here. And I don't think it's on purpose. I think it would be nice if especially those women and those people were able to have an honest conversation about, "Why did that happen? How can that be better? And actually our show could be better if we made decisions that didn't lead us to that point." Because that was the right decision for the show, but it didn't need to be that way. And, I don't know, it just needed not that.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
I also think sometimes, in the world of comedy as well, because improv is this thing that there's elements of comedy and standup to it and things like that. And obviously that could be, more so than the acting industry, very male dominated.

Ilayda Arden:
Very, very, very male dominated, yeah.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Yeah. And then also then when you look at typical comic scripts and things like that, often the woman is being the foil. She's being the straight man.

Emma Read:
Or the butt of the joke as well.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Or the butt of the joke.

Ilayda Arden:
Yeah, or the nag as well.

Emma Read:
Yeah.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Yeah.

Emma Read:
The nag, oh my god, that is such a good word for it. The nag.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
And it's so deeply ingrained, those archetypes, that it can really take a lot of effort to shed that, [what we 00:42:43] believe and realise. And I also think, because improv in certain ways doesn't have certain limitations of certain scripted work, that there is still boundaries that need to be negotiated, and what people feel comfortable with.

And I think sometimes it does it being all female, because maybe there's a better understanding immediately of maybe what those boundaries might be. And maybe if it's a mixed group there needs to be more discussion about where those boundaries are, where you can push it, where I feel comfortable, where I don't.

But I do think, even with an all female one, I think that you still need to constantly check in with each other, and see where those boundaries are from day to day. But I think maybe that is also a helpful thing, that helps fast track things a little bit.

Emma Read:
Yeah.

Ilayda Arden:
I suspect it probably is. I mean-

Emma Read:
We're just more open to conversation. Always checking in, it's not an issue for us. So I think that that sort of thing's along quicker, for sure.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
And it doesn't feel like an accusation.

Emma Read:
No. I think it's just the defensive nature of it. It's all meant to be in the aid of progress, and I think sometimes certain people see that as an attack on them, or attack on them as people, or them as performers. And it's not that at all, it's I think we all ultimately want the same thing. But because I think we naturally don't see it as an accusation or a time to defend ourselves, I think it just moves along a bit quicker, for sure.

Ilayda Arden:
Yeah. It comes from a place of neutrality, and is met in a place of neutrality. Which sounds super healthy and amazing.

Emma Read:
That was a very good way of putting it.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Definitely more succinct.

Emma Read:
Yes, more succinct.

Ilayda Arden:
Well, look, I've had an amazing chat. I mean, we are basically out of time. But I'm going to ask you guys, what are you up to now? What do you want to plug? What do you want to tell us that you're doing? Where can we find you? Et cetera, et cetera.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Basically we're going to be in quite a number of different places over the next wee while, all of them in England at the moment. So we'll be in Tunbridge Wells, we'll be in Greenwich in London, we'll be in Southampton. But they're all on our website, notflixthemusical.com. Or we're on all the usual socials, like Instagram and things like that.

Emma Read:
Yeah. If you look up @notflixmusical on Twitter and Instagram you can find us. And we're also on Facebook as well. And we always keep you updated on social media. And hopefully we'll be coming to a space near you.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Yeah. And hopefully, slowly things are transitioning to more in person things, and we love to run workshops and things like that as well, so al that gets posted up there.

Emma Read:
Yeah.

Ilayda Arden:
Brilliant.

Emma Read:
Give us a follow. We're fun to follow.

Ilayda Arden:
"We make good content."

Emma Read:
Yes. Our content is good.

Ilayda Arden:
Well, thank you both so much.

Emma Read:
Thank you.

Ilayda Arden:
I feel very pleased to have met you and got to know you better. And good luck with your string of shows coming up.

Aisling Groves-McKeown:
Ah, thank you.

Emma Read:
Thank you. Thank you so much for having us. This has been so brill.

Ilayda Arden:
Yeah. Thank you.

So that’s it for today’s episode. If you like what you heard, then feel free to head over to Spotlight.com, where there’s a whole host of articles, videos and other podcast episodes about all things to do with the Casting and Performing arts industries! They can be found on the News and Advice section of our website. You can also read the full transcript of the episode on the website as well. Thanks very much and we’ll see you next time.

Notflix is a totally improvised comedy musical based on an audience suggestion of a favourite movie, then using the location, key scenes and characters as a jumping off point to create a brand new narrative. All scenes, songs and vocals are improvised spontaneously by the cast and a live band with no preparation or planning. It's improv, so every show is different; but what remains the same is a joy-filled, high camp, musical celebration of everything you wish a movie could be.

As demonstration of its underground, (almost) overnight success Notflix has received widespread critical acclaim, including; Award wining, five star, total sell out runs at the Edinburgh Fringe 2016 - 2019 in the Gilded Balloon's flagship venue, the Debating Hall. Award winning total sell out runs at The Vaults Festival 2017 and 2018. Total sell out run at The Brighton Fringe 2017 and 2018. Recommended as Pick of the Fringe  in the Evening Standard, The Sunday Times, Marie Claire and Elle Magazine. Semi finalists in the Musical Comedy awards and the Laughing Horse New Act of the Year. As seen on Sky News, STV and as House Band on Radio 5 Live.

Notflix. Because everything is better as a musical

Instagram: @notflixmusical
Twitter: @notflixmusical
Facebook: @NOTFLIXimprovmusical
Youtube: Notflix Musical Channel