Sunday, August 31, 2008
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Burnin' Sternums enjoy the Tantrum promo @ the library.
I liked the flier already, but as a poster in a quiet, stately place like the downtown library, it has even more impact. They've done a great job of positioning us as rowdy.
So tonight was going to be the night I saw some other folks improvise. But after sitting down and digging into the festival program, I realized I have ABSOLUTELY NO BUSINESS LEAVING MY SOFA until some serious work gets done. So tonight has been about the program. And some additional lists. And getting info out to the staff.
Sounds like the Star has been busily interviewing local improvisers. Clancy, Tina, Tim, John...everyone's getting the chance to weigh in with their take on the improv community.
The coolest thing—there's a lot of news. Guy took over a stage for the KC Improv Showcase at the Fringe Fest. Improv Thunderdome continues to go strong. ComedyCity moved to Westport. And more troupes are doing more shows in more theaters. And there's the festival—which, by lucky coincidence, synched up with the release of Jason's new movie. Sweet.
The article isn't happening because of the festival—or because any one person or troupe sent a press release or poked at a contact. The Star's Fall Preview is focusing on improv comedy because exciting things are happening. As is true with all of improv, the best work isn't done by an individual—it's the result of the group mind.
Burnin' Sternums had our final all-group rehearsal today, and it felt great. Our piece is pretty ambitious for a pick-up game, and we're ready. Everything came together today. We ran it three times—and though it got progressively weirder—each set worked in its own way. One observation: We're, um, kind of a violent bunch.
Oh, and Tantrum had a show last night. With Spite and TBA. As always, it was a blast.
Valissa Smith couldn't have been a better pick as our guest monologist. She's a terrific storyteller, did a great job with our request for tangents and was an absolute blast to play with.
Spite's set was fun. We strayed a little from our game plan and didn't vary as much in our edits as we'd typically like to do, but we had a great time together. It'll be great to have another show on tape to review; it's hard to figure out your patterns when you're in the middle of something. Random thoughts:
- I am not allowed to get trapped in a shirt again. Ever.
- I can still do a respectable backbend, motherfucker.
- Response varies from improvisers who watch the show: Some think it's weird if we're not all on stage all the time, and some feel we could vary the rhythm more.
- Two things we could do: Play more "three-for-all" scenes (we tend to stick to 2-against-1) and try two-person scenes with an "innocent bystander"—someone who's in the scene, but clearly not part of the primary relationship.
A Star photographer shot the show. My only request to her: Please make sure we look cute.
The Tantrum set felt OK, but there are two things I feel like we have potential to improve:
- Thematic exploration of monologues. This is a tough one; if audiences don't think you're being literal enough with the suggestion, they feel hosed. So we have to figure out a way to establish how stretchy the continuum can be—how do we let the audience know that every now and then, the connection to the monologue may happen in the player's mind and lead to something completely different?
- Taking care of the players as much are the idea. I think that—because we want to start our scenes with clear, up-front initiations that let each other know how we're tying into the monologue—we sometimes hesitate to cut a scene because we don't know what to do next.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Monday, August 18, 2008
No one knows what the future holds for improvisational comedy in Kansas City, but at least four groups are willing to make it up as they go along. "Improv should be as big here as it is in Chicago, Minneapolis or Seattle, and that's something all four groups are going to have to work together to get," says Trish Berrong, a performer and publicist for Lighten Up! "This is a real exciting thing that could be happening in Kansas City. " ...
One of the members had his first improv experience with Laughing Stock, a 15-member group loosely based at UMKC that can count on crowds of 200 at its shows on alternating Saturdays at the Fine Arts Theatre in Mission.
A few others got started in ComedySportz, which is selling out four of its five weekly shows at the 8th Street Cafe Theatre in Lucas Place. ComedySportz is also where the three members of Out on a Limb met. That group now runs a regular Tuesday night show at Stanford's in Overland Park.
All four troupes are slowly exposing people weaned on stand-up to a form of comedy that launched the careers of most "Saturday Night Live" performers, as well as Robin Williams, George Wendt and Betty Thomas.Brief one-person monologues and entire multiperson sketches are based on audience suggestions. If you want to see Bill Clinton learn how to smoke marijuana, or Elvis doing a culinary show, this is the place to go. Likewise to watch people jump around like Curious George or make up poems on the spot.
"Kansas City hasn't been exposed to long-form that much,'' said Lighten Up co-founder Trish Berrong, who conceived of Spontaneous Combustion. ``The lights go up at the beginning and they go out 30 minutes later. Scenes morph. The laughs you get out of it may not be as quick, but they're richer. '' Berrong and other forward-looking improv performers would like to see long-form gain wider exposure on television, much the way stand-up comedy did in the 1980s.
"By the year 2000 I want this on Comedy Central or HBO,'' she said.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Coming in to work on Sunday is more fun when you ride a scooter to your desk.
My dad, who is clearly in some sort of late mid-life crisis, just bought a red corvette convertible. My early mid-life crisis purchase...OK, well it has red accents. And it IS convertible, from a certain point of view.
Realizing that riding it around in my living room was not suitable preparation for a rush-hour commute to work, I took advantage of having some work stuff to get done today and rode the thing into the office. What I have learned:
- Little hills rock. Not ready for big ones yet.
- It's more of a workout than it looks like. With one leg pushing, the other balancing your body weight, and—well, I don't know EXACTLY why my arms started to burn a little bit, but there you go.
- On the list of things I have to do this week, not many things will be more fun than zipping through the empty halls of our building.
- Doing all of our scene and character changes from two stationary chairs.
- Drawing a slip of paper with status (from 1-10) on it before entering a scene.
- Starts building trust.
- Give me a sense of their vibe.
- Makes it really, really fun.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Three clear surfaces. It's like a miracle.
Every now an then I hit the wall on clutter and can NO LONGER THINK until there's a clean desk. This was one of those weeks.
I read recently that every time you get distracted, it takes quite a while to get back on track. Work is constant distraction—emails, phone calls, Facebook, Twitter, office drop-ins, questions to answer, copy to review, copy to write, meetings to attend. So when I have big, hardcore project to tackle, it's tough—getting my brain focused isn't as easy as it used to be.
Same with the festival work. I have to just grab the least pleasant task off the to-do list and plow through it.
Monday, August 11, 2008
The Olympics make excellent white noise.
Still feeling a little scattered...there's so much to do it's a little tough to focus on one task at a time. On tonight's list:
- A rough page plan for the program—figuring out how many ads we've got, where to put them, what that means for the number of pages of editorial, and the implications for number of signatures if we need more space for ads or editorial.
- A first draft of an intro to the program, because I had some preliminary ideas.
- Chatting with and e-mailing potential technical improvisers. Ditto for photographers.
- Finishing up some stuff for the August shows at the Corbin.
In non-festival news, Spite and Tantrum are getting ready for a show on the 22nd. Megan is out of town, so Spite has the week off rehearsal—which isn't too bad of a deal, since we get a bonus rehearsal every time Tantrum gets together. Tommy and I are getting ready—in our own special way—for the Poke set before Thunderdome.
And Exit 16 starts up again in two weeks. Over the last few years, I've focused almost exclusively on directing and teaching, so every year I've started rehearsals with the kids knowing EXACTLY what to do with them. Now, I'm performing (a LOT) and I have no idea what to do. The good news: Most of the troupe is in their third year. So I'll bet if I ask them what they want, they'll tell me.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Saturday, August 9, 2008
One of these days I'll have to go INside. I love driving by this place at night—and this time, I couldn't resist slowing down. This is from the driveway in front of the main museum, with the Bloch building reflected in the pool. I can't believe we have stuff like this in Kansas City.
Anyway. This was a nice li'l juxtaposition to this afternoon's rehearsal, which was—by design—anything but tranquil.
Burnin' Sternums have bitten off a pretty big improv chunk for Thunderdome. Last week, we worked on character stuff; this week, we played around with the number of people on stage, and what we're doing while we're there. Exercise 1: Growing Shrinking, but not the game. One player starts, the rest join one by one and then leave—but not in the same order, and not changing scenes. Then we used a Jilly Bee exercise—two people start a scene, and the third enters to fuck it up. (The point: No one can fuck up a scene.)
What we lacked in focus, we made up in play. It was a little bit of what my friend Amy would call a "clusterspank" (she has kids, and likes that it still sounds dirty but is harmless), but good grief, it was fun. We learned how far out we can push it...now it's just a matter of grounding the scene in relationships.
Most important: We were shushed. In the library. WHICH IS AWESOME. (And makes me really happy Rob's name is on the Burnin' Sternum's reservation instead of mine.)
(On the other hand, I can't help wondering when we'll get kicked out of our fabulous free rehearsal space. We work really hard to get in rooms where we won't be disruptive to library patrons...but today, we got stuck in the worst possible room for a rehearsal. 8x8, right off the main floor. A little hard to relax...)
Friday, August 8, 2008
It's not that I'm a bad cook. I'm actually pretty good.
But here's tonight's schedule: Eat. Nap. Work on festival.
The nap is essential—this has been a long freakin' week. Fight Club Monday. Spite rehearsal Tuesday. Tantrum rehearsal Wednesday. Trip to Chicago Thursday. Plus a work week that has included half a dozen projects and issues that felt like fairly big deals—all good things, but exhausting.
Thursday, August 7, 2008
The meetings I had with our ad agency in Chicago went great. I met some really fabulous, relatively new folks on the Planning team and looked at new stuff with two of my favorite people on the
And now I'm on my way back to KC.
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
Seriously. We rehearse hard.
This, however, was taken at John's, where we debrief.
We ("we" being "Spite," being "Nikki, me and Megan," from left to right) were trying to figure out the roller coaster of our shows' success. From our POV (and that of improvisers we trust), we're 2 and 2—2 we're incredibly proud of, 2 we know weren't our best work. Without a coach to pick things apart, we're on our own to figure out what's working, what's not and how to fix what's broken.
What we know:
- We trust each other—we've said it, we know it, we've internalized it.
- We have fun f-ing with each other—at our best, we're surprising each other with what we come up with.
- We're equals—we feel like we're evenly matched, and each bring something equally cool to the group.
Monday, August 4, 2008
Sunday, August 3, 2008
The Notebook Full Of Everything (leather-bound, $30) was a charming idea. But for festival business, nothing beats the MacBook.
The goal was to capture meetings, dates, events, tasks, deadlines—everything!—all in one convenient, easy-to-pass-along-to-the-next-artistic-director place.
Maybe I'll just hand over the computer instead.
The festival is now fewer than five weeks away. It sounds like a looooong time to some folks—and like minutes to me, because there's so much in between. The second I sit down at the computer, I'm learning to open three Stickies—one for festival stuff, one for Tantrum stuff and one for everything else (work, Corbin Board, personal life). That way I can type stuff in as it occurs to me, and it makes it at least a little less likely nothing falls off.
Saturday, August 2, 2008
Friday, August 1, 2008
The posters and postcards are ready.
If you are a local improviser (and if you read this blog and did not give birth to me, you are) (hi, Mom! I'm fine), you're going to get a big stack of something sometime this week.
Last year, we seriously fell down on poster distribution (if you want a limited edition collector's print, let me know). This year, we're giving a reasonable number of postcards and posters to every troupe to pass on to their members.
Whether fliers work is up for debate. I've spent too many Saturday afternoons going into local hangouts to put up fliers and never seen real evidence of results. What does work? Hanging posters where you work. We'll have more than 60 improvisers performing at the festival. If each one hangs a poster at work, and couple of people see it, and those people each bring a date or a couple of friends, we're getting somewhere.
The other thing up for debate? Whether your troupe should put any effort into promoting a show with other troupes in it. I've been a theater director and a member of big and small troupes, and I get why people are worried:
- Why would I share my audience?
- What if my audience likes someone else's show better?
- Is there really enough audience to go around?
Sigh. I've had the discussion too many times to want to rehash it (especially at 1am after working on promotion for the last four hours). But here's what happens at the festival:
- People who've never seen improv before will come—maybe just to see Jason Sudeikis, or because a friend dragged them—and they'll dig it and want to see more.
- KC Improv will come off looking gooooooood. Professional venue, professional shows, great energy.
- Everyone leaves with a program with contact info for every troupe in town. (Buy a program ad at a discount if you want to show off a little more.)
- Your players will see the "competition"—and either feel great ("Hey! We're better!") or inspired ("Wow! We could kick ass like they do!").
- Your players will meet the "competition" and like them, and realize they've got a few dozen more drinking buddies. (Except for the Exit 16 kids. They are not allowed.)
What I'm saying, in a rambly, incoherent way, is that last year's Showcase and Festival did more than promote the community—it helped create it. Thunderdome has strengthened it by another gazillion degrees, giving people who worked together a chance to play together. There's more cross-pollination in KC improv than there ever has been—and more groups. Four of the groups performing this year were just getting started when last year's fest went up.
It seems like when we get around each other, we make each other better—or, at the very least, have a whole lot of fun. And that's good for everyone.
It's kinda cool.