Thursday, December 20, 2007

Lighting Can Bring Clarity

I ran the lights for the final performance of Let It Snow, and I suddenly had clarity on some important aspects of improvising single-story long-forms like we do at Un-Scripted. In rehearsal, we spend a lot of time working finding and establishing the protagonist, but not much time on what to do once we’ve found the protagonist. Watching the show and looking back on the run, certain lessons coalesced in my mind.

In the show Sunday, Dave A. got frustrated that his offer of letting Susan (the protagonist) use his pig in the Pork Princess competition was being deflected. Why was it being deflected? Because it was too early in the show to be helping the protagonist.

In the Holland, MI show, I uttered a line now famous among the people in that show: “Is she hot? Go to Norway.” Dave’s character was contemplating following the exotic Inga to Norway, and her family was trying to talk him out of it. Unfortunately, it was too early in the show for that. Everyone should have been encouraging him to leave and make the wrong choice, which was why what I said had such an impact.

In the Trent, TX show I should have let Molly’s character seduce me and given her the secret to my chili recipe right away because it was the wrong decision.

In short, during the first half of the show, after the protagonist has been established, throw obstacles in front of the protagonist, raise the stakes, make things difficult, encourage the protagonist to make mistakes, and if you are the protagonist, make mistakes. Do things that you the improvisor know aren’t right, but your character doesn’t.

In the second half, you can start helping the protagonist. You can start fixing things, and the protagonist can make smarter choices and, most importantly, change.

Lighting the show Sunday, I noticed another interesting thing. Karen and Christian were playing Tara’s overbearing parents. They were pushing her to be the Pork Princess, when she preferred cows. Then at some point, without any prodding from Tara, Karen changed and encouraged her daughter to do what she wanted. Her instinct was right, to start trying to fix things for the protagonist, but the effect was to lower the stakes and make the show less dynamic.

Why? Quite simply the only character who should ever change or effect change is the protagonist. If the story has a strong antagonist, they might also change, but generally only because the protagonist forces them to. The side characters should pick an objective or attitude about the world and stick to it.

Karen’s instinct to start helping was dead on, but by changing on her own accord without being forced to by Tara (who by this point in the show had become a co-protagonist with Susan, or rather the protagonist of her own sub-plot) she muddied the narrative.

So, here’s a chart:
Scene 1: Find a protagonist with a want/need.
Act I: Raise the stakes. Get in their way. Get in your own way as the protagonist.
Act II: Help them by changing at their request. If you are the protagonist, change.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Show #4: Protagonist Again!

My last show was the Saturday Matinee. We had a great crowd and got the lovely town of Suffield, CT as our suggestion. As the first scene developed, Trish was setting up Scott to be the protagonist. He hadn’t been the protagonist yet in the show and had expressed a desire to. Trish kept saying “You look blue. What’s bothering you?” A clear opportunity for Scott to open up about his feelings, sing a need song, and be the protagonist. But he didn’t bite. He later said “I had nothing,” a not uncommon occurrence in improv.

The scene ended without a song and without a clear protagonist. Throughout the scene, however, Scott and Trish spoke about their son, a character named Ricky, who was coming home soon for the holidays. Tara and I went out in the second scene and she immediately endowed me as being Ricky. She was my girlfriend. I didn’t want to go home. She was forcing me to.

Ah, I slipped into that scene like a nice warm bath. It was one of those moments when I could really revel in the fact that I’ve been improvising with Tara for 7 years or so. We knew how to play-off each other and delight each other and anticipate each other’s offers. I sang a need song, that turned into a nice playful duet with her, and whamo, I was the protagonist for the second time in the run!

Every now and then a couple other people entered the scene. Our characters found ways to send them away because they really weren’t needed. I think they were trying to raise the stakes, but the stakes were raised enough and didn’t really need the superfluous characters. Mostly they got in the way of the scene. That’s something I think we could have worked on more in this run: knowing when not to enter a scene. Not going on can be just as helpful as going on, sometimes.

Interestingly enough, I felt like Christian, who can often times be a pestering stage hog, did a much better job of staying out of scenes that didn’t need him than he did in say The Great Puppet Musical where his omnipresence onstage bordered on the ridiculous. I speak of this honestly mostly because I’m reasonably certain he’ll never read this, and if he did, I can trust him not to take it personally.

The show went rather smoothly from that point on. I did a better job of getting into trouble, and it was really the first show of the run where the protagonist didn’t like the town. This was something that happened frequently in previous years doing this show. One thing that it does, is make everyone else love the town to raise the stakes. Tara did an especially great job of this. Her character came with me and had never visited the town before. She delighted in everything.

Which brings me back to another interesting moment: In the first scene between Tara and I, when her character was convincing me to go home for the holidays, we set that scene in one of the towns we hadn’t taken as our suggestion. We often find ways to mention the runner-up towns in the show, but this was the first time we’d ever set a scene in one of the other towns. So Massapequa Park, NY has now appeared in a Let It Snow, even if it’s not been featured.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Let It Snow 2007, 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!


Nuclear Family – Friday 12/14/07
Peacenick Sonia (Mandy) butts head with her sister Susan (Trish) over keeping Takoma Park, MD (pop. 17,717) a nuclear free zone. Relations melt down when friends and family pile into Sonia’s tiny studio apartment for Christmas, but snow globes, clockwork power, and love save the day.

The Burro and the Rooster - Saturday Matinee 12/15/07
Ricky (Alan) doesn’t want to go home to Suffield, CT (pop. 13,552) for the holidays. His dad will be depressed. His grandma will pinch his cheeks, and everyone will treat him like a golden child. When his girlfriend Samantha (Tara) forces him to go, Ricky learns there’s a lot to like in Suffield, and the town and his family learns to admit Ricky’s not perfect.

Christmas with the King - Saturday Evening 12/15/07
When Kevin (Bryce) inherits his father’s clothing store in Altus, OK (pop. 21,447), he fears he won’t be able to fill his father’s big shoes. When a rival clothing store undercuts his prices on holiday Elvis capes, Kevin finds himself on the verge of bankruptcy. Only the town’s yearly holiday visit from an Elvis impersonator (Scott) can save the day.

Kiss that Hog - Sunday 12/16/07
Saundra (Susan) dreams of being the Holiday Pork Princess of Hector, MN (pop. 1,166) and borrows her friend Sven’s (Dave A.) pig to enter. When the owner of the feed store (Christian) decides his daughter Susan (Tara) will be the Pork Princess, he cheats Saundra out of her prize pig. In the end, Saundra learns being the Pork Princess isn’t as important to her as her newly discovered love for Sven and Susan is able to realize her dream of being Princess Kay of the Milky Way with her prize calf.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Rehearsal #12: And Scene

We had our last rehearsal last night for the show. At the last minute, Tara made the rehearsal optional, which was good as two people couldn’t make it and a third chose to stay home. We had David, so we sang. I didn’t really sing much feeling the effects of a food allergy. As a result, I don’t really have much to say about the rehearsal as it was all pretty much a blur.

I do remember we did a Cirque de Soliel inspired dream ballet number that was pretty kick-ass. We’ll see if it works its way into the show. Hope you all can make it!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Let It Snow 2007, 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!


Polka Me Gently - Friday 12/7/2007
In hopes of rekindling the holiday spirit in herself, Louise (Susan) plans to play a rock-and-roll polka during Midnight Mass in Euclid, OH (pop. 52,717), but her mother (Trish) will do anything to stop her. When Louise’s best-friend Ivan (Bryce) betrays her, will she find the strength to take on her mother?

Toulon, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Good-Bye - Saturday Matinee 12/8/2007
When an accident in the Toulon, IL (pop. 1,400) nursing home puts Nurse Maggie’s (Mandy) job in jeopardy, she leads the disgruntled residents in a daring breakout. Several of the old men soon find themselves mistaken for the three wise men in the Christmas pageant, and Maggie learns that she doesn’t have to fix everyone’s problems. Sometimes people have to help themselves.

Jenks for the Memories - Saturday Night 12/8/2007
Isabella (Tara) and Beauregard (Christian) Barkey move back to his hometown of Jenks, OK (pop. 9,557) the self-proclaimed antique capital of the US. Struggling to fit in, Isabella opens an antique stand at the local bank, but faces stiff competition at home and at work. Beau’s passive-aggressive family wishes he’d married his omnipresent old flame Kathleen (Molly). But when Isabella starts closing down her shop, she learns she can fit in by just being herself.

In the Ticket of Things - Sunday Twilight
The police of Signal Mountain, TN (pop. 7,429) are on a ticket writing spree, but town damage controller Louise (Molly) takes the blame and is determined to resolve the issue. Meanwhile, Louise's parents are smothering her, stifling her push toward independence. Eventually, Louise gets the police to stop taking advantage of their power, and Signal Mountain is known as a town that uses tickets to better itself.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Rehearsal #11: Eye Contact While Singing

Even though I’m not in any of the shows this weekend, I wanted to go to rehearsal Tuesday night anyway because we were going to be singing!

We worked on trios and duets and color songs, songs that have no plot or emotional content but fill out the environment and mood. I’ve come a long way in my singing over the years, but definitely needed the extra practice. I jumped up to sing as often as I could.

I did a duet with Dave Dyson in which we were brothers having just read or parent’s will in which I got nothing and him everything. We were fighting as characters and used the song to fight as well: in the beginning I kept singing verses without letting Dave in. I also learned that I have a problem making eye contact when I’m singing with someone else.

I hardly did it at all during the song with Dave, and in a later song, Tara had to side-coach me to do it during the song. Once I did, the difference was immediately noticeable to me and the audience. I was instantly more connected and expressive (amazing how that works). As Tara pointed out, my avoidance of eye contact in songs is probably an outgrowth of my predilection to play characters that don’t have to show emotion or change (a predilection that makes playing the protagonist challenging).

I must remember to do that, make eye-contact while singing!

I am not in any of the shows this weekend, as I was supposed to be out of town. Now I am in town, but I’m still not playing baring any unforeseen changes. I will be at the show tonight though! I hope to learn a lot from watching it, assuming a get a seat.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Let It Snow 2007, 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!


Going Dutch – Friday 11/30/2007
Jeannie (Trish) has fallen in love with her old boyfriend from high school Sam (Dave D.), but he's taken with an exotic Norwegian, Inga (Mandy) who's come to visit Holland, MI (pop. 35,048). Can Jeannie skate her way back into Sam's heart or will he be spending the holidays keeping Inga warm?

Homewood for the Holidays – Saturday Matinee 12/1/2007
Martha (Mandy) needs the first day of her new boutique restaurant and resort in Homewood, CA (pop. 840) near Tahoe to go perfectly, but when the reviewer comes, she's greeted with burnt food, raccoons in the dining room, a bear attack, a quitting hysterical French chef, and total panic by the wait staff all at the same time. Can anything save the day?

Snakes in a Chili Cook-Off – Saturday Evening 12/1/2007
Bill (Alan) is as determined to win this year's Rattle Snake Chili Cook-Off in Trent, TX (pop.318) as he is to make his life more spicy. But when an affair with the town temptress Marigold (Molly) nearly costs him his chance to win, he discovers life is just as spicy as you make it.

Peace in Harmony – Sunday 12/2/2007
This year, someone will be chosen from the high school band to lead the Christmas parade in Harmony, PA (pop. 937). When Daisy (Trish) discovers that the band leader Professor Wilson (Dave A.) is secretly the front man for the Screaming Weasels rock band, she blackmails her way into the job. The evil spoiled Joan (Susan) gets her dad, the mayor (Bryce), to intervene, but in the end everyone leads the parade in perfect harmony.

Shows 2 & 3: Protagonist = The One Who Moves First

I ended up playing in two shows last weekend instead of my originally scheduled one. I filled the spot vacated by Derek on Friday night.

The first show was somewhat frustrating for me. I had psyched myself up mentally to play the protagonist that night, and went out in the first scene playing an upbeat, positive, normal character. Somehow Dave still ended up the protagonist, even though his character was not very real. How did this happen? I have my theories. Dave simply spoke more in the scene. It was a large group scene and a bit hard to navigate, but Dave had the most to say, even if his character was a bit overly excitable in a way more suited to a side character.

Ultimately, however, I think the thing that made him the protagonist was that when the lights came up he made a large physical offer. I noticed this phenomenon during the Great Puppet Musical, and I find it interesting. The person whose character makes a big physical motion at the top of the first scene tends to be the protagonist. It makes sense, really. Whatever physical gesture or offer they’re making draws focus to them, not only from the audience but fellow improvisors. It’s assumed that this gesture (and the character who made it) is important and we all want to know why.

(Dave didn’t hold on to the protagonist role, by the way. His character wasn’t real enough to bare it out. The mantle shifted to Trish as she was more normal and her reactions real and strong.)

Saturday night, I again went onstage in the first scene with the intent of being the protagonist. This time, I started the scene stirring a space object pot. Low and behold, I easily became the protagonist. I did alright. My initial offer (wanting to win the chili cook-off) was a bit plot heavy, and even though I quickly altered it (to wanting my life to be more spicy like chili) the show still ended up a little clunky on the plot heavy side.

Early on, Mandy was ambiguously endowed as my girlfriend, which gave me difficulties as I ended up being seduced by Molly’s character. In retrospect, I think I would have had an easier time navigating the story had Mandy been endowed as my sister. This would have brought in more of a family aspect; she could have served as my confidant; and Molly’s character could have been my love interest. All of which would have made the show cleaner.

I felt good about my singing, and got some good notes from Christian on how to improve. I also need to remember to let the protagonist get in trouble and make bad decisions early in the show. I should have let Molly’s character seduce me sooner, but I was in my head about how to do that and still remain likeable (which wouldn’t have been an issue had Mandy been my sister).

I’ve got one more show left. I suppose it’s possible I may pick up another of Derek’s slots, but I’m going to assume I only have the one show left. Not sure I’ll aim for the protagonist in it or not. I may want to just enjoy playing around as a side character. I’ve got plenty of time to think about it though, as I’m not performing again until the 15th.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Rehearsal #10: Keeping It Real

Yes, we continue to meet and workout even after the show has opened. In fact, in order to perform in the coming weekend’s shows, you have to attend the rehearsal that week. Why? There’s so much about an improv show that you can’t learn until you’re up in front of an audience. After 4 shows, we have an idea of our strengths and our weaknesses and can go back and work on skills that need augmenting, or even work on skills we didn’t know we needed before we opened.

Tuesday night we worked on improv and acting. We did scenes where we explored the different roles and types of characters that may come up in the show. Tara wrote out lots of different types on pieces of paper and we pulled them before going out to do a scene, forcing us to try different things (although I kept getting “confidant” and Molly kept getting “ex”). Then during the scenes on person watching was in charge of the “keep it real bell”. Anytime our acting didn’t ring true, they rang the bell. Another person watching dolled out points based on how well we used the space, identified environments, used names, etc.

Towards the end of the evening, we hit our high point in a wonderfully rich family scene that could have been straight out of “A Very Eugene O’Neil Christmas”. While it was way darker than anything we’d want to do in the show, it illuminated a lot of interpersonal dynamics that we could explore in the show to give it more depth and a deeper holiday feel.

We call the show a “Holiday Musical” but year after year we avoid holidays in the show out fear of being too denominational. What we’ve discovered is, it’s not so much what holiday we’re celebrating. We can create a holiday feel simply by bring family and friends together, and letting them have random holiday traditions of their own.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

One Show Down, Bollywood Style

I performed in the show Saturday night. For summaries of all this weekend’s shows and pictures of the towns we did, see my previous post.

Saturday night our suggestion was Fairfield, IA, which is not only a small Iowa farm town, but also the home of the Maharishi University of Management. The inventor of Transcendental Meditation himself founded the University after coming to this country from India. Huddled in front of the whiteboard backstage, as soon as we learned this little tidbit of information, I dreamed of being able to work a Bollywood number into the show.

We at Un-Scripted, spearheaded by combined interest from Mandy and Dave, have thrown around the idea of doing a Bollywood Musical for years. The idea tends to surface on our annual retreat, where we’ve spent time watching Bollywood movies and last year even practiced improvising some Bollywood numbers.

Last year, during the Impossible Film Project, I did a Bollywood film with the help of Mandy as dance director. That was so much fun. We even had dozens of people in Union Square dancing along. Then, during the Love Show last February we finally did a Bollywood number live in a show, and during one of the Maker Faire performances of the Great Puppet Musical, we did a puppet Bollywood number. All went over fabulously, but we’re still not sure if the concept could sustain itself for a whole show, let alone a whole run. We also don’t want to come off as racist, given that we’re an entire troupe of white people doing Bollywood. However, the idea of doing the Great Puppet Muscial: Bollywood Edition next year has been bandied about as a possible way to get around that issue as well as allow a bigger cast of characters.

But back to Saturday night. After singing a verse in the opening number, I came off stage not wanting to leap right back out for the first scene. This did keep me from being the protagonist, but that’s alright as I do enjoy playing around with side characters. I did, however, enter the first scene as an older local farmer who’d turned over the family farm to his daughter (Susan) and was studying meditation. It was a fun juxtaposition and made for some entertaining lines. (My character inspiration was Scruffy from Futurama.) I got a lot of compliments after the show. A couple improvisors who had been in the audience commented that I have a knack for coming in with a character that fills a whole that was somehow missing and grounding things. Awesome.

I sang a little bit, mostly in a short song where Trish, Dave, and I all sang together. I also danced. Susan and I did a romantic backup dance that seemed vaguely inappropriate given we were playing father and daughter, but we just ran with it.

Then, near the end of the show, we did a Bollywood number! Trish had never even attempted Bollywood before, but after a few quick pointers at intermission, she blended in seamlessly. It wasn’t the best improvised Bollywood number ever done on stage, but it was definitely in the top three. And the audience sure seemed to enjoy it.

Let It Snow 2007, Week 1

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!


Dry – Friday 11/23/2007
When Mike (Dave A.) and Sally (Trish) conspire to sell alcohol at the fair in traditionally dry Topsfield, MA (pop. 6,141), the Mayor (Christian) finds himself usurped by his clerk (Bryce). But once the town's matriarch (Tara) has her first sip of liquor, everything changes.

Losing Bridges - Saturday Matinee 11/24/2007
Carol (Mandy) has been the president of the Hastings, MN (pop. 18,204) historical society for 25 years, but her assistant Susie (Molly) has quietly been doing most of the work. Susie finally wants some credit, and when she befriends newspaper intern Seth, she finally has her chance. But just as the town lost its spiral bridge to progrss, how many bridges will Susie lose to earn her fame?

Bollywood on the Plains – Saturday Night 11/24/2007
East meets West in Fairfield, IA (pop. 9,509) where the Maharishi Rudy (Dave) runs an Indan Café and Ashram at Maharishi University of Management. When the café's delivery boy George (Christian) has an existential crisis of self, he gets a little help from local farmer Kathleen (Susan) and the transcendental wisdom of Rudy to discover he's not really alone after all.

Cheesehead Luau – Sunday Twilight 11/25/2007
Steve (Dave A.) is new to Waialua, HI (pop. 3,761), having just moved from Wisconsin. In an effort to share a bit of his home and meet new people in the town, he becomes obsessed with bringing cheese to the pot luck. Not just any cheese. Homemade cheese. He finds a goat. He churns. And in the end, he finds love and learns how to relax the Hawaiian way.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Rehearsal #9: Final Dress

Ok, it wasn’t technically a dress rehearsal, as we didn’t dress, and we didn’t do a whole show, we did two mini shows, but it was the last rehearsal before opening, so we’ll call it final dress.

It went… let’s just say that’s why you have a final dress. I was in the second of the two mini shows we did. Somehow, I forgot how to improvise. I went out to start the second scene with the intention of being a doctor performing surgery. Two chairs were left onstage from the previous scene (LESSON #1: if you bring charis out for your scene, bring them back at the end) which I set up into an operating table position and started miming a scalpel. But then realized I was alone on stage and therefore couldn’t be doing surgery. (I should have pulled someone out with me and whispered to them “performing surgery”.)

Then I thought, ok I’m doing an autopsy on the guy who died in the first scene (atypically for this show, someone died in the first scene; ideally no one should die in this show), but somehow that didn’t work in my mind because Dave A, who died in the first scene, wasn’t lying in front of me. So then I just randomly called over my shoulder for Carol to come in, not having a clear hit as to who Carol was.

Molly came in as Carol. Did I mention Molly and I had played two patients at a small-town doctor’s office in the first scene and that her character had no name in the first scene? Well, she came on as that character. OK, great. We’re those characters. One mystery solved. But what the hell was I doing miming a scalpel?

So I made the blindest of blindest offers, keeping in mind that Molly couldn’t really see what I was doing from back stage. I said “Carol, could you …” and motioned towards what I was doing. She said “ok,” and took the mysterious space-object scalpel like object out of my hand and began cutting in about the same spot I was, and asked “in strips and cubes?”. A-ha! We’re in the steakhouse. (As we left the first scene, I had said “let’s go get a steak” referencing the steakhouse mentioned by David Norfleet when he told us about is town. We were doing Marshfield, WI, where he grew up.) Eating at some sort of counter type thing... and for some reason Carol was in the next room.

Did I mention my name was Stan in the first scene? Well it was. Bryce comes in as a doctor. A doctor in the steakhouse? Ok. Keep in mind we haven’t actually mentioned the word steak or named where the hell we are. Bryce comes in as a Doctor saying “Don’t worry, Stan’s going to be just fine.” He is, of course, attempting to name the dead guy from the first scene Stan and bring him back to life. But I’m already Stan. So Molly and I react like, of course I’m going to be fine.

Then Bryce makes the offer that Dr. Marcie (Tara) from the first scene isn’t really a doctor yet, she’s just a student. Well, he wasn’t really making that offer, he was reiterating what he thought was an offer Tara had made in her song from the previous scene where she sang that she still felt like a student. (IMPORTANT LESSON: not only should one never make plot offers in songs, one should never infer plot offers from songs.)

Then Tara arrives and precipitates a classic improv moment. Realizing that we have yet to name exactly where the hell we are and that, clearly, Bryce is in a different place from Molly and I, she ties everything together by making the offer that we’re in a slaughter house and that Molly and I pay our doctor bills by giving her meat. A-ha! That’s what the hell is going on. Finally.

We all almost broke.

Ah, yes. Improv. There’s nothing quite like those moments of discovery on stage. And, it’s those kind of train wrecks that are the reason we rehearse so much. Better to do those in rehearsal then Friday in front of an audience. WE OPEN FIRDAY! My play dates are posted in the sidebar on this page under my picture if you want to see me perform.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Rehearsal #8: Making the Director Cry

Rehearsal started out on Tuesday, as always, by going over our dance moves. After weeks, I still have trouble remembering which one is which and what my feet are actually supposed to be doing. I felt bad because I kept asking Molly “Wait, which one is this one?” Of course, she’s easy to dance with as she’ll lead from the follow position.

We also practice tableaus, necessary for the opening number, and then warmed up vocally with David Norfleet so we could begin singing AND dancing. At the SAME time. Mostly this just focused on a back-up singing convention that we’ve used in the past. 3 people in a line at the back. When facing stage right, the person in front leads, making up a simple repeatable verbal phrase and accompanying gesture/dance move. When facing down stage, the center person leads, and when facing stage left, the remaining person (in the front) leads. Then whichever way your facing, you repeat that phrase and gesture, mixing it up to match the song some soloist is singing.

This is a great way to pimp a song to happen. If you know someone on stage needs to sing and David is ramping up the underscoring, grab two people, go out, and start doing this. The great part is, as a soloist, their gestures and phrases influence your song and help you out. In rehearsal, I had to do a solo for one of these. I’ll admit, I was a bit terrified having missed the last singing rehearsal, but the song came easily, inspired by the back up singing and dancing, and was one of the better improvised songs I’ve ever sung.

Then we practiced opening numbers, getting real town names off the internet (like Canute, OK) and making up interesting facts about it, thus simulating our audience suggestion. The opening song is by far the most structured song in the show. Really it’s the only structured song in the show. We don’t know what the tune is going to be and we don’t know any of the words, but we know it will go like this:
Dance Break

Come se the show and you’ll see what that means.

Finally we had time to work on whatever we wanted to sing. Tara, Karen, and Mandy sung a wonderful “Andrew’s Sisters” style song that became a new twist on the point-of-view song. We practiced the point-of-view, Les Miz style song that we hope to end the first act with. And Susan and I sang a love duet. Not a “falling in love” duet, but a “we’ve been in love for a long time” duet, something you see a lot in musicals but we rarely think to improvise. Our set-up was that we were doing the cross-word puzzle together in the morning. This immediately became a wonderfully impossible game (what’s a 7 letter word for city?). Then we sang. Oh, what a wonderful song. Filled with cross word puzzle clues about our love and history, it had an easily repeatable phrase to riff on (Love you. Sweet Dreams). Oh. Beautiful. And it helped to be singing it with one of my best friends in all the world. An improv highlight I’ll remember for a long time. And, it made Tara cry.

See, making the director cry can be a good thing.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Let It Snow! Towns 2005

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!


We’ve Got a Boat for You – Friday 11/25/2005
When Sam (Christian) and his friend Waldo (Alan) take jobs at the Mr. Withers’ (Ken) shipyard in Sturgeon Bay, WI (pop. 9,240), Sam finds himself in trouble with his dairy farmer father (Bryce). In the end Sam, his father, and Mr. Withers all find the boat of their dreams, and Waldo finally gets a date with Mr. Withers’ daughter (Susan)!

What’s Yours is Mine – Saturday 11/26/2005
Moonflower (Mandy) wishes the people of Madrid, NM (pop. 149) were as easy to talk to as dogs. While Mayor Batsy (Dave) and the rest of the town handle the arrival of a federal investigator (Bryce), Moonflower works up the courage to ask Carl (Alan) the mailman to the annual Halloween Cross Dressers Ball.

What’s Next for Chino Valley? – Sunday 11/27/2005
Ben (Christian) is the idea man of Chino Valley, AZ (pop. 9,160). After all, he brought a much-celebrated 4th stoplight to the town, created a crosswalk, and even painted the line down the middle of Main Street. While Tennyson (Ken), Grandma Etta (Susan), and the whole town wait to see what he’ll do next, his best friend Tess (Lisa) is waiting for him to see her as more than just friends.

Good Nancy, Bad Nancy – Friday 12/2/2005
When Franklin (Dave) returns to Arco, ID (pop. 1,001) to woo Nancy, his true love (Mandy), he finds an unexpected obstacle in the town’s high school basketball star Rod (Glenn) and Franklin’s own sister Terri (Tara). But nothing can stop a romance as hot as the town’s nuclear reactors!

Battle Rock! – Saturday 12/3/2005
Liza (Lisa) dreams of participating in Port Orford, OR’s (pop. 1,170) annual holiday battle re-enactment, but chief organizer Thomas (Glenn) won’t allow women to participate. With a little help from her friends, Liza starts up her own battle re-enactment and gives everyone in the town a history lesson.

Cold Weather, Warm Hearts – Sunday 12/4/2005
Nebraska-born Charlie (Christian) finds himself stationed with the Air Force in Goose Bay, Labrador (pop. 7,969). Can he overcome his shyness and date the Minnesotan of his dreams, Anne (Tara), or will he spend another cold winter alone?

Manunka Chunk, Do Doooo Do Do Do – Friday 12/9/2005
Jerry (Christian) has to overcome his parents’ disapproval, his own indecision, and the advances of croquet-mogul Randal Pete (Ken) to win the heart of his true love Sara (Mandy). Nothing beats sitting on Aunt Ada’s (Lisa) dock in Manunka Chunk, NJ.

Find Your Fire – Saturday 12/10/2005
Delgado’s Deli is a cornerstone of Weed, CA (pop. 3,077), but Diana Delgado (Susan) is tired of working for the family business. All she wants to do is climb Mt. Shasta, but when the local USGS-man Dennison (Bryce) warns the mountain could be volcanically active, her life changes forever.

The Maiden Martyr – Sunday 12/11/2005
Tilly (Susan) spends so much time helping out other people in Buckingham, VA (pop. 15,919), she never has time for herself. When she decides to go back to college, her jealous room-mates Mary Sue (Jennifer) and Sammy Jo (Mandy) conspire to keep her at home.

Baked Bean Supper – Friday 12/16/2005
Martha (Mandy) wishes she could be more grown up, but when she becomes the Poet Laureate of Industry, ME (pop.789), her rhyming talents are exhausted by big-fish-wannabe Roy (Ken), in his scheme to make the town the Bean Supper capital of the world. But some residents have other fish to fry …

Strange Bedfellow – Saturday 12/17/2005
The town of Cantwell, AK (pop. 222) is forced to hold an emergency election to replace the Mayor and the bartender after they both end up on America’s Most Wanted. Sheriff Maxwell (Christian) decides to run for mayor only to find himself running against his wife (Mandy)! Meanwhile, Jimbo (Alan) and Elizabeth (Susan) make their own sparks fly in the race for bartender. Politics does indeed make strange bedfellows!

Good or Bad – Sunday 12/18/2005
Bobby (Glenn) thought he was an orphan, but when his uncles tell him his parents abandoned him, he breaks into the dreaded youth correctional camp outside of Schurz, NV (pop. 721). But things aren’t always how they seem, and Bobby finds his parents aren’t so bad (or far away) after all!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Rehearsal # 7: Group Dancing

We’ve been working a lot on partner dancing in the dance portions of the rehearsals. Last night we finally made the leap from partner dancing to big group numbers. The effect was quite amazing.

In the past, when we’ve tried to improvise group numbers, we generally do a diamond dance. In a diamond dance, one person is in the front and everyone behind them is following there lead. Generally the formation looks like a diamond, but not always. The problem with the diamond dance is that it puts all of the onus on one person to come up with the dance moves and do something interesting.

This time, we didn’t use the diamond dance. Instead, it was more of a free style dance with everyone paying attention to what everyone else was doing and riffing on themes of whatever dance moves the other people were doing. This kept everything in the same world. Then, when in doubt, dance with someone.

Often times we naturally found ourselves doing the same things in unison or cascading through moves. Either way, it all looked much more natural than a diamond dance. In one of them, we even had 3 couples doing what looked like a choreographed waltz. Very cool. I can’t wait to try it in a show.

Then we did more improv. We brainstormed names so as not to fall into ruts of naming everyone the same thing all the time. I personally tend to name everyone Carl, Bob, or Mary. Christian’s a big Becky fan and Bryce leans towards Jacob.

We also worked on romance scenes. These went very well and are quite fun. I did two large wacky side characters in two scenes, which somehow lend themselves to romance scenes so easily, and then was a protagonist in another.

In other news, we may be losing one of our cast members. This would be horrible, but may be unavoidable. More on that story as it develops.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Rehearsal #6: Improv Jet-Lagged

You may have noticed that I didn’t blog about last week’s rehearsal. That’s because I was in Illinois helping my parents move and missed rehearsal. Unfortunately for me, last week they sang. Not only that, but they had an extra singing rehearsal with David on Thursday. Ouch. Thusly I have missed two rehearsals focusing on the skill I need the most practice in on this show.

Instead, this week we have two rehearsals focusing on improv and long-form. Not to toot my own horn, but I’m pretty solid there. A refresher’s always good, though.

Last night we practiced the all important first three scenes of a long-form. In the single story, play-like, long-forms that we do, the first three scenes the most important. Set up the right foundation, and the rest of the show writes itself. Establish the world. Establish the protagonist and their want/need. Establish the opposition. You’re all set. Then you just sit back, explore the world, raise the stakes, and help/hinder the protagonist. Easy.

We did 4 long-form starts last night. They all went reasonably well. Or at least I think they did. I was extremely jet lagged and tired. Generally speaking, when I am that way, improv is a lot of fun, mostly because I have no filters up and censor myself less. What comes out of my mouth comes out of my mouth.

It’s great for shows, but of limited use in rehearsals, mostly because when I am jet lagged and tired, I’m extremely irritable and have no patience. So any moment in rehearsal when I’m not improvising, I’m generally annoyed that I’m not improvising. That also plays into my natural learning style. I prefer to do. I’ll learn much more from getting up and improvising a million scenes then I will by doing a few and then talking about them. Unfortunately, not everyone is like me. Many improvsiors, and many in Un-Scripted, need to talk about scenes afterwards in order to learn from them. I’ll agree that a little talking is useful, but I generally find the discussions go on too long for my tastes and I get impatient.

But we did some good scenes last night. We’ll see how tonight goes, but I think we’re in pretty good shape improv wise. This show is shaping up quite nicely.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Let It Snow! Towns 2004

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!


Sugar Beets, Sugar Beach – Friday 11/26/04
Set in Wiggins, CO (pop. 838), this tale chronicled Carl (Christian), a young sugar beet farmer, as he saved the town, fell in love, and still had time to sing and dance along the way.

Tara McDonough in Kellyville!
See the original Kellyville photo here.

Mary Anne’s Restaurant – Saturday 11/27/04
The town of Kellyville, OK (pop. 906) had no restaurants, until now! Featuring the catchy tune “Kellyville: So Close!” this heartwarming story saw Mary Anne (Mandy) struggle to save her mint tea restaurant from fast food developer Kitty (Tara).

Carousel Dreams – Sunday 11/28/04
Mr. Porter (Bryce), CEO of mega-corporation Calliope Consolidated, tries to take over the hand carved carousel horse industry of Binghamton, NY (pop. 47,380), only to have his plans thwarted by Patty (Alex), a carousel horse designer of a different color. All in favor of this toe-tapping musical say “Aye!”

Don’t Put the “H” Back in “Humble” – Friday 12/3/04
When world famous “drab designer” Ms. Smith (Tara) returns to her belovedly drab hometown of Humble (the “h” is silent), TX (pop. 14,579) she soon discovers life turned topsy-turvy by a pair of developers, Tex and Rex (Christian & Bryce). When love brings Tex and Ms. Smith together, everyone finds a blessed union of compromise.

Where the Streets Have No Signs – Saturday 12/4/04
In the simple town of Vershire, VT (pop. 629) children read to their livestock of wildly varying sizes the works of Emerson, Thoreau, and other great thinkers. As Emerson said,All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. (You’d almost think he was an improviser!)

Life is Good in Goodland – Sunday 12/5/04
Life sure is good in Goodland, KS (pop. 4,948), except for Steve (Elan) who yearns for a faster paced life. He almost finds it with a flashy casino and dancing girls, but soon learns that life can be good in Goodland for him too.

Eskimo Kisses – Friday 12/10/04
Marcus (Glenn), a high school senior in North Pole, AK (pop. 1,570), goes on a spirit journey and discovers more than just Eskimo kisses.

Son of a Preacher Man – Saturday 12/11/04
The big day has finally arrived for Peter (Christian) the preacher’s son. Next Sunday he finally gets to deliver his first sermon to the people of Van Meter, IA (pop. 866), but oh what a week he has!

In Your Caves – Sunday 12/12/04
The people of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan (pop. 34,236) move underground into the old prohibition era caves to escape the tyranny of their mayor (Cort). Sarah (Susan) teaches everyone “gansta yoga” and Sherman (Bryce) finally brews a non-poisonous beer, but the town would have been lost if Machine Gun Kelly’s ghost (Glenn) hadn’t saved the day.

Stickybunland – Friday 12/17/04
Jack (Alan), his brother Gaylord (Elan) and friend Mary (Mandy) struggle against the odds and a team of bureaucrats (Alex & Christian) to open up a sticky bun, beer, and garden gnome emporium in Chippewa Falls, WI (pop 12, 925).

Strawberry Heaven – Saturday 12/18/04
A misguided professor goes on a truth telling spree that causes a lot of upset in Chadbourn, NC (pop 2,129), but when Jed (Bryce) manages to grow the best strawberries in the world, his outlook on life gets a little rosier.

To Be Bad in Blanco – Sunday 12/19/04
Becky (Susan) yearns to stop being such a good girl in Blanco, TX (pop. 1,505). She gets her chance when three liberal strangers come to town from Santa Cruz.