31 December 2006

A Year (or Three) in Review

Returning from my holiday journeys just in time for New Years, I find the city the same as it ever was. I suppose it's only natural to feel inclined to review one's year in the face of a new one. I have to admit that 2006 was not a year that I will be dreadfully sorry to see go. It was comprised of amazing highs and lows, both; my hope for the new year is for it to be a little more moderate in its exchanges. I feel a bit guilty expressing that desire, what with professing a renewed conviction in The Third Life(tm), but who's to say TTL(tm) can't at times have a nice, steady rhythm to it, rather than a course akin to a wooden roller-coaster at every turn?

While I was visiting NoVa, a dear friend of mine who has lived in San Diego for years now was home, too, and threw a modest reunion for certain circle of us from high school. I saw her and several other people I had often wondered about since graduating. It wasn't the typical reunion. Everyone there was really interested in one another and speaking intelligently about their lives--none of that dreadful one-ups-man-ship that seems to be the major export of the Uniting Reunions of America. In spite of how lovely it all was, what I'm carrying away with me, and keep revisiting in my mind, is an unanswered observation an old friend of mine had to say. In response to my description of my life since college, all the touring, traveling, month-long shows, etc., she said, "That sounds like it would be so lonely."

Believe it or not, I had never looked at it that way before. And I love to look at things darkly. I mean, I am dark. (Do you read the last page of a new book first, just in case you die before you finish reading it? Because I do.) Somehow, however, this obsidian nugget of darkness had eluded me. I mean, no wonder I've been the great serial monogamist all these years, and no wonder the pursuit of an acting career can be so soul-evaporating.

It is fucking lonely.

Now I cast back to a Christmas party my friends Todd and Kate had before we all scattered to our respective homelands for Christmahannukwanzica. At this party, nothing was said to shatter my earth. My earth remained intact as I bid adieu, but it was certainly rocked. Three of the guests at the party were a family--young parents and an unbelievably verbal sub-toddler. And get this: The parents were in theatre.

I KNOW! The wife/mother performed in musical theatre, touring occasionally with her son along. The husband had switched to directing after being an actor for several years and was having what seems to have been a very good time of it. Now, it's not that I don't know that such people exist. They must, else we'd never have these celebrities with stories about how they learned everything from their quaint, performed-on-Broadway-for-forty-years parents. Right? Right. Somehow, however, coming face-to-face with such folks was a very difficult experience for me that night. There was a lot of envy going on there, and I don't generally get too envious over career stuff. You landed a movie? Congratulations. Your agent says he's going to get you on every CSI they make? Fantastic.

You maintain a career that supports you and have the security and emotional wherewithal to start a healthy family? Come here. A little closer. I NEED TO GO ALL TALENTED MR. RIPLEY ON YOUR LIFE!

The thing is, it's not as though I haven't had opportunities to be in a family way. In point of fact, I keep choosing the ol' career over marriage, family, etc. This year has been, in its way, a huge exemplification of that choice. Now, I could argue that the problem has always been that (for one reason or another) somehow the choice always comes up. It's never a matter of someone wanting to be married to me, but to the me I'll be when I get over this acting phase. I could make that argument.

But I don't, because the question is far more interesting if I don't have that somewhat convenient circumstance to fall back on. So why do I keep making the choice, knowing that it will keep leading me back to questions about my path and insecurities about the ticking clock?

This year I ran around like mad. I moved back to Brooklyn from Queens. I had absolutely horrible health (the short list includes something in the area of two bad sprains, teeth problems, four feverish throat infections, and what I thought was a hernia but turned out to be a chemical epididymitis instead) but also wrapped the year with enough Equity weeks worked to qualify for six months of free health insurance, starting today. I was in and out of Pennsylvania, and traveled and worked in New Hampshire/Vermont, Virginia, Maryland and Italy. I performed in a satire, a tragedy, two comedies, one work-in-progress and one original debut. I developed a solo clown piece. I danced and sang, fought and kissed, and even got a little writing done.

What is this worth? Where is this getting me, I often ask myself. I view my career in a fashion similar to my spiritual beliefs, which is to say: If I don't question them (or myself) regularly, then I'm not really living them. Questions are not dangerous, unless they go unasked. In fact, I'd say that the darkest times in my life were when I was too certain of an answer to keep asking the questions. So. What is it worth?

The difficult answer (and for God's sake, question even this) is that it's worth itself. And that's all. I have to be satisfied with myself insofar as I need to be to be happy and think clearly. TTL isn't better than the more conventional life, but it certainly isn't worse. Some feel a need to insulate themselves from its danger by observing it and judging. "Doesn't the constant running from show to show seem like an addiction?" "You're not making enough money to make car payments?" Even the classic: "How do you memorize all those lines?" (Folken: What we really hear you saying is, "What on God's green earth possessed you to commit yourself to something so archaic and bizarre?") It is similar to every other priority we might claim without risking such judgment. Doesn't the constant pursuit of more money seem like a compulsion? You mean you just stay at home, all day, in the same home? And how do you forget all those childhood dreams?

We can neither of us judge the other, and I sally forth [insert comic strip pun/allusion here] into the new year eager to continue the wrestling match that is I. Me. I? Anyway. We're all here trying to make sense of ourselves. It's good to be accepting of our different paths; or if that's too much, than at least of our own path. I'm reminded of a conversation I had at the start of college, with my dear friend who organized the reunion and another incoming freshman. That Other asked us why we did theatre, really. I said some pretentious, theoretical crap (which I really believed and probably still do) and the guy said something along similar lines, but dear Sarah said,
"I just enjoy it. It's one of the few things in my life that I can point to and definitely [sic] say 'That makes me happy.'"
Well said, my friend. Happy new year, everyone.

25 December 2006

Merry Christmas, Baby

I know, I know. I referenced one of those most obnoxious yuletide (Look out! The yule tide is coming in! Kids, get away from your fruitcake castle!) songs. I like the Boss, I really do. But damn. Enough already. Between that and "Feliz Navidad," it's miraculous we don't have a few more cases of holiday homicide...at least amongst the disc jockey set.

I am typing this up on my Mom's computer, which is cobbled together from various archaic components (the CPU isn't so old, really, but the monitor weighs enough to bow the hardwood shelf it squats on) and dialed up to the interwebz via something called a "phone line." I don't know why phones need a "line." I think it has something to do with the Nixon administration. At any rate, I am home for the holidays. And no, the appended picture is not of me drunkenly shrinking because I drank from Santa's special reserve of champagne, though I inevitably feel just that gluttonous after our family's Christmas dinner. (It's a photo of my performance of Lloyd Schlemiel, a silent-film style improvisatory clown, from dear Melissa's benefit for her dance company: Kinesis Project.)

So: I have survived another season (assuming that ham wasn't cured with strychnine). It was a highly successful one, if but a bit lonely for yours truly. But lonliness is easily overcome when people appreciate the gifts you give. I swear there's few greater pleasures I get than watching someone open a gift I've prepared for them. Don't think it's like I'm naturally beneficent or anything, either. It's like performance art for me. It's manipulative, actually. I love to toy with people's perceptions and expectations. As an example, one year I was dating a girl who was, shall we say, used to the finer things. I was young(er) and madly in love (it's the only way to do it, really), but also aware of how this girl (let's call her "Bertha") had learned not to get her expectations up too high for me, at least as far as material rewards go. We had an ongoing debate about why we should/n't get a cat, with me taking the typical male perspective, i.e., Cats Are Evil. So for Christmas, I bought her a pure white cat puppet. "Surprise, honey! It's a compromise for Christmas!" She was, shall we say...nonplussed. So I continued, "Oh, but it's not just a stuffed cat. Look! A puppet! Try it out!" The sweet kid, she played along, barely containing a rage I'm glad I didn't have to confront. At that point, at any rate. And wouldn't you know it, when she pulled out her hand, there was a Tiffany's box with a pair of platinum earrings within.

(This kind of game can backfire terribly. For one of Bertha's birthdays, I set her on a sort of scavenger hunt about different spots we had shared in the city. But I made the clues too hard, and received a tearful phone call whilst I sat at the end of the labyrinth. Poor Bertha. She played that through, too, inspite of my ridiculous gaff.)

These plans we draw, they can go in any direction at any time, and perhaps this is the resonance I find in performing improvisatory theatre. Even from a botched scene (or entire play), we can say we learned a new thing or two. Interestingly enough, one of the activities my family enjoyed for the New York segment of our holy daze was to see a Moliere play, School for Wives. Now, as any self-respecting BFA recipient will tell you, Moliere was heavily influenced by the Commedia dell'arte traditions, and most of his plays are drawn directly from such scenarios, or at least such stock characters. School for Wives is a brilliant example of this, and a value pack of Kudos(r) to the good people at The Pearl Theatre Company for including a "Commedia Coach" (Christopher Bayes) in their roster of hard-working artists. The entire cast was solid--one of the best overall casts I have ever seen, anywhere. Not a weak link among them. (I particularly want to note Hana Moon and Bradford Cover as exceptional actors [willfully acknowledging that such notice is easier to achieve the funnier the character is written] and T.J. Edwards as well, who demonstrated a stylistic ease between two supporting characters.) The play was performed in nearly pure commedia style (only masking the Pantalone and Dotore characters would have topped it [and no doubt scared the shit out of the audience in the process]) including some improvised dialogue and much direct address and asiding.

{I aside; you aside; we aside; they aside; we have asided; you are asiding...?}

{Here we go a'wasailing, a'wasailing are we..."}

Particularly when we are with our families, I think the ability to improvise is a valuable skill. Having only lived this experience from the aspect of son (and brother), I am remarkably narrow in my view. Nevertheless, I think most of us can agree that reuniting with any group with whom we once--and now no longer--spent our daily lives is an exercise in subconscious revisitation of our former selves. That is to say, you can take the overpriviledged kid out of the suburbs, but you can't take the suburbs out of the now-rather-less-overpriviledged kid. We return to the group, and there is a natural tendency for everyone to resume where they left off. In this context, there is no better refreshment than being able to really listen...and maybe throw in a curve ball when your loved ones are least expecting it.

But just drinking a lot of eggnog is another option. I'm off to frolic in the yule tide. The water is unseasonably warm...

22 December 2006

Times of Giving

Short post today, folks. Lots to do. LOTS TO DO. MUST GET DOING DONE. MUST ARRANGE LOTS INTO LOTS.

Christmas (or the choose-your-own-holiday period) generally stresses me out in a very unique way. I mean, Anxiety and I know each other pretty well (there was even this night in Paris, but Anxiety and I agreed never to speak of it again), yet this particular time of year really cranks it up a few notches for me. Socially speaking, I am not High Functioning Jeff(tm). I have about the conversational skills of a Tickle-Me Elmo. But, correspondingly, my wherewithal for and interest in doing crafts is enhanced exponentially.

I can not help but wonder if the two might be related.

Anyway, Christmas comes early this year (OH MY GOD OH MY GOD) for me and mine. Jenny has to work at the hospital on the 25th, so my parents are coming into town in a matter of hours to celebrate here, now. That's the kind of parents they are. They rule. Plus, they already set a precedent for coming to see my shows in the most remote ends of the earth, so not working around Jenny's work schedule for the holidays would have sunk them in deep, deep tinsel.

I'll be traveling again, after the wrapping paper has flown and the Moliere has been seen. First down to Hagerstown, MD with my parents, then off to northern Virginia (NoVa) to see friends. There's a fairly big reunion of people I knew (and actually liked) in high school planned, and I surprise myself by my desire to attend. It's not that I am surprised to want to see old friends, exactly. It's just that reunions are another thing that fill me with anxiety.

What is this thing that makes me so wary of good possibilities? I put it to the universe. Universe, call me sometime. We never talk anymore.

I've got to run. Much wrapping and riddle-writing and packing to do yet. Avanti!

21 December 2006

Three-Ring Surreality

Ask me how bad-ass Circus Oz is. Go ahead. Ask me.

The answer to that lies at the end of this entry...

Last night was another opportunity to shed the strictures of mundanity, this time in celebration of my friend Kate Magram(founder of Kirkos)'s birthday. Now, Kate is already having a party tonight, at her loft apartment in Williamsburg (the uber-trendy one, not the colonial re-enactment), so last night was kind of a prequel bonus, if you will. She very much wanted the Yurts to accompany her to see what I believe is her favorite circus troupe ever. Sadly, Animal Yurt (Patrick) was already out of NYC for the holy daze, so that left Giggly Yurt and Dour Yurt (Melissa and myself) to attend with Studious Yurt. Yet another venture to get in the way of holiday preparation and paying a scant amount of attention to my acting career. Yet again was I pleased as punch that I made the excursion.

(As another interesting twist in my day yesterday concerning Kate:
Almost a year ago now, as a sort of contemporary coping method, I put up a singles profile on The Onion AV Club. It helped to sort of sort through where I was and where I thought I wanted to head, inter-personally speaking. An unexpected bonus of this is that I now get weekly emails from the site, informing me of ten women who have recently signed up and with whom my stars align, or some such nonsense. These emails contain pictures and excerpts from their profiles, and I can scroll down and compare/contrast physical attraction with intellectual attraction [if only insofar as such can be judged by a single photograph and a few lines of personal description]. I enjoy it. It's like flirting, but without the potential for emotional scarring. Well, just guess who showed up in my inbox yesterday? I suppose I owe a little something to the Gods of Romantic Comedy Cliches for my earlier jabs at them.
:and now, back to our original entry, already in progress.)

...so I says to him, I says, "Napoleon, I understand how much you enjoy the pillaging and all, but shouldn't someone of your stature set his sights a little higher? You know, achieve something historically significant?" Well. You know how the rest turned out, I'm sure.

But where was I?

OH YES. The land of Oz. Circus Oz originates in Australia, has a company of performers from all over the world, and they are just as talented and trained as any Cirque du Soleil chumps. (It's really not fair to compare the two; they have utterly separate objectives and aesthetics. But they both represent nuevo circus in the public eye, sew...) Oz : Soleil :: Nirvana : My Chemical Romance. (Hey: I like MCR, okay? It's just that for my money Nirvana says more with less, and you don't end up feeling like, well, a chump for rocking out to them.)

The real brilliance of the show I saw, "Laughing at Gravity," was an act at the end of the first Act. It wasn't all that skill-heavy, and was predominantly very clownish. It involved most all of the performers participating in a small orchestra, with the actual musical director dressed up in clown and conducting them. It combined a wonderful assortment of classical excerpts (that 2001 song, Flight of the Bumblebee, Flight of the Valkyrie, etc.) with the action onstage. The unity between the action and the particular song (and, indeed, the style in which that song was played) was impressive. Clearly the musical director had put in just as much work as an acrobat training for a difficult maneuver. What really grabbed me, though, was one of the final moments. There was an upright bass onstage, and the conductor and it were hooked into a flying harness and lifted into the air, whereupon he pretended to play the instrument. (Heaven help me, but I can't be sure of the song...possibly Flight of the Valkyrie.) This was well and good, and the rig spun them like a pendulum around the stage, maybe twenty feet up. Then, however, he lost his hold on the instrument, and they separated, still circling. He spots it behind him, and begins running (still in the air, mind you) and it is exactly as though the bass is chasing him. Then he notices he's still holding the bow, turns to face his tormentor, and begins to sword-fight with it.

It was brilliant. Well, I'm a sucker for the transmogrification of props, but I'd still bet others less-inclined toward such things would still find it brilliant. (For another poignant example of the human characteristics of an upright bass, catch a production of the formerly-Broadway-based revue, Swing.) There's something about the surreal, when it's at least somewhat rooted in the "mundane" that delights as few other things can. I consider Magritte a wonderful example of this. Though in that context, I suppose I must acknowledge that the surreal, no matter how based in the mundane (and perhaps as a result of which), can also create a feeling of dread like few other things can. In that sense, my mind springs to Japanese horror films. These are uniquely horrifying (to jaded Westerners, at any rate) because not only is something threatening happening, it's happening in a way that can not make sense. Someone appearing out of nowhere, dripping wet when it isn't raining, or a hand appearing from out a potted plant. Put that way, I wonder if the results of delight and dread aren't just matters of context.

So I've figured a little something out about why I enjoy circus, seeing it and performing it. It gives me access to the places I'm afraid to go, and the possibility of little victories in that arena.

From Circus Oz's program:
"When we perform, we show ourselves, our mob, our place, our culture, the inherent danger of living, the thrill of surviving, and YOUR ability to laugh in the face of adversity, chaos, crisis and gravity."
A: All-encompassingly.

20 December 2006

Fear of the Third?

Yesterday, amidst the bustle of an office desperately trying to resolve its business before the impending holy daze, I got a call from my roommate, Zoe. (An "umlaut" goes over the "e." Let this parenthetical represent "umlaut.") Now, I am a master of silencing my phone, particularly at work, but I try to make a point of answering calls from family or roommate if I'm possibly in a position in which I may. It turns out I was, at that moment, available (doing nothing but musing and typing away over some silly 'blog) and I answered to discover that the call had nothing to do with the heating, a bill or me leaving my stuff out like some kind of domestic endurance course between the work room and the kitchen. No, Zoe (an "umlaut" goes over the "e"; let this parenthetical represent "umlaut") needed help of a different sort altogether.

Zoe (a"u"got"e"ltpr"u") and her partner Dave engage in a rarefied profession, coined "acro-salsa." Under the guise of Paradizo Dance, these marvels of modern physicality travel the world, performing and competing with their unique synthesis of movement traditions. They rock. Seriously. I don't know performers personally who are as strong and dedicated as these guys are. I met Zo(a"u"got"e"ltpr"u") through Kate Magram, who founded a circus-dance-theatre collective called Kirkos. Anyway, one of Paradizo Dance's new ventures is to put out a series of instructional videos in their approaches to salsa and acrobalance. Last night they had space booked, were all set for another filming, and Dave's back got sprained.

Hence, the phone call to me.

Now, I'm the sort of chap (don't restrain from hollering if you hear me) who spends a certain amount of his day planning out his evening--at least on the rare occasion when that evening's activities are not otherwise prescribed. This becomes a particular priority to me in times of flurry-ous activity, i.e., the week before Christmas. At the time Zoe(") caught me in these machinations, I had a good plan all well and settled: 1) visit Geoff at bar (Live Bait) and deliver Xmas present, have dinner+beer(s); 2) wrap-up Xmas shopping; 3) go home and start laundry; and 4) catalogue footage from film-making class. All-in-all, a nice little stratagem, sleekly designed to annihilate a certain amount of holiday stress. To top this off, about a month ago I injured my groin, or, in medical specificity, my ballular area. (What can I say? My sister's a nurse.) And so, when Z. proposed my presence as a base to her flyer for the purposes of posterity, I had a moment.

One of doubt.

Perhaps more anxiety than doubt, or inconvenience, but all roads led to doubt in the final summation.

I changed my plans. I went to BAX and helped out. Nothing spectacular happened. My groin did not 'asplode. My list of things-to-do remains precariously heavy. I'm so glad I made that choice.

Now for something completely different.

My dear friend, Patrick Lacey, began a project right around the autumnal equinox called The Traveling Muse. He began it by distributing three masks of his own making to the fellow members of our little group, The Exploding Yurts. (No, it's not a yodel-rock band from Sweden, it's a creative collaborative from the five boroughs.) The assignment was, amongst other things, to hold onto the mask for a month, then send it on. There's a lot that goes into it, but as I understand it the basic idea was to create something, send it out into the world to exist on its own and affect people as it will (though I'm pretty certain Patrick hopes it will inspire change for each person, be it in smaller or larger ways). Great idea. LOVE IT.

Loved it so much, in fact, that I was guilty of hanging onto the Muse for nearly three bloody months. There it sat, on the wall opposite my desk, boring its non-existent irises into my back. For me, it served as a reminder of all the things I'd rather be doing--indeed, feel I ought to be doing--if only I were in a demographic with more time for such things. It's possible it even inspired me to make more time, somehow; eke it out of my already jam-packed Third Life. All the while, I dreamed about when and to whom I would release it, and what effect it might have on him or her.

I got the most unexpected result. The person I sent the Muse to received it with enthusiasm, but when I explained to her about its purpose, she declined to engage in the project. The Muse will soon be winding its way back to Brooklyn.

There could have been any number of reasons. Perhaps she was too busy to be bothered, or maybe the project didn't make sense to her. Or, if it did, maybe it just wasn't something she could find the value in. There must be hundreds of reasons along these lines not to do it.

Yet it inspired in me a new idea about how a person might react to the kind of invitation the Muses are extending them. That reaction is: Fear. (A kissing cousin with Doubt.) Some people might be frightened by an excuse to step back and examine their wants, wishes, desires, dreams. Some may view their imagination as a place fraught with danger, unpredictability and disappointment. And, you know, I believe such people are right. It is dangerous in there. It may be where you got to make out with Angelina Jolie, but it's also where insanity sets its roots, and where Brad Pitt beats you down...and not in that nice Fight Club way.

I was reminded a couple of months ago of what an act of bravery any creative examination is when I had the opportunity to listen to Neil Gaiman speak during a tour promoting his new book. (It's a great read, as is his 'blog, which he writes in daily.) He talked about a lot, but what was striking about it all was to sit there and take in a person who had made his entire life about his creations, stuff purely from his mind and its collaborations with other minds. I thought, "God. That takes balls."

It does. Now, I don't know if my friend who is mailing back the Muse had this reaction. I can only guess. But the events of the past twenty-four hours add up to remind me that The Third Life(tm) is a high-stakes game, and playing it for too long can make one a little jaded to the feelings of others who may not be as involved in that particular game. Every act of creative examination is a very, very brave thing.

19 December 2006

Three is funny.

There are quite a few axioms in Comedy. (I choose here to make a distinction between "comedy" and "Comedy"; comedy is when you pay $10.75 for the privilege of seeing the other half of the jokes, those not exposed in the trailers, and Comedy is the process of making the funny sans benefit of editing and CGI [I briefly considered making the distinction between the terms the way we {read: Americans} do with theater/theatre, but "comedye" looks too much like an emo band name.]) Some axioms that spring readily to mind:
  • Three is funny. Generally speaking, there's something about repetition in threes that just works.
  • It's all in the timing. Both an axiom and a warning akin to "Starve a cold, feed a fever." Some people think the funny relies on volume and energy, and these so-called people should be dragged into the street and shot.
  • Never work with children or animals. They will always upstage you.
  • Always work with children and/or animals. They are often unpredictable, hence always funny. This is a producer's rule, and, therefore, inherently flawed.
  • Wear a funny hat. Ridiculous? Cheap? What are you, Richelieu?
So we have these "rules," wheresoever they may spring from. Some are fond of saying they definitively come from the vaudeville tradition but, frankly, I think vaudeville is more likely responsible for developing them into one-liner phrasing. Chances are that these ideas stretch about as far back as any oral tradition. My opinion in this is, of course, biased by the fact that I have devoted a certain percentage of my adult (HA!) career (HA-HA!) studying Commedia dell'arte and adapting it into a contemporary context. So I have become a little concrete in my views of evolving performance traditions, at least insofar as my belief that everything-steals-from-everything goes.

As a result of my associations, I began to wonder yesterday (yesterday's when I thought in actual language, the idea's been floating about in me for sometime in the form of a mental, "Huh...") if a particular axiom of comedy and a certain law of improvisation weren't existing in conflict to one another.

(Interestingly enough [to me, anyway], yesterday I also impulse-bought a movie, Imagine Me and You, that I had impulse-seen about a year ago. One of the cleverer bits of dialogue involves a paradox: What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? This leads me to be more willing to accept that the question I'm about to pose is unanswerable, which, in turn, leads me to question how much credence romantic comedies bear in my worldview.)

So here they are:
In improvisation, the players must say "yes" to one another in all things.
In comedy, contradiction and reversal of expectation are funny.
Sew. Perhaps it isn't an omnipotence paradox, but if you've ever been on stage and trying to make a scene fly, it sure as hell can feel omni-important. I'd be curious to hear anyone's comments on this. I'm aware that it's not directly contradictory. In a given improvisation, you can introduce elements that defy expectation, and your scene partner(s) can support that choice, and/or supplement it with more surprises. The contradiction humor, however, is virtually impossible to incorporate into free-form improv. As an (admittedly stilted) example of what I mean:
"Konstantine, we've got to get to Moscow."
"I've got the perfect solution."
"You know how you've always been good at yodelling?"
"And I've always been an excellent knitter?"
"And we are descended from the Czars, and our favorite band is The Exploding Yurts, and we can seduce any woman so long as Saturn is in retrograde?"
"Da, da and da!"
"Then all we have to do is invent a knitted iPod that fits into a woman's hiking pack and comes preloaded with The Exploding Yurts covering 'Styurgenburginfjordinhewt-yay-hee-hoo,' stamp it with the royal seal, and we'll make enough to finally, finally get to Moscow. Whadaya say?"
"What? For God's sake, why not?"
"You never say 'please' anymore."
I wish I had enough of a grasp of Russian vernacular to translate "whadaya."

Okay, admittedly, the dialogue sucks. But I assure you the structure is classic. And in a free-form improvisation, you can't use it. Why? Because negation of ideas in an improvised scene that has no underlying structure almost guarantees that you'll send the scene into a dizzying downward spiral of bickery and waffling (sounds like excellent UK cuisine, but terrible to happen on stage). Now, sure, if you have pre-agreement that the scene will end in a particular way or something will be accomplished by the end (structured improvisation, see Commedia dell'arte) you can certainly bicker, because your characters are nice and established, and the goal is imminent and agreed. Creating all on the fly, however, is another matter.

Normally, what happens in this scenario is the "yes" law trumps the "contradiction" axiom. The object continues to exist. And that's fine. But I find it fascinating that rules of comedy and rules of improvisation may be in conflict. In this sense, we prioritize of necessity the scene above the laugh. That's as well as may be (theatre teachers from my past are bristling with potential indignation) but are we, in some cases, gypping our audiences? Is there one among us who is not guilty of breaking that cardinal rule once (or twice) because s/he could practically precognate the uproariousness of their audience?

Another rule of comedy is:
  • Defy all rules.
That one rather speaks for itself.

Tea and empathy.

I've had a day to think about it, and the blog, it seems to me, is best for communicating with three very specific sets of people:
  • blog enthusiasts, who troll about all day looking for interesting insights into anonymous strangers
  • fans, who, via my website or previous positive experience with this here blog, come to visit on a semi-regular basis
  • web searchers, whose terms are so specific that my blog (out of a shmazillion, n.t.m. all the other types of accessible, search-able pages out there) pings back on the old search-engine sonar
Sew, these being the cases, this is the best venue for venting, extemporizing, theorizing and...er...empiricizing on the issues of theatre, writing, circus and the generally creative life altogether. I have Douglas Adams to thank for this insight, and the value it may actually inherently have. I'm not altogether clever about these things, these emerging (yes, it's a blog, they've been emerged for some time now I know SHUT UP) forms of communication, but he certainly was. He was writing about this phenomenon fifteen years before it came to pass.

And so, dear reader, what is to follow will be various observations and extrapolations on what I like to think of as The Third Life {(c)(tm) JeffWills, Hugin+Munin Productions Ltd., Inc., LLC, PDQ, WTF}.

The Third Life is that life lived outside of the norms and expectations of mainstream society. Let me be clear that I don't consider this life special in the sense of rarity; I believe we all have ambitions and inspirations that are outside the frame of expectation. I also believe that we are all interconnected, a whole, in spite of where we come from or what our ideologies may be.

However, some of us embrace a life that, from the outside, seems to be lacking in immediate compensation, a life of more dreaming and possibility than substance and reward. Living that kind of life is hard as hell. What keeps us with it? That's a good question.

Incidentally, I haven't (and possibly never will) read "The Artist's Way."

Enough loftiness. My next post will probably address what I consider to be a conflict of interests between comedy and improvisation. And there will be fart jokes.

Oh yes: There will be fart jokes.

18 December 2006

In the beginning...

Hold me to this. Herein lies the beginning of my foray into intentional bloggage. I hereby swear to try to write regularly, and with a sense of humor whenever possible, about subjects relevant to my (and hopefully others') pursuits.

Oh, I've tried keeping blogs before. But they had no purpose, no intention. Now, now at long last, one shall.

I'll just have to get back to you on what that intention is...