Putting it Together – Where’s that Line?
I’ve been writing a bunch of things lately and fell far behind on my blog projects. If you were reading and missed my posts, I’m sorry. If you weren’t reading, I don’t know why I brought it up.
Today, I’m re-starting my Putting it Together blog. I’ve been using this blog series to share thoughts that arise from creative projects, like the Fringe Festival.
For the Minnesota Fringe this year, I wrote a show called “Top Gun: The Musical.” The show was very successful and my writing got an amazing assist from a talented cast, great choreography, and really good music co-written with Chad Dutton. Most of the feedback was positive and I felt like the audience really enjoyed what we put on stage.
When I was writing the show, I spent a lot of time watching the film and as I watched, I was taken with all of the homoerotic subtext. I mean, there are dozens of Youtube videos on the topic but I hadn’t watched any of them. Yet. To me, the romance between Maverick and Charlie was not at all interesting and there seemed to be more chemistry between Maverick and Iceman.
When I wrote the script, I wrote it with those thoughts in mind. I told the actors that as far as I was concerned, every pilot in the show was a closeted gay man.
The serious subtext was the idea that in the 80’s, you couldn’t be an openly gay man in the military. It was hard to be an openly gay man at all. It is remarkable how far we’ve come in such a short time.
Now the show wasn’t at all serious and the idea that these characters were in the closet was played for laughs. That made me nervous.
Because while I wanted to make fun of the fact these characters were in the 80’s closet, I didn’t want it to come off as making fun of the fact that they were gay. I wanted it to be very clear that it was OK they were gay.
Putting it Together – Tipping
I’ve been thinking a lot about tipping as The Dregs have been performing at Siouxland Festival this weekend.
Every act that asks for tips has to figure out a way to convince the audience to dig into their pocket. Every theater that produces shows has to convince the audience to not only buy a ticket but to hopefully support the theater in other ways because it is almost impossible to meet your budget with ticket sales alone.
Asking for money feels unnatural and it can be difficult but when it comes to tipping a server, most of us do it without even giving it a second thought.
I’ve been a server and I’ve been a performer and here’s what I know: being a performer takes more time and is a lot more difficult.
Serving is a hard job and I completely support tipping a server 15 percent or better. It is completely fair. I usually tip 20 percent.
It startles me, though, that people who will almost unconsciously give a server $10 will have difficulty reaching into their pocket to give a musician a dollar.
Contemplate that for a moment. Think about the amount of work it took someone to learn how to play that instrument. And then the amount of time it took them to learn to play that song. In the case of The Dregs, we often wrote the song ourselves.
And someone will watch a musician (or a juggler or a dancer) and find that their effort isn’t worth a dollar.
I don’t resent people who don’t tip performers. I simply don’t understand them. I don’t think they get it.
Putting it Together – The Friend a Day Project is Half Done
I decided to steal the Friend a Day project from Levi Weinhagen fifty days ago. My commitment was to write about 100 friends over 100 days. I’ve reached the halfway mark and it has been such a positive experience so I thought this week I’d talk about the impact it has had on me as a writer.
I have some definite rules about the project. I need to write about 300 – 350 words about each friend. The post must be 100% positive. No backhanded complements allowed. Not even about Mark Lazarchic. If people comment on the post with a backhanded compliment, that’s fine but I will remain positive. This is about doing something nice for someone, not about looking for the opportunity to make fun of them.
If the person is part of a couple, I try to avoid writing about them as a couple. Everyone has their own identity and I’m trying to recognize that identity. Their appearance is irrelevant so I don’t mention it.
While the posts are all about who those people are to me, I try very hard to remain focused on them. If I’m telling a story about our time together, I want to make sure that the story is about something they did that impressed me.
The number of people I write about is arbitrary. I have hundreds of friends and I’m only writing about 100. Part of that is because the commitment of writing that 300 word post is a lot of work and I don’t want it to go on forever.
Additionally, however, is the fact that we all have only so many close friends. At some point, I find myself writing about someone I like but I don’t always know that well. I don’t want to make things up. That means I really have to look at that person to figure out why I like them. I need to remember stories about them.
That angle takes a lot of work. It is tremendously rewarding because when you take the time to figure out why you like someone, you tend to like them more than you did before.
Putting it Together – What to Write?
I have a half-dozen writing projects going on right now when you consider blogging, Fringe shows, Big Fun Radio Funtime, Vermin, and random other sketches I said I would write.
I’m overwhelmed and at the same time, I’m pleased to have my life filled with what I want to be doing.
Sometimes, though, I have the hardest time figuring out what to put on the page. Take my comedy blogging, for instance.
Writing a comedy blog is, I think, very important for me. I’m a comedy writer and that means I need to write comedy. That makes sense.
Every week, though, I have the hardest time coming up with a topic for the comedy blog. I end up putting it off until the last minute because I don’t have any ideas. The term “comedy blog” is pretty broad. It means I can write about anything as long as I’m (trying to be) funny.
I’ve finally settled in to just asking myself what has happened over the last week and trying to come up with something funny to say about it. Have I been playing a video game a whole lot? Write a post about that!
Have I been thinking about my cats a lot? Write a post about that!
It never feels good enough to me, though. I fell like I’m crapping out on the whole idea because I’m not writing comedy about bigger and better things.
Putting it Together – Renaissance Experience
I’ve worked at the Minnesota Renaissance for nearly 30 years now. It has brought me considerable artistic success and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.
Yet the lie I’ve told myself over the years is Renaissance Festival experience is not “real” experience. I think that I perpetuated that lie to myself because that lie had been out there long before I joined the cast. Renaissance Festival performing isn’t really acting, I thought, it is more like playing.
In a lot of ways, I think that I spent many years avoiding traditional theatre because I didn’t feel as if I’d earned it. Sure, I had a theatre degree and sure, I’d been in “legitimate” shows. But for many years, the Festival was all the theater there was for me.
When I got involved in the Fringe Festival, it was because a couple of vilifiers thought it might be fun to try doing our show outside the festival. OK, I thought. I could do something like that.
That was 2007. In the years since, I’ve gotten more involved in theatrical production beyond simply adapting a festival show to a different stage.
I’ve still felt like I was a pretender, though. When I talk about theatrical experience, I never say “I’ve got 30 years of Renaissance Festival experience.” I never say that I’ve won a lot of awards from my peers for my work or that I’ve been one of the many people who taught the next generation of performers.
They don’t feel like “real” credentials. It doesn’t feel like anyone would take them seriously.
Putting it Together – Share My Stuff
The internet is a noisy place and it is going to keep getting noisier. Yet here I am on the internet adding to the noise because that is where the people are.
I’m talking a lot about trying to make a career out of being a writer. So far I’m doing well at making a hobby out of being a writer because I’m not getting paid all that much to do it. The most important part of the equation is getting people to read what I’m writing.
It’s hard to do that when the majority of information that people see in their Facebook feeds is Buzzfeed quizzes and Upworthy videos.
That isn’t anyone’s fault, you understand, that is the algorithm that Facebook uses to make money. It is annoying, yes, but we are using a free tool and that means we have to live with their rules. I’m trying to game the rules a little bit, though.
Here’s advice I can give to you if you enjoy my (or anyone else’s) stuff. When we post it to Facebook, like it. Even if you don’t read it. Like it. The more people who like something, the more people will see that thing in their news feeds.
Putting it Together – Vermin
I’ve been involved in a new project that is slowly becoming an actual thing so I think it’s time to start being a bit more public about what we’re doing.
Gordon Smuder, who produced Transylvania Television, came to me last year and asked if I was interested in being head writer on a new project called “Vermin.” I was in the midst of looking to increase my work as a writer so of course I said yes.
Vermin is about a bunch of lab rats. One rat, Ralph, is a bit smarter than the rest so what happens? He has gotten promoted to management.
That’s the basic idea. A bunch of rats in a lab. And one of them is in charge.
Where me and the other writers have gone from that starting point is getting very exciting and very silly. We explore the various experiments the rats are part of, the challenge of being the rat in charge, and there are ninjas. Rat ninjas. Also a whole lot of bagels.
Being a head writer is a different experience for me. I’m not writing the whole thing. I’m just the guy who drives the conversation and sometimes says “hey – maybe we should change this part.”
I don’t know if I’m doing it right. I have to trust the other writers to do their jobs and still be willing to step in to make decisions that keep the whole thing moving the right direction. At least I think that’s what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m kind of making the whole thing up as I go.
Putting it Together – Friend a Day
Sometimes I think it is hard to look at a good idea someone else had and accept that it is OK to do that thing too.
In music, that happens all the time. You hear a song that you like and you decide you are going to cover it. As an artist, it is tremendously flattering to have someone cover your music because it means what you wrote something that resonates with someone else.
I’m not talking about music, though. I’m talking about an idea.
My friend Levi Weinhagen started writing a friend a day blog series at the beginning of this year. The goal was simply to write something nice about a person in his life every day for 100 days. I was fortunate enough to have been one of those people.
When he started doing it, I thought it was a great idea. An idea I wished I’d had.
I’m a cynical guy. I try to write jokes for a living. There are many things I do well but being sincerely nice to someone is something that I can handle for an entire sentence. Maybe two.
To write four or five paragraphs of nice about the same person? Now that’s a challenge.
Talking about a challenge means I’m talking about the benefit I derive from such an exercise. The benefit to others is so much more than that. How cool is it to log on to Facebook in the morning and see that someone wrote an entire blog entry just about you? It makes you feel special and important.
And we all deserve to feel special and important every now and again.
Putting it Together – Die Laughing
I’m moving my Putting it Together blog to Sunday. It used to be on Monday but I decided to switch things up. If you are OCD, this is probably messing with you. Otherwise, you probably don’t care.
As I write this, we aren’t even halfway through Die Laughing. I don’t know if we’ll manage to raise the funds we hope to raise with this insane idea. I really hope we make it (looks like we will). I’ll tell you one thing about this crazy show I already know – I want to do it again.
Running a theatre company is expensive. And the more you want to do, the more expensive it gets. I would love to tell you that everyone can raise all the funds they need from ticket sales but the truth is, there is hardly a company in existence that makes all of their money that way. Fundraising is a reality that most companies will have to face.
So we have to raise money. The idea, however, is to find ways to make the fundraising enjoyable. Because nobody likes asking for money all the time. And people get tired of being asked.
Making it enjoyable for the audience is obvious. I’d like people to show up for some percentage of a fifty hour marathon. I’d like to believe they will enjoy some of it.
But it also has to be enjoyable for the people putting on the event. Any event that lasts fifty hours is a lot of work. If you aren’t having any fun, you probably shouldn’t be doing it.