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Your Friday Recommendation #40

I’m excited that my fortieth Friday recommendation is for the third-annual Twin Cities Improv Festial on Thursday, June 25 – Sunday, June 28 at the Brave New Workshop (2605 Hennepin Ave. South, Minneapolis, MN).

June 25-28, 2009 @ The Brave New Workshop

June 25-28, 2009 @ The Brave New Workshop in Minneapolis

Whether you’re already a fan of improv or you haven’t ever seen any live, this is the festival for you. Many of the most-reputable ensembles and performers from the Twin Cities are pairing up with amazing out-of-town guest performers to present thirteen shows of high-quality comedy. Each show features one local act and one national act to ensure the audience sees something they know and enjoy as well as a new treat. And at only ten bucks per show plus multi-show discount passes, it’s one of the more affordable improv festivals out there.

So who’s up this year? Plenty. There’s a slew of ensembles (Adorable, Batterymouth, Bearded Men, Beatbox, The Cosby Sweaters, Darby Lane, Dirty Water, Fingergun, Five Man Job, Girls Girls Girls, HUGE, Improvabilities, Splendid Things, Tarantino), several duos (After the Party, Ferrari McSpeedy, Iron Cobra, Jokyr & Jesster, Muse, Mustache Rangers, Rampleseed, Sanke and Bunny), solo acts (Lounge-A-Saurus Rex, Drum Machine), and the three main improv theaters in the Twin Cities are represented, too (Brave New Workshop, ComedySportz, and Stevie Ray’s). You can check out the TCIF website for full information on all of the acts, too.

I’ve seen most of the local acts and many of the out-of-town acts thanks to my own national improv festival appearances. Many local improv fans have their own local favorites already, so if I were to make specific recommendations of out-of-town acts I enjoy, I’d say Bearded Men and Dirty Water know how to have tremendous fun while they’re onstage and it’s infectious for their audiences. Beatbox is something unique to see and takes improv to a new place with its hip-hop and DJ-style editing and scenework techniques. In terms of flat-out-funny, go see Jokyr and Jesster. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Joe and Jesse for several years, taking classes together in Chicago and performing together as an ensemble at the Miami Improv Festival, these guys are great teachers, amazing performers, and the kind of guys you want to hang out with at the party after the show.

I plan to be in and out all weekend, mixing up my festival attendance with other outside obligations. I hope to see you there!

-nm

Your Friday Recommendation #37

I’m involved in three shows this weekend and you’re invited.

Saturday, June 6 – “The Weekly: Yesterday’s News Today” plays at the Bryant-Lake Bowl in Minneapolis at 7:00pm. Come see sketch comedy about local current events.

Sunday, June 7 – “Commentary” appears in Improv A Go-Go at the Brave New Workshop in Minneapolis at 8:00pm. Come see my new improv duo with Levi Weinhagen (Ministry of Cultural Warfare) as we provide an improvised director’s commentary on an audience-selected DVD.

Monday, June 8 – “The Uncle Ukulele Show” appears in the Monday Night Comedy Show at The Beat Coffeehouse in Minneapolis at 8:00pm. Come watch my solo musical improv show, plus I’ll be reading a page from the excellent novel, Robocop II.

Hope to see you there,

-nm

Chicago Improv Festival – My Trip, Day 1 (Part I)

I’m heading out on the road in a few minutes. I packed myself a lunch, have my gear all packed in Mazie (my Mazda5), laundry mostly done and the kitchen clean in our apartment, and my itinerary, ticket receipts, and driving directions printed out. Google Maps tells me I’ll be there in just over seven hours or so, and we’ll see how well that estimate works in the real world. In the meantime, here’s my tentative evening schedule for shows at the Chicago Improv Festival. I hope to make as many of the shows as possible, and I hope you only use this schedule for the purposes of good (i.e. come to my show) instead of evil (i.e. please don’t stalk me, it’s rude).

Thursday:
9:00pm – White Jazz @ Annoyance
10:30pm – Messing with a Friend (Susan Messing & Mick Napier) @ Annoyance

Friday:
7:00pm – Impro Japan and The Wilhelm @ The Playground
9:00pm – Attilla and Sybil @ The Playground
10:30pm – Oui Be Negroes and Boom Chicago @ The Lakeshore Theatre

Saturday:
7:30pm – Johnny Lunchpail, Catnip, and 313 @ The Lakeshore Theatre
10:30pm – My show – The Uncle Ukulele Show (with Space Robbers and Rooster) @ Chemically Imbalanced Comedy Theatre

I’m pretty sure I’m going to drive all day and arrive just in time for the shows tonight and then go to bed, so expect an update tomorrow.

-nm

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

Denver Improv Festival – My Trip, Day 1

In an hour, Chad, a cool dude from the Ron Book Team, is picking up Kelly and me for a trip to the airport. We’re heading to the Denver Improv Festival and plan to spend some time relaxing in vacation mode and to see some family. I’m excited to get a little rest mid-semester and do some performing, which I really haven’t done since my summer tour. It’s also nice Kelly could get time away to be my travel companion and roadie; she’s accompanied me to all of my improv festival performances of The Uncle Ukulele Show except for Milwaukee, and while Milwaukee was a lot of fun, I’ve found it’s a lot more fun to have someone her come with me. My show is a solo show, and I don’t wanna be lonely!

I’ve been practicing some new pieces for my show and we’ll have to see which of them / how many are ready. I’ve also been prepping curriculum for an improv workshop I’m teaching this Saturday morning; hopefully we have a decent number for enrollment.

I’ll keep you updated, dear reader.

-nm

I’m performing and teaching at the Denver Improv Festival

I received word a few days ago from the producers of the Denver Improv Festival (DIF) that I’ve been invited to perform my solo improv showcase, The Uncle Ukulele Show, and teach a youth-oriented improv workshop in the mile-high city this November. This marks my ninth improv festival appearance overall, my fifth performing The Uncle Ukulele Show, and my second appearance at DIF.

For The Uncle Ukulele Show, I’ve been working on a few new song structures and have challenged myself to premiere at least one of them at the festival. After this summer’s tour performing at SFIF, SCIF, and MSIF, I’ve found I have an hour’s worth of structures and games to draw from, and I like the prospect of cultivating even more. This is important to me as a performer, as getting stagnant isn’t something I’m interested in. That said, I’m hoping to find some ensemble improv work soon, too, as one can only do the solo thing so long. In the meantime, I’ll keep practicing and creating at home on the uke.

As for the youth workshop, I have some original and some borrowed exercises which I think can help performers get to the focus of a scene as soon as possible without compromising patience. This way, performers can make what the scene’s about upfront and prominent rather than take the first few minutes trying to figure out what’s happening. I’ll probably post more about the workshop soon, and maybe even try out a few things over the next few weeks with the youth performance team I’m coaching at the Brave New Workshop these days (their first FREE show is on November 2 at 4:00pm, dear reader).

My plan right now is to blog during the entire Denver Improv Festival, November 6-8. Stay tuned.

-nm

Why I Haven’t Been Blogging #2: Improv Festivals

I’ve been fortunate enough to perform at my sixth, seventh, and eight improv festivals this summer: I co-headlined the San Francisco Improv Festival over July 24-26, co-headlined at the Santa Cruz Improv Festival on July 27, and recently wrapped up a great show at the Milwaukee Improv Festival on August 9. Keen-eyed readers will notice I performed at two festivals on one trip. That is officially a tour. I am a touring artist, folks.

“The Uncle Ukulele Show” is a solo musical improv show which means when it comes to rehearsal this can be both a blessing and a curse. Getting an ensemble together to rehearse can be difficult due to people’s individual schedules and commitment levels. But if you’re a regular reader of this blog you know how time management is one of my greatest struggles, and for me, getting oneself to rehearse can be an even greater challenge. Circumstances for all three of these festivals demanded I step up and practice hard and consistently.

For starters, the San Francisco Improv Festival (SFIF) and Santa Cruz Improv Festival (SCIF) both asked me to perform forty-five minute shows. This was the first time I was asked to perform a solo improv show over twenty minutes and doubling my performance time was a daunting task. Both shows also listed me as headliner as opposed to simply part of the show and this made me want to stand and deliver. As for the Milwaukee Sketch & Improv Festival (MKIF), I’m their first Minnesota performer and one of the few solo improv shows in their three-year history and it was important to me to make my appearance there a strong show.

In short, that meant I had to put aside a few projects (including this blog) and really focused on practice, practice, practice.

My show is broken up into a series of rotating segments all linked together by the character. That means I can pick and choose which song genres to try, which storytelling opportunities to use, etc. For SFIF and SCIF I ended up using most of my repertoire and trying some new stuff, too. Working up a longer list of segments than I’m used to delivering in a single show meant giving them all more attention while hopefully not spreading myself too thin. To end the suspense, all of the California shows went really well and I can say without hesitation the show I did at MSIF was the best solo show I’ve ever done.

So what does all of this mean to me? I feel like I have tangible evidence of my creative growth as an improviser, performer, and producer. Improviser, in that I really tried to play off the top of my intelligence and do something great. Performer, as I took my characterization to new heights. Producer, in that I really stepped up the content of my show and made my focus giving the audience a great show. The lesson here for successful creativity is that when one puts in the work, man can it really pay off.

This post is an overview of my preparation and performance. I owe all three of these festivals a separate blog post, and I hope to get those up soon. In the meantime, let’s get onto some photos…

All photos are credited to the delightful, helpful, amazing Clay Robeson, save the last which is credited to my wife, Kelly Melcher. Click the pick for a bigger, higher-resolution photo.

That's me on stage with the stellar "M" inspired San Francisco Improv Festival banners behind me. SFIF is officially one of my favorite improv festivals.

That's me on stage in front of the "M" inspired San Francisco Improv Festival banners.This is officially one of my favorite improv festivals.

Yes, I do puppet shows. I'm also available for birthdays and bar mitzvahs.

Yes, I do puppet shows. I'm also available for birthdays and bar mitzvahs.

I'm one of those performers who enjoys interacting with the audience as much as possible, even to the point of jumping off stage and getting out into the seating area. Seriously, it was a fun crowd!

I'm one of those performers who enjoys interacting with the audience as much as possible, even to the point of jumping off stage and getting out into the seating area. This shot is from the second night of SFIF and though it was a small house, it was definitely a fun crowd.

This young woman was a joy to have on stage. I asked her to join me for a sing-a-long and taught her a chord on a second ukulele. Not only did she do well (and impress her boyfriend), she and I talked about her picking up a uke and learning how to play.

From the first night of SFIF. This young woman was a joy to have on stage. I asked her to join me for a sing-a-long and taught her a chord on a second ukulele. Not only did she do well (and impress her boyfriend), she and I talked about her deciding she wants to learn how to play a ukulele now. Spread the uke love!

You'll notice my new Lanikai S-TEQ electric tenor ukulele in these shots. I bought it... um... the week of the wedding, much to my bride's chagrin... I did, however, nab it on a great deal from Rob at The Ukulele Shop. I'll write up a review soon.

You'll notice my new Lanikai S-TEQ electric tenor ukulele in these shot. Much to my wife's chagrin, I decided the week of our wedding was the perfect time to shell out some green for a new ukulele... I nabbed it at a low price from Rob at The Ukulele Shop. Expect a review soon.

This young woman seemed shy at first as she came on stage during the second night of SFIF. She got so into the sing-a-long that at one point we were leaning on each other, back to back, playing and singing. She went back into shy mode when the crowd cheered for her at the end of the song.

This young woman seemed shy at first as she came on stage during the second night of SFIF. But wow did she surprise me when she got so into the sing-a-long to the point that we were leaning on each other, back to back, playing and singing together. If you ask me, she went back into shy mode when the crowd cheered for her at the end of the song.

Kelly took this great shot of me ready to rock out at SCIF. One of my favorite parts of the show is when I hook my ukulele up to an amp because I can hear individuals in the crowd whisper things like, "No way!" People just don't expect an electrified uke and that's what makes rockin' out in the show so much fun.

Kelly took this great shot of me ready to rock out at SCIF. One of my favorite parts of the show is when I hook my ukulele up to an amp because I can hear people in the crowd whisper, "No way!" People don't expect an electrified uke and it makes rockin' out in the show so fun.

Stay creative, people.

-nm