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I Know What I’m Doing This Weekend

fcp_logo_bwFirst off, we made our pre-event goal for Die Laughing and that is amazing!  The board offered a $500 matching grant prior to the opening of Die Laughing and we have already raised $500.  That means we’ve actually raised $1000.  Which is amazing.

This blog entry is about my weekend schedule.  I’m not just the Artistic Director of Fearless Comedy Productions, I’m also a performer.  I’ll be performing a lot this weekend so here, in tiring detail, is what I’ll be doing.

Friday, March 6th

7:00 PM – We kick off the marathon with Fearless Lab.  I’m going to be judging a Vilification Tennis match featuring the last four winners of our amateur show – Nick Glover, Molly Glover, Eric Thompson and Duck Washington.  There will also be stand-up comedy, short form improv and a variety of other stuff.  We also kick off the marathon with a $250 matching grant so help us get started right!

Saturday, March 7th

Midnight – PowerPoint Karaoke.  I’m one of the presenters in my favorite improv game of all time.  Presenters are given a series of slides that make no sense and must make up a presentation based on the slides.  Also presenting will be Windy Bowlsby and Dawn Krosnowski.  It should be amazing.  Also, we have a $250 matching grant from CONvergence during that hour!

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What I Learned – Directors Direct

DirectorAs a theater professional (humor me), I’ve done just about every job in the production process.  I’ve written.  I’ve acted.  I’ve produced.  I’ve designed.  And I’ve directed.

I direct all the time. I call myself a writer, but I often feel I spend far more time directing than writing.

I really hate directing.

In all probability, the primary reason I hate directing is because I feel I’m just not very good.  I don’t feel I have a good instinct for creating interesting stage pictures.  I have don’t critique my performers well because it often takes me three or four days to really settle on what I think needs to change.  I have a very hard time telling people no.

For Vilification Tennis, I’m a performing director.  My job as the judge is to guide the actors on stage.  I’ll drop subtle hints about what is working and what isn’t working.  I control the tempo of the match.  My responsibility is as much to help the performers do the best job as it is to assist in guiding the audiences response to their performances.

I’ve been doing it so long, I barely think about it any more.  I just know how to control the flow of the show and most people don’t even notice that I’m doing anything at all, which is as it should be.

Because so much I do is onstage, I often neglect the offstage piece of cast development and show coordination.  While we can put on a very good show with a small amount of prep work, the more time we put into the show, the better the onstage product becomes.

The cast is large and as their skill has improved over time, it has become clear that we need to cut back a few performers.

All of my performers are very good or they wouldn’t be in the cast.  But you have to make decisions.  You want to use the best possible people and that sometimes means the very good don’t get a chance.

The job of a director is to put the best possible show on stage.  It is not to make sure that they don’t hurt the feelings of their performers.

As I looked at our show last year, I thought about the fact that we have been improving as performers but I haven’t been improving as a director.  I’ve been regressing.

It wasn’t just Vilification Tennis, either.  I have a great time putting together Big Fun Radio Funtime but I know my performers want more direction out of me.  When we read through scripts, I need to give them ideas on how to approach the material.

That’s my job.

As usual, my best ideas come about a week after the performance when I think “that scene might have worked better if the character had sounded more annoyed.”

Directors direct.  That is their job.  I may think I’m absolutely awful at the job but if I’m going to keep doing that job, I need to be committed to doing it right.

What I learned is this:  there are times in our lives when we are tasked with doing something that we can’t do well.  When that happens, we need to work to do it better than we believe we are capable.  If we do that, we might actually get better.

Friend a Day – David Traylor

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Photo by Peter Verrant

David is another very new friend.  I’ve known him for less than a year.  He tried out for Vilification Tennis at this year’s amateur show.  He didn’t make it into the cast because I only have room for one person this year but we did invite him to be a part of Fearless and that has proven to be a great choice.

I have so much respect for anyone who tries out for Vilification Tennis through the amateur show.  It’s about the scariest possible proposition I can think of to try out for a show in front of a live audience.  It’s a lot like American Idol without the slightest possibility of achieving any kind of celebrity.

David is well-known in geek circles as Captain America.  He’s got the look and the costume and he clearly exercises a lot more than I do.

As a part of Fearless, he’s been willing to jump into just about anything we need him to do.  When we wrote the halftime show for CONvergence this year, we decided to plug Captain America into the show because we had the perfect Captain America.

His small role underwent a whole lot of changes between first draft and final staging and he was a complete pro about all of it.  As a producer, it is great to have people who you can plug into a small but important role and know that they are going to rock it.

There are a lot of people who try out for Vilification Tennis and only a few make it into the cast.  The ones who don’t make it into the cast are typically pretty gracious and I don’t see much of them ever again.

The cool thing about Fearless is we have an opportunity to bring some of those new people with us into other performing opportunities.  I’m really glad that we made that decision because it has allowed me to get to know David a lot better over the last few months.

Friend a Day – Salsa Sterling

Photo by Manna Jaeger

Photo by Manna Jaeger

I’ve known Salsa since the day he asked me if he could try out for Vilification Tennis.  He got up on stage that day and did…OK.  But he’s gotten a lot better since then.  In fact, I think he has improved with each passing year.

Salsa is always trying to get better.  He is very analytical by nature and that means he spends a good amount of time looking at what he is doing and trying to figure out how to do it better.  It also means he is very good at analyzing what others are doing well and doing poorly.

As part of Fearless, he is putting together some new shows and I really enjoy watching him work to expand what he is doing creatively.  He’s been doing that for a while now with the Fandazzi Fire Circus as well.  He’s got that bug to create new things and I think that’s great.

He’s grown more confident on stage in the last few years as well.  It has really made a big difference in his stage presence and in the audience’s response to his material.

He’s also completely willing to give something new a try.  When I decided I wanted to do a radio play at a Vilification Tennis show, he volunteered to do sound effects.  That turned into a regular gig with Big Fun Radio Funtime.

Why did he agree to do it?  It wasn’t because he had any experience.  It was because he wanted to try something new.  He’s been learning as he goes but it sure does seems like he’s enjoying the process.

Since I met him, Salsa has gone from a young guy trying to figure out how to be good at things to someone who is viewed as a leader and a mentor.   He has gotten there through hard work and careful thought.

It has been a pleasure to watch that process happen.

Salsa is a co-host of the Apropos of Nothing Podcast.  You should check it out!

Friend a Day – Jim Cunningham

Photo by John Gaspard

Photo by John Gaspard

I’ve known Jim ever since I started working at the Renaissance Festival.  He is well known to many as the master of the Feast of Fantasy now but when I first met him, he was a member of an act call the Comedy Troupe.  Every member of that act was supremely talented.

What I enjoy about working with Jim is how generous he is to the performers who come to work on his stage.  He is always conscious of our time constraints and always thanks us for our performance.  I can’t even tell you how enjoyable it is to work with someone that professional.

A few years ago, there was a decision to start doing Vilification Tennis themed feasts and we went in having a clear expectation that we were to be doing extremely blue material.  Unfortunately, the audience didn’t have the same expectation.  The results were less than spectacular.  I think the word “disaster” would be more appropriate.

We sat with Jim after the show and there was no anger.  No finger pointing.  Instead there was talk about how we were going to fix the problem for the second feast.  There was no question that we were partners in finding a solution.

Whenever I hear Jim on the Radio or at a Twins game, I smile because I know him and he doesn’t just sound like a nice guy, he is a nice guy.

Jim is one of the hardest working people I know.  I don’t know how many projects he has going at a time but there is always one more.  He is in demand because he is one of the best.

He’s relentlessly positive.  He always sees the best in others.  He never focuses on the negative.  To focus on the best in yourself and those around you is a talent that may be better than all the others he possesses.

I’m truly fortunate to have crossed paths with Jim.  He’s one of the great ones.

Friend a Day – Courtney McCLean

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Photo by John Robinson

I met Courtney at the Fringe Festival about five or six years ago.  She is probably the most energetic person I know.  And that is saying a lot.

Courtney is always excited about what she is doing.  It makes me excited too.

She has good reason to be excited because she does such awesome stuff.  Her stories are imaginative and clever.  Her music with the Dirty Curls is catchy and funny.  As exhibited in “Bump” at last year’s Fringe Festival, she can also bust a move.

All this, and she can play the banjo!

Simply put, if Courtney’s name is on something, it is something I want to see.

If it seems like she is running from one thing to the next, I think that is because she is always in the middle of doing something.  She has what seems to be dozens of irons in the fire and, of course, they are all interesting.

As a songwriter, I’m particularly impressed with Courtney’s music.  She writes a ton of songs are thematically similar and yet all very different.  I spent most of my time watching them play paying very close attention to the lyrics because they are awesome.

I’m really in awe of her storytelling ability.  It isn’t just the writing, which is exceptional, but also the personality she brings to the presentation.  It is a vibrant and expressive personality of someone who is completely in the moment.

I think that is why I enjoy her presence on the Vilification Tennis cast.  She is one of a few performers who walks on stage without a lot of prepared material.  That can be a very risky proposition but I think it helps her be more present on stage than she would be if she walked in with only pre-planned material.

I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Courtney as a collaborator and as an audience member.  She’s a truly talented person.

Friend a Day – Chrys Buckholtz

Photo by Kristin Thesing

Photo by Kristin Thesing

I’ve known Chrys since she became part of Vilification the old-fashioned way – by standing up on stage at the Renaissance Festival and trying to insult someone.  She started out well and has continued to improve since then.

She has a drive to write the best material possible.  She spends a lot of time working with her partner to refine the jokes she writes because she wants them to work the first time she throws them.  It may not be a 100% success rate but most of her new material hits the mark.

When she is on stage, she looks confident and prepared.  I’ve never seen her arrive at a show anything but ready to do her best.  I’ve never seen her at a loss for a joke.

Off the vilification tennis stage, she is a gifted costumer.  Her work has been on stage at the CONvergence masquerade and in the halls of the convention.  If you want a well made corset, I know who would be on the top of my list for a recommendation.

That attention to detail she brings to costuming is probably why she is so good in her job.  As a property manager she is clearly meticulous and attentive.  Those traits are a part of who she is and it makes her valuable.

Chrys and I share a lot of the same political views, which is not a reason I like her specifically but, like many of the people I know, she often helps lend perspective to a situation I’ve been thinking about.  She doesn’t arrive at an opinion without some thought and because of that, I find her opinions worth hearing.

Like most members of the vilification cast, Chrys has brought her personality to the mix and it has added something that wasn’t already there.  I think the diversity of who we are makes a huge difference in the success of our show.

I’m glad Chrys stepped onto our stage to give it a chance all those years back.  It means I’ve gotten to know a really cool person.

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