The Briefing: Melissa McGlensey’s Theatrical Playground

by | Mar 10, 2023

Professional Hecklers; this one’s for you.

With her political aspirations in full flight, right-wing blowhard Sarah Huckabee Sanders has embarked on an international propaganda tour. The former White House Press Secretary (turned Fox News host) is now the Governor of Arkansas, but that doesn’t mean she’s done spreading Trumpism far and wide. And if you’re thinking Australia won’t get caught in the crosshairs… FAKE NEWS.

A fast-paced and highly entertaining comment on the unique historical and political moment we find ourselves in, The Briefing is a clever combination of political theatre, partisan nonsense, and wonderfully dark humour. Unlike other events during MICF, audiences are also encouraged to heckle and challenge during this show. Game on. She’s ready for you. *cracks knuckles*

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 What was the genesis of the show and why did you feel compelled to write it?

I’d been wanting to make a show that combined my improv skills with my love of political satire and character comedy, and then someone told me that I kind of look like Sarah Huckabee Sanders. That sparked the idea and from there I started doing impressions of her and got addicted to learning about her life. She’s a fascinating individual!

I felt compelled to write this show because I needed to do some deep thinking on the all the ways the US and Australia are similar, and the ways they’re different as well. It was part of how I processed my feelings about making Australia my permanent home, as I’m originally from the US. In some ways, writing the show helped me work out my anxieties about the political trajectory of my home country, and my chosen country.

What are some of the ideas explored and what would you like audiences to take away?

I’d like to think my show asks some questions about power, the subjectivity of truth, the media, the worrying rightward trend in global politics and much, much more. And I think it does some of this.

But, at the end of the day, all I want is for audiences to laugh and have a nice time. Sometimes, when we’re living in a very dire political reality, getting in a room together and having a big laugh about it is the best way to cope. So, sure, I’d love audience to take away some deeper understanding of the political situation we’re in, but if all they take away is the relief of an hour’s worth of laughter, that’s A OK with me.

What makes this show different to other MICF shows and why should audiences see it?

A few things make my show different from other MICF shows, the first and most obvious is probably the improvised and audience interaction portions of it.

Whether I’m reading out “Trump Tweets” written by the audience, having them help me fill out some “opposition research” questionnaires or letting them pelt me with questions from the “press corps,” the show is created in collaboration with the audience each night. And that means that it’s slightly different every time I do it, which keeps me on my toes and makes it fresh and new every time I perform it – for both me and the audience.

The second thing that makes my show different is that as an American expat who has been living in Australia for five years, I think I offer a unique perspective on my chosen home. Not only does my background in journalism offer me insight into some of the issues I touch on in the show, but also my lived experience as an expat adds to the emotional centre of the show.

The Briefing is a show that purports to be about the USA, but is really (at its core) about Australia and right-wing politics more globally. It’s a show that couldn’t exist in the US or in Aus alone, but instead had to be born out of my complicated feelings as a person divided between two continents.

How would you describe the character in the show and what are you using her to do?

Sarah Huckabee Sanders in the show (and in real life) is a bombastic, loud, tough and aggressive individual. She believes firmly in her convictions and will clamp down on her “truth” like a Pitbull. She’s dedicated to furthering her own political career and won’t let pesky little things like the facts stand in her way.

I’m using her to make a point about the absurdity of many right wing positions and the harm this kind of authoritarian drift can do. But at the same time I’m just using the landscape of US and Aus politics as my theatrical playground; it’s the space I want to play within.

As an American, what do you see as the main difference between Australian and American politics?

Woof, that’s a hard question to answer succinctly. There are many, many differences (thank goodness) but a lot of similarities too. In general, I like to think that Australian Democracy is a bit more robust and stable, but then again Australian democracy is so much younger than the USA and it hasn’t been tested quite as much yet. There are unfortunately similarities in terms of the lack of meaningful action on climate change, reprehensible treatment of migrants, and many other things. But at the end of the day, to me at least, Aus politics still feel like they aren’t quite as irrevocably polarised as US politics are.

When did the performance bug bite and who would you attribute to be your main influence?

I was drawn to comedy first and foremost as a writer, but when I took my first improv class at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles about 10 years ago, I became immediately hooked. Ever since then I’ve been exploring comedy in all kinds of different forms: sketch, stand up, improv, character, satirical joke writing, etc.

I wouldn’t say I have one main influence, but The Briefing is extremely inspired by political and premise-heavy comedy by people such as Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, Shaun Micallef, Tina Fey, Michelle Wolf, and my amazing director Alasdair Tremblay-Birchall.

What do you love the most about performing comedy and what can be done within the comedic setting that, perhaps, can’t be done with other genres?

 I love comedy because I think it’s incredibly challenging to do well.

It’s an artform that not only wants you to elicit a specific emotion from people, but an audible one at that. If you’re doing dramatic theatre and you’ve moved the audience to tears, you don’t always know that in the room right away. But in comedy, the feedback is immediate. You know whether they’re laughing or not right away.

I also think that in the context of my show specifically, I’m talking about some really scary stuff (climate change, gun rights, abortion bans, right wing authoritarianism in general…) so getting audiences to laugh when faced with this subject matter can be challenging. But It’s a challenge I love.

I love giving them permission to find the funny in the face of darkness. I have to work harder for it than if I did some lighter, non-political comedy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Finally, what is next for you?

 What’s next for me is taking The Briefing overseas!

I’ll be performing it at the 2023 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I’m really excited to see how the show works in a different context because right now it’s so deeply embedded in the context of Australia that performing it in Scotland will be an adjustment. Aside from that I am planning to get back to Producing/Directing my show Completely Improvised Survivor, which was a huge hit at MICF 2022 but has since gone on a little break while I focus on The Briefing. And, once all that is done, I will begin work on my next solo project which will be another collaboration with my partner, Douglas Wilson, who is a videogame designer and lecturer at RMIT. We love to collaborate and create playful experiences that live on the margins between the categories of game and performance.

Birthed from Melissa McGlensey’s obsession with global politics and love of biting satire, The Briefing is a dynamic, quick-witted, genre-defying show that invites MICF audiences to join the press pack and take aim.

April 10 – 23

www.comedyfestival.com.au/2023/shows/the-briefing-with-melissa-mcglensey

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