The Hammer is Not My Penis
Everyone has their strengths. I’m good at many things but if I have one really stellar skill, it is in my ability as an MC. I can host the shit out of stuff.
When I started with Vilification Tennis, I was a vilifier. I was OK, I guess. I didn’t suck. But when I took over as the host of Vilification Tennis, I transformed the show. I didn’t transform it by making myself the star of the show. I transformed it because I figured out how to make the show look better to the audience.
I just have a basic understanding of how to run a show from the stage. There is a reason that I’m the front guy for The Dregs. Nobody has to tell me how to do it. I just know.
Every now and again, though, something happens that freaks me out a little. I get rattled.
We all get rattled sometimes. It can be a challenge as an MC because you need to be focused on the show and on the moment. If you are spending a bunch of the show worried about a choice you made, you aren’t in the moment.
I Know What I’m Doing This Weekend
First 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!
What I Learned – Directors Direct
As 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
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
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
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 – Chrys Buckholtz
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.
Friend a Day – Eric Thompson
I’ve only known Eric for a little over a year. He tried out for the Vilification Tennis and won the amateur show in 2013 and he’s been another one that surprised me.
Eric appears to be pretty laid back and I didn’t know if that would work on stage. With the material he writes, it works tremendously well.
Since he joined the cast, he has proven to be an asset because he has good ideas for more than just Vilification Tennis. He brought the idea for Double Blind Improv to me and it was clearly a great fit for Fearless Comedy. Then he went through the trouble of setting up everything for the show.
It’s great when someone comes to you with a good idea. It’s even better when they are willing to do almost all of the work to make it happen.
He’s got a dry, patient wit. He will sit back and wait for an opportunity to be funny, which makes him dangerous because the audience loses track of him. Then he says something wickedly clever and they fall in love with him.
Eric has a lot of irons in the fire. In addition to working with Vilification Tennis and Fearless, he is also doing a regular podcast and, apparently also has a job. I guess I like him in part because I’m a little bit reminded of myself.
Another trait that impresses me is his willingness to do just about anything. He’s a cast member I can count on to just stand up and make something happen. When we needed someone to handle challenges for Die Laughing, he was the person who stepped up and coordinated.
It was a lot of work. But Eric is someone who will put in a lot of time when he believes in something.
I’m glad that Eric tried out for Vilification Tennis. He’s a great guy and I probably wouldn’t have met him any other way.
Check out the High Five Guys Podcast!
Friend a Day – Nick Glover
I’ve known Nick for a long time but really only got to know him after he joined the vilification tennis cast and became my podcasting co-host on Geeks Without God.
Nick is a huge comic fan and over the last few years, he has introduced me to a ton of new comics. As a fan, he finds titles for me that go beyond the standard stuff that everyone has read. I appreciate the depth of his knowledge and his willingness to find me interesting new reading experiences.
We agree on a lot of topics but what always amazes me about Nick is his ability to boil his argument down to one or two insightful and cogent sentences. I’ll spend fifteen sentences to say what he says better in only one.
He has a relaxed attitude about working on stage that makes it easy to ask him to do just about anything. You never feel like something makes him uncomfortable. His response is always yes, and I can add this extra thing that will make it an even funnier idea.
When I have a complicated scenery item that I need, Nick is regularly the person who conceives of how to solve the problem. He made the elevator prop for an adaptation of The Shining I did this month and, as usual, he made it look better than I had expected and he did it for no cost. He loves solving those sorts of problems, I think, and he solves them well.
Nick has a very impish sense of humor. Usually, he keeps a straight face but every now and again, you can catch him being pleased with a joke he made. You catch him having fun with himself and it is charming.
I really look forward to recording new episodes of Geeks Without God and a big reason is the fact I get to hang out with my co-hosts before we record. Nick is a great guy and I’m very happy to have had the chance to work with him so often.
Friend a Day – Jade Cook
Jade tried out for Vilification Tennis about five years ago now and she has continued to impress me with her desire to find what really drives her artistically.
For the last year or so, she has become focused on becoming a stand-up. I haven’t seen every performance but I’ve seen her working out her act at Fearless Lab almost every month. She has improved every single time I’ve seen her. It is obvious that it is something she wants to do and something she wants to do well.
One of her biggest strengths as a vilifier and as a comic is her expressiveness. The picture I chose for her is a great example. Her face conveys a great deal and it makes her writing funnier.
She has a very calm demeanor to her. Nothing really seems to get her wound up. She might be nervous before she goes on stage but she doesn’t let it show. I think it helps the performers around you when at least one member of the cast looks like they are saying “OK – let’s do this.”
Jade is open to just about anything that needs to be done. If there is something that needs to be done for a show and it doesn’t play to her strengths, she doesn’t care. She’ll do it anyway.
I’m looking forward to her continued improvement as a stand-up. She has a lot of talent and if that is the direction she wants to go with it, I have to believe she will be successful.
I’m glad that Jade tried out for Vilification tennis. It’s been a pleasure to know her.