My evening view for the next two months.
I mean, it'll change. Sometimes, it'll be web copy instead of a press release.
And sometimes there will be a big cat ass on the keyboard.
...we had beer.
Also: Man, what a fun night of improv. The Trip Fives' show was a blast. Everyone had terrific moments...and seeing Jenny back in a full show was all about "YAY!"
At Thunderdome, all the teams brought it. Some Technical Difficulties, then Makeshift Militia, then Babel Fish did hilarious sets. Ed and Jared, as usual, put on a hell of a show. And Some Technical Difficulties won the vote.
Am I crazy proud of the kids and Andrew? Yep. Now...I gotta say, I would love to get Scriptease and Burnin' Sternums into the finals. I love the idea of generations competing for the belt.
But as usual, Thunderdome is more about the improv than the winner. Tonight was a blast to watch.
Also, to keep track of what happened: Joe may wake up tomorrow and realize he asked Andrew and me to play with Babelfish at Fringe Fest. And Nathan and I decided it'd be really fun to get all the folks who were involved the the KC High School Improv League together in a show. That would be (as far as we can tell): me, Joe, Nathan, Patrick, Adam, Ed, Jared and Tommy.
I do a lot of presentations. The invite list, however, is rarely "all of marketing."
"All of marketing" doesn't show up. And I ended up knowing most of the people in the room. But I was a little more nervous about this one for a few reasons:
It went fine. I was, as I knew I'd be, completely comfortable with the material; making it interesting was the tough part.
It's not always (OK: almost never) super-fascinating to talk about process. Showing the creative that results from the process usually makes it more interesting, but in this case, everybody's already seen the creative over and over. So at 5pm yesterday, I was wandering around the building with my camera phone, trying to capture images that would spark stories or demonstrate points in entertaining ways.
Which meant that though I knew the basics of the presentation, I wasn't putting the story I was going to tell together until this morning. I put it in the presentation notes and had about 75% of a run through before delivering it to a few dozen people in an overcrowded room without a functioning AC. And I couldn't figure out how to make the remote work (turns out I wasn't aiming it carefully enough at the 1 square mm spot I needed to hit) and needed to glance at my notes for some of the slides. So I felt a little tied to the computer.
All of this to say: I dig presenting. But making shit up with my friends is more fun.
Above—the way Lighten Up mini-focus-group tested and designed our logo (that's the original in the upper left, with some inspiration from a design annual in the middle). It's so...retro. Graph paper and Sharpies. Imagine.
Whether you need to put time and effort into your name depends entirely on what you’re doing.
(NOTE: Um, it might be that because I work in marketing for one of the most recognized brands around, I’m a teensy smidge biased.)
Companies pay writers big bucks to name products, programs and services. They have strategies—should names be descriptive? Or more evocative? Real or made-up words? They do trademark searches, focus-group test the crap out of the names and invest millions to sink them into the public consciousness.
But that doesn’t mean they’re not important. A name may be the only thing an audience member sees when he makes a decision about whether to see your show. Or what an event planner uses to decide if she’ll call you about the company holiday party. A name is a branded snapshot of what you’re selling. And if you’ve got long-term plans, your brand is your most valuable asset.
(ANOTHER NOTE: Turns out this is exactly where two things I’m pretty passionate about come smack up against each other.)
In my improv land, there are six categories (with examples I’ve been involved with):
The biggest difference between men and women improvisers has nothing to do with what they do on stage.
On the way to workshops on Sunday, Pete and I were discussing the great disparity in product usage between men and women. This is not a new discussion or a radical observation...but it's something I've thought about more often as I've zipped through my last couple of birthdays.
Improvisation is—especially in newer improv cities—a young person's game. If you haven't moved somewhere with the intent of making a living at it, having a life means moving rehearsals and shows down the priority list. So the great majority of folks on stage are in their 20s and early to mid-30s.
I don't consider myself particularly vain, and—beyond practicing my next age out loud long before the digits change just so it doesn't freak me out when I say it for the first time—I've never been age obsessed (or age appropriate). As girls go, I'm one of the low maintenance ones.
But lately, it's occurred to me that I have at least a few years on almost everyone I do scenes with. The last thing I want is for audiences to think, "Man. Must be weird for those guys to do improv with their mom." I don't know that men have the same concerns. Just as there tend to be more men in improv troupes, they also seem to stay longer.
It's the Hollywood cliche—men get distinguished, women get old.
It's just weird that I feel the same thing creeping into my consciousness. And I live in Kansas City, for criminy's sake.
So suddenly, moisturizer (specially formulated for different body parts) is a bigger part of my routine. I use five different volumizing products. Because of stupid rosacea, there are three different skin products (plus one for zits YOU'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO FREAKIN' GET AT MY AGE), and no chance of going on stage without makeup. And the biggest benefit to working out besides my general health is that I look about 10 years younger than I did when I was heavier.
I hate being the kind of person who thinks about this kind of thing. It's relatively new to me, so I feel like I obsess about it a little. It's not that I'm ashamed of or uncomfortable with my age. I'm happier, more confident and more comfortable with myself than I've ever been.
But every now and then, I wonder how much longer I can get away with this life.
The kitchen. It is tidy. I say tidy instead of clean, because it's mostly about things being put away and surfaces wiped down. Also, the clean clothes are off the desk in the the hallway.
Why is this relevant? How is this possibly improv-related?
I'm guessing I'm not the only procrastinator in the improv world. And at a certain point, things get so overwhelming I get a little immobilized. There doesn't seem to be an entry point to the to-do list—which starts looking more like a clustering exercise than a list.
Yay! It's all very exciting.
Our first rehearsal back after a moral victory in Thunderdome (hey, we were totally OK with doing a killer set but not winning the popular vote) was to hang out at Megan's and watch recordings of our T-dome set and the Tantrum show from last Friday.
It's nice when improv shows hold up on video—both were fun to watch. We looked for changes we'd make to our set (we've got some changes to the transition we'll try as we rehearse for our Fringe Fest shows), some patterns we'll try to break out of and—perhaps most important—some wardrobe choices we'll reconsider.
So Keith made a funny about getting me drunk enough to open a theater. (That photo up there is the page in my scrapbook with the mailer we used to find our first theater. We sent out between 50-100 of them...it's been so long I don't remember.)
There is not enough Gold Label Southern Comfort in the WORLD.
I know a whole lot more about how not to run a theater than about how to make one work. Lighten Up's run was a lot of fun and I wouldn't trade the experience for anything, but having an improv theater means that the last thing on your to-do list will always, always, always be improv.
Here's some of the Running An Improv Theater To-Do List (and this was a poorly run one—imagine how much more would be on the list for a successful one):
Kinda. You know, not debilitatingly so, but enjoying a post-show beer. So maybe it's just that.
The Tantrum show was a blast. Playing with Scriptease was a blast. Man, it was fun to be on stage again.
More later. Must sleep. Because it's after 1am, and that's super-late for me unless I'm at home watching Iron Chef.
Last week at CIF, Mark mentioned he was heading to KC and Ed Goodman said he should have BBQ at Oklahoma Joe's. I had a delicate girly portion of the "Lean and Mean"—pulled turkey with cole slaw on top, 'cause that's how we do things down south. Above is Mark's sampler.
Obviously, he chose wisely.
So today was day one of our presentation class. It's interesting doing something like this with a group used to presenting—other classes I've taken were full of people with little or no experience.
In a lot of ways, it's harder. I like presenting—and I'm typically very comfortable with it. In the environment at Hallmark, it's a bad thing to seem...present-y. Because you're typically working in a small room—maybe not even standing up—you have to be persuasive and enthusiastic and smooth, without being slick or aggressive. So you have to be a good presenter without seeming like you're working too hard at it.
But it does take work. Mark had us playing with tone, inflection, style, physicality...sometimes naturally, sometimes in an exaggerated ways. I'm completely comfortable doing that in front of strangers, but in front of my team, I felt surprisingly vulnerable.
It's hard to put into words. I had to really push myself to put 100% into some of the exercises, because laughing and holding back felt safer. I don't know if it was fear of looking stupid because of what I was doing or because I was doing it. It was a really alien feeling, because in my improv life, it's holding back that makes you look dumb.
Anyway, it was a great day. Five more hours of the same tomorrow. Then a Tantrum show I couldn't be looking more forward to at 8pm.
This is Mark sitting with part of Tantrum before rehearsal.
Yes, we rehearse in a boardroom. It actually works out quite well. Though we can't yell obscenitites too loudly, out of respect for the librariness of it all.
Rehearsal was fabulous. We ran the piece we'll do Friday, got some notes, did some exercises, got some more notes, ran the piece again, then finished up at the Flying Saucer with notes and some personal feedback.
The great thing about getting notes from Mark is the level of detail he hits in his feedback. Things like "play forward/back physically," "play the between characters" and "try sitting down so you can't kick back on one leg."
For me, the big note was a "middle character" one—I can handle high and low status, but need to play more between. And find ways to show low status other than verbal hesitation. The low status, though, was progress from the last times he's seen me play, when I was most comfortable in bossy-land. (This is the benefit of working with an instructor a lot over the course of 15 years.)
Anyway, I didn't think I could be more excited about Friday, but I am. One of the best pieces of feedback was for the whole group. It's easy to talk yourself into projecting results—"this will be a great show." Instead, play moment to moment. Don't put the pressure on the show—put the focus on the moment.
Wow. That smarts a little. I saw Animal House in...6th grade? 7th? I had to convince all the seniors in our church youth group—which my parents led—to tell Mom and Dad it was TOTALLY appropriate for a 12 year old.
There was a lot of stuff I didn't get. What I did get, and love: Pretty much everything John Belushi did. Hopping across campus like some kind of psycho ninja. Being a zit. The "nothing is over 'til we say it's over" speech. And, for some weird reason, the fact that he keeps saying "Holy shit-TH" after they accidentally kill the horse.
But wow. 30 years. That just sounds like a really long time.
I've been working on delegating. You know, asking for support when I need it—maybe even before I start to get completely overwhelmed. This isn't exactly what I had in mind, although it's nice to have company when I'm working.
I know at some point between now and the festival I'll hit a wall. But this week, the knowledge that I have a Tantrum rehearsal and two days of improv-based presentation training with Mark Sutton followed by a show Friday is making this week's schedule of meetings, creative briefs, managerial stuff, workouts, festival work and house cleaning seem totally doable.
Parked at the Filling Station, where 95% of all KCiF activity is planned, to eat the World's Best Wrap (Ginger Wrap with Apple and Fresh Mozzarella) and crank out personalized to-do lists.
I like gorgeous sunny days as much as the next person, but if I've got stuff to do on a computer, nothing beats sitting in this place next to a floor-to-ceiling window and not feeling like I'm wasting a chance to be outside by doing it.
Prepare for a deluge of e-mails. I'm not leaving 'til the rain lets up.
UPDATE: Have worked with only one break since lunchtime, and finally feel like I've got things under control. Man, it feels good. Temporary festival flier: Done. Communication with planning teams: Done. Thunderdome program: Done. Tantrum stuff: Done.
I left work early (stupid, stupid cold...I'm MISSING HAPPY HOUR BECAUSE OF THIS, DAMMIT) and caught part of a Steve Carrell interview on NPR.
In talking about the scene in The 40 Year Old Virgin where he said, "You know how when you grab a woman's breast...it feels like...a bag of sand," and the chest waxing scene, he said what he really thought was funny was the reactions of the people in the scenes with him.
I love the idea of approaching a scene with the idea of "I'm just going to give my partners big ol' fabulous gifts, because I can't wait to see how they react to them."
Also, I love the idea of having bigger, more playful, even extreme reactions.
Something to mess with...
Because they're convinced I am a cat hoarder.
I've read the majority of these. And feel kinda guilty about having not read all of them.
I hit amazon.com every few months and browse for improv books (my recs get cluttered with various Star Wars books I have no interest in—as fascinating as the Jedi Reader series sounds, I've been reading at a third grade level since I was five, thank you). It's amazing how the numbers have picked up in the last few years...you used to have the big three: Something Wonderful Right Away, Improvisation for the Theater and Impro. There were a few game books, but mostly in the elementary or lame categories. Then Truth In Comedy opened the floodgates (I so don't feel like linking everything. Just go here.)
Now it's hard to keep up.
(The ones up on top are various leadership and other-fleeting-hobby books.)
Gah #1: Forgot to take a damn picture again.
So this is our fabulous, robot-y poster from Michael, who kicks ass.
Gah #2: I've got that stupid, slightly sore throat edging up into my nose thing that tells me I'm looking at a full-blown cold in the next couple of days.
Gah #3: So because of that, I lead rehearsal instead of playing. (What's the point, really, when if you end up in a make-out scene you can only go half-tongue? Seriously.)
I had figured out some stuff to do as I felt progressively worse over the course of the day. We played around last week with different ways to deconstruct a scene or monologue, so this time we pushed that further. And it sounds like we spent a lot of the rehearsal up in our heads—starting with a pattern game warmup.
We've been working a lot in a pseudo-Annoyance style, I think, and the work we did tonight brought in more iO philosophy. Some mapping, some thematic tangents, some pattern games...and you can really, really see why Del ranted so much against arguing.
The emotion starts out feeling like you're getting somewhere, but in almost every case, saying "No" in any way, shape or form stopped the game cold. It destroyed the playfulness, thwarted the moves, blocked the action. I am NOT someone who believes saying no is always bad—sometimes it's absolutely called for—but it was interesting to watch it get so much in the way tonight.
Pete? Nikki? What'd you guys think?
The main thought that kept going through my head (as I later texted to Nikki) was, "Who the hell am I to give these people notes?" Stepping into the critiquing role with my own troupe always feels weird to me—tonight was no exception.