The show must go on

If I am blogging during this self-imposed blogging hiatus, am I taking a hiatus from my hiatus?

Despite the tumultuous life I’ve been living this month (what, me exaggerate? Never) I am still doing improv. I missed class due to a work conference and another class had to be rescheduled due to snow, but the whole thing wraps up this weekend with our promised work shop with a woman from Chicago’s Annoyance theatre.

Also, between classes, I have taken a couple evenings to explore the local improv scene in Columbus. One Tuesday night I went to The Thirsty Ear and saw four different troupes, all of whom perform “game” style improv, most notably popularized by “Whose Line Is It Anyway.” I mentioned doing Improv Night at my old college house and failing spectacularly; now I know why. Game improv and two person scenes are completely different animals. You tell me to speak only in song titles and if I don’t I lose, I will plummet like a rock. However, as it turns out, if you tell me I can get on stage and say the first thing that pops in my head, and that there’s not necessarily a right or wrong answer, well, I might just find words. I might do better at games now that I have some experience under my belt, but I am pretty sure I am nowhere near the league of the talent I saw that night on stage. The troupes I saw were Fake Bacon, Parlor Tricks, the Shimmy Shake Project and one guest troupe whose name I can’t find. Oh, and you guys, I am pretty sure I saw the next Seth Rogen up there. No joke.

Not only does my class wrap up this weekend, but starting tomorrow, the Comedy Columbus Festival kicks off for the next three days. See the full schedule here. This isn’t just improv (although you’ll see a lot of it); this is the local stand up scene, which I am extremely excited to see for myself, and also there’s three work shops on Saturday that sound amazing. Unfortunately two of them take place during the time I’ll be with my improv class, but the one I am most interested in is at ten that morning: A work shop on comedy sketch writing, led by a writer for the Shadowbox. I just read about this today and I seriously have never been so excited about waking up that early on a Saturday before.

I got my laptop back last month. Two weeks ago it died again. Randomly, last night, when I half heartedly tried to turn it on, it worked. So I was able to save the few pages of my screenplay I started. And if I save often enough I may be able to add to those pages before it dies suddenly once more, as it seems prone to do. If the festival wasn’t starting tomorrow after I visit my brother and sister-in-law, I’d be heading to my coffee shop to force some creativity, but alas. Maybe I’ll be feeling inspired Saturday after my writing work shop and class.

So you may be wondering why I am being so weird. I don’t blame you. The short version of the story is this: I no longer live with, or date, my live-in boyfriend. He didn’t do anything wrong. We just are not each other’s “the one,” like we thought we were in college, when we were different people. I am feeling pretty sad, and he probably is, too, but we are going to come out of this stronger. Or at least I have to keep telling myself that or I will freaking lose it. Thanks for your calls and general reachings out. I am staying with family right now, who have been extremely understanding and supportive. There are no kinder, more generous people than my aunt and uncle. I don’t know what I would be doing right now if not for them.

And so, please stay tuned, because this weekend is going to be legen– wait for it — dary.*

*So, Eileen got me watching the first couple seasons of “How I Met Your Mother” this month. Hilarious!

Mid week catching up

There’s a couple reasons I’m not devoting a whole, long post to my third improv class. First, it wasn’t as good as the previous two; also, it’s Magazine Week and I am spread thin both at work and at home.

Bill was out of town, so we had a sub. It was another guy from the troupe, and God love him, he was a nice guy, but the odds were against him Saturday. First of all, he brought his younger brother along for support. The two of them were worse than an old married couple; they “playfully” bossed each other around and bickered in front of the class until it reached such a heated point that the sub took his brother aside to talk to him privately. We waited in silence until he came back. The brother was not seen again for the rest of the afternoon.

Also, the class managed to talk him out of reviewing Laban Movement from the last class because no one liked it. I didn’t much like it either, so I am not complaining. But it was very reminiscent of high school, when we would try to convince substitute teachers to let us have a day off and promise not to tell.

We basically didn’t learn any new material, but instead did a series of two person scenes and some word association warm up games. This would have been fine, except it was just an off day. I was off. Other people were off. I froze on stage for the first time because I was in a scene about basketball involving two women who quickly exhausted all their knowledge of basketball and related references. And, for some reason, maybe because we all knew Bill wouldn’t be there, at least four people didn’t come to class that day. I hope they come back, because now I am afraid every week will suck in their absence.

In other news, I was very bad and only went to the gym once last week. Sorry friends – I like meeting up with you on week nights and all, but you’re really cutting in to my selfish work out time. Just kidding. It was great to see so many people last week. I went to the gym last night and did an hour of cardio between the treadmill and the elliptical. This was promptly followed by eating a burrito bowl, since Brandon still had money on a Chipotle gift card. It was a little counter productive, but today’s looking up.

Second week of improv class

Day two of improv went well. It was much less scary to get up on stage, and I felt like I got a chance to talk to people a little more, since we took a couple breaks this time. Also, we added three new people. We’ll call them Man 5 and Woman 4 and 5. One of the women who started is in a wheelchair, which really changed a few things. A ramp wasn’t available, so scenes with her weren’t performed on stage. I’m not sure how old she is, but she said she is preparing to get in to law school soon. She said her parents always encouraged her to do what she wanted despite her disability, and she was grateful to them for that. I don’t really consider my hearing loss a disability and I think that’s because my parents didn’t see it that way, either. It made all the difference.

We started out talking about movement on stage. Bill gave us a handout on Laban Movement, which is kind of a way to show emotion through body language. For example, if someone skips up to you in a light, friendly way, that’s a lot different from someone making an angry, storming bee line in your direction. We practiced this on stage, two at a time. We each performed an action in two different ways. My partner, Man 2, washed his car while I iced a cake. I don’t really know the two different ways he washed his car because I was too busy with my own movement (gotta work on that whole awareness thing). The first time, I looked really giddy, icing a cake for Man 2 and presenting it (with no dialogue) to him, pestering him until he tried it. The second time, I angrily yanked the cake from the oven, stabbed it with a knife covered in icing and stalked over to him and dumped the cake on his head.

We did a couple more two person scenes. In the first, Man 1 and I were grade school kids waiting for the bus, and in the second, I was a dame and Man 5 was a detective and we were in a film noir.

“I need your help,” I said breathily.

“And I need you to sit down,” he said. I complied in a bubbleheaded kind of way.

Our scene went on as he interrogated me comically about a man I was allegedly having an affair with, whom I claimed to have never met. Mid-questioning, he interrupted one of my answers to offer me a drink.

“On the rocks?” he asked.

“Yes, please,” I said.

“Under the rocks, or ON TOP?” he asked pointedly.

“Always on top” I winked, playing along.

“Is that how _______ liked his drink?” he asked.

“I keep telling you, I’ve never met the man,” I replied.

“So you’re not the one who killed him last night?” he demanded.

“He’s DEAD?” I gasped.

End scene. Bill seemed impressed with that one. Man 5 is an actual actor, so that probably helped make us look good. The school bus stop one was fun too, and I thought more about my movement and tried to act more kid-like as a result. Man 1 did too, and he was pretty funny in it.

One of the last exercises we did was where we paired up and we were given two conflicting emotions to act out. This was a demonstration of Playback Theatre, which performs dramatic improv and is supposed to be therapeutic. Improv in general can be therapeutic, but it is not therapy, Bill said.

Improv 101

I went to my first improv class Saturday. As I walked over to the studio, absurdly enough I found myself trying to think of funny situations I could create if it came down to it, and what funny things I could say if they actually did arise. Then I realized I was mentally trying to prepare for an improv class. The irony. That’s when I got really freaked out, as I saw there was literally nothing I could do to get ready for what I’d gotten myself into. I wish I had pictures to post here.

There were eight of us, and our teacher, Bill. At first we stood around awkwardly, and then I sat down at a table with another woman and a guy. I asked how they’d gotten interested in taking the class. I really don’t want to use names here, so consider these classmates Woman 1 through 3 and Man 1 through 4. Woman 1 said she knew a guy in the troupe, See You Thursday, and he’d talked her into trying it out. Man 1 said he was taking the class as part of a New Year’s Resolution to try new and terrifying things. I could relate.

As the class started, we made our introductions. The class varies in age; the men all seem young, or at least around my age, but the three women are likely middle aged. It sounded like only two of them had previous improv experience, so I felt better about that. When it was my turn I told the group I was more used to being behind the camera since I am an amateur filmmaker in my free tie, but that lately I’ve become more and more interested in improv and stand up comedy. Our teacher told us briefly about the history of improv, and about how the three big schools in Chicago, Second City, The Annoyance and iO came to be. He also told us a bit about the philosophies of improv the different schools hold, and the philosophy we would be learning for our purposes. Then, before we knew it, we were being called on stage in pairs to act out our very first two-person scenes.

My partner and I went last and I seriously had no idea how I was going to react. Our teacher gave us a location and a relationship: We were a minister and a member of the congregation, and we were at a county fair. We were not specifically told which was which character, but my acting partner decided this as the scene started and he walked up to me and said “Hey, pastor, how are you doing?”

That’s probably not how I would have gone with things, but once it was said and out there, that was where we went with it. If I were to say in response, “No no, YOU are the minister,” that would have left my partner in a lurch, on top of killing the scene. Doing something like that is called a denial, and it must be avoided. Even if you walk out on stage hunched over like an old person and your partner doesn’t notice and refers to you as her grandson, that’s too bad, she’s got a really old grandson for the rest of the scene. This is called, in Bill’s words, “holding onto your shit.”

And so I said to Man 1, “I am well, my child, God has blessed me very much,” or something like that. I rambled on long enough for Man 1 to come up with something else to say to guide our conversation and our scene. (This may or may not be a good thing. I discovered Saturday that my reaction to being on stage without memorized lines is to NOT SHUT UP. I didn’t expect that at all.) The scene went on with Man 1 consulting me about his dream of one day becoming a magician. I told him God wouldn’t approve of using such dark arts and, since we were supposed to be at a fair, I suggested he become a carnie instead. Bill ended the scene there, thank God.

He had us do another two person scene, and in the next one I was paired with Man 2 and we were supposed to be Siamese twins in a snuff film (Man 3 had some dark suggestions to make). Had I been the one to start the scene I would have pretended my twin was trying to kill me, but since he started it, he indicated we were both being chased by a killer. I learned an important lesson in this one; it got really repetitive as we both, arms linked, tried to run away from (on a very small stage) an imaginary killer. We shifted the scene slightly to making jokes about how, despite being attached at the hip, we never talk anymore. We should have continued down this direction, but because I thought we were supposed to keep the scene about running from our killer, I interrupted my partner and pretended to spot our killer and made us start running again. After the scene ended, I learned that you should go where the scene takes you. Just because you start a scene based on an audience suggestion doesn’t mean it is strictly limited to those parameters. If it did, it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting. Instead of taking up the boring running again, I should have asked my Siamese twin something like, whatever happened to that girl he had been seeing who had seemed so nice. Just imagine a Siamese twin on a date. There’s a lot of material to work from there.

The third exercise we did was about building dialogue. We were advised to stay away from arguments, which can turn into repetitive “Yes you did/No I didn’t” conversations on stage. Specifics are good. For example, don’t say, “Did you see that?” Say, “Did you see that man running away in the chicken costume holding a rattle snake?” Our dialogue exercise started with one person making a declarative statement, and the other person building onto it by saying, “Which means that…” and following up with what could be a conclusion, and a direction for the scene to take.

  • Woman 1: We really need to clean up around here.
  • Me: You think we need to clean up more around here, which means that, I am a messy roommate. (Bam! It is established we are roommates, just like that)
  • Woman 1: You are a messy roommate, which means that I am always cleaning up after you.
  • Me: You are always cleaning up after me, which means that you take joy in cleaning up after people.
  • Woman 1: You think I like cleaning up after people because you are self-centered.
  • Me: I am self-centered, which means that I think we should hire a maid rather than you make me clean.
  • Woman 1: You think we should hire a maid, which means that I think you should pay for it.
  • Me: You think I should pay for a maid, which means that I will have to take on a second job to pay for it.
  • Woman 1: You will have to take on a second job, which means you will be around less to make messes.

End scene.

Our fourth exercise was intended to make us think about object work, or the use of invisible props. Basically, if you start out holding a glass, you better either set down that glass on an imaginary table or keep holding on to it until the scene ends. We each had to pantomime carrying out an every day task and the rest of the group had to guess what they were doing. One person acted out brushing snow off his entire car, one guy made soup in a kitchen we could almost see, one woman walked her two dogs who were determined to go in opposite directions. I acted out putting in my contact lenses. I was told I was convincing. I probably felt silliest at that point, on stage, by myself with no dialogue, standing at a sink that wasn’t there.

The last exercise we did had us in two groups of four, acting out a scene without dialogue. Our group decided to be a cashier and three customers at a grocery store. I was a mom with a bratty son (who was well over a foot taller than me) at the register and a guy waited impatiently behind us. That was the hardest scene yet, since we had to pay attention to what the others were doing and act accordingly. Then, we ran the same scene, but added dialogue. That made it even harder, because then we had to watch each other and think of things to say.

Our class took the full three hours, but it was so fun and interesting that it didn’t seem like it. I’m looking forward to continuing in the class and getting to know everyone better.

Weighing in, off the wagon

When I fall off the wagon, I fall hard, you guys.

It snowed a whole bunch last night, so I didn’t go to the gym. Instead, in my lethargic state, I ordered a pizza. Poor pizza delivery guy. And those mini fried apple pies I ordered probably weren’t necessary. I won’t be going to the gym tonight either, because I have an SNP going away party to go to at 6 (good luck, Rachel!). If I have any hope of completing the third day of week two of Couch to 5k, I’ll have to either go tomorrow before my first improv class or (God forbid) run outside on Sunday. Why is my gym closed on Sundays? Grrrr.

I haven’t lost any more weight, but I gained two pounds back. Yay. EDIT: This is after running twice and roller skating once this week. Lame.

Also, it seems that running gives me lower back pain. But just on one side. Thoughts? Someone said new running shoes would help. Running shoes = very expensive. Worth it?

Improvable

A while ago I mentioned a couple of my actors who are involved in a local improv troupe, “See You Thursday”. They performed a couple shows at Wild Goose Creative last month and I caught their Dec. 18 gig. It was about an hour long, pseudo-holiday themed and highly entertaining. I talked to one of the guys after and told him how much fun it looked like they were having. He encouraged me to sign up for the intro class they’ll be teaching, starting January 9. On an improv high, I agreed that this would be a spectacular idea.

Long story short, I start a six week class on beginner improvisational performance this Saturday.

Normally this is the point where I’d try to drag every one of you down, *ahem*,  encourage you all to come with me, but I seriously think if there was anyone there I knew I would vomit on stage. However, I am happy to blog my exploits here for you to be entertained by, and for you to feel extremely awkward and sorry for me. We used to do “Improv Night” at the BACCHUS House in college and play games from “Who’s Line” and I was terrible at that. Hopefully in a class setting I will actually learn something about improv before going anywhere near a spotlight. At the end of the class, there’s a two-day work shop in February with actors from the Annoyance theater in Chicago, which sounds pretty awesome. Hopefully I’ll be feeling somewhat more confident by then.

It’s been a while since I had a regular thing to blog about besides my weight and writer’s block, so let’s consider this a good thing, shall we?

Weigh-in time and Chicago re-cap

There’s good news and bad news. I have lost eight pounds since Oct. 12. The bad news is, it’s been almost two months since I started the iPhone diet and I’ve only lost eight freaking pounds. I am glad I haven’t gained anything back, and those pesky ten summer pounds are almost gone, but I would like to see another 13 or so go away. I am setting a goal to lose another five pounds by the end of this month. Surely that is a low enough bar that I even I can measure up.

I have started watching NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” and I am completely enthralled. These people are pretty big to start with, and they’re losing pounds in the double digits every week. I realize they’ve got more to lose, but they are also working way harder than I am. Team Amanda!

Being sick all week didn’t help or hurt my efforts. I didn’t exercise but I didn’t gain weight either. Now that I am recovered I’m heading back to the gym tonight for the first time in over a week.

Chicago was amazing. I had a great time and got to spend more time with Brandon’s older brother and sister-in-law then I’ve spent before, and we had a great time wandering the city, the four of us. Amy is a very funny person and we have more in common than I thought. And Brian looked through the music on my ipod and discovered we have a few bands in common, to our mutual surprise. As before, Brandon’s parents were extremely generous to share their Thanksgiving with me and I enjoy their company.

We stayed at a hotel with a great location, the same one from last year, on Water St. very near Michigan Avenue. We spent a lot of time on Michigan, which I have come to know very well after three Model UN conferences in Chicago, two family trips, and now two Massengill holidays there. Oddly enough, the Model UN conferences were all held at the same Water St. hotel and took place in November each year, the week before Thanksgiving.

We did lots of Christmas shopping, ate Gino’s pizza after waiting in a long line, visited the Signature Room of the Hancock Tower, watched a Tennessee football game in a sports bar and went to Second City. Seeing Second City has been a dream of mine for a long time and I finally got to do it. The famous improv theater is the former stomping grounds of many SNL alums and other comedians including Tina Fey, Steve Carell, Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd and tons of others. The actors we saw were so talented. There’s some local improv activity here in Columbus, I recently discovered. One of my actors in the Parental Discord video (see post below) is an improv actor. I thought it was ironic that I cast a comedian in my first and only dramatic piece to date. His troupe, “See You Thursday,” is performing twice this month at Wild Goose Creative on Summit, on Dec. 11 and 18. I’ll be checking them out one of those two evenings. Bonus: If you are feeling really adventurous, they are offering beginner improv classes starting Jan. 9.

Here’s some pictures from the trip:

Me outside Second City, called "Improv Harvard" by Vanity Fair, as you can see from the quote behind me

Obligatory photo of "the bean"

Amy and Brian at Gino's East

View from the Hancock's Signature Room

Brandon's parents at Maggiano's, where we ate Thanksgiving dinner

We had awesome weather until the morning we left

Brandon loved Chicago and said it would be cool to live there, but the 11 percent sales tax is a real bee-yatch.

One large cheese pizza

So, one of my two actors with speaking lines got sick Sunday morning, and we couldn’t find a replacement. We’ll be filming Abby’s video for class this Sunday instead. I felt pretty bad because Brad told me she baked a whole bunch of food for yesterday’s shoot to thank me for helping her out. Not to mention she’d made it to Cambridge before getting my message. Trying to do nice things for people will make you feel like a terrible person, as it turns out. The guilt…

I have been on the iPhone diet for over a month now and I have not lost more than that initial five pounds. I keep gaining and losing the same two pounds over and over, despite working out three four days a week and reducing my caloric intake to 1,500. I have a feeling it’s because I am cheating on the weekends, although I would think I would still be losing more despite that. Anyway. I am committed to trying harder, starting this morning. Brandon and I cleaned out our fridge over the weekend and bought only healthy groceries, but there’s still some (non-diet) pop left over from the meeting at my dad’s house that I have to resist. I did a very poor job resisting it (and a good deal of a large cheese pizza) over the weekend. Maybe I shouldn’t be so shocked about my lack of progress.

I got to get all dressed up for a gala on Saturday night. I was asked to do some freelance photography for a big environmental organization and they paid for my ticket to the dinner event. I took Brandon with me and we got to eat some good food and meet some really nice people. Sadly, we forgot to ask anyone to take our picture together, so the best I can do is a photo Brandon took of my hair, which I did myself for the night. Afterward, we went to the R Bar in the Arena District for Christine’s birthday party. We only stayed an hour or so and left around 10:30, and being near Nationwide Arena made me think of and miss my favorite hockey fans Doug and Chandra, so I called Chandra on the way home. I found out she applied to nursing school and has told her work she’ll be leaving at the end of the year. I am happy for her. She has had a hard time finding what she wants to do as a career, something I can relate to after years of being so sure. I told her I think she’ll be a great nurse; she is a good motivator and I can see her making people work hard to get better.

Thanksgiving is next week and Brandon and I will be going to Chicago like we did last year. I am very much looking forward to it. Last year, it was just me, Brandon, his brother and his dad, but this year since his mom is done with nursing school, she’ll be coming too, as well as Brandon’s other brother and sister-in-law. The gang’s all there! We might get to go see Second City, which is basically a dream come true for me. I’ve always wanted to see them, since they are considered a huge starting point for future stars of SNL.