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 IT PERSONAL

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.

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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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I didn’t like how I looked and felt, so I did something about it

At the end of 2015 I noticed some problems.

– I was overweight by about 10-20 pounds.
– I had high blood pressure that was getting dangerously high
– I felt like shit all the time
– Whether or not I got sick, I freqeuntly felt unwell
– I have always snored but recordings indicate it had gotten worse, plus my dad had developed sleep apnea and genetics indicate that’s where I’ll head if I don’t fix it.
– I didn’t like how I physically looked
– I was spending too much money on food
– Physical activity I used to do with little problem left me breathing hard
– I’m getting old, to a point where I need to be mindful that my body won’t just bounce back from neglect and that it’s only going to get more difficult
– I’ve always wanted to look better than I do.
– I have a busy lifestyle and can’t afford to get sick or slow down further

So what did I do?

– I actively started tracking everything I eat on a spreadsheet and total the calories and macros.
– I used that same workbook to plan future meals.
– I set a firm goal to lose 25 pounds by the end of the year. I weighed 185 so I want to get to 160.
– I set a soft goal to eat no more than 2300 calories a day.
– I avoided alcohol except for special occasions.
– I set a soft goal of no more than 200 grams of carbohydrates a day.
– I set a firmer goal of 120 grams or more of protein, preferably one gram per pound of lean body mass (140-145 pounds for me, so 140g).
– I set a goal of 4500mg of potassium a day. Your body needs potassium and we typically don’t get close to enough.
– I adopted Leangains style intermittent fasting, where I eat all the day’s food in a 4-10 hour window, and seek at some point to go 14-16 hours without a meal.
– I don’t drink coffee after 2pm on back to back days. If I do it one day I make sure not to do it the next.
– I shop for and eat potatoes, spinach, egg whites and chicken.
– I cook meals at home whenever it works with my schedule.
– I don’t buy/eat any food I cannot accurately log on my spreadsheet.

Since then:

– I’ve lost 9 pounds and counting.
– I feel a lot better. I have a lot more energy.
– Eating actually got easier with all the tracking, since planning meals around my schedule reduces the need for impulse decisions, and IF means I typically skip breakfast.
– I’ve cut my food and discretionary spending by 1/3, even while ordering out a bunch.

Would I specifically recommend anything to people who want to improve their diet and lose weight?

– At the very least, consider Leangains style intermittent fasting. Fasting over 12 hours fires up regenerative hormonal processes that will help rebuild your body and burn extra fat.

– Start cooking with coconut oil instead of butter or any other oils. The MCT fats and anti-fungal properties are super good for your digestive system and heart health. One tablespoon is usually all you need on the stovetop.

– If you’ve got to use any other oil, I’d recommend pressed sesame oil. Good taste and devoid of a lot of the bad shit in other oils. You can even pour a raw tablespoon into dishes and eat it as is.

– Honestly, if you can log your food, you should. Start a log. Take a week to figure out how much you eat, and then do a diet with 500 fewer calories a day than usual.

– Generally drink nothing except water, coffee and tea. Save alcohol for one night a week at most.

– If nothing else, eat a lot of protein. Protein is a key rebuilding block for our bodies and we often don’t get enough of it. Beef (lean cuts), chicken thighs/breasts, pork loin.

– If you’re a vegan, learn to love lentils, spinach, rice and beans. They are the four richest animal-free protein sources. Nuts are okay, but many people’s bodies don’t react well to them (mine doesn’t), and they’re more fat than protein anyway.

– Don’t eliminate carbs, but certainly eat less of them. I set a range of 100-200 grams a day. Most people eat several hundred grams a day. Unused carbs get stored as fat. At the same time, your body’s organs need carbs to function well. Don’t eliminate them, but set a bar of about 100-200 grams a day and stick to it.

– Don’t worry so much about how much dietary fat you’re taking in. A lot of ‘fatty’ foods are bad because they contain excess carbs or an excessive number of calories in general, and seem bad because people who eat them tend not to eat other healthy foods that your body needs, hence the health problems. If you’re eating a balanced diet and not too many calories, you can eat a lot of dietary fat and be just fine.

– If you’re not already walking at least 30 minutes a day, you should start.

– If you already walk 30+ minutes a day, I’d make a point to walk an extra 20-30 minutes, or take up a basic exercise program.

I could recommend a lot else, but that’s probably more than enough.

Marketing and Show Promotion

Like most performance arts, improv suffers from an excess of interested performers and producers, but a relative dearth of available interested audience. And like most performance arts, improvisers and producers of improv tend towards a one sided view towards the challenge of finding an audience for their improv. They see it as ‘how do we sell tickets and get butts in seats?’ rather than ‘how do we form relationships with a community that will want to support us?’, not realizing that answering the 2nd question is the most effective way of answering the 1st question.

Improv theaters with training programs grow an easy audience by giving students free passes to shows. But they’re not making money at the door when those students attend. Comps fill your seats but don’t pay off your expenses. And their word of mouth doesn’t go far, since nearly all their peers are also improvisers, and in our post-modern self-absorbed society almost none will pay the word of mouth any real mind.

Big Chicago improv theaters like iO and Second City have a long-standing built in audience for its main shows. However many of their lesser shows, and most shows elsewhere, struggle to fill seats even during prime time slots. Most shows seem like a case of a show in need of an audience, or shows made primarily for the sake of those making them, rather than made for an audience in need of a show.

Some inconvenient truths about producing improv shows:

– Unfortunately, when producing a show, your goal typically is to make money, at least enough to pay off your expenses to produce the show. No one’s into making improv shows to get rich, but anyone who makes a show happen at least wants to pay back the $200-400 or so to rent the venue, plus the cost of any rehearsal space, or a board op if they needed to pay one. And of course it’s nice if they can ever pay performers a little for their trouble. Turning a profit isn’t even on the radar. It’s just about making the show worth your while.

– The bulk of most improv shows’ audiences consists of other improvisers. These peers don’t have a lot of free time or disposable income. Rarely will they pay full price to see a show. But, like theater and dance, improv doesn’t do much to engage or cultivate an audience outside of its own peers.

– Marketing efforts often amount to the same ham fisted and too often annoying methods: Flyering + postering, Facebook invites, disposable-quality YouTube videos, email lists, begging for press from publications and websites, etc.

– Unsolicited word of mouth also comes up empty. I hear a couple dozen times a week about some really awesome show someone saw or otherwise knows about. When I hear about a show, I’m respectful about the input but I’m likely not going to see it. Whether or not I have the time and money… hell, even if I am interested, I have far too much else going on. So does pretty much every other improviser, let alone anyone who is not into improv or your improv group.

– Most people’s natural introverted aversion to sales and marketing (people generally don’t like directly trying to persuade someone to do something they probably don’t want to do), combined with the comfort zone of one’s social circle, leads people to lean on Facebook and other passive marketing methods that feel productive but often don’t bring much of anyone to the theater.

– We forget that other people are just as low on disposable income as we are, and are as strapped for time as we are. Most share our same schedules. If you don’t have the time and money to see a show costing that much, at that time… they probably don’t either.

– We forget that, if we aren’t interested or willing to pay to see a show at that time, for that price, with that content, etc… others in our demographic probably aren’t either. We forget that, if the investment and effort to see a show seems like too much of a bother for us, the driven working improviser… it’s probably too much for other driven working improvisers, let alone the not-as-driven casual audience that you want to pay full price to see your show.

– The more roadblocks you place to seeing your show (like ticket prices $10 and higher, a late start time on a work night, an unfavorable venue, an uninspiring lineup of groups, spammy and annoying marketing), the easier it is for anyone, let alone an improviser, to say no-thanks. Most non-improvisers also don’t have much money, and choosing to buy a ticket to a show, even a $5-10 ticket, is often for them an important one. You face a steep uphill battle to convince them to come.

– Simply put, it takes far more interest in and empathy for a target audience, and a committed interest in that audience’s needs and lifestyles, than we want to admit. The work to engage your community is just as important, if not more important, than scheduling and staging the actual show. If you don’t cultivate an outside audience, then you may as well have never produced the show.

No one in performing arts likes confronting the reality of show marketing. We generally don’t do it well, and we rely on methods that were outdated a decade ago to reach a changed culture that doesn’t respond to those methods. Effective marketing needs to be more personal and direct, and more about building relationships with a larger community that will in turn take interest and initiative in seeing your work with minimal or no solicitation.

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While I think we can do better, and find a better way to cultivate an audience community, there is also one final inconvenient truth: There are currently far more improv performers and far more shows than our culture wants or needs.

Let’s never mind that improv is still a strange unknown topic to many people, and that if people were aware they may be more interested. Jai Alai is a strange and unknown sport to people in the U.S. You think there’s a huge untapped market for that? You think all they’re missing is mere informative marketing? Highly doubtful. While improv is more applicable, sure, the ceiling for its reach may be lower than people want to believe.

I recognize that the unfortunate best answer, for both improvisers and potential audiences, may either be for the community as a whole to do fewer shows, as well as eliminate shows produced in unfriendly time slots (unless overwhelming audience demand presents itself)… or to create a more affordable and attractive way for improvisers to stage free and otherwise easily accessible shows (i.e. more shows like Shithole).

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In the interim, we ought to stay optimistic and open minded, to grow our audience for paid shows while we can, and find a better way to do it.

I’m not saying I have answers. But I do see what is not working, and I do have at least a general idea of how to do things better.

 

It’s important that we engage an audience that may want and be more easily able to see such a show. I have some ideas in mind to find that audience, in early stages, but it’s definitely more than posters, a Metromix listing and a Facebook invite.

I’d love to talk it over with an artists or producers who also want to change the paradigm on show marketing, and help find and grow a new audience for our work.

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Everything you do on stage matters. A lot.

All of your actions on stage read. I learned this as a theatre and clown performer, and it’s totally true for improv.

We don’t realize how much we are communicating in every moment of a scene with every little detail of our actions, the tone of our voice, the timing of our actions and speech, etc.

Most inexperienced (and even highly experienced) improvisers only notice a small portion of the context behind their words and actions on stage. Many often throw too many ideas and moves into a scene to make it go, not realizing how much information they are already adding with minimal action and dialogue… if they would only think to notice.

Much like in life, a lot of actions on stage are performed unconsciously. We miss a lot of the weight behind the words we say. Many players ramble or invent information, not realizing that the first five or six words said or the first thing they did said a lot: The content present in their tone, their delivery, their body language.

However, most importantly, the audience sees and hears EVERYTHING you do on stage. You may not have realized your random gestures and tics, or all the words you said, mattered a lot. But the audience sees them, and therefore it does.

For example, I start a scene by walking out with a limp of my left leg. My character and another character begin a conversation. During this conversation we walk around, and I not only don’t acknowledge the limp in the scene, but the limp eventually disappears as the scene progresses.

Even if you can argue the limp didn’t fit the character and scene I ended up playing… the audience saw me limp, and subsequently saw me a) apparently not notice I was limping and b) give up doing the limp, as if it wasn’t relevant.

I have now sent the message to the audience that not everything I do on stage is important, or relevant. I have given them permission to tune out not only my choices, but my scene partner’s choices. I have advertised to them that I’m not fully invested in the scene. ALL of this is regardless of how I personally feel about the work I believe I have presented.

Any action or words that happens before an audience’s eyes is reality in the show, let alone the scene. If I treat any given movement or decision like it doesn’t matter, now I’ve sent the message that what the audience is watching doesn’t totally matter. Even if they choose to stay on my side and remain invested in the drama of the show, now I’ve put more of the burden of suspending disbelief on them because I did an insufficient effort on my part to aid them in doing so.

Sounds like I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself, right? Well, not if I don’t just simplify my choices, and instead of trying to do a lot, I just treat with importance every move or word I do add to a scene.

Whether or not any of this lack of awareness and attention to detail does break my show, such negligence certainly does not help my improv, and it is certainly avoidable. Most of us aren’t amazing performers that consistently kill it on stage. We need all the help we can give ourselves.

Most of all, once we get used to giving our work this attention to detail, it becomes second nature and a lot easier. And I won’t offer any guarantees, but I bet the scenework becomes consistently better… more fun, even.

I’ll offer a class or rehearsal exercise that can help illustrate the idea:

ATTENTION TO DETAIL EXERCISE

Have a single player come out and initiate a scene by themselves. Freeze after a few seconds. As a group, instructor/coach/director and ensemble, point out and briefly discuss all the things you noticed about what the player did, how they carried themselves, how their voice sounded, etc… along with what each of those things indicate. After a brief but satisfactory discussion the player may sit down. (If the instructor/coach/director has a solid handle on noticing details, they may even start this process on their own to helpfully illustrate to students the level of detail they have permission to explore.)

What the player on stage will almost always discover is that they did and presented far, far more actions and traits than they may have initially noticed. They might have been conscious of a quarter of the details their peers noticed. Obviously, having a bunch of peers dissect the moment means more will be noticed. But it will show how much we communicate within a bare minimum of action or words.

Once everyone has done this individual exercise once or twice, have two people initiate a scene. After a few seconds, freeze them, and have the seated viewers (like before) point out all the traits they noticed in one player’s actions. Then do the same for the other. From there, you may unfreeze the scene and have the players continue playing for about a minute or two.

To really hammer the point home, you may add the wrinkle of instructing those players to move as little as possible, or set a limit on how much they can say at one time… or both!

Once every action and word has finite and significant economy, players will quickly recognize the importance their every little move has on the scene. They might even have fun with it, given the limited need to make choices saves them the trouble of inventing information or doing any more than just being present in the moment of the scene within their individual established contexts.

What seems like a stressful exercise at first can be freeing to players, once they realize they need not make so many specific choices at the top of a scene to build a great scene.

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The more actions and words a player does with specific intention, the richer their character work, and the more the audience will buy into the scene. If you do something on stage and don’t notice you did or said it, the audience sees you drop the ball, which saps more of their confidence in the show then most players care to admit, leaving you the task of regaining that lost confidence, on top of creating a compelling scene.

Engaging improv is not just your words, your choices, your characters and relationships… but also how invested and in the moment you are with the scene, and with every choice you make in the moment. The audience can read every choice you make, even if you can’t.

A fringe-level sketch comedy production that I would want to create or work on:

– Develops and follows an organized process for production
– Knows and has concretely identified exactly everything the show needs to happen
– Budgets honestly for exactly everything the show needs to happen
– Casts a diverse and representative range of performers who have fun, positive attitudes towards the process
– Pays its talent no less than a significant stipend
– Is developed and ultimately written by the people who will perform it
– Creates material on its feet rather than at keyboards and laptop screens
– Does not work with people who object to and are not completely on board with such a creative process
– Meets for material generation and rehearsal at least twice a week, for about 8 weeks.
– Rehearses at a reasonable day and time during the week
– Keeps alcohol and drugs out of the creative and rehearsal process. (Obviously, drinks after meetings and shows is okay.)
– Seeks to create material that genuinely makes one another laugh
– Creates material the performers enjoy performing
– Builds and organizes its creative material around a theme
– Uses thematic material to inspire and create additional material
– Offers ample time and space to create material
– Offers an organized process through which to create material
– Offers an organized process to rehearse and polish show-ready material
– Has the creative process gradually give way to the rehearsal process
– Produces the show at a friendly, accessible performance venue
– Avoids performing at venues that are inconvenient to access.
– Charges enough for tickets to make revenue and indicate credibility.
– Doesn’t charge enough for tickets to actively turn audiences away.
– Never charges a price the performers and director themselves wouldn’t pay to see a show performed by people they don’t know.
– Does not work with venues that force the show to charge prohibitive ticket prices.
– Treats the tech process and the tech staff with the same focused respect as the creative process.
– Presumes a reachable goal of selling half the seats at full price.
– Offers discounted tickets to students and performers
– Provides each performer with one comp for each week of the show, which they can use however they wish.
– Markets the show consciously and mindfully, rather than spraying invites and promotion wherever they can.
– Focuses most show promotion on a new, outside audience
– Seeks out and markets to a new potential audience for each and every show.
– Is performed with a joyous lucidity by performers who believe in the show and don’t take a single moment on stage for granted.
– Takes any revenue beyond the budget and either invests it into subsequent shows, or pays it to performers as a bonus.

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Drawn Dead’s Chicago run has concluded. Thanks, everyone.

I consider everyone who voluntarily walked through the door to enjoy the show a blessing. They chose to come see this show, and that’s awesome. I have no problem with anyone who didn’t. People are busy: Even when they don’t have conflicting commitments, even when they have the time and resources to make it… they face all sorts of worthwhile competing demands for their time. Sometimes they even just need a night off.

It took a while in my life for me to learn to not take it personal and not make it personal if someone didn’t attend a show of mine. The conversely abundant mindset, that whoever does come see the show is welcomed and enough, feels so much better. I definitely encourage that point of view over others.

Drawn Dead was produced mainly to give Chicago friends who wanted to see the show the opportunity to see it. I’m glad for everyone who came to see it. And if you didn’t see it, no problem.

If you’re in Chicago and ever want to see it, you got options:

– Come follow me to a festival whenever I produce it there.
– If you or someone in Chicago is willing to pay for a performance space and a board op, I’ll be happy to do it then and there.

In the meantime, thanks so much to The Crowd Theater for hosting the show and helping provide an audience.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Amidst my busy schedule, I am slowly writing a new show that I hope will be ready to produce this Fall. I’ll keep you posted.

I’m putting out applications where applicable for Drawn Dead to play at festivals in the region. There is a chance it could go live at some point this summer or fall somewhere in the Midwest, but I admit this is not an aggressive marketing effort. I wouldn’t mind shelving it for 2016, but I will bring it back for the right circumstances.

The Sketch Improv Project was postponed indefinitely in light of the sexual harassment situation in Chicago comedy. While it was a circumstantial product of current events, it was also a bit of a relief.

Right now, I’m studying improv on a quite regular basis at a few schools, performing and assisting with a couple of regular shows, and currently have my Monday nights, Thursday nights and weekend afternoons spoken for, plus most of my Friday nights. If things shake out, my Thursday nights could be a doubleheader for all of March. Monday nights already are a doubleheader through early March.

There just wasn’t a ton of available time. Needless to say, I’m in no hurry to book anything else for now. I anticipate this will change substantially after March, at which point I’ll look to expand on projects. For now, I will keep working on my current commitments, and savor what free time I can get.

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.

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.

————

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.

———–

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.

——————-

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.

——

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.

2015’s Greatest Hits

This Year in Review includes most of my posts. I wrote a lot of posts I really liked and feel that a lot of this information can help people new to my weblog, if you haven’t already read it. Most of it concerns improv but some concerns other aspects of theatre and life.

Keys to Making a Big Jam Work: https://misterstevengomez.com/2015/10/30/keys-to-making-a-big-improv-jam-work/

The Five Tools of Improvisation: https://misterstevengomez.com/2015/10/23/the-five-tools-of-improvisation/

Warm Up With Commitment: https://misterstevengomez.com/2015/08/30/warm-up-with-commitment/

… an extension of Warm Up By Doing: https://misterstevengomez.com/2015/06/18/warm-up-by-doing/

Confronting Your Improv Problems: https://misterstevengomez.com/2015/08/03/confronting-your-improv-problems/

Negative Feedback Can Be Constructive. Constructive Feedback Can Be Negative. https://misterstevengomez.com/2015/07/12/negative-feedback-can-be-constructive-constructive-feedback-can-be-negative-improving-on-negative-feedback/

Brainstorming Conversations: https://misterstevengomez.com/2015/07/08/brainstorming-conversations-and-the-deal-with-harold-openings/

Memorizing: More Than Backwards: https://misterstevengomez.com/2015/05/30/memorizing-more-than-backwards/

Ruts, and How to Get Out of a Rut: https://misterstevengomez.com/2015/05/29/ruts-and-how-to-get-out-of-a-rut/

Make Your Own Opportunities To Practice and Perform: https://misterstevengomez.com/2015/05/15/make-your-own-opportunities-to-practice-and-perform/

Observed Key Factors to Successful Improv: https://misterstevengomez.com/2015/05/02/observed-key-factors-to-successful-and-unsuccessful-improv/

Deliberate Practice: https://misterstevengomez.com/2015/04/24/deliberate-practice-focused-practice-and-a-better-rule-of-thumb-than-10000-hours/

Ideas For a Practical Approach To Fringe Festivals series: https://misterstevengomez.com/2015/02/21/a-practical-approach-to-fringe-festivals-for-emerging-artists/

I arrived in Chicago one year ago

One year ago at the time of this post I drove my red Corolla loaded with my worldly possessions down the Edens Expressway from Prospect Heights, crossing the border into Chicago for the first time as a permanent resident. After a weird day of following my soon to be roommate through Downtown and later waiting at her sublet as she and her friends got ready to party, we ultimately went to the Fizz Bar and Grill for an open mic and within minutes I was also (unexpectedly) performing in Chicago for the first time.

It blows my mind to look back at everything I have done since. The resume of this year alone pales in comparison to everything I scratched and clawed to do in Seattle over the preceding years.

  • I’m on an improv team at the Comedy Clubhouse, currently working with a Chicago Co-op Team, and formed an improv group with classmates from Annoyance.
  • I got to study with and perform under Kevin Mullaney for an improv production at Under the Gun Theater.
  • I’ve performed one-off solo pieces at the Playground, Shithole, Second City and Jack and Wolf’s Bucket Show.
  • I formed the sketch duo Sam and Elden with another Annoyance classmate (Elliot Northlake).
  • I remounted Drawn Dead at the Elgin Fringe Festival, and (details to come) am about to perform the show again in Chicago.
  • And this never minds the countless jams at various theaters I’ve been able to participate in, or the training I’ve received from iO Chicago, Annoyance and One Group Mind.

Even after several audition rejections, I still managed to create and receive so many opportunities that those rejections weren’t a problem. I can approach auditions with more agency, with the idea that each is just a take-or-leave pitch that will point me either way towards the next opportunity, that I’m also auditioning the production or theater as well as them auditioning me. All these opportunities allowed me to look at my still developing comedy career with a sense of abundance and opportunity rather than trying to follow a career narrative.

Work: My new job is an occasional pain in my ass but pays a bit better than my last Seattle job.

Cost of living: I do find myself spending more than hoped or expected, and part of that is being so busy that I’ve had to eat out or grab and go more.

I did compare my old budget to my current budget, and even with some unfortunate breaks on my living situation, even taking more classes than I originally budgeted for, I’m at least breaking roughly even and paying about 4-5% less overall than I was when I left Seattle.

Quality of life: A lot of Chicago residents are spiteful bitter assholes, and the city is run with the relative corruption, systemic/cultural racism and lawlessness of a third world country. Yet I don’t feel Chicago is markedly more dangerous than Seattle’s worst, or even the worst of Las Vegas. There are parts that are maniacally dangerous due to gang crime, but they are largely pockets of neighborhoods and I don’t live or work near those areas.

Much of Chicago is really not that dangerous. Like any city, just watch your back or generally avoid walking outside or using public transit after midnight, or travel in groups. Just get a cab or rideshare home, honestly, and you’ll be fine. Nightspots in Seattle were honestly just as dangerous after midnight, and I gave people there the same advice.

Also, two years of driving through Seattle’s nightlife prepared me well for handling Chicago’s terrible traffic and spiteful drivers. I don’t enjoy driving in Chicago (I have only used my car for driving to work and back, and the occasional road trip). I may even ditch my car as soon as I can. But knowing how to legally, safely work around choke points and traffic jams, as well work around as slowrolling drivers trying to troll everyone behind them, has helped me immensely here.

I maybe use my car once or twice a week. Parking (even with a residential permit) is a pain in the ass here, but it was a pain in Seattle too. Parking near home by 6pm has made it easy for me to deal with it. The traffic jams aren’t as impossible as Seattle’s, but the traffic here is heavy more often, across a wider scale.

I’ve made exponentially more friends than I did in any year in Seattle. Seattlites are as bitterly defensive in their denial of the Seattle Freeze as Chicagoans are about the south side’s crime problem or the dubious nickname Chiraq. The Seattle Freeze is where people are outwardly friendly but difficult to connect and form relationships with beyond casual chat and public events. Here in Chicago, not everyone is friendly of course, but a lot of people (students, comedy colleagues) have much more quickly welcomed me into their lives. People here hang out together a lot. Or maybe people in Seattle just didn’t hang out all that much in comparison.

Chicago comedy is battling to improve their scene’s racial diversity, and yes it’s got serious work to do. But it’s light years more inclusive and diverse than the scene in Seattle, which was only 70% white but whose arts scene was more like 95%, and quick to exclude any minority performer who wasn’t amazing or kissing a sufficient amount of ass. Here in Chicago there’s a wide range of terrific minority performers, with more climbing the ranks. It’s not only getting there, but diversity is clearly an actively discussed and addressed topic for improvement in the scene.

The weather hasn’t been so terrible, though my folks and I did coordinate to make sure I had suitable winter gear before I arrived. It was 6 degrees the day I arrived, and a big snowstorm hit later that week, plus the Super Bowl Blizzard happened a month later. It was one of Chicago’s tougher winters, not as bad as the infamous 2013-2014 winter but still pretty tough. But I got through it without terribly much struggle.

I was more concerned about how I’d handle the summers, which get very muggy and can top 95 degrees. Despite growing up in a desert, I hate the heat. It did top 90 here and there, and it certainly didn’t feel good, but the heat was never unbearably bad. It helped that my roommate was gifted a window A/C, which helped cool off our apartment substantially.

Overall, this has been as great as I could have hoped for.

 

The Difference Between Perfectionism and Excellence, and the peril of merely aiming for Good Enough

Rather than explain the title statement, and explain the mindset I share, I’ll give you three quotes.

“Perfectionism is pretty simple: It’s the fear of making a mistake. And if we can’t make mistakes, we won’t take risks, we won’t get better and our career will be over.” – Jimmy Carrane

“Excellence is about doing your best to live up to a higher standard in your work. You realize you will never be perfect, but the goal with every effort is to get a little closer than you were before.” – George Lewis

“The first time he knew what he lacked was
When he looked for a pretty good job.
It was then, when he sought a position,
He discovered that life can be tough.
And he soon had a sneaking suspicion
Pretty good might not be good enough.” – Charles Osgood

Keys to making a big improv jam work

Chicago improv has a lot of drop-in jams. You have the CIC Blender on Sunday nights at 8pm. Annoyance has the student jam on Mondays at 9:30, and right down the street the Playground does the Mixer at 10:00. Second City apparently has a Thursday night jam I did not know about, as well as a Musical improv jam on Saturdays at 4pm. iO Chicago just started a monthly DiOversity Jam. Various shows will do rando invitational Mash Up jams.

Do enough improv, do enough jams, and you’ll run into telltale jam issues: Inexperienced players. Tag out runs happening 10 seconds into your two person scene. Aggressive players taking liberties and steamrolling. Large meandering group scenes. Having to do improv with That Guy. The fact that you only get 10-20 minutes as an unfamiliar group to improvise, and that’s it. Jams are a great place to do some improv but not typically a great place to practice great scenework or things you want to work on.

A lot of these issues can be addressed with Will Hines’ classic That Guy advice to GO TO THEM, engage the source of your issue, meet them on their level and bring them to a level you both can enjoy. When you run into an issue that takes you out of the moment, the sooner you can jump back into the moment, the better.

One major issue this doesn’t address is the subject of a big jam, where everyone wants to play but there’s only so much time to get everyone in… meaning everyone has to go up in big, separated groups. In many jams, even a group of more than 6 can be troublingly large for a 10-15 minute jam, but in many cases groups of 8-10 are common. In these situations it’s clear that it’ll be very hard to keep everyone involved, let alone ensure everyone can have fun.

These are important things to do in a jam with big groups.

– This is not the time for slow 2-3 minute two person scenes. Players on stage should just be blunt and get to the heart of whatever idea they want to bring to the scene right away. These scenes should be about a minute long, and/or should include as many players as is reasonable. Scenes with 3-6 people should be typical and encouraged.

– HOWEVER. Tag runs are often quite confusing for the younger performers you see in a jam, and a tag where anyone’s not on the same page can take multiple people out of a scene and kill its momentum. You are much better off just editing to a brand new scene with whatever idea you want to bring in, than trying to walk on or tag in and start a run, unless the game of a walk on run or tag run is very obvious.

– Matching is VERY important in group scenes. Everyone needs to match and take one or two sides in a group scene, whether everyone is collectively monologuing as a single point of view, or doing a scene as two contrasting and separate points of view. Any more points of view than that and people will absolutely get lost. Everyone playing a group scene should do their best to match energies in a group scene. It’s better improv and it’s more fun.

– Again, these scenes should be edited quickly, unless the majority of the group is on stage and everybody is clearly having a good time, or off-stage players can find some way to do a run of walk ons (again, usually not a good idea, and it might be better to just edit into a new scene).

– This may be useful for jams with prelim workshops like the Playground Mixer: If possible, try to do a basic workshop or primer on the above ideas: Quick scene establishment, quick editing, match into one or two points of view in group scenes. This way, players know of and have those tools and concepts at their disposal, better equipping them to jump in and have fun.

A jam with too many people can still be fun if you proactively take a sound approach to doing so. Hopefully, this will help improvisers do so.

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