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.