Monthly Archives: January 2016

Something Other Than Theatre: Talking About My Diet

On a non-theater note (and I’ll post about my present activities in a little bit), I came home from Christmas break with my family in Las Vegas having eaten a substantial amount of home cooked food, and weighing as much as 186 pounds before settling back around 184.

Both those numbers are higher than my 5 foot maybe 10 inch frame should be holding, and my weight over the last 15 or so years has been higher than needed.

I came home feeling not so great, recognized that I spent much of 2015 not feeling so great, and recognized that my diet and extra weight plays a substantial part in that.

– I didn’t feel great after meals
– I needed too much coffee to maintain a reasonable amount of energy
– I felt hungry too often for someone who was eating more than he should
– I kept feeling various states of ill during the year
– I snored more than ever before, and began worrying that I may be heading towards sleep apnea
– I don’t exactly have a great figure: There was more fat in more places than I cared for

Plus, I was paying more for food and eating restaurant food more than I wanted to. I came home shortly before the end of 2015 and decided to:

– Lose 20-25 pounds this next year
– Log all my food, calories, macros, on a spreadsheet
– Consciously buy as much food at the supermarket as possible
– Cut my food spending by 25-50%
– Do intermittent fasting full time (16 hours between meals, and eat all your day’s food within an 8 hour window)
– Adopt a regular bodyweight exercise program
– Get my body fat closer to 10-15% than the 20-25% it spent most of 2015 in.
– Get my blood pressure, which has always been high, down to a reasonable 130/80ish level
– Sleep more. I had been sleeping 6-7 hours a day. Sleep closer to 8 hours.

I started with a personal goal of 1800-2200 calories a day. After about a week and some research, I set more specific goals:

– One gram of protein for every pound of lean body mass (140-142 for me).
– No more than 200 grams of carbohydrates a day (most people consume 300-500+).
– Making sure to get the RDA of 4500mg of potassium each day.

SO WHAT HAPPENED?

I weighed 182 pounds on January 1st (I admit I took a bit of a head start before the New Year). I was only hoping to lose about a pound per week, which would have left me around 177-178 at month’s end. But I’m pleasantly surprised to find myself at 175.8 pounds as of this final day of January, a six pound loss.

I crafted a somewhat complex spreadsheet on Google Docs to track my meals and progress, as well as calculate how many weight I can expect to lose based on my average consumption over the past week. This helps estimate if and when I can reach my goal weight of 160 pounds.

In January I averaged 2284 calories a day, which indicates either I had a lot of water weight on me, that I perhaps overestimated calories on some foods, or my Basal Metabolic Rate is somewhere close to 3000 calories. In any case, I consciously ate enough less to lose about 6 pounds.

I intermittent-fasted by skipping breakfast and eating my first meal around 2-4pm. I’m hungry a lot during mornings at work, but I drink coffee and just got used to feeling that way there. When I’m off work those cravings don’t bother me nearly as much.

There were a couple mornings where for incidental reasons I decided to break the 12-16 hour fast and eat breakfast. There were a few days where I didn’t get
in a full fasting window.

Days with a full 16+ hour fast: 17
Days with a partial 14-16 hour fast: 4
Days with at least a 12 hour window (where fat burning kicks in): 2
Days with no fast window: 8

For a cold turkey adoption of the program, a 55% success rate is not too bad, especially with another 19% of kind of sort of successes. I only failed to fast about a quarter of the time. In many of these cases there was an incidental (usually scheduling and meal timing) reason that made fasting impractical.

I adopted the 5BX exercise program, a simple and old daily exercise program created by the Royal Canadian Air Force that is similar to the Hacker’s Diet Workout, and have made it to the C level on chart one.

The spreadsheet does factor in changes to my BMR based on the weight loss, changes to my lean body mass and my slowly advancing age. Yet, at my current rate of consumption, I am projected to reach 160 pounds sometime in June.

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How I Keep a Calendar

I talked previously about the value of keeping a calendar, and I want to give you a look at the detail with which I keep my Google Calendar.

As I mentioned, my calendar is not only a planner, but also a log I keep of what I did with my day. I’ll go back and add events that came up, delete events I did not do, or revise the times during which I did certain things if they ran long/short or changed their schedule. This has actually been quite helpful in situations where I had to go back and verify events that happened.

For the following example of future planning, I chose this upcoming week as it illustrates examples of every color I use to code upcoming plans and events on my calendar.

CalendarExample

I shade all my work shifts in gray, and I adjust the time on these afterward if my day starts or ends early, or late. Here you see all five workdays for my day job. If and when I help manage the studio at Theatre Momentum, I code those shifts in gray as well.

If I call in sick, take a day off, or get to leave early, I delete that particular day’s block. When I fill out my work timecard at month’s end, this helps me verify if and when I took a sick day.

Lavender indicates organized conscious practice for a performance art discipline, like a class, workshop, rehearsal or audition. When I see lavender, I know there’s a good reason I put that on there. If I have to miss it or I want to schedule something else there, I need to make a judgment call.

With classes and rehearsals, the judgment call is simple: I cannot remove it without extenuating circumstances. Being sick or having some other emergency counts. Wanting to go do something else does not.

Workshops and auditions are more flexible. If I put my name in writing or make a similar commitment, it’s set in stone. But otherwise I give myself permission to remove it as needed.

Green indicates personal tasks or projects. I need to get these things done to keep my life from imploding, anything from bill payment and finance related things, to writing tasks, to errands I need to get done.

On the left is a meeting for a potential project. The bottle middle item is a bank run to get money to pay for venue space. And on the far right is a time block to do my laundry.

Yes, given my busy schedule, I schedule time to wash laundry. I note the day I last washed my clothes and towels and make sure to do laundry within two weeks of that. If I don’t wash my laundry in suitable time, I could end up wearing dirty clothes for several days before the next available time to wash clothes.

I won’t go as far as to block off time for grocery shopping, but for an item like doing laundry I need to make sure I have the time to do it, and that I do it before my clean laundry runs out.

There are a couple of small items at the top. These are certain bill payments (usually class payments, membership fees or anything important I need to manually pay) that are either posting this day or need to be paid this day.

Turquoise is for shows I’d like to see. Despite being busy as hell, I do try and see shows I’m interested in, shows friends are playing in, etc. Any show title ending with a question mark means my attendance is a judgment call. I’m not yet sure if I can or will go, but I put it on the calendar so I don’t forget it. If the event shows no question mark, it’s an event I intend to go to if nothing comes up. If I’m not comped or the ticket isn’t already paid for, I will list a dollar amount for the ticket price.

I may delete this if I need that time for other opportunities, needed appointments and commitments, or even if I’m exhausted or otherwise not up to making the trip. And yes, I frequently delete these turquoise items.

However, at the same time, I’ll frequently see shows on the spur of the moment, and add them after the fact. As an iO student I dropped in on their shows all the time.

Aqua is for shows that I firmly committed to seeing. For the item you see under Thursday, I need to meet with Brett Mannes at pH before that night’s pHarm House show. Brett and I agreed to meet at this time, so I damn well better be there. I see aqua and I know I can’t bump that commitment.

If I buy an advance ticket to a show, it’s coded in aqua. Since I paid for the show, I better go or my money was wasted.

I’ll also go aqua on shows if I personally promised someone I’d attend that particular show, or if there’s a special meetup I committed to attend (like someone’s seeing a show for their birthday). If I have to go back on it for any reason, I’ll contact whoever to let them know and back out if possible. But these aqua items are usually set in stone. I set these commitments very judiciously.

Salmon red indicates shows I’m performing in or otherwise working. This includes tech, such as with the Monday Laser Comedy Show on the calendar. Backing out of these events is of course a huge no-no in general.

Jams and other open-mic style opportunities to practice are in orange. These are course are quite fungible. I practice and perform so much now that I rarely book these, and I admittedly just put the one (for the CIC Blender) in the bottom left for show. Chances are iffy that I’ll attend, and if anything comes up for that night I’ll probably delete it.

The most frequent dark red items on my calendar are Cubs games. Because I live near Boystown in Lakeview, the games heavily impact my commute. I make sure not to drive unless absolutely necessary on game days. I also try and run errands before homestands, so I have as little need as possible to wade through hordes of fans to do stuff. Obviously, with all these commitments I’ll inevitably need to do so, but the fewer the better. It’s also good to know when night games happen, because the Purple Line stops at Addison before these games, giving me a quicker commute home from work.

But neighborhood street closures (which is the little entry at the top of my calendar) also impact my life. If I don’t move my car for these, I get ticketed or towed. Street sweeping is another item that comes up. If I need to make sure my car’s not parked in the area, I label that day dark red so I know to either move my car to safety and/or drive to work that day.

Blue is how I code my exercise, or any classes that require great physical effort, like a dance class, a physical theatre class, a Pilates or yoga class, etc.

I’m once again running, so I have runs scheduled for certain days. In fact, because I notice how it gets the blood flowing and wakes me up, I have them scheduled on a couple show days. I also like to run home for part of my commute home from iO, so I have one scheduled for after the Saturday class.

Obviously, functional exercise like walking to and from places or carrying groceries doesn’t count. I also do a basic 5-10 minute 5BX workout that I don’t include on here, since it can be done quickly anytime I’m at home.

This in particular is a busy week, and there’s no yellow items on here. Yellow indicates social meetups and events where the main goal is to hang out and have a good time. Parties, concerts, anything where the bulk of the time is spent commiserating and/or drinking get coded in yellow, even if there’s a show built into the event. If I meet up with friends before or after the show and we hang out for more than half an hour, I’ll log this in yellow to show where my time’s going.

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All of this makes it seem like I put maniacal effort into coordinating the schedule. In reality, the various color coding and rules I note above came about gradually over the 5+ years I’ve kept this calendar. It’s mostly second nature to me and they exist because it helps me stay organized and quickly aware at a glance of what’s coming up.

This is not to say you ought to be this detailed. But in light of how many people double book themselves and forget about events in good faith, I think keeping a calendar with some level of detail can dramatically cut down on these scheduling issues.

Energy is essential, especially when you don’t have it

 

One common refrain among peers before shows is that they find themselves in a “low-energy” state. Part of their nervousness or apprehension about an imminent show is that they suddenly find themselves lacking the high energy they would prefer to approach the show with.

Many carry their apprehensive, tentative sluggishness into the set, and it adversely affects their participation in the set. Whether or not they do jump in as needed, their choices often lack alert tenacity, and frequently fall flat.

I strike many as a high energy performer, and many wonder what my secret is. I don’t take any drugs, and at most I’ve had a cup of coffee shortly before the show.

It turns out I’m probably just as tired as they are. I’ve stepped on stage for shows often feeling like I’d rather be in bed. But I refuse to let that keep me from making the strong choices I want to make and being as present as I want to be. Once we’re on, that show and the moment are all I care about. I refuse to feel any exhaustion.

The secret is that I’m also tired during practice or rehearsal or class, and because of that I make a point there to give my best within the reality of not feeling so hot. I have spent years getting used to giving my best and pushing myself to play the way I want to play when I’m feeling far from my best, knowing that someday I’d need to perform shows in that condition.

An improv show or any theatrical performance requires a higher plane of energy. An audience will frequently turn against a show if they feel the performers are not giving their best.

On a 7-point energy scale, 7 being full speed ahead and 0 being still, most of us live anywhere between a 1 and a 3. Theatre, improv, any performance, requires at least a 4, and frequently demands you incidentally push yourself to a 5 or 6.

There are going to be a lot of days where you feel like a 2 (1 is akin to laying down and relaxing). Pretty much everyone who says they’re feeling “low-energy” is around a 2, where living at a 3 feels like an effort. There are a lot of days where I walked into a space feeling like a 2, but I gave my work a 4-6 anyway because that’s what it demanded, and what I demanded of myself. I got used to meeting those expectations, and now I can give that level of effort even when I feel “low-energy”.

It takes more than going through the motions of a warm-up to find energy when you’re “low-energy”. You need to be actively present and aware, play with purpose and a sense of urgency. A good warm-up can get you there if you as a player are focused on connecting to that state of awareness, presence and sense of urgency. Warmup scenes can get you there. Shadowboxing, a run around the block, or a great conversation can get you there if you’re seeking to connect to that state.

However, it’s easiest to reach that state when you routinely find and perform in that state during practice, on a regular basis. The more often you play with presence, awareness and a sense of urgency, the less trouble it’ll be to do a show with “low-energy”.

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You’re Always Coming and Going From Somewhere

 

An easy way to create character choices in improv is to realize your character, much like yourself, is always coming from somewhere, and after this scene will be going somewhere else. This is not to say you should create in your mind a comprehensive character history for whatever character you happen to be playing. But it helps to come in with an idea of what has led your character to this place in time, with the other character(s) in your scene.

Is your character in the middle of a shitty day? Having a great day? Perhaps your character spent all day preparing for this moment, the scene you’re in right now. Perhaps your character has dreaded this moment. Perhaps your character has been enjoying the journey of the last day, week, month, year, life… or loathing it.

Perhaps your character has a long work day ahead, and isn’t looking forward to it. Perhaps your character can’t wait to get the hell out of there. Perhaps your character never wants this moment to end, or whatever happens next is nothing to this character unless they get what they want in this moment.

Imagine for a split second where this character is coming from, or where they plan to go next. From there, put yourself emotionally in that character’s shoes and imagine for a split second how you’d feel in that situation, where your head would be at.

Give it no more than a split second’s thought. You are in the middle of a scene, after all!

Take whatever sense memory you can glean from that idea into this scene, and play with that from here.

It could be the bit of information you need to help drive your improv in the scene.

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Keeping A Calendar and The Value of Commitment

Last week I saw someone hang a colleague out to dry on a work shift at the colleague’s theater, because she had double booked herself. Though I take or leave many faux pas in the performing arts community without a fuss, I was aghast at such a failure.

Never mind that she hung someone within a work commitment out to dry. I could not believe she didn’t keep a calendar. Because if she responsibly did, there is no reasonable way this happens.

If you’re going to be a busy performing artist, or other person working in the performing arts, or really just anyone with a schedule in general… diligently keeping a real-time schedule and calendar is an absolutely mandatory minimum, right up there with paying your rent or mortgage. If you don’t diligently keep a calendar of your appointments, that’s an indictment of your character and reliability.

Google Calendar makes this very simple and easy to do, and anyone with a remotely recent mobile device, or at least in possession of a computer with a working internet connection, should be able to readily access it at any time.

I have kept a Google Calendar since 2010, shortly (and fortuitously) before I dove back into theatre after a long hiatus. I color-code and log every commitment with a short detailed description making it clear what I’m doing. I’ll even log things I haven’t committed to but am considering, and will only take those off if I decide I’m not going.

I log shows I plan to attend or am considering attending. I log proposed and planned meetups with friends, and even log time to do laundry and run errands, just to make sure I make the time to do it. I not only note appointments, commitments, anything noteworthy I did. There is never a point where I don’t remember an appointment, because I look at the calendar daily and each one is clearly noted there where I can see it. I go into greater detail than most probably need to, but anyone can keep a basic calendar online of their gigs. I’ll probably write another detailed post later (with pics) on how I set mine up.

Anyway: Double booking should not ever happen under any circumstances. Even if you’re asked to do something and don’t have ready view of your schedule, tell whoever to wait for you to check your calendar and confirm before you commit.

I don’t know how the colleague who took the pipe on this faux pas dealt with this, and beyond what I was told that’s not my business. But I consider such an offense one of my few blacklist-worthy offenses. I won’t work with people who do it.

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I am dead serious about the value of commitment.

If you’re an artist, this is going to sound I’m ripping you. Not only am I not ripping anyone in particular, but I know I myself have been guilty of what I’m about to describe. This is a common habit and I only seek to point it out so we can all work together to avoid the pitfalls.

An anecdote: Back in the day, I played with college basketball simulators, where you coach and manage a college’s basketball program. During the offseason, in the game, you recruit players to play at your school.

If you recruit one good player, you will almost certainly get that player to sign with you. But if you try and recruit more than one player, then the chances of successfully signing any of those individual players go down. There is a law of diminishing returns that kicks in quickly after two players, where on average it hurts you more to try and recruit three, four five players and beyond than it would to try and recruit two.

The lesson of the game is simple: Like anything in life you have a finite amount of energy and resources, and once you’re devoting too few resources to any individual, the effectiveness of your work in each instance decreases to an unworkable, ineffective level. So, especially when it comes to a specific goal, you are better off focusing on 1-2 commitments at a time then trying to meet several more.
To bring this back to performance art, a schedule with a high volume of gigs, groups and opportunities can begin to hurt you after a while. Every new opportunity you take diffuses the focus and commitment you can regularly give your existing commitments, and not only does the quality of your participation and availability to those commitments suffer, but your work suffers as a whole as the busy schedule frays your discipline and you develop bad habits.

Bad habits:

– Showing up at the last minute before call or late because you book yourself to rush from thing to thing on a tight schedule.
– Leaving as soon as the meeting/show is over and never having time to talk, or get to know anyone new.
– Never having time to spend outside of meetings/shows chatting and commiserating with colleagues (no, this does not need to happen over food or alcohol).
– Doing the bare minimum that is asked of you while working, because that’s all your divided energy and attention will allow.
– Going into auto-pilot due to fatigue, stress and time constraints, which reinforces any relevant bad habits since you will default to those patterns of behavior. More so, it inhibits your growth and development.
– Promotion without building relationships, e.g. typically spamming Facebook posts and invites for shows to people you never spend time with or communicate otherwise. When done to excess (which is sadly common), this comes across as quite rude.
– Not attending other people’s shows, often because you’re overbooked.
– Terrible diet, which in the long run makes you look and feel like shit.
– Tunnel vision: By only caring about what you personally are doing and what your closest colleagues are doing, you shut out everything else going on… much of which might have otherwise presented you with rewarding ideas, experiences, relationships and opportunities.
– Lack of self reflection, which drastically reduces your personal development.
– Lack of rest, which accelerates burnout.

It’s a lot like depriving yourself of sleep to make more time for things: As your sleep deprivation adversely affects your energy and health, it (to say the least) reduces your ability to make the most of that extra time.

Book your schedule solid and eventually you begin to flake whenever possible. Young performers tend not to realize the reputational damage it does to repeatedly back out of and miss meetings, practices, rehearsals and shows. Almost everyone will incidentally have to miss one from time to time. Sometimes you have to take some time off, and you can work that out ahead of time. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the people who repeatedly message the day of and say they can’t make it. Or the people who are always running from thing to thing, and treat you and your group more like a half hour errand appointment than a true relationship or a commitment.

And culturally artists (inaccurately) learn that this pattern of behavior is good for their careers and development, that a large quantity of gigs and resume line items will inevitably lead to a higher quality career. The idea in principle is at best conditionally true, and only loosely so.

Yes, practice and reps matter. Yes, experiences can be useful. However, the key to any of these experiences being useful is *committed focus*. You have to be fully invested in these experiences, and give yourself space outside of them to reflect and grow for them to maximize your development.

Otherwise, you’re simply mastering the ability to relentlessly burn both ends of the candle, lean on your existing habits within that schedule, and little more. And, as someone who has done that in his life: While that can be a useful skill, you need not commit to that so greatly than any of the individual commitments comprising that schedule suffer at its expense.

I cannot emphasize this enough: Nobody is keeping score of how many shows you do, let alone judging you on how many or how few shows you are doing. Literally no one worth a shit cares.

It’s about not just what you do within those individual commitments, but the quality and active interest you provide your relationship with the people you’re meeting those commitments with.

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Now, the working actor may find this idea of finite commitments a bit ridiculous, because most actors go gig to gig. They audition for and get cast in a role, they spend a few weeks rehearsing, then they perform, then it’s done. They constantly hustle for gigs even as they’re currently working through gigs.

I’m talking more so about ongoing commitments: Being on a team, being in an ensemble, committing to an independent group, meeting with a fellow writer to mine material every week or two. Also, friendships, intimate relationships. These relationships matter, and they atrophy when you neglect them (as a lot of performers tend to do). Often, overworked performers think their relationships and connections are a lot stronger than they actually are, having neglected them for so long.

Every commitment is not just dates on a calendar. It takes effort outside of those dates, making time when applicable outside of those dates, giving thought when you’re away to the work you’ll do next time around. It’s about making the time to get away and rest, so you’re focused with energy and ready to go next time around.

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At the very least, make sure any dates you committed to meet are on your calendar. There is no excuse not to.

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The Opening Agenda for 2016

DrawnDeadCrowdJan16Happy New Year.

Every year is the harbinger of bigger and better things for everyone. So to say I have big plans for 2016 is nothing special. If anything, not having high hopes for the new year could be a cause for concern.

To take a page from Michael Linenberger, here’s a quick three part breakdown what I’m up to in three parts, split between right now, the coming weeks, and overall for the new year.

Here and Now:

I had so many colleagues in Chicago ask me about producing the show in Chicago that I went ahead and made it happen: I am bringing Drawn Dead to the Crowd Theater starting this Wednesday at 8pm. The show will run every Wednesday at 8pm in January. Tickets will be $5 at the door.

It’s going to be a challenge to draw an audience outside of interested peers, because I’m directly up against the Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival, which is running this month. Not that I’m competing directly with any shows, but the promotion of those shows is so intense that any outside promotion I do will get lost in the ether. It helps that I’m running a centralized midweek 8pm show with a simple $5 ticket price. But I expect to hear a lot of excuses from performers and peers who can’t attend due to the Festival.

That said, this is a physically challenging show for me to do, and I’ve got many other projects I want to work on. So after this I don’t plan to produce Drawn Dead in Chicago again, unless someone offers me a sizable sum of money to do so.

January 27 will be your last chance to see the show in Chicago, but you can see it beforehand (like this Wednesday, or January 13, or January 20).

The next month:

I have spent the last few months studying both writing and performance in improv and sketch comedy, and have not only noticed opportunities to improve the practice experience for improv… but noticed that there’s no real opportunity for ongoing practice in improv-generated sketch comedy. While you can train with Second City’s Conservatory, and get cast in sketch shows, unless you’re with a group that is constantly producing shows there’s no place to regularly practice those skills.

I have developed a template for an approach to practicing improv and sketch comedy that I’d like to experiment with and develop over the next month. I call this the Sketch Improv Project (SkIP for short) and tentatively plan to begin holding free weekly workshops next month. During these workshops I will practice improv and character exercises and scenework, as well as using these approaches to create sketch comedy… but ALSO to use scripted sketch comedy to help develop character range and performances in improv, similar to the approach behind Dell’Arte and other role playing theatrical exercises.

I have posted for improvisers a survey asking for times that work best for everyone’s schedules. After receiving a few dozen responses it appears there are a mix of workable times during the week.

So once these workshops begin I will likely hold one each month, during each of these potential times. This will allow the widest scope of interested players to participate.

Obviously, if you are a Chicago improviser (or soon to be Chicago improviser) and are interested in participating, please fill out the form. You are also welcome to email me for more information: misterstevengomez at Gmail.com

The long view of 2016:

Presuming SkIP progresses well and quickly, there’s the possibility of producing sketch shows during the coming year. It would be terrific to produce one or two sketch shows from this project, possibly more if strong progress results.

This project aside, I also have my existing groups and projects:

Sosa Mimosa, my Comedy Clubhouse improv team, which performs every couple weeks (Friday 10:00pm… next show is January 15). Since day one back in mid-August we’ve had consistently decent shows and been slowly getting better week over week, though it’s challenging given we always share the bill with two exceptionally funny groups (Lance Chance and Lucky Lucky) whose excellent comedy easily overshadows us. But we focus on giving the best show we can do, and continue to improve.

– Sam and Elden, my long form sketch duo with Elliot Northlake: We’re seeking a regular (weekly, or close to it) opportunity to produce work, even just a 7-10 minute slot every week or two within an existing show. We’re looking to move past sporadic gigs and appearances, and I may even produce a regular variety show if that’s what it takes to get us regular stage time.

– No Pay Internship, my barnstorming improv group with Annoyance peers: We’ve proposed and are looking into producing a run of our own shows before the Spring. At the least we’re looking to perform once or more a month. (They will in fact be opening for Drawn Dead on January 13!)

– Once Drawn Dead’s Chicago run concludes, I plan to ramp up writing and development on my next solo show, tentatively titled Murderous Rage. It’s about pro wrestling, more specifically a big monster heel with a not-so-monstrous personality, in danger of losing his championship role to backstage politics. I have a lot of solid groundwork done on this, and am confident it can become a full show before the summer.

– I’m also wrapping up study with the improv programs with iO Chicago and Annoyance during this first three months. Once these Chicago rites of passage are completed, this should free up my schedule a great deal.

So, I have a lot I want to do in 2016. My first couple of months will be quite busy.