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Three shows to see

July 19, 2012

Dammit, I really should be writing more about improv (or anything for that matter) instead of just dropping in when it’s time to pimp shows. That said, I have three shows coming up that are all kickass. So you should go. Y’know? Not because I want an audience (although, of course I do), but because you’d have a great time. Fair? So, in order of performance date:

Quiz ShowQuiz Show is back again this Sunday (July 22) at Wing-It. Only five bucks at the door if you say, “Trebeck.” There’s a reason that this show has a fairly rabid following of folks who’ve been to numerous performances. You should find out if the reason applies to you as well.

ComedySportz SeattleComedySportz Seattle returns next Friday (July 27) at the Ballard Underground, and runs purty near into perpetuity, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 and/or 10:30 (schedule varies a bit based on other productions using the theater). The preview weekend of CSz Portland vs. CSz Seattle was a huge hit. My older son (he’s 13) and I went to all four shows. He’s seen a LOT of improv, and these shows were by far his favorite. Super-high energy shows. Tix are twelve bucks online or at the door. Not sure which performances I’ll be in yet, but this isn’t for me, it’s for you! Go see any of ’em!

14/48 Kamikaze14/48 Kamikaze is… well, I’ve talked about how insane and amazing 14/48 is before. The producers are amping up the insane level this time (hence, kamikaze). While there will still be 14 new short plays written, directed, rehearsed, and performed in 48 hours, and while it’s still true that the artists won’t know until their names are drawn who they’ll be working with, another element of randomness has been added. The fifty participating artists won’t know until their names are drawn whether they’ll be writing, directing, acting, designing, or playing in the band. After having been invited to regular 14/48 as an actor twice, I’m beyond honored to be invited to be in the first group of artists participating kamikaze style. Not so secretly, I’m hoping to be in the band. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door. Get your tickets early—shows often sell out. Shows are August 10-11, at 8:00 and 10:30.


You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching.

June 26, 2012

In improv, in writing, in life… a reminder to myself.

And to you, should you stumble here. Go dance.

Happy birthday, SmokeLong!

June 25, 2012

SmokeLong Quarterly is nine years old today! Woo! Go celebrate by reading the latest issue:

Been busy.

June 4, 2012

EightI know, right? Still busy, busy, busy. Tons of things have happened since the last time I posted, most of them good (SFIT, another 14/48, several Interrobang shows, etc.). I’ll revisit some of those things… sooner or later. I don’t know when. But I will (I especially want to talk about Kristen Schier’s amazing clowning class at SFIT). Eventually.

For now, three things:

1) I’m part of the inaugural roster of ComedySportz Seattle. Will be the first time since the 1986 Edinburgh Festival with Mee-Ow that I’ve done short-form. Both excited and terrified. First practice (yes, practice; CSz puts everything in sports terms) is tonight. Woo!

2) Interrobang is opening its new format this weekend (June 7–9) at the Center House. We hope to make this our signature show. It forces us to pull in the kinds of things we train for in rehearsals, while at the same time offering a lot of the freedom we’ve come to love in our open format shows. The show is called Eight. Expect badassedness.

3) Quiz Show is coming back as a monthly show at Wing-It. First show back will be June 17. Yay! Love this show.

(Re)Tweets While Drinking Scotch And Reading Submissions

November 6, 2011


I am not a good protagonist.

Over on the right there, you’ll see seven days coming up of “SmokeLong Quarterly submissions.” What’s that? Well, at SmokeLong, we publish both the Quarterly and Weekly stories. For every week, we have a different editor read, whether a guest or someone on the staff. Since we started doing the Weeklies, I’ve tried to take at least one week every quarter. The submissions that come in from November 7–13 will be mine, mine, all mine. I’ll choose one from among those submissions to be published first as the Weekly on January 3, and then in the Quarterly on March 27. Whee! In honor of that, I thought I’d re-post here a guest post that appeared on Pank Blog after my first go-round doing the weekly reading (I was tweeting as @smokelong at the time). Hope it helps. And looking forward to finding a new favorite story that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. So go submit. And hopefully I’ll be back soonish with a post on improv. The last few weeks have been good improv weeks.

Tweets While Drinking Scotch And Reading Submissions

An old friend asked me recently what we’re looking for in stories we accept for SmokeLong Quarterly. Since we’ve changed to a rotating editor on a weekly basis, it’s a little different. I can’t speak for every editor, but here are some tweets I made over the course of three nights drinking scotch and reading submissions. Most of these are of the “Do NOT” variety, but a few, at least, are of the “Yes, please” variety.

And again: scotch was being consumed. Also note: the piece I refer to as accidentally rejecting? That’s the piece I wound up choosing for our first installment of SmokeLong Weekly. Woo!

Havin’ a wee dram o’ scotch, reading submissions. 7:26 PM Dec 2nd from web

@ryancall My wee dram is gone. Another? Maybe so. 7:55 PM Dec 2nd from web

Fucking hell. I just sent a rejection to the wrong person. One downside to an online submission center: too easy to click the wrong link. 7:46 PM Dec 2nd from web

tip to writers: don’t have a typo in your first sentence. or your title. gives eds a quick reason to say “nope.”

Thankfully, writer of piece wrongly rejected is very cool. Piece still under consideration (and I really, really like it). 8:16 PM Dec 2nd from web

Tip 2: Don’t refer to another writer in the first sentence of your story. Tonight’s references so far: Tao Lin (barf) and Alice Munro. 8:19 PM Dec 2nd from web

Jesus, ANOTHER misspelling in the first sentence. “Thank you, but no.” 8:20 PM Dec 2nd from web

Tip mothafucking 3: read the guidelines. If we say we publish stories under 1000 words, don’t send a 5000-word story. 8:24 PM Dec 2nd from web

Realization: at the best of times, I can be a dick. When drinking wee drams o’ scotch and reading subs? I can be a serious dick. 8:29 PM Dec 2nd from web

Tip 4: unless submitting to Bulwer-Lytton, don’t use all caps on things like BOOM. 8:31 PM Dec 2nd from web

Tip 5: (and this may just be me) In a flash… it’s never necessary to give a character’s full (first and last name). 8:32 PM Dec 2nd from web

second “wee dram” is gone. I’d like a third, but I’d hate myself tomorrow. 8:33 PM Dec 2nd from web

Tip 6: I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure “thus” isn’t a word that ever does much for a flash. 8:34 PM Dec 2nd from web

Tip 7: busses are kisses. If you mean the vehicle, it’s buses. If it’s important enough to have in your title, you should know the diff. 8:49 PM Dec 2nd from web

switched from wee drams and reading subs to cold Chinese and reading subs. Let’s see if my asshole quotient goes down. 8:55 PM Dec 2nd from web

Okay. Churned through over a week’s worth of subs. I think that’s good for tonight. 9:19 PM Dec 2nd from web

reading subs again. today’s tip #1: A cat should never be the main character. 9:53 AM Dec 3rd from web

Tip #2: I try to read blind. Putting your contact info right in the field for the story itself makes this impossible. 10:17 AM Dec 3rd from web

Tip #3: Putting “The End” at the end of your flash? Not really necessary. Also not necessary in a sub? Copyright notice. 10:21 AM Dec 3rd from web

Tip #4: Check your email provider’s settings to make sure that communications from mags you submit to aren’t being sent to your spam folder. 10:27 AM Dec 3rd from web

@beanglish There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. :) 11:00 AM Dec 3rd from web in reply to beanglish

scotch and subs again tonight. 7:48 PM Dec 6th from web

sub tips again (at least when I’m the reader): starting a story Every day, every month, every x amount of time… almost never works for me. 7:49 PM Dec 6th from web

tip 2) (not a negative) Drop me in scene fast, please. 7:50 PM Dec 6th from web

3) Be explicit. Show, don’t tell blah blah blah, but seriously… capture the single event w/in the larger series and just rock it, k? 7:53 PM Dec 6th from web

expanding on #3, some cool stuff happening in some of the subs, but related at too great a distance. get in there and bleed. 7:59 PM Dec 6th from web

4) Metaphors? A million times stronger than similes. 8:00 PM Dec 6th from web

And, of course, as a writer, I break all these rules myself. When it’s intentional: good. When it’s not: I should know better. 8:02 PM Dec 6th from web

5) OK, this is picky. But I really don’t like exclamation points in fiction. Let the words exclaim for themselves. 8:04 PM Dec 6th from web

6) Pop culture in lit fic can be great. But… don’t hang the whole story on a song/movie/whatever. 8:10 PM Dec 6th from web

7) confusing “your” for “you’re” in tweets? maybe borderline acceptable. In submissions? No. 8:23 PM Dec 6th from web

driving home from dropping off kids, saw a woman hitchhiking outside a cemetery. on 99, which, but for the cemetery, is prostitution street. 8:23 PM Dec 6th from web

(that last not a tip, obviously. just grabbed my attention.) 8:24 PM Dec 6th from web

unfair to submitters: reading subs the night after reading Pasha Malla’s “The Slough.” Because that? is fucking brilliant work right there. 8:27 PM Dec 6th from web

8) For God’s sake, love your characters: 8:31 PM Dec 6th from web

Ooh! Just read one I really like! 8:34 PM Dec 6th from web

9) You’re a writer, you have a good vocabulary. Got it. No need to show off. 8:35 PM Dec 6th from web

10) (hugely subjective) If you’re writing prose poetry, can you sing it? Dance? Howl? Can’t? Re-write. Sing/howl/dance anew. 8:44 PM Dec 6th from web

11) Ennui is my day job. Not really interested in reading/publishing it once I clock out. 8:45 PM Dec 6th from web

12) Oh, for God’s sake. Using an online sub form? Make sure your email is right. Just got 3 delivery failure messages. 8:51 PM Dec 6th from web

For God’s sake again (not even labeling this a tip): First sentence, two typos. 8:52 PM Dec 6th from web

Also: I’d reject Steph Meyer a million times given the chance. And yet, she accounted for 16% of book sales last year, so what do I know? 8:56 PM Dec 6th from web

@shaindelr Absolutely. The painfully bad ones are easy. The good, but not good enough ones are brutal. 8:58 PM Dec 6th from web in reply to shaindelr

13) Not sure why, but re-imagined fairy tales almost never work. 9:21 PM Dec 6th from web

14) Ever notice that friends look bored when you talk about your adventures on drugs? Yeah. So do editors. 9:24 PM Dec 6th from web

@pankmagazine I think the good but not great may be more common than the obviously bad, in fact. 9:28 PM Dec 6th from web in reply to pankmagazine

The sad fact: when one reads 100 submissions and can only accept 1, one must read with an eye to rejecting, not accepting. Sorry. 9:36 PM Dec 6th from web

Occupy your space.

October 18, 2011

Occupy Seattle

Whose stage? Our stage!

This post, while not wildly political, will hopefully be the most political I get in this space. It’s not that I’m dispassionate about politics—quite the contrary: when diving too deeply, I get highly emotional and occasionally irrational. Rather, it’s precisely because of that occasional irrationality that I’d prefer to keep my politics on the sidelines here.

(Side note here: I’m also terrible about remembering to promote things as they’re coming up, so I made a couple tweaks to the sidebar over there. Calendar of events and Twitter feed are both there. If you want to see me more uncensored, catch me when I’m drunk on Twitter, which hasn’t happened since the creation of the new account, but likely will at some point.)

That said, the passion exhibited in the Occupy Wall Street protests mesh neatly with something I’ve been wanting to write about for a while: how we inhabit our performance spaces. This goes along neatly with the discussion of passion in If you don’t have fun… (Christ, that was almost a month ago… I’m a shitty updater), and, in fact, the reasons behind this post mostly arose from thoughts in that post put into action in improv since then. Primarily, the thoughts have been in action while running the monthly mash-up, during rehearsals, and in the one Interrobang show so far this month that I was in.

Starting with mash-up and the two rehearsals that I ran… one of the things that Asaf Ronen talks about in his excellent book, Directing Improv: Show the Way by Getting Out of the Way, is introducing oneself at the beginning of a class. He says to give your credentials and briefly lay out the purpose of the class, and establishing your authority on the subject matter. This isn’t meant to be authoritarian; rather, it’s meant to illustrate that the people taking the class are safe, that you know what you’re doing. I’ve always been uncomfortable with this, largely because, when I’ve taught or directed or run mash-ups, the people there have been my peers. Consequently, my introductions were always wishy-washy, kind of “Hey, we’re going to maybe do this, unless someone else has a better idea.” Which is just terrible energy to get things going. So I changed up my approach for both rehearsals and mash-up.

In rehearsals, I stated up front what the foci of the rehearsals were to be, then ran exercises, then show runs. (At some point, I’d like to delve more into directorial/professorial styles within rehearsals/classes, as I got a ton out of a conversation with Ian Schempp about this, and it played a large part in what made the rehearsals successful, but I think that’s for another post.) For the mash-up, I introduced myself, gave a very brief synopsis of my improv experience in town, a quick history of the mash-ups, how the mash-up would run, and a simple challenge for anyone who wanted to accept it (“tonight, at least once, play a character you’ve never played before”).

The difference between those rehearsals and previous rehearsals I conducted, and even more glaringly, between that mash-up and previous mash-ups, was enormous. The rehearsals featured a lot of great, funny work, and the mash-up was, by far, the best we’ve had yet (kudos to the members of Adina Gillett’s Performance Series class, many of whom were attending their first mash-up; they were fantastic). Taking charge from the outset sets an energy that everyone else can feed on. It makes for an environment in which people spend more time playing and less time discussing how to play. They’ve already been told how to play. (And, in the case of Interrobang, if they don’t like how the play is set up that night, they have an opportunity to set the parameters themselves in future rehearsals.)

All of the above goes equally for hosting shows. One weakness I think Interrobang has had in the past is the lack of a strong opening. I think that’s derived largely from issues similar to the ones I stated above about directing peers, a feeling of “Who are we to tell the audience how to act?” We typically went to getting our suggestion right away, without getting the audience acclimated to the space. We didn’t set their expectations and make them feel safe. Contrast that wishy-washy energy with how Kai opened our last show: he came out, greeted the audience, then directed them in “We Will Rock You” sort of chant of “Interr, Interr, obang.” That set the energy. He then asked them to close their eyes, picture a lovely spring day in which everything was wonderful, but there was something in the back of their head nagging at them. What was that thing? Quickest suggestion we’ve ever gotten. Excellent.

You can hear part of the Interrobang chant in this clip, produced by Catherine Ozols (who is awesome).

Something else we discovered in our first Odd Duck show of the month was that where we spend our offstage time matters. A lot. Odd Duck currently has essentially three potential entrance/exit points, two of them virtually blind: a curtain downstage right, another curtain upstage left, and an aisle out of the theater downstage right. Behind those curtains, it’s almost impossible to see what’s happening onstage. Consequently, it’s much, much more difficult to establish the group mind so imperative in group improv. In our second show, cast members not in scene stayed on stage (they’re not visible in this clip, but they’re all in front of the curtain upstage right).

Also, during rehearsals, Randy focused heavily on our energy when out of scene. What’s our body language? Are we always ready to jump in? Where is our focus? What’s our body language? In one exercise, if he saw one of us on the back line losing focus, he actually made a buzzer sound. Just as in sports, improv has a ready position. If you’re focused in on the scene, with energy, even while offstage, the chances for you’re having a good show are increased a ton.

Finally, there’s the issue of the energy one has while in scene. I don’t want to harp on this too much right now, because I think it, too, might warrant its own post, but I can’t count the number of times in improv when I’ve seen people in scenes disengaged from their scene partners. By this, I don’t mean that their character is disengaged from their scene partners’ characters—that’s a perfectly valid choice. Rather, the body language and facial expression that makes it clear the improviser is thinking about where (s)he wants the scene to go, rather than being fully in the scene. Yeah… that’s a much bigger topic. Will delve into that more fully later.

Bleah… for a post about passion in how we occupy our improv space, this post feels horribly dispassionate. Which is a non-improv struggle I’m having with this blog: I have about a million different things I want to talk about, and often get hung up trying to be at all cohesive. Might be time to drunk tweet about improv.

(And if you’re just dying to know my politics, I took the pic above while walking with my partner and kids in an Occupy Seattle march on Chase Bank. I’m a little to the left of Bernie Sanders.)

SmokeLong Quarterly Issue 33

October 2, 2011

Just finished pushing the last bits of this issue live (after Tara Laskowski, Beth Thomas, and the staff did all the heavy lifting). It’s a beauty. Please go read!

SmokeLong Quarterly, Issue Thirty-Three, October 2, 2011
cover art “Sparta, NJ” by David Ohlerking

Issue Thirty-Three (October 2, 2011): Egg Toss, August 1989 by Meagan Cass «» Dinner Parties Where Place Cards Leave No Choice in Seating by Chella Courington «» Sovetskoye Shampanskoye by Berit Ellingsen «» They Live in Black and White by Danica Green «» Watermelon Seeds by Micah Dean Hicks «» Gwendolyn by Robert Hinderliter «» Sleepless #7 by Joe Kapitan «» Mutual by Henry S. Kivett «» Wolf Cry by Sara Lippmann «» Jamila by Carmel Reid Mawle «» When I Lose Track of the Children, 5 & 7, Near the Magazine Section at Costco by Christopher Merkner «» Finally by John Minichillo «» I’m a Woman For Sure by Kate Nesheim «» Exposure by Katy Resch «» The Road to the Casino Del Sol by Mather Schneider «» Never Never by Amber Sparks «» The Language of Hairzilla by Chris L. Terry «» Interviews: Meagan Cass «» Chella Courington «» Berit Ellingsen «» Danica Green «» Micah Dean Hicks «» Robert Hinderliter «» Joe Kapitan «» Henry S. Kivett «» Sara Lippmann «» Carmel Reid Mawle «» Christopher Merkner «» John Minichillo «» Kate Nesheim «» Katy Resch «» Mather Schneider «» Amber Sparks «» Chris L. Terry «» Letter From the Editor