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

Monday (10/7/13) 12:52am - ... wherein, several months later, Peter recaps the 44-hour improv marathon.

I figured I'd post a recap of how The 44-Hour Improv Marathon went for me.

General Notes
There were no really bad shows.  I'd say Epic Telescope was our worst hour, and even *that* was playful and cute in its badness.  At its best, the Marathon was flat-out amazing -- the shows for GGG, Charles Dickens Unleashed, the movie format, Franz & Dave, and the Amazon and the Milksop were among the best shows I've done all year.  Between the extremes, the average Marathon show was very solidly entertaining.

As for me personally, my performance varied.  When I was called upon to do difficult things, like narrating Dickens or Pick Your Own Path, I rose to the occasion.  In the shows that were just flat-out joke-fests, like the ESL show or the puppet show, I was funny.  On the other hand, there were long stretches where I hung back and just didn't have the boldness to get involved.  And while there were some shows where I came in, played a strong character, and then stepped aside (GGG, Fakespeare, Franz & Dave), and some shows where my contributions were small, but very useful to the show (the Movie format), I don't think I ever stepped up as a protagonist for anything but Black Vault.

I'm still timid after all this time, I suppose.  But also, there were a lot of shows where it was eight improvisors plus six visitors, so according to math, I wouldn't really dominate the proceedings.

The Teen Show
I approached this one with some trepidation.  I'm not that comfortable or happy around kids.  And they can have kind of a chilling effect on my ability to improvise, as I stress out over saying something that will offend them.

All in all, this show went surprisingly okay.  I just tried to stay positive and just roll with whatever the young'uns did.  I sort of fumbled through, treating the kids like little homuncular grown-ups (which is how I usually deal with kids).  But I think they had fun, and I did pleasant scenes.

The exchange that makes me laugh more and more as time goes by:
Peter: "This is great!  I'll recommend you on yelp."
Small child: "I don't know what that is."

Just... how cheerful the kid was, and how hilarious it is that I'm expecting a child to know what yelp is, and how reasonable that response is -- comedy gold.

Oh man -- this one was crazy.  It amuses me that, in a typical marathon, the free-form at the *start* of the marathon ends up being the crazy crazy montage, and the free-form at the *end* of the marathon ends up being more tight, and connected, and structured.  With sleep deprivation, you might expect things to go the other way, but this makes perfect sense -- after 40+ hours, of course the group is going to coalesce, and after so many shows, a free-form hour is probably going to be a tightly-structured tangle of inside jokes.

I think we all did fine, but I have no recollection of what really happened in that show.

Start Trekkin'
This was the first of the large-cast shows I had a little trouble jumping into.  I think I started wrong-footed, creating a crew character that didn't really have an accent or physicality or point of view.  Still, it wasn't the end of the world -- in a later scene, I set myself up as an old friend of the captain (Lampe), and that led to us doing a bunch of fun scenes together.  And the show itself turned out fine.

The Fancy-Pants Mashup
This was the usual collection of two-handers.  Andy Buck and I had the first scene of the night; we promised the audience a "really nice scene", and then of course spent about three minutes drowning in offer soup.  Second, I did a lightning-round scene with Cat, where we'd been dating for a couple of weeks and I was (oh my) introducing her to my family.  Finally I did a scene with one of the students -- I went out on a limb and tried playing out the Shakespearean exercise of doing an elaborate metaphor between arbitrarily-chosen things.  That turned out surprisingly well.

Overall, the show was very solid.  The Fancy-Pants Mash-Up always has its ups and downs, but it was entertaining throughout.  Any show where a small child questions Chuy about when he (Chuy) lost his virginity is a good show.

The Tab
This was the show with Parallelogramophonograph where we were all blindfolded and performing montage.

It was silly and fun.  I played too tentatively, keeping one hand on the wall so that I could vaguely know where I was, when I should have been, both metaphorically and literally, boldly stepping out into the unknown.  But at the same time, I was having fun, and there's really no wrong way to do that.

I'm amused that, for one scene, I wound up cuddling up next to Jessica, who I've done a ton of shows with, only to discover about halfway into the scene that it was Val, whom I haven't worked with so much.  (Val, hope I didn't make you uncomfortable.)

Franz & Dave
Going into this show, I felt like Franz & Dave were that alternative band I'd just discovered from a photocopied zine recommendation, and I'd managed to work their latest single into a cassette mix tape, and OMG my friends were going to love them.  I pushed very hard for their inclusion in the marathon, and I talked them up to the core cast, to possible marathon viewers -- really to anyone who would listen to me.

Their show absolutely delivered on all my high-flown promises.  They did a take on Twin Peaks called "Pine Falls", and it was my favorite show of the whole marathon.  They structured it by having the audience give each performer a character type.[1]  Then we were off and running, with David Lynch and Franz Kafka trading off narration and scene-painting as per usual.

The show did so many things well.  As a cast, we nailed the tone of the show -- or rather, we nailed each of the simultaneous tones of the TV program, which was at once a horror movie, a soap opera, and surrealist art film.  And there was something freeing in knowing that we were improvising the pilot for a hypothetical TV show.  This meant that we could confidently throw inexplicable elements into the show without (1) worrying about having to explain them later, or (2) making the audience feel like the show was just random.  Instead, we hit specific, self-contained, random story elements, or specific hints at things beyond the episode, in amongst scenes that made sense.

Jeff Britt has also made a fascinating point to me about the power of scene-painting in character.  Yes, scene-painting on its own is very powerful: in fact, it may be the only thing that lets you incorporate your source material's visual language.  But scene-painting *in character* has benefits on top of that.  To put it simply: David Lynch will never scene-paint a boring, useless element.  It's always going to be a scenic offer that contributes to that off-kilter Lynchian tone.  It'll always *mean* something, even if you-the-audience have no idea what it means.

Scene-painting *without* a point of view is kind of like playing a character without a point of view: you can end up treading water, saying stuff but contributing nothing.

Anyway, I've already repeatedly begged Brad and Ceej to make a full run of this show, and they've politely told me about the logistical problems inherent in that.  We can hold out hope, though.

For my part, this was one of those shows where I contributed a sharp character early on and then sort of skeedaddled.  I did like my scene with Aaron, both because I liked my choice to start crying (maybe it was a little forced, but it moved the scene in a new direction), and because, just when the scene needed a third beat, Lindsey burst through the door as an angry, bereaved, one-armed lumberjack.

When a man is tired of angry, bereaved, one-armed lumberjacks, he is tired of life.

The New Game Project
What a delightful show this was!

It may be that the best way to judge a group of improvisors is to see how they do a bad show.  What happens when everything is falling to pieces in the show?  Do they keep finding ways to re-purpose the mistakes into story elements?  Do they avoid panicking?  And most of all, do they keep having fun, buoyed up by their camaraderie?

I mention this because some of the show's New Games just didn't work.  And this is *fine* -- this is par for the course for the New Games Project, where half the fun of the show is watching the train wreck.  But it was very clear in this show that when, say, the "put a grape in your mouth for every line of dialog" game was kind of going cuckoo, that was okay.  We all started giggling at how impossible this was.  Aaron decided, fuck it, I'm cramming in as many grapes as possible.  And we all cheerfully held on to the out-of-control railway car so we could see where it was headed.

I did a couple of setups I really like, and hope we can redo later: "Albino Physics", in which a scene is occasionally interrupted by Aaron Saenz with a fact about physics; and "Renn Driving", in which Renn Faire participants have to talk about modern technology without using any anachronisms.[2]

That said, I can't for the life of me remember any improv I did in that show.

In Our Prime
Through no fault of In Our Prime's, this was the first show of a sort of 'dark period' for me, where I was hanging back, contributing little, and generally feeling bad about myself.  This was a show set around a wedding, where we were all given family roles by audience members.  I was assigned "Best Man" -- while I enjoyed the bits that I did, I never really took any initiative.  So this was one where I stood in
the background and watched a really good show unfold.

Past Lives
Again, I mostly hung back from this one.  It's entirely possible that I was just really tired in the wee hours of Saturday morning.  In any case, I couldn't see (feel?) what scenes needed, and so I mostly just stutter-stepped back and forth.

On the plus side, I did contribute the phrase "osteotic wen" to the show, describing a character blighted with a heavy hornlike growth on his forehead.

Cheap Date
The dark period continued; I did more hanging-back.  Though this time around, we had a sizeable cast joining the eight core performers, so it makes sense that I'd chill.  I did come in a few times as "Mongo", an enforcer who threatened sleeper holds in a series of ever-more-improbable enforcement jobs.

The Bat
Man.  I *wish* I had contributed more to this one, as it was one of my favorite shows from the 42-hour marathon.  I jumped in a few times, but said jumps were usually followed with my thinking, "Nope, that didn't work.  Definitely not sussing out the feel of this show."  So I was mostly audience for this one, which was fine, as the show was the usual delightful fever dream.

Epic Telescope
I'm convinced that this one, the "Half-Life in Reverse" show, was our worst hour.  And I felt awful about it at the time, since I was the one who brought that format to the Free Fringe, and Roy had left me in charge of organizing it for the marathon.  I just didn't do my homework.  I didn't prep what I would tell the rest of the cast about the show, I didn't prep my hosting, and I didn't do the math ahead of time about how long each iteration would last.

This might have been the low point of the 'dark time' for me -- I spent almost the whole show in the wings, suspecting that I'd recommended this format to Roy in the first place, and feeling like I'd doomed us all.

So it was very much a clusterfuck.  Now, granted, that might've been by design, as the reverse-half-life is kind of  a worst-case format for a sleep-deprived improvisor -- even worse than the eight-way hell-dub we had in 2011 -- since the format relies so heavily on remembering stuff on the fly.  So maybe the way I dropped the ball, by making the show worse, actually made the show better.  In any case, that's what I'll keep telling myself.

But seriously: every marathon needs at least one disaster.

All that said, the cast handled the slow-motion train wreck with aplomb, and managed to develop one of the marathon's recurring characters, Joplin's supremely self-confident pan-sexual named "Blaine".

Veterans' Show
With the veterans' show, I started to get out of my slump.  This was a simple Armando-ish format: a veteran would tell an anecdote about their experiences with the Marathon, and then we'd all get up and do scenes based on it.  It was a giant cast, with ten veterans joining the eight core players, but there were lots and lots of little scenes, so everybody got a chance to jump in.

I loved hearing the stories, and I wound up incorporating Ratliff's hallucination story into the Black Vault later on.

Student Show
Games games games.  I was getting up onstage and performing old games I was familiar with, so it continued to get me out of my slump.  I wasn't doing anything phenomenal here -- in "yearbook photo", for example, I went into a weirdly intense monolog about a postcard my character owned, referencing none of the other characters[3] until they pulled lights on me.  But nonetheless, I was sort of buoyed along, happy to have the guardrails of game setups, slowly getting back to my feet.

Then with Waterpark, I retreated again.

This is no slight to the troupe.  They were great, and welcoming, and happy to be there in spite of their less-than-ideal 8am Saturday slot.  Everyone needs to check them out, not least because they've got great musical chops.  I think Ringo and maybe Leotard Foundation are the only improv-music troupes I've heard that can compete with these guys for vocal harmonies.

But again, I just lurked in the background.  I tried jumping into the first song, only to realize I was jumping in as it was ending.  And then through the rest I just couldn't get a gut feeling for how that hour's Harold was developing.  I drifted into a little game we can call "what is the lowest Bass II note that I can hit in this chord?" and provided rumbly subwoofer goodness under many of the songs.  And that was actually pretty fun.

Dubbed Indemnity
This is the classic "provide the soundtrack for these clips" show; I curated the clips for it for a while in 2011 and 2012.  This hour was another significant step to getting me back into the swing of things.  I didn't appear all over the place -- mainly just a couple of clips -- but I was jumping in more confidently, having a pleasant time once I was in, and generally feeling a bit more useful to the show.

I'm so happy we got to have Josh Gill with us for this hour -- he was always so good at Dubbed, and he did lovely work here.

Local Genius Society
This one let me hop in with scene-painting, which was another good way to get me back on my feet.  This one had my favorite world-building of the Marathon, with a show set at "Disney Place", an off-brand version of Disney World.  We kept settling into this place, figuring out all the sublocations it would have, and all the characters who would exist there (including the sexbot cowboy).

Charles Dickens Unleashed
Thank god for the previous run of shows that had gently gotten me back on my feet, because I had to fucking bring it as the narrator of Charles Dickens Unleashed, dominating the story and talking almost constantly.

I think I did an amazing job on this one.  I set Curtis up with a great trait for his supporting character[4], and just endowed the hell out of everything around the protagonist.

And I loved how the plot of this one went.  It was so incredibly simple -- Will Barachnal gets banned from his family home, but eventually finds success as a blacksmith and then reunites with his family -- but it still *felt* like it had all the ups and downs of an early Dickens novel.  And as far as I can tell, we managed to catch all the plot elements we'd thrown into the air -- for example, Roy swooped in at the end to resolve a plotline about Kaci's character's parentage.

Sometimes I suspect that, as a fan of narrative improv, I actually have a lot in common with people who *hate* narrative improv.  They're content with improv that has no plot at all; I'm happiest when improv has the minimum plot possible.  Basically, I like it when there's just enough of a plot to hang the characters and settings on -- really, only one simple thing is happening over the course of a half-hour show.  In this Dickens show, it was really *just* this boomerang trajectory for the main character.  But in, say, a montage show, you've got a bunch of plots happening -- a new one with each scene.  Most times when I watch a show, I want to be able to sum up the plot in five or six words, and then talk about all the cool characters or scene-painting or dialog that they attached to that clothesline.

-- between the Dickens section and the Arkay section, three weeks elapsed, so don't be surprised if everything gets a little vague from here on out --

This felt like less of an improv show and more of a party, which I had no problem with whatsoever.  I didn't initiate much of anything, and I didn't influence the show much, but that felt fine for the show.  I just joined in with lots and lots of group games.  There are worse ways to spend an hour.

What's the Story, Steve?
For the poodle-centric children's improv show, the friendly visiting troupe chose me to provide the Voice of Steve.  So I decided to play Steve the Poodle as a jaded intellectual, which was a lot of fun.  It was nice to have such a central role in the show, in a position where the cast could still take a lot of really good care of me.

The Eye of the Storm
Wow, I remember absolutely none of this hour.  Looking over the video, it looks like really random free-form -- slower and more grounded than hour two, but still crazytown.  Maybe we were kind of shaking everything off after a weird, weird cavalcade of formats.

Girls Girls Girls
Oh, it kills me -- absolutely kills me -- that I only got half of this show on video.  It's either the best or the second-best improv musical I've gotten to participate in, period.  This was another show where I drew a sharp character early on and then mostly disappeared from the show -- I'm guessing this is what happens when I make myself jump into things at the start, and then sort of lose my resolve as time goes by.  But I showed up, did a song that worked pretty well, and then just took a back seat and watched all the wonderfulness happen.

Oh, and I provided the voice of a driving simulator about halfway into the show.  Honestly, if that had been my only contribution to the musical, I would have still held my head up high, feeling like I'd ably earned my keep.

Shana stepped in as a heroine, Amy countered with a great antagonist, and really, everybody pulled together on this one.  Everybody was willing to hop in with a memorable secondary character (I still remember Joplin as "the DMV cowboy"), everybody was willing to make big group numbers work, and... yeah.  That's how improv is supposed to work everybody.

Aaaand I only got half of it on tape.  Dammit.

Pick Your Own Path
Like Dickens, this was another show where I absolutely had to take charge, bring my A-game, and take care of my castmates, and I feel like I really came through on this one, too.

I think I did a good job of explaining the format to the cast.  Pick Your Own Path isn't all that difficult, but it's got some pitfalls to it.  For example, it's really easy to jump into the story and then forget that you're supposed to give the protagonist choices.  It's easy to fall into presenting a choice that's really just one choice: "You can either climb the mountain, or... um... uh... do nothing."  I feel like I successfully got all the sleep-deprived core-casters up to speed on how this show's odd little structural quirks.

I think the show itself was very solid.  The second story was better than the first, which is what usually happens with casts who are mostly new to PYOP -- in the first half, they get a feel for the format, and in the second half, they really nail it.  At the same time, having newcomers made the show feel fresh and different -- for example, Joplin, as the sidekick, *died* about ten minutes into the second story.  That hasn't happened before in PYOP, and led to a fun sequence where the hero rescued Joplin from the underworld.

The Amazon and the Milksop
Kaci Beeler and Curtis Luciani came on to direct an hour of "improvised English-language lessons", and it turned out to be the funniest show of the marathon.  I hurt myself laughing, and I loved getting a break from narrative, from scenework, from group games -- really from anything but being really funny.

I think we were all on the same page for this show -- it seems like everyone was giddy about getting to do this format, and we worked together really smoothly.  At one point, Aaron introduced a "public radio" example, and I smoothly stepped in and stole the focus from him, delivering a few minutes of mock-Eklektikos.  But that worked so smoothly that it probably looked intentional.

The Library
In this show, Justin, Nicole, and Ben joined us, and we formed three groups, each with its own genre -- "musicals", "cop procedurals", and "Conan the Barbarian", respectively.  I honestly didn't feel too inspired by any of them -- I joined "cop procedural" because it seemed easiest.  Then, just before we got started, I decided that I would play, specifically, The Wire.

Setting that little challenge for myself turned everything fun for me -- this may be how I handle a lot of "play a genre" games in the future.  I think the end result, from the audience's perspective, was that 95% of them idly wondered why I was saying "fuck" so much ("Oh my word!  Peter is using *profanity*!") while the remaining 5% were dying of laughter.

The Knuckleball Now
The Knuckleball Now performs the sort of intense, fast-paced improv that I don't do very often, and I don't generally think I'm that good at.  But to my surprise, I participated a fair amount, and I think that's all down to how welcoming and supportive these guys were.

One moment I liked a lot: one scene had Craig and Ace watching television.  I provided the voice of the TV set from the offstage mic.  Then Ace clearly mimed using the TV remote, but I didn't notice -- instead, I went silent.  Craig asked what Ace was doing.  Ace: "I thought I was turning up the volume, but..." -- and he did it with a grin, without making me feel wrong or stupid.[5] So at that point I happily provided sudden, distortion-volume dialog for the TV set, which became a running gag through the rest of the marathon.

I feel a weird ambivalence towards Theatresports -- it's a good show, and I see what the Hideout is going for with it, and I'm glad it's happening, from an artistic standpoint -- but for whatever reason, I'm not really connecting to that format very strongly these days, and I think I made the right choice in not trying out for its main cast.

That said, the show was pleasant and silly.  I ripped off "Albino Physics" from the New Games Project for a historically-themed challenge.  When the other team played *their* historical challenge, I picked on them for perpetuating the misconception that Napoleon was short, which was fun, and apparently much appreciated by the online viewers.

Confidence Men
This is the "improvised Mamet" troupe.  When they guest with the marathon, they perform "The Variations", a series of two-handers based (loosely) around a particular theme.

I consider myself very lucky that I've gotten several chances to guest with these guys, and I'm always happy to play with them again.  This time around, I got to do a scene -- a very short scene, but a scene -- with Tom Booker for the first time.

When I'm improvising Mamet, I fall into challenging myself to play a character type that you would least associate with David Mamet -- say, the prim Nashville portrait artist from the 2011 marathon -- and still make that person an unmistakably Mamet character.  Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail.  Either way, I feel like this is a bad strategy.  I need to get more practiced in the basics of playing Mamet before I indulge in making life more difficult for myself.

This time around I kicked off a scene in ancient Rome, which was funny both because (1) Mamet has actually written a play set in ancient Rome, and (2) Joplin assumed the scene was set among the modern-day mafia, and neither of us gave an inch for the rest of the scene.

And then, thirty hours in, Jessica and I co-directed Maestro.

This turned out a lot better than I expected.  Jessica and I were still pretty on-the-ball as directors, although Jessica wasn't taking any shit from the cast -- which was actually a good thing, since the cast was inclined to misbehave to an extent that we the sleep-deprived directors couldn't really handle.  One big problem turned out to be that both Aaron and Lisa were losing their voices by this point, so we had to find ways around that.

The random selections of players caused two awesome opportunities to just fall into my lap: I got Cat and Kareem for the last scene of round one, which meant that I could put Cat in a Start Trekkin' scene, which was a dream come true for Cat (a dyed-in-the-wool Trekkie).  Then later on, I got Ceej and Lisa, so I indulged in putting on another scene from "Pine Falls".

All in all, the whole show actually worked, I think.  Kind of a shame it's one of the only shows I didn't get on video.

The Black Vault
This is the Lovecraft show.  We put on two stories over the course of the hour.  I was assigned to narrate the second one, so I hung back from the first one.

I'm very happy with what I narrated in the second half, but I think I could have improvised more.  I got very much in the mode of "get out of the way so I can tell the story I've already written in my head", to the point that it became something of a running gag.

I think what happened was, I was assigned to narrate the "dreamscape" story, wherein a protagonist enters "the dream world", with dire results.  So I set myself up to enter the dream world (completely ignoring the college-classroom setting that my castmates were busily setting up onstage), and then found myself somehow not getting to my target: enter the dream world.  So after a while it was "GET OUT OF THE WAY GOTTA GET TO DREAMWORLD BLOCK BLOCK BLOCKITY BLOCK".

That said, I think both stories turned out really well.  The plots were simple, and the worlds were detailed and creepy.  Even the "Peter blocks everybody" gag was entertaining and good-natured.

Apparently, the key to excellent Black Vault continues to be "never, never rehearse it."

Puppet Improv Project
Cheerful improv with puppets was a definite 180° after creepy Lovecraft stories.  Honestly, I hung back a lot from the first half of the show.  Then I basically cut loose and played very jokey for the second half -- like the ESL show with the Amazon and the Milksop, I was mostly just playing to amuse myself, rather than to help along the overall narrative.

From that point on, I had a lot of fun.

This led to my favorite line I delivered in the whole marathon.  Up to that point, we'd had a running gag of falcons swooping across stage and attacking/eating/kidnapping creatures on stage.  It recurred in the PIP show, with an owl puppet occasionally coming through and attacking.

Somehow, in the story, I found myself in a conversation with the Buddha, played by a mouse.

"Be careful, Buddha, 'cos there's been an owl swooping through and attacking."
"Oh, don't worry, mister, I've got ninja skills that can fend that off."
"Wow.  I think that's something I'd have to see in person to really believe."
[we both pause; no owl appears; then, perfectly cheerfully:]

Tech Nightmare
This is the show where the tech booth screws with the onstage cast, and the onstage cast has to play along as best they can.

It's safe to say that at no point did I know what was going on in this show.  At one point I made a valiant monolog that tried to tie together everything that had happened up to that point -- I failed, but I expected to fail.  It was more about making a quixotic attempt.

So I spent the show running around, trying to vaguely keep up with things and say words when it seemed appropriate.  Honestly, that was a fun gear-shift from the other shows: "Okay, cool, I'll run around and be bewildered for a while.  Kind of a relief, in a way."

When it was done, there was a dance party, but I bailed so I could lie down.  The show was really tiring, and I'm always a bit weirded out when I'm in a room where everyone is dancing but nobody's dancing with each other.

Big Beautiful Warlock
For whatever reason, I just couldn't get into Big Beautiful Warlock's game show.  I think I was partly tired from the Tech Nightmare, but also the whole thing felt like it was dialed into a frequency that I couldn't tune into.  It's weird for me, in that it felt too ironic for me, but I generally have great fun with irony.  (Odd.)  But prank calls, and laughing at bad TV shows, and bemusement at how many things on "stuff white people like" that you like... it's all fine and good -- I hope I'm not offending the group, but I just wasn't feeling it.  Ah well.

-- between the Big Beautiful Warlock section and the Pulp Friction section, three *months* elapsed, so the vagueness shall continue!

Pulp Friction
As with Tech Nightmare, I was pretty much bewildered all the way through this show.  I had made vague plans to prepare for this earlier in the week by at least watching some scenes from Pulp Fiction or something, but... nope.  Didn't watch a lick of anything.  All I really recall, apart from never having any idea what I was doing, was that I had trouble playing homophobic.  I should have made a definite choice -- either roll with it, and be as homophobic as all the other characters, or move against it, and decide to conflict with them.  Ah well.

This started a stretch of shows where I pretty much forgot how to improvise.  Sometimes the results of this were entertaining; sometimes they were just awkward.

Human Clay
This was Jason Vines's custom show, where he was a Bob Ross-esque artist, and he sculpted the performers into starting tableaux, à la the "Moving Bodies" game.  I remember muddling through this one okay, but my ability to improvise was still on walkabout.

The Queen is Not Amused
This might have been the high point for cast confusion -- the show where we all, as a cast, had collectively forgotten how to improvise.  Jonathan Monkhouse appeared via Skype, dressed as the Queen of England, and gave us perfectly good setups for scenes.  But pretty much every time, I wobbled through my scenes like a drunkard on a unicycle.

Student Show #2
I think this was the narrative student show, the one set in New Orleans.  I remember absolutely nothing about what I did for this hour.  I vaguely recall the plot churning really quickly, with me mostly trying to keep track of what was happening.

Care Bear Stare
This was a delightfully silly show with a number of guest performers showing up as oddly-specific Care Bears (e.g., Blaze Bear, who was perpetually stoned).  The oddness was increased by the fact that those of us in the core cast played ourselves, or versions of ourselves, in most of the improv scenes.  This made it especially weird for me, when a number of my scenes went in a "Peter is violent towards women" direction.

But that disturbing trend didn't take much away from the innocuous fun of the show.  It was a nice spot of silly, harmless chaos.

The Institution Theater
The Institution Theater came by to do the Movie Format, where players could jump in and scene-paint movie-style screen directions.

Months and months later, I still recall saying, "He has this discussion with an Air Force general, who is played by David Lynch."  And frankly, I could have made that offer, dropped the imaginary mic, and walked hard off of the stage, because that was pretty much the best single offer I'd made through the whole marathon.

This led to Ceej Allen reprising his David Lynch portrayal from Franz & Dave, and sent the entire story in a kaleidoscopic, nesting-dolls direction, where David Lynch was both playing a character in the show and somehow directing it.  Basically, my choice made the show go from "this is an improv show" weird to "actively mind-blowing" weird.

I think this was yet another show where I hung back a lot, just watching a really entertaining show and laughing my ass off.

This was a pleasant improvised Shakespeare bit.  I don't think I did nearly as well as I did in the 42-hour marathon, where I was somehow delivering iambic pentameter left and right in a story that, while complicated, really did make sense.  This time around, I was (again) more timid.  I had fun in the opening round of games, doing a pleasant alphabet game with Jessica.

And then this was another show where I showed up early as a neat character -- in this case, a messenger who came to tell a group of soldiers of impending danger.[6]

All in all, the hour had a fun tension between the core cast, who mostly didn't really know Shakespeare, and the guests.  This was Taylor's first improv show, and Katie and Austin haven't done a ton of shows here, and they still gamely reined the story back into Shakespeare-land.  (And the core cast kept just as gamely sending it streaking off into random absurdity.  Good times.)

Bad Boys
I never really got into this one.  I felt bad about that, since Bad Boys was one of my favorite shows from the 42-Hour Improv Marathon.  But this time around, I was just tired, and the rambunctious boy-energy, which is rarely 100% my thing under the best of circumstances, just wasn't connecting with me.  Honestly, I'm betting that my main problem was that my voice hurt by this point, a lot -- so boldly stepping into the fray of 8 + 6 = 14 people just wasn't happening, by this point.

The Final Coutndown
Fortunately, I got my act together for the last show.  I wasn't really involved in the story much, but instead I found myself heavily driving the structure of the show.  After two unrelated scenes had kicked off the hour, I came in and scene-painted an oil painting of the first scene.  Then I had that "scene 2" painting hanging on the wall in a follow-up to the "scene 1" story.  After that I muttered to Jessica, "This could be the whole show.  Structurally, this could be the whole show."  So I kept doing that, flipping between the two storylines with these sorts of "picture-in-picture" transitions -- drawing heavily on what Bill Arnett had told us at the iO Summer Intensive, about how the best improv shows often discover their structure as they go, and come up with something that feels perfect for that particular moment.  Again, I was really drivey, but nobody seemed to mind -- they just focussed on story stuff while I focussed on framing stuff.

And all in all it felt right.  It kept circling around the same two or three elements (gods, immigration issues, Led Zeppelin), and though it was very surreal (see: that list of elements), the show's obsession with that simple set of topics kept the show from feeling random.  We told a continuous story from beginning to end.  Towards the end, we snuck in a bunch of callbacks to earlier shows.

It was a beautiful end to the marathon.

And then we all gave little speeches about what the marathon meant to us.  I wound up going last, which gave me a long long time to write a lovely little speech in my head.  My quote at the end became something of a meme[7]

About halfway through my speech, Luke started very reasonably bringing up background music, which I peevishly waved down.  Unfortunately, that's the classic improv "cut the lights" gesture, so he quite rightly cut the lights.  After some more peevish instruction to the light booth, I was able to finish the speech that I'd had percolating in the back of my head for twenty minutes.

And then it was done

Going back over the list of shows, I can see long stretches where I just didn't know what I was doing, but yet still there were many, many high points.  I was in a lot of good shows.  I did a lot of good improv.  But I'll probably spend the rest of my life learning how to assert myself in large casts, and how to improvise confidently when I feel wobbly and confused.

And then, after all the ups and downs, the closing show was really remarkable.  I don't think I'll ever experience anything quite like it, in terms of everyone zeroing in on exactly what that strange, self-consistent performance was.  Maybe this is true for every marathon: every marathon begins the same, with its random round of montage, but ends very idiosyncratically, with something uniquely true to itself.

Ah well.  I look forward to watching a new cast take this on in 2014.  Excelsior!

[1] I got "The Mayor", and spent my whole performance trying not to fall into the Big Bad from season 3 of Buffy (a character which is surprisingly compatible with Twin Peaks, come to think of it).
[2] This was actually just a variation on an idea that Aaron Saenz came up with.
[3] Note: typically, the whole point of "yearbook photo" is to set down and comment on the relationships between the characters in the photo.
[4] He played my father, a man who only complimented things as being "adequate".  You can probably guess what a guy with Curtis's verbal acument can do with a trait like that.
[5] I can't say enough how lovely that is onstage -- when someone notices you've missed an offer, but makes it clear that they're cool with that.
[6] They were soldiers in Biblical times, so I got to be in this exchange:
  "Know'st thou the password?"
        "I speak the shibboleth correctly, sir."
[7] ... which I then
gleefully parodied.

Mood: [mood icon] contemplative · Music: none
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