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

I’m writing this post about Thursday on Friday, hence references to “last night” and such, even though this is “Day 1, Part II.” Just go with it. 🙂

Google Maps was absolutely right, my trip took just over seven hours, including a bit more that’s all my fault. I got a late start between packing and getting the apartment ready for the weekend so I was rewarded with Twin Cities rush hour to kick off the trip. I listen to audiobooks on my road trips and this trip had me listening to “Birth of the Bomb” from NPR’s The Story and I’m halfway through From a Buick 8 by Stephen King. I listened to this book on audio a few years ago and I’m remembering why I enjoy it so much. King touches on writing this just a bit in On Writing, by the way.

I missed the 9:00pm White Jazz show (bummer, I wanted to see that one) and I pulled in to town just in time for the 10:30pm Messing with a Friend show. Susan Messing was the first teacher I had at my first CIF outing back in 2001 and she was amazing. Got me to be physical in my improv, relax and have fun. She paired herself up with her longtime collaborator, Mick Napier, who I’ve also taken some tremendous CIF workshops from back in the day. I want to say I’ve seen them perform together before, but I can’t remember. What really matters is last night’s show.

Two improvisers having fun. That’s what it boils down to. Susan and Mick showed their audience what a show can be like when the only concern to the performers is to have fun together. The show had a lot of audience interaction, with Susan and Mick coming out into the audience several times. A woman felt Susan’s “pregnant” belly during one scene, and Susan took Minneapolis improviser Aric McKeown’s gum from his mouth (Aric was in the audience and got a nice shout-out from CIF Producer Mark Sutton for The Moustache Rangers who appear at the Annoyance at midnight on Saturday). A slew of scenes depicted the most dysfunctional marriages in the world and at one point the audience were labeled the worst middle school class in the world as teacher Susan berated us for a good ten minutes. I hope her voice holds out for the rest of the festival. Line of the night: “If I had a nickel for every time I was told, ‘Take the lobster bib…'”

The party at the Annoyance was okay, but I was too tired to get involved. Spoke with Joe Bill for a while and, always the diplomat, he introduced me to a few improvisers. I caught a few minutes of the new TJ Jagodowski & Dave Pasquesi improvised documentary, Trust Us, This Is All Made Up in the theater – fun stuff, but again I think I was too tired to appreciate it. Readers in the Twin Cities should go see it at the St. Anthony Main this weekend, however. The TJ & Dave Show is some of the best improv I’ve ever seen (they take no suggestion; the title of the documentary is traditionally the last thing they say before diving into an improv set) and if you can’t see them in-person in Chicago, the documentary may be the next best thing (I rank the film high above their Sonic commercials). When my host for the weekend, Paul, showed up, I was more than ready to leave the party and make my way to a fold-out couch.

A note on parking in Chicago: I love the challenge. Last time I drove to CIF (2005), I had a lot of luck with parking for venues and parties but not-so-much with the friend’s place where I was crashing. One night, I drove around for over an hour looking for a parking space in the neighborhood. That maybe wouldn’t have been so bad if it wasn’t for the particular hour spent trying to park falling between 2:00am-3:00am. This year, I think it will be a mixed bag, too, though luck has been good so far. I found a spot only one block from the Annoyance for the show. Heading up to Evanston, Paul and I parked a few blocks from his and Susie’s apartment building (a beautiful old brick building that tastes of boarding house even before you’re told it is a former abbey). Will my luck hold out? Stay tuned…

-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

I’m performing in the Chicago Improv Festival.

In case I have blog readers in the Chicago area (Do I have blog readers in the Chicago area? Leave a comment and let me know!), you can catch my solo musical improv showcase, The Uncle Ukulele Show this weekend at the 12th Annual Chicago Improv Festival (CIF).

Catch me on Saturday, April 18 at 10:30pm at the Chemically Imbalanced Comedy Theatre (here’s a map pour vous) for a paltry $15. Space Robbers (Chicago, IL) and Rooster (Bellingham, WA) are also on the bill. You can purchase tickets here. Purchase ten, if you like.

I attended CIF as a student in 2001-2003 and performed there with Rick in 2004. I took a break for a few years due to work obligations and I’m excited to go back (and to perform, no less, which definitely has me more than a little excited). I’ve been fortunate enough to have performed at eight improv festivals, not counting doubles, and while I’ve been to other festivals that are the first to come to mind when I think great producing (Milwaukee, Denver), a local improv scene (Toronto, Gainesville, Santa Cruz), or an amazing time overall (Miami, San Francisco), Chicago is the festival I think of first when I think of sitting back and watching tremendous shows that sometimes feature famous talent. Better get my rear in gear, though, because I drive out early Thursday morning and I still need to pick which shows I’m attending and order tickets.

My old friend, Paul, and his lovely wife, Suzie, have offered up their spare bedroom in Evanston. That means I’ll be driving into the city for a few days and that’s okay; I’ll take traffic over ridiculous hotel expense any day. Paul and I did improv together in Minneapolis before we both moved to Denver and Cheyenne, respectively, and performed as the duo, The 80’s Ninjas, and it will be nice to see him and Suzie again. I also hope to see a few friends from my favorite improv discussion boards, YESand.com, and perhaps meet a celebrity or three. I’m signed up for a workshop/lecture on directing sketch and improv by Mick Napier and am thinking about taking another workshop.

More details to come. Pending internet access, I hope to blog about my experience at CIF. Stay tuned, dear reader.

-nm

Your Friday Recommendation #6.

If you’re passionate about improv, you likely seek out as much information as you can about it. There is a decent-sized handful of improv books out there, and half of them are halfway decent, but one to put toward the top of your reading list is Improvise by Mick Napier.

The intro-level improv class I’m teaching at the Brave New Workshop took most of our rehearsal time to discuss this book last night. They talked about ideas they liked (listening, taking care of yourself, etc.) and ideas that didn’t quite click for them (thermodynamics), and overall walked away more excited about improv than ever, which should be the goal of any good improv craft book. At least two students commented on how something Napier posits pinpoints their exact improvement issues, and it was cool for them to read about them.

Napier talks a lot about the “rules” of improv, and how in many ways, improv doesn’t need them to succeed. On many levels, I agree, thought I think the “rules” have been misinterpreted and misconstrued over the years to become the “rules” they are now. For example, asking questions – I think it’s perfectly acceptable for characters to ask questions in scenes. However, if the questions that come out in scenes are coming from the actor, because they truly have no idea what is going on, that’s the actor coming from a place of fear and they need to get over it. Yet I hear people say not to ask questions in a scene. I propose one can, so long as the question comes from the character, not the actor. To me, the “rules” are there for a reason, and they can work quite well for many people. Also, I wonder about improvisers who never learn the rules whatsoever and their success rate. For example, the book concentrates on re-teaching those who have learned the rules already, which to me says despite any burdens the rules may cause, they’re still out there for everyone to try.

Napier will be the first to avoid terms like “guru,” but he truly is one of the smartest improv coaches today. As one lucky enough to take a few master classes with the man, I witnessed him sense hundreds of young improviser’s “deal” after witnessing just one scene – and when it came to me, he was on the nose every time. Track down his classes and failing that, read the book. Then re-read it.

-nm