Saturday, May 31, 2008

We're for the ones in yellow

We're for the ones in yellow, originally uploaded by tberrongkc.

Our pal Julia kicked ass as a blocker for the Black-eyed Susans in KC Roller Warriors' match tonight.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Action Figure

Action Figure, originally uploaded by tberrongkc.

At the Riot Room.

We're with the band

We're with the band, originally uploaded by tberrongkc.

This is Eric. By day, a mild-mannered Hallmark art director.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Enough with the niceness

So here's one of the reasons I think self-directed troupes can be at best difficult and at worst dangerous. (Should point out that I'm in one here.)

But first, a tangent: At my actual job, there's a corporate hierarchy. Once work is created, several (or, as it sometimes seems, a gazillion) people review the work before it goes to press. There's a pecking order—one writes, another edits, another reviews, another approves, etc., etc., etc. But we're working on an exercise right now where we all edit each other, level-blind—which is new. After some initial hesitation, we're starting to get bolder. I peeked at some of the work today, and the editing is getting more confident and more aggressive. As we build trust—in our own skills and others' opinions—the feedback we give each other becomes less threatening and more useful. I hope.

Getting and giving feedback on writing can feel pretty personal until you get used to it. Getting and giving feedback on improv is even tougher.

When a troupe is self-coached, there's a very real danger the players aren't hearing what they need to hear. It's incredibly difficult—and in many ways, inappropriate—to critique folks you're often in scenes with. Making it work means creating a really, really safe space for each other—both as part-time directors and performers. This gets easier as you gain experience—on stage and off, with each other and with other groups. 

The thing that made me think of this? This six-page thread on, fed by players who don't (or don't often) get on stage together, vs. this (admittedly newer) thread on the City 3 forums, read by players in the same groups and small community.

Two things are going on, at least: 
  1. Calling out things members of your troupe do. 
  2. Calling out things you've seen members of other troupes do. 
We need to call this stuff out when we see it on stage...and not wait to do it in the forums. 

Things that are good

Things that are good, originally uploaded by tberrongkc.

Catching up is good. Catching up at the Drop--with goat cheese/fig/pistachio bruschetta involved--better. (Wow. John's hand looks more girly than you'd think. It is actually a lot more masculine-looking than this.)

Totally worth risking our lives

The early shots are back, and Clint at rocks. Witness the awesome:

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

1, 2, 3, jump!

1, 2, 3, jump!, originally uploaded by tberrongkc.

The photographer told us to stand in the middle of the street and jump...and we asked "how high?"

And Josh is looking at me like I'm the idiot?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Photo shoots for improv troupes

The Trip Fives are doing a photo shoot tonight. Tantrum will attempt one tomorrow night...or maybe next week. And thus, we embark on one of the most frustrating things about promoting your show: The Troupe Photo. 

They come in a number of categories, and I've been in every single one. Including: 
  • The Clump: You've got more than a dozen members. Getting everyone in the frame means your face will dime-sized or smaller. 
  • The Church Youth Group: You are all wearing T-shirts. They match. Plus, you're making goofy faces. 
  • The Church Youth Group Clump: See above. 
  • The On Stage Shot: You are on stage. That is all. 
  • The Location Shot: You are not on stage. 
  • Up Against the Wall: You are standing against a wall. Typically a blank white office wall, but sometimes brick or stone or paneling.
  • The Action Shot: You are in a scene, but you're not, because you can't really get a good shot in a scene. So you set one up and freeze it.
  • The Studio Shot: You are lucky enough to be able to afford a decent photo, or you know a photographer.
Oh, and you can mix and match attitudes:
  • Say Cheese—simple and classic
  • Wacky—'cuz it's improv!
  • Super Serious—oh, the irony
  • Bad-Ass—if we weren't improvisers, we'd be a band
  • Candid—hey, is there a photographer here?
If I felt like digging through my scrapbook and scanning in photos, I could show you every permutation. I feel varying degrees of shame for many of them, depending on the troupe, the timing and the execution. (Want to have real fun? Do a google image search for "improv troupe" for a glorious trip through the good, the bad and the why-would-you-pay-to-see-these-people?)

These days, my favorites are the location shot and the studio shot with either the bad-ass or candid attitude. One of the best shots I've been in was with Straight Man: 

It took a gazillion shots to get there. But in the amateur category, at least, I think it does the job. The background is a little busy (we took it out in the poster), but the composition works, there's a defined color palette (without being too matchy-matchy) and you get a feel for the personality of the players. And I think it comes across as adult and professional.

On the other end of the spectrum, here's Exit 16:

And in their case, I wouldn't change a thing.

A photo is the quickest way to convey the vibe of a group in the media or its own promo materials. For the festival, we've given troupes some criteria for the photos they send us; at times, I was afraid we were coming across as snotty. 


But but but.

There's still a feeling out there that improvisers are something less than professionals. Theater people think we're just playing rehearsal games. Stand-ups think we're too lazy to write or memorize anything. They're judging our book by its cover. 

Luckily, the cover is completely within our control.


Sigh, originally uploaded by tberrongkc.

Routine is back. Witness: 20 oz. Diet Coke, Pure Protein bar, already-crashed-twice Lotus Notes and PowerPoint deck. Upside: No meetings!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Thanks, Dad

It freaks me out a little to think of how young Dad was when he took on more responsibility and had more courage than I ever have or ever will. 

It's an extraordinary thing to love your country enough to put its needs ahead of your own. 

Oh, the self-righteousness...

May's KC improv blogger topic: "Warm-ups before shows, good, bad, or indifferent?"

Well, I'm certainly not indifferent. 

I think you owe yourself, your troupe and your audience two things before the lights go up: You're in the moment and you're in synch with the group. Whatever it takes to get there. 

For yourself, it means you've dropped whatever baggage you brought with you to the theater. You're ready to focus out—on your fellow players, on what's happening in the scene—instead of in. You're physically and mentally prepared to do the show. 

For your troupe, it means you check in with each other. You let each other know what it takes to get you on the same wavelength—and you're willing to work together to get there. 

That's my philosophy. Here's what works for me—and doesn't. 

Good: Anything physical, playful and emotional. 
  • I want to get stupid with my troupe before we get on stage—so warmups that take us to Goofyland make me the happiest.
  • I also need to shrug off the need to be a grown-up and make reasonable, measured choices, so getting out of my comfort zone and letting down defenses helps put me in the right frame of mind.
  • Figuring out my place in the group mind before we go on stage is helpful, so listening and focus games = good. 
Bad: Anything thinky, moody or mind-numbing. 
  • Word-play and elimination-style games put me right up in my head. Rhyming and puns, Bippity-Bippity-Bop, that kind of stuff—YEOWCH. (But if it works for my team...then screw it. I'll have fun.)
  • Here's a way to turn yourself into the person no one wants to play with: Bring your drama into the warmup. There's no room for negative energy before a show. 
  • And good grief, people who drink before a show make me nervous. And it's not because I'm a Girl Scout: 
"Alcohol is classified as a depressant because it slows down the central nervous system, causing a decrease in motor coordination, reaction time and intellectual performance."
Indifference to warm-ups strikes me as selfish and unprofessional. I've seen too many troupes who refuse to warm up do shows that don't kick in until the second act. I don't pay to watch a band do a soundcheck...or a football team do pre-game I expect to see a troupe hit the stage ready to go. 

Um. So there.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


See?, originally uploaded by tberrongkc.

Different cat. Different book. Same problem.


Challenging, originally uploaded by tberrongkc.

One of the reasons it can be difficult to get any reading done.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

In lieu of something interesting

Every so often, I go through a phase where I'm the type of person who makes the bed. If I miss a day, it's over. But this week, I am a bed-maker and feeling surprisingly in control of my life.

Friday, May 23, 2008

View from my desk.

View from my desk., originally uploaded by tberrongkc.

For today, anyway. I slept in, it's gorgeous outside, and it's time to work on the festival.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Thwarter., originally uploaded by tberrongkc.

Uh-oh. May not get so much done this weekend after all.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Our rehearsal space is elegant

Pete took Tantrum through another round of character workshops at our secret location in the central library. I love playing with these guys...tonight was playful (and disobedient and religious and

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The source of all the problems

Note to self: Number on bottom of cable modem is IMPORTANT. Next time your Airport is live but your network isn't working, TYPE IT INTO THE BOX. If you can remember how you got to that box...damn.

Also, yes...this may be a 365 photoblog project, because I'm going all in to this documenting every second of my tedious existence. But I refuse to start a whole new blog for it.

Too much to do, too little time and not enough focus.

Work is hard. 

There's not much about my job I don't like...but I will admit to going through periods where the main way I use my brain is to regurgitate the right information at the right time to the right people. I've got a project right now, though, that has far-reaching implications, big stakes and high visibility...and takes actual strategic thought. 

It's kinda hard to shift back into it after a while coasting on fumes. 

And I'm feeling it in my outside work, too; it's just tough to shift into the mindset I need to be in to work on festival stuff. There's a lot in flux, too, so I'm out of my routines: Exit 16 is done, Fakers/Scriptease has a new director, Spite and Tantrum haven't had shows in aaaaages and the festival planning committee has just been meeting once a month. 

I'm taking Friday off, so I'll have four full days to get back on track—and one just to prep for the meeting this Saturday. Had to clean my house for kickball, so I'll be relatively distraction-free. The to-do list, in no particular order: 

—Finalize copy for posters, postcards and Web site
—Write preliminary press releases
—Organize all the info I've got
—Start the Big List of Everything
—Send fundraiser workshop info to auditioners (and check with Keith on response so far)
—Check on timelines to see if we're on track–and add dates to calendar for stuff like purchasing tickets
—Pull together a preliminary list of the kinds of workshops we want instructors to teach

On the plus side, there've been some great opportunities to play and hang out with other improvisers lately:
Kickball was a blast. We had just enough people—which meant everyone played a LOT, and had the stiff and sore muscles to prove it. 
Jared started his Free Longform Practice. So we got a whole dang lot of stage time last night. There was more chat about objectives than in Fight we knew what we were shooting for when we hopped up.
Burnin' Sternums has an idea. We'll start rehearsing in mid-June for our August show. I'm looking forward to playing with this team—I've got maybe a few hours of stage time with Nick and Keith, so it'll be a great new experience. 
Tantrum is going again. Pete led our first rehearsal, and focused us on patience and engaging with other players. I'm excited about where we're heading—much deeper commitment to characters and their relationships, and a much more real-world approach to scenework. 

The Tantrum work, especially, will push me. I'll be playing against my instincts in a few different areas, and it isn't always easy to just pretend the mental barriers don't exist. I realize it'll just take practice and consistently forcing myself to play more confident characters and get more and more comfortable with more physical contact. (I know I judge myself more harshly than others do—I see it in peer evaluations at work fairly often—and I just have to keep reminding myself that on stage.)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

20 or so minutes of funny.

I've sold, planned and played bunches and bunches of them, but I've always been a little freaked out by private gigs. 

Someone hands you a big check to entertain their group—employees, bosses, stakeholders, friends, family, whatever. It's typically a less-than-ideal performance space—no lights or sound, standing in the middle of a dance floor or in front of a fireplace, no control over the environment. You've got a list of things—and people—to incorporate, and an audience who may or may not want to be there. Oh, and the planner is putting his or her reputation in your hands. 

No pressure. 

If you do them long enough, you will experience several Archetypal Corporate Shows. They include, but are by no means limited to: 
—The Prom Show for Disinterested Teenagers
—The Show Outside 
—The Show for Drunk People
—The Show During Which the Guest of Honor Receives A Lapdance from a Guy in Buttless Chaps
—The Tiny Show

In my opinion, you cannot call yourself a professional improviser until you've checked these off. So tonight, Clay (of Scriptease) pulled together Andrew and Danny (both Exit 16 alums) to check off The Tiny Show, and do a 15-20 minute set for my church's young adult group ( group).

They did a really nice job. They performed for a dozen people sitting around a table in our multipurpose room; using the stage just seemed fussy. They played Oracle, Slide Show and Dating Game—that middle one with 5 or 6 audience volunteers under the age of 5, and Clay gets big kudos for including every single one of them in the descriptions.

They were confident, charming, intelligent and appropriate—and it's the audience saying that, not me. Several expressed interest in seeing Clay/Scriptease perform with Tantrum on June 20 at the Westport Coffeehouse ($8! 8pm!).

Arguably, the stakes were lower than some gigs—they did it free as a combination of experience, exposure and a favor for me. And honestly, that makes me even happier that it went so well. 

It's kinda nice every now and then to get a reminder that sometimes, you win audiences over in church basements, a dozen at a time, with simple, quiet, clever little shows. 

Monday, May 12, 2008

Slightly more than mid-point review.

So while I was on the road (in the air, whatever), I zipped through The Funniest One in the Room: The Lives and Legends of Del Close. (Side note: Something Wonderful Right Away author Jeffrey Sweet put me in touch with the author to tell a few stories, but we never were able to connect—it was right around the deadline.)

The good news: It's fascinating. Kim "Howard" Johnson interviews Del and his friends, fellow performers and dozens of other associates—and the book is full of compelling (and disturbing) stories. 

The bad news: If you're a nit-picker like me, there are things about the structure and the narrative that will make you a little nuts. Johnson editorializes quite a bit, which makes him come off more as fanboy than objective observer—and a switch to first-person in the last third of the book is a little jarring. What seems like an effort to include all points of view and pieces of information makes it feel more like transcription than journalism—and an attempt to tie everything back to Hamlet feels a tad manufactured. 

I was Del's driver at the first Big Stinkin' Improv Festival in Austin—because everyone else was afraid of him—so I got to spend a few hours every day with him. (He liked to tell stories; I liked to listen.) We chatted on the phone a few times; he's the only person who ever guessed that my cat is named Argo for the Argo Off-Beat Room, early home to the Compass (predecessors of Second City). I got to hang out with him a little during his trips to our KC festival—and he invited me (along with Ed, Jared and our pal Jason) to see him in Picasso at the Lapin Agile in St. Louis. (We attempted a tour of his old Compass stomping grounds, and I feel damn fortunate to have been along for the ride). 

I was lucky enough to hang out with Del a few times, but it'd be disingenuous to say I knew him. He told great stories, gave wonderful gifts, offered effusive compliments and only completely freaked me out once. Johnson's book made me feel like I knew him a little better...and put some stuff into much clearer context...and made me deeply grateful to Charna Halpern for helping Del become someone who was accessible to people like me. 

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Why summer rocks.

The Exit 16 kids have their final show of the year this coming Tuesday (7pm at the LGIR! Just $5!) and the timing is perfect. 

Working with high school kids is the single most fulfilling thing I do—but by the end of the school year, I've gotten to the point where I feel like I've got nothing left to say. (I can't even begin to express my respect for teachers who do this all day, every day. My three hours a week is noooothing.) 

I can see it in the way I've been working with Scriptease/Fakers, too. Instead of being understanding and nurturing and creating rehearsals and workshops that help them discover the way into the work, I'm trying to boss them out of their issues. Which is about as effective as trying to talk your way into a scene. 

How many mediocre scenes have you been in/watched that are driven almost entirely by narrative? You're saying interesting things, maybe even playing an interesting premise, but the scene is purely verbal—there's no environment, no emotional connection, no in-the-moment reaction to your partner's lines. You try to talk your way to the funny—convince the audience that what you're doing is hilarious—which hardly ever works. 

That's a little how I've felt directing lately—I try to explain what the problem is and can't understand why the performers can't fix it. Idiots! I am so articulate in my assessment of the scene! So clear in my critique! So emphatically disappointed and derisive! WTF, people?

Yep. It's time for a break and some battery-recharging.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Out of it.

Me with Tim Mason right after his very first Second City e.t.c. show. Which was hilarious. My sister and I will be pointing at furniture and simpering, "The creDEEEEEENNza!" all weekend long. (Lori made lots of fun of my big stupid grin in this photo, btw.)

It's been a weird week. 

Improvised at an undisclosed location Monday night. Can't talk about it. 

Corporate training at an undisclosed location Tuesday morning through Thursday afternoon. Can't really say much about that, either. 

The training was great—and a reminder that there's always plenty to learn about yourself. A friend in HR told me to revel in it—to take advantage of the fact that I was getting two and a half days of thinking-about-me time. I'm pretty introspective anyway (part of living alone, I think), but it left me with a lot to chew on.

I had my Myers-Briggs Type Indicator done—again—but with some breakdowns that explained a lot. I'm an E(xtravert), but just barely, and here's why: 
  • Initiating/Receiving: Prefer receiving (Introversion trait)—more reserved than outgoing, uncomfortable initiating social contacts, let others take the lead in introducing people to each other. 
  • Expressive: Off the charts E. First bullet: "Talk a lot!" Also: May sometimes wonder whether you've talked too much or said inappropriate or perhaps embarrassing things.
  • Gregarious: Not as far off the charts, but on the E side—"Want to be asked to participate in activities, even if you're not really interested in them." Disturbing, accurate and hilarious.
  • Active/Reflective: Between E and I—OK interacting or alone. 
  • Enthusiastic: Off the charts E. "Get bored without activity, so you make it happen and often engage others in the activity."
Learning about personality traits feels a lot like learning about improv styles to me—naming it helps you understand why you behave the way you do, but it's not always as easy to translate into change. It's easy to say, "That's who I am. That's how I roll," and leave it at that. 

I've heard students and performers claim they're powerless over their on-stage behavior—that they're just naturally undisciplined or can't help playing blue. My comfort zones these days are low-status, low-self-esteem characters (I've over-corrected from bossy and controlling) and whiny, conflict-y scenes. 

Hell, most of improv is playing against trained behavior, when you think about it.

Anyway, no real point here. My brain is still pretty fried. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Three things. More later.

Tomorrow, I have to talk to people about my leadership philosophy. 

I actually wrote it a long time go on the back of an improv t-shirt. Then, I was pretty smug about the fact that I thought the t-shirt copy was a pretty excellent nod to a Nike ad. Now, I think the last three lines I wrote do a pretty good job of summing up my approach. 

Use what you know. 
Learn what you can. 
Make the rest up as you go along. 

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Squee. Seriously.

So right now, I'm hanging out at the Corbin, waiting to open the house for the Fakers first show as headliners (with Special Guest Eric Kirk, of Piddle). The guys are out getting food with Rob, who's going to coach them.

Which is awesome. 

Also, I'm playing a mix tape of house music Rene put together. Clay and Drew did all the promotion. Before rehearsal, Clay called a meeting to talk about starting up a new high school league. 

Also awesome. 

[And I kinda mean that, Pete.]

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The good news: No fist fights.

Good grief, the Exit 16 kids are a passionate bunch. 

And why not? They're picking the people they'll spend a buuuuunch of time with next year. The players who they'll do trust-falls with, get shushed by the director with (ahem), huddle in bus shelters in Chicago in mid-winter with (unless I can talk them into going in April), order Pizza at 3am with, go to Perkins after every show with...

So it's not particularly surprising that they have strong emotions around audition time. The kids who don't make it in might be disappointed, but they'd be absolutely blown away by how hard they're fought for in our post-callback session at Perkins. (Which tonight ended around 11pm.)
Things start off easy. We do one round of voting without any discussion just to see where we are. Tonight, after that vote, everyone got three minutes of uninterrupted time to talk (they actually did really well with that). Then vote two—after which they decided whether to stay at 11 members or go to 12. They landed on 12—then had to narrow it down to three new members from a group of 9 incredibly funny, talented people. 

I should learn to videotape them at the end of callbacks, all saying, "We'd be great with ANY of these guys. We can't lose."

Because by around 10pm, forget that. Unanimous votes are few and far between. Typically, it's not even that current members are against one auditioner—they're just more for another. 

Exit 16 isn't like a school play. You don't get a shot at the spring show if you don't make the fall musical—you're either in or you're out until next year. There aren't dozens of leading and supporting roles—so you can't be involved at all if you're not one of the players. And once you're in, you're in—so someone has to quit or graduate for a spot to open up. 

The stakes are high. The emotions are higher. And at some point, I have to jump in and declare "majority rules." (Which, as you can imagine, makes me terribly popular.) Because at some point, you have to recognize that you're not going to win the rest of the group over, trust the decision of the majority—and try really, really hard not take it personally. 

And I usually step in and say, "I've been doing this for an extremely long time," (by 11pm, not swearing is really hard) "and I can assure you this is the right decision. Trust the group. Trust me. Because I have, as I may have mentioned, been auditioning, training and directing improvisers since BEFORE YOU WERE BORN." (A humbling realization: If they don't agree, my opinion means absolutely ZIP. I'm just like a regular grown-up, suddenly.)

It probably doesn't get easier to know someone you really want in the group didn't make it. But by the last show of the year—where the new guys get on stage for the first time—it's exciting and official and real. By the first rehearsal, they're learning to trust each other. And by Chicago, the group feels like it's even stronger than it was the last year.

It's a lot of work to get there...but once you do, the result is this kind of passion.

Oh, AND...there was a tornado warning. At a little after 7:30, phones started ringing like crazy. Sirens were going off. And we were in the basement...where it was safe. Weirdest audition ever.