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Denver Improv Festival – My Trip, Day 4

This post not only describes the rest of yesterday’s Denver Improv Festival events, but features the very first FOOTNOTES to appear here at The Scrawl! ((yay!))

Kelly and I ate at the Rock Bottom Brewery on 16th Street and Curtis for three reasons: 1. the food is okay, 2. it’s a block and a half from the Bovine Metropolis Theater, and 3. if you bring in your underground parking garage ticket and order something they’ll validate your parking. Back in the day when Rick and I would come and do some improv, this was standard operating procedure and, after checking in with a few locals, it’s still the preferred parking method of choice for Denver improvisers.

It’s neat to return to a venue I used to frequent so often, yet had been away from for three years. We attended all of the shows last night, so here’s a brief breakdown of who we saw:

Convention? (Denver, CO) – This large ensemble (at least 13 people) portrayed what appeared to be the final act in a running series running parallel to the national election, with last night’s show focusing on three candidates and their teams reeling in their defeat. Each team was focused on for several minutes apiece, followed by a moderated Q&A session featuring all of the characters. There were some funny moments and many of the characters established themselves as well as their relationships with each other, even across party lines (nice to see improvisers reach across the aisle). I honestly felt like I was clearly watching the finale of a show I never saw, and that left me feeling like I was missing something, but there were laughs to be had, anyway. Standout Moment(s): a clueless VP candidate (Amanda Kennedy) spouting off a slew of non sequiturs, a felonious husband and a campaign manager (Mark Shonsey) singing a cut from their new Christian rock CD.

The Sanscript Players with Joe Bill (Denver, CO / Chicago, IL) – This is the house team for the Bovine Metropolis, one of the two host theaters of the festival. This was also a large ensemble and they asked Joe Bill to play Armando for an Armando Diaz Experience. ((Named for the inventor of this longform structure, one person steps forward as “Armando” and asks for a suggestion. They tell true stories from their own life to “fill the pot” with ideas and the ensemble creates scenes inspired by the stories. The Armando steps in few scenes to fill the pot even more. A very callback-friendly, organic, and symbiotic form.)) Kelly’s a big fan of the Armando (she’s seen me do a few) and this group is clearly comfortable working with each other, getting physical, using the space, etc. Standout Moment(s): a man trying to climb out of a window over and over to avoid getting married with his friends at a triple wedding, a woman who bottles her emotions – personified by another actor popping up in a window as a disembodied head screaming to be let out, and Joe Bill on conspiracy theories: “I think conspiracy theories are natural because keeping secrets is natural. That’s why I’ve been divorced twice.”

After the show we went around the corner to Sam’s No. 3 and had malts. I had an extra malty cookies’n’cream malt while Kelly created a chocolate / mint / strawberry concoction which left our server flabbergasted. I don’t think I’ve ever used that word to describe someone, but trust me, it’s quite appropriate for her reaction. ((“In all my time here I don’t think that combo’s ever come up! That’s something unique!”))

Kumate (Chicago, IL) – This was the first of three solo shows at this year’s DIF, the others being mine and Jill Bernard’s Drum Machine. Ryan Williams took the stage in kung-fuitized wardrobe and asked his audience for a location they’ve never seen in a Kung-Fu movie; he got “Antarctica.” After a mood-setting, and funny, pan-flute song, Williams then displayed some of the most patient improv I’ve ever seen. For three minutes or so, he established the setting – a ship at sea – and three characters – a deckhand swabbing the deck, the first mate at the wheel, and the captain in the crow’s nest, all through fluid, kung-fu inspired spacework and sound effects (think of that “Sh!” “Schuh!” type of noise you hear in the kung-fu movies when someone swings a fist in the air). The first words of the show were “LAAAND HO!” and we were off. Williams created an adventure journey, a love story, and a penguin-hunting tale in his time on stage and it all came to a satisfying conclusion by the time a second pan-flute song closed the show. Standout Moment: “I’ve been eating nothing but penguin for three weeks!”

The Drinks (Denver, CO) – Mark Shonsey took the stage for a third time (he was also in Convention? and The Sanscript Players) with fellow Sanscript Player Nanna Ogburn for a duo longform structure. They established their characters, setting up their relationship of a tension-filled semi-marriage, ending with the Nanna’s character explaining, with a big grin on her face, that if he ever tried to leave she would kill him. The rest of the show became a cat-and-mouse game to see if the husband could push the seemingly goody-two-shoes woman over the edge so she finally killed him. There were plenty of laughs, though while I fully embrace John Gardner’s theory of the importance of delay in fiction, I think the audience was really just waiting for her to kill him. I wonder if part of the reason that moment (spoiler!) never came was the aftermath of that moment was because that wasn’t something they had anticipated ever happening, but man, a duo show between one live character and one dead body character could be interesting. At any rate, both players’ characters were top-notch, their interaction was the stuff you hope your students will create in your improv classes, and I laughed plenty. Standout Moment(s): After establishing his life was in danger, the uneasy lover squeaks out, “What do you want to play for game night?” and near the end of the show, after going down on one knee to beg for his life, Nanna’s character screamed in delight that he was proposing marriage (“You did the knee thing!” “No, no, a lot of people go down on one knee for a lot of reasons! Tying a shoe! Picking up a dime!”)

After this show, Kelly and I went back to the hotel and took a nap. We had over an hour and seriously, we were both pretty flippin’ tired. Hooray for king size beds with fancy-schmancy blankets and sheets!

The rest of the night was at the Impulse Theater. This is where my old improv partner, Rick Simineo, got some of his training so while it always came highly recommended, this was unfortunately my first time actually going there. It’s a cool space, a very night club / comedy club feel in the basement of a local brewery and plenty of cabaret-style seating and what looked like a well-organized list of tech candy (well-placed tech booth, solid lighting, large backstage, multiple entrance locations, etc.).

Impulse Theater (Denver, CO) – A house ensemble did a round of short-form games including Rewrite (a.k.a. Take That Back, a.k.a. Ding!, a.k.a. Should’ve Said), Forward/Reverse, and Styles Replay. They played a game similar to World’s Worst in that they’d get a suggestion for a topic of a song (dogs, cars, etc.) and would switch up a real song with lyrics pertaining to the topic. I’d never seen that game before and it killed; definitely something I’d like to try sometime. The ensemble was great, really working together well. That may be because it was their third set of the night, according to Adrian Holguin, whom I know through YESand.com and have met in-person at least one or thrice before. It’s always cool to see YESand friends in the flesh and performing, and Adrian did a super-awesome job. Standout Moment(s): Michael Solomon repeating “Noooo, noooo!” ad nauseum in Forward / Reverse, a Steven Spielberg-style scene in Styles Replay featuring Adrian Holguin as Indiana “Manuel” Jones, Liberty Gordon as a ridiculously-wigged preggers secret lover, and wow, Sara Vandas can sing!

FORK (Denver, CO) – DIF co-producers Jean Schuman and Jon Lannen took the stage for their duo show and were clearly having a fun time. They opened by getting two separate suggestions and took a seat on opposite sides of the stage, creating character monologues running concurrently and every once in a while, taking inspiration from one another – a very cool exercise in listening to your partner (I might have to take this as a workshop exercise). The show featured a series of relationship-driven scenes and musical interludes provided by LA-based guest Stephen Wilder and a keyboard accompanist, Seymour Muchmore, who worked at the Brave New Workshop around fifteen years ago. FORK’s set was fun and what I usually might call “loose” but I’m going with “playful” as a show ending after 1:00am by the producers who’ve been running around for weeks getting last-minute details done shoudl be. As I said, they clearly were enjoying themselves and that sensibility carried over to the audience. Standout Moment(s): Jon going off on a Milli Vanilli diatribe, Stephen as public defender singing about what a shrew the judge (Jean) was, and Jean actually making herself out-and-out cry for her judge character.

Due to camera battery issues, the only show I got to take photos of was FORK, but here they are:

After the show, Kelly, Jill Bernard, and I headed back to the Hampton. I dropped off the ladies and had an adventure in parking. Then, sleep. Sweet sleep.

Unfortunately, the workshop I was scheduled to teach today didn’t fill, so today we’re playing it low-key. Some writing, some essay grading, some ukulele practice, some blogging, some napping, and some mindless TV watching. Tonight I appear with Curds Only (Denver, CO / Chicago, IL), then we plan to catch the rest of the shows this evening. I’ll keep you posted, dear reader.

-nm

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Your Friday Recommendation #29

Come see my show!

Is this recommendation a cop-out? Eh, maybe.

Is this recommendation a shamless plug? Spluh.

The Denver Improv Festival presents The Uncle Ukulele Show and Curds Only
Saturday, November 8 @ 7:30pm, $15
The Bovine Metropolis Theater
1527 Champa Street, Denver, CO

Run, drive, fly, burrow, or teleport your way to Denver this weekend, dear reader! And if you can’t make it, well, I understand.

-nm

Denver Improv Festival – My Trip, Day 3

Our travels took Kelly and me beyond the Denver metro area to Castle Rock to shop for jeans and books at their famed Outlet Mall. While the Vans outlet store apparently no longer exists (it’s where I bought all of my shoes from 2002-2005, including the shoes I’m wearing now… which says a lot about how infrequently I buy shoes, now that I think about it), they had a Borders outlet store with a lot of closeout books. I picked up The Great Gatsby unabridged on CD for a dollar, a $20 book of over-sized posters from The Simpsons, and a copy of Best American Short Stories 2007 (edited by Stephen King), and now have a copy of nearly every year’s volume going back to 1999. Kelly picked up an autobiography, Multiple Bles8ings by Jon & Kate Gosselin (with Beth Carlson who, with apologies to Jon and Kate, probably did quite a bit of the writing). It’s the story of a couple who had twins and sextuplets and who are the subject of Kelly’s new “favorite” TLC TV show, Jon and Kate Plus Eight. I call anything Kelly likes her “favorite” thing, even if it’s not. That’s how I roll.

I also saw a new anthology of 70 short stories since 1970 that looked interesting (it has a lot of the Scribner Anthology in it), as well an older edition of the Norton Anthology of Short Fiction for only $2.99. I was really tempted to pick it up, but my luggage is already pushing the 50-pound limit at 48 pounds (mostly thanks to my ukulele amp), so I left the heavy tome on the shelf. Frontier’s already charging $15 per checked bag, one-way, and I don’t feel like having it jump up to $25 by surpassing the 50-pound mark; that would make the Norton book $13 and at that price I might as well buy it at home or online (addendum: a quick Amazon check lists Norton as $44 and up, so maybe I missed out).

We continued south and visited the Garden of the Gods, one of my favorite geological anomalies I’ve ever visited. I haven’t been there since I was in high school, but it was as beautiful as ever.Here are some photos we took:

Finally, we headed to see my cousin, Kris, and his wife, Janette, in Colorado Springs. We had some dinner, looked at photos from their trip to China, gossiped about the family, and played the terrible, terrible Wii video game that is Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? I’ll tell you who I am smarter than – the programmers who decided this product was finished and ready for consumers to plunk down money to buy (luckily, it was merely a rental). We forgot to bring our extra Wii-motes and our copy of our latest Wii game addiction, Boom Blox, but maybe that’s not a bad thing. Remember, 50-pound luggage weight limit.

This morning I graded essays (yay!), Kelly slept in (yay!), we drove the Charger north (meh), and ended up back in Denver. I’m writing this in our room at the downtown Hampton Inn where Joe Bill is also staying; I know because we bumped into each other in the lobby, where handshakes and bear hugs were to be had. Joe’s one of those guys who’s been around the Chicago improv scene forever, plus the national improv scene for as long as I can remember. His classes will change your improv, his shows will inspire your improv, and his down-to-earth personality really helps eliminate any perceived “guru status” stigma. I’m looking forward to seeing his shows this weekend.

I did tech rehearsal at the Bovine Metropolis for the Denver Improv Festival and saw several familiar faces from back in the day. Ryan Williams and Chris Wolf are Curds Only, the group I’m sharing the bill with for tomorrow night’s 7:30pm show. Ryan’s been in Chicago for a year and it sounds like good things are happening, while Chris served as tech for the Improv Hootenanny back when Rick and I were doing regular shows here. I’ve improvised with both of these guys before, they’re cool and talented. I also re-met Jean Schuman and Jon Lannen. I say re-met because I know I met them, albeit briefly, way back when they were in a high school improv troupe called Spontaneous Combustion. They’re producing the festival and these two are far more pumped and charged up than anything, and that feeling is both palpable and infectious. Finally, I bumped into Eric Farone, owner of the Bovine Metropolis Theater. Eric and his wife, Denise, have done a lot to put Denver improv on the map and his theater space appears ready for some insane improv action this weekend.

That’s it for today. Kelly and I are heading out to dinner and an evening of improv. I’ll keep you posted.

-nm

Denver Improv Festival – My Trip, Day 2

Last night’s flight on Frontier Airlines into Denver went without a hitch, which is approximately 1700 less hitches than the last time we flew Frontier (our honeymoon) and ended up in Denver (unexpected) and its airport (overnight, on the floor). We picked up our rental car, a 2007 Dodge Charger, and headed to out to crash at my friends’, Carl and Frank. Carl Wedell hosted the Improv Hootenanny at the Bovine Metropolis Theater for years and only just recently bowed out to start grad school, while Frank Haas is tech director at the Bovine. Already, it’s been cool running into pepole from the past and talking about old times.

See, when I lived in Cheyenne, Wyoming for three years, Rick Simineo and I brought our improv duo, Puny Humans, down to Denver every once in a while between 2004-2005 for the Improv Hootenanny (Denver’s equivalent of Minneapolis’s Improv A Go-Go at the Brave New Workshop). Carl was our point person for performances and I so dig on seeing “blasts from the past.” Rick and I performed at the inaugural Denver Improv Festival, and it’s cool to be back for this, the fourth year of the festival.

A quick note – we’re not a fan of the Dodge Charger. Silly me decided a full-size car at the same price as a mid-size car would be a good idea. Not so much. First of all, it’s sucking gas like a little kid slurping away at the striped straw stuck in his first milkshake – gleefully and as fast as possible. Second, it’s unresponsive. I have to really push on the gas to go, so precision parallel parking is not super fun. Finally, it’s unwieldy. The front is huge, the trunk is a monster, and it’s difficult to determine its footprint when merging. It’s everything that’s the opposite of my new Mazda5 (I’ll have to make my new vehicle a Friday Recommendation soon ’cause I looooove it!).

We aren’t catching the Denver Improv Festival youth showcases tonight, because today we head down to Colorado Springs for the sites and fun with relatives.

-nm