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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Monday (2/1/10) 12:03pm - ... wherein One More Night has its fourth performance.

Hi all!  Figured I'd recap another One More Night performance for everybody.  This time I'll tell you about the performance from Saturday, January 30th.

This time around, Madi was our narrator.  She decided we were all a band of thieves who were raiding her tomb.[1]  Madi then appeared as the spirit of the dead woman, who chastised our band of thieves for profaning this mausoleum.  The audience, by extension, were the spirits of the rest of her family, also buried in the (vast) tomb.  IIRC, Madi got her start in ComedySportz, so she pretty much pwns at working the crowd.

It could be my imagination, but I swear that the opening narrator goes a long way to determining the tone of the overall show.  Sure, it's just the outermost framing device -- just the first few minutes and the last few minutes of the show -- but the way the narrator treats that first scene reflects how the whole show is going to feel.  Sure, correlation does not imply causation -- that is, the opening scene and the overall show are probably both reflecting some set of external factors -- but it makes sense to me that everyone reacts to that first scene and kind of follows suit.

In this case, it felt like Madi (1) got the audience on our side pretty decisively, and (2) established that this show was going to be *fun*.  When spirit!Madi appeared onstage, the entire cast cowered in abject terror.  There's just a sort of glee inherent to watching the youngest and tiniest person onstage have everyone else in fear of their lives.

I think there was a third factor determining the tone of the show:  for the first time, we played with nine people instead of eight.  That made a subtle but significant difference, as there was now one more person trying to pack cool stuff into the show.  So I think we ended up with a show that was fast-moving, with heavy plot churn, that was pretty close to the edge of chaos throughout but was still somehow holding together.

Anyway, Madi prompted the audience for a moral to teach these thieves, and took the suggestion "always be kind to strangers".  Then she talked us into the Shahryar (Emily) and Shahrazad (Marc) story, as the two characters were finishing up their dalliance on the divan.

Then a bunch of things happened by accident.

Shahrazad introduced a location with red pillars -- Mike and Madi wrapped themselves in red sheets as pillars.  Then she introduced a young girl, "Malika", walking through the location.  Nobody jumped in as Malika.  Uncomfortable seconds passed, then Madi adjusted her sheet to be a cape, and ta-da! Malika was wandering through pillar-land.[2]

Then Shahrazad told us that Malika encountered a man named "Ibrahim".  I bounded up on stage as Ibrahim.  This was a bit drivey of me.  Honestly, I had been the narrator, and I'd been Shahryar, and I'd been kind of a background ensemble person.  This time I wanted to try being a major ensemble character, so up I went.

I explained that I was a guard of the area.  Malika insisted that she *belonged* there, and it was her home.  Then Malika noticed that I was holding my scimitar wrong.  "You hold your scimitar... oddly."

Y'know, it's odd.  If I were in a random Micetro cast and some unfamiliar performer said that to me, I'd get thrown by that.  My brain would flash "OH NOEZ THE MEAN IMPROVISOR IS MAKING FUN OF MEEE" and I'd probably say something defensive in character and meekly adjust my grip.  Instead, this was Madi, and that didn't even occur to me.  Yes, I was holding my scimitar oddly, of course I was, and it was because, "Ah, I see you have never been to China!"  I whirled around the stage, swirling the scimitar this way and that.  (We take any excuse to work dance into the show.)

And within short order I was telling her about my travels in the Far East, where I learned the art of unconventional swordplay.  We faded to the stage-right 'tree' and I started narrating that tale, where the younger me (Kyle) was travelling through the Szechuan province when he was beset by bandits!  (These were Mo, Avi, and Andreas.)  And then we were off and running.  The bandits captured Ibrahim, ridiculed his knife-like grip on his scimitar, and took him away to their bandit king (Mikey).

Soon, the bandits dispatched young Ibrahim to fight a dragon that had been keeping the bandits prisoner in that valley.  (Madi took another opportunity to work the crowd, prompting them to provide the dragon's distant "ROAR!")  Attempt #1 at fighting the dragon went very badly, with Ibrahim losing decisively.  To make up the dragon a bunch of us got in a conga-line-ish chain, huddled under various brightly-colored sateen sheets, with Marc in front as the (speaking) head.  After the confrontation, Ibrahim landed nearly-dead in a distant cabbage patch.  Then an old farmer (Andreas) found Ibrahim there and nursed him back to health.

I did something else drivey.  I said that the farmer explained his generosity via an old fable about magical animals[3].  For some reason, every time I'm narrating and Andreas pops up as a main character, I throw some crazy over-specified story setup at him.  After Andreas (wisely) took some more time to establish the farmer's world and character, he jumped into the fable, with a land of magical creatures visited by an evil, invidious serpent.

Then, it was back to the farm, where the farmer instructed Ibrahim about how to hold a scimitar *properly*, and showed him various fighting styles.

The farmer said, "That's it.  I have nothing else to teach you.  I mean, unless you want to know about cabbage farming, but I can't imagine you're interested in that."

I jumped in with some narration:  "And so, for two weeks, he taught me about cabbage farming!"  And off they went miming cabbage-farming instruction.  "So now I have a marketable skill to fall back on."  This was a total 'gag', a term which in improv-land means "silly joke at the expense of the story".  But the audience roared with laughter, and it felt like satisfied laughter, not the sort of obligatory 'sop laughter' they give a joke that doesn't quite work.

Generally, the audience was happy to let us get away with a lot of stuff that we couldn't usually get away with.  I think it because they had felt so included in the opening scene, and because the show was pinballing from one fun element to the next, and because the plot was churning so fast that they knew they wouldn't be stuck with something unpleasant for long.  And I think in this case, once Andreas introduced the concept of "cabbage-farming instruction," the audience wanted to see it, at least for a little bit.  And once we did, the audience knew it would be like a quick 'callout joke' from Family Guy -- we'd go there, hit the joke, and move on with the story instead of getting mired in cabbage for ten minutes.

Then he returned to the bandits, who dispatched Ibrahim to visit the dragon a second time.  Apparently, Ibrahim's mission was to retrieve The Orb of Gemakok from it.  So this time around, Ibrahim tried being wily, and told the dragon he was a genie.  There was a running gag about an ancient Chinese text called The Art of Lying -- so I interjected, "That was chapter one of The Art of Lying:  'Always pretend to be a genie.'"  Ibrahim said he could grant a wish.

So the dragon said that all he wanted was a lady dragon to keep him company.

Malika cut in:  "But surely there was no way that you could have granted that wish, Ibrahim."

"Yes," I said, "It was completely impossible to provide him with a dragon."  Pause.  "Or was it?"

Then we both turned back to the ensemble and grinned.

In most other shows, this would be a serious dick move.  "Ha-ha, we haven't solved any of your narrative problems, SUCKAS!"  But, as far as I could tell, the ensemble took it in good humor.  And, in the end, that setup actually helped, IMHO.  We had clearly explained what the problem was, and we'd set up the onstage players so that any solution they provided would be right.

Mo tromped up to the dragon, said "I have a dragon soul," and that solution was the right answer.  And since Madi and I had talked up the level of difficulty of solving this narrative quandary, the audience liked Mo's solution even more.  They happily cheered Mo's line.

Then Mo explained how she had turned into a dragon.  I don't recall this story too well -- I was lost in my own head.  (The hamster wheels were turning as I tried to tally up what story threads still needed tying up.)  Madi and Mo played sisters who stowed away on a ship.  Specifically, they stowed away in the giant center-stage hinged box that we hadn't used for hiding in until this very show.  They were discovered there, and the ship captain demanded to sleep with one of them.

Mo volunteered.  (I think somewhere in this, Mo sang a song, but I forget the details.)  And then, before their night together, she asked God to turn her into a dragon rather than force her to sleep with with this man.  The captain came in, invited her to the bed, and then -- boom! transformation!  Suddenly there was a chain of us behind her, waving our sateen sheets, and the captain was (I think) burned to death.

Back to Ibrahim confronting the Marc-dragon.  Mo turned into a dragon as well, and the pair of dragons did a mating dance up into the sky.  (So:  two chains of improvisors, whirling around the stage.)

Where else are you going to see an improv show with that?

Ibrahim procured the Orb and went back to the bandits.  It turned out the bandits thought the Orb of Gemakok was not real, and the dragon was not real, and they thought they were just telling Ibrahim about crazy, untrue legends.  Whew.  Okay, Madi and I had some cleanup to do at this point.  We explained that it was Mo, who was secretly a dragon, who told all her fellow bandits these dragon-related tales, and the other bandits all *assumed* those stories were fake.


Then we got mired in unfortunate dick jokes for about five minutes.  You'll recall that it was "The Orb of Gemakok", and so in short order the bandit king was activating the orb by placing his Gemakok in his lap and rubbing it.  They also finally named Mo's character ("Min"), which led to another quick problem.  Madi turned to me:  "Her name was Min?  Didn't you say earlier that you never learned that woman's name?"

I nodded and smiled:  "Yes, I was actually lying about that."

This might be the biggest cheat I've ever gotten away with in an improv show.  "Yeah, I was lying about that earlier bit, so we can drop it" just shouldn't work.  The audience should feel cheated, since we've been asking them to trust the narrator.  But again, the audience was on our side, we were all having fun, and *nobody* (not the audience, not the performers) wanted to get mired in plot logistics, and this was actually a payoff of sorts to the runner about The Art of Lying.  Madi was perfectly good-natured in her response, and the audience cued off of that.

At this point, I checked the clock, and I realized something:  we were about an hour into the show[4], and I'd been the narrator almost the whole time.  I felt like I'd essentially stolen Emily's job out from under her, so I tried to get us back to the Ibrahim/Malik story.  I said that the orb turned the bandit king into a mighty fighting creature (a twelve-tusked boar), and in that form he led the bandit army in a battle against a great sultan.

"Ah, but that's another story, to be told another time."  (Hooray for Michael Ende references.)

I went on:  "I returned here, seven years later, and took up my old post as guard of the red pillars.  I don't know who you might be.  If I knew you before, you must have been a mere child when I worked here before."

Then Malika took Ibrahim back to meet her family.

Then Avi and Kyle entered with a red cloth draped over them.  Immediately, the words "The Two-Headed Sultan of Basra!" blurted out of my mouth.[5]  ("Wait, what did I just say?" I asked myself.)  Anyway, we rolled with it.  This meant that Malika was the sultan's daughter, which meant that Ibrahim needed to kneel.  I met the sultan's wife (Mo), who was blind and prone to sudden pronouncements that made the plot move forward.

Malika related my story to her parents, explaining that the bandits were now conquering the *enemy* sultan, the one that Basra had been fighting all this time.  Both heads of the sultan were pleased, and granted me any request I wanted.  I said I knew what my request was.

Andreas entered, proferring me a floor pillow.

I just kind of stood there, blinking.  "Ah.  Um.  Yes.  This is a mat used for... a wedding ceremony."  Ibrahim looked at Malika.  Malika looked at Ibrahim.  Some idle, logical part of my brain asked, "Wait, haven't they only known each other for, like, an hour?"  Neither head of the sultan was too sold on this.  I think Avi asked for another swordplay demonstration.  I did more dancing around the stage.

At one point I took some of the diaphonous red fabric and threw it in the air.  It floated downward very slowly, as I slashed at it repeatedly with the blade.  I had no idea why I was doing this -- I figured I was basically doing interpretive dance with a scimitar, and the fabric looked cool hanging in the air.  Then Kyle came through with what is IMHO the line of the night:  "Behold!  He cuts the air, and it appears to bleed!"

This is what it's all about in improv land:  knowing that you can stand around like a dork swiping a little plastic scimitar at a blob of mesh-like fabric, and that somebody will be right there behind you to say the line that makes you look retroactively brilliant.

But the sultan still wasn't sure about this marriage thing.  So as the happy couple went in for a kiss, the sultan stopped us:  "Ibrahim!  Do not kiss her!"  His wife made a pronouncement:  "I declare Ibrahim to be a good man, and this match to be blessed.  Go ahead and kiss her."

Then we kissed.[6]  The sultan winced and complained and pleaded with us to stop.  So we kept kissing.  At this point, the (blind) sultan's wife started asking the sultan for descriptions of the action.

Shahrazad then skipped us past years of time.  Malika and Ibrahim did marry, and have several children.  Madi and I bundled up sheets of fabric to represent babies.  At one point I hid my right hand in the fabric bundle and used that hand to grip and wave around the scimitar, so it looked like I was teaching the baby swordfighting.  Then, somehow, Madi and I wound up trying to bundle up another sheet -- as another baby -- while both of us had our hands full.  The show stopped cold for about twenty seconds while we tried to juggle the props to make this work -- again, in most improv shows a prop mishap should disengage the audience, but I felt a vibe of "Oh, wow, are they going to succeed at this simple but hilariously-challenging task?" from the crowd.

"And..." Shahrazad said, "It turned out their youngest child had a glint of dragon-fire in its eyes!"

"What?  Wait, was it... part dragon?" blustered Shahryar.

But Shahrazad was tired, and wouldn't have time to explain how that story turned out, not 'til tomorrow.

So Shahrazad lived another night.

Then, we were instantly taking the stage en masse to resume the tomb scene.  Madi explained the lesson we were all supposed to take away from the story, and then went to the crowd.  "Have they learned their lesson?  Should I let them live?"

"NO!" shouted the crowd.

Oh my.  This would have completely nonplussed me, but again, Madi pwns at crowd-wrangling.  "You!  Farouk!"  She pointed at Marc.  "The leader of the bandits!"  Somehow, Marc got to his feet and cowered simultaneously.  "Beg for their forgiveness!" she ordered.

And that's what Marc did.  It was a rather perfect way to handle the situation.[7]  After that, she reiterated her question, and the audience deigned to let us live.  "YAY!"

Lights out.  Lights up.  Dance music.  Bows.  Exit.

[1] It perhaps said something about our troupe's level of geekdom that the standard way to mime "Lara Croft" was not to indicate huge breasts but rather to pull out two thigh-holstered pistols and start shooting stuff.

[2] We'd go over this in pickup rehearsal -- even if you don't want to jump in as the introduced character, you can still do stuff.  Ideally, you can jump in as a *different* character and then force somebody *else* to be the new guy/girl.  Or, if you introduce a character, you can nab the actor you want to play that character right then and there.  (Also, we guys were gently reminded that we can step in and play female roles.)

[3] Another thing we went over in pickup rehearsal -- let the new scene develop for a while.  You don't have to drive into the next story immediately.

[4] As it turns out, I was wrong about this.  We started closer to 8:15pm than 8:00pm, so I was way off in my 'how far into the show are we?' estimate.

[5] This led to a great running gag where Kyle, as head #2, was just a yes-man.  Avi would give a long, eloquent speech; Kyle would follow it up with "Yup!" or "I agree!" or "I believe that, too!"

[6] Evidently I have kissed somebody in every One More Night I've been in so far, which is kind of hilarious.

[7] IIRC, ComedySportz has 'asking for the audience's forgiveness' built into the format in several places.

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Date:Monday (2/1/10) 2:13pm
Sounds fun! We really enjoyed the performance on Friday.
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Date:Monday (2/1/10) 2:26pm
w00t!  Oddly I can't remember much of anything that happened in that show -- apart from the tiger-sex, that is.
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[User Picture]
Date:Monday (2/1/10) 2:37pm
Ah yes, the tiger sex. Pretty hilarious. I thought we were dealing with a lesbian tiger with a human fetish at first, to tell you the truth. ;)
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Date:Monday (2/1/10) 2:43pm
Lesbian Tiger's first record was by far their best.
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Date:Monday (2/1/10) 10:16pm
J-pop always leaves me a little confused.
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Date:Monday (2/1/10) 2:36pm
Again I wish I could come -- this sounds fantastic! And hooray for Michael Ende references!
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Date:Monday (2/1/10) 2:44pm
It's looking like we may video the show this coming Saturday, FWIW.
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