One story, six words at a time

She smiles and I fall again.

Crazy, little goes a long way.

Nothing versus something, who will win?

Seeing her again, brings sweet pain.

If I forgive, will I forget?

Promises worth their weight in air.

Objection your honor, overruled by wife.

Work drains soul, fills my wallet.

Drink tonight, regret it all tomorrow.

Life hack this, always a cost.

Never look back, sorrow is there.

If you don’t ask, who knows?

So much is left unseen, unread.

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Posted in Short Stories

Stop the show!

As I wrote about before, doing musical improv is, let’s call it challenging. At least for me it is, if you love to sing and can rhyme, it’s a day at the beach. Even more daunting is the idea of doing a wholly improvised musical. I’ve done them, and tried to stay to stay in the back if I can, but this is not about me.

I went to see some friends in a Wingnuts show. Wingnuts was an improv performance workshop taught by Tom Soter where the class did a show every two weeks. At this point in time, they were closing the show with a musical.

To set this up, they would get a suggestion and that would become the opening number. If it was cheese, the chorus would be “Cheese, Cheese, Cheese!” And if they got shoes, it would go, “Shoes, Shoes, Shoes!” Not exactly Sondheim but it set up the story.

One of the things that was taught for musicals was the concept parallel construction. So if the two lead had a romance, the best friends of the leads have a romance. It helps to give the story structure and for an improvised musical, that’s a big help.

I cannot recall if they got cheese or shoes or some other item at that show, but they were selling it and having fun. The final song, which summed up the lesson learned in the musical, was being sung. Everyone would have a quick line, and then it was back to the chorus.

Given that these musicals ran fifteen to twenty minutes, some of the B, C and D stories would not always get a resolution but the cast would be happy to have gotten to the end and frankly, the audience probably forgot about those other plotlines.

This night, the B story would NOT be ignored. They are singing the final song when one of the cast, by the name of Rhonda shouts, “Stop!” Everyone does and suddenly the whole thing has taken on a surreal quality.

Now that the finale is has suddenly been pulled over to the side of the road, Rhonda announces that her story was ignored. I think it was about her and her boyfriend either moving in together or getting married, but I cannot recall the details. They proceed to resolve this dangling plot thread and then continue with the finale.

Having seen many of these improvised musicals, this is the only one I remember. While grabbing the stick just before you’re about to land is inadvisable at best, it took what would’ve been a forgettable evening and burned it into my memory.

To paraphrase Daffy Duck, “It’s a great trick, but you can only do it once.”

Posted in Yes and so this happened

Obviously

There is or was a divide on improv. Those who love short form, also known as games, as you might see on “Whose Line is it Anyway?”, and those who champion long form. The most famous of which is called a “Harold.” There is a feeling that short form is hacky and jokey, it can be, and conversely, long form is pretentious and self-important.

Both these things can be true, I’ve seen and participated in a lot of short form. It was the improv I learned doing, but to be fair to all my early teachers, we also did a lot of scene work. But it gave me skills to do long form. A lot of improvisers start this way.

Way back in the late nineties, a group of people I knew formed a group to do long form, with a very vocal and public distaste for short form. I didn’t agree with their position but they were friends and I went to the show.

Because they are my friends, I will not reveal the name of the group, which didn’t last long, nor the performers involved. The reason for this will be made clear shortly, though I’m sure you can guess why.

It is not necessary for improv to be funny, though it usually is. This show was aggressively unfunny. Which is not to say it was dramatic, more unintentionally tragic. I can’t site any particular moments, time has happily wiped them from my memory. However it was easily, if not the worst show I’ve ever seen, in the top five. I don’t say this out of meanness, they did great work previously and would go on to do it after. But that that night.

Not only was it not funny or dramatic, it was long. You might think, “Well, it’s called long form for a reason.” Maybe so, but a typical long form goes about forty-five to fifty minutes. There are practical reasons for this, primarily because there is another show after you or the theater needs to close up for the night.

Well, this show kept going on. And on. And on. I think they ran an hour and change. And if it were good, the audience would have enjoyed it, even if the next show might be mad. Sadly this was not the case.

They repeatedly approached an ending and then diverted to more show. Much in the way a dog will fetch a ball but rather than drop it for you to throw again, runs off to the other side of the yard.

Thankfully, they ended. And as the tradition goes, we all went to the bar. In talking to a friend of mine who was in the show, I remarked on the more serious tone of what was just done. That was the nicest way I could say it. He proudly replied, “Yeah, we don’t care about being funny!”

I nodded to him and took a sip of beer. But all I could think was, “Obviously.”

Improv is an art form that embraces spontaneity and creativity and should always do so. But remember, you should not be having a better time than the audience.

Obviously.

Posted in Yes and so this happened

Circle Completed

A little while ago I wrote about my friend Matt Higgins and mentioned his Kickstarter, which was in support of an improvised show that would be taped. It was successful and he performed it this past Saturday. If you pitched in, you contributed to bringing something wonderful and unique into the world. If you didn’t, well I hope you rescued a dolphin or helped a refugee.

What Matt did was a one-man improvised show. There is an improv form where someone plays everyone in a scene, while from off stage additional characters are suggested. Usually, it goes something like this, “Just then, Matt’s cousin Al arrived with his feisty dog.” It’s a juggling act to be Matt, Al, the feisty dog and any other character thrown into the mix. It’s more about the gags than having a cohesive narrative. Which not to say it’s easy, it’s very challenging, but it’s not what Matt did.

He began the show by talking about what he wanted to be when he was a child and then asking the audience what they wanted to be when they were kids. Taking only three professions, he proceeded to tell a story. Not like, “Jane the firefighter and Bill the accountant were neighbors.” He played each character.

Was it like the form I described before? Only superficially. Matt inhabited each persona with distinct voices and physicality. He had discussions between his characters and even pointed out when they said something inconsistent. Other roles were introduced, but never gratuitously. Each addition came intuitively and seemingly effortlessly.

The mark of true mastery is to make something look easy. It is counter-intuitive, but true. As I wrote before, Matt is not only a supremely talented improviser, he also lives his life with the same openness and joy that this art form is at it’s very best. I can’t think of anyone else I know who could do what he did.

While I’d love to recount the many, many funny and touching moments of the show I saw, it was recorded and will be released sometime in the future. It would be churlish of me to spoil the delight and surprise this will bring.

My fellow Chainsaw Boy, Mike Bencivenga reminded me that Matt had done a proto-version on this in my old variety show, Dream Logic, way back in the 1990’s. One of the downsides of running the show is I often missed some of the acts because I was dealing with the next act or preparing to perform myself. Happily, this time, I got to sit back and take it all in.

One last thing to add. I once had a dream that I was at a show but it was not organized and the producer told me to put it together. There was no preparation, but because it was a dream, I was able to do it. I called the fact that I did this, Dream Logic. Speaking to a friend about this, I said how it made me want to host and produce a show like that. He suggested I call it Dream Logic. That friend was Matt Higgins. Full circle.

Posted in Yes and so this happened

Journey to Nowhere

An Excerpt From “Journey to Nowhere, the Failure of The MTA in the Early Twenty-First Century”
By Professor Nari Applebaum

It is a well-documented fact that the mass transit system of the five boroughs of New York City was a disaster of unimaginable proportions. So much, that the early part of the twenty-first century were known as the “Age of Tardiness”, due to the chronic lateness that plagued the citizenry.

While many tales of being delayed have been passed down through the generations, like any story, they have grown with the telling. One of the most famous, “The Rerouting of the 4 Train by the Albino Alligator of Union Square” is considered to be apocryphal. (Editors note: It is a proven scientific fact that the last of the albino alligators were devoured by the Rat King in 1957.)

What we are presenting is a rare document of an expedition from northern most part of Manhattan, Washington Heights, to the Mermaid Parade, a celebration once held in the southern region of Brooklyn, called Coney Island. The journal of this journey was discovered during the excavation of the long disused Hoyt–Schermerhorn subway station, preserved in what was known at that time as a smart phone.

For those of us who enjoy the smooth, efficient teleportation of today, what you read below will seem horrific, but just remember, it was a savage time.

Friday June 15th, 2018 9:37 P.M.
The day for which I have pined for is at long last is but one slumber away! A parade of Mermaids at the Isle of Coney! Last year inclement weather ruined the proceeding and sorrow was my only suitor. But that is no worry as all climatologists agree that it shall be sunny, warm and any clouds will be of the whitest and fluffiest quality!
I fear that Morpheus’ kiss will be withheld but I shall do my best to rest for the festivities on the morrow.

Saturday June 16th, 7:03 A.M.
It is at last the day I have longed for! I have donned my spangly-est summer flock and a mock tiara! Accompanying me is my dearest friend, Mina, who has also bedecked herself in a most shiny manner. We shall certainly catch Neptune’s gaze!

Our journey is about to begin as we enter the 181st. Subway station! Although the trip from Heights of Morningside to the Isle of Coney will be a lengthy one, I have placed a flask of water and a lemon flavored Luna bar in my purse, if I should become peckish while we travel. Though I must save my appetite for Mr. Nathan’s world-renowned sausages!

We are also to be joined by our gentlemen friends, Justin and Roberto. I tried to persuade them to travel uptown so we could set out together, but they insisted that they could join us en route. If this is our greatest misfortune, I shall count myself blessed. Oh, the trolley is arriving! We are on our way!

Saturday June 16th 7:37 A.M.
Fiddlesticks! The trolley has sped past the station at 96th Street! Apparently there is some work being done on the tracks! Mina has just spotted the notice posted in the car. I suppose we were too exited to see it. I have sent a message of text to Justin to meet us at station in Times Square with Roberto.
I feel as though we would not be in our present predicament if the gentlemen had listened to me and we had all set out together. This is a minor inconvenience and will soon be forgotten.

Saturday June 16th 8:23 A.M.
It seems fate is indeed fickle. We have been immobile betwixt stations due to a sick passenger ahead of us. I have always considered myself to be a compassionate person, who can put her own needs aside for the greater good. Nonetheless, I cannot help but think wonder why someone who was ill would ride the underground trolley and not go to hospital post haste. Does this make me a terrible person or are they inconsiderate for putting everyone else in this position?

Saturday June 16th 8:57 A.M.
We are finally on the move again and are fast approaching the 42nd Street Station. I hope that the ailing passenger has gotten the care they need. Perhaps my vexed mood might be attributed to the fact I did not eat a proper breakfast. Am tempted to consume some of my Luna Bar but I steel myself with thoughts of the culinary treats that abound at the Isle of Coney. I will be strong.

Saturday June 16th 9:17 A.M.
There is a passage that allows passengers from the A trolley to go to the Time Square Station. Inexplicitly, that passage is blocked due to more construction! While we are given a transfer token, Mina and I have no choice but to brave 42nd Street aboveground. The street is littered with tourists, all of whom walk at a snail’s pace, and for some reason, performers dressed as Elmo every ten feet or so. That must be bewildering to any child. Despite this obstacle course, we get to the proper station. Finally.

Saturday June 16th, 9:25 A.M.
Mina and I have arrived of the platform for the N and Q trolleys and spot Ricardo who is waving enthusiastically. Hugs all around but where is Justin? Apparently, according to Ricardo, Justin has been delayed, but his message of text proclaims his intent to be there as swiftly as possible. I will give him the benefit of the doubt.

Saturday June 16th 10:18
Although he promised an alacritous arrival, Justin has only now joined us. If there is anything more agonizing than waiting for someone to arrive whilst standing on an underground trolley in summer time, I cannot imagine it. I know that it is still technically spring, but it seems summer has arrived early, like an unwanted guest. While I am sorely tempted to use my sharpest tone with Justin, but he is so apologetic and insists on paying for our feast at Mr. Nathan’s that I cannot help but forgive him. A Q trolley just pulled in and we are finally on our way. Huzzah!

Saturday June 16th 10:31
As the trolley clatters, we have been chatting about the things we wish to do once we arrive. Mina is keen to ride the mechanical attraction, the Cyclone. Roberto is not as enthused, having ridden it once before, resulting in some intestinal distress. Mina teases him, though gently. She confided in me that she is rather smitten with him. Perhaps love will bloom like a sea anemone in a mermaid’s garden? These thoughts quickly fade as someone has begun to scream!

Saturday June 16th, 11:08
They speak of the rodents that dwell in the depths of the tunnels but to see one brazenly strut within the confines of a trolley car is beyond belief. A panic gripped the passengers as they tried their best to avoid contact with the foul vermin. In the past, I had chortled at the antics of the pizza rat, but the reality, minus the slice is most distressing.

A woman with the mightiest purse I have ever seen, full of courage and many containers of makeup, has bludgeoned the offending creature, to much cheering by passengers, myself included, and is proceeding to punt its unconscious form towards the door at the end when suddenly with a deafening screech, we are all flung to the ground!

Saturday June 16th, 11: 32
It seems that during the fracas with the rodent, someone panicked and pulled the emergency stop cord. There was much moaning and cursing in the wake of this. I shall not repeat what was said, but know that the denizens of the Five Boroughs pride themselves on their colorful expletives and this was as fine a demonstration as you could ask for.

A conductor soon came through demanding to know why the cord was pulled and who the culprit was. He issued many threats as to the severity of an unwarranted trolley stop but no one confessed. In the kerfuffle, no one seems to have seen the act. Our conductor, clearly apoplectic with rage stormed out of the car. I considered asking him when we will be moving but he seemed disinclined to polite inquiries. Let us hope that we will be moving shortly.

Saturday June 16th 11:51
Know this, if you pull the emergency stop cord on a trolley, it will result in not merely a brief halt to travel, but one of indeterminate length. We waited for what seemed like hours to continue, even though I know that it is but minutes.

An announcement issued forth from the speakers that this train is now out of service, we are to be lead through the tunnels to the next station, accompanied by constables of the transit ministry. Had I know that I would be indulging in some spelunking, I would not have worn my flippy floppy sandals. They are not practical footwear for trudging though the decades of filth that have accumulated on the bottom of a trolley tunnel.

Just before we arrived at the Beverley Road station, I would swear that I saw the selfsame rodent that plagued us scuttle away into the inky darkness, with what I can only describe as a wicked grin. Can a rat grin? Lest I be thought mad, I keep such thoughts to myself. My eyes are firmly locked on the prize. Nothing shall stand in my way.

Saturday June 16th 12:03 P.M.
The Q trolley will not be running for hours but Roberto has suggested we summon an Uber carriage to take us the rest of the way but it seems we are not alone in that notion. The wait time is unacceptable. I suggest we walk to the Ditmars Avenue station, as the F trolley will bring us directly to our destination.

There is a distinct lack of enthusiasm for this plan, as our misfortunes have robbed my companions of both vim and vigor but I inspire them through my force of will.

Ditmars ho!

Saturday June 16th 12:29 P.M.
Our trudge was brutally hot, and accompanied by a fair bit of grumbling by our gentlemen, but we have arrived! Mustering our energy, we dash up the stairs and into a trolley in the nick of time! Ahhh… The sweet chilled caress of conditioned air, it is balm for our ragged spirits. Soon we are laughing and all seems right with the world. It seems the worst is behind us.

Saturday June 16th 12:46 P.M.
I journey on alone. Whilst traveling, a troupe of those acrobatic young men who leap about the bars and polls of a trolley car accompanied by rhythmic music entered the car and began to perform. Everyone secretly fears being kicked inadvertently even though it never seems to happen.

Well, Fate has struck another blow to this day. Mina, who was enjoying the show up to the point, was kicked in the face. The acrobats fled the car, to where I cannot say. Mina is inconsolable. She is sporting a rather nasty bruise, I have assured her that I can remedy it with some judicial applications of cosmetics.
She however, is having none of it. Mina insists that this expedition is cursed and sworn to leave at the next stop to return home. I point out that it is ridiculous to abandon this as we are so close to our destination.

The eyes of my closest and dearest friends turn upon me as if I were a bedlamite. An awkward silence falls upon the car, broken only by the clatter of the trolley on the tracks.

Mina and Roberto exit at the next stop. I ask Justin, sweet Justin if he will finish this with me. He simply shakes his head and joins the others.

If the universe thinks that I will give up, they are sorely mistaken. I will enjoy the parade, eat at Mister Nathan’s and perhaps even brave the Cyclone. Needing no one else, I will complete this voyage.

This was the last entry. It is unknown if the author of this journal finally attended the mermaid parade, but the device that contained this journal was found miles from her final goal. It might have been lost as she returned home or perhaps stolen. Sadly, there is no way of knowing. Although speculation is a fool’s errand, I like to think she made it to the parade and home safely. I can admire her fortitude even as I pity her for the time she lived in.

Posted in Uncategorized

What’s all this then?

This week I have some exciting news to share. A screenplay I wrote, Super High Maintenance, is a finalist in the Stage 32 Annual Comedy Writing Contest.

What is most remarkable is that I had no idea I was even in the running. I did enter, several months ago, but when they announced the quarterfinalists, I didn’t see my name. I felt badly for about a day, and then moved on.

Last week I received an email announcing that the finalists for the contest. I clicked on the link, thinking I might know one of the names. As it turned out, I did.

You might wonder, as I did, how did he NOT make the quarterfinals and then end up a finalist?

The solution is fairly simple, there were two categories, features, which I entered, and TV, which was listed first. Apparently, I failed to notice that there were two lists, and inadvertently saved myself the anxiety of waiting for each cut.

Of course, now I have to wait to find out how I do. Anxiety finds a way.

Here’s a link to the contest page, you might recognize one of the names. But make sure you don’t stop halfway.

https://www.stage32.com/happy-writers/contests/3rd-Annual-Comedy-Writing-Contest

Posted in Thoughts

Weren’t Your Scared?

Recently, someone asked me if I ever got stage fright when doing improv. I have to admit, when I started it was scary. After all, I had to make stuff up on the fly. There’s no script to fall back on. What if I don’t know what to say?

One of my earliest improv teachers, Tom Soter, used to say, we’re all improvising all the time and he’s correct. People don’t have lines written for us in advance, memorized and ready to deliver on cue. We’re all just making it up as we go along. Certainly, we do write ourselves dialogue when we want to say something important, but since other people don’t have the script, those scenes often go off in unexpected directions. Life might be improvised but not everyone says “Yes And.”

Working with scripted material is great fun, especially if it is well crafted. Excellent dialogue is a joy to act. If it’s not great, it can be a rewarding challenge. Not always of course, but you do what you can. Even with the best script it’s possible to forget lines. Being able to improvise can help, but like a backup parachute, you’re glad to have it but hope to never use it. That sounds a bit dramatic but we’re talking about acting after all.

One of the wonderful things about improv is you can never forget your lines. Or blocking. If you just listen to and respond to your scene partner, you’re all good. You might not be funny, but that’s something else entirely.

Performing improv is essentially play. Kids play all the time but eventually we’re taught that play is frivolous. There are many adult games but very few have the pure joy of doing improv. Play is fun. Children are rarely afraid of play. Frightened of bullies maybe, but not play.

It seems I may have digressed from stage fright, which was what I began this with. Okay, once you have the basics down for improv, there is no reason to have stage fright. Unless you have to sing. Oh, you LOVE to sing? Must be nice. I’ll be having a panic attack while you croon.

Posted in Yes and so this happened