Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Day Four: Oh, this is NOT fair.

The day the Pitch comes out with a big article about Thunder
dome is not a day I want to be off the boards. But I waited. I read the Pitch (totally in bounds), checked an e-mail from Jared and wrote on the Improv Thunderdome board on Facebook (not so much in bounds). 

Like I said, weaning.

I am noticing that avoiding the pesky, administrative stuff during the work day is helpful. (As was a 30-minute chair massage in our health department.) Knowing I have to put it off gives me permission to do just that. Compartmentalizing has kept me focused in other ways—for the first time since I got it, I sat through a two-hour meeting without looking at my Blackberry once. And because my moratorium has coincided with a rare week without tons of meetings, I've been working on projects that take focus and thought. 

In the book The Artist's Way At Work (which I credit with saving my career during some dark days), you do a week of media deprivation. Outside of your job, you cut yourself off from TV, magazines, the Internet, radio, etc. It makes things feel very quiet—and after the first few days or so of COMPLETELY FREAKING OUT, you relax into it. This is the closest thing I've done to that in a while, and it's made me realized some scary stuff. I spend the better part of my day plugged in—by Blackberry, mobile phone or laptop—and I think it's shot my attention span to hell. 

So this has been good. 

I told myself I would be OK with either of two outcomes. I lied. 

I'm not playing in Thunderdome. I'm teching a team I coach—Scriptease. I've worked with these guys since they were 15, so I'm pretty emotionally wrapped up in their success. On the other hand, I have friends (and people I've played with) in Loaded Dice, so I was rooting almost equally for them. 

And then Alan Scherstuhl goes and says in his preview that he doesn't think Scriptease stands a chance. That has me a little riled up. 

I should say that Alan is one of the best things to happen to KC's improv scene since Tommy Todd got over a near-fatal stomach virus. He really understands improv, writes about the good/bad/ugly of it and sees enough of it to talk about it as an expert. That's a first in Kansas City—and, honestly, rare in almost any improv community. 

I agree with him that, as theater students, Makeshift Militia might have a leg-up on Scriptease in the presentation category. But—without going into a critique of either team—I think Scriptease has a clear advantage when it comes to pure improvisational skill. Is it bias? Yes. Is it a little bit of ego? Certainly. (Though Mick Napier, Susan Messing, Tim Mason and Dan Izzo get the credit for a big part of their education.) 

It's also nothing against Makeshift Militia. 

I mostly believe it because learning improv takes more than—and is very different from—theater training, and Rene, Clay and Drew have a disproportionate amount of experience for three 21-year-olds. The only way to prove it (besides watching them play in show after show over time) would be to throw both troupes down a comedy black hole: Make them start from the bottom with a bad audience, weird energy, technical difficulties and all the things that can suck the life out of a show. And make them fight their way out using only their character, relationship and scenework skills. 

I'd put Scriptease in that fight—and bet on them to win—any day. Saturday is going to be interesting.


  1. Ok, so now I have one more thing to borrow from you. In addition to the DVD's, can I borrow that book?

  2. We're quite different teams, and I think both of us have various strengths and weaknesses.

    It is regrettable to me that we are participating in a format that lends itself to a direct comparison between us, which is not healthy or helpful for either team.

    Team loyalty is important, and I'm glad that you work so hard for what you love.

    Likewise, I love Makeshift Militia deeply. Magie, Ryan, and Grant are my three best friends and sharing something so personal and rewarding as this team with them is one of the best things in my life. I also am very glad that we are able to have opportunities to share our art with the community. I feel that as a self-created, self-coached improv team with no recognition or support from any faculty or organization, we have come a very long way. I am extremely happy with our progress, as well as excited for the future.

    I respect you and Scriptease very much and enjoy your art. I hope that you can find things to enjoy and respect about our team as well. I look forward to sharing the improv scene with you.

    Good luck on Saturday.


  3. Why do I never get a comment like that from James?

  4. James,

    I ABSOLUTELY respect what you guys do...and the crowd you're building (and sharing!) at UMKC and beyond. And I had blast watching you guys at the last round of Thunderdome.

    I just had to vent a little about the fact that Alan seemed to completely write off the Scriptease show—their competition in round 2, their win and their chances.

    You know, I'm not sure competition is such a bad thing—as long as it doesn't turn evil and ugly. If what it does is make the audiences more passionate...and get improvisers to challenge themselves to do better work and market their shows harder, it can't be ALL bad...

    Can't wait to see you guys play tomorrow. I think what we all have to remember is that the competition is for the audience—we're there as one big team to put on a killer show. Together.

    Clay—which Clay are you?

  5. Humble pie eatin' Clay Morgan.


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