Been spending my Saturday afternoons taking an improv class with Mick Napier and it’s really inspiring to experience this man teach. He is so quick and sharp and notices and remembers everything. He’s also infuses play in the way he teaches as well, crafting together exercises to bend and stretch our brains in ways he’s never experimented before.
Last week we did a bunch of scenes where we were told not to think and just speak. It went a little like this:
I minute. 2 person scenes. In chairs. One line a piece, talk as fast as you can. Interruptions. No space in between the lines. Don’t leave the seats. Talk Faster. Faster. Faster!
Takeaway from class: “This is a playground, play with reckless abandon, the kid who needs to play a certain way is annoying”.
*this is a misdirection. It’s just a scene. But psychologically, we are in attack and play mode which affects the way we play.
Mick talks about how we get on stage and we default to a sense of protected play. I find this exercise to be a great, simple way for us to get our brains stretched out and embrace the muscle of play before we hit the stage.
Exactly 3 months ago, I landed in O’Hare and was met by a dull, gray and bitchy Chicago chill. Recalling summers in Chicago to be magically hot and humid, I packed 10 tshirts, 3 pairs of shorts and a pair of flip flops. “An ominous sky”, I thought. My improv brother and mysteriously diffident ladies man Chris Blair picked me up; we smoked and pontificated on how inspiring ‘Summer of 2012’ was going to be. I had no idea what was about to happen.
ACT 1: The Immersion
In attempts to horribly bore you with my improv indulgences, below is the training I maniacally crafted for my adult summer camp:
At one point I was improvising 11 Hours a day (including rehearsals for a one-act play in which I was lucky to be cast).
Serendipitously, I was assigned to a iO Summer Intensive section full of hardcore improvisers who were more geeked out about this than I was. Under the guidance of Lyndsay Hailey, we took leaps of faith with each other emotionally off and on the stage. We couldn’t wait to play together so we started booking and performing in barprov gigs, on two Second City stages and at the Del Close theater. I was spending 6-9 hours a day with 13 other people who agreed to be shockingly vulnerable and unnervingly inspiring. Instantly, we became Visibly Tight.
ACT II: The Revelation
Something interesting happened as I clearly overdosed on my favorite drug this summer: Over the course of 24 hours a week for 5 weeks at iO, I received the same exact note over and over again: “Stop taking care of everyone else in the scene and have fun! Play the scene you WANT to be in”. I could not understand what these teachers were talking about. I WAS having fun. This was Summer Camp for adults! I HAD TO BE HAVING FUN!! Right?
I noticed that I was having fun when I initiated scenes, because I was so used to starting strong from training at the Annoyance before taking classes at iO. But when coming off a Harold opening or when my partner initiated, I was too busy looking for the “RIGHT” choice to make, instead of making the choice I found fun. We all say, “let’s have fun up there!” But what the hell does that mean? I realized that I haven’t been having fun with improv for a while now. I was faking it.
The impetus for creating EndGames in San Francisco was a desperate need to be a part of a thriving improv scene; one of which reflected the scene I fell in love with while studying at the UCB in New York. While I was building the platform for myself and other like-minded comedians to share our voices, the mountains of administrative work and the pressure of producing and promoting shows and classes became psychologically insurmountable. Being the first born son of poor immigrants and a classic Sagittarius (I think), I’m prone to lead, structure and make sure others are cared for. I lost my joy in doing the goddamn thing. It became work.
ACT III: The Return
EndGames approaches its 2 Year Anniversary in San Francisco (9/4)! And in that short amount of time, we’ve been so lucky to have graced the pages of SF Weekly, SF Gate, SF Bay Guardian, Bay Stages and have been named #1 Nightlife Choice on Yelp. Helping to build out the scene in SF has been an incredible journey and blessing that not many folks get to experience. I’m so excited for the launch of EndGames 2.0! What?
It’s been our tradition to make a mess and catch up to it, and every single time it’s motivated talented, hard working individuals to double down and commit to the scene and I truly believe that’s made all the difference for us. That’s why we are moving into the StageWerx Theater in the Mission on October 11, 2012. 6 shows a week, Thursday and Friday nights. I have 100% confidence and faith that the producers and teams will shock the once sleepy improv town into a city buzzing of smart, subversive improv comedy.
And with that confidence, I’ve decided to move to Chicago and extend by trip for another year.
As the haze of the iO Summer intensive hangover slowly lifts, it’s clear that there’s no better time than this. I need to continue honing my unique comedic voice and follow the single advice every single iO teacher has told me: “Stop taking care of everyone else in the scene and have fun! Play the scene you WANT to be in”. Chicago is where I want to be right now. San Francisco is my end game.
Here are some quotes that rang true for me over the summer by different teachers at different schools here in Chicago. Some of them may not be original quotes but nonetheless had deep impact as they cascaded out of their mouths.
Took my first class at The Annoyance tonight with Lilly Allison. Saying she was “no nonsense” would be an extreme understatement. I was inspired by the obvious way she loved and respected improvisation as an art form, enough to slam most Harolds performed in Chicago, likening them to Jazz bands staging a cacophony of unrelated notes.
Lilly’s been improvsing since she was 14 and has played everywhere from iO, Second City TourCo and The Annoyance, where she calls home, so she knows this city, the scene and most importantly her shit. She broke down a lot of improv today like I’ve never experienced it before. Everything from making choices, awareness, patterns and the historical roots of improvisation. But what blew my mind was the way she broke down The Harold, in its ideal form, as your “6th Grade Essay”:
This might be a super wordy way to look at it, but it makes a lot more sense as far the Harold or any long form piece as being an improvised comedic exploration of a word and its associated themes. Until today, I looked at the Harold as a structure to perform improvisation within, instead of it being improvisation itself. The Harold is a Choice, Awareness of that choice, the exploration and heightening of that choice and repeat.
I don’t enjoy talking on the phone.
I’m not a “phone person” - this has been a reoccurring issue in past relationships, both romantic and platonic. I’m always very anxious on the phone and usually my instinct is to find a way to hang up. If you call me, I’m usually picking up and letting you know that I have to go. I think it might be residual conditioning from growing up with a poor and angry father. “Get off the phone!” was his favorite phrase besides “This is all your fault”. Some times I’d wise up and retort “we don’t pay when THEY call us!” and yes, I’d pay for that.
I prefer to talk in person. In fact, I’m known to schedule 1:1 or platonic dates with people because I genuinely enjoy connecting, digging deep and losing sense of time. But a phone conversation still feels like they started countdown to a beat down.
But something happened today. Chris Blair, my teammate on The Recchia and long time “improv wife” , left last week to get a one month jump start in Chicago to train and geek out in all things improv, sketch and comedy. I’ve been calling him every day seeking a download of his first impressions of Mecca; and he finally called me back.
I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve been trying to reach all week, but it was the longest phone conversation I’ve had since the release of the iPhone 1. And I believe it was only 20 minutes long. I got lost in his stories, our plans for the summer, the excitement of taking huge risks together that I didn’t even hear my dad shouting in my head. We were like two excited/nervous kids about to go away for the best Summer camp ever. It was nice.
Most days I’m terrified of where my life will be after my Summer in the Chicago. Where will I live now that I’m off the lease? What will I do for money? Will I return to a completely different scene? But today I let myself get lost in the excitement of what’s happening now and for once not dwell on the aftermath. It was a good lesson on being present and relishing in the Now not worrying about the Later.
4 weeks and counting… I’m gonna miss my SF peeps this summer. Please keep in touch, via Skype.