Posts Tagged ‘The Story’

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…



Richard Monette: Guts + Heart = Artist

09.11.2008 1 comment

I’d never heard of Richard Monette before last night’s CBC Radio program As It Happens detailed his passing away on Tuesday evening. But like hearing about the life of any great person, especially after their death, I wish I’d known of him sooner. He was a Canadian actor and director and served as the artistic director of the Stratford Festival Theatre for fourteen years where he favored cultivating local and regional talent over peppering his productions with thespian ringers from England. He was controversial and brilliant in that combined way which marks a person who cares about the craft of their art. But there’s one particular moment in his life that, in the estimation of his former colleague Mary Henry, “crucial, pivotal” turning point for Canadian theater.

Listen to this story. It’s a mere twelve minutes long and if you insist on skipping to the particular moment I’m writing about, it happens just before the halfway mark of the podcast. I think you’ll know it when you hear it…

That’s heart, people. Not only is that heart, it takes guts to put it all on the line and speak up for what one is passionate about, ignoring any possible political or employment ramifications. That’s an artist. I’m sure if I was on the opposite side of Monette’s argument I might have different feelings but I’m not on the opposite side. I like what he’s saying and I respect him for standing up. I don’t think I could do what he did, I really don’t (Could you? Have you?). Maybe that’s one way respect is born – when someone does something you don’t have the guts or heart to do yourself.

Do you know what I’m talking about? We all have different ways of quantifying abstract terms like ‘guts’ and ‘heart’ (I suppose another way to say ‘heart’ is ‘passion’ or ‘desire,’ and if one wished to they could replace ‘guts’ with other, lower-placed organs of the male body) but I think we can be united in deciding what these terms mean when we see such a genuine example of it. If you listen to the podcast, I’m sure you’ll agree Monette should be remembered for a lot more than just his heartfelt outburst, but for me hearing that was the tipping point. It was the profound moment in that particular man’s life that made me stand up and take notice of the kind of artist I might aspire to be.

By the way, As It Happens goes on the air after The Story with Dick Gordon, at least it does on Minnesota Public Radio. If you want more brilliant radio for your ears, brains, and perhaps even your heart and guts to enjoy, The Story has captured my attention like no other radio program. But that’s for another post…

Richard Monette, Artist (1944-2008)


Storyteller: Kevin Kling.

I’m a big fan on Minnesota Public Radio. It’s been a boon during my days commuting back and forth from Mankato for grad school (when I’m not in the middle of a good audiobook, that is), as well as quick trips across town. In particular, I’m a fan of spending my evenings with The Story with Dick Gordon, but that’s a program to praise on a separate post.

Last Monday, during their fall membership drive, MPR pulled out some of their top programming and Midday featured a reading by storyteller Kevin Kling. MPR has the program I heard available for download; check out Kling’s first three stories here and another three stories here (both are streaming Real Audio links). The stories are funny and interesting, plus some feature Minnesota-centricity, which I’m a sucker for (a story involving his brother’s bachelor party during a Minnesota Twins game at the Metrodome is a laugh-out-loud riot. Behind the content, however, making these stories worth knowing and passing along, is Kling’s storytelling ability.

Storytelling is all about selling it – confidence, confidence, confidence. A storyteller who exudes confidence can mess up royally and his audience will still be with him because they know the storyteller is apt to get back on track without much effort. Kling’s delivery isn’t perfect. He flubs words here and there, he stops himself to add bits to the stories, and he speaks with the speed of a man sentenced to death. But Kling clearly has passion for his material, for the stories he’s culminated over his lifetime and written down for the world, and he sells it. He has defined passion for telling stories with a delivery that’s every bit as compassionate as their content. Kling’s storytelling comes from a place of truth, and that’s what makes his stories so gripping, tension-filled, and when they come to a close, cathartic. Listen and consider how you can apply his passion for storytelling to your own performance or when reading your writing out loud.

Kling’s new book, The Dog Says How, is out now. Think the eccentric tales of David Sedaris meets the homespun yarns of Garrison Keillor. I’ll be picking up a copy soon and if you’re not sure where to put your book money nowadays, you could do much worse than Kevin Kling.


[tags]Kevin Kling, Minnesota Public Radio, storytelling, selling it[/tags]