Monthly Archives: March 2016

Intermittent Darkness: Everyday internet blackouts

I’ve talked about my experience and success with intermittent fasting. The idea is a variation on the concept of timeboxing: Taking a task and giving yourself a defined period of time to work on it.

The common thread in a lot of my growth on all fronts is the focus on timeboxing my effort in those tasks, from simple tasks to diet all the way to my work on stage: For the 2-3 hours I’m in this room, I’m going to take the work seriously and treat it like it matters. Once I walk out, I can forget it and go about my business. During the times where I’m not as motivated to practice improv, this mindset and approach is terrific: I ask myself to give a good couple hours of focused practice to a rehearsal, practice, show, etc, and after that I’m free to go if I wish.

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We’re perpetually checking our phones, looking at our laptops, and otherwise constantly connected to the internet. Time and again people recommend we take time to disconnect, but habit makes it easier said than done. In fact, here I am right now typing on a PC with the intention of posting these words to the internet. I was looking at Facebook and Twitter before this and probably will do so after, as are the rest of you.

April Fool’s Day falls tomorrow, and the stupidity of the average prank post raises a doubly annoying harbinger… given the average “news” content posted on the internet either finds varying levels of absurdity or brings out various levels of absurdity in friends, family, colleagues and society at large.

Put the two together, and the prospect of looking at any internet feed on April Fool’s Friday seems so disgusting that once I considered an April Fool’s blackout day (no internet), I not only found exciting the idea of going dark… but I got another, more sustainably useful idea.

Considering my success with the habit of intermittent fasting, and also considering how many nights I turned in late from being on the PC… I think it would be a good idea to actively practice going dark every evening. Two hours before the time you generally turn in, just shut off your PC and phone.

For my general schedule, it’s best to go to bed around 11pm, so I would shut everything down at 9pm. I’d read books, practice calisthenics or poker or read books or go over my writing or whatever I feel like doing that doesn’t involve a computer, let alone the internet. If I’m doing an 8 or 10 pm show, then great. I go home afterward and go to bed, without checking anything.

Anyone who needs to reach me will know to do so before 9pm, or that I will not respond to them before tomorrow morning.

This is similar to how Ryan Holiday refers to his internet-free time on an airline flight as “enforced quiet time”. With no access to the constantly-updated internet, you revert to more holistic personal practices: Reading, writing, thinking, talking with people, studying, learning to do something new, meditating, exercise, etc etc etc.

But most of all, it’ll be easier to get to sleep without finishing the day with a light screen screwing with my circadian rhythms. By eliminating those stimuli, my body and mind can more quickly acclimate to sleep mode, and it’s much easier for me to turn in and get to sleep at 11pm (or midnight on those late-show nights).

So while I was compelled to do this out of a more isolated and annoying stimulus (April Fool’s Day), going dark at every day’s end is in large part an opportunity to extend the intermittent-habit practice to more of my everyday habits, and hopefully improve my life.

I had to leave the pH training program

I left the pH theater’s pHarm House program today, in the last week of level 1 out of 4. There was no crazy blowup or walkout. I just made the decision on my end and let them know today.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been quite busy, but things lately have felt different. I have other projects I want to work on and need to work on. The nights and days off I have been home, I’ve taken notice of how hungry I’ve been for that recovery time. I haven’t had the time to do the things I passionately want to do (e.g. notice how little I’ve been writing!).

I’ve taken stock of what I’m getting from each of my respective projects versus the time, money and effort I’m investing in those endeavors. Over the last month I have gotten much more savage and blunt in evaluating whether or not I really need to be doing something, how much of my time and effort it’s taking, and whether that time and effort could and should be used elsewhere.

While I liked the pHarm House classes and shows, it did take a chunk out of 1-2 of my nights a week, and of course the tuition is not free.

I am working more on the side to save money and repay debts. I also quickly realized I am already practicing quite a bit of improv, and getting a lot from that.

I already have a weekly commitment with a regular team, am training on the weekend with another program, and barnstorming occasionally with another indie team. On top of that, my iO 5B shows are in process through April, and of course I have a full time weekday job that requires an hour long commute each way.

My diet is much easier to maintain when I can be home and comfortably prepare meals. I get more rest when I have more flexible time. After a year of intense training, and with a current regular practice, there is no need to push myself further unless it’s seriously warranted.

And right now I am frankly worn out. I feel like I’m running from thing to thing to thing without really experiencing it, and that’s not good. That’s exactly the kind of lifestyle I dreaded adopting.

When I get a couple days off, I feel better, but my schedule’s not allowing that right now. If I left the program, that freedom would become more consistent.

I like the pH theater, and I liked my instructor and classmates. I did learn some unique things about character work and scene dynamics. The lessons were useful but I wasn’t hungry for the knowledge, and part of that was just everything else I need to work on and want to work on. I didn’t want to invest in something that I knew would only be a low to medium priority to me.

There was also the issue that I’m training with CIC, and that program’s Thursday grad shows (which I would get to do in the Fall) would have directly conflicted with pH’s weekly program shows. I would have had to burn someone anyway. I’m already missing half the pH shows due to my weekly team commitments. Because it’s a cumulative and singular program, I could not have taken two months off during the CIC grad shows.

I also didn’t totally mesh with the theater’s programming and culture. That’s not a huge factor, but it was a factor.

Given all that, the choice became sadly easy. I wish everyone I worked with there the best, but this was a much needed decision. It’s a sad relief, in a sense. It was definitely much more about me than it was about them. It’s actually a really good program and I encourage people wanting a year long performance commitment and the opportunity to get better at fast improv to give it a shot.

No more school night 10pm rental shows, effective immediately

Effective immediately, for various personal reasons, I will no longer participate in or produce any 10pm rental shows on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. This goes with my (unspoken, but now documented) moratorium on all midnight shows.

Obviously, Friday and Saturday 10pm shows are fine. Obviously, any show that ends by 10:30pm on any night is fine. This includes pretty much any 8pm or 8:30 show and even some 9pm shows.

If I were to end up on a Harold team or something similar, and I had to do a 10pm or 10:30pm school-night show for that, this would be okay.

While I won’t produce or participate in these shows, I’ll consider attending such shows on a case by case basis, though given the enactment of this rule you can probably figure out the odds that I’ll attend (odds that BTW go down the more I have to pay to attend said show).

Practice at the level you wish to perform

Basketball coaching guru Sidney Goldstein once astutely noted, “Players do in games exactly as they do in practice. Erratic or inconsistent play in games is 100% due to practice planning problems.”

Likewise, any sort of theatre, whether conventional stage plays, sketch comedy, improv, etc, is only as good as the work put into rehearsal and practice.

The irony of most improvisers treating rehearsal as rigmarole is that how they practice, the habits which they practice, is the most important factor in how well they will do during showtime.

In college, I reached a point where I stopped stressing about exams. I did my homework and reading religiously, before each class, and when you do this you can’t help but learn the material.

I found it sad and amusing to see classmates stress over cramming and studying before the exam, trying to do all the learning they were supposed to do (but didn’t) during the preceding 1-2 months. Meanwhile, I maybe gave the material for the exam a final look over shortly before the exam, but usually didn’t do any extra work beyond what was assigned. My attitude was: By exam week, I either know the material, or I don’t.

This work ethic helped me once I got into theatre. By practicing reciting lines from memory well before I needed to get off-book, I was usually ready to perform off-book early in the process. This in turn made working on the show easy, since I wasn’t multitasking the reading and remembering of lines with learning the blocking and making choices in the moment. I could focus more on how I performed with my scene partner in space.

Take it back to improv. A lot of students and experienced performers treat rehearsal as a task to be tolerated, rather than their chance to develop the level of performance they want to do in front of an audience. Then they wonder why they’re so easily taken out of their game, or why they struggle to do well during showtime.

I take my rehearsal process as seriously as I take the performance, because this is my opportunity to get used to playing at the level I want to play in the show. It’s similar to working out. You can’t bench 300 pounds until you practice benching 100 pounds, then 200 pounds, then 300 pounds. You can’t run a marathon until you practice running long distances over an extended period.

And you can’t expect to perform at a high level without going into rehearsal and, along with practicing the director’s planned exercises, practicing performing at that level in a rehearsal setting.