March 22, 2015

When "Almost, Maine" almost wasn't; a playwright asks WWJD

When I first joined the theatre faculty at Lee University I chose John Cariani’s (now very popular) Almost, Maine as the first play I would direct. 

It’s an alternately sweet, sad, and funny play about love.  About finding it, losing it, being surprised by it, and realizing when it’s passed you by.   The play is made up of several stand-alone vignettes featuring the various residents of a rural stretch of Maine.  Exactly the kind of play an audience of Lee Theatre production would enjoy.  Oh, and also there is a scene in the play where the people who find love both happen to be men. 

Lee is a Christian liberal arts university in a very conservative region.  So, I knew that we could only produce the play if we omitted that particular scene.  It’s sweet and, compared to virtually any other television or film depiction of gay relationships, it is very innocuous.  Still, doing the scene would be so controversial that the rest of the play would be overshadowed.  That’s a waste of a lot of time and energy on our part, if the audience doesn’t even notice the other 90% of the play. 

However, we knew it would be both immoral and illegal to cut the scene without the playwright’s permission. Unfortunately, I was running out of time, if I didn't get permission pretty quickly it would be back to the drawing board in finding an appropriate play for my first production at Lee. I got lucky and found the email address of the playwright, Mr. John Cariani. 



I largely expected a “no”. In fact, I probably would’ve said no had the tables been turned.  But instead, we received the following very gracious reply.

I want you to know how much I appreciated your e-mail. "They Fell" has been cut from the play so many times--and I have learned about the cut after the fact. So uncool. But your wonderful e-mail--made me feel so...respected! It meant so much. I appreciate your kind words about ALMOST, MAINE. And I really do feel for you and Catherine and Christine. I am so sorry you have to deal with stuff like this. It's so lousy.

So...my initial reaction to your request was NO WAY! But--when I thought about the lousy position you're in...well, I decided that saying NO WAY is just mean. Fighting hate with hate, kind of. And that's not cool. So I say--go for it. I don't want to be a hater. I think omitting "They Fell" makes ALMOST, MAINE a lamer play. But--I understand your position, and feel like the rest of the play should be heard! So...here's me granting you permission to do the play without "They Fell." With one caveat. I would like there to a note in the program from me. It's below.

October 2, 2010
Greensboro, North Carolina

Dear Audience Members,
Lee University's production of ALMOST, MAINE is not being performed in its entirety. One scene, called "They Fell," has been omitted. When I was initially approached about allowing ALMOST, MAINE to be performed without this scene, my response was, "Absolutely not." "They Fell" is a story of two people who literally fall in love. I think it is an interesting examination of love, of being true to your heart, and to yourself. To me, redacting the scene lessens the impact of ALMOST, MAINE as a whole.

Initially, I was very angry that anyone would even consider cutting the scene. However, good decisions are never made in the heat of the moment. As I thought about the request, I realized that perhaps I was being intolerant, imposing my values on others. I was also making my decision from a place of anger and that's just no good. I'm a Christian, so I asked myself:  WWJD?  He'd probably allow the production so that at least part of the message of the play would be imparted. So, that's what I decided to do. "They Fell" was never written to inflame or offend, it was simply to tell a story--a love story-- and I don't think that is wrong. I hope that after you see this production of ALMOST, MAINE, you will seek out a copy of the full script and read "They Fell."

I hope you enjoy the show.

Sincerely,

John Cariani
"But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you,so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."--Matthew 5:44-45

If you think any of this is a bad idea, please let me know.
Thanks for your kind words and for doing what you do. Boy--theatre seems so important at places like Lee. Fight the fight!

With great respect,

John

[Joyful music] We were of course stunned.  We couldn’t believe his response.  When we went to our university’s administrators with his reply, they were thrilled!  They told us to go ahead and do the play and publish the playwright’s note in the program, but... to cut the Bible verse.  [Record scratch] They believed it was combative, and to be honest, I could see their point.  This was going to be difficult.  Now I had to write back to this man who has done a very selfless thing by considering our audience above his own written work, and ask if I could cut the BIBLE verse, of all things, from his letter. 

Most of my letter was very positive.  I thanked him for his permission and wrote about how excited I was about the instructive possibilities of this situation for our students and audiences.  And then I included this:

You asked me if I thought any of it was a bad idea.  And as you can tell from my gushing thus far, I think it's a very GOOD idea.  There's one thing I would like to mention.  You quote a Bible verse at the end of your program note.  And while I understand its appropriateness to the situation, I am concerned that some reading it might interpret words like "persecutors" and "unrighteous" as combative in this context.  I think anything that smacks of an "us" vs. "them" sentiment undoes all the good that can happen here.  I would recommend keeping the letter exactly like it is and either removing the verse or choosing another one.  I don't think you meant to say that Lee audiences are "the enemy", clearly you're talking about prejudice and hate.  But I wouldn't want anyone to think you're applying those labels onto the very people reading the note.

It was several days before I heard anything in response. I thought we had lost him. We’d asked too much.  I was reading other plays in case I had to do a last minute switch.  But finally, he replied with this: 

Well... I think this is all extraordinary. Can we talk? Call me: [his cell phone number omitted]. I am a little busy with my new play and can't properly respond to this in an e-mail--just don't have the time--because I have a deadline!  But--let's cut the Bible verse. That was a barb on my part. No need for it. Or any verse. I don't want to demonize--and that's what I was doing. No good. Good catch. So--the letter--without the verse. Perfect.

This dialogue is so great. Because it's a DIALOGUE! I bet you guys get screamed at all the time for asking to modify plays...and you're all Christians who believe in the power of theatre! And...I wish more playwrights would just revolt from within. Disguise their points a little more. And...I wish more theatre people in NYC believed in the power of God! And I'm not real "Goddy."

A few days later, I did call him and we had a great chat.  He told me how hard it was for him as a New York City playwright to deal seriously with faith in his plays. He wasn’t trying to write plays about Jesus, but he felt like no one would take any character seriously if he/she was a person of faith.  And as I shared some of the struggles we had at Lee, we realized we had inverse versions of the same problem.  I often struggled to serve art well in a world filled with religious people, and he often struggled to serve religion well in a world of artistic people. 

At the end of the conversation, I felt truly blest. In this dialogue, I encountered God.  I was blessed by the experience.  In this unexpected, respectful connection, I told Mr. Cariani that I sensed God's presence and he voiced a similar notion. I told him that I believe God exists and manifests himself most clearly in the spaces between people. And to put it simply, in our connection, God showed up.

I am in the connection business.  In my art, in my teaching, I strive to help people connect people.  Audiences to performers, students to playwrights, designers to directors, etc.  As I go forward I will strive to remember the humility of my friend, Mr. Cariani when I want to make those connections God-filled ones.

Ultimately, the play was produced and was a big crowd pleaser.  Best of all, our audiences, our cast and crew, and the director learned a lesson in grace from a playwright who thinks he's not real "Goddy".

Cast of Almost, Maine at Lee University - 2010


Let us love one another, for anyone that loves is borne of God and knows God. (no one asked me to cut this verse)



**Please note:  Anyone reading this article should not assume that Mr. Cariani would grant this permission to any such request.  I would not be willing to speak on his behalf regarding any special requests regarding his work. And you should contact the playwright or his agent. 

March 11, 2015

In defense of the The Fence (Tim Minchin)

In my last post  about talking to my kids about life's big questions, I mentioned how I've never been very comfortable with the simple answers.

It's because, I, like most of my generation, am suspicious of any narrative or explanation that seems to nicely categorize or compartmentalize life into easily digestible bites.  It's part of a wide spread reaction against binaries.  My generation and the one after me likes to challenge efforts to neatly organize the world into one group or another, and we're particularly fond of culture that examines the stuff that falls in between two categories or neither or both.  It's why you'll see so much art dedicated to the stories of people, ideas, or events that challenge binaries like:  truth vs fiction, memory vs. history, high art vs. low art, gay vs. straight, good vs. evil, etc...  

I don't say it nearly as well as this comedian/musician named Tim Minchin.  He's an eccentric, extremely intelligent, and clever guy. His lyrics can be inappropriate for younger ears, but this song is pretty mild in the language department.  You should give it a listen.  Here are the lyrics to the chorus:  
This is a song in defense of the fence
A little sing along, an anthem to ambivalence
The more you know, the harder you will find it
To make up your mind, it, doesn't really matter if you find
You can't see which grass is greener
Chances are it's neither, and either way it's easier
To see the difference, when you're sitting on the fence



March 10, 2015

Raising Christian thinkers - When kids ask the big questions

I have never been the type who likes simple answers.  I tend to think, if it seems simple, you're not looking closely enough.


I get nervous around people who:
  • have many very strong opinions
  • are certain about most things
  • don't ever admit to being wrong
  • never say "I don't know"
  • can sum up their thoughts on a subject with a bumper sticker
There are a lot of things I believe in, but many of those are "best guesses for now."  In the park of my worldview, there's almost no place to sit because I keep re-painting the benches.  

It sounds all romantic and open-minded until your own offspring start asking you big questions about the truths of life.  They want to understand why we go to church, and specifically why the kind of church we attend. They want to know what I think about world events, politics, social issues, etc.  Of course they do.  And when it's possible, I give the closest thing to a concrete answer I can give.  It usually starts with, "Well, I believe that..." and includes "but there are other really smart people who think differently." 

The stakes were raised when they became two-household kids.  When their birth mother and I divorced and both remarried, the families they were seeing on a weekly basis looked very different.  One house featured very conservative / Southern Baptist / traditional-Southern values, while the other held a progressive / not-so-Southern-Baptist worldview.  I imagine it was difficult for them to reconcile that both families could be "okay" or "doing it right".  My boys, especially my oldest, would ask questions trying to pit our views and behaviors against each other, trying to figure out which way he should behave.  But I have been careful not to take the bait.  I want them to understand there is room for wildly different approaches to faith and life within God's universe; that they don't have to choose which of us is "doing it right."  It's tempting to toss in the occasional "well, I prefer to do it this way..." or "well, I don't like that because..."  But they know what I believe from my choices.  

I could write them out a list of core beliefs of my faith and approach to life, but it's MORE important to me that they approach life as thinkers, testing worldviews against what they know to be true and against their experience in life. Test a person's beliefs against that person's actions.  Does it work? I often disagree with their birth mom's way of doing things, but if I bad-mouthed her or her ways,  they'd be right to dismiss my worldview as hypocritical.  If I can't show grace and tolerance, (which are at the heart of my worldview) why should they accept any of my ideas? They shouldn't.  

I guess what I MOST want to teach my boys is a posture.  A posture of humility, of thoughtfulness, and of compassion toward those who are different than us in their beliefs or actions.  

I'm sure they are frustrated when I don't give them the straightest answers on major issues, but I honestly believe that encouraging them to think and love their way toward truth will be immensely more valuable than to give them a platform of doctrines.  

They're entering their teen years now.  Come back in 8-10 years, I'll let you know how it worked out.  

March 09, 2015

Audition Tips

This weekend I saw nearly 300 high school seniors auditioning for college theatre programs at SETC (Southeastern Theatre Conference). On the whole, I saw a number of fantastically talented students, many who seem very kind, and excited about this crazy art form that I love. So, you know... that's good.



But of course, after about number 88, you start to realize there are some types of monologues you are just praying will stop. I thought I'd share some of my observations from the point of view of an auditor. I can't say that EVERY theatre professor/recruiter will agree with these, but I'm betting they'll be on board. (Special thanks to my new friend Amanda Wansa Morgan, from Ole Miss, who was very fun to sit next to during the first portion of these auditions.)

So, here are the tips. A list of 9 DON'Ts followed by 1 big DO: (and then a SECRET of auditions)

  1. Don't cry.  I know, you want to show your emotional range.  And what actor doesn't fantasize about that UGLY CRY moment where they lay it all bare on the stage and the audience is left flabbergasted?  But the truth is, those moments are earned by the full length journey that a character takes throughout the course of a whole play.  I only care about your crying if I know you, if I feel your pain with you because I've gone with you on a part of your journey.  In a 1-2 minute monologue, we don't have that.  And no matter how good you are, we won't have it.  So mostly, crying monologues just feel whiney, hard to understand, and uncomfortable.

    If you absolutely must do a sad monologue, than do everything in your power to play against the sadness.  I'm much more moved by a person who is trying not to show that they are sad, than by someone who has just given themselves over to screams and tears.  If I see you deliberately trying to hide sadness, or any emotion, really, than I might take notice.  But, in truth, it'd be better not to do a sad monologue at all.
  2. No monologues about suicide.  I know it's a serious topic.  But it feels cheap, like an after-school special (does that reference make sense anymore?).  It feels like you are using the seriousness of suicide to make me take you seriously.  And it doesn't work.  It just makes me feel uncomfortable, and not in a good way.
  3. Or cancer.
  4. Or rape.
  5. Or being molested.
  6. Don't choose "adult" material.  I'm no prude, but in most of these auditions you have a lot of older professors watching a much younger actor or actress (often 18 or younger).  When you talk about sex, or your body,  it's difficult to like your monologue without feeling a bit creepy.  We don't want to be creepy.  We want to see the best in you. We want to feel great about helping you along the way of your career.  But not this way.
  7. Don't scream or yell!  It feels like a cheap way to get my attention, and I might spill my coffee a bit, which makes me like you less.
  8. Don't be quiet (even for dramatic effect).  Whenever a song or monologue was too quiet during the SETC auditions, I'd lean in to try to hear better, and my new friend Amanda, from Ole Miss, would say "it's a secret".  Don't have secrets.
  9. Don't stand still and don't move uncontrollably.  So many students walked up to the downstage center spot, looked straight ahead, and delivered their monologues nearly motionless. MOVE!  Theatre is a visual as well as auditory art.  If you can't use your body to convey a character, then I have no idea if you can act.  I always tell my students, "If you could have performed your monologue just as effectively over the phone, it wasn't very good."

    On the flip side of this, don't move all over with no apparent control of your arms and legs.  You should make CHOICES about when to move, when to gesture.  Your ability to identify the moments and movements of the monologue are what I'm looking for.  Have someone direct your monologue for you.  Find someone you trust to find the move points and give you feedback.
  10. And finally the DO ... MAKE US LAUGH!!! I used to think this was just a suggestion, but after watching 270 or so students I have decided this is the only IMPERATIVE in an audition. Pick a funny monologue or song, and make us laugh the whole time.  If you can make us laugh, I don't need to see that you can "do serious" as well.  Comedic monologues done well require serious acting, it's all I need to see.  (I'd even go so far as to say that if the audition calls for contrasting, make the language/period contrast, but make them both funny.)

    Which brings me to the secret... 
SECRET TIP:  More than you think, and certainly more than most adjudicators will admit, we are looking for students that will be a joy to work with.  And I honestly believe that if you do a crying, weeping, or screaming monologue, there's a part of us that feels like you may be like that in real life. And we would rather pick the guy or girl who has us laughing in the middle of a long day.

So, when picking a monologue, pick a character who you'd have a lot of fun hanging out with. Seriously. It sounds stupidly simple, but I'm 98% positive it will work better than a screaming, weeping monologue about someone who committed suicide after aborting her baby. 

A few bonus tips that are purely my opinion:  
  • No songs from Phantom, Guys and Dolls, or Les Mis.  
  • No monologues from Our Town or The Fantasticks.  If you notice the professors saying the monologues along with you, you have chosen something too common.  
  • I love Dr. Who as much as the next guy, but I think bow ties are done.  (I know, I'll get some pushback here.)  
  • I used to be a real stickler with my students about choosing monologues from produced, full length plays and avoiding monologue books (where the monologues were written as stand alone pieces just for audition).  I'm not sure I feel that way anymore.  The Make Us Laugh rule seems so important that if the monologue does that, I don't think I care where it comes from.  I'd be curious to hear what other theatre professors and casting directors think of this. 



March 01, 2015

Artist's Guide to (Ugh) Self-Promotion




Weird truth. Artists, who often hate self-promotion, despise shmoozing, and eschew direct discussion of their work are the ones who MUST promote it.  It's annoying, but true.

No one likes it, but there are very few occasions where someone who creates a work won't also have to be a bit of a cheerleader for their own work.  People want to know you believe in the value of what you've produced.  And until you can afford some hot shot agent who gets paid to sound excited about you and your work, you're all you've got. (Aside from your mom's affirming comments on FB. Thanks, mom!) 

I've been a theatre artist for about half my life now and in that time I've learned a few things about how to attract attention, and how to "sell" your work, be it studio art pieces or performances.  None of this is based on marketing classes or research, but purely on my personal experience.

1. People need to be encouraged to do ANYTHING. Even the things they want to do.  

It's easy to feel defeated when only a few people show up, or when people don't notice the poster, or don't read the article, see the ad or any of the above.  I hear people saying "we need theatre in this town" and yet they've never been to see a play at Lee or the Ocoee Theatre Guild.  I have been personally involved in the creation of roughly 20 plays in Cleveland and Chattanooga in my 5 years in this town.  And yet people say they wish there was some theatre for them around here. It's enough to make one crazy.

So, I must remember how there are dozens of things I've NOT done or tried, even though I'd like to them. I'd like to try yoga someday, I always enjoy writing, I'd like to read more books, see more live musicians play.  And yet, I often don't.

Someone who doesn't "bite the hook" of whatever you're promoting isn't really saying "no" to you. They're sometimes saying "not now" and sometimes, they just didn't even see the hook.

2.  Your friends and family should support your art because they love it, not because they love you. 

When I was 15, my older brother was put in charge while my parents went away for a long weekend. He suggested I should call all my friends and throw a party.  He was ten years my senior and was certainly more experienced at parties than I was.  I was mostly a well-behaved nerd who had never been to the kind of party he was imagining, much less thrown one.  But I was game.  So, I started to make some calls.  Jeff, my brother was sitting in the kitchen, listening in as I made my first call.

"Hi, _____?  Yeah, are you busy tomorrow night?  I'm having a party.  Yeah, at my place.  You should come.  It won't be as much fun if you're not there.... okay, well, think about it.  I really want you to come"

When I hung up, Jeff gave me some sage advice.  "When you invite someone to a party, they have to believe it will be a good time whether they are there or not.  They cannot, for one moment, worry that the burden of the party's fun will be on their shoulders.  They should instead feel like they would be missing something if they weren't at the party."

And of course he was right.  People who care about you MIGHT do you a favor and come to your show, or your buy your CD, but that kind of patronage will drop off very quickly.  Unless, they start to love your work.  Your relationship with someone will buy you a first chance.  Your friends and family will be more likely to support you than a stranger in your beginning days, but if they don't enjoy themselves, they will stop.

The principle is the same for family/friends as it is for strangers:  If it's good, they will want more. So make it good, and convince them in the promotion of the thing that it's something everyone will enjoy, whether they are one of those people or not.

3.  Get attention.  Sell.  Give details.  

When making a poster, ad, Facebook message, whatever. The first thing you must do is get noticed.
It's worth noting here that sometimes, the most professional looking advertising can blend in with all the other advertising.  Just because it's slick and impressive for you, doesn't mean it will stand out thumb-tacked to a bulletin board of other ads, or on a page of newspaper ads just like it.  Think of where your ad/poster/FB status gets seen, and what makes people take a second look.

This might involve thinking way outside the box. When I started an improv team at Taylor University, the only approved way to promote events was to hang flyers on the bulletin boards, but they were badly overloaded and no one really looked closely at them. I needed a new way to advertise that wouldn't add clutter where school administrators didn't want it.  So, I bought a few 24-can packs of Coke and I wrapped each can in a label.  One side said "drink me," the other side listed the dates and times of our improv show. Then, we placed them all over the largest academic buildings on campus between the two busiest class sessions.  As a result, not only were people picking up our advertising and walking around with it, but they were being asked about it as they walked into their next class.

In my experience, getting attention is about 70% of the work of advertising.

Then, once they do look more closely, clearly and concisely say what your thing is and why they might like it.  In the smallest number of words possible.

Then finally, give the deets.  (date, time, phone number - remember that people will actually go looking for these things once you have done a. gotten attention and b. sold your event)  Don't make the mistake of thinking "the date is very important so it must be really big!"

When advertising on social media, get something in people's newsfeeds that's attention-grabbing. Then include a LINK to an event or page with all the details.  A huge post with lots of dates, times, and prices will be passed over.

4.  (Re: Events) Keep times, dates, webpages, admission prices extremely simple.
When I took over as the sponsor for the Lee improv team, they were a very skilled group of performers but their shows were $1, or a canned good, Friday at 8, and Saturday at 7 and 9.  This was confusing, hard to remember, and a mess on all posters and advertisements.  Now all shows are a dollar and all shows are at 7 and 9.

Keep pricing super simple.  I know it's tempting to think of different groups that should get varying discounts, but this helps no one.  When a person understands what something will cost them, even if it's a bit more expensive than they'd hoped, they will be more willing to pay than if they need a calculator to figure out discounts and multiple price plans for their group.

5.  Win over NEW converts by going to them.  Don't expect them to come to you. 

Whether you are a visual artist, a musician, or a dancer, someone who doesn't know you or your company, or maybe even, your art form, will not cross all the unknown psychological barriers for an unknown quantity.  So, bring your art to them.  Set up a workshop at a local school or community center where you teach people how to do something, then, once they are personally connected to you and your art, invite them to something.

People RARELY go to an event cold.  They know someone involved, or they've heard testimonials from people they know about it.  But if you're starting something new and expecting ads, posters and radio spots to get people to your event, you're dreaming.

6.  Build a community around your thing.

If you want a long-lasting following, take advantage of the ways in which art is a communal event. If someone comes to a play, it's likely that they appreciate the communal spirit of a live event, or they'd just stay home and watch Netflix.  Play to that.  Go learn names, introduce people to each other.  Have talkback sessions, parties, and events that don't just connect patrons to your work, but to each other. Make the "regulars" feel like part of the family by sending out "in process" photos of a painting, or a recording of a live session, or rehearsal photos.  When you can create a fan base that has made your art a part of their life, everyone who knows them is being sold on your work when they have a conversation or ask them about their weekend plans.  Make your fans insiders and they will sell your work without even trying.

Those are just my thoughts for now.  There are probably a million articles like this around the internet, and I'm reminding myself of these things as much as I'm telling you. But in truth, that's most of what this blog is.

Happy promoting!



February 26, 2015

Loot Crate, Clark Beckham, and Diabeetus

Loot Crate
This week I received my first Loot Crate. (Lootcrate.com) It's a subscription service with a monthly fee that ensures you will receive a box in the mail full of nerdy goodies.  


This month's theme was "Play. The box itself transformed into a board game, there is a novel that looks really cool (called "Ready Player One"), a little Munny Doll (think a wipe board in the shape of a dwarf), a robot bug, and a fun little card game called Superfight - which is like Cards Against Humanity but with various "fighters" on the black cards and "powers" on the white cards.  So you might get "A Grizzly Bear" and "That shoots lasers out of its ears".  You play what you think is a powerful combo and then make your case for why your fighter would win in a match-up against your opponent. The rest of the table votes and a winner is declared.  Rachel Anne and I played it with just the two of us, which pretty much means that we were just arguing over whose fighter was more awesome like middle schoolers arguing about whose dad could beat up the other's.  But it was a good time.  We ordered the full game, because it's exactly the kind of game we could have fun playing with our friends (thinking Rob and Ashley, Tom and Kristen, and probably the Faricellis). Warning: if real game rules, or a legit competition are what you crave in a game, this is not for you.  If ridiculous logic and absurd scenarios are your thing... check out Superfight.  

Clark Beckham

Clark is a friend who I directed in a couple plays.  He's an outstanding and gifted singer and musician and a truly great person.  The kind of guy who is wise beyond his years, but who is humble and self-effacing.  ANYWAY, he is in the the Top 24 on American Idol this season and it is so fun to see him winning everyone over with his talent, charm, and general goodness.  Check him out and vote for him if you like.  http://www.americanidol.com/contestant/clark-beckham/videos 

Clark Beckham as Balthazzar singing his own composition of "Sigh No More" in Lee Theatre's production of Much Ado About Nothing

Diabeetus

Rachel Anne (my wife) brought a funny little dog into our family when we got married.  Her name is Cowsocks and she normally looks like a meatloaf with legs.  But she's been losing a lot of weight lately.  So we took her to the vet and it turns out...


She will be fine (we'll need to give her shots regularly) but now I call her Wilford and Elijah calls her Cowabeetus.


February 22, 2015

Watching People Laugh - It's Funny

I have a new observation about comedy.  People love to watch other people laugh.

There's little that causes genuine laughter like genuine laughter.  

You've seen it. When SNL actors start to laugh in the middle of a scene.  It's a mistake but it's supremely enjoyable.  We imagine the fun it must be to do what they are doing and we watch them enjoying entertaining us.  It's always funny. 


I'm currently directing The 39 Steps, a very funny parody of the spy-thriller.  And it's never funnier than when I notice the actors struggling to keep from laughing.  I don't encourage it. It can hurt the narrative to some degree. But when one actor does something hilarious and it takes the other off guard, it's hard not to enjoy the stifled giggles and covered smiles. 

I've experienced this quite a bit myself.  I have done a lot of improv shows and specifically, I have often hosted those shows.  And as a host I find that the audience is often watching me watch the scenes.  I don't think it's because I'm ridiculously good looking, I think it's because I'm their proxy on stage.  I am the first audience member and I am often cueing them about how to react to scenes.  When I laugh, they laugh, both at the players, and at me laughing at the players.  After shows, audience members often want to talk to me about moments they saw me laughing the hardest.  I've even heard them say "I love watching your reactions to the scenes as much as the scenes themselves."

I think there's an honesty to laughter.  Fake laughter is immediately recognizable and, I daresay, truly off-putting.  But someone caught up in a moment of hilarity is true, honest, vulnerable, and very human.  And, as I always tell my actors, there's nothing more compelling onstage than someone being fully human.  Laughter breaks through the barriers of self-consciousness, especially spontaneous laughter like in the clip above.  

Perhaps it's why we spend so much of our time trying to make each other laugh.  We are trying to spur an involuntary joy response.  Because we know it's real. 


Ten years wiser, ten pounds heavier



I started this blog 10 years ago.  It's been some time since I've blogged regularly, but that's going to change.  

I am a writer. I communicate best through the written word.  And yet, I often don't take the time to do it.  To process my life and circumstances through words.  So, I'm starting back again.  

A lot has happened since I started this blog.  I went to grad school. I've become a professor (assistant) of theatre, I've directed and performed in a whole lot of theatre.  I've raised two boys through the tender years.  They are 11 and 13 now, they'll learn more on the bus and the internet than from me now.  (Kidding, sort of) 

I've gotten divorced, which was very bad.  And I remarried, which was very good.

I've moved a few times (mostly in the same town).

I've taught a lot of students, and learned from more.

I lost too much weight, then gained too much back.  

I have been to Europe.

I have been to Detroit. 

Europe was better.

I might be a bit wiser than I was when I blogged before.  Might.  

I used to have a lot of big opinions and questions. Now I mostly have regrets, a few observations, and a bunch of stories where grace was shown to me in spite of my big opinions.

I'd like to say I have more answers.  Instead, I have more questions, less expectation that I'll find answers, and more peace about that.

I have less hair, more battle scars.

There's less I want to do and more I want to be.  

I started this blog at 30 and in August I'll be 40.  I could never have imagined the path my life would take 10 years ago.  In truth, I wouldn't have picked a lot of it.  Yet, some of it is better than I could've imagined.  

In ten more years, when my boys are both in their 20s and I'm 50, I'll probably have a new list of ways I've changed since I was 40.  

I plan to chart the journey here.  However, sporadically.  You can read along if you like.