Sunday, June 21, 2009

Home-grown.

For the first time in...forever, I think...I didn't have plans for right-after-work on Friday. Which meant I could hit the Bad Seed Farmers' Market Emily (a Hallmark and Twitter-pal and Tantrum fan—yay!) has been talking up.

I really like to cook (and am totally addicted to foodie shows and blogs) but it's hard to justify the time and effort when there's just me. Vegetables go bad, leftovers go uneaten, loaves of bread are consumed in a day or two because GOOD GRIEF, PEOPLE, WHY THE HELL WOULD YOU LET BREAD GO TO WASTE?

But I can see getting seriously hooked on this localvore thing.

Hallmark started a CSA program, so I've committed to picking up about two bags of fresh, locally grown produce every Wednesday night this summer. And it's kinda fun to just hit farmers' markets and see what looks good. Suddenly, I feel a little guilty buying produce shipped across the country. And it's not just the guilt—fresh, local food tastes amazing.

I'm tending to follow the shiny thing. These peas are chubby and gorgeous...this bread is dense and squishy...kohrabi? why not...garlic scapes? pretty! Then I come home, get online and google-search for ways to use everything. Or I just roast it with olive oil, kosher salt and pepper.

Friday night, Emily (who is seriously inspiring about this stuff—check this out) talks about learning to create with what you have. So here's the funny connection: Buying local forces you to improvise. Not so surprising that I'm digging it so much, maybe.

Speaking of homegrown...

This weekend was the 24-hour improv marathon, This Lemonade Tastes Funny. More than a dozen improv troupes played to benefit Alex's Lemonade Stand, a childhood cancer charity. Very cool idea from Clay Morgan—great cause, fun shows. It is confirmed, though: I am too old for all-night events. I missed seeing Loaded Dice (the hosts), Improv-Abilities, Roving Imp Spectacular, Pretty.Funny., Dictionary Soup, Bibliocast and The Trip Fives. Why? Stupid need to sleep. Boo.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Go-time.

Here's why this weekend will be fun:

Friday at 8pm at the Westport Coffeehouse, I get to play with Tantrum. And Kevin, who's part of what seriously is the most amazing staff of copywriter-types you've ever met—which means a bunch of Hallmark pals will be in the audience. It's some of my favorite people in the world in the same room all. At. One. Time.

Friday night/Saturday morning, there will be an approximately 3-hour dip in the awesomeness as I figure out whether I should just stay up all night because I have to be at the airport at 5:30am. Fortunately, I'm flying Delta instead of Southwest, which means I'm not setting my alarm for 5:30am to check in.

Saturday at 8:36am, I get picked up at the Atlanta airport in my sister's rockin' minivan, which will contain Jason and Adam, my nephews. Adam, at almost-3, is showing some really excellent comedic timing, stage presence and directorial ability. If there isn't some sort of performance by the end of the weekend, I will be shocked.

You should come see the Friday show. I'd take you to the beach, but apparently the nephews travel with a LOT of stuff.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Fun?

I want more ways to get physical in the work I'm doing.

(Yes. Work.)

So one of the books I'm reading is An Acrobat of the Heart: A Physical Approach to Acting Inspired by the Work of Jerzy Grotowski. So far, I have two reactions:
  1. I love it.
  2. Shit. I can't do these exercises by myself. Must find partners.
Lots of exercises, lots of advice and lots of of really exciting insights into bringing more to characters and scenes. And, in the middle of the back and forth after the last post, this:
"There are many jobs in this world that you can do well even if they are no fun.* But you cannot act without joy. On the other hand, learning to act can also be hard work. So maybe the first question we must ask is, How can you work hard at something that is, basically, pure fun? Or, to put it another way, How can you remember to have fun, even in the depths of the hardest, most serious acting work?"
The answer—for me, anyway—is on something my sister gave me almost 20 years ago. An artist in San Francisco developed his own characters and calligraphy, and she gave me a piece of his with this quote by Rabindranath Tagore (thanks, Joe):
"The spirit of work in creation is there
to carry and help the spirit of play."
Improv, to me, is the purest form of creativity and the closest we get, as adults, to real play. Every rehearsal, whether I'm teaching or playing, is a bizarre combination of exhilarating and exhausting.

Tonight, for example, I played with mixing Viewpoints work I did a few weeks ago with character exercises we did in class. John led us in some of my favorite stuff—creating characters by leading with body parts—and I challenged myself to play with tempo and topography.

That's the beauty of taking level-agnostic classes. Because I've done body-lead work before, and know to pay attention to my tendency to hold my head the same way and watch getting too cartoon-y, I can add layers to it. In this case, once I've established the physicality of the character, I can mess around with the way I move through the space. I worked on moving in curves vs. angles, fast vs. slow. I didn't do too much with extremes in tempo, but I can try that in Wednesday's Tantrum...um...workout.

The exhilarating part: I could really see (as usual) how making a big physical choice pushed me into a character I didn't know—someone with surprising reactions and playful responses. One of the other players noticed a choice I'd made to just run back and forth across the stage—fast—just because it was different from the other stuff going on. (Her guess: Of all the sperm, I would be the one to make it out first.) (And there's the fun part.)

The exhausting part: I was reminded how hard it is to focus on topography and tempo once we move from scenes with a specific point of concentration to a full-on long form. Plus I got home late-ish on a school night, with 3 hours of work still to do (and yes, writing this blog is part of that—but only because I had to get bread in the oven) and the knowledge I have to really work out at 7am.

This shit isn't effortless, but it's our job to make it look like it is. Spontaneity, collaboration and trust—some of the keys to consistently funny shows—don't come naturally. (Especially for anyone over age 7.) Rehearsing (workshopping, working out...whatever) helps train your brain and body to respond in the most helpful way in the moment.

But it's what happens in that moment that makes it worth it. Connecting with another player. Saying or doing something surprising and delightful. Realizing that you've made people laugh by doing something fearless. Or smart. Or, sometimes, incredibly silly.




*Last week, I was reminded that mine is not one of them. My improv training, as ever, is more helpful at work than my advertising degree. To tie my work-life even close to my play-life, one of my creative teammates has organized panel discussions by creatives who happen to work in theater. Her theme, courageous collaboration, has sparked some of the most intriguing conversation I've been part of in 20 years** at Hallmark.

**How the hell did that happen? Crap.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Nope.

So in yesterday's comments, JJSKCK asked an interesting question:
Can we declare a moratorium on calling rehearsal "working out"? It's a bit self-righteous.

As flip as my comment back may have been, I should start by saying I don't automatically argue with everything Josh says—though it's fair to say we are the yin yang of Tantrum.

His question got me thinking: Is referring to what happens in rehearsal or classes as "working out" self-righteous—holier-than-thou, smugly moralistic, hypocritically pious? Even a little bit?

I don't think so. At least, it's certainly not meant to be.

This is "rehearsal":
  1. dry run (a practice session in preparation for a public performance, as of a play or speech or concert)
  2. a form of practice; repetition of information (silently or aloud) in order to keep it in short-term memory
This is "work out":
  • exercise: the activity of exerting your muscles in various ways to keep fit.
When people ask how you rehearse improv, the best answer I can give them is that what we do is a lot more similar to how a sports team might get ready for a game than it is to the way a cast prepares for a show.

And at its best, getting together with Tantrum or Spite or going to class feels a lot more like going to the gym than memorizing lines and blocking and trying different line readings. It might be different if we spent all our time practicing games and formats or polishing the presentation of the show...

What I want from a 2-3 hour session with other improvisers is to isolate and strengthen muscles and tone and define my technique and skills. I want to get something new out of an exercise every time I try it, because as I get stronger, I can go deeper into it. I want discipline. I want long-term results.

So...um...no.

No moratorium for me. I'm going to keep working out. (Seriously good question, though...)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Back.

Until we start workshopping a new form, Tantrum is getting together to work out once a month—in theory. Really, we've been squeezing in two: one to fuck around, and one with our guest monologist.

Tonight was just us. Here's how they normally go:
  1. Catch up. Now that we're not doing two shows and two rehearsals a month, and people are doing things like dating and getting married and buying houses, we don't see each other as often. It turns out we like each other, so we have to goof off a little to get going.
  2. Warm up. We usually start with go/yes, just to get moving and get connected. Musical hot-spot is a good one—tonight, we tried it with "Lines from famous American Speeches" (OK, it was a joke, but we rode the wave) and "Movie Quotes." Then we played the turd game (pick a noun, replace it with "turd," and use it in sentences). Toasty!
  3. Work out. Pete and Rob are in charge. Typically, they ask what we want to work on before rehearsal and come up with some exercises.
We played around with editing from the backup line tonight. We've gone from awkward sweep edits (someone runs across the stage to clear the scene, and may or may not start the next one—ew) to cutting and starting with a shape to the end goal: starting the scene either physically or verbally from the second we step off the back-up line. It's generally accepted as the "right" way to do it, but way freakin' tougher than it looks.

This is where I think the Viewpoints work we did last week is really helpful. When you step onto the stage, you can mess with topography, tempo, duration, shape—all without making a single intellectual decision. I'm gradually learning to trust my brain with the facts and dot-connecting and make conscious on-stage choices about something physical or emotional. It keeps me out of my head, in the moment and focused on other players choices instead of the script my brain wants to write.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Here.

This weekend, I had to explain a tweet gone awry to a friend: I wasn't calling going to farmers' markets self-righteous behavior. I was referring to the feeling I get when I do something I should always do, but am usually too lazy. Like buying healthy local food. Going to the gym. Dropping off my wine and beer bottles at the recycling center before they take over the back of my car. Giving a birthday card or gift on time. Stuff like that.

But I'm realizing the feeling isn't so much a sense of self-righteousness. It's feeling...good.

Some stuff that feels good these days:
  • I may be the last person in KC to hit the City Market Farmers' Market. About the only thing I did right was take my own bags (another thing that feels good). Next weekend, I'll go early in the day, take some smaller bags to carry bunches of greens and dump potatoes and tomatoes into, and check out the locally produced cheese and meat and milk. I won't put the best multi-grain bread I've ever tasted under big, heavy, gorgeous tomatoes.
  • A little discipline. I have the "all-or-nothing" disease. The house is a mess? Screw it—I'm not putting anything away. Blew my diet? Game on—what else can I eat? And I refuse to fix anything until I can really fix it. So one thing that feels good is to lower expectations a bit. Instead of keeping the house perfect, I put away three things every night before I go to bed—even if that just means moving a sock from the floor to the laundry basket. (Sometimes it snowballs into a cleaning spree—sometimes it's just about the sock.) Instead of a strict, diet-starts-with-die eating plan, I'll focus on something manageable, like eating mostly unprocessed foods or trying VB6.
  • No plastic bags or bottled water. Yeah, I still drink Diet Coke in plastic bottles. And every now and then I forget to bring bags (grocery store, yes—take-out food, DOH!). If I do end up with a bottle of water, I'm not allowed to throw it away—I have to reuse it 'til I lose it.
  • Having people over. As much of a hermit as I turn into sometimes, I love entertaining—even if it's just making guacamole and opening a bag of chips. One person, six, too-many-for-the-condo...love it. It's why I bought furniture and can't help getting more stupid little appetizer plates.
  • Being back in improv class. I dropped down to less than a rehearsal a week, so it's back to Roving Imp after a month off. This time, I'm going on Monday nights (because Saturday is for taking care of the house) and Megan is going with me. I've said it before and I'll say it again: If you're going to improvise and want to be better, take John's classes.
  • Systems. Tantrum has a google account, an iGoogle page, and a calendar of everything I'm supposed to do to promote shows. That way I don't have to worry about it until the calendar says I do.
There's lots more. And I look at all the stuff that feels good, and it seems like it involves caring for someone or something: friends, family, my company, my community, fellow improvisers, the environment, myself.

Huh.