Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thankfulness

OK, then.

I'm thankful for a kind, funny, supportive, loving family. For parents who are still best friends and crazy about each other after being married for 43 years (though the installation of a new hot-tub everywhere they move is...a little unsettling). For the best, most thoughtful and generous, most hilarious sister anyone could ask for—and a truly kick-ass brother-in-law. For the smartest, funniest, most talented 2 1/2 year old nephew on the planet—and the one who'll get here in March.

I'm thankful for a job that lets me do what I'm best at—but still challenges me and frustrates me and teaches me something new every day. For coworkers who work hard, ooze creativity and laugh—loudly—countless times a day. And for the opportunity to work for a company that does something I unreservedly, unabashedly, unapologetically believe in. 

For friends who get who I am—and for every chance I get play, talk or goof off with them. For Tantrum and Spite and Poke and Improv Thunderdome. For the kids in Exit 16, who give me more than I could ever give them. For that feeling you get when you create something from nothing—and realize it wouldn't exist without those people in that moment. 

For health, comfort, time...all the big things it's so easy to take for granted. For goofy things...like good wine, cats who curl up under the covers during the winter, Texas and Georgia football, The Daily Show, wireless internet and MacBooks, and the occasional Strawberry Frosted Poptart. 

And for a new leader who inspires hope and optimism instead of fear and cynicism. For the feeling that things are really, finally going to change for the better...in ways we haven't even begun to imagine.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Over the meh-ness

Tantrum had our "business meeting" on Monday. We had "wine," drank "beer" and made "decisions." 

And I, for one, am pretty happy with all of them—but even more so because it felt like, as different as each of our goals are as improvisers, we want to get the same thing out of Tantrum. 

Which is: We want to do good shows, make people laugh and be proud of what we’ve done. (I didn't have to work that hard, Pete—it kinda turned itself into a mission statement.)

Next year should be a busier year for us than this one—we'll know more about dates in the coming weeks. 

For now, we get to focus on our last public show of the year: A split show with Corey & Mo's The Union and a chance to work with Tom Farnan as our monologist. It's Friday night at 8pm at the Westport Coffeehouse. (We'll do a short, get-to-know-you rehearsal with Tom tonight.) The Pitch put in a nice plug for us—especially nice because our shows have been consistent enough that we got an unqualified, poster-quality blurb: "daring, scene-based improvisation of one of our best local troupes."

So, you know, come see it. 

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Meh

The complete lack of any desire to write is probably a result of how little I've improvised lately. And the fact that I'm just getting over a cold. And this stupid, dark, grey, cold weather. 

With the Tantrum library series over, we haven't been rehearsing. And I was out of town last Tuesday, so I handed the Exit 16 kids off to Andrew, the alum who directed them in Thunderdome.  

Gah. I miss it. I want to play more. 

Fortunately, Tantrum has a show with Corey and Mo this Friday. We'll rehearse with Tom Farnan, our monologist, for a bit on Wednesday night—just running the format. (Which is fine—it'll be fun—because it's always nice to get a sense of how someone new will tell stories. It's just not the kind of rehearsal I find the most helpful. To grow, I need to work on technique—like the Viewpoints stuff, or relationship work, or editing, or movement, or SOMETHING besides just doing scenes.)

Tantrum meets tomorrow night to figure out what's up for next year. We've got some preliminary dates penciled in, but our players are starting to commit to other projects, so we need to nail down some dates to plan around. After that, Nikki and Megan and I can put a little more focus on figuring out what's up with Spite. 

So that's two troupes, which you'd think would be plenty. But it's two troupes full of busy, busy people who perform with other groups, so the likelihood we'll play and rehearse enough for me to feel like I'm staying on my game is...slim. 

I've talked with a few other folks about short-term projects—once Tantrum's schedule is locked down, I can start taking that more seriously. My goal: At least one rehearsal a week, and at least two shows a month. I've been wanting to take one of John's classes out at Roving Imp, so I'll do that after the first of the year. Belly dancing classes are closed until January...I should probably look into getting a DVD to make sure I don't lose the little bit I learned in the three classes I took.

So yeah.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Regrets?

So Jim, who now counts as a true improviser, having been through a show, a post-show business-type meeting, and post-show beer, asked this: "Do you ever have regrets after a show because you can see so clearly what you should have done?" Or something like that. 

Oh, hell yes. 

Tonight, for example, I regret that I got so swept up in the richness and the fabulousness of the stories that I primarily played with my brain, and not my gut. (I had a great past blog link for that. But I don't index.) Dammit, dammit, dammit. I am too easily seduced by narrative. Two potential plot points, and I start connecting dots in my head instead of walking in with an emotion. 

I've forgotten to remind myself not to do that. 

Also: 
  1. We could have done a parallel scene about what it means to be a woman. 
  2. I would love to get to the point where all of our scenes don't have to be funny. Baby steps. 
  3. Jim was perfect.
It was a good show. People had fun. The library is happy, and we're talking about what to do next year. 

But yeah...I got me a few regrets. The difference between me now and me a few years ago is that I let them inspire me instead of torture me. 



Tuesday, November 11, 2008

About vulnerability

We talked about this a lot when I worked with Jill and Dave, and I think it's fascinating. 

So, you know, bear with me. 

A few random thoughts: 
  • Del Close said once that people get into improvisation because they've been told they're funny. And there's a good chance they developed the sense of humor to deal with some perceived character flaw or insecurity. And the only way to succeed in improvisation is to reveal your deepest, darkest self and shames. So the thing  you're drawn to forces you to face your worst fears. 
  • Jill Bernard says (I'm paraphrasing here, and won't do it as elegantly) that the only way to succeed in a solo show is to be willing to 'break your own heart."
  • Consistently, the improvisers who are most fun to watch are the ones most willing to be vulnerable—emotionally, physically, personally. (Without, you know, DRASTICALLY OVERSHARING.) They show themselves in their work. 
Tonight with the Exit 16 kids, we played New Choice and Blind Line. In both, you insert fairly random lines and have to let them affect the scene. (New Choice—every time a bell rings, the player must immediately change his/her line/activity; Blind Line—players must randomly pick up lines of "dialogue" suggested by the audience and written on pieces of paper and use them as dialogue.*)

I've started to like "affect the scene" must more than "justify the line." Justify means explain—make it make sense. Being affected means everything changes.  In one scene, a guy on a computer at a coffee house said, "We've only got four minutes to save the world" (song lyric).

Holy crap. If anything should change a scene—relationships, action, behavior, feelings—shouldn't a line like that change everything? But instead, we justify—we make it make sense within the context of the scene. 

If we're truly vulnerable, a line like that makes a difference. Changes our day. Makes us rethink our priorities. Maybe we try to help. Or deal with the potential End Times. But with an intellectual approach, it's just another laugh line. (And then, only because the audience recognizes it as something they said first.)

Which is why the idea that our President-Elect might be willing to show vulnerability is so exciting. For eight years, it's kinda felt like nothing mattered to the people in charge except accomplishing what they already believed. Everything went through their filter—everything was shaped to fit their idea of the world and how it should be. People were labeled (Conservative Christian, Godless Liberal). And stereotypes—if they weren't perpetuated—were reinforced by the media. 

Things were decided, and we went from point A to point B according to plan. 

Being vulnerable is being open. It means you can be affected by things that happen to you—feelings, ideas, information, opinions, acts, events. Being vulnerable means you admit you're not perfect. You know there are parts of  you that can be improved or completed by other  people.

I totally reject the idea that it means weak or defenseless. 

To have enough confidence in  your own ideas, knowledge and strength to put them out there—and be open to hearing something that might change them—is one of the bravest, most selfless things you can do. Because you're opening yourself to the chance that you'll head into very dangerous, very scary territory, and you're saying you're willing to go. 

It'll be interesting to see how big a scale this theory plays out on—or if it does.



*I am a HUGE SNOB about how these games are played. 
New Choice: Change the line dramatically—not just the noun or verb. Take a complete turn. Or use it as a chance to make your choice better. (The person on the bell can ding you for questions, wimpy initiations, conflict, etc.)
Blind Line: Do not preface. Do not talk after. After someone else says a line, PICK UP THE FREAKING LINE, SAY IT AND SHUT THE HELL UP. I hate watching troupes who set up the line ("It's like my grandpappy used to say..." or justify it away "I'm going to add something after the line to explain why I said it.") and it makes this game almost unwatchable.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

No, I do not have a poster on my ceiling...

But I admire our President Elect more than I've admired anyone outside of my immediate family. In a long time. And here's a reason (from an article on body language on election night):


Here's the number one body language moment they discuss in the article:
1. Power, Joy, Grief And Fatigue = One Whole Person
When Obama took the stage, we saw a man embodying a complex array of feeling. He looked tired, of course, and who wouldn't be? A ten-year-old in the room, who hadn't heard of the death of Barack's grandmother, said "He looks sad." It takes a deeply integrated person to let his grief be visible on a night of overwhelming victory. This is a key to his personality, and bodes well for the future of his presidency. It takes enormous strength to let your vulnerabilities rest so comfortably in yourself that they can be readily seen.

There was one emotion we're glad was missing from Obama and the crowd in Grant Park: any sense of triumphant glee. We couldn't help wondering if it would have been present in McCain's supporters had the tables been turned. John McCain had to silence a few boos and jeers from his audience, but by and large they just looked sad, tired and meek.

Finally, we were deeply moved by Obama's body language at the end, in the easy way he brought forth the other members of his and Biden's family to share the stage. He seemed to melt into them, as if he knows deep in his bones that none of this is really about him as an individual ego. There's a huge difference between needing to be the center of things and simply being in the middle of things. Somehow, despite all the adulation and glory (as well as the relentless attacks mounted by the other side) Obama still knows what he's known all along: he's one of us.
After eight years of swagger and bluster, vulnerability is an appealing, human alternative.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Annoying

There are things that piss me off. 

And one of them is being one person in a small crowd of people watching an improv show that would change people's minds about what improv is. 

My Hallmark pal Bess* and I saw the Loaded Dice/Rubber Biscuit show tonight. Rubber Biscuit did a great job in their first show ever. And Loaded Dice (Clay, Charlie, Rob and Jonathan) did the best set I've ever seen them do. It reminded me a lot of a Beer Shark Mice show, with fast tag-outs, seamless transitions and a complete mind-meld. 

And dammit, the house was small. It was the kind of show that makes $10 seem cheap.  The kind of show that makes you want to tag into a scene SO BADLY you have to hold on to the edges of your seat so you don't rush the stage. And I was the only improviser in the crowd. 

WTF, people? 


*Besides the improv, here was the fun part: "Do we have time to pound a beer during intermission?" And a short run to Kelly's and $6.75 plus tip later, we answered with "Hell to the yes." I would have enjoyed the show EVEN WITHOUT 16 oz. of Miller Lite in 3 minutes. 




Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Insanely happy

And here's why: 

 Jim Howard + Tantrum. On the way out of John's (where we drink beer if CRAZY PEOPLE aren't following us) Jim commented about how lucky I am to have two very fun groups of people to hang out with: my Hallmark friends and my improv friends. Most improvisers are the funniest person at work—even if they're not always "on," they've got the point of view and the skillz to make anything fun. I work with writers—lots of them trained humor writers—so I'm not the funniest one in any room. (Hell, even with my family. My brother-in-law David and my nephew Adam are way funnier.)

I am lucky. 

And tonight, the two worlds in which I enjoy the Kool-Aid (Hallmark and improv) came together, and lo...it was good. Jim may be the perfect monologist. He tells great stories. And he goes from serious to moving to funny and back again in one sentence. He says what's true. And there's nothing more wonderful to play with than that. 

I like it when my friends get along. 

No more cynicism. I am a willing drinker of the Kool-Aid. My natural state is happy and optimistic—I'm very comfortable there. (I. WORK. FOR. HALLMARK. It's not an accident.) But for a long time, I've felt gullible and stupid if I believed anything anyone in politics said. 

Barack Obama is a politician. 

But if you listen to him and are not struck by the underlying authenticity in his message, I am convinced you don't have a soul...or have one, but have maybe misplaced it. His being elected brought out the best in John McCain. (And boy, did I miss that McCain. I've been wondering where he's been since the GOP convention. He's a statesman and a good man...just not the right man at the right time to be president.)

Here's what seems different: Barack Obama believes what he's saying. He believes we can do better. Be better. He believes we are better. 

He drinks the Kool-Aid, too. And I think right now, when we're asking so many men and women to sacrifice for America, we need someone who believes in the best we can be.

(And even if I didn't believe it...the optimism and hope his election win have inspired in almost every segment of our society AND AROUND THE WORLD might just be enough.)

Also, because I am this gooey, hopeful, marketer of greeting cards, you know what I loved? this line:  "You have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the White House."

Yes. When I'm at my best, I'm an improviser. And enough of a geek that, for me, it's hobby, philosophy and religion. I don't always do it well, but what I want to do is build up rather than tear down. To agree instead of negate. To go forward—not stand still or step back. 

So the idea of "Yes, we can," resonates to my core. 

Oh, and....Between the death of the Evil Empire, the worldwide partying in the streets, and the CNN holograms, it's feeling a lot like Star Wars. 



Things just...feel good. 

Monday, November 3, 2008

In other news...

My good friend Jim will be the guest monologist at the Tantrum show. 

A couple of glasses of wine and some of Jim's blog-reading has made me a little sentimental. So here that goes. 

Jim (and our friend John—back then they were Jim and John or John and Jim, and you just always saw and talked about them together) walked in on my job interview at Hallmark in the late summer of 1989. I had driven my un-air-conditioned Mazda GLC to the interviews, sweated all the way down the back of my Steinmart dress, and—because I got to Hallmark 2 hours early—immediately drove back home, blew the dress with a hairdryer, and drove back from Nieman and Shawnee Mission Parkway to Crown Center without letting my back touch the plastic seat. 

I was a little tense—and I was only half-way through Hallmark's day-long interview gauntlet. When John and Jim walked in with their ponytails and BDU jackets and hilariousness, I tried very, very, very hard to be cool. 

Starting with that interview, Jim (and John and Jim's wife Penny) have been around for almost every milestone in my life. Penny found (and first lived in) the apartment I called home for 14 years. Jim won $40 in a pool in which he guessed the exact date of a Significant First in a Romantic Relationship—and had the decency to buy me a beer with his winnings. They sat in the audience at Lighten Up's first performance, at Starker's on the Plaza. I celebrated my 30th birthday at Penny's house, and they were all there for my 40th.

I'm an Army brat. Before Facebook, I'd completely lost touch with anyone from college or earlier. To know and feel so known by someone for 20 years—is rare and wonderful.  And most wonderful is the thing I learned from John, Jim, Penny and the rest of the writers we drank beer with: The only way to be cool was to be completely, horribly, humiliatingly vulnerable and open. 

In other words, I got maybe the most important rule of improv from them. 

It usually happened sitting around the brainstorm table at work. Or over beers at Charlie Hoopers, beginning stories with "I can't believe I've had enough beer to tell you guys this..." We said anything and everything to each other. Your deepest shame? Share it with the group. It stays there. Never gets turned against you. And probably makes them like you more.

Anyway, I get to play with my friend Jim. And Penny will probably be there with their not-so-little boy, Jonah. That makes me happy. 

So here's my idea

I think Exit 16 may need to do an all-games show. 

The games will be chosen and designed to teach important scene, character, object work and other skills. Of course. But I think we need a break from long-form to pander, a little, to the audience. 

I miss playing short-form. I'm not a great short-form player—I'm especially not great at playing it for laughs. But I'm not a long-form purist. I love that Standing/Sitting/Bending can make you focus on environment and movement (and the Viewpoints work adds a whole new level). And that Experts/Dating Game/Good, Bad, Worst Advice lets you build a character. And the way Pan Left/Pan Right focuses you on the tight, simple game of the scene. 

I haven't played a short-form show since the last time I played On The Spot! And that was a long time ago. The next chance I'll get to will be Exit 16's alumni show. 

------

In other news, Spite met for a "business meeting" tonight (read "it was 1/2 price bottle night at the Drop). We know we'd like to submit to a festival and....and...that's about as far as we've got. We'll wait for Tantrum to make some decisions, since it's easier to just schedule around them/us. 

Sunday, November 2, 2008

This seems to be working out just fine

Comedy on the Square was back last night for the second time since our three month hiatus, and again, the formula (Exit 16 + Fakers = audience) worked. We had about the same number of folks in the crowd—a little over 30, which means the cast goes home with a little cash. After-show thoughts:

If the Exit 16 kids continue to be interested in this, it can be really good for them. For both shows, about half of their usual 12-person cast has been available, which means a lot more pressure to carry the show. And both times, it has worked out great—I think it’s easier for them to get in a rhythm with each other when they’re on stage more than once every 10 minutes.

Clay is reliable, talented and tolerant. He’s the backbone of the Fakers, and able to flex no matter what gets thrown at him—typically, an early in the day phone call about which members won’t be there because they got called in to work. He and Tommy did a fun little two-person set last night, having come up with their format about 10 minutes before going on stage.

Because “Fakers” was really “Clay and Tommy of Fakers,” we switched up the running order a little. Exit 16 played 30 minutes, Clay and Tommy did 20 minutes and then we took an intermission and did lights-up, lights-down scenes for about 30 minutes. It seemed to work pretty well: It took the pressure off Tommy and Clay to carry a half by themselves, and gave folks who came specifically to see one group a reason to stick around for the second half.

Again, the vibe was good. The atmosphere is laid-back and the show is fun and playful. I don’t know that it would have much appeal to an adult crowd who didn’t know the kids—but that’s not the point. If we can continue to get high school and college students in the door and paying the rent, it’ll do the job of attracting younger folks to the Corbin and showing people improv is more than one-liners and guessing games.