Sunday, August 31, 2008

Half-assed attempt at Monthly Blog Topic

OK. Pete posed the question, "What do you expect to gain from the upcoming festival?" And since I'm knuckles deep in it right now, answering seems like a good excuse to take a break. 

From a purely mercenary point of view: Press and promotion
We created the first festival in 1994 for two reasons—media attention was one of them. You have to create news to get in the news, and the festival has worked to varying degrees all eight times. This time, we're getting a boost; Thunderdome, Guy's Fringe Fest shows and a hyper-active local scene have caused enough of a ruckus to merit a full story about the community in the Star's Fall Preview.  And that's good for everybody. 

But it's also a chance to plug the hell out of the groups I'm in or involved with—Tantrum, Exit 16 and Scriptease (I'm no longer their coach, but I'm still their producer). Program ads, fliers in the lobby and a chance to showcase our work in front of folks who usually don't see us...all priceless  when you're trying to build a following. 

From an improviser's point of view: Watching and learning
I'll watch other groups play and love every minute of it—and, admittedly, won't be able to help measuring what I do against what they're doing. I'll study with Jill Bernard and Ed Goodman and get a little better. I'll direct the new Exit 16 troupe's first show and be a nervous wreck all the way through it. And I'll get to play with six of my most favorite people I've ever gotten to play with in the Tantrum set, which will be over far too quickly.

And then there's: Getting my geek on
This is what I love. And I'm going to get to do it and think about it non-stop for two weekends in a row. 

But the biggest thing I'll get out of the KC Improv Festival: life back
This isn't a martyr thing. I'm just going to be relieved when it's over. 

Since our debrief a few days after the last festival, this one has occupied expanding parts of my days, my brain and my energy—because I've let it. It expands to fill whatever time I open up. The answer to the question "How's it going?" (whether asked at work, at a bar, after a show, in the ladies room) is "Well, the festival..." and rambles about the tasks, the press, the meetings, the promotion or some other tiresome thing. 

I've always been pretty single-minded. Which is handy when something needs to get done. But good gravy... even I don't want to listen to me right now. 

OH, and...
The shows last night were great. Babel Fish rocked. Tommy and I did the thing we meant to do. Nathan made me lose it in the mixed set. Fluffer Nutter blew our minds. It was as fun playing with Burnin' Sternums as I thought it would be. (How could it not? It was Pete, Rob, Keith and Nick, for criminy's sake.) Type O Positive was funny, funny, funny and won Thunderdome. John was able to keep me airborne for a whole scene in freeze tag and didn't end up in the emergency room, which for reasons you only understand if you've lost a big load of weight, makes a year of personal training sessions totally worth it, because I didn't think twice about tagging someone out and making John pick me up. Jill and Ed threw a lovely party, and I was glad I followed Pete and Rob over, despite the early-on whining that it was too late, already. 

So here's what I learned from the Sternum's set. I've known it, but I think I learned it in a way that can be helpful for me. I'm going to back up. 

The set I do with Tommy is entirely based on an exercise from Joe Bill and Mark Sutton's Power Improv workshop, where one person starts alone on stage, talking in a state of heightened emotion to someone who isn't there—yet. Another player comes in as the person who caused all the drama. 

We just do that over and over. Last night, to keep myself out of my head and in a state of high emotion, we got a bunch of emotions, wrote them down, and put them all over the stage. Then we'd edit by walking over to a spot with an emotion, reading it, then starting a new ghost scene. It really worked for me—I stayed out of my head and started from a powerful place in pretty much every scene. 

Fast forward to my entrance in the Tantrum set. The four guys were on stage first, setting up a kick ass scene. I entered with a character choice I thought would support the narrative. Seems completely logical...but I totally effed myself. I didn't regret the choice during the piece, but looking back, the majority of my choices were about the story—I was constantly wondering what to do next. 

Which is fine. 

But I'm much stronger when I start from my gut—with a physical or emotional choice instead of an intellectual one. Where I started was where I ended up. I added to the story, but never felt powerful or playful. I wondered what to say instead of knowing what to do. I played close to myself physically, emotionally and in status. (This, by the way, is very similar to how I felt in the last Tantrum show.)

So, what I learned was this: Instead of watching a scene for information, I need to trust my brain to track that stuff and just feel it. (It's not a stretch to believe I'll be OK with that approach—connecting dots is kinda what I do for a living, and it comes naturally. I just have to override the part of my brain that takes those pieces of information and jumps ahead to possible conclusions.) When it feels like I'm supposed to go in, I need to walk into a character, make eye contact with someone in the scene and react emotionally to whatever I see in his or her face. 

I think it'll work. Because I think what I've figured out is that I've played emotionally with Spite and Poke and intellectually with Tantrum and Burnin' Sternums. It's easy to be emotional in smaller casts—you don't have time to think. It's having time to think that gets me in trouble. 

Which is back to Dan Izzo: "If your brain drives the bus, the whole Partridge Family dies." 

I may be figuring out how to take away the keys. 

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