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.

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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

Six little words

This past week was a pretty terrible one for the world. Of course, it feels like the world is beat up every day. People cleverer than myself have offered wisdom on how to cope with this, for which I am eternally grateful. All I have to offer this week is more six-word stories. They will not solve anything but they might make you smile. Enjoy.

The small fight, and titans topple.

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.

Walking gunslinger, six bullets, six names.

Cyborg clanks, but nanos are silent.

Sleep’s sweet embrace, or deeds done.

One more, the lie we tell.

Sometimes it is better, not always.

Too many questions, hit the road.

Nothing to say, too damn hot.

Posted in Uncategorized

Dutch Courage

Performing on stage, for most people is a terrifying prospect. People are more afraid of public speaking than of death. These days, the rise of fascism probably ranks higher, but most folk still don’t want to get up in front of a group and speak, to say nothing about being funny.

Some say that if you’re feeling anxious, a drink will calm your nerves. This technique is also called Dutch courage. This is not a slur against the Dutch. It was coined by English soldiers who drank Dutch gin to calm their nerves before fighting in the Anglo-Dutch Wars. So simmer down Netherlands and maybe England needs to slow down.

My friend and fellow improviser, Matt Higgins, was recently asked if he ever had a drink before performing. His reply, and I’m paraphrasing, was that he didn’t because he felt that it dulled his mind and it’s important to be focused while on stage. Matt is perhaps the best improviser I’ve ever seen. He lives his life in an improv way, seeing the gift in the every day. He is also doing a Kickstarter for an improv video project, the link is at the bottom and I suggest you support him.

Even after many years of improvising, I still get a little nervous before a show. I don’t even like to eat before a show, being full makes me logy but hunger sharpens my mind. To play devil’s advocate, booze does break down inhibitions, a quality that is not only to be admired but is necessary for good improv.

I’ve only done one show under the influence, and here’s how it went. On the evening of a show I was in, I was invited to have an early dinner with a woman who I was happy to dine with. We cooked together and she opened a bottle of wine.

Now I’m a gentleman and if a lovely woman opens a bottle of wine, only an utter bounder would refuse to share it with her. Even if you prefer beer or whisky, clink those glasses and drink deep.

All too quickly, show time is approaching. I say goodnight and dash off to the theater, which was fortunately quite close, and arrive just before the curtain went up. Full disclosure, it was only a metaphorical curtain, but it’s a better image than a bunch of improvisers sitting on the side of a black box theater.

You might be asking, so how did the show go in your inebriated state? Did you forget what was going on mid-scene? Was there stumbling and falling. We’re you obstreperous? Did it come to blows?

The sad fact is this. None of those things happened. When I said “sad” I mean “delightful.” Fortunately I struck the right balance of wine and dinner. Forgot I also had dinner? Well I did.

Honestly, it was a great show, I felt completely uninhibited in the best possible way. I yes anded the hell out of that show. It felt effortless.
And I’ll never do it again. It could’ve gone the other way so very easily. I’ve done a few shows with improvisers who have indulged and it doesn’t always go that well. It’s all too easy to become a burden to your fellow performers while under the influence.

With the benefit of hindsight, my experience was a lucky accident. I’m not always that fortunate. For example, I never had dinner at that woman’s place again. But that might have been for the best. Lets just leave it at that.

Please remember, the time to get hammered and make a fool of yourself is after the show.

If you want to support Matt Higgins Kickstarter, and you should, he’s the best, here’s the link!

Posted in Yes and so this happened

Try this

I’m a little at a loss as to what to write about this week. There are certainly a multitude of topics to discuss based only on what is going on in the world. Admittedly, most of what is happening it horrifying. I’m not sure what I have to add to the cacophony, except the following

This week, I urge my faithful readers to do one of these super obvious things.

Create something-Write a poem, cook a meal, or even build a little fort from office supplies. Bringing something into the world, that is non-destructive, is a tick in the good column. If you’re feeling ambitious, start a novel, design a game, or build a house, small or large, it makes no difference.

Spend time with friends-Everybody is busy, I get it. On your death bed, you will not be thinking, “I’m so happy I stayed home to watch Downton Abby for the fifth time instead of going to meet my friends for dinner.” It’s easy to retreat from the world and sometimes it’s necessary. However, time spent with people you care for and who care for you will make you happy. It seems obvious but it’s forgotten all too readily.

Do something just for you-We are often running errands for family and friends, to say nothing of our day to day jobs. Just take a moment to indulge yourself. It can be listening to some music, reading a good book, or whatever makes you happy. You know what your like, I haven’t the foggiest notion. Just do that thing.

Pet an animal-If you have a cat or dog, you’re all set. They are already likely to demanding such affection. No pet? Visit a friend or loved one with an animal companion. Make sure they are friendly, both the friend and the pet. Just remember, the best dog in the world is the one you are currently petting and the best cat is the one that hasn’t scratched you.

Do something kind-Open the door, hold the elevator, or in a non-entrance related thought, compliment someone unexpectedly. Life is rough but not just for you. We’re all dealing with our own things. Just do something nice for someone, it costs literally nothing but a moment of your time. In other words, don’t be a jerk.

I’m sure there are any number of things you can do to make life better but maybe try just one of these. None of these suggestions is terribly original but they do work. Prove me wrong.

Posted in Thoughts