Taking the Moment

I’m not a creative person. Now typing that “out loud” might elicit some “of course you ares”, and that’s super sweet, but I’m ok with it. I promise no one is going to compel you into including that in my eulogy.  The truth is my brain is simply not wired that way or perhaps it’s that my muse is on a smoke break, who really ever knows.  (I would end that with a question mark, but it’s more rhetorical (unless of course you know what became of my muse, then do tell.))  I’m left brained.  Although, judging by my grades from school, it clearly does not convey any special adeptness in it’s left brainy specialties. (Why left brain? WHY?!? It’s just theoretical mathematics. Get that X girl, get it!)

Now, that doesn’t stop me from dabbling.  For example, I can draw some of the most adorable dust bunnies with these overly-large, super-solicitous eyes (if you anthropomorphize dust bunnies, you don’t have to sweep them up, because it’s like declaring war on an endangered (endangered because I just typed it) species – this is fact). Granted, I’m more likely to doodle a series of hash marks or cubes, but that’s beside the point.  When inspired, I’m a dust bunny drawing pro.  I’ve tried improv (you remember that brief foray into personal humiliation – the one where all of my classmates were approached to move forward and I was applauded for making regular payments – my pro skill) and then I tried sketch writing (where my teacher actually couldn’t remember my name after 8 months and everyone else was encouraged to go forward with sketch shows and videos).  Now some of this stems from me being a bit odd and squirrelly, but some of it is just genuinely me not being particularly good at it and people recognizing that, (which is always a tad awkward). However, I don’t let my awfulness stop me from trying!  Go me!  I’m content to spread my badness.  Make my videos. Take photographs.  Run up on a stage where they’ve invited two people to come up and then realizing a quick game of “short straw” is going on in the crowd before I get a partner.  Write my blog and ultimately just revel in my creative mediocrity. Go Meh-ness!

But here’s the rub. (No, I haven’t been drinking.) Anyway… the rub! Not everything I see others produce is always great art either, but that whole “treat your friends the way they want to be treated” thing usually compels me to offer them encouragement.  That’s especially true if they’re trying something new or challenging. If asked I offer up my “what if’s,” but mostly I tend to say “great job!”  I make an effort to acknowledge what people are sharing and recognize that a piece of their soul lives is in their art.  Apparently, “wow, that’s right shit!” is discouraging to some.

So, last week I did something that was hard for me and then I displayed it for a small world and got crickets in return, with a couple of exceptions. My soul laid a bit bare and the cool (sarcasm) sound of absolutely nothing. By comparison, I told Facebook I forgot my breakfast and immediately got 22 likes.  Maybe the takeaway is that this is where my real strength lies – not in creativity but my slow, public descent into dementia.  Great. My dreams realized.

Where we stand at this moment – I’m done.  I’m done applauding. I’m done helping. I’m done with “the favor”. I’m done encouraging.  That thing my friend did better meet MOMA standards. If they wouldn’t display it, then don’t think I want to see it as a .jpg in an email attachment.  If it’s not on “Funny or Die;” it’s clearly not worth viewing.  If it isn’t published; it’s not worth reading. If critics aren’t aware of it, and there’s not a blurb stating “Bold!” then you’re absolutely wasting my time.

Ok fine, I suppose that won’t actually be the case, but it really feels kind of liberating and also somewhat  compound sentence-y. I made many words!

Maybe I’ll offer some advice instead of declaratives. If you have friends who have chosen to share with you – whether it’s something completely new to them or it’s old hat, then take a moment to really look, listen and acknowledge.  That’s your one job as a friend; it’s actually your most important job. I guarantee they’ll reciprocate.

To my friends who always take those moments – thank you!

Who emptied the liquor cabinet?


Because my parents were divorced…

My Mother moved us to Austin when I was in 2nd grade.

And because she moved us to Austin when I was in second grade,

A little boy named Ernie was paired up with me on my first day of school.  His assignment was to make sure I got around ok and boarded the right bus at day’s end.  He didn’t realize it was a lifetime commitment.

He then grew up to mistake me for furniture (or maybe it was retaliation, since he’d been tricked).

When your friends become family.

And because a little boy named Ernie showed me around school,

I got a job at PBS.

And because I got a job at PBS,

I met a girl named April.

And because I met a girl named April,

I took an improv class.

Steve Rogers Photography

And because I took an improv class,

I took more improv classes.

Singing Improv!

And because I took more improv classes

I heard about sketch classes,

And because I heard about sketch classes, I wrote some sketches that we eventually turned into some short films.

And I also helped write a sketch show that had a sold out run three weekends in a row.

And because I did all of that, I met more people,

And because I met those people

I will be part of this year’s 48 Hour Film Project in Austin, which we’ll start on August 16th, finish on August 18th and have screened the following week at the Scottish Rite Theater.

48 Hour Filmmaker: Austin 2013

Thanks to my parents getting a divorce, I’m helping make a film!  Thanks, guys!

SHAMELESS PLUG: Interested in helping out, interested in acting or just merely want to keep track of what’s going on?  Follow Uncle Bob’s Dangerous Pants  (team name!) on FB for the latest details.

A Writing Commitment

In sketch class this past Tuesday night we were supposed to present our realistic writing schedule. You’d think budding sketch writers (or their sidekicks – that’s me!) would already have one worked out; you’d be mistaken. When asked, I confidently proclaimed, “I can write from 5:30 to 6:00 every night”. It seemed kind of doable when I said it, but it turns out that I was punch drunk from the high I got from laughing in class. When I made that deal I was not in my right mind. Sure, I wasn’t over-committing in any way. It’s only 30 minutes of my time and there is the fact that I do feel a small amount of guilt about not creating any new posts. What the heck? 30 minutes! I can do that! The deal was sweetened a bit when our teacher said, “you don’t have to write during the time, you can just sit”. Ooo, sitting. Now, I don’t mean to brag, but I’m quite accomplished at this. In fact, certain parts of my body boldly declare that I’m quite a chair athlete – easily a medalist in the sport.

When Wednesday rolled around, my first day of committed sitting I dragged into the house and declared, “I’m taking a nap” (too much funny the night before wore me out), and then I successfully slept through my first 5:30-6 window. Once I realized I blew it, there was no point in sitting at another time. The deal was 5:00-5:30. No backsies. I hadn’t committed to 6:00-6:30 or even 7:15-7:45. Here it was, my first day and I’d already screwed up. My only brief brush with my chair that evening involved pressing “Like” on Facebook. That George Takei, always good for a laugh and that Fareed Zakaria, what a brilliant man. Oh, I suppose I did post something about making banana bread for a birthday shindig. My commitment to writing just shining through in a two sentence status update.

Thursday came around and I couldn’t be bothered again. I mean, there were the stories from the shindig about the various birthday party clashes that I simply had to relate to Jay. You see, yesterday I learned that what you bring to the party determines your office status and the cheese bringer rules over everyone. It is VERY important you bring the cheese and the crackers if you want to move ahead and be somebody. The cheesers trump the cake people, the kolache people and even the bringers of the chocolate chip ladened banana bread (aka me). Well, come party time and we had TWO bringers of cheese. I know! The stakes were high; all bets were off. People gasped, an older employee covered the eyes of a younger more impressionable one. A palpable silence filled the cubicle as the two cheese bringers eyed each other – sizing up their cheese opponent. Only one could sit at the top of the cubicle totem pole. Plates were thrown down and one managed to land theirs in the prominent front and center part of the table. An employee fainted. See, who can possibly write when there’s that kind of drama around them? Plus, post cheese showdown I had to go to the doctor where a woman was paraded around in shackles. How could I possibly be expected to sit in a chair for 30 whole minutes and write when I was wrapped up in making up stories about why she was in chains. There was simply too much drama around me; I couldn’t be expected to write actual words or sit for 30 minutes. I do confess that my one attempt at writing involved sending several texts to my friend Kendra. Well, I couldn’t be expected to keep the shackle story to myself and the doctor was running late which gave me free time and it IS technically writing. I even used full words – never once devolving to text-speak, so it clearly counts towards effort.

Hey, but today is Friday and here I am actually writing! I wish I could tell you I turned a new leaf, but the truth is – the only reason I’m here is because I got stood up by a kid named Colt on Hoth in a galaxy far, far away and Sam is currently more interested in napping. Errr I mean, look at me!! I’m writing just like I promised! 🙂 Yessirree. I’m sticking to my commitment.

One brief, unrelated story that has nothing to do with me not writing, but is something I’m genuinely excited about: Tomorrow I get to spend five hours in a singing improv workshop with Laura Hall. Laura Hall is the musical director/improviser from “Whose Line is it Anyway”. How cool is that? Even better still is that I also get to spend time with folks from my former singing improv classes and I kind of adore them.

Though I probably won’t write about it OR sit in this chair, but maybe I will.

A Plea to Stephen Colbert

Friends and Family (the rest of you are off the hook again – yipppee!)

I just want to thank you all for helping support The Institution Theater and Me – especially all of you past and present PBS folks.  It means a great deal to me and I know I owe you one.  You are now officially on the “Beth’s Favorite People Forever and Ever” list.  I know, it’s like Christmas has come early (or maybe really late).  Hrmm…  The rest of you, it’s still not too late to make the list, but you’re cutting it close.  Do you really want to be on the “other” list – a list you could avoid for a mere $10?  There are only a few more days left on the theater’s drive to make $20k and they’re still not there.  It’s going to be close.

So, the theater owners made a little video and here’s where you can help if $10 is like pulling really cheap teeth.  We all know we’re just six degrees from Kevin Bacon (I can make it in 4), which means we’re probably even closer to Stephen Colbert.  If you can’t give $10, maybe you could pass this video on to a friend who knows Stephen Colbert.  Then I could say I attend the Stephen T. Colbert Theater of Imagineering for a Better Better Tomorrow.  He might even name one of the owners after himself and finally put Perry’s Hair on the Threat Down list (unless he already did that and I missed the episode).

Support the Institution Theater!

An Appeal to Friends and Family

Remember when I worked for PBS and every few months I’d extend a hand to ask for your support?  I’d drag you into the studio to answer phones with promises of cheap pizza, soda, stale popcorn or maybe a even little BBQ. Those were the days of Austin City Limits tickets, galas, the auction, the Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival and of course, you got to hear all of those crazy stories about the people I worked with.  Its been awhile, hasn’t it? Now most of you can’t even remember what I look like answering the phone on your television.  Sadly, you never did get the chance to see me in HD on your new flat screen; I’m sure I look pretty amazing in HD.

The Institution Theater – 4 New Shows – 1 New Theater Pledge Site

Well, here I am again asking you to support another group – The Institution Theater. I’m coming to you now because they have to raise $20,000 in the next 10 days or they will not receive any of the money pledged by their supporters.  I have to be honest with you, they had 30 days to raise the money and they’re not even half way there.  Without your support they will not make their goal.  Now the great thing is, there are still 10 days left in which you can help this theater for as little as $1.  As you know, even the smallest pledge helps.  So, what are the rewards?

  • At higher levels you receive complimentary tickets to shows – shows like Etch-a-Sketch where my most recent sketch piece was performed.
  • You’re doing your part to support the arts in Austin, particularly South Austin.
  • You’re supporting me by supporting my teachers. In return I get to entertain you by performing on their stage, by continuing to write sketches for their theater, and by coming here to this blog to share my crazy anecdotes.
  • You’re doing your part to help Keep Austin Weird

The Institution Theater – 4 New Shows – 1 New Theater Pledge Site

So please, if you can, pledge your support to The Institution Theater today.  Any amount will help them achieve their goal and is greatly appreciated. Even if you can only afford a $1, it will help put them a $1 closer to the $20,000 they must  raise in the next 10 days.  If you can give more, that’s great, too.  Just think, at $25 you recieve two complimentary tickets that you can use towards coming to one of my shows.  It’s like getting your tickets in advance! So, support The Institution Theater today because you love Austin, you love theater and you love having watched me grow through improv and sketch writing. Do it because you miss the old PBS days when I appeared on your television.  Do it because Tom (in the video appeal on the linked Kickstarter website) is a really great guy and is the person who gave me the world’s best pep talk starting with the words, “Beth, you’re brilliant.”  (Or do it because he dated Rikki Lake, or he was at Sean Astin’s wedding or he can tell you about hanging out with Jane Lynch or because he was on Babylon 5 or because he is the world’s best and most notorious name droppers. Do it so I’ll stop spamming you with their logo.)

The Institution Theater – 4 New Shows – 1 New Theater Pledge Site

Click here to learn more about The Institution Theater

This Sunday at 6:30pm!

Finished your holiday shopping and looking for a way to spend that last $5? Why not come join us tomorrow at 6:30 pm for our Sketch Writing Showcase?  We have some truly hilarious and amazingly gifted writers in my class, so you won’t be disappointed (and I’ll be there, too!).  Of course, if you have something better to do, I completely understand and I’ll only hold this against you until my memory fades.  Oh, and Happy Holidays!

Merlin Works 201 Singing Graduation Show!

Looking for something to do next Friday (July 15th)  at 10pm?  Come see my 201 Improv Singing group perform at the Salvage Vanguard Theater.  You’ll see some amazingly talented people and I’ll be there, too!  And the price is right, only $5.  It’s your one and only chance to see me get up on stage and sing, so don’t miss out.

You can purchase your tickets here: http://gnaptheater.eventbrite.com/

OMG SRSLY! Go Get Laid, Dude!

** WARNING** Potentially offensive and crass material.  Read at your own risk.

Let’s start with a couple of simple statements to get this story started:

First, there are a slew of phrases I can’t stand. Among those are any sayings that try to dismissively explain a person’s behavior by mentioning either their menstrual cycle or their lack of sexual intercourse.  Those statements are almost always crass and completely untrue.  And no, I’m not “on the rag” as I write this.  I don’t need a special cycle to be a pissy individual.

Second, there’s no “wrong” in improv.  Improvisers are making everything up on the spot, so how can it possible be wrong?  It can’t.

On many of the days that I didn’t post an entry on the blog, I was in an improv class (either singing or acting) and was using that to count towards the June Creativity Challenge.  (Ok, three days I actually did say “pthbbt” to the whole “creativity” thing, but that’s for a post in July.)

The non-singing class involves a new teacher and a new gang of improvisers I’ve never worked with before – all of them incredibly talented and funny.

However, as much as I hate to say this, there’s this one guy in class who seriously needs to get laid. (Or given a big stack of porn and allowed some private bathroom time or maybe a nice hooker as a birthday present.  Although, I think hookers can be an “any occasion” kind of gift for the hard up.)

Why do I think that? Every scene he’s in somehow involves sex.  For example:

  • Disgruntled angel scene – the mortal’s name that was written in his book was some sort of sexual deviant and was nearly unsalvageable – big points for being descriptive on the deviancy
  • Chance encounter at a bus station scene – he was Rep. Wiener’s “special” friend while working as the Representative’s congressional page.
  • Library scene – he was holding up at a book of sexual positions, marveling at the pictures while giggling and shouting “look at his “thing” in her “thing””.  (Again, points for being super descriptive, but I swear the last time I heard “thing” in reference to genitalia was maybe on a playground or I was 5 and attempting to be polite.  Dude, hang out with a 5 year old – they can introduce you to all sorts of new and creative words that sound just as ridiculous if you’re feeling really shy about saying the word “penis”.)
  • Mistakenly in the wrong class scene – I think this was the one where he ended up with huge balls or something going horribly wrong with his gigantic penis (but that may have been a different scene)

You get the idea.  I swear, if I had a dime for every time he mentioned someone’s pants, well I probably wouldn’t quite have a dollar, but I’ve only been to three classes.  I betcha, I break $2.50 by the end of July, though!

… and I don’t mean this as a slam on the guy’s improv skills.  He’s a fine improv-er. He’s takes risks, does what he’s supposed to do.  He’s super descriptive.  You get a real feel for his character.  But please, as a favor to me, could someone please let him squeeze their breasts or give him a blow job so we can move on?  I might kick him in the balls if he ever mentions his balls again.


On Saturday, April and I took a free puppet manipulation class taught by one of one of Austin’s highly acclaimed improv-ers, Sara Farr, who is also the founder and artistic director of the Puppet Improv Project.  I may need a lot of work, but I had a blast.

You’re how old? And you’re playing with puppets?

Look, Sesame Street premiered before I turned two; I was practically raised on it so you can blame them (and my mother who found that setting me in front of the TV was a great way to escape – this was before Parenting magazine shook a stern finger at parents for this).  Then I grew up and went to work for PBS where I was reintroduced to Sesame Street and all the old familiar faces as well as some new ones.  In fact, at one pledge drive while I was sitting in the studio watching Sesame Street on the monitor, listening for the phones to ring, I found myself suddenly giggling uncontrollably at Elmo.  (I’m a simple, simple soul – bless my heart.)

I’ve even met Maria, who it turns out is not named Maria.  Ok, some of you knew that, but I swear it never even occurred to me that Maria wasn’t named Maria or Luis wasn’t Luis or Gordon wasn’t Gordon – or Mr. Hooper… et tu Mr. Hooper?? Yes, I always knew
they were actors, but I guess I always thought they were a pack of really good friends who’d come to educate America’s children like good young urban social workers/educators do.  Its taken years, but I’ve finally come to terms with Maria being Sonia.  I don’t have to like it, though.

In fact, the only celebrity death that brought me to tears was Jim Henson’s.   When he passed away, it was as if suddenly Kermit, Ernie, Rowlf the Dog and a piece of my childhood had died.  I remember cutting out an editorial cartoon by Ben Sargent from our local paper that day which showed a little boy looking back at his toy box where a stuffed Kermit slumped against the side.  A tear slid down Kermit’s cheek.  (If I were better organized I’d share it.)  That same weekend, I was at a garage sale and there sat this ragged, moth eaten Kermit puppet, which I snatched up and sat on a shelf in honor of that great puppeteer for years.

I can’t help it, I love puppets – from all of those lunch sack puppets I created to this great horse I made out of an egg carton, paint
and cloth in 5th grade.  Our troupe (that’s right, that’s what I’m calling our gang of three) was even selected to perform at a children’s birthday party.  (This would have been an even better story if Mom had let me attend.  Instead, someone had to borrow my puppet and perform my part – the one I wrote.  I’ve gotten over that, though.   Let it go years ago, I did. Yessirree.)

Anyway, yesterday after the workshop I decided to go to Terra Toys, which I can easily get lost in – that and a place called Toy Joy are by far the coolest toy shops in town.  And there she was, sitting on a rack.  I tried to ignore her, but after surfing around the store, I realized I had to have her… to practice, of course.   I’m not one of those crazy adults with toys and puppets just for fun.  I’m just working on my improv tool belt which now includes puppets.

A New Class

Until a couple of weeks ago you would find me sitting in an improv class every Saturday.  That changed when our 501 class didn’t make.  Apparently, a class of two isn’t quite enough.  Our original 101 class, which started with 16 people had dwindled down to 3 by the time we reached 401.  We were lucky to have several of the local house performers volunteer to take the class along with us so we could still have that class.  Then finally we were left with only 2.   This meant I had a very unwelcome calendar of free summer weekends until a note appeared in my mailbox from a classmate Friday evening (the other 1 of the 2 to have signed-up for 501) which read, “free or deeply discounted classes through another theater, contact them for information” and that class happened to be on Saturdays at the exact same time as my original classes.  It was also only a few blocks away from the original theater; it couldn’t be more perfect.  Plus, it sounded like they needed me.  The class might not make if I didn’t show up! It would be wrong not to help!

What I love about improv and why I keep coming back – you start with nothing and from that nothing you work to create something.  The only props you have are possibly a few metal chairs.  You then work to discover who you are, what you’re doing and where you’re at.  I can look back at the stage and remember when it was a zoo or a gymnasium for monsters or a prison cell.  As our new instructor said yesterday, “it’s improv, we can put a Starbucks on the moon or drive a Bentley through the center of the world if we want to.” And I have to admit I’m addicted to it, which is why I went from being completely bummed about our classes not making and then completed excited by the idea that this new class appeared at the exact right time.

Yesterday, I watched as the stage moved from a computer store filled with tech hungry zombies, a ride through the Australian outback where one of the passengers had clearly forgotten his sunscreen on his walk about, a tense chess tournament, an  apartment with a very angry and upset drunk and a plane with an obnoxiously overly chipper passenger (yours truly).

So, for this Saturday, the creative thing I did was going to improv in a new space with new people and a great new instructor.  As for Sunday, I wrote about it. (And I changed the look of the blog, because I can and I use my powers for evil or something like that, but mostly because I can.)