Category Archives: Uncategorized

Taper madness, no. Taper dilemma, perhaps.

My biggest dilemma with the marathon taper is not the so-called taper madness. In fact, with as much volume and intensity as I put into runs and life each week I’m honestly thrilled with any chance I get to rest. So when you tell me to cut volume, I’ll cut all the volume I need to without a second thought.

No, the biggest dilemma was *how* to taper, not necessarily cutting runs because of course you ideally should run the same number of times each week (barring injury, not running as usual atrophies your growth and throws your body off)… but in shortening those runs figuring out if I should do shorter runs closer to goal pace and ditch any long runs, or just do a slightly reduced volume at easy pace, still do a (not as) long run, and focus more on promoting recovery.

You run as you train, and I should probably do some volume of running at my goal pace if I expect to run capably at that pace on marathon day. You can get away with hardly running at your desired pace and then nailing it in a shorter race. But in a marathon I realize your body is going to revert to habit over the final miles as you tire. If you’re used to running 10:00 miles in your everyday runs, your body’s going to have a real hard time nailing that 8:30 goal pace when you’re in hour 3+ fighting yourself not to slide into your everyday habit of running at 10:00 (or slower).

Plus, the Hansons say that adaptions to any given training usually kick in after 10 days, and anything done closer to the marathon than that typically isn’t going to grow your ability or do anything other than put more wear on your body.

At the same time, you don’t want to lose aerobic training benefits by not doing any running beyond short 3-5 mile runs. You may not develop any further adaptions in time for the marathon by doing a long run a week before… but you can certainly *lose* aerobic endurance capacity by not putting any such work in during the last two weeks before a race.

I know, because I have: I’ve heavily cut volume at times for recovery reasons, then found myself struggling to complete easy mid/long-range runs I used to finish with little trouble. Comfortably running my goal pace doesn’t help me if after 10-15 miles I’m so gassed from suddenly running much farther than I had in the last two weeks that I can’t keep up.

I wavered back and forth on how to approach this past week (because either way the last week before the race is going to be all shorter easy runs anyway). But I eventually decided to err towards being more aggressive on my regular runs early in this week, while easing up later in the week and finishing with a couple of longer runs… not terribly long of course.

I took today off after a team speed workout yesterday, and that was probably good to have that sequence of events breaking up the week. Tomorrow I’ll run a more typical 6ish mile run, and then Saturday I’ll knock out a comfortable 10-11 miles before taking Sunday off and making the final week-long descent towards Vancouver. For these last two runs I’ll be willing to go brisk but shorten my stride and go with quick easy steps if it starts to get a little tough.

That’s probably the best way to approach a taper, or at least the first week of a two week taper. Shorten up and do a little bit more with tempo early on, hit a quality workout, and then soften up on pace demands while getting in a couple of longer runs to end the week.

On sleeping in summer, and sleeping after night workouts

A couple good not-so-known nuggets in here on why we don’t sleep well, and some not-so-known ideas for how to sleep better.

– This points to why I usually haven’t slept as well in summer, and it’s not neighbors blasting music at parties: My core body temperature was often too high to sleep effectively. The hot bath idea is a good trick to attempt.
– According to my Fitbit tracker I also have a lower resting heart rate during warmer months, and my weight tends to be lower during those months (regardless of how I eat). While I definitely want to make sure I work on getting better sleep in summer, it’ll be interesting to see if my resting heart rate and weight take the corresponding turn anyway.
– Though I currently follow a better sleep schedule than I have before, and have been getting decent sleep, I’m still prone to waking up super early, occasionally being unable to get to sleep, or waking up having logged little REM or deep sleep. This trick may be worth a shot:

If you’re only able to sleep 6 hours a night, then restrict yourself to 5. You’ll feel like poop the next day and crash hard…

But then only let yourself sleep 5 hours and 15 minutes. Now you feel like double poop and will be out before your head hits the pillow. So go to 5 hours and 30 minutes… And as long as you meet your designated quota, incrementally increase the amount of sleep you allow yourself. No naps.

You’ll be a zombie for a while but this is actually a core part of what is now quickly becoming the first-line treatment for chronic insomnia: CBT-I. The application of cognitive behavioral therapy to sleep issues.

One of the more paradoxical CBT-I methods used to help insomniacs sleep is to restrict their time spent in bed, perhaps even to just six hours of sleep or less to begin with. By keeping patients awake for longer, we build up a strong sleep pressure—a greater abundance of adenosine. Under this heavier weight of sleep pressure, patients fall asleep faster, and achieve a more stable, solid form of sleep across the night. In this way, a patient can regain their psychological confidence in being able to self-generate and sustain healthy, rapid, and sound sleep, night after night: something that has eluded them for months if not years. Upon reestablishing a patient’s confidence in this regard, time in bed is gradually increased.


Though on most weeknights I finish my running no later than 7pm… I do log group workouts on Monday and Wednesday later than is ideal, ending around 8pm. By the general rule, you want to get to sleep at least 3 hours after your last workout or you’ll have trouble sleeping well. This is probably more of an issue for older people, but guess who’s pushing 40? 😉

So, let’s say instead of trying to go to bed after a racing team workout or a Monday group run at 9-10 pm and hoping for the best, only to end up with screwed up sleep… I actively short my sleep on those nights by turning in three hours after the end of the run, then afford myself the option of turning in 15 minutes earlier than last night’s time, such as:

Wed: 11:00pm
Thu: 10:45pm
Fri: 10:30pm
Sat: 10:15pm
Sun: 10:00pm

If on Thursday or afterward I’m definitely tired enough to pass out at 9pm, then great I’ll do that. Unless of course I keep waking up early, in which case I’ll make myself stay up until the listed time and then pass out. Note that my typical shut-down time these days is somewhere between 9:00-10:00pm, so by Sunday I would in theory be back to my “normal” schedule.

If I skip the Monday run I would just turn in for bed normally until Wednesday. But if I do the Monday run, which due to a cooldown run home usually concludes my running around 7:45pm or so, then I would turn in per the following schedule.

Mon: 10:45pm
Tue: 10:30pm

Then once Wednesday comes, I once again turn in later per the above Wed-Sun schedule, and repeat. Obviously, if I skip the Wednesday workout and don’t do a later run, then I can follow my normal sleep schedule as usual.


Thinking about this with such a level of detail may seem excessive to many, but this is the depths to which I’ve gone to fine tune my day to day habits and life to improve my training and recovery. It’s not only paid dividends over time, but it’s been vital to keeping me upright, let alone in good health.

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Hello again.

In February 2017 I quit my improv commitments and decided to stop performing for a while. A while has become 14 months, and to be honest I don’t miss it at all. I never thought of the decision as permanent, and as with all things never say never. But as of now I have no interest in going back.

There’s no need to get into all the reasons why I left performing behind, but the main point is what I decided to focus on instead since has felt far more rewarding. I not only focused primarily on my distance running, but also worked on my overall health and self improvement: Improving my diet, getting better sleep, carving out and enjoying my free time, not drinking except for occasions, sourcing and improving my attitude and outlook, etc.

To get into why improv and performance art didn’t serve those things only serves to dwell (probably, admittedly, with some salt) on the past, on a lot of externally sourced factors I honestly cannot change… instead of building on the present towards the future. I liked a lot of what I did as a performer and regret none of it. And I like my decision to leave it behind, as well as who I am and continue to become now. What I’m doing now is a lot more rewarding than what I was doing before.

Despite having left it behind I kept this weblog and left up all the previous posts, which I still stand behind even today. What I wrote is still true and worthwhile, so I’ll leave it for those who can use it.

Going forward, however, I am repurposing the weblog to be more personal and about the things I work on today, my running, my health and associated matters.

  • I still run a lot, still take it seriously, have learned a lot about myself and running, and would like to write more about what I know and have learned.
  • I’ve worked on improving my diet, sleep habits and general health. I’m no doctor, nutritionist or anything else certified, but I have learned a lot and would like to write more about that as well.
  • I have various observations on both of the above, among other things, and want to write about that as well.

I may also backdate some posts based on previous experiences over the past year, that I think may lend some insight.

Hope you enjoy what’s to come.

I have decided to stop improvising

After over two years of improvising in Chicago (and quite a few years before that in Seattle), I have decided to stop improvising on stage for a while.

I actually made the decision a couple weeks ago, but needed to complete some official business before it was practical to announce it. I have officially left One Group Mind, the organization I had been practicing with since 2015 and the one organization I was still currently committed to, and as of last night am no longer committed to anything improv-related going forward. My last show with my team Sosa Mimosa was 2/24, and I coached my last rehearsal for Flynn Tin Tin last night (2/26). I didn’t want to make a big deal out of goodbyes, so (though the org and teams knew) I kept it quiet until now.

This was not a painful, ‘Mike Schmidt or Lou Piniella crying on TV’ sort of decision. I’m actually quite relieved. My life over the last few months has changed in many ways, and demands on my time and energy outside of improv (demands I mostly want) also increased. While free time and other interests have become more important, improv gradually became little more to me than an obligation… one I realized I did not need to keep.


Over the last six months I got seriously into distance running. I’ve run regularly (to a lesser extent) over the years, but wanted to get more serious about it. I run most days of the week, and now regularly run races on some weekends. For a lot of reasons I really enjoy it, and of course I’ve gotten in pretty good shape and health doing so.

Because of this, rest and recovery becomes much more important. As a Chicago resident rest is very hard to get since doing anything at all requires some walking and other physical effort (plus I also have to commute to/from work, like everyone else). Add in an improv commitment that requires going to and from Wicker Park one or more nights a week, and I just wasn’t getting a lot of time to rest. (And improv culture, of course, does not lend itself to a restful and healthy lifestyle in general)

Of course, your body as a runner punishes you when you don’t rest, and I don’t want to risk long term injury from exhaustion, let alone deal with exhaustion’s negative effects on my running performance. Plus, I have other errands and responsibilities I need to find time to do, things you take for granted like laundry, grocery shopping and preparing meals. Removing any unnecessary late nights or commutes from my schedule became a huge priority. During a stressful week a couple weeks ago, it became clear how much improv had gotten in the way of the rest of my life, more than adding to it.


I still generally enjoy improv, watching it and doing it. At my last performance and my last coaching rehearsal, I still had fun. But everything surrounding getting to that space and carving out time for it is what really sucks, and at this point it just sucks too much.

I don’t (unlike a lot of people in the scene) have any delusions or ambitions of channeling fame or fortune through improv, and did it solely as a serious interest. Since improv’s not a serious interest for me anymore, I should stop. I have finite energy and time, and I now realize improv’s eating away at too much of it. I want to get to a point where I once again have a impassioned, active interest in improv… and realize I need substantial time away for that to return.

I still believe One Group Mind and The Comedy Clubhouse are the sneaky-best places for improv fans and performers in the city of Chicago. I gladly endorse the organization as a place to practice, and gladly endorse the Clubhouse as a great place to enjoy improv on the weekends. It’s my hope that if/when I want to return that I can return (from our communications I’m told they’d welcome me back). I still believe that anyone who ignores the Clubhouse or the organization, or looks down upon it as a lesser improv house, is making a substantial mistake. Yes, that’s just my opinion, albeit an informed one (as someone with more experience than he ever wanted with all the local Chicago improv theaters), and a lot more coldly objective than it ought to be given my allegiances with the theater.

I may or may not come and see improv or other comedy shows over time, but I do want to spend time away, so I probably will not during the foreseeable future.

For now, I want to focus on running and enjoying the rest of what life has to offer. Some people get into improv as an escape from a life they don’t care for. Personally, I like my life, and I want to create all the space I need to get the most of what I want out of it.


One notable point is that I originally moved to Chicago at the end of 2014 for the explicit purpose of doing improv. And now I’m no longer doing the thing I moved here for.

Now, I could come back to improv in time. There’s also the possibility I just don’t. But if I’m not going to do improv, then what am I doing here in Chicago?

Well, for as many issues as I have had with this corrupt and troubled city… it turns out Chicago is a great city for running. Along with many running groups and organizations, and countless local races throughout the year… the Lakefront Trail and Lincoln Park are two accessible and massively inviting places to run. Training for me has been very easy since instead of dodging cars, I can jog a few blocks to a trail and then not have to worry about vehicle traffic throughout a long run. I realize very few other livable locales for me could offer that.

Obviously, if for some reason I was economically or logistically forced out of living in Lakeview my situation could change, and maybe then I consider a move out of Chicago. But for now, Chicago is actually a really good city to run in. So even if I moved here for improv and don’t do that anymore, I can still live here for the valuable running experience.

It’s not the school that makes people famous

I had written a longish piece that was basically an extension of this Mick Napier “Laying Claim to Fame or Acclaim” piece.

Rather than post another wall of text most won’t read. I’ll just ask you to read Mick’s words, since you’re more likely to read and respect those. He says what I’d just restate.

A new home

I just moved into a new studio apartment. It’s about the same cost as my share of the 2-bed I just left, and not only do I get the benefit of my own space but the quality of the new place is MUCH better in just about every way. It’s not a luxury condo or anything, but everything’s clean, working and well maintained. I’m closer to supermarkets than I was before, closer to the Lakefront than I was before, farther from the craziness of Wrigleyville and Boystown, my new neighbors are relatively chill adults who don’t throw late night ragers like my former neighbors, the management and maintenance staff are readily available and easy to work with, and the parking isn’t any more difficult than it was before.

It helped me realize that for the last 20 months I never really felt comfortable at home. Problems kept arising at home time and again regarding things breaking or not working, never minding any roommate issues. And that had a substantial effect in the pursuit of projects, ambitions and other endeavors. I pushed ahead for about a year after arriving, but even towards the end of my training anything outside of home and work felt like a grating chore, something that was getting in the way of the few moments I had to breathe. A big part of that is that being at home never provided much comfort or relaxation. There was a constant waiting for the other shoe to drop. And that can wear you down after a while.

I’m currently worn out for a different reason: A week of packing, moving boxes/bags/furniture, and dealing with logistics has left me physically tired. Everything is done save for receiving my items from storage, which I can do anytime before December. Though I had hoped this Labor Day weekend to start a workout regimen I was interested in, the weariness and bruises throughout my body tell me I need to rest this weekend. So, probably Monday!

But mentally, emotionally, ambition-wise, I’m looking forward to getting back to work this fall on things I left behind last spring. Along with a new start in a new home, I feel like I now have a comfortable home base from which to pursue everything.

Crossroads, or why I haven’t had anything to say in a while

A couple months ago I started playing poker tournaments again (a cash game here or there, but mostly tournaments), not on the regular but once every few weeks or so. I even took a few road trips in part to play poker in different Midwestern locales. I’m still a pretty good tournament poker player, and on the whole (I track my wins and losses) I’m in the black by a couple hundred dollars.

Obviously, walking away after winning feels good and walking away after busting doesn’t feel good. But much like what happened the last couple times I gave up poker… I walked away from the last two or three poker tournaments I played feeling dirty, like I hated some part of myself after doing it.

I don’t have any moral opposition to playing poker, obviously. I don’t feel I’m committing any mortal sin in playing poker. The issue goes back to a point I made in Drawn Dead: It’s a game played mostly by shitty people or at least by people who behave badly when around poker tables. And it’s not just the nature of the game requiring you be cold and calculating. The people in general are people you would not want to be around in general. People get surly and even occasionally fight. Other than playing the game and sometimes making money, poker is not a particularly enjoyable life experience. In getting back into poker I’ve learned that I’m good enough to make money, and that I’d usually rather spend my time doing something else around other (more friendly and trustworthy) people.

After entertaining the possibility of playing regularly again, I decided that poker’s best left as something I do now and then, whenever I’m in the mood for it. It’s an expensive hobby, even if you’re good enough at it to consistently make money (since you need a bankroll for it), and it takes hours away from your day every time you play. If I don’t enjoy it, why do it?


Right now overall in my life I’m at another crossroads. I basically took a break from performing after finishing my training at iO Chicago and Annoyance. I do still play and practice weekly with Sosa Mimosa, but otherwise don’t work on anything else. Many of my colleagues have moved on and work on other things.

I’m not being pulled in any particular direction, especially given all the possibilities require a substantial personal investment of time, money and effort. Shows require an audience that isn’t necessarily there. Projects require willing participants who aren’t necessarily interested in what I want to do. If your successes are met with the same silences as your failures, then what aside from personal satisfaction was the point? I can get mere personal satisfaction from a myriad of other activities that don’t require nearly as much investment.

I long since reached a point in my life where any effort I put towards theatrical practice needs to lead to meaningful results. Morally, financially and otherwise personally, I can’t pump money into classes and attending or producing shows that aren’t going to allow me to do anything substantial. My plan all along from the moment I arrived in Chicago was to train for a year and then work on my own to develop further. I’ve long since passed the peak of the bell curve on the useful volume of training. The only way I can effectively develop now is active and productive practice. I have more than enough information on what I do well and what I need to work on.

What I lack right now is a drive towards something that 1) I want and 2) that I have the ability and opportunity to do. I have vague interests in multiple possibilities that would require substantial effort and practice, but right now I don’t have the ambition to pursue them. There’s little to no foreseen reward on top of doing them for their own sake, and at this stage of my life doing it for its own sake is nowhere near enough reward for me.

I don’t need personal reward from a creative project or performing so much as I need to know my input and work is rewarding and fruitful for others beyond its own sake. And I don’t think any of my peers are in a place where the work I’d want to do is aligned with or rewarding for them… never minding their own current schedules and needs. I’ve worked too much on furthering other people’s ambitions, projects and messages to keep doing that at my own expense. I feel like there’s no give and take, that to keep going was to keep giving and for everyone to keep taking without anything in return.

I admittedly don’t want to continue performing unless I can do the stuff I want to do. I’d rather do nothing than expend time, money and effort on someone else’s ambitions with no personal return.


This is not to say I’ve done nothing with my life. I started running on a not-quite-weekly basis and can consistently run 3.5 miles… not bad for someone who couldn’t fathom running a 5K three years ago.

I did put aside my intermittent fasting (though I still have 16 hour fasts a couple times a week) to implement two new dietary concepts: Bulletproof eating and a ketogenic diet. A bulletproof diet is a strictly clean diet focused around organic meat and vegetables as well as eschewing carbs for healthy organic fats. It is what inspired Bulletproof Coffee, coffee combined with clean butters and fats (I drink coffee and tea with coconut oil). Ketogenic dieting of course is cutting virtually all carbs from your diet and setting a max on protein intake, filling the rest of your diet with healthy fats. This induces ketosis, where your body’s digestion and energy use switches from carbs to burning fats, as well as eliminating body-bloating inflammation that results from consuming carbs and other processed garbage.

When I started 2016 at 185 lb, I set a goal to drop to 160 lb by year’s end. I had done well with intermittent fasting, quickly dropping to 170-175 lb, but I stalled at around 171-174 lbs and couldn’t get below 170 for more than a day. But, after a week of keto, I quickly dropped to 166 lb and even after reintroducing carbs and other occasional garbage, I managed a cruising weight of 167-168. I also find myself sleeping better… not even more hours sleep, but the sleep is deeper and more restful. I also feel less on edge in day to day working life.

Because of cravings and available foods, it’s pretty hard to stick to straight keto for extended periods. With a ‘ride the wave’ approach I’m hoping to extend the periods where I can suitably manage it. I now think I can hit 160 lb easily before the fall.

I am also moving to a new studio apartment near my current Wrigleyville place, which will not only be a life upgrade, but puts me closer to the lake shore, which will better allow me to go for runs and perhaps practice some sports, the latter which I haven’t had the chance to do much of since moving here.

If I’m not going to produce any artistic results, I might as well produce some personal results from improving myself.


I’ve been asked time and again if I have any projects on the horizon and for the last few months I’ve told people a highly condensed version of what you read above, that I’m taking time off for now and at a crossroads as to what I want to do next. I have alluded to resuming active work in the fall, and that is my intention, though I don’t know exactly what will come next. I am glad I’m no longer training and can make time for whatever will come next.

I have some vague artistic ideas, with things I’ve worked on as well as new ideas, but am not interested in sharing them unless I’ve actively decided to work on them and have something to share with people.

Taking it easy

After quitting training programs in March, I decided to scale back my improv commitments and focus on one improv commitment (Sosa Mimosa, which meets or performs once a week), allowing time for the rest of my life. While that amount of commitment will change at some unforeseen point down the road, I feel very good about that decision.

It’s the first time I haven’t been regularly investing money in improv training, and I see it in my bottom line. I went from struggling and treading water to having disposable income. Of course, I’ve also tightened up my spending and diet and that has helped (another benefit of paring back my schedule is it makes following a meal plan easier). But not throwing $200+ a month down the hatch to take classes makes a big difference.

It’s the first time since shortly after I moved here that I have free time to do other stuff. Not too long after Drawn Dead’s Crowd run, I felt like getting back into poker again and have since spent most of that time studying and practicing for non/micro-stakes online. Quickly I saw an improvement in my cash game play, and during a recent vacation I played two poker tournaments and did very well in both, plus did fairly well in cash play. Yes, there was some good luck involved, but I saw definite improvement in my strategy and confidence. Poker is not something I want to do all the time or invest a lot of money in right now, but I have fun doing it and will seek opportunities to do it as long as I enjoy it.

I also started running again. I stopped during a busy period last year, and of course winter conditions made it difficult to start again until recently. My employer held a 5K as part of an event and on a whim I signed up to do it. During my previous running I never quite maxed out at 5K distance, but managed to quickly work up to 3.5 miles before the event and, while doing so slowly, managed to run the 5K without problems.

Now, I have a regular routine where after Sosa rehearsal I run from the Clubhouse to my home, a distance of about 3.4 miles. The run is arduous after a lengthy day but great exercise and I’ve been able to finish it each time without problems. Also, when I have weekend commitments in Wicker Park, I walk the 3.4 or so miles there, sometimes back. After gaining some weight during my vacation, the substantial exercise along with redoubled diet has helped me lose the weight back. By only doing it on excursion weekends and every other Thursday, I also allow my body ample time to rest and recover between sessions.

I still like improv and still intend to coach at some point. The last 1.5 years offered great perspective on the realistic prospects of putting work into improv, and the bell curve of effort vs reward. I now have found a good level of immersion in improv, that allows me to explore the other things in my life important to me.

Poker Dealers and the value of observation

If a regularly employed poker dealer works at his/her job for long enough, they see thousands upon thousands of Texas Hold’Em hands, and from their observation many can’t help but become better at reading everyone at the table… even if they can’t see the players’ cards unless the hands are shown down after the river. A lot of these dealers, after a while, can tell you who has what hand by the river of most pots, despite not seeing anyone’s cards, just based on how they played the hand… similar to how legendary poker star Daniel Negreanu can tell opponents what cards they have despite not seeing them.

Those dealers watch the same betting and playing patterns play out so many times that it’s akin to Mick Napier watching improv students or auditionees get a suggestion, and knowing exactly what they’re going to say or do to open a scene.

This isn’t some psychic or mentalist skill, so much as it’s the development of understanding the one thing common to all humanity: Behavior patterns. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we tend to follow similar behavior patterns in similar situations. Even when we deviate from the norm, we still fall into some sets of behavior patterns. And from learning those patterns, we also recognize deviations from those patterns, and can clue in to what they indicate.

What does this have to do with improv? Obviously, with poker, a deviation from a player’s normal pattern of betting, checking or folding can indicate a difference in the strength of one’s hand. It can indicate a bluff, or a monster hand, and an astute player can read into this observation and either call down a bluff or weak hand… or fold and avoid losing money to a stronger hand.

In improv, the benefit of watching a high volume of shows is that you recognize the patterns players fall into, what happens to the show when those patterns are followed, and can read into whether deviating from those patterns can benefit or harm the show. I’ve practiced a lot of improv, but I’ve also watched a lot of improv. I’ve heard of students who took time off and just watched shows without any expectation of participating… then came back to improv much better performers. Having seen time and again what works and what doesn’t, the player (even if rusty) has a better sense of what drives a fun and entertaining scene.

I’m not about to say that an experienced poker dealer can walk into the World Series of Poker and crush it, any more than a long time compulsive improv viewer can walk into Second City and kill it on the Mainstage. You still must practice and gain practical experience and ability, then work on demonstrating improvement.

But the road to get better becomes easier to follow when you spend extended time watching how others get there.

Revisiting ruts (and how to get out of them)

I had a friend mention being in a rut. I wrote about this almost a year ago, and a lot of that stuff is true. But since then I’ve found that a lot of the following activities I’ve learned are also helpful:

– Start the scene with a basic statement. Then respond to the scene partners’ next line by restating that statement in a different way. Notice how you restated the point, what words you used, how you said it, and follow whatever patterns emerge in how you subsequently respond to the scene. This is a Mick Napier exercise that often is quite fun.

– Be ridiculously specific. What will usually happen is that you will merely come across as specific to your audience. This is because we tend to be vague in our improv scenes. Forcing ourselves to go over the top with specificity makes our choices specific, and thus interesting.

– No one cares about the plot or narrative. Be okay with the scene being about nothing. Instead, find something (the other character, something in the room, a task) to focus on or filter the scene through, and do so to a ridiculous degree, much more so than is necessary.

– An old Kevin Mullaney exercise: Try to respond without any gaps in the dialogue. As soon as the other person finishes speaking, immediately respond off the top of your head. This is very Meisner Technique inspired, and it works. It gets you out of your head and present in the scene, because you don’t have much of a choice. And the dialogue flows the way a normal conversation would flow, which engages the audience.

– Decide immediately, the moment before you begin the scene, that you have a POV about your scene partner’s character. You love that person, you hate that person, you’re hiding something from that person’s view, you can’t get more than three steps away from that person, etc. Do the scene from that perspective and filter everything introduced through that. This is one example of what some improv schools call a “game”. You give yourself a game and then filter everything that happens through it.

– A Farrell Walsh exercise: Take a suggestion, or perhaps a word or phrase from the end of the previous scene. Quickly think of a personal memory that evokes some sort of emotional sense memory in you. Obviously don’t overthink it, since you have a split second to get in the scene, but find that emotional state and begin the next scene with that state of being. For example, I hear “greyhound” and quickly think of a horrid cross country bus ride I once took where the large dude next to me fell asleep on top of me. I remember how constricted and shitty that felt, and begin the next scene from that place.

– Declare a point of view that you believe to be true or an opinion on something you can talk about. “Nachos are always better at a Mexican restaurant” or “We should tax the rich 50% income tax with no deductions” or “The Mariners should probably play Dae Ho Lee more often.” Or take the opposite view of what you believe. Immediately make a statement about that and do the scene from that place. I sometimes start scenes by making some sort of statement I believe about some inane subject. Everything that comes after is filtered either through whatever I stated, or whatever character qualities I exuded when I started.

– Finally, and while I hope this goes without saying for many, it is crucial: Do not under any circumstances drop whatever the hell you came in with. Find a way to fit it into the scene, because that’s going to go way better than changing into whatever you think the scene is supposed to be about. If you come in thinking you’re a gruff cop, and the others in the scene establish you’re all kids on a playground, it’s way more fun for you to act like a kid who acts with the quality of a gruff cop, or maybe a cop who wants to be a kid again, or whatever. Commit hard to what you brought in while accepting whatever reality is created, and the resulting scene is probably going to be real funny.


I think any or all of this can be quite helpful for working through and busting out of an improv rut.

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.


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.

Little things that tend to take the air out of improv scenes

I’ve taken a lot of notes in improv classes, shows and practices lately… not just on things I learn, but also observing and noting some moves that several current instructors have noted tend to let the air out of scenes.

– Talking about the past
– Talking about the future
– Entropy, aka silences caused by indecision and inaction
– Talking about people outside of the scene
– Meta commentary: Talking about objects in the space, about tasks that you’re doing, about yourself i.e. “I am the type of person that ______”.
– Something I like to call “Almanacing”: An uncharacteristically itemized discussion of details in a character’s history. Examples: “I graduated law school from Harvard” or “He left home two years ago and we’ve been living all alone since.”
– An unclear relationship between the characters… not so much establishing the base relationship like “mother-daughter” or “coworkers”, but establishing the contextual heat and weight of how the two characters get along, e.g. whether they like or hate each other, how one feels about or affects the other, how they commonly interact, etc.
– Debating “fake facts”: Two characters arguing who did what or what is or isn’t true, in lieu of moving the scene forward through exploring their relationship.
– Bailing on your character’s essential action. This is not necessarily conceding an in-scene conflict, which can be done while still maintaining a character’s essential action or point of view. A bail is usually out of character and clearly a choice of the performer rather than the character.
– Bargaining and transaction scenes.
– Two people who don’t know each other at all, instead of a scene with two people who do know each other well.
– Qualitative platitudes, e.g. “I love _____” or “The best _____ ever” or “I hate _____”.
– A character’s lack of an essential action, or what some call the objective. It’s the thing motivating and driving the character in that scene. It’s an important element of acting, and important to improv too, whether or not improvisers practice it. (The essential action is also a key way to avoid “corpsing”, aka breaking into laughter during a scene)

Over the last week I have watched improv scenes and sets while, without tracking any performer names or even much about the scenes themselves… writing down any instances of the above situations occurring. I even wrote them down for my scenes afterward, and I certainly made a few of them myself.

I wrote instances down whether the scene was going great or going buh, even if they were parts of really good moves. I only noted the moves to see how often these instances occurred, not to judge any of the scenes or performers.

So far, four particular moves have risen above the others:

– Meta commentary: Talking about objects in the space, about tasks that you’re doing, about yourself i.e. “I am the type of person that ______”
– Talking about people outside of the scene
– Talking about the past
– Talking about the future

Almost all the other items in the larger list happened with some regularity (about 10-15 times in the scenes I’ve surveyed the last couple weeks). Scenes where people don’t know each other have only happened twice out of the dozens of scenes I’ve watched during this study.

However, the four items I noted above occurred 30-40 times. And the good news is they all can be addressed by focusing on one simple thing: The current relationship in the moment between the characters on stage. This has in turn helped me focus on avoiding the listed habits, and countering with more present and connected moves. This exercise also gives me a helpful point of focus in watching scenes, making the exercise of watching classmates or so-so show scenes a more interesting and fruitful one.

Rather than be paralyzed by such a laundry list (incidentally, Mick Napier has an exercise where he cuts off scenes whenever anyone does any of these things), it helps reinforce the importance of the moment, of essential actions and the character relationships on driving a fruitful and fun scene.

I’ll continue this survey over time, and see if any other trends emerge.

Should this be the last Facebook Event post I make?

Yesterday I posted a Facebook event for a show run, despite my stated reservations about posting such things. Around that time, Shithole‘s Zach Bartz made a great FB post echoing the sentiment of my hollow but somewhat compulsory move.

If that advice sounds familiar, that’s because people like Dan Goldstein have been giving that advice for two decades.


Make as many invitations personal as you can. I don’t mean use mail merge. I mean let people know, in indiviudal emails, about the show.

Yet we don’t take that advice… definitely not on Facebook, where sending invites and making posts feels productive even when it isn’t.

The Facebook invite is something most of us (myself included) feel we need to do, that no one will notice or care if there’s not some sort of Facebook datum about it. Even the Shithole themselves at least post an image on Facebook and other social media advertising their shows the day of (though as Zach attests they message people if they wish to send out invites; I’ve received many of their invites via PM myself).

What would have happened had I not posted a Facebook invite? What would have happened had I just PM’d everyone I wanted to see the show?

The likely result: With two weeks notice, chances are people would have quickly forgotten by the nights of the show, unless I became obnoxious and sent unsolicited follow up messages. And the law of diminishing returns kicks in quickly with unsolicited PM/email invites: One is great, two comes across as borderline harassment.

The Shithole (who I feel does this just right) sends one message for special shows to known interested parties, the day of. And keep in mind the common argument against doing this: People make plans and often if you give them a morning’s notice they’ll already be booked.

But Shithole’s vast community is the same community as yours and mine. All these people have plans and busy schedules. And the guys still fill up their secret venues with spectactors. A morning’s notice has always been more than enough to bring in more than enough friends and peers.

Granted, there are other factors that separate most shows’ situations from theirs. Shithole is free (donations welcome). Shows typically charge admission. Even as little as a $5 ticket price can deter someone who would have otherwise attended had it not cost anything to enter.

Also, admittedly there’s a huge cool-factor in attending Shithole. It’s an underground show in a secret location. A free underground show run by notoriously awesome people who care about the community is a lot cooler than a $10 not so underground show hosted by people who, nice or not as nice, don’t share that same rep.

Had I waited until the day of to invite people, it’s more likely people would have not have been able to attend, or wouldn’t have wanted to… especially with it costing $10 to walk in the door.


So, there are totally contextual differences that make the approach more challenging for shows. At the same time, Zach is still completely right. Facebook invites ARE annoying and we have demonstrated history that they AREN’T effective. And messaging people directly to extend an invite has always been more effective than using a social media interface to send blanket invites to everyone you have a connection with in that social media platform.

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