Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Let It Snow Week 5

Check out the Let It Snow Interactive Map, featuring every town the show has ever featured, complete with performance date, show description, and a picture from the town itself!

***


For the Birds – Thursday 12/17/2009
When a reality film crew led by brothers Chuck & Chester (Christian & Bryce) and their French cinematographer Jaque (Michael) comes to Bodega, CA (pop 571), everyone wants to be a star. Laverne (Jodi) attempts to step into the limelight, but her rise to stardom is complicated by Chuck & Chester both falling in love with her, an angry ghost (Karen) who puts the "Hitchcock curse" on film crew, and a local femme fatale Tiffany (Merrill). Add in the ever-ready and eager firemen (Bryce, Michael & Christian) and the quiet town of Bodega is in for quite a ride.


Why not, Minot? – Friday 12/18/2009
Inga (Lisa) has always lived in the shadow of her attractive out-going sister Olga (Mandy) in Minot, ND (pop 36,567), but when her friend Bart (Clay) writes her a letter from college signed “Yours Truly”, Inga has hopes of love. Will she overcome her shyness to go out with him when he visits for the holidays? Will Bart overcome his meddling mother? Will they get a pheasant for Christmas dinner before the mountain lions get them? Why not?


A Steak through the Heart – Saturday Matinee 12/19/2009
Love-em-and-leave-em Jerry (Christian) makes a bet with his co-worker Pete (Dave) that he can date Pete’s ex-girlfriend Ilene (Jodi) for a full 8 ½ months. Somehow he makes it through the August fish fry and Thanksgiving with Ilene’s drunken family. He just needs to make it through Christmas to win Pete’s car! Then Ilene finds out about the bet, and Jerry learns she meant more to him than his little black book. Nothing that a steak dinner at the Port Hotel in Port Washington, WI (pop 10,467) and a marriage proposal can’t fix!


Photo Finish – Saturday Evening 12/19/2009
Nancy (Trish) runs one of the three bars on the one street in Dayton, NV (pop 5,907). She wishes just once the horse would win the annual race against the Harley. To even the odds, the town decides to hold the race during the holidays on an ice track. Even then, Phyllis (Mandy) is determined to keep her unbeaten streak aboard the Harley alive, while Nancy goes a little crazy rooting for the horse. In the end, they both learn it’s just a race, but what a race it was!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Rehearsal #12: Fin

Last night we had a light rehearsal. It was the last rehearsal of the run, which is always something of a bittersweet affair.

We spent a fair portion of the beginning of rehearsal pouring through the care package we received from Leakesville, MS. (Thank you!) The family who had come to the show and suggested that town sent us a lovely card, some books, the local “Coffee News”, autographed pictures of two local beauty queens, and some tasty food items. Yay! Here's our special thanks:



Then Mandy and Susan talked about some things from the previous weekend’s shows that really worked for them. Mostly they’re really enjoying the subtler, less protagonist-dominated stories we’ve been telling. And apparently the shows Friday and Saturday did a good job of establishing a protagonist early without them taking over the show.

Then we all warmed up our voices and everyone took turns singing a solo song with a set-up from Susan specifically targeted at something we each should be working on. My set up was to sing a song as the local holiday pageant director and to get into detail about the amazing plans I have for this years pageant and what those plans meant to me. I had a good time with it. I could really see the crazy things I was coming up with. That, and I was occasionally even singing pretty notes. Karen remarked about that as well and said she knew a voice coach who might be able to help me develop my range. I might just do that.

I was really impressed with everyone’s songs. People took their direction well and ran with it. Hopefully that will shine through this weekend.

**

If you haven’t seen the show yet, you’ve go one last weekend to catch it!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Let It Snow Week 4

Check out the Let It Snow Interactive Map, featuring every town the show has ever featured, complete with performance date, show description, and a picture from the town itself!

***


Long Day’s Journey into Christmas – Thursday 12/10/2009
When the local high school geometry teacher Crandall “Bernie” Hendrickson (Alan) loses his desire to teach, he becomes a comically alcoholic Scrooge. His wife Margaret (Merrill) clings to her family for support including her Uncle Alfred (Bryce) and niece Dawn (Jodi) who’s visiting from Wisconsin. Unexpectedly Dawn’s romance with the town cab driver Pete (Lisa) teaches Bernie he still has something to teach his students. There’s a lot of promise in Kalamazoo, MI (pop 76,145).


Your Home is Your Castle – Friday 12/11/2009
Carleton (Dave) returns home to Newcastle, NH (pop 1,010) after 10 years away in the big city of Portsmouth and wants everyone to know he's no longer a womanizer. He’s serious about his foot-model girlfriend, Cyndi (Susan). His sister Margaret (Trish), the town schoolteacher, is skeptical as are his friends and exes, but the local Reverend (Clay) helps her to see how people can change. It all ends with a wedding (a surprise to Carlton)...because "your home is your castle in Newcastle."


30 Minutes to Everything – Saturday Matinee 12/12/2009
Sam (Michael) is 34 and wants it all, but he’s torn between his love of ice football and his dad’s (Dave) insistence on building gingerbread models of famous civil war battles. Then he finds himself at the center of a catfight when his longtime (but non-committal) girlfriend and local junior CIA agent Marcie (Jodi) vie for his affections. Who will be victorious on this ice-strewn battlefield of love in Stafford, VA (pop 124,000)?


A Doll's Palace – Saturday Evening 12/12/2009
Charles (Christian) just wants to be a man, but running the Bothel, WA (pop 30,150) Doll Palace museum under the thumbs of his mother (Mandy) and aunt (Karen) has left him emasculated. Then his controlling girlfriend Becky (Trish) leaves him. Could a budding romance with the local tomboy grease monkey Skeeter (Jodi) make him a man?

Monday, December 14, 2009

What I Learned from Week 4

(Former Let It Snow director Tara McDonough at Kellyville, OK)


I was in one show last weekend, but I learned a lot from that one show.

One thing I learned is that running the opening is hard for this show. I have new found respect for Tara doing it alone all those years. This year the host isn’t even alone onstage and it’s still difficult. I’ve run it three times and messed it up in three different ways. I should get one more crack at it in the matinee this Saturday. Wish me luck.

I also learned that I’ve come a long way in my protagonist work. I’ve traditionally been the master of avoiding the protagonist role. Even when I actively sought it out, I would unconsciously shed it. This run, I’ve been one of the main protagonists three times. Thursday night I went out on stage with a character fool-proof for not being the protagonist. He was bigger than the other characters on stage. He was broader. He wasn’t “normal”, and he didn’t care about anything. And yet somehow it ended up me.

Why?

Let me set the scene: to start the show Merrill and Karen went out on stage as high school students. They began talking about college and Merrill very quickly became the protagonist, at least in my mind off stage. So, in order to raise the stakes for her as a high school student who wanted to go to college, I came in as the world’s worst Geometry teacher. I told them they’d never need Geometry. I told them I didn’t care, that I was a borderline alcoholic, and I put on a movie for them to watch. Then I left.

However… Merrill a week before had played a protagonist high-school-student who wanted to go to college. In her mind, she could not do that again, and eliminated any possibility that it was her. Unfortunately the audience didn’t know that, nor did the show. The show wanted her to be the protagonist, but she didn’t, so she threw it on me. Why? Because she felt that my character had more going on in his life.

Ruminating on this opinion for a while brought me to this theory: It’s not what you say that makes you the protagonist, it’s how you act. Yes, on the surface, my character had a lot going on, but because I didn’t care about any of it and wasn’t being affected by it, I was not the protagonist.

Except of course I was because the story quickly began revolving around me. This left me in the strange position of being a protagonist who didn’t really care. My want became caring, which worked out, but isn’t exactly the most dynamic.

The show also took rather a dark turn through the second part of the first half. Why? Because people were taking my joking “borderline alcoholism” too seriously and making it a big deal. Suddenly it wasn’t a joke but tragic. Had people taken it lightly, it would have played lightly. By taking it seriously, it played darkly. Fortunately Bryce found a way to end the half on an up note even after Merrill had just sung a sad, depressing song about my alcoholism.

But back to the opening scene. It’s sparked another theory: If you’re going to go out on stage with someone to open a show, and your intent is for neither character to be the protagonist, then you either need to character-match and have both characters feel the exact same way about things, or you need to start talking about a character who hasn’t entered yet and begin endowing them as the protagonist before they even get on stage.

But if you go on stage as distinct characters and start having a status interaction, one of you will become the protagonist of the moment, and in the first scene of the show that will target you as the protagonist of the story.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Rehearsal #11: Protagonist

Rehearsal! Yes, we had rehearsal on Tuesday. What did we do? We did some protagonist work. Mandy and Susan had deliberately not done any heavy protagonist work during the rehearsal process to this point in hopes of telling some more varied richer stories. That has certainly happened, but we’ve also run into problems with “protagonist ball”, where no character is willing to take a hold of the protagonist role. Then when a character does grab a hold of it, everyone tries for it. It’s a little strange.

Even though we still don’t want the shows to be protagonist centric, every show still needs to have a protagonist and their journey to hang the rest of the show off of. They might only be in a few scenes here and there, but they’re the through line. So we still need them.

We worked on this by doing the first three scenes of a bunch of shows. We’d get a town and a little bit of info and then do three scenes as if we were about to do a whole show. We tried to make sure the second scene reflected on the first in some way and pertained to the main character of the first scene even if that character wasn’t on stage. This should help keep our stories from straying too far a field.

Unfortunately, a lot of people teach that the second or even the third scenes of a long-form should have nothing to do with the first scene or each other. I’m not sure why this is. I guess they’re really teaching people how to tell triptychs. I think it’s also a result of different definitions of what “long-form” improv is. Some people consider a half an hour of unrelated scenes to be a “long-form”. I’m not sure why. I guess in that definition “long” pertains to how long you go without breaking the 4th wall to address the audience out of character. To me that’s just short-form masquerading as long-form. If the scenes don’t connect together to tell a cohesive long story, it’s not “long-form”.

Of course, I also wouldn’t consider half an hour long, or 45 minutes to an hour for that matter. San Francisco is possibly the only place in the world where “long-form” means a two hour show with a single narrative, much the same as a play or movie.

Back to rehearsal, the show starts we did all went very well. We learned a lot about listening and zeroing in on offers. Generally speaking, after just a few scenes you have everything you need for the entire show. That’s why we often practice the first three scenes of a long-form, because they’re the most important in a lot of ways.

We also did some movement work, trying to use the stairs, windows, and the door with purpose. That was fun.

(No picture of rehearsal to embed. Clay took one, but I can't get twitpic to load. You can try to see it here.)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Let It Snow 2009 Week 3

Check out the Let It Snow Interactive Map, featuring every town the show has ever featured, complete with performance date, show description, and a picture from the town itself!

***


M-E-R C-M-A-S Spells Merry Christmas – Thursday 12/03/2009
Teenager Darla (Trish) is on a mission to shake up Goble, OR (pop 2,744). After growing up in a town so cute that the town holiday signs are missing letters, the kindergarten teacher (Mandy) tap dances at the Goble Tavern, and the elementary school Santa is really the janitor (Michael), she's itching for some danger. She gets her wish when tap-dancing teacher Tabitha (Jodi) storms in from rival town Clatskanie. Tap-off in the Tavern! Darla soon learns it doesn't matter how you spell "Merry Christmas," as long as you believe it.


You’ve Gotta Be Smart – Friday 12/04/2009
Carly (Merrill) is tired of being poor and living with her extended family in Española, NM (pop 9,688). On the other side of the tracks, Derek (Christian) spends all his time in the family mansion working on his low-riders with his younger sister Elizabeth (Lisa). When the two meet at the town bowling alley/casino, Carly hopes she’s hit the jackpot, while Derek just hopes he can avoid a gutter ball.


East De Pere is Right Here – Saturday matinee 12/05/2009
Pete (Alan) and Shirley (Mandy) have been best friends in East De Pere, WI (pop 20,000) since they were yea high, but when a picture shows up in the town paper of the two of them ice skiing from the same tow handle, all the town assumes they’re an item. To prove they’re not, Pete dates another girl, and Shirley gets arrested storming West De Pere as part of the French Explorers Historical Reenactment Society. Soon they both learn their heart’s desire was right here all along in East De Pere.


Practical Marge – Saturday evening 12/06/2009
The whole town of Hornitos, CA (pop 64) knows Marge Ballard (Trish) as “Practical Marge”. She runs the town bar, raises her daughter Jenny (Susan), and shovels manure on the family ranch under the watchful eye of her demanding father (Bryce). One day she just snaps and builds her own hut out in the desert, and her father and Jenny learn they can’t live without her… except that Jenny’s been making a lot of money scaring out-of-towners on ghost town tours. It’s a Christmas Eve to remember for the Ballards.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Rehearsal #10: Fine Tuning


We started rehearsal last night with the fun and silly Dukes of Hazzard warm up, which then evolved into the every-circle-warm-up-game-at-once warm up game. Always fun. Always enjoyable.

Then we talked a bit about protagonists. We haven’t done much protagonist work in the rehearsal process, mostly because Mandy wanted to experiment with not doing that. All told, that approach has resulted in some interesting ensemble shows that are really about everyone in the town. The problem is that we’re not doing a good job of recognizing from to scene to scene who is the protagonist of the scene.

To help with that, we did some PRAWN circles. PRAWN is the Un-Scripted Theater Company’s version of CROW.

P – Protagonist
R – Relationship
A – Aim
W – Where
N – Nuance

We also worked on talking to the audience. Before our shows, we like to go out and mingle with the audience. One purpose of this is to explain the show ahead of time so we don’t have to spend a lot of time on that at the top of the show. But that’s not the only reason to talk to the audience. In fact, that’s really the secondary reason to do it. The #1 reason (and the element we’ve been missing) is to create a feeling of community with the audience, to connect with them as people so that they’re already rooting for the performers to succeed. So we worked on talking to each other how we might talk to the audience.

Then we did some scenes where we worked on blocking. Not improv blocking, but stage blocking, or in other words moving with purpose. And we worked on facing out more even when we’re talking to people on stage. One thing we discovered in a scene that I did with Bryce, is that being onstage in front of the door you can be inside a room with the door leading out, or you can be outside with the door leading in. AND you can move through the door in such a way that the scene moves from inside to outside or vice-versa. Cool.

We did sing some. We focused on short 30 second songs. I had a hard time with this and am interested in seeing how this works in the show. It was difficult for me without the context of a show. Without back story, the 30 second songs all felt contrived.

Oh! And we did some movement exercises that resulted in some very interesting “dances”. The point was to practice moving with purpose or standing still with purpose. Clay recorded one on his iPhone and posted it to twitter. View it here.

There’s a show going on right now as I type this. I have the night off and am spending it writing and watching the Oregon/Oregon State Game. I don’t know who I’m rooting for. I guess I’m rooting for Let It Snow. Oh! And we got reviewed in the Marin Independent Journal.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Rehearsal #9: Vague Recollections


We did have rehearsal last Tuesday. Unfortunately a pesky thing known as Thanksgiving Weekend got in the way of me writing about it. Now a week later, it’s hard to remember what we worked on.

I know we did some opening numbers. I know that because we used each other’s hometowns for suggestions and gave Merrill that special Let It Snow glow when we did hers.

I also remember doing some “environment” songs. These aren’t necessarily songs designed to create a physical location, but they exist more to color the town. They’re light, up-beat, throw-away songs that aren’t sung out of a deep emotional moment. That makes them hard, because we’re so trained to sing in emotional moments. Singing something fun just to sing is an adjustment, even though it happens in musicals all the time.

The only one I remember is the one I was in. It involved a customer finally showing up at a rabbit farm. There was lots of hoping involved.


Monday, November 30, 2009

Let It Snow 2009 Week 2

Check out the Let It Snow Interactive Map, featuring every town the show has ever featured, complete with performance date, show description, and a picture from the town itself!

***


Blinking Red, Blinking Yellow – Friday 11/27/2009
After Cletus (Christian) breaks his leg playing the angel in the mortuary’s Angel Pageant, Marcia (Susan) takes a shot at winning his heart. When she misses, she uses the Saturday night Blinking Light Social as an opportunity to make him jealous by kissing another boy. Only she ends up the jealous one when Cletus dances too close to Sara (Merrill). There’s more to life than being dead in Leakesville, MS (pop 1,026).


Life is Not a Game – Saturday matinee 11/28/2009
Twins Jeff (Christian) and Judy (Mandy) share a deeply uncool secret in Mercer Island, WA (pop 22,650). Neither of them are in the 400-person-strong high school marching band. Instead, they trade off being inside gorrilla suit, the Marching Islanders’ mascot. Their tech-geek parents (Scott & Trish) can’t understand why their kids aren’t happy in spite of all the technology-based hoops they make them jump through everyday to keep them sharp. Can the holidays save this family, or will they crash like the blue screen of death?


Barbs of the Heart – Saturday evening 11/28/2009
Different generations clash in DeKalb, IL (pop 39,000) when the new NIU agriculture students show up for their first day of work on a real farm. Meanwhile Luke (Michael) gives his family’s stockpile of barbed wire to Sally (Mandy), but he can’t bring himself to tell her he loves her. When Luke’s brother Peter (Bryce) returns on break from rival school U of I, he threatens to steal away Sally’s heart. Love is a thorny issue in the birthplace of barbed wire.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Let It Snow 2009 Week 1 - All Performances

Check out the Let It Snow Interactive Map, featuring every town the show has ever featured, complete with performance date, show description, and a picture from the town itself!

***


The Same but Different – Thursday 11/19/2009
After finally asking Mary (Alyssa) out on a date to the Holiday Parade, Chet (Alan) gets conflicting advice from his friends Max (Bryce) and Carl (Dave) on how to treat women. Meanwhile Mary takes advice from her cougar mother (Karen) and octogenarian surfer father (Bryce). Watch your step in Vero Beach, FL (pop. 16,939) where the old folks still have lots of pep!


Not So Secret Spots – Friday 11/20/2009
Brothers Jack (Clay) and Christopher (Christian) work for their father Edward (Michael) at the family gas station/apple orchard, but Jack hardly works. Instead he chases the love of Susan (Lisa) who’s really in love with Christopher who’s too busy working to notice. Throw in a crazy poet (Jodi) who’s in love with both of them and the junk shop/moonshine still owner Agnes (Merrill) who’s in love with Edward, and you’ve got trouble in Paradise, CA (pop 26,408).

Friday, November 20, 2009

Let It Snow Week 1, Performance 1

The show was a lot of fun last night and probably one of our best first performances of a run. The audience seemed to really enjoy it. (You can read a lovely email one of them sent me here.) I ran the opening and interviewed the audience member about the town. In the middle of it I realized I’d never done the opening of Let It Snow before and really had no idea what questions I was supposed to be asking, but I think I faked it pretty well. We got some good feedback during the talkback session after the show about what types of questions to ask. Very helpful.

The town was Vero Beach, FL. Here’s the official blurb:


The Same but Different – Thursday 11/19/2009
After finally asking Mary (Alyssa) out on a date to the Holiday Parade, Chet (Alan) gets conflicting advice from his friends Max (Bryce) and Carl (Dave) on how to treat women. Meanwhile Mary takes advice from her cougar mother (Karen) and octogenarian surfer father (Bryce). Watch your step in Vero Beach, FL (pop. 16,939) where the old folks still have lots of pep!

Things were very relaxed backstage throughout the entire show. No one was panicking about what should happen next or how we were going to get out of some hole we’d just dug for ourselves. The show itself was also very relaxed and character driven. For the first time ever, we had a show without enough plot. We just needed a little something else to happen to bring in a little more conflict and dramatic tension.

Why was there so little tension? Largely because of a split second decision I made in the first scene. Alyssa and I quickly became the protagonists and love interests in that first scene. After establishing that I’d been working up to asking her out to the Holiday Parade for two years, and singing a song about how I needed to ask her, I had to decide: Do I chicken out at the end of the song and make the show about asking her out, or do I just ask her out at the end of the song? Not wanting to bridge, I asked her out at the end of the song, and immediately felt the giant sucking sound of the plot flying out the window.

That is the sweet spot I need to find: when bridging isn’t bridging, but building tension. Still, personally I’m overjoyed that we finally went too far away from plot. Now we can pull back the other way and hopefully find the sweet spot.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Rehearsal #8: Holy crap we have a show tonight.

We had our “last” rehearsal Tuesday night before the first performance. I put “last” in quotes because we continue to rehearse throughout the run. Why? So we can learn from the shows and make them better as the run progresses.

We did two first-halves of shows, talked through the second half and then performed a closing number. I was in the first one. It was pretty much the train wreck I expected it to be. We had a lot of offers on the table. Every character seemed to want to get of the town. We didn’t have clear environments. People weren’t listening all that well, and instead of swimming around in the characters, we got lost in plot.

That said, there was some really strong stuff. Good characterization. Good singing, etc.

The second was much better. Learning from our mistakes, they had very clear environments, kept from veering to hard into to plot-land, and did some wonderful things.

I’ve been trying to crystallize what I think I learned down into one bullet point, and here’s what I think it is: If something happens in the story (i.e. a “plot point”), nothing else should really happen until we know how all of the pertinent characters feel about that something that happened.

I’m excited about being in the show tonight! I think we’ll learn a lot doing an entire show in front of an actual audience. (I was so caught up in the rehearsal, that I didn’t take any pictures.)

**

Mandy posted to the show blog:

A Let-It-Snow Letter from the Past!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Play Schedule

So here's when I'm performing. As always, this is subject to change:

Thursday 11/19
Friday 11/27
Saturday 11/28 – evening
Friday 12/4
Saturday 12/5 – matinee
Thursday 12/10
Saturday 12/19 – matinee
Saturday 12/19 – evening

All shows are at 8pm except the matinees which are at 3pm. If you'd like to see the entire cast list for a given night, you can check out the Un-Scripted Events Calendar and just click on the show you're interested in.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Rehearsal #7: 7 Kinds of Love


Last night at rehearsal we had a photoshoot for headshots for the program. We take our own headshots for our programs so that we can keep them consistent and give them themes that go along with the particular show. For Let It Snow, everyone’s dressed in hats or scarves or holding something that indicates “winter”. Fortunately we didn’t have to take a new shot for everyone in the cast as many people have already been in the show.

While the last few people were getting pictures taken, this week’s choreographers taught their dances. When the photos were done, we had our last round of choreography. Once again we saw how talking during dance numbers doesn’t take anything away from them (and by talking I mean counting or describing the dance moves, not just rambling about something) and how important it is to sell what you’re doing from the waste up even if your feet are hopeless inept. Oh, and diagonal movement is cool.

Then we warmed up our voices, did a round of DNP, and tried our hands at improvising rounds. That was incredibly difficult. I think it might be impossible to do in this show but perhaps possible in a short form or cabaret type show. We also did a very interesting dynamics exercise where we experimented with singing at different volumes. One takeaway from that exercise was just how effective singing quietly can be, especially mixed in with singing loudly.

Next Susan ran us through “7 Kinds of Love”. Everyone got to sing a love duet, and Susan set everyone up in a different type of love duet (for a total of 7 duets in all). I sang with Jodi, and our set up was that at the start of the song one of us was in love with the other, but the other one wasn’t. Then by the end of the song we were to switch points of view. Oh, and we were singing such that the other character could hear what we were singing. Oftentimes in duets your singing inner thoughts that the other character isn’t hearing. In any case, it was a very fun song to sing.

Then we moved into point-of-view trios and large group songs with an eye towards finding different types of songs that could be used to end the first half. There are no hard and fast rules for ending a half, but generally something with a lot of energy and a lot of characters is a good way to go.

We have previews next week! We still have to load-in the set and have one more rehearsal before we unleash this puppy on an audience. I can’t wait. This show’s so much fun.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Rehearsal #6: Exit Pursued by a Bear


Last night’s rehearsal was all about improv! We’ve spent a lot of time working on singing and dancing, and it was finally time to focus on some scene work.

We warmed up by playing “Bitty Bitty Hop”, which is similar to “Bippity Bippity Bop” only you have to physically hop before the person in the middle says “hop”. The game then proceeds as usual.

Then we split up into groups of three and did a “coloring” exercise. For the first iteration, one person flipped through an imaginary Town Annual (like a town yearbook) while the other people asked detailed questions about the items discovered in the book. Then who was being asked the questions rotated and the imaginary record became a time capsule and then an actual high school yearbook for the final iteration.

Next, we split up into pairs and talked about our improv goals for the show, what we’re working on, etc. I want to play more characters that aren’t in control of their situations. My characters tend to have an answer for everything, and I’d like to explore playing some that get in trouble and don’t know how to get out of it. I’d also like to improve my space object work and push the show into new and interesting locations. Of course there are other things too, but those are the big ones.

After that we did some quick protagonist work. We just had 3 or 4 people start a scene and everyone watching raised their hand once they thought they knew who the scene was about. Once most people had raised their hand the scene was stopped and we found out if we all agreed. Generally we did. In the past we’ve spent entire rehearsals on protagonist work, but everyone seemed to have a handle on what made someone the protagonist (being likable, the most normal, effected by what was happening, set apart from the other characters somehow, etc).

Then, we moved into some large group scenes. Six people would go up to perform (we’re planning casts of six people every night) and do two scenes. One a public scene with lots of people and then a second private scene between just two. Somehow we naturally fell into doing these two scenes seamlessly without any sort of blackout or hard ending between the scenes. We’d have a group scene and then eventually the side characters would leave two people alone for the private scene. It felt very “play like" as if the actors had scripted entrances and exits.

We capped things off by doing two 15 minute long forms, figuring in an actual show we’ll only have time for about 15 minutes of plot anyway. The first one involved a pair of identical twin teenagers struggling to date and find their own identities. The second involved a group of co-workers. The twin story reminded us all that, like in Shakespeare, even if the actors playing the twins look nothing alike, the other characters can find them so identical that they can’t tell them apart. The co-worker story reminded us that a workplace can be an even smaller small town within a small town.

We finished off by splitting up into groups once more to discus the main takeaways from rehearsal. I think one of the biggest was “listen, listen, listen”. We had a lot of missing offers, multiple names, confusing family relationships, etc. Name people. Repeat names. Be obvious about the environments you’re creating. Things of that nature.

We also learned that Bryce can wrestle a bear.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Rehearsal #5: Dancing with the Improvisors



We rehearsed last night in a mirrored dance studio at ACT, largely because our regular space was booked but also so we could do some serious dance work. We started with the standard dance warm-up, made all the more interesting by the option of looking at yourself in a mirror doing it. Then we went into the choreography teaching exercise.

Alyssa took a small group of 4 people out on to the ACT balcony and taught them a wonderfully simple dance that involved standing in a straight line while bouncing and leaning in different directions. Of course, I do not do it justice. It was wonderful. Karen took the rest of the group (one of the assigned choreographers had thought they were on the schedule for next week) and put us into a long sequence of stepping around and crossing each other. Again, I do not do it justice, but large group numbers are very effective.

From there we moved into some couples dancing. We always work on couples dancing in Let It Snow rehearsals, but so rarely do we do it in shows. I’m not sure why. I’d love to see it and do it in a show. I think one hurdle is that it’s hard to do in groups because everyone has such a tenuous grasp of the footwork that they can only do it over one span of distance. With every couple traveling at different rates, traffic jams become problematic and messy. But maybe one couple doing some dancing behind someone singing a solo would be easier to work into a show? I don’t know. I’ll have to hunt for ideas.

Then we warmed up our singing voices with some Dona Nobis Pacem and did a Color/Advance exercise. We did it once telling a story and then we did it again singing a song. It was amazing how much more natural coloring is while singing. We often talk about not putting plot elements into our songs, and I think that exercise really drove home how little plot you need in a song. I think I even learned more from directing the other person’s song than I did singing my own.

Then we moved into some faux opening numbers. “Faux” because we didn’t focus on the words at all. We mostly sang gibberish. The focus was on the backup dancing. We worked on developing movement to go along with our choruses and on crisping up the background dancing during verses.

I think the biggest thing we learned from all this was “Commitment”. Commit to your movement, and it’s ok to put all of your energy into one gesture rather than having lots of extraneous movement. As clay said “have a moment, not a seizure.”

We also learned that having a “leader” during the backup dancing behind verses makes them so much easier. So, commit to being the leader. Either take control or if you sense that you’re in charge, go all the way with it. And, perhaps more importantly, don’t be afraid to say what you’re doing. Tell everyone in plain English what attitude you want them to affect or what dance move you want them to do or what direction you want them to go. It’s easy to forget you can direct movement with your voice, but it’s so helpful when people do it.

Then we closed by singing some solos (or rather having everyone sing their own solo simultaneously) with the focus being on dancing during the song, either while singing or during a clearly defined dance break. Frankly, in terms of my own work, I’m discovering that I like exploring footwork more than arm or torso movement. But I also discovered that the more footwork I did, the more natural arm and torso movement became. I’ll have to push that further.

(Sunset from the ACT balcony last night)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Rehearsal #4: Oops, I missed it

I did not go to rehearsal this week as I was recovering from some strange non-flu virus that had me sleeping 24 hours a day. Here's Clay's picture from rehearsal:



As I understand it, they started with this week's choreographers teaching their dances:

Clay -- aggressive poppy hip-hop
Trish -- tense contemporary conflict (Massive Attack!)
Merrill -- flirty girl pop

Then they did some singing and finally some show starts.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rehearsal #3: Formations


Last night at rehearsal we started a little late due to the crazy rain storm we had yesterday. We moved pretty quickly into Mandy’s dance warm-up, which you can see in all of its glory here. And then split up into three groups so that three more cast members could teach us choreography. Susan taught her group a Fosse-esque tap routine. Dave (the group I was in) taught some zombie dancing, and Michael led some sexy partner dancing. The big take a ways were: 1. moving towards or away form the audience looks cool. 2. looking like you’re having a good time is way more important than being spot on with the dance moves.

From there we went over some group dance formations. Things like circles, lines, columns. And ways to move around in those formations. In previous shows we’ve tended to get locked into one or two formations. We’re trying break out of that and make things more textured.

Then we warmed up our singing voices and practiced some Verse/Chorus songs in a circle before attempting some actual opening numbers.

The opening number of Let It Snow has always been very structured. It’s a good way to kick the show off right and set the tone for the rest of the night. Mandy & Susan are mixing it up in several ways. First off, instead of one person going out to set the chorus, everyone is going to go out and “inhabit an environment”. Mill around, interact. Be somewhere that suggests the town. Then one person will emerge to sing the song’s first verse, while everyone’s still inhabiting the world. Then a second person will start singing the chorus. Everyone will notice them. Then when everyone repeats the chorus along with them, they’ll assume a formation. We’ll return to that formation for every chorus, but assume new formations during the verses. That will hopefully spur some more movement. Fortunately so many people in the cast have done this show before and everyone can handle all this complexity.

We did three opening numbers last night. The three towns we did escape me at the moment, but the details weren’t important. The important thing was seeing that structure in action and seeing that it can work and look good. We also learned to “mill” with purpose and energy, to really grab the moment when you want to sing the next verse or set the chorus. The new structure makes it less apparent who’s going to sing next.

Next week we focus more on improv and the week after on dance. The shows coming up fast! Did you know that ticket are already on sale? From now until November 1, you can use the coupon code “SPECIAL” to get 25% off when you buy tickets through our website. Buy Ticket Here.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Every Day Improv


Susan's teaching a class in the East Bay in October:

Every Day Improv
with Susan Snyder
Enjoy exploring the world of improvisation in a low pressure, playful environment.
Increase your confidence, improve your public speaking skills, and enjoy the experience along the way. This class is for adults wanting their first taste of improv, and those returning to deepen their range of improvisational expression. Shy people welcome.

Dates: Sundays, October 18 & 25
Time: 12:30-3:30pm
Location: Temescal Arts Center, Oakland, CA
(street parking, walking distance from MacArthur BART)
Cost: $40 single class/ sign up for 2 or more $30 a class

Contact Susan

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Rehearsal #2: A Little Bit of Everything



For our second rehearsal for Let It Snow we did a little bit of dancing, a little bit of singing, and a little bit of improv. Sort of an overview of the entire show.

I got lead my favorite name-game warm-up exercise for the firs time with this cast. Since we didn’t do the exercise during the auditions, this was several cast members first time playing. Even so, it went very smoothly. We made it all the way up to four patterns. It went so smoothly in fact, I kept thinking I was doing something wrong in leading it.

Mandy and Susan want everyone in the cast to experience being a choreographer. At every rehearsal three people have to teach a group of 3-4 other cast members some sort of choreographed dance. I was one of the choreographers this week. We had to choreograph a minimum of 16 counts, so that’s what I did. It was mostly stepping and jazz hands with one complicated turn. In any case, it took me the entire 10 minutes to teach it.

Then as we watched the other groups perform their dances, I was astounded to see how complicated and long other people’s pieces were. I should have done more, but at the same time I showed all you really needed to do was 16 counts. Still, good to see how far people are willing to push things.

Then we worked on the Verse/Chorus song structure we’ve been experimenting with. Instead of starting a song with a chorus, we start a song with a verse. Then the second person to sing sets the chorus. It’s more like regular songs, but can be tricky. Still, it went well. We followed that up by singing duets. Mandy and Susan had everyone pair up and sing a duet all at the same time. That way everyone got to sing 3 songs.

Finally we did two show-starts. Susan had printed out some brief info on small towns that we used as suggestions and then dove into the first three scenes of a show. We did Genoa, NV and Cranbury, NJ. I was in the Cranbury one and played a not-so-swift hardware store employee who confused “asphalt” for “screws”. There was some good word play in that scene including Susan saying “I think you’re screwed” and Dave singing a song about it not being his “fault” they were out of “asphalt”.

The take-aways, I think, were to look for themes to develop (“Nevada started here in Genoa, so we’re going to start something”) and to remember small towns do have upper to upper-middle class residents (we tend to only ever play working-class folk). We also saw perhaps the first scene in a Let It Snow rehearsal or show ever to take place in someone’s garage. Lisa also did some kick-ass space object work establishing the hardware store.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Rehearsal #1: Dancing and Group Scenes


We had our first rehearsal for Let It Snow! 2009 last night. We’ve done this show three times previously (2004, 2005, and 2007) making it our first quadruple threat show! (I think we did only did You Bet Your Improvisor and The Short and the Long of It three times each, but the complete list of all Un-Scripted shows seems to have not survived the new web redesign. Hopefully it will be reappearing soon.) But we’ve never done Let It Snow! like this before. For the first time ever, someone other than Tara is directing it.

Tara developed the show based largely on her experiences growing up in a small town in Maine. In fact, she was so committed to her vision of the show that she has moved back to a small town in Maine. This regrettably makes her unavailable to direct the show. This year the show is being directed by Mandy with a healthy dose of assisting from Susan. Now, while audience members frequently confuse Mandy for Tara or Susan for Tara, technically speaking Mandy & Susan are not Tara. Rather than wondering “What Would Tara Do?” Mandy & Susan are going to just going to do what they would do within the same framework. Thus the show will inherently be different, because, as previously stated Mandy & Susan are not Tara.

This show marks a number of other firsts. It will be the first time ensemble member Clay has ever performed in Let It Snow! It will also be the first show Trish performs in as an ensemble member. We also have a nice mix of returning and new cast members. The full list is:

Bryce Byerley - ensemble
Dave Dyson - ensemble
Michael Fleming – previously in Shakespeare the Musical
Alan Goy - ensemble
Merrill Gruver – previously in Shakespeare the Musical
Alyssa Harvey – previously in Fear
Karen Hirst – previously in Theater the Musical and Let It Snow!
Scott Keck – previously in… many shows.
Mandy Khoshnevisan - ensemble
Clay Robeson - ensemble
Jodi Skeris – new!
Susan Snyder - ensemble
Trish Tillman - ensemble
Christian Utzman - ensemble
Lisa Wang – new!

And we got off to a fine start last night. We opened with some ice-breaking exercises so we could all get to know each other and then launched right into dancing. Mandy ran us through a series of moves and then made everyone lead the group in some dancing to different styles. It was a workout, fortunately I’ve been hitting the gym in recent months to prepare.

We capped off the day with some improv! We worked on group scenes where several characters ganged up on another for some reason. Why? Because those scenes generally give the audience the sense that the characters all know each other very well. As Keith Johnstone says (paraphrased) “friends play with each other’s status while strangers leave each other’s status alone.” But these scenes are often difficult to improvise, as they can easily devolve into everyone talking over each other.

All-in-all we did a reasonably good job. We learned to focus on nuance and relationships as opposed to activities. I was in one scene the set up for which was a group of people waiting outside for the fishing license shop to open for the season. Quickly it became endowed as ice-fishing season and Scott and Karen launched in with Northern Minnesotan “Fargo” accents. I was amazed at how much fun I had doing the Fargo accent and how easily I was able to do it. Within the scene I was actually aware of how I wasn’t thinking about the accent at all. It was just coming out. I love doing accents and I’d forgotten how much I love doing Fargo.

Mostly though we all did a good job of talking over each other just enough to look like friends, while still being able to hear what was going on. A promising start!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fear 2004


This poster was framed and at the bottom of the stairs leading into La Val's when we did Fear in 2004

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Let It Snow! - Auditions

Improvisors Wanted!

The Un-Scripted Theater Company is holding auditions for its next show, Let It Snow!, an improvised musical for the holidays, filled with good old-fashioned Broadway singing and dancing. (Think The Music Man.) The show is set every night in the hometown of an audience member, and over the three seasons that we've performed the show, we've visited small towns from North Pole AK to Manunka Chunk NJ to Wailua HI, and lots of places in between. It's a really fun show to perform, and always an audience (and improvisor) favorite.

We're looking for improvisors who ideally have longform experience as well as an enthusiasm for singing/dance.

** Auditions will be in the evening, on Monday, Sept. 14th, and Tuesday, Sept. 15th.
Rehearsals will be on Tuesdays, starting Sept. 29th; the show runs
Nov. 19th - Dec. 19th.
All of the above in downtown SF near Union Square.

If you're interested in auditioning, email Susan (click here) for more information or to reserve yourself a slot -- make sure to mention which date you'd prefer. Our auditions are conducted more like a rehearsal or class, so be prepared to stay for at least an hour. If you're wondering whether you should audition, the answer is almost always yes! We pride ourselves on our fun, low-pressure auditions, and we always love meeting improvisors, so come on down and give it a shot!

www.un-scripted.com

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ensemble Rehearsal #7: Genre Combo

This week we multitasked by having a business meeting first and then rehearsal. Fortunately we were able to plow through our meeting agenda fairly quickly and still have time for a reasonable rehearsal.

As per usual, we sang some Verse/Chorus songs. Then we practiced the format we’ve accidentally performed at our last two shows (the SF Theater Fest and the Temporary Improv Fest). That being getting 3-4 genres from the audience and doing them all at the same time. Let’s see if I can remember what we did:

70’s Detective TV Show, Jane Austen, Brecht
Slasher, Mark Twain, Shakespeare
80’s B-Movie Sci-Fi, Caveman, Checkov

It’s really impossible to process all of them at once. Generally you have to use one genre mostly as setting and another for character or plot elements. At any given time your just focusing on one or two hoping someone else is picking up the others. It works fairly well. We also think they work better when at least one of the genres is more general (like “tragedy” or “horror”).

That was pretty much it. Again, a short rehearsal.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Toiletries That Ate San Francisco

In 2006, the Un-Scripted Theater Company did a show called the Impossible Film Project. The show worked something like this:

A team of improvisors and a director wih a camera get a suggestion from a live audience and then take to the streets of San Francisco to shoot a movie guerrilla style. As they finish a tape, it's run back to the theater where the audience sees it almost live.

I was fortunate enough to be in a few of these and serve as the director/camera man on a few as well. This was one of my favorites. We had a lot of fun making it and I have never actually seen the entire thing before. (The nature of the show meant you didn't get to see the film you were shooting screened.) Now it's all up on YouTube and I can present to you The Toiletries That Ate San Francisco!

For this film the suggestion was an actual object, a bag of toiletries an audience member had with them. The improvisors had no pre-planned script. All they knew was the style of the movie: 1950's B-Movie.

Featuring:
Kimberley MacLean as Buffy
Maggie Farril as Bambi
Christian Utzman as Dick Moondoggie
and in an uncredited role:
Brian McBride as The Mad Scientist

and countless extras from the streets of San Francisco

Directed by Alan Goy





Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ensemble Rehearsal #6: Steady Going

I don’t have too too much to report about Tuesday’s ensemble rehearsal. We leapt right into more of the Verse Chorus Verse songs I mentioned in Rehearsal 4 with similarly strong results. Then we went back to the exercises we did in Rehearsal 2 that resulted in the inadvertent one-acts. Again they were really solid.

We told a story about some distracted bank robbers that turned into a game of “torture Bryce’s character”. There was an epic futuristic war story that veered too cinematic in style and didn’t feel as much like a play. Then we had Pinter meets Albee meets Becket in a story about gambling and rent payments. That one was fun. Finally we told an upper British love tragedy about a butler pining for his mistress.

We experimented with ways to make the characters more diverse while still style matching with some success. In the “gambling” one I consciously tried to style match while playing a completely different pace than the other characters. It was hard, but I think it worked.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Improv For Everyone



Susan's teaching a class in the East Bay in September:

Improv for Everyone
with Susan Snyder
Enjoy exploring the world of improvisation in a low pressure, playful environment. Increase your confidence, improve your public speaking skills, and enjoy the experience along the way. This class is for people wanting their first taste of improv, and those returning to deepen their range of improvisational expression. Shy people welcome.

Dates: Sunday, Sept 13th & Sunday Sept 26th
Time: 12:30-3:30pm
Location: Temescal Arts Center, Oakland, CA
(street parking, walking distance from MacArthur BART)
Cost: $40 single class or sign up for both for $60

Contact Susan

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ensemble Rehearsal #4: The Best

After starting rehearsal learning some Bollywood dance choreography as a warm up, we spent some time discussing, among other things, what we wanted to be working on. We realized that we often spend a lot of time focusing on our faults as improvisors and how we can improve them. Of course, because of the nature of the art form, we have to do this so we are all capable of juggling any and all balls that might get thrown at us. As an example: I need to be able to play the hero, villain, love interest, or side characters depending on what the show needs.

But what we don’t do is push ourselves to get better at the things we’re already good at. Bryce is really good at playing villains. How can we push him to get better at playing villains? If we start giving each other notes on what we’re good at and challenging each other to get even better, we’ll find out what we’re good at, grow in new ways, and learn new things that everyone can benefit form. Very exciting.

It all reminded me of something I had heard August Wilson say in a master class. Every time he sat down to write a play he set out to write the best play that had ever been written. Otherwise, what was the point? Why bother? I tried to research an actual cited version of that quote and what I found was even better:

For years I sat in that chair and tried to best my predecessors, to write the best play that’s ever been written. That was my goal until I ran across a quote by Frank Lloyd Wright, who said he didn’t want to be the best architect who ever lived. He wanted to be the best architect who was ever going to live. That added fuel to the fire and raised the stakes, so to speak. Now you’re not only doing battle with your predecessors but with your successors as well. It drives you to write above your talent. And I know that’s possible to do because you can write beneath it.

That’s how I want to write. That’s how I want to improvise.

Then we moved on to singing. Typically when we sing songs in rehearsal we do a “Chorus/Verse” song, where one person starts by setting a chorus, we all repeat it, and then we all take turns doing verses. Except we never end up singing songs like that in shows, and really, very songs are like that to begin with.

During the last Shakespeare show, they worked on “Verse/Chorus” songs. The idea was to start with a verse, like most songs do, then the next person sets the chorus (but we do not repeat it together yet). The next person does a verse and then everyone sings the chorus together. Then everyone takes turns singing verses. The result is much more like an actual song, and hopefully more likely to happen I a show (with practice).

We took this a step further though and tried to merge with the exercise the work we had done on acting in other people’s styles. The idea was to mimic the person’s singing style. Not the notes, but the tamber, cadence, vowel structure, etc. This pushed people outside of their normal vocal patterns and pointed out patterns and habits that we people had. All very useful.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ensemble Rehearsal #2: Inadvertant One-Acts

For the first time ever, the Un-Scripted Theater Company has been having ensemble rehearsals where we get together and play without preparing for any specific show. Last night we had the second one of these and did some really interesting work that was simultaneously unlike anything we usually do while still being stereotypical of our work.

We started by doing a character movement exercise lead by Mandy. There’s a name for it, but I can’t remember what it is. It involves moving around the room and taking on different physical characteristics as a way to experiment with different physicalities and movement styles. We wanted to work with how movement influences character and break out of the movement ruts we individually typically fall into to.

To move this idea into scene work, we did a variation on an exercise Christian often uses in his classes. One person started a scene as a character they wanted to see inhabit a world. Then other people came in not exactly mimicking that character (because we didn’t want scenes with 5 of the same character) but mimicking that person’s acting style, as if everyone in the scene had graduated from the same 8 year acting school. Similar speech and movement but not identical. Coming from the same place, but not the same.

The resulting scenes were more like one-act plays than any scenes I’ve ever seen trying to be one-act plays. We theorized a number of reasons for this. One being that because every character in a play is written by the same person, all of the characters have a similarity that this mimicking recreated in our scenes. Another was that we weren’t entering the scenes at the next plot point but at the next character point. We didn’t enter once we knew what should happen next, but we entered once we had the next character that should be in the world. As a result the scenes didn’t have strong protagonists, yet felt like every character was the protagonist at one moment or another. (Something we had worked on more directly and less successfully during Theater The Musical.)

No one ever felt pressured in these scenes to come up with what should happen next. Even when something was happening in the scenes, the scenes weren’t about that. They were about the characters and their relationships, which are what stories should be about but often aren’t.

Every scene we did could have been fleshed out into an entire play (or I suppose a sketch if that’s how your mind works) or could have been a brilliant improv scene in performance. Here’s a brief list of the scenes with hopefully just enough detail to jog my memory down the line:

- A disgruntled teacher’s lounge with a gay yoga instructor and a classic porn stash.
- A “black widow” haunted by her murdered husbands and a “black widower” haunted by his murdered wives go on a date and decide to join forces: Blithe Spirit meets Arsenic and Old Lace meets The Brady Bunch.
- A cowardly deputy saves the town in spite of himself. Tarrantino meets Deadwood meets Blazing Saddles.
- Two strangers finally speak to each other on a subway train after countless train rides together.

And many others. I wish we’d taped the rehearsal.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

BOB Voting

Voting for Best of the Bay 2009 ends TODAY at 5pm. So while you’re voting on PAGE 2 for the “Un-Scripted Theater Company” for the BEST THEATER COMPANY category, here are some of my picks (ok, they're actually Christian's and I copied them from his Facebook) that I think you should consider for your vote as well. Remember, you can vote from anywhere in the world, so tell your parents to get out the vote for the things you love in the Bay Area too.
http://www.sfbg.com/bobpoll2009/

Best Dessert – Bi-Rite Creamery
Best Bakery – Tartine
Best Theater Company – Un-Scripted Theater Company
Best Emerging Artist – Uriah Duffy
Best Dive Bar – Zeitgeist
Best Burlesque Act – Tit 4 Tat
Best Place to Buy Bikes and Gear – Manifesto
Best Place to Buy Vinyl – 1-2-3-4 Go
Best Local Designer – Wild Card
Best Quirky Specialty Store – 5 and Diamond
Best Place to Meet Someone – Baxtalo Drom The Lucky Road
Best First Date Spot – Paxton Gate
Best Local Web Site – un-scripted.com
Best Bicycle Mechanics – Freewheel Bike Shop
Best Arts Organization – Half Priced Ticket Booth in Union Square
Best Classic Artist – Dave Warnke

Let your voice be heard! In 50 words or less - This is a great place to tell the world how much you love the Un-Scripted Theater Company.

Monday, April 27, 2009

What I've Learned About Directing



I’m in the midst of tech week for the show I’m directing for Impact, or “hell week” as it is often called. Directing an improv show and a scripted show back-to-back has been a stark reminder to me about the differences in the two processes. Over all, both are easier and more difficult at the same time. There really is no equivalent to hell week for an improv show, or at least it’s not on the same scale.

I also learned a lot doing these two shows back-to-back, or perhaps I learned more from simply directing for the first time in 4 years or more. The main lesson I’ve learned about directing an improv show is that it’s more like teaching a class than putting a show together. As a result it requires a much more well thought out curriculum from the very beginning, well before the first rehearsal or even the auditions. Un-Scripted: unscripted, being a show that did not require an obvious set of specific skills to perform, in retrospect I should have picked a set of skills that I wanted to work on and constructed the rehearsals around that larger purpose. That seems so obvious now, I’m surprised I didn’t think of it originally, but alas I did not.

As for what I’ve learned about directing a scripted play, I’ve learned I need to communicate better with my designers, push them and the actors harder, and generally trust my instincts. Perhaps it’s less trusting my instincts and learning to recognize my instincts. If something doesn’t seem right, it’s probably wrong.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Un-Scripted: unscripted Wrap Up

Posting about our Bollywood show in Chicago made me realize I never really wrapped up the posts about Un-Scripted: unscripted.

As I mentioned, I was not at Rehearsal #9 because I had already started rehearsals for Impact Briefs: Puberty . Here though is the rehearsal in time-lapse:


I also missed all but 1 show closing weekend as I was on a business trip in Dallas. I did however catch closing night which featured the best last scene of a run ever:


All told, we upload 16 clips from the show, which you can watch here.

If you'd like to watch the entire rehearsal process in time lapse from beginning to end, here it is!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bollywood in Chicago


“Sold out weeks ago” I believe was the statement I had heard weeks ago, and yet there was a notable contingent of empty seats in the house Saturday night for our performance of The Great Puppet Bollywood Extravaganza at the Chicago Improv Festival. (I’m fairly certain we had a larger crowd for our show at the festival back in 2005.) Hmm… I am told the marketing material for the festival contained a very poor description of our show (a “90 minute puppet show” or some such) which just goes to show you should always pitch the show you’re actually doing not the one you think your audiences want to see.

In any case, we still put on a fun and solid show for the folks who braved an unseasonably warm and drizzly Chicago night for the 11:30pm show. Fortunately the good folks of the festival gave us a full 2 hour time-slot in an actual theater to do our show. (Most improv in Chicago is an hour long which we learned is partially because theaters rent space by the hour for about the same amount we get space for an entire evening.) Unfortunately this meant our show didn't end until almost 1:30. You haven't lived until you've taken an intermission at 12:15am.

I’m sure eventually we will get some footage up on our YouTube channel, but for the time being, here’s the show summary that will appear in this week’s email:

Pooja, Sagar, & Raja's Excellent Adventure or A Revolution in Time
Sagar (Christian) and Raja (Alan as puppet George) take a job with the eccentric village plumber (Dave as puppet Andy) so they can court his daughter Pooja (Mandy). But Pooja is betrothed to the evil Rajiv (Clay as puppet Dungeon) whose father, the mad Dr. Chowdhury (Jenny as a finger puppet) wants to take over the village with his inhuman ideas about science. Instead of working on her father's wind-powered indoor plumbing device, Pooja, Sagar, and Raja build a time machine that takes them on an adventure across time and space and pirates. Will their travels save Pooja from her arranged marriage, the town from destruction, and Raja from certain death?


I managed to work in the phrase “What the fish?” many times, and helped shape a time travel plot that actually made sense, complete with my character from the future showing up in the present and dying at the top of the second half. This made for some really interesting scenes between my character in the present and the characters who knew I was going to die. Then of course came the highly satisfying scene near the end when my character finally got stabbed.

Drama you can only have with time travel really.

I think my singing was even halfway decent too, as I continue my quest to actually sing in my range. Much harder to do than it sounds.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Rehearsal #8: Keep it Going

As we get deeper and deeper into a show, especially a show that’s going fairly well, there becomes less and less to work on in rehearsal. They become more or less an opportunity to connect and keep everyone on the same page. That’s mostly what we did this week. We worked on some games (Oompa Loompa Comentary, Genre Combo, Genre Slide, Genre Roller Coaster, State Trooper) and ended early. It was also St. Patrick’s Day, and I didn’t want to keep people too late in case they had plans or just wanted to beat the drunken traffic home.

The show runs for two more weekends, but this is actually my last. I’m directing Impact Briefs: Puberty which opens in May and needs to start rehearsals ASAP. All that is to say, I likely will not blog about next week’s rehearsal as I won’t be there.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Rehearsal #7: Everything at Once

After a very successful first weekend of shows, we had rehearsal on Tuesday night. We started with a warm-up that I had noticed the cast of Saturday night’s show playing before the show. It involves standing in a circle and playing every improv circle warm-up game all at once with no introductions or explanations. One second your playing bipity bipity bop and the next your playing kitty wants a corner or the Dukes of Hazard, or anything really. And it doesn’t matter if people don’t know the game you’ve just switched to because the whole point is to style match and fake it, or just change the game right away to something you know.

We had a great time and laughed ourselves quite silly.

Then I wanted to move into an exercise in “building scenes” and style matching. The idea was for one person to come out on stage and say a couple things to help establish the type of scene they’re doing and for other people to come in and add to the scene while matching the tenor and style. Unfortunately moving to an exercise started by a single person onstage killed a lot of the energy we had just built up in the warm-up. In the future I might not lead with this exercise.

Then did another round of the bell-game exercise we did in Rehearsal #3 in order to break out of the “new choice” rut we fall into whenever a bell rings on a scene. After that, we did another rapid-fire round of introducing scenes and getting suggestions without stopping the show.

I’ve realized a better way to describe this concept is that every interaction with the audience or scene set up has to be done as a scene itself (which then leads organically into another scene, meaning you can’t have a scene to get the suggestion and then a completely unrelated scene using it). That also means improvisors can’t reference theatrical terms like “scene” or “actor” and such with out first establishing a context wherein that’s allowable. (“Welcome to the Westfield Community Theater Players production of such-and-such” etc.)

I admit it is difficult to come up with these creative intros and even harder to segue them into scenes without always using “now let’s see that film” or “now the Westfield Community Players will act that out”, but that is the point and challenge of the show. Just because it’s hard to do, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.

Another way of looking at it is this, if you want to use the audience as an audience, you first have to establish that they’re not this audience in this theater watching Un-Scripted: unscripted. First you have to endow them as a different audience at a different show and then go from there.

Bryce was detained at work and arrived at rehearsal very late. When he arrived we ran him through the meat grinder by playing scene after scene with him until finally we were all ready to be done. We closed with another round of “every circle warm-up game at once” and that was the end! Watch it all in time-lapse:

Monday, March 9, 2009

Un-Scripted: unscripted Week 1

I had a moment in the show on Friday night that transcended being simply a “magic of improv” moment and became a “magic of storytelling” even a “magic of culture” moment.

I knew I wanted to do a scene with the bell (a little desktop bell-man’s bell frequently used in improv games), but I didn’t know what I wanted it to be. Because we’re not explaining many scenes in advance in this show, just about any scene might find itself “dinged” by the bell. Then it’s up to the improvisors in the scene to collectively and instantly decide what bell means, or what effect it has on the scene.

The default response tends to be New Choice, where the improvisor says or does something different from what they just said or did until the bell-ringer is satisfied with the new direction of the scene, but it could mean any number of things including Accent Switch, Genre Roller-coaster, Move-On, etc.

So I brought the bell out onstage and placed it on a chair, in a position of status, and then sat backwards in another chair looking at it intently. Mandy joined me onstage and as soon as the lights came up I said “I traded the beans for this bell.”

And that’s when it happened. A knowing chuckle rippled outwards through the audience as everyone in the theater and everyone in the cast knew that the bell was magic, without ever having to say the word “magic.”

That’s how I want to be able to tell stories, be they onstage or on paper.

**

We had a really solid opening weekend with three fun and well received shows. Saturday night was so sold-out that even I didn’t get a seat. So please buy your tickets in advance online. If you’d like to see some clips from last weekend’s shows, Clay has posted 6 scenes on the Un-Scripted YouTube Channel in High Definition (click the HD button for Hi-Def):

The Roman Empire Strikes Back - Parts 1, 2, and 3
Rap Battle: Chocolate vs. Crochet
Shrödinger’s Hepcat
Acting Class (with Joseph)

**

Here’s how I didn’t get a seat at Saturday’s show. As we were closing up the house, I took a quick glance at the audience and saw 1 free seat, which I assumed Bryce would take as he was taking notes that night. So I went out and headed up to the booth. A few seconds later Bryce came up to the booth saying there were no seats left. As the booth only holds two (Bryce and Joy who was running lights), I had no place from which to watch the show.

I heard parts of it.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Rehearsal #6: Final "Dress"

We had our last rehearsal before opening on Tuesday. After warming up we talked through a few business items related to the show and then launched into a quick tutorial on how to use puppets. We’ve worked with puppets a lot in Un-Scripted, and I’d love for them to make appearances in this show as well. We practiced with them a bit and then talked about how to interact with the audience (in general, not related to puppets).

Then we ran a couple mock first halves. I wouldn’t call them “dress rehearsals,” not only because we weren’t dressed for the show but because we were in a rehearsal space, not the theater and we did not have a keyboardist.

The first one went amazingly well. So well, in fact, I hope they can do as well tonight in the show! Highlights included:

Row Boat Cannibalism
Playbook Star Trek
and
Mamma I Don’t Wanna Learn Needlepoint or cut off my left breast to be an Amazon warrior.


The second one had a tough act to follow and was a little more shaky. Highlights included:

Australian/French/Japanese/Russian Children’s Shows
Silent Tea
and
Bryce’s beat poetry typewriter scene.


Tonight we open! Sweet. I don’t play until tomorrow. Tonight I take notes so I can help guide things in the right direction. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Load-In

We had load-in last night for the show. Although, as Mandy said, we didn’t load in so much as clean up. The previous tenants in the space left it a bit of a mess. I don’t really understand why groups do that. People are slobs.

In any case, we cleaned up, set up the cyc and the legs, arranged the lights. I figured out how to arrange the box office in a suitably aesthetically and functionally pleasing way. Clay and Joy made the concessions cart look pretty. Christian and Dave arranged the concessions and t-shirts. We were out of there by 9:30. Of course that makes it seem like a short load-in. Clay and Mandy started at 3:00 with the rest of us showing up closer to 6:00.

Watch all 6+ hours of it in time-lapse!