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

Thursday (1/1/15) 11:30pm - ... wherein Peter sums up artsy efforts from 2014.

I'm gearing up to write a post about what artsy things I should aim for in 2015, and it occurred to me that the best way to prepare for that is to look back on what I did in 2014.  If I can get a bead on what worked, what didn't, what inspired me, what didn't, that should be a pretty good compass to get me through 2015.



Might as well start with improv.

I started the year still reeling from the post-Fakespeare burnout, and I spent the year slowly ooching back towards the stage.  I did a few festival appearances with Strange Worlds and The Black Vault (I was especially proud of our Black Vault show at the Improvised Play Festival this year).  I helped out with re-tooling Pick Your Own Path for 2014, which made me suspect I might be good at directing, should I someday stumble on a project that I need to direct.

Towards the middle of the year, I did History Under the Influence, which was a pleasant lark, and probably the right show (silly, low-pressure, low-commitment) for me at that time, alongside You Think You're So Smart.  Also around then, I did the single most fun show I performed in 2014, which was the Theatresports exhibition match between Team Lovecraft and Team Disney, which wound up being less about "competitive improv games" and more about "Disney!Halyn goes nuts and starts devouring people's faces".  (Maybe you had to be there.)

Then towards the end of the year, I ventured back towards trying mainstages, auditioning for two productions and, to my happy surprise, getting cast against very steep competition.

Reform School for Wayward Girls was the first mainstage I'd ever *hosted*.  This was daunting -- I've never been good at hosting shows, and it took a lot of preparation and practice for me to feel comfortable with welcoming the audience and talking them through all the show logistics.  Then one night, the director and assistant directors were all out of town, so I was tasked with actually *running* the show.  Again: daunting, especially since lots of things went haywire as we were gearing up to perform.  But we managed to get the show going with the audience none the wiser.

As for the show itself, I think I performed okay.  I was very much in a support role, there to give the central cast adversaries who could get in their way or helpmeets to nudge the plot along, and I provided that.  I mostly played the sorts of pleasant and ineffectual teachers and parents that are right in my wheelhouse as an improvisor.  I had some trouble jumping in enough -- always a problem for me in large-cast shows -- but I got better at that over the course of the run. And regardless of my occasional missteps, the shows went really well.

Then after Reform School for Wayward Girls came Nothing and Everything, our improvised-Chekhov show, which is as jarring a gear-change as I've ever had in improv.  This was the most successful show -- both in terms of sales and accolades -- that I did all year.  A lot of audience members came away from that show with new ideas of what improv was and what it could do.

My own work in the show was a mixed-to-good bag.  I did a good job of playing close to myself, and giving a natural energy to even my more out-there characters.  On good nights, I managed to subtly define relationships and reinforce the facts about the world of the show, which made playing the show easier for *everybody*.  But at the same time, I had a lot of trouble playing characters with problems, and with paying off those problems with drama later in the show.  The net result was, I left it to other performers to act out the 'meat' of the story, while I played useful side characters who built out the world of the show and played into the rhythm and shape of the narrative.  But I'd still call that a win, since I conventionally have so much trouble jumping in at the right times (or really, at *any* times) when playing in large casts.

Often, I let myself get too stressed about the mainstages.  I see how much work and preparation goes into them, and how much the Hideout's business depends upon them, and how much time their directors have dreamed about them, and suddenly I feel like I'd better improvise REALLY REALLY WELL or everybody is going to cry.  I can always put that aside and focus on the work, but it still makes it harder to loosen up and have fun.

While the mainstages were going on, I was also prepping Tales from the Black Vault, an audiodrama-podcast version of the improvised Lovecraft show.  We're still in the middle of that one (our main recording sessions are this weekend), so it's anyone's guess how it'll turn out.  (More about that in a bit.)

All in all, I had a sharp downtick in shows from 2013 to 2014.  And the data bear this out: in 2013 I did around 100 shows; this year that dropped to about 50.  Part of this was burnout at the start of the year.  But part of it was that, throughout the year, I was doing fewer random one-off shows.  I never signed up for Maestro.  I never did the Fancy-Pants Mash-Up or any of the Sunday-night jams at the Institution Theater.

I guess I just had a lot of other things going on?

Trying New Things

The weird thing about 2014 is that my most successful artistic efforts were the ones that mattered the least.  I tried new things, learned a lot, and grew as an artist, but the work itself was basically like dropping rocks in a pond -- *thunk*, a few ripples, and suddenly it's like nothing ever happened.

For instance, at the start of the year, I finally learned enough video editing to complete post-production on Sketchville, a webseries I wrote with a friend of mine and shot back in 2007.  I grew by leaps and bounds as an editor on this project: I learned color correction, I learned a ton of visual effects, I learned a bunch of the ins and outs of Final Cut.  And beyond that, I learned about *editing* -- i.e., not the buttons and tools and tricks and software, but the basic art of arranging clips to tell a clear, engaging story.

Then I put that online and -- *thunk* -- it vanished into the pond.  I was left thinking that sometimes you accomplish goals that you've had for years and years, and, in the end, they just don't *matter* at all.  But I suppose it's more accurate to say that you can still learn a lot on a project that doesn't go much of anywhere.

I can say similar things about the spec that I wrote at the start of the year.  I don't really know what possessed me to try writing an episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. -- in practical terms, it must be the single most pointless thing I've ever written, not just unproducible but instantly outdated and only of interest to a shall-we-say limited fanbase -- but still, it was fascinating to sit down and write it.  And it was delightful to write a script that was longer than ten pages for the first time in... six years? seven?  Hell, it's nice to know I can still *do* that.

*thunk* Into the pond it went.  Onward we go.

Both of those happened in the start of the year, when I was more or less on vacation from improv.  Then, towards the end of the year, while I was hip-deep in two Hideout mainstages, I decided to try stand-up comedy for the first time.

Again, that didn't result in much: I performed one five-minute set, on one night, for one audience.  It was a mostly-seasonal routine (themed around Halloween and contemporary news stories) that I'll never be able to use again.  And I haven't yet followed it up with any more forays into stand-up.

So: basically, another pond-rock.

But still, how fascinating to do that.  It was great to see that my accumulated "flight hours" onstage carried over nicely to stand-up comedy.  It was comforting to discover that I'm fairly resilient to bombing and bumbling in front of a crowd.  And I felt like I could just start barely making out what it's like to find your own voice as a comic, and to interact effectively with the Giant Audience Beast, making precise adjustments to the material depending on the mood of the room and where the laughs were hitting.  And even if none of the above had happened, it was really important just to *do* this.  I had gone my entire life wondering if I would ever try stand-up comedy, and now I have, at least once.

And now I'm in the midst of the biggest new thing: getting Tales from the Black Vault made.  This was a project full of firsts: the first time I'd done a kickstarter, the first time I'd directed a video, the first time I'd written marketing copy, and really the first time *anybody* had organized an improvised audiodrama podcast like this.  I have made every possible mistake in this process, from mis-timing the start and end of the kickstarter campaign to forgetting to focus my camera on one of the shoots.  (Yes, really.)

Much learning.

And this project has been replete with pond-rocks.  For instance, our Free Fringe promo was one of the best videos I've ever made -- as of this writing, it's been viewed 49 times, most of which I guarantee you are Lindsey and I repeatedly watching it.  But eventually we begged, cajoled, and lured enough backers into the project to get it off the ground, so off we go.  We'll see what happens.

Other Things

There have been lots of little artsy things kind of happening around the periphery.

I still go dancing occasionally, but my heart isn't much in it any more.  I wander in, I catch up with a few friends, I wander off.  Most of my friends have moved on from blues dancing, and I suppose I'm moving on, too.

I still play music.  I feel like this was a very bad year for me for piano.  I learned a few new songs on piano -- and while "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk" is probably the most involved song I've ever successfully played, I don't feel like I learned anything on the instrument.  Apart from the few songs I learned (and forgot), I just played around with a sight-reading app that got me slightly better at sight-reading, and woodshedded a bunch of repetitive exercises that didn't teach me anything at all.

Guitar went better.

Sure, for the start of the year I was working through a fingerpicking book and a clawhammer DVD that were kind of a wash, but I think once I started in on jamplay, things went much better for me.  For the last four months or so, I've been slowly and happily puttering through one of their blues-guitar courses, and I've actually learned some basics that I can make practical use of.

I only did a tiny bit of scripted acting this year -- once for a webseries set at a fictional gaming company, and then once for a spot of voice acting for a *real-life* gaming company.  Both times, it felt like a pleasant bit of tourism, sort of like going on safari to see professional actors in their natural habitat.  I don't know if I'll ever pursue that further -- it's fun and I do okay at it, but the opportunities in Austin are limited, and I have other means of more profitable employment.  We'll see, I guess.

Finally, this was the first year I wrote little toy web programs and deployed them to the web.  Hell, it was the first time I made myself a vaguely-current web site since the '90s.  So I suppose that goes in the 'creativity' column as well.  Even this many years into it, programming always makes me feel like a bit of a magician: I WROTE WORDS AND IT CREATED A THING.


So that's how 2014 went.  I'm impressed that I tried so many new things, and successfully completed so many projects.  It's lovely to see how, say, video editing fed into Nothing and Everything, or how the basic blues-guitar riffs came in handy for the Tales from the Black Vault demo.  Still, it's upsetting to see how much I've been running in place.  I don't want to think about how many hours I spent at the piano, not really learning anything.  I don't want to get stuck in ruts like that next year.

Ah well.

In any case, that leads us naturally to the "what should I do next year?" post, which I'll start writing next.

Mood: [mood icon] reflective · Music: none
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