Pedro & Chris

One nice thing that came out of the pandemic for me was getting to work with people in other parts of the country and around the world on the web. In November, Pedro Abrantes and I started doing long-form duo improv show via StreamYard to YouTube. I met Pedro, who is based in Toronto, in improv classes last year that were taught by Lisa Merchant and Ian Keeling. The show is called Pedro & Chris. We perform a new show each Monday.

We do about 25 or so minutes of improv and then chat for another 10 minutes. We’ve done several shows so far. Each one is a little different. We might play the same characters the whole time or switch characters. Sometimes it’s funny. Other times, it is not. Like life. Our plan is to invite guests in the spring after we have a number of shows under our belt.

Box Cutter

Max Clark asked me to do his short film “Box Cutter.” It’s on 16mm and shot in black and white. It also has no dialogue. (All my 90s indie film dreams come true!) Max and I met to develop the piece out near the Brooklyn Army Terminal. The story went through several iterations before it became what you see here. The ending changed in the editing room. To me, it is a dark poem to working people living in late capitalism.

We shot this at a storage facility near the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Max is the one with the glasses looking at the viewfinder in the picture below. I spent most of the day kneeling and sitting on my feet. I also gashed the top of my head walking out of the storage unit as my eyes had not quite adjusted to the light. It’s not art if you don’t suffer at least a little. This was another very efficient shoot. We got through everything in one day because a big storm with gale-force winds was forecast for the next day. After the flooding back in July this year, we did not want to take any chances.

Last Rites

Back in March, I was asked by the writer and director Yohana Desta to play a role in her touching and funny short film “Last Rites.” She rented a very nice brownstone up by Strivers’ Row for the shoot. There was a Covid officer during the shoot. I spent most of my time in bed while wearing a pajama top and shorts to stay cool. The crew was very kind, full of humor, and efficient. Ronald Emile was also generous and supportive as a scene partner. What you always hope to experience.

It was a little surreal to die over and over again during this time. It was also strange to stop takes of our shoot because the TV series “FBI” was shooting an action sequence in the street below the windows behind me. They say dying is easy but comedy is hard. I guess this was somewhere in between.

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.”

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.

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.

Zelda & Scott

I’m going to be one of the actors who takes turns at random to play one or both of the characters in this great play. Aimee has been hard at work on this so we can have a lot of fun. Please come see it, if you can.

Bethie Fowler’s “Zelda & Scott”

The Bridge Theater, 244 West 54th Street, 11th floor, NYC

Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019. 2 to 3:30 p.m.

Directed by: Aimee Todoroff

The cast includes: Kristin Cantwell, Ron Dizon, Chris Harcum, Helen Herbert, Cary Hite, Yeauxlanda Kay, and Mariko Iwasa.

Tickets are free but donations are gladly accepted. 

The Jazz Age literary celebrities Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald come to life in a fast-paced and unexpected portrait as they meet, marry, and travel the world together. In this exploration, a diverse group of six actors will be prepared to embody either Zelda or F. Scott at various times, opposite a scene partner also chosen at random. This lively experiment will examine power, control and what we think we know about the original celebrity couple.

RSVP here.