The Time The Sticks Abandoned Me

Sticks Author: Steve

You can ask anybody and they’ll tell you that I’m terrifically heroic.

It comes first probably from my physical gifts. ¬†I basically feel obligated to save people and animals and to do what’s right and aggressive and patriotic for my country. ¬†When you are blessed with a 40-inch waist and hidden cheekbones, you either pose for the NBA logo or you live out your life as a comic book legend.

So it’s the life that chose me really. ¬†I didn’t choose it, but I do what I must since the Spiderman movies taught me about great power coming with great responsibility and movie reboots after broadway debacles.

So this weekend I am heroically going to our nation’s Capital to ensure that the food and booze there is free from toxins and global warming and mistreated livestock. ¬†I’ve got a great way to do this. ¬†I’ve done it before. ¬†I know what I’m doing. ¬†Rest easy America.

The rest of The Sticks, who could maybe shoulder some of the heroic burden every freaking once in a while, are performing here in Connecticut.

Performing!

Prancing around on the stage PRETENDING. ¬†Yucking it up to feel better about themselves while I am off protecting our civil disobedience liberties and lecheries. ¬†By the time I’m on my 21st selfless act of bingeness or maybe brushing up on the latest techniques at the International Spy Museum, they’ll be basking in the glow of their impact on an audience. ¬†Cowards.

Anyway, heroism is lonely work and only the most humble can do it as awesomely as I do. ¬†No need to worry about me. ¬†My wife will be witness to my spectacle and it will reinforce all of the reasons she’s chosen to settle.

If you’re able, go give The Sticks a piece of my patriotic mind. ¬†They’ll be the guest performers at Sea Tea Improv’s long form showcase tonight 3/16. ¬†7:30, Studio At Billings Forge in Hartford right next to Firebox restaurant (one of the best places to eat in the state).

Watch for me on CNN!

Advertisements

Let Me Tell You About Chris M

Sticks Author: Steve

Let me tell you about my friend Chris M. ¬†After that, I’ll tell you why his intro to our performance last Friday at Playhouse On Park in West Hartford mattered.

Chris is a bit older than most of us. ¬†Older enough than me that I can remember my impressions about him from when I was as young as 11 or 12 and he was just hitting his 20s. ¬†Chris was the artistic and intellectual center for most of us and honestly probably still is. ¬†I know that I looked up to him during some crucial youth theater years. ¬†He was a performer. ¬†A magician who even as a young kid worked the craft, a clown, an actor and a director. ¬†He would teach us prat falls and stage direction. ¬†He directed me in my first and most significant role as a 7th grader when I got to be a noir detective with a rubber chicken billy club. ¬†A funny role. ¬†One that I’m sure is still talked about amongst the crowd of parents who got to see it. Remember the kid with the rubber chicken?!!! HE USED IT LIKE NUNCHUKS!¬†

All of us in The Sticks grew up like that, doing theater every summer for 4 weeks, 5 weeks, 10 weeks. ¬†I’d do shows with Chris, now on his staff, and I felt important. ¬†He was making a living directing, doing magic – he is still a name in the better magic circles. ¬†All because he honestly worked the craft, over and over, again and again, not because he needed to, but because he had to. ¬†“You don’t choose your art, it chooses you,” he’d say and I’d feel unartistic because even though I liked to write, it didn’t hold me down and force me to type or think or imagine. ¬†I didn’t do it at all hours of the day and night. ¬†I didn’t force myself to relearn it all after an accident set me back. ¬†He did.

Chris always did these things because it was in him and it would poke out of him until he worked it, shaved it down, smoothed it.

So when Chris started talking about improv, I listened.  Improv was always my favorite part of the theater experience.  I loved the games and had been playing them since his father taught them to me in sixth grade.  We all did.  Over and over.  Change a scene, add a scene.  When Whose Line Is It Anyway came out on the BBC, we felt nerdily superior because WE KNEW ALL OF IT!

But two years ago when he brought it up, Chris was talking about something called The Harold.  I barely knew what it was.  He went off to New York a few times and learned, I read a bunch of books.

So The Sticks, we are all Chris.

Which is why his introduction to our show in West Hartford was for us as much as anything. ¬†It wasn’t an apology about our origins, our amateurishness, our approach.

It was a YAWP!

A burly, barbaric yawp 30 years building in our gullet.

He talked about how audacious it was to imagine teaching this thing to ourselves, but indicated that we had no choice! ¬†There are 12 people in The Sticks and 14 children spread among us. ¬†There are 4 married couples in The Sticks, 2 people dating and two people with husbands/wives not in the group. ¬† We can barely get enough babysitting from the town we live in to cover us to rehearse! ¬†And when we do get out, we bring lots of booze because it’s a night out no matter what is happening.

But we did it and it’s hard and The Harold makes us all its bitches, but we did it. ¬†My favorite part about it is working it over and over, turning each moment around, overanalyzing, trying again. ¬†He’s got us all in the mode of working it to be better.

I’ve known him now a long, long time and had so so so much fun and gin with him. ¬†I wasn’t sure where he was going with that intro, but I got it by the end. ¬†Yawp to you Chris!

Lie To Me: Pathology Of Improv

Sticks Author: Steve

In 1993 I didn’t understand how jobs worked, but I was certain that companies across America were waiting, bald heads plugged into Cerebro, searching for my special DNA tone among the masses. ¬†They needed writers, I was assuming. ¬†Who better than me – ¬†a person published several times in the UConn student newspaper? ¬†Hadn’t they seen my tendency for overwroughtity and my¬†aptitude¬†for word makeruppery? ¬†I¬†prolifically wrote about the swim team AND the cross country team. ¬†I had once written a fluff piece on the football team – FOOTBALL – as they took on New Hampshire in which I publicly admired their license plate motto. ¬†Live Free Or Die. ¬†Live. ¬†Free. ¬†Or. ¬†Die!

Oddly, I was not plucked proactively from the bulging hordes of UConn grads as I made my way to live with my girlfriend (now wife) in Buffalo. ¬†I assumed that when I arrived in Cheektowaga, word would have preceded me and perhaps there wouldn’t be a parade per se, but there would surely be a ringing phone in our apartment with employers treating me like a blue chip basketball prospect. ¬†Come work for us son. ¬†We’ve got great facilities and plenty of coeds. ¬†I was young once too son! ¬†I see a little bit of me in you. ¬†The writing comes easy, right son? ¬†Yeah. ¬†Well, now’s your chance to show it off on the largest stage in town.

Talent I guess isn’t a rare thing and it’s graded on a curve. ¬†Sure I can string some words together, but writing is about writing. ¬†Like all the time writing, never stopping, writing, typing, erasing, editing, writing, writing, writing. ¬†Writers are everywhere and most of them are better than I was. ¬†Am. ¬†Are. ¬†Whatever, screw grammar anyway. ¬†Anyways.

Writers like me it turns out are the trees that fall in the forests with nobody else around. ¬†You write, you get it published or you simply aren’t heard. ¬†So instead of writing for a magazine or a tv show or a greeting card company, I got temp jobs stocking paint in the middle of the night or typing (that’s a lot like writing!) for a lawyer’s office. ¬†I taught acting. ¬†I tried to audition for an improv show. ¬†I slept. ¬†I managed a video store. ¬†I got a job making pancake batter during which I ate a lot of pancakes. ¬†I got a job making pizzas during which I ate a lot of pizza.

And finally, I lied.

In the end, it wasn’t my writing ability or my quasi understanding of when to use semicolons¬†that got me what I needed; it was my ability to make stuff up.

While temping at a mortgage company, I learned of a real opening in the customer service department.  I learned that the hiring manager liked lacrosse.  It took a book, some discussion with actual athletic people, and two weeks to prepare, but by the time I interviewed I had an entire character built around a love of lacrosse and I sold it.  Got the job.

I owe almost everything I have now to that lie.

I’m still not the brightest bulb because putting this down on the internet is probably a great way for people like my past/current employers to learn that I never played right wing or what the hell ever on a club lacrosse team at UConn, but I’m pretty sure I could talk my way out of it if confronted.

I’m not saying that lying is improv, but pretending you are somebody else is a pretty big part of it. ¬†Who doesn’t like trying on the ill-fitting clothes of some character? ¬†I can always be Steve the insurance marketing guy. ¬†That’s every damn day! ¬†Why not be Luke the buff lacrosse psycho? ¬†Or James the shy beekeeper? ¬†Or Jacob the wayward rumspringa?

I’ve matured now and I totally understand that with great power comes great responsibility. ¬†I don’t think I’d ever use improv powers to lie ¬†to secure a job.

But Charles the awkwardly suave electrical engineer?  That dude would lie in a heartbeat.

 

 

Funny Search Terms

Sticks Author: Steve

This barely counts as a blog entry, but this stuff makes me laugh.

Here are some actual, weird search terms people have used to find this little blog:

  1. “She out wrestled me and tickled me silly.” I don’t know the context for this search nor do I know why it pointed to this blog. ¬†But I do know that anybody who uses the phrase “tickled me silly” is likely to get out wrestled under most circumstances.
  2. “How is pig turned into toothpaste.” ¬† ¬†Crest with “pork the other white meat” whitening power.
  3. “Peeing on beer bottle.” ¬†I’m ashamed to say that I find this arousing.
  4. “Ladies group games.” I’m completely unashamed to say that I find this arousing.
  5. “Sexy baba yaga.” Is there any other kind?
  6. “Wander of allah in super outer space.” ¬†This is really just a series of safe words I think.
  7. “How long does improv on ice w/ stix last.” ¬†Just long enough to get to Mr. Roboto.
  8. “Diaper wedgie.”

Improv In The Workplace

Sticks Author: Steve

The other day I was totally making something up at work. ¬†It was probably nothing too major as far as you know, but maybe I was making up what I actually do for a living or maybe it was about my background being felony free or maybe I was just making up that I was listening to what somebody was saying to me. ¬†It’s really not important so stop asking me so many questions about it.

I got to thinking about improv exercises in the corporate environment.  Actually, I first got to thinking about something else, but later (now) I decided to retrofit a whole bunch of details for purposes of having some words to write.

I think it’s fun (sort of) when groups come in and spend a few hours training corporate ghouls (like me… take no offense) that a bit of “yes and” along with zip zap zop and change-a-scene can really loosen you up and make it easier for you to return to your soulless beige cube to concoct new ways to check reddit or fleece America whichever is your vocational mission statement.

Practically speaking, I think that this is a necessary part of the improv theater or group’s model to make some money to fund the things that they really like to do such as Harold nights, Maria Bamford tours, and late-night Caligula re-imaginings. ¬†And a little improv class with your peers might be a tad awkward, but it beats the shit out of sitting through another session on diversity training with 700 of your closest white guy coworkers.

But I think I may have found the greatest incorporation of improv training ever. ¬†I work with an advertising agency in the midwest. ¬†(I am protecting their names because there’s a very good chance that one of the 11 people who reads this blog actually works for a rival or something and that they would use this information against them and destroy their lives without mercy.) ¬†They are required to participate in several kinds of training by their parent company, but they have some freedom in designing it.

So what did they do?

They have hired an improv company to teach them The Harold for a couple of hours each week for one year.

Come on! ¬†How great is that? ¬†At the end of the year, they’ll perform. ¬†And this counts as their corporate training.

They are a clever, smart, funny bunch of creative types and I bet they’ll be outstanding. ¬†In the meantime, I have to log on to take the interactive web module training on Ethical Behavior. ¬†I hear it’s hosted by a funny cartoon pirate and his sassy parrot.

Back to my beige cube.

Cartoon from SavageChickens.Com

Last Rehearsal And Last Supper

Sticks Author: Steve

No seriously. ¬†I just ate dinner and it’s probably my last one. ¬†It was pork that I grilled for my wife and kids and I think I undercooked it. ¬†So, it’s obvious that I’m going to die probably right after rehearsal tonight.

What does this mean?

First, it means that I’ll probably have really bad diarrhea. ¬†I think that’s what happens when you get Porcine Poisoning. ¬†And then it means that my fellow Sticks will have a really tough decision to make because we are supposed to perform for the first time this Friday night.

Here’s how I think the discussion will go:

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Chris M: Okay guys <wipes tears> Steve is… <severe lip tremble> gone.

Allison: Whatever.  Screw that guy anyway!

Rachel: Hey! <drops to knees> No!!! No!!!!!!!! Don’t speak of him that way! <makes imploring gestures to the heavens>

Chris M: <comforts Rachel> It’s okay. ¬†It’s okay.

Kendra: <politely raises hand> Does that mean he’s not going to nitpick us anymore?
Thom: Speaking of nitpicking, what is the deal with people picking their noses in cars while they drive? Do they think we can’t see them?

Everybody: HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA

Chris B: Well, I’ll be the one to say it. ¬†Do we still do our performance on Friday? ¬†Maybe make it in tribute to him?

Jen: <wipes tears that are probably from lauging at Thom’s joke rather than the loss of Steve> I think it’s what he’d want us to do.

Kim: Wait a second.  Wait.  He left me this letter that says to open only upon his death.

Jesse: You mean like you have to open it up on his death, noun?  Like his body?

Marilyn: <sigh>

Kim: <opens letter> ¬†Dear Sticks. ¬†If you’re reading this it must mean that I’m dead. ¬†I bet I went in some super cool way like rescuing milfs or choking at a hot dog eating contest. ¬†Here’s the deal. ¬†Under no circumstances do I want you to perform without me. ¬†Do you understand? ¬†What I want is for all of you to enter a formal period of grieving for 60 days. ¬†For the men, this means no shaving. ¬†For the women, this means extra shaving if you know what I’m saying. ¬†For this 60 days, you aren’t allowed to use the words “moist” (that’s for you Rachel), “huzzah”, “internet”, “I love my children”, or “cornucopia”. ¬† Once the 60 days are up, I want a formal day of remembrance on each Wednesday in perpetuity. ¬†That reminds me, you can’t use the word “perpetuity” either. Okay? ¬†So, no performing without me. ¬†Ever. ¬†You are to tell the public, because they will most certainly inquire, that it just wouldn’t be the same without the heart and soul of the operation. ¬†Anyway, have a great life stinkers!

Everybody: ……….

Jim: I’m with Allison, screw that guy!

Everybody: Huzzah!

——————————————————————————————————————————————————-I’m already feeling a bit nauseated. ¬†I’ll miss you all!If you’re interested, come see the Steveless Sticks perform this Friday October 21 from 7 to 9ish at the Joseph N. Goff house in East Hampton CT. It’s technically an open rehearsal, but you’ll see at least two Harolds and a few games. ¬†Bring something that we can donate to the local food bank. ¬†They are most in need of shampoo, hand soap, toothpaste, and canned fruit. ¬†The performance is free and BYOB. ¬†Parking is weird. ¬†Good luck with that.


Back In The Saddle On A Horse With No Name Because There Weren’t Any Actual Horses

Sticks Author: Steve

Well I guess we were on a break. ¬†It’s not like we planned it and it’s not like it was anybody’s fault except that it probably was. ¬†It was probably Allison’s fault. ¬†That’s what I’m declaring now anyway. ¬†It was Allison’s fault that we just couldn’t get along any longer. ¬†You know it’s just that it’s hard to maintain a relationship these days with 12 people. ¬†Right? ¬†That’s a lot of people with a lot of issues. ¬†Mostly Allison with her issues really. ¬†SO MANY ISSUES with that girl. ¬†God!

Okay. ¬†It wasn’t really all Allison now that I have taken a moment to just calm down a little bit. ¬†I mean it was probably mostly her, but if I can turn the blame attention elsewhere and in a place that is other than me, I guess I can say it was also very much Jesse’s fault what with his good looks and his way with the women in the group. ¬†Especially Allison. ¬†Man! ¬†Can’t you just control yourself Allison? ¬†Really? ¬†Jesse? ¬†He’s married to Marilyn for goodness sake. ¬†Did you ever stop and think about that Allison? ¬†No. ¬†You didn’t. ¬†You didn’t stop and think about that.

Anyway.

We haven’t rehearsed for a good long while. ¬†There was a hurricane named Irene that probably just should have been named Allison. ¬†There was also just summer things like vacations and complicated schedules and illnesses and football season starting and odd temperature fluctuations and community theater performances and all of that stuff that went down with some celebrity that made headlines during this time period and meals to cook and things to eat and lists of excuses to be made. ¬†There was really a lot of stuff that caused us to not rehearse for a while. ¬†But it was just a short while comparatively speaking when you stop and think about the age of the Earth (6,000 years) and the universe (6,000 years and 7 days).

In that time (this time that we haven’t rehearsed, not the time of the Earth or universe) we never really stopped caring about improv. ¬†At least I didn’t. ¬†I don’t really know about the rest of these a holes, but I cared a lot.

Tonight we got back on the horse.  And we did it in style!  We played Zip Zap Zop because you have to do that to be an improv group that is taken seriously.

We also did two Harolds.  They were good.

But the real highlight was a little wrinkle called Mirth In A Box. ¬†Mirth In A Box is a Connecticut company and we are also mirthy in Connecticut so it’s like we are soulmates. ¬†Mirth In A Box provides gift boxes/baskets etc. filled with funny items like Whoppie Cushions, Joy Buzzers and all genres of fake human excresions. ¬†It’s a pretty damn awesome idea and they sent us a box of stuff to play with. ¬†We filmed some of our adventures in our highly-professional studio with our high-quality camera and our many compound adjectives.

Two games. ¬†The first was great fun and involved two people in a suggested scene. ¬†As they performed, we would holler “Mirth In A Box!” and they would have to reach into the box and incorporate whatever silly object they pulled out into the scene. ¬†The second game made use of a sound machine they sent. ¬†Throughout the scene, random sounds would play and the performers would have to react.

In any event here’s some stuff we did.

The first video is our “Mirth In A Box” game with Chris M introducing, Rachel playing the weary NASA worker, and Jesse playing Lou the bartender.

The second video is the “Mirth In A Box” sound game with Chris M introducing, Allison playing the smothered girlfriend and Steve playing the boyfriend.

Many dozens of thanks to the good folks at Mirth In A Box for the props.  Especially the slingshot monkey.  That thing is just outstanding.

More to come from The Sticks. ¬†We’ll be performing the Harold some time in October in our home town of East Hampton, CT. ¬†It will be like Woodstock and Woodstock 2 combined with opening night of Twilight Breaking Dawn.

Open Your Mind To Accept And Build

Sticks Author: Jesse

Going to the Second City performance was a great chance to watch some masters at this craft work. There was one skit that particularly tickled me. It starts off innocently enough with two actors mentioning to each other how whenever you go home, people treat you differently. It‚Äôs an offhand comment said in an ‚Äúof course we all deal with this‚ÄĚ kind of way. When the other actors proceed to interact with the pair, they act as if the first character as is an old black woman (he‚Äôs a younger white man).¬† The absurdity is accepted and built upon, with each new character adding to the reality that when at home, this man is Miss Shirley, the old black woman.

Thinking about this performance, I realized how much I still have to learn about the premise of accept and build. I always thought I accepted and built, but the skit made me realize how much I was missing. I think, had I been confronted with the reality in the Miss Shirley scene, I would have latched onto the idea that ‚Äúpeople treat me differently at home‚ÄĚ.¬† Had I gone up 2nd, I would have followed up the reality that he‚Äôs an old black woman with a different reality – perhaps he is an old Asian man.¬† Before analyzing this, I would have argued that I was accepting the initial reality that people treat him differently at home.¬† If this had happened, an amazing scene would have been missed.

Last rehearsal Chris B and Chris M did a fun scene with secret agents who eventually go rogue in an attempt to take over the world. They carry with them a ridiculous device that they claim gives them more power than anything in the world. The device is silly and we all had a lot of fun with its naughtiness, but I look back and realize that I missed a chance to accept and build. I accepted the reality that the device was powerful, but I did so silently.  The reality which was presented was that this was the most powerful device in the world. I could have built on that. Instead I worked around it, never denying it, but never embracing that fact and making it bigger. I want to spend the next couple of rehearsals focusing on that simple and most basic fact.

Accept and build, is always accept first and silence is not  mute acceptance.

Harold Monologue: Dastardly

Sticks Author: Steve

We took our opening word suggestions for rehearsal tonight from twitter. ¬†The fine folks of Sea Tea Improv (@seateaimprov) gave us “dastardly” and @topherpolack gave us “luxurious”. Not enough video power or filming to show the full Harolds, but they were funny. ¬†Trust me. ¬†How are you going to prove me wrong anyway?

But, here is Marilyn with the “dastardly” monologue at rehearsal.

How To Own Your Own Harold – Group Mind

Sticks Author: Steve

When I was a small child, my Nana would tell me stories.  These were mostly stories she had heard during her days as a gypsy Рhaunting, vaguely European tales with harsh lessons involving witches, children, Baba Yaga and other wise crones with swollen, arthritic joints and plastic rain hats.  She would sit in a shadowy corner, knit with needles made from the bones of large birds of prey, and I would settle deeply into my Super Friends wolf skin duvet while servants tended the embers of a smoky fire.  She would start.

“This one,” she would always cackle. ¬†“This one is for you and for all the scamps like you. ¬†For all you pilferers of window sill pies, you stealers of paw paws, you trespassers of corn fields…”

My wizened, whiskered Nana, like most gypsies, liked copper pots, wooden beads, Woodstock and allegory.  Her tales always had a lesson and it was usually this one:

You think you know what you are talking about, but you don’t know what you are talking about and we’re all getting really sick of you and your know-it-all bullshit and we want to challenge you, you dicky little bastard and aren’t there like a million ways to do The Harold anyway and let’s do that now. ¬†God!

Admittedly, I don’t actually have a gypsy Nana. ¬†And admittedlier, nobody thinks I’m dicky. ¬†Right?

Right?

This is the normal way groups learn to do stuff together – with different approaches and opinions.

Have I mentioned that we’re trying to teach ourselves this thing called The Harold? ¬†Yes? ¬†Well, it’s true. ¬†We are all friends and have grown up together, married one another, and performed with each other for years, years, years. ¬†We spend time together. ¬†We vacation together. ¬†We drink together. ¬†We share clothes. ¬†We love each other. ¬†Learning to do this improv thing was a choice we all made together after Chris M suggested it. ¬†He’s our leader, has the most experience and I’m the guy who thinks he knows the rules to put in place because I read Truth In Comedy. ¬†Twice!

We are doing really well. ¬†Really well. ¬†Our first rehearsal for The Harold was in September 2010. ¬†We can do Harolds now. ¬†Real Harolds. ¬†And now it’s time to push on some of the rules that have been put in place to try and get better. ¬†The whole group is feeling it and driving it now.

Our first change? ¬†Group games. ¬†We can do them, but it’s just one of those things that I think seasoned improv people understand when they are watching it. ¬†But I’ve been to a few Harolds now with noobies and they don’t understand what the hell is going on with that. ¬†So… we’re pulling an idea from Truth In Comedy and going with mini monologues instead. ¬†We prefer opening with a monologist and it’s a group strength. ¬†Last week we went with an opening monologist and then 2 or 3 mini monologues in place of the group game.

Worked great. ¬†We’ll stick with it for now.

So what next? ¬†This group now knows what they’re doing and they want to try and do things now in different ways. ¬†Do we need so many rules around who the main characters are and how many times that actor can be a main character across the beats? ¬†Do we need to stick draconianly to “he/she who initiates becomes a main character”? ¬†Should we always try and move blazingly fast? ¬†All rules I introduced to (theoretically) ensure clarity, but do we need them any longer?

“Perhaps. ¬†Perhaps not,” my Nana would say. ¬†“But let the group decide Mr. Smartypants or Baba Yaga will eat you.”

%d bloggers like this: