Clare Cavanagh: Literally at the Sydney Comedy Festival
Pocket rocket performer Clare Cavanagh returns to the Sydney Comedy Festival with a brand new, energetic hour of characters and improv comedy. 'Literally' is about caring too much, inciting revolutions and defending teenage girls.
Read the full interview below:
You’ve become known for your fusing of comedy and improv together to create a highly energetic hour of performance. What thrills you about these two forms of performance and what do you love most about performing improv comedy? I’m assuming there is a certain thrill to the unknown of the audience, can you speak to this?
Totally! I also really love improv because it relies on a trust between you and your scene partner – whether that’s someone on stage with you or the audience. It’s very collaborative, supportive and silly. And even though my show is written, the improvised parts mean that each show is totally different, which keeps it fresh and fun.
As well as doing this solo show, you are also part of a group of women who make up Confetti Gun and together you perform improv comedy as well. In what is so often a field dominated by male comedians, what have you gained both from going solo but also from being a part of this group? What do you think audiences can expect from the women taking on the Sydney Comedy Festival this year – particularly from yourself and from Confetti Gun?
I think we’re at an excellent point where there are a bunch of comedians absolutely killing it, who just happen to be women. I’m very lucky to be surrounded by peers and mentors who support and advocate for one another. Confetti Gun is a great example of this. We started as a group of women who just wanted to get better at improv and maybe do some shows, without being defined as women. I’m really proud that we all support each other in our individual pursuits, and that we’ve become an excellent troupe who have our unique brand of improv comedy which is loved by people of all genders. That’s not to say things are perfect – comedy definitely needs to be way less white and straight – but I am excited by the diverse voices which are becoming mainstream.
You’ve described Literally as being about “caring too much, inciting revolutions and defending teenage girls.” With the common trend being to mock the ‘teen female’ and stereotype this group of young women, what has made you decide to include a defense for them into your show and why is this something that you find yourself caring so much about? What do you think society overlooks in young women and what is comedy’s place in trying to negate those misconceptions?
I absolutely adore the passion that teenage girls and young women have for whatever cause or topic matters to them. I think it’s easy to dismiss passion, particularly in women, as over the top, uncool and embarrassing. But to me, caring means that you’re invested in your life and other people’s lives, and those people are vulnerable and excellent and sometimes can even change things about our world. And comedy is a powerful tool – it disarms, it makes us look at ourselves in a different way, it subverts what we think of as normal.
Presumably in improv so much changes night to night but the concept of this show being about that which you care ‘too’ much about must not. How have you gone about selecting the major themes that the show focuses on and how does this inspiration come to you when you’re preparing a new show…or when you’re on stage creating new content in the moment?
I think there’s a trend in comedy towards ironic detachment. It definitely works for some comedians, and I understand it as a response to the hellfire state of our world, but it’s not really who I am. I love people who are too big in their emotions and who are genuine and passionate, so I wanted to write a show which celebrates these qualities. I write and perform stuff that I know I would like to watch.
And to that too, if improv does change night to night, can you tell us about some of the funniest interactions you’ve had with the audience or moments you’ve found yourself in because of the way a show has gone…some behind the scenes goss?
Literally is not just me standing on a stage and talking at them, there are a couple of bits where I get audience members up. My aim is to always make them look like an absolute star, and make me look like a huge dag. I have one bit in my show where I play a police officer interrogating a criminal. One night in Melbourne the audience member got super invested in the world, and tried to escape backstage a bunch of times!
And finally, you have both studied and performed around the world and around Australia. What has been the highlight for you so far and what is absolutely on your comedy improv bucket list?
I first encountered improv when I was in New York, where I took a bunch of classes at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre and saw multiple shows a night. A few years later, I returned to New York with my improv troupe, Confetti Gun, to perform at the Del Close Marathon. It’s a 52-hour festival of non-stop improv and attracts all the best improvisers from around the world. Performing there was a pretty amazing experience, especially to see how well Sydney improvisers can hold their own amongst such legends.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS:
Favourite production you have ever seen?
This changes very frequently but my most recent favourite was a Soap Opera at Improv Theatre Sydney. It was a killer cast and reminded me how brilliant and unpredictable improv can be.
You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?
Greenland. What’s happening there? It’s so big!
Dream show to perform in?
Something with stage hydraulics. I want to fly!
Plays or musicals?
A hobby you have beyond the theatre? Does drinking wine on a couch count?
What’s next for you after this show? I don’t know! Which is kinda fun.
Literally opens at the Factory Theatre on May 16 as part of the Sydney Comedy Festival. You can get your tickets here.