A Storytelling Weekend in the Woods

The wickedly funny Neil Genzlinger asked me to take part in this two-day storytelling event at a new outdoor venue called Harmony in the Woods in Hawley, Pennsylvania. It will be my first live performance in front of an in-person live audience since the pandemic started. I’ve been working on two new stories for the event.

The theme for Friday, Aug. 6 is “It’s Getting Hot in Here.” I’ll be telling the story of a fan I once had who turned up at unexpected times. On Saturday, Aug. 7, the theme is “Unmasked.” I will share my misadventures as a costumed creature in a parade. Other storytellers include James Braly (Moth Grand Slam Champion).

My Second City Conservatory 3 Show

“The Other Friends Reunion,” Nick Rees’s Conservatory 3 show, performed June 23, 2021.

Had a great class taught by Nick Rees. (What a caring and generous teacher. If you get a chance to take a class taught by him, jump on it!) We focused on scenic styles in this class. Nick reinforced how we should “come in hot” with the who, what and where of the scene right away. This makes a huge difference over Zoom when you may or may not even get to see the other improviser at the top of the scene. (Technology has quirks.)

The other big things we focused on were relationships and giving a reason for being in the scene. Kind of fundamental stuff when you think about it but very easy to drop when you are doing it.

After the show last night, he said we were often going to the scene, rather than waiting for the scene to come to us. You can “polite” your way into having a scene go nowhere by going, “Well, I wanted to come in and do X but I wanted to see what your idea was.” And, then, the other improviser is going, “Yeah, but I wanted to see what your idea was.”

Back on the Bandwagon

Thinking about going back out again as the city reopens, I’ve been reminiscing about how the last movie I saw in a theater before the pandemic was a screening of “Bandwagon” at the Roxy Cinema in Tribeca. It’s a great screening room. They show 35mm prints and the seating is comfy without being a stadium. It feels human in scale and they don’t show a bunch of commercials before the movie. Their snack bar is excellent too. I wanted to see this movie because during my post-college North Carolina days, I auditioned to play the bass player character. I didn’t get it and didn’t hear about the movie for a long time. (It screened at Sundance but I don’t know what happened after that.)

It was written and directed by John Schultz who was a drummer for the Connells. It was based loosely on his experiences and it starred Kevin Corrigan as the guitar player. He’s one of those “Hey, it’s that guy!” actors that makes anything better. I truly enjoyed the heart and humor of this movie. I loved that it was shot in and around Raleigh. It’s a time capsule of a culture and an era that sticks to my bones.

During the post-screening talk, most of the cast came up to share stories. All of the actors were there, except the actor who played the bass player. He passed away in 2014.

It sounded like it was a good experience for all of them shooting a movie in NC during a mild fall with nice foliage. (I remember that fall. It was pleasant.) I wanted to say I auditioned for it but didn’t want to be that guy. It was a nice night of reminiscences for them.

As we headed to the subway, Aimee said, “I could see you playing any of the parts, except the bass player.”

My (Second) Second City Show

Here’s the video from my Second City Conservatory 2 show on Wednesday night. This class had people all over the country–L.A., upper CA, Denver, St. Paul, Chicago, Baltimore, Atlanta, Naples, FL and me in Manhattan. Our first class focused on archives scenes. This one brought us back to improv. I made it my objective to focus on blending grounded characters with bold choices. There are many schools of thought around improv. Our teacher, Ana Silva, brought us back to simply responding to what the other person says or does and seeing where it goes from there.

April Shows Bring What May

I’m excited to announce that I’ll be doing three online improv shows this month! One of the nice things about the pandemic is working with people from different parts of the country and the world.

May be an image of stone-fruit tree and nature

On Tuesday, April 13 at 7:30 p.m. Eastern, I’ll be doing a show with Slip Stone out of Ann Arbor, MI. I believe this group is an extension of Pointless Brewery & Theatre. I’ll be joined by Michigander Ben Mullins, with my Canadian friends Flo Penicaud, Madeline DeCorso and Pedro Abrantes. We’re calling ourselves Big Boat after the sketch Ben wrote for the rest of us recently. You can sign up for the Zoom stream here.

Then on Sunday, April 25 at 8 p.m. Eastern, I’ll be returning to John Hildreth‘s Jam Sandwich. John has been on the Chicago Improv scene since the ’90s. He’s directed several Second City revues and runs this show for current and former students. He taught my first Second City Conservatory class. You can watch the stream on the Jam Sandwich Facebook page.

Finally, on Wednesday April 28 at 9:30 p.m. Eastern, I’m doing my Second City Level Two grad show. The last show focused on archival scenes while this one will be on doing grounded improv scenes. You can sign up for that Zoom stream here.

All of the streams are going to be live and free to attend. (Donations to Slip Stone and Jam Sandwich will be greatly appreciated.)

I’m enjoying finding my way again with improvisation. One thing about working over Zoom is finding a place that is authentic and alive. Sort of a combo of working for a live audience but in extreme close-up. I like working from a more grounded place where you respond honestly in the moment and see where that leads you. Hopefully, it goes to an unexpected place without forcing it. I’m not great at fast and clever. I’d also rather go to a place that is transcendent or painfully human than funny. Comedy is a by-product of the work to me. Fortunately, I’ve been working with a lot of very funny people.

My Second City Class Show

Had a great time doing this show! This is the first of (hopefully) six that I’ll do as I progress through the Second City Conservatory and we work our way up to developing our own Second City show of original material. The other people in my group are very talented and funny. Kate Arloe, my scene partner in “Bottle and Bottega,” was so supportive and kind.

Most of the set included archival scenes, with work created by Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert and others. My blackout scene “Small Circles” made the cut and appears later in the show. It runs less than 40 minutes. There’s about 13 minutes of pre-show music. I left that in case you wanted to get the feeling of being at a live show.

Life on a Great Street

Spent a bit of time recently digging through files and found a lot of black and white photos from my days studying acting at UNC-Greensboro. Most of the pictures are black and white. I believe that is what was used to print in weekday editions of the Greensboro News & Record. Color was reserved for weekend papers.  I was there for a little over three years after transferring from the North Carolina School of the Arts. I’d also had experience working as a high school intern at the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival and at the Monomoy Theatre in Cape Cod.  So I was eager to get time on stage and playing roles after spending so much time being near it. Looking back, UNC-G gave me a lot of that.  A true bounty of gifts on Tate Street…

At 20, I thought I was too grown up to the play the 14-year-old character Charlie in A.R. Gurney’s play. We mimed props most of the play but I did get to use actual mud at one point. This was one of many collaborations I had with the director Mary Rowland who helped me find my way in many roles that were outside my experience, including Julian in Lillian Hellman’s “Toys in the Attic.” Also, my grandfather who served during World War II let me pick his brain about what life was like at that time. He shared things I’d never heard from him.
Puck in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was a bucket list role in my young life. I pierced my ear to have a dangling skull earring for this role. One that probably didn’t read to the audience. I loved running and jumping all around that stage. One of my best exits ever was leaping upstage center towards the distance. They cued the lights to go completely out when I hit my peak height so I appeared to vanish in the air. In actuality, I landed on a big safety mat and crawled off stage under the set. One night, the 10-year-old who played the Changeling Boy was goofing off on the mat at that moment. I hurt myself in three different places to avoid landing on him.
I got to play Father Toulon in “Red Noses” by Peter Barnes. It’s like Monty Python takes on the Black Plague. Did a reading of this play recently and realized that Alan Cook gave me the most interesting role in the play because Toulon confronts his own beliefs and changes. I didn’t have the life experience at the time to truly get that. Alan would say, “He’s almost a Maoist.” That was also lost on me, but I took that to mean to be more emphatic early in the play.
The UNC-G Drama Faculty. We recently lost Alan Cook, center right, and Marsha Paludan, bottom right. They were both big influences on me.
I was one of the three Protean characters in the musical “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” This allowed me to use clown skills and focus on timing. This was the only show I did in the very big (1600 seats!) auditorium at the corner of Spring Garden and Tate Street. I didn’t fully appreciate the outrageous joy of this experience because I was so focused on making choices. The director was nervous because I didn’t find my characters until late in the process at this point. And I was playing a bunch of them. I think I needed to get a sense of what everyone else was doing and then figure out where and how to fill in certain spots throughout the show. I was helped in discovering my soldier character by having a helmet that would not sit straight up on my head so he was always off balance.
I’m second from the right in the back playing the role of the servant Scrub in George Farquhar’s 1707 comedy “The Beaux’ Strategem.” It was directed by Alan Cook. Years later, my graduate thesis role was Lt. Clark in Timberlake Wertenbaker’s “Our Country’s Good.” My character directed the prisoner characters in a production of “The Beaux’ Stratagem.” Alan directed me to go up the stairs built up from the orchestra pit loudly, “Like you’re scrubbing the floor with your feet when you enter.” My mom thought that was hammy and told me not to do that. I had to explain to her the concept honoring and following through with a note from the director.
The guest director for this production of “Geniuses” was its playwright. It was a take on the events of the filming of “Apocalypse Now.” A stressful and chaotic process. This was the first time I got really sick during the run of a show. My character had a couple lines in the first act that I delivered over a microphone from the lighting booth as though he was calling down from a helicopter. Then I didn’t enter until last 45 minutes of a three-hour play. This gave me a lot of time to warm up. Lots of stretches and Linklater exercises. This was one of the roles that required me to play high status and be big in size while working with my slight physical stature. It took me a lot to gin that up in those days. I broke one prop stick by hitting it too many times on the set’s couch during rehearsals. I looked like a keyboardist in a new wave band.
(Bonus color pic! I’m fourth from the right.) I was an actor who always had ideas. Some directors like that and other really don’t. The director of this version of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” put me in charge of the show’s choreography to get me to zip it. (A great people managing technique.) I chose to do three cartwheels across the stage early in the show. One show, my wrist said, “no thanks” and I was an embarrassing mess going across. I had to turn around to lead with my other arm.

I got to do other parts in mainstage productions of “Medea,” “Arsenic and Old Lace,” and “The Importance of Being Earnest.” I was also in student-lead black box productions of “Marat/Sade,”  “As Your Like It,” “A Doctor in Spite of Himself,” “Pyramus and Thisby,” “How Much Is Your Iron?,” “The Bald Soprano,” “Woyzeck,”  “Cowboy Mouth,” and Fred Chappell’s “Duet,” among others. 

I was on the Dean’s List my first semester but let my academics slide a bit as I got more involved with performing. I took 22 hours my final two semesters and summer classes to graduate on time. I received a nomination for the Irene Ryan competition for my role in “Toys in the Attic.” I went on to make the top 10 in the regional competition. 

I do owe a great deal of gratitude to all the directors and teachers with whom I worked at UNC-Greensboro: Betty Jean, John, Mary, Kay, Steve, Tom, Jim, Marsha, Alan, Jonathan, Imre, Mark, Bruce, Jean, Belinda, Ellen, the other Jonathan, Nicole, Wade, and Lori. You provided me with experiences that shaped me in many ways and prepared me for the life I grew into over the years. 

The morning after Stanley Tucci’s Negroni

Aimee and I had a bit of quarantine fun making this parody of Stanley Tucci’s Negroni video.

My shirt isn’t tight enough to do Mr. Tucci justice but you have to make due with what you have nowadays. This was the second take. Aimee told me to focus on dominating throughout the whole thing. The coffee kind of stole the scene in the middle of it and let me know who the real star was.

The coffee used in this is actually Cafe Bustelo, which is a fine coffee. Our usual quarantine coffee has been the Brooklyn Java from the Fairway at 132nd and 12th. In other (more normal?) times, we get coffee from Porto Rico Importing Co. I hope they have been doing alright. One of my regular spots in midtown, Empire Coffee, closed for good after 112 years. We’ve been drinking two rounds of our French press each day. So we’ve been saving a lot of money on our coffee habit.

So far, I’ve done two play readings, an 80-minute improvised solo show, and an improv class over Zoom or Google Hangouts. It’s a good way to develop material and, so far, easier to draw a crowd then some in-person events. You can’t beat the commute or the comfort for the viewers.