A new start for me and the Improv Resource Center

Over the past few years, I’ve been a co-owner and the Artistic Director of Under The Gun Theater in Chicago. During that time, I’ve had the pleasure of producing many shows at our space in Wrigleyville, and being a part of an incredible ensemble of performers. On the whole, it has been a wonderful experience. I’ve learned much about producing and marketing shows. And I’ve sharpened my vision of the kinds of shows I’d like to direct and perform in.

However, after discussions with my business partner, we agreed to part ways. Our projections for the company were different. And week by week, our visions for the theater and our strategies for getting there were diverging more and more. In the end, she offered to buy me out and I agreed. As of about a month ago, I resigned as the Artistic Director of Under The Gun Theater and notified our ensemble and staff shortly after.

I also formally started a new company, one that I founded nearly 20 years ago, the Improv Resource Center. For the first time, the IRC will have a physical place in the real world to call home. From there I will be offering classes in improvisation and sketch comedy. And I will produce a number of shows in the next year, but at a much more reasonable pace. Instead of directing and producing a dozen new shows a year, I look forward to working on 2-4 shows instead.

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Black Box Acting Studio – Review

Yesterday I finished B4 at the Black Box Acting Studio in Chicago. It’s the fourth and final level in what is a terrific program. It’s only been around for a few years, but the curriculum is solid and the teachers are passionate and smart. I feel like I’ve learned some new tools and sharpened some old ones, but most importantly I’ve now got a process for auditions and rehearsals. I also feel like I have a new home base, so that when I do get cast in a show and I’m running into roadblocks, I have a community of people I can call on to help.

What is the program?

Like a lot of programs in Chicago and elsewhere, they start with exercises used in Meisner classes. You learn to observe your partners behavior. You do repetition. Repetition is something that I’ve done for years. I thought this part of the curriculum would be old hat for me. But I certainly did learn new things.

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So I have moved back to Chicago. I’m renting a nice one bedroom condo. It’s definitely the nicest apartment I’ve ever had. It has central air and a washer/dryer in the unit. I feel almost spoiled now. I think it would be hard to go back to most of the closets I rented in Chicago and New York.

You might ask, why am I here? I’m here to get better. I feel out of shape as a performer. As an actor, I never really nailed down any particular process. I’d get a script, memorize it, go to rehearsal, try to absorb the blocking and direction, and try to figure out the best way to say my lines. It’s not a great process and it doesn’t seem to take advantage of all that early training which encouraged me to work off my partner. So the first priority was to find a studio, go back to class and figure out a process–a real process that starts with a script and ends with a full, dynamic, grounded and improvisational performance.

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I need a montage

I’m in class again. Actually I’m in a lot of classes again. I decided to move back Chicago and to retool. It’s like that part in the movie where the guy has to train for the big confrontation in act three–the montage. I needed a montage. In my montage, I’m taking acting classes, learning to play guitar, studying at the Annoyance and inventing activities that I can practice deeply and which will make me a better performer. Of the classes I’m in, the acting one is the most challenging.

Years ago I took a series of acting technique classes. The instructors didn’t mention Meisner, but it was obvious that the exercises and methods were similar. We used repetition. We improvised scenes using imaginary circumstances. It was exciting and visceral and raw.

I took those lessons and tried to apply them to my improv. It taught me to be present, to pay close attention to the emotional life of my scene partner and to act on my gut impulses. For years, I’ve taught workshops that try to bring those ideas from Meisner to improv. I’m teaching one of those workshops this weekend.

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Six nights a week

The best team I was ever on was Frank Booth. I’ve played with other groups that have been very good, but that was the best one. It was the best because we rehearsed nearly every week for four years. And we probably performed over 200 times together. We weren’t the most talented or the smartest group ever, but we knew each other as performers well and worked well together on stage. I’d like to do that again, be in a group that has rehearsed 200 times and has performed 200 shows. But here is the difference. I’d like to do that in one year instead of four.

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There is no reward in heaven

I’ve had a variation of this conversation a few times. I meet someone and the topic of why I’m in Peoria comes up. I talk about the choices that my sisters and I have made to take care of my mother, to which the well meaning person I’m talking to says something like, “There will be a special reward for you in heaven.”

As an atheist, I’m really not sure how I should respond. Usually, I’m polite and nod and say nothing. Like I said, they mean well. It’s difficult to know what to say in that situation. I believe they are trying to say that I’m making a good choice by being here. They certainly don’t mean to say something awkward. Instead they wish to comfort me. They have no idea that I don’t share their belief in the afterlife or god.

I could respond by saying, “Well, I don’t believe there is a heaven. And even if there is one, I don’t believe in your god and therefore I won’t be in heaven to get my present. I’m choosing to do this because it’s the right thing to do.” However, I don’t say this because it would be a monumentally jerky thing to say given the circumstances. I think I’m already responding to it in the best way I can respond, by simply letting it slide. Still there is something about them saying it, and the underlying assumptions, that bothers me.

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Second Life Down for the Count

Second Life, the 3D virtual world in which I make my real life living, is offline today. For the last week or so, things have been bad. Linden Labs has made a number of “upgrades” in recent weeks to both their servers and their viewer (or client). It has not gone well.

When things start going badly, I start hearing from customers that they have lost their stuff. The things you own in Second Life, things you have bought, made or been given, only exist on the Second Life asset servers. You can’t back them up directly to your hard drive. Often you only have a single copy which you cannot even back up in Second Life. So when someone loses something it can be very upsetting. This week I’ve heard from a lot of upset people. It hasn’t been this bad in a long time.

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Roads I’m Not Going to Take (an explanation)

I’m at a curious point in my life. Up until a couple of years ago, my life seemed to be on a particular path. I moved to Chicago to become an actor, discovered a passion for improvisational theatre and began a lifelong pursuit of teaching, directing and performing in the theatre. Then life started throwing me some curve balls.

I realized that I was unhappy in my administration job at the theatre where I worked, so I quit (although I kept teaching). I started winning at poker and began to think about pursuing it professionally. I found another new source of income when a hobby became a business. I left New York to spend some time with my father in Arizona, and finally I moved back to my hometown to take care of my mother. My old life has been completely interrupted.

This is not all bad. I’m very glad that I’ve been able to spend time with my family and being a caregiver for a parent does have many rewards. It’s hard not to feel a little lost at times though. Eventually, I will leave again, pick up my life and start over. And I’ll have many options in front of me.

Do I return to the theatre? If so, do I go back to Chicago, return to New York or join many of my friends in Los Angeles? Maybe I should go back to Arizona where the weather is amazing and theatre culture is still young, or perhaps I should reconnect with some of my oldest and best friends in Seattle. Do I teach for someone else like I have before or do I teach my own classes or even start my own theatre?

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Roads I’m Not Going to Take

I’m having trouble deciding what I’m going to do when I grow up. It’s easier to eliminate all the things that I either cannot do, or have no desire to do. Here are 10 things I will not be doing.

  1. I will not work in an office that requires a tie.
  2. I will not become a Christian missionary to Africa or Asia or anywhere else for that matter.
  3. I will not become a pharmaceutical rep.
  4. I will not become a jazz singer.
  5. I will not tour every Major League Baseball park in America.
  6. I will not sell major appliances, electronics, automobiles or real estate.
  7. I will not open a franchise restaurant.
  8. I will not become a lawyer.
  9. I will not become a butcher.
  10. I will not be a jet pilot.

What’s interesting to me is how many things that I think of and then discard from this list, because I can still see myself doing those things. Even eliminating absurd options is hard for me.