Friday, August 8

Bodies in Urban Spaces

(via Design Boom via Urban Prankster)

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more

The Del Close Marathon begins in earnest today but I have been doing it in spirit since Monday (as is clear by the DCM Body Counts). Last year I planed poorly and, while I saw a lot, I saw not nearly as much a I wanted to. So this year I am embracing it more, attempting to see things I don't get a chance to normally. Diving in and breathing deep.

Monday started with The Improvised Shakespeare Company (ISC) (more on that later), followed by Baby Wants Candy (which I follow with great interest because (1) some of my favorite performers are on it... although sadly one of my favorites was not performing on Monday), (2) of VEAL and studying the musical improv form(s) and (3) they are just darn fun). I capped Monday with Couples Skate. I've been really enjoying Couples Skate for the last few months, seeing improvisers doing things I don't normally get to see them do. I am finding that, seeing them in new contexts, allows me to see their individual talents better. That sounds horrible. I suppose I mean that it is easier to zero in on what makes specific performers so good and am able to say to myself, "Ah! I want to try that and I want to get better at that!" It sounds cold and analytical (which I certainly can get). It is also just a joy. On Monday Billy Merritt and Ellie Kemper did a set. I've missed seeing both of them.

Tuesday was basically a repeat of Monday. I had become entranced by ISC and wanted to see it again (I told you! More on that later!). It is rare that I yell out suggestions. I always feel a weird responsibility for the show when I do. If the show (for whatever reason) goes poorly I (irrationally) worry that my suggestion contributed to the failure. But I did get mine in for ISC on Tuesday (they ask for the name of the play they are to perform): The Three Laws of Asimov. Yeah, I'm kind of proud of that. That was followed by BWC again – for which I also gave the suggestion, although I pre-planned it a bit: H.G.Wells' Vegas! Vegas! Vegas! I have to say, I love that title. The night ended with Jammin' With Ralph which, to be honest, was a lot more enjoyable that most Ralphs I've been to. (I was brain dead and not much help in any of my scenes but I certainly enjoyed watching.)

Wednesday I had workshops from 3pm to 11pm. They were good. One reminded me how I want to open more doors and possibilities in my improv (and should be worrying less about dong it "right"), and the other helped me zero in on some very simple things make myself better. The night ended with karaoke. I got there so late so never got a song, but I had two very nice gin and tonics, danced with friends, and basically blew off some steam/energy that had been building up from sitting in chairs listening to others awe me.

Thursday started out with Sheer/McBrayer. As expected, it was brilliant. In particular their classroom during a sex ed class. No less than eleven characters performed by two actors. Just a wonderful example of how much you can get with simple character games. Then, I am slightly embarrassed to say, I saw ISC again. My plan to see as much new stuff as possible was being tossed out the window by my new found love. (Hold that thought.) The night end with I Got Next! which was just goofy and silly. I don't want him to get a swelled head and all, but David Bluvband showed me yet again what a powerhouse improviser he is. So good, so present in his scenes and in his characters. If nothing else, I am so glad to being doing improv right now so that I can watch him grow as a performer.

(Okay, I've gotten to my actual point now.)

Shakespeare obviously has me in its spell. I went to see it the first time because I love improv and I love Shakespeare, but I was half expecting something very gimmicky. "Oh, look! They are making for of Shakespeare plays. Ah, they found away to do a balcony scene between two lovers... but they are hip-hop kids. How clever." (Clever is a bit of an insult in improv circles.) But it is not that. It is certainly in the style of Shakespeare and poke fun at the conventions of it, but it is more in honor of it. Mad and crazy, sure... but also grounded in character first and foremost. Bawdy, physical, thoughtful, sweet, violent, heartbreaking, funny, sad, shocking... all the things that make Shakespeare great. And so smart... while being, well, silly and stupid.

After watching it three times, I am just starting to grasp some of the structure and "tricks." Suggestions of a play title followed by an introductory character soliloquy. It is there that we are given themes and broad setting. The broad structure is a narrative so nothing too complicated. At least three scenes of different characters and setting up of plot and then plowing a head to they end. On Monday they had a wonderful wonderful aside scene that related little to the plot but helped paint a bigger picture of the world.

The biggest thing that amazes is the language. First, they ease at which it pours from their mouths. Much of that must be practice. But it would be easy to make fun of the language. Certainly, humor does come up from it but rarely is it just a joke about the language. The humor comes from the wordplay... like god damn Shakespeare. Well, I love a good pun but they kill normal improv scenes (being "clever"). With Shakespeare it is beyond puns. It is metaphor. And that, I realize, is such a key. Every setting, object, action can be metaphor... and should be. If a character starts a scene as a maiden milking her cow, her hands are described as "milky white." If someone is throwing their zephyr into a river in preparation of taking their own life, they can wax about how a river is like a string of music, the zephyr notes floating away into nothingness... and this then becomes a metaphor for life itself. Setting inspires metaphor which inspires character which inspires plot which inspires action which inspires metaphor (or any combination). And in that, beautiful (and hilarious) language can form from seemingly nothing. It is not something you can get away with in most improv. A couple at the breakfast table in 2008 will rarely compare their children to eggs and bacon. And if they did, THAT becomes the game of the scene. In Shakespeare, metaphor is just part of the style that can inspire the game of the scene. (Of course, this does happen in normal improv... it is just often happening in the performers' heads. A breakfast of bacon and eggs is very different from oatmeal or from poptarts. Each informs/inspires the world of the characters and what types of people they are. But to do it blatantly and to let it fully inspire larger themes and ideas... oh, magic. I've been trying it around the house today... both easier and harder than one might think.)

Anywhozits, I must get ready for the long evening ahead. Long shower, back provisions, a bit of food shopping. It has begun to rain which is no fun at all considering my $5 umbrella is on its last legs, a poor protector from the elements. On this eve of revelry, the gods cry and thunder. In defiance of man's hubris of creation? For is that not what the improvised play does upon the stage? To form from the void of nothing new lives that live and die. And we as an audience sit and laugh at these divine like acts. Perhaps the goods are weeping tears of joy at the magic of their creations. For they created us and we in turn create ourselves. But that is neither here nor there. My wilting structure of portable shelter will do little to keep me dry of their tears. And I will enter the theater soaked to the very bone in their wet, be that wet of anger, sorrow or joy.

Yeah. I like it. I am taking a workshop in it tomorrow at noon. I am all atwitter.

Mother's Nightmare/Child's Fantasy - Watch more free videos

DCM Body Count. Day 4.

Scheer/McBrayer - body count: 1
Crazy scheming friend accidentally pushed out window (actual death O.S. and assumed) - 1
Improvised Shakespeare Company - body count: 8
Thieves run through with swords by new hotshot deputy constable - 2
Thieves run through by constables during raid on under the bridge - 2
Constable, just two hours shy of retirement, committed suicide to avoid killing princess - 1
New hotshot deputy constable, also suicide (I think... deaths were coming fast and furious) - 1
Queen strangled by daughter with handcuffs (also assisted by king with dagger and bleeding out thief with butter knife) - 1
King committed suicide for previous crime of raping the queen - 1
Shitstorm (I Got Next) - body count: 2
By own cannonball after it had been swallowed and shat back at him - 1
Neck snap - 1

Total for Thursday, Aug 7th: 11
DCM Total to Date: 33

Thursday, August 7

"Hamlet became a fan of daggers."

Hamlet (Facebook News Feed Edition)

(via Wolfhaus)

DCM Body Count. Day 3.

Improvised Shakespeare Company - body count: 1
The Arab commits suicide once he realizes his bride-to-be's beauty was just magic and his dismay at being deceived by a Christian nation - 1
The Swarm - body count: 2
Songbird killed by an existential buzzard - 1
Little league pitcher battered to death by little league batter - 1
Ragnarock - body count: 1
Throat slit - 1
The Scam - body count: 1
Theater worker crushed by wrecking ball - 1

Total for Wednesday, Aug 6th: 5
DCM Total to Date: 22

(Thanks to body counters mikethelibrarian, Sry An and Brett White)

Weird things

• Trying to interpret the actions of others.
• Receiving birth announcements with a baby breast feeding on breasts you once dated.
• The difference between drink one and drink two once you have tipped large.
• My hair.
• 2:30 am sandwich cravings.
• How accurate the rains/pours saying is.
• Every single one of my friends.
• My inability to have normal interactions.
• How I still don't know how to really dance.
• Blogging late at night while drunk.
• Karaoke.
• Going from a Gethard workshop straight into a Walsh workshop... and enjoying each for completely different reasons.
• The desire to do improvised Shakespeare.
• The desire to lay one's self bare.
• Corn empanadas late at night.
• Waiting for you.
• Knowing I will probably delete this post when I wake up but posting it anyway.

Wednesday, August 6

Calvin and Jobs

Click on pic for readable version and head to Gizmodo for more.

DCM Body Count. Day 2.

Improvised Shakespeare Company - body count: 2
Daughter stabbed suitor - 1
King kills the soldier he had sent to kill his banished son - 1
Baby Wants Candy - body count: 3
13 year old girl raped to death by a group of aliens during The $2000 Showgirl Review - 1
Lieutenant killed by alien death mind powers - 1
Lieutenant raped to death by aliens - 1
Jammin' with Ralph - body count: 4
Father shoots, execution-style, son and hitchhiker on road trip: 2
Suicide by gun for counting at wrong time: 1
Ghost killed person he was just supposed to scare: 1
(Again, I feel like I missed some.)

I wasn't at Harold night but fellow body counters said that there were no actual deaths on stage. Bodies, yes. And Zach Woods was shot but the outcome was left in doubt.

Total for Monday, Aug 5th: 9
DCM Total to Date: 18

I have workshops all night tonight so won't see any shows. Hopefully others will keep an eye out.

Tuesday, August 5


My late breakfast today.

Since Tom's Restaurant is closed until the 11th (damn you, Gus and your family vacations), I trekked to Park Slope for some breakfast and New York Times time. All was pleasant and nice. Coffee, orange juice, corn beef hash, eggs, home fries and toast. Nice late New York breakfast.
Until The Guy walked in.

I was seated near the door so was privileged to his snort of derision the moment he came through the door. A scoffy sort of snort. Or maybe it was it just a snort. It sounded loaded with scoff, but I try not to judge. Plaid shorts, t-shirt, indie alt musician facial hair, mid thirties. (No, I was not looking in a mirror.)

As he pushed by me to get to his seat he sneered, "Excuse me." He meant, "Excuse you." (Why is "excuse me" usually used sarcastically? And even when used sincerely, isn't is a weird way of not saying "I'm sorry"? It is a command meaning, "I just got in your way and inconvenienced you. I command you to absolve me of that sin.") Then he glared at me for a second. I almost apologized for sitting at my table.

Everything that entered into his little world received another snort. I started to think he just had a cold. A busboy came over with a napkin, knife,fork and menu. ("snort.") "Get me a coffee and an orange juice." "Large or small?" the busboy asked. ("snort.") "Smahhhhll." All of this was sad with his head down in his New York Times. ("Oh, please don't let him order corn beef hash....") Everything about him said, "I don't have the time to waste my ocular energy on a busboy."

Thirty seconds later ("snort."), he is craning his head, looking for his beverages. When they came sixty seconds after that (total elapsed time: 90 seconds), he had a heady steam of scoffy snorts going. As soon as the busboy arrived, he immediately looked down at the table (not at the menu or even his Times), and said in a barely audible voice, "I want to order... now." By this point I was convinced he must be hung over. Or at the tail end of a drunk. Lethargic, edge of pained anger, every stimulus or lack of stimulus a low grade annoyance. I've been there. Usually I am extremely grateful for anyone who is serving me in times of need, but I at least understood.

The busboy nods, clearly thinking "This isn't my job but whatever." "Western omelet..." Long pause, mouth hung open, stuck in a timeless moment, the last "t" sound in "omelet" impossibly strung out. "Wheat... toast...." Again, he holds it, his inflection clearly indicating there was more to follow. I was pulled in by the suspense. What would he ask for next? Some special condition for the omelet? Egg white, perhaps? Or maybe a side of bacon? Like the end of The Graduate, in the back of the bus, that sense of incompleteness and anticipation and balances of excitement and thrill and possible regret and just not knowing. Finally the busboy gently slipped in, "Home fries?" ("SNORT.") "Yeeeehssss." But it came out, "Of course, lowly fool. Don't be an idiot."

The busboy turns and goes, chased after by a flurry of tiny exasperated snorffs. Relieved of the pressure I went back to reading about the Olympics. (I am so not paying attention this year. The sports has been swallowed up by the politics and stories of the damn swim suits. But there was an interesting story about the swimming pavilion in the Science section.) When The Guy's food was delivered by the actually waitress after only 4 minutes, he snorffed once in a way to say, "That was too quick." Until he looked up and saw it was an attractive woman.

"Can I get you anything else?"

"No," he said with a smile. "Thank you." She nodded and turned to go, but he shot out a "yougotatan."

She stopped and turned back. "What was that?"

"You got a tan. You've been in the sun." Clearly they know each other, yes? You only say something like that if you've had something to compare it, like her paleness the week before.

"Um," she replied, starting to inch away. Okay, clearly she doesn't know him. "Yes."

The Guy wasn't going to let her slip away. "Did you go some where?"

"Um. What?"

"Did. You. Go. Some. Where? On a vacation? A trip?"

"No, no." And she quickly spun away to help a grandmother and her blond two year old grandson who was attempting the drum solo from Zeppelin's Moby Dick with a knife and a fork.

("snort. snortsnortsnort. snort. snort.")

Seconds later, the busboy comes by. The Guy spits out (actually spits tiny bits of egg and ham because he was chewing at the time), "I need water... please." He managed to make "please sound like a foreign word. But he was at least more lively. Clearly the coffee was helping. The water came quickly but was given a snorff when the busboy didn't hang around to see if his lordship had more requests. Half a minute later the water was placed unceremoniously on his table, the busboy clearly not wanting to hang around longer than needed. As he retreated, The Guy took half-hearted snorff potshots.

Things quieted down for awhile as we ate in silence, me with the tail end of my corn beef hash and my Arts and Science sections, The Guy with his Western omelet and Sports section. Eventually the busboy came over with my check (perfectly timed with my last bite of toast). The Guy waited until the busboy had turned around and was ten feet away. "My check," he mumbled to no one. When the busboy didn't hear him, The Guy shot his head up, clearly offended. So offended he forgot to snorff for five seconds and was only able to get out a half when he finally remembered. ("snor–.")

Soon after, the waitress tentatively made a swing through our section. "Need anything else?" she directed at both our tables at once.

"No, thanks," I chirped. "I'm good."

"No," The Guy snirped. "Just the cheeeehck."

Within seconds the busboy slipped up, slid the check on his table and slipped away. The Guy had returned to the Sports but snapped his head back up and began looking around and scorffing, as if to look around to see if anyone else had noticed how badly he was being treated. I was trying to keep my head down but I was clearly paying attention to his every move an twitch (as you can attest if you have read this far).

And that was when he turned directly to me and said, "Can you believe that? What's his problem?"

There are times in one's life when you are faced with a simple choice: either shrug and say nothing and extract yourself from a situation, or to say what you're thinking. I have worked customer service and I have trained many new employees. I always had a little section that went something like this.
"You know the saying, 'The customer is always right?' They aren't. Often they are very very wrong. But 95% of the time it is easier to pretend they are at the moment and then make fun of them with your co-workers when you know no customers can hear you. Seriously, mock the customers (out of earshot, of course). It's one of the few things that makes this job bearable."
I'd then follow up with my technique of smiling as big as you can when talking to assholes. Be as polite as possible but in the back for your brain think of the worst swear words and violent and degrading things you could do to the costumer. If you do it right, the customer has gotten great service and been treated fine but they get a feeling from the back of your eyes.

Again, 95% of the time when present with the choice of shrugging or opening my mouth, I chose the shrug. Why take on their petty rants? I have plenty of my own.

Today was one of the other 5%.)

"You really want me to answer?" I replied, making direct eye contact. You can't say I didn't give him an out.

This through The Guy off. "Wha... Yeah. He has just been rude... I..."

"Well," I said folding up my paper carefully, "from the moment you walk through the door, every part of you body language and tone of voice has said been rude. You have extruded a sense of superiority and discomfort and dissatisfaction at absolutely nothing and everything."


"Now," I continued, "I have no idea if it was intentional. I am guessing not. But except for your creepy comment on the waitresses tan, you have done nothing that would indicate to anyone that you wold have a nice thing to say about anything. Much less leave a tip worth the effort. And since you ordered less than ten dollars worth of food, which would only be two dollars if you managed to tip twenty percent, I am guessing the staff has written you off. And you got quick good service."

I like being overly dramatic when I have the chance. I paused, put my money on the table and gathered my stuff. I stepped to the door and turned back.

"They just didn't bow to you." And walked out.

I have my moments.

DCM Improv Body Count

There is a lot of death in improv. Not surprising. On idea is that you should "heighten" in scenes and sometimes heightening actions or emotions leads to violence. Well, I am going to attempt to catalog all of the ON STAGE improv deaths witnessed by me during DCM this year. Starting last night (yeah, DCM hasn't actually started but the lead up shows have). At the end of the weekend I will make an attempt to categorize them all and come up with some stats and some conclusions. I may also include occassional off stage (O.S.) deaths if they were important to the scene/show. I will not be including any deaths that do not take place during the course of the show – references to dead spouses, previous murders, etc..

(If you witness improv deaths this week, feel free to throw them up in the comments. Give the date, the team, the method of death and any other details you wish).

8/4 Improvised Shakespeare Company - body count: 7 + innumerable
Fool throwing knife into back of mad king - 1
French suicides due to riddle - 4
The entire French Army by suicide (O.S.) - as many grains of sand on the beach
French soldiers killed by fool while "torturing" English girls disguised as foreign mercenaries - 2
Baby Wants Candy - body count: 2
Alex Trebek dies... I forget how (O.S.) - 1
Letter opener into Pat Sajak's chest - 1
Couples Skate - body count: 0
No deaths during show. Attempted suicide by drunk Blue Man. Dead kids. Lead poisoning. Strangled the life out of wife in past. Diabetic coma, almost.

Total for Monday, Aug 4th: 9

(photo via The Onion)

Charles Schulz's Sandman

By *docShaner.

(via Neil Gaiman's Journal)

Monday, August 4

Del Close Marathon

The 10th Annual Del Close Marathon is this upcoming weekend. What is that you ask? (Well, very few are asking that since 93.3% of my readers are NYC improvisors.) It's a long-form improv festival. 134.25 hours of improv (if I did my math right) over three days on 5 stages. Over 150 teams from across the country. Improv around the clock. Now it would be impossible to see all of it short of using a time machine. Still, if you have nothing to do this weekend, a $25 dollar pass gets you into access to 93% of the shows (some shows cost an extra $10 per and reservations... all of those shows are worth it). That's more made up comedy than the brain can handle in one weekend.

There will be great improv and bad improv. There will be insane stuff like a stage of ten Bill Cosbys. Stuff will blow you minds, stuff that will make you ears bleed, and stuff you will just sleep through.

I'm excited because I've never done the DCM full out. My first year of improv I didn't quite understand what it was and didn't go at all. Last year, I didn't plan well and didn't go for the long haul. But this year I am prepared. Catching up on sleep, hydrating well (there's a lot of drinking). I'm prepared to watch improv until it stops being funny and then becomes funny again for totally different reasons.

This is also the first year that I am performing in it.

Thank You, Robot is at the UCB Stage (307 West 26th St. New York, NY) at 8 AM (yes, the morning) on Saturday. Veal is at the Urban Stage (259 West 30th St., New York, NY) at 11:15 AM (late morning), also on Saturday. Sadly, you cannot buy tickets for individual shows. But if you want to spend a very weird Saturday morning, come see TYR at 8 AM and see a bunch of shows through the afternoon (catching Veal in there). If you make it through to 2 PM, you have just seen 6 hours of shows for $25, which is less that 7¢ a minute. And you will get to see me make up songs while totally brain melted. Tempting, ain't it?

(TYR also has a show at The Broadway Comedy Club – 318 W 53rd St – on Monday, August 11th. Wardrobe Army is hosting and the world-class Fat Penguin is playing too. $6 plus 2 drink min (yeah, I hate the two drink min too... sorry)).


(This post may either read as vain or as self-defacing. I honestly don't know.)

I realized today, during practice and then class and then talking after class, that I am in a very comfortable place with improv right now. Maybe that is not a good place to be, but it feels good. I am on two teams that I adore. I am confident in my ideas and instincts that I rarely get stuck in my head. I'm not scared to make moves out of fear that they'll fall flat. (I just assume that who whatever team I am on will support it and we'll make it work.) In the same token, I feel like I am out there on stage not for myself but for the people I'm playing with.

I also know I am not great. I'm decent. But I am also playing for myself and my team and not any outside judge. I don't have huge aspirations beyond just getting better. My desire to learn is huge right now and it feels like I am... and putting what I learn into practice.

Part of this is that I have this nice balance of receiving compliments (which I like). But I also don't feel like I am being told "Oh, yeah. You're about to become noticed/big/whatever" (which I'm not... because, let's be honest, there is no where really to go). I have desires and wants and dreams as far as improv but 90% of them are things that only I (and teammates) can make happen.

I don't feel like I am resting on my laurels but I also don't feel any pressure. It's nice.

Sunday, August 3

2009: A True Story

I really like Blair Witch Project-style films. Yeah, yeah. It's gimmicky and often an easy way out ("What? I can make film and just not care about film quality? Awesome!"), but they also tap into how we have started to view the world. Video cameras are now everywhere, on almost every street corner and on almost every cell phone (yes, not mine... mock me). Almost every moment has the moment of being recorded and distributed instantly. Raw footage, unfiltered, is now part of our collective mind scape and watching film makers look for ways to tell stories with it is fascinating to me. Film has always had a voyeuristic quality and the highlighting that the frame of the camera can only capture a small rectangle of the whole, leaving things out in the boarders, is compelling. (See Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics for an interesting take on this concept and see the telephone scene from Rosemary's Baby for a perfect use of this in a 'traditional' film.)

I also like a good apocalypse story.

2009: A True Story, has potential. I hate the title but whatever.

Episode 1:

Edit: After I posted this I realized it is about 8 months old. After watching more episodes it is all pretty heavy handed, but at about 4 minutes an episode it's not too bad.

(via io9)

"...the followers of Morgan Freeman..."

This probably won't last on the internets. The animated series that never was.