Screaming Under Water

I babysit projects for a living.  I watch them closely as they grow up. I pat them lovingly, diagnose their ailments and I wave goodbye tearfully when they’ve grown-up into the product they were meant to be.  I do this every day and come the end of every August, I wish them well and get ready to welcome a new set.  When you do this daily, you start to think of everything as potentially a project.  It’s a bit of an illness, really.  “People are coming over?  Well, first we need to think about whether people need to come over, is it a feasible thing to have them here?  What are the activities that need to happen in order to get people here? I know, we’ll make a party plan and start executing it by sending out emails, organizing any food/drinks and checking in occasionally to see if we’re on track for those people to be here. Once it’s over, we’ll do mental “lessons learned” and identify what worked and then what we could do better.”

This is how I think.  I’m one of those overly planned sorts – the kind you’ll never get to spontaneously run away on some great adventure in the middle of the night unless you’ve given me a few days notice (a few weeks would be even better!).  I know.  I think among my friends, I’d be called a “fun suck” – the vacuum where fun goes to die.

I mention all of this as a way to lead up to an update on our upcoming sketch show.  Hey, you’ve been with me since my first sketch class, through the highs and the lows and then more lows, through the casting of the show so I owe you an update.  (FINE! I’ll give you an update on Sam later.  Just pretend for now that “sketch” is just code for a floppy eared beagle, if you must.)

Our show is in trouble.  I say this as a babysitter of projects – as the person who ushers in 20+ projects a year and waves goodbye to 10-20 more by year’s end.  The only way we’ll have a show on August 5th is if we reduce the scope and that means cutting sketches and giving up on the filming.  You see, right now there is no discernible plan beyond “we rehearse once a week”.  There’s no driver pushing this baby to its end and for me, the project babysitter, it’s frustrating.  Last Tuesday, we received the rehearsal schedule a few hours before the rehearsals.  It lets all of us know what is being rehearsed and when the actors should arrive.  One actor asked if the rehearsal had been canceled and I’m the one who had to say, “no, the schedule is late… please forgive…,” which wasn’t my place.  We ended up with four actors out.  Two notified in advance, but when it came time to schedule the sketches that night, that bit of information was forgotten, which meant that two of the sketches were missing half or more of their cast.  The third sketch was sent back for re-writes after the first read.  This is something that should have been determined before the rehearsal started, before the actors came in for 15 minutes and were sent back home.  Our instructor should have read through the sketch and if he had doubts, he should have aired them before people were lined up to read it in the middle of the night.  We’re still paying for this class.  We’re paying to learn about this aspect of sketch – casting, rehearsals and putting on a show.

Where we stand right now is we’ve rehearsed 5 of 20 sketches, 2 of those without the full cast that are supposed to perform them, 1 that was determined mid-read wasn’t ready, which means only 3 shows have been fully rehearsed and blocked with the cast that will perform them.  We are supposed to film at least 2 of the sketches, if not more and there’s been no plan for that other than a classmate stepping up and saying, “I’ll do it” just so we can get it done.  We were told “we may need more sketches and an opening number”.  If we want that in there, it has to be written NOW, it has to be rehearsed in the next couple of weeks, otherwise that is NOT happening.

All emails to our fearless leader are met with silence – like whispering a wish into the air.

I feel like I’m screaming alone underwater.

If this were one of my project babies, I’d be shooting up so many flares and waving so many red flags, because it’s in trouble.  At best, it’s “yellow”.  And quite honestly, to bore you with a project term, only fast-tracking will get baby back on schedule at this point.

Honestly, guys.  I don’t want you at the show right now.

Those Morose Little Writers

In my hurry to complete the audition story, I realized I left out one of the funnier side stories.

As you recall (and if you don’t recall, then read the previous post first – then you can safely call yourself a recall-er without receiving much grief from me) – now where was I?  Ah, as you recall (you’re on board now, right because I can keep these little side conversations going all day), before the auditions started we were sitting outside and I was more-or-less being as social as a squirrely little introvert can be while trying to hide under any object that would conceal me.  I was still feeling punchy, but I was attempting to mask that by chatting. This chatting lead to the conversation about “sketch” and some five minutes later, the confusion about what was meant by “sketch” was cleared up.  Although, I’d like to say that I was never confused about the type of “sketch” I was referring to no matter what anyone may say.

Once the mystery (that was again no mystery to me) was cleared, the woman I was speaking with said, “you know, I can see it now.  When you were all talking before, I was getting that artistic energy vibe from you, but now I can see you’re all quite morose.”  I nearly fell down from laughter, because honestly there’s not a morose person among us.  The humor of her comment came from how quickly she’d moved us from bright, happy-go-lucky, flamboyant artist types to these rather miserable and dark little writers; it was hysterical in its suddenness. Plus, I couldn’t figure out what she’d heard that could have caused this rapid shift in her perception. The only conversation I remember went something like:

Andy! Andy! Andy! Andy! (err, that may be me speaking, maybe – you don’t know – but hypothetically speaking, how many times must someone exclaim someone else’s name in order to get noticed?)

WHAT?!?

Andy! We came up with a name for a sketch troupe, it’s called ‘Where’s Andy?’  Because like we didn’t know where you were.  Get it?

You GUYS! I’m only 5 minutes late.  

See, I’m not sure how that conversation suddenly turned us from a free-spirited lot of cheerful artists into a gloomy, wretched little group of writers. Maybe, I just can’t see it through this sullen lens that I tend to view the world.

If I were to assign someone to the role or morose, it would more closely fit my personality; however, I truly am too dingy to be morose.  I’m just not that deep.  I often don’t have the good sense to be glum.  Remember, I’m the one whose head is filled with pony patting. Truth be told, Virginia Woolf and I would probably not be at the same slumber parties. (There’s got to be a sketch in that – we’ll call it “Slumber Party at Poe’s” – a slumber party with Edgar Allan Poe, Virginia Woolf, and Niccolò Machiavelli (we’ll call him Little Nicky; he’ll be the annoying younger brother of Hemingway).  C’mon, it has potential!)

So, anyway I had to share that because had I been drinking when that actress made that particular observation, I would have sprayed the entire parking lot.  That was funny stuff!  She should consider sketch writing!

Auditions: Feeling Punchy

You didn’t really think I’d let you off so easily with that previous post, did you? No, because let’s face it, I am pretty darned excited that our sketch class is putting on a show and it would be wrong of me not to share that.  (No really, it would actually be wrong.  I don’t know what you learned in Sunday school or at home or from the neighborhood kids, but this is the understanding I walked away with – not sharing = wrong.  So, let’s make this RIGHT!)

I came into class on Tuesday a bit punchy.  “Punchy” occurs after I have gone to a public forum to figure out what we’re doing for our first class by way of an advertisement, because I can’t get that information from my instructor.  “Punchy” quickly devolves into loud “kvetching” when I’m not getting any sympathy, the class is starting a half hour late and anxious actors are standing around asking for more information.  “I dunno, break out your smart phone and look at this advertisement.”  “Kvetching” turns into “hissing” in a corner as it was quickly and silently determined that I shouldn’t be the spokesperson for the group.

Ok, all of that happened in my head while I wore my “I’m a civilized, approachable, and friendly human being” mask. I chatted up all of the nervous actors as they arrived.  I shook hands, talked hobbies and told them what I knew about the show. I did manage to confuse one actor who thought that I was taking a sketch class, which I am, but she thought I meant I “sketched” with a pencil, maybe some charcoal, more than likely she envisioned a crayon since we’re talking me.  I had to tell her that no, sadly I don’t sketch.  I don’t even doodle, because my doodles are terrible which is a fairly tragic thing if you think about it – when a doodle can be considered an art travesty.  A true but entirely different story for another time.

All-in-all we auditioned about 20 people.  All of them were terrific.  I do mean that quite sincerely.  Sure, there were different levels of ability, but I saw great potential in every one of them.  The hard part was choosing.  You want to reward all of those people who did well, but then for me I also wanted to give those folks who didn’t have as much experience and who didn’t have the strongest audition a chance.  I’m not so proud of my writing or my sketches that I would say, “I demand only the best!  I will not be insulted by your high school drama/mime creds! BE GONE!”  I just haven’t reached my sketch writing diva stage, yet (but when I do, I think I’ll don a cape, a feathery fascinator and insist on wearing gloves all the time – an image that clearly states “I’ve an artiste with an ‘e’”).

Each audition was held in small groups, so we could see the actors interact with each other. Something I thought was interesting and I’ve seen before in improv classes is how the energy changes based on the group mentality.  For example, if one person decided to play over-the-top, it would infect the group and suddenly everyone was high energy, leaping out of chairs, and running around the room.  It was almost as if that person gave the rest of the group permission to be big.  With another group, they went small. They would test the waters for “big” and then when the rest of the group didn’t follow along or give permission for “big”, the group remained small.  Another group became more physical – that actually almost turned into a “we need to intervene” moment.

No interpretation was more right than the other, just very different. The benefit was that it allowed us to see this particular sketch played out with so many different possibilities in terms of emotion and energy.

A piece of one of my sketches was read only once during the course of the auditions by two different actors.  Each one read it a couple of times and each time gave it a different interpretation.  It was thrilling to watch.  And when it came down to choosing who we wanted, I admit I went with those two actors.  In fact, of the whole night they were my favorites, which may show a complete bias on my part, but they wouldn’t be part of the cast if the rest of the class didn’t also agree.

Six of my eight cast picks were chosen, so I’m very happy with that outcome.

Next week we’ll start rehearsals, and then in August we’ll have a show that will run for four weeks. I’m excited.

I was told one of my sketches will be filmed as part of the show and then be shown as part of the show.  I’ve tried to get people to bet me on whether that will actually happen. My bet is that it won’t. I tried to entice my friends by setting the stakes as “a nice dinner”. (A #1 Wendy’s combo WITH a salad and we eat INSIDE – I know! Heck, I’d throw in a Jr. Frosty! Who can resist? Ok, I kid.  The stakes are for a real restaurant.)  So far, none of my friends are willing to bet that the sketch will be filmed.  Sure, it’s a sucker’s bet where I get a lot of free meals, but do they have to be so cynical?  That’s my job.

I guess the mask is off. I’m still feeling a little punchy.

A Further Commitment

Since I’m making all sorts of commitments these days, I thought I’d add one more:

I will (try to) stop spreading the vicious (albeit entirely true) rumor that one of my co-workers eats gluten-free babies (food allergies, you know – gluten rich babies can wreak havoc on the stomach – can’t be too careful) just as soon as she stops eating them.  That’s a Big Blue Mess guarantee right there.

I will also attempt to not roll my eyes at the next co-worker who hears these rumors in hushed whispers within the safe confines of my cubicle and asks quite sincerely (and a bit naively), “Beth, are you serious?”  Of course, I’m serious.  Gluten-free baby eating cannibals is a rising menace in the work place.  You should be ever vigilant!

Ok, off to work on my office awareness campaign.  (Which is a lot like avoiding work on my sketch for class. Cannibals are much more interesting than this 2nd draft.)

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.

I’m Quitting

Tuesday after work started like most Tuesdays after work do – dinner and the dramatic announcement of “I think this is my last sketch writing class.”. “Yes, I’ll give myself this last class and then I will plan to be home before 10pm from here on out!” My friends never grow tired of this pronouncement and by “never” I mean “always”, because it’s usually followed by a small “I’m the worst sketch writer” pity party with balloons shaped like sad little animals as I recount why what I’m saying is 100% gospel. Their protests to make me see reason are now printed on a colorful flyer so they don’t have to repeat themselves one more exhausting time. I wear them thin on Tuesday The flyers help lessen the need for eye rolling this way. (As you can see, I’m making tremendous strides towards my resolution to work on my self-esteem. You can see that, right?)

Well, I come by my lack of faith in my writing quite honestly. On that very first day of class a couple of months back, I was traumatized when I discovered that I was the only person who wasn’t born with a pen in their hand. As we went around the room establishing our writing creds, everyone seemed to be a serious writer and I, on the other hand, could only offer up “I blog!!” There was smiling, that patient kind you give when faced with someone who is severely mentally deficient that you don’t want to discourage. “Umm, I can also sign some really filthy things in ASL,” but I suppose that’s not writing or anything to really brag about – it’s more a neat pet trick to horrify a friend who does sign. As an educator, she’s quite proud that “this was all that Beth learned.” The only other person who wasn’t a writer was an accomplished fashion photographer, so that left me without a peer and signing quietly to myself.

So, Tuesday evening arrives and I’ve got my first parody sketch prepared and ready for feedback. I wander into the inner calm place in my mind that says, “you can survive the next three hours and as a reward you never have to come back.” YAY! Half an hour into class and I manage to never raise my hand to read anything of mine, because it’s a bit like raising my hand to gargle glass or poke my eye out with a stick. Why would I do that? My friend Morgan strolls in. Morgan is the reason I took sketch writing in the first place; she has a way of making things seem cool. You may remember her from the story about the obnoxiously expensive purse that could feed a third world country. I think, “how sad I won’t see Morgan after this evening, but we still have email.” I’ve positioned myself so I can see the clock clearly. I watch it closely as it ticks down my final hours in class. I make it two hours without volunteering to read my first parody. (Aside: Yes, rationally I know sketch writing is new for me and I’m doing something I’ve never done before, but I want to be the best. Blame my upbringing. Waiting on my brain to understand the fundamentals gets in the way of kudos, awards and a ribbon that says “Best Girl”. I want the bloody ribbon.)

Then the time comes where there are only two parodies left to read. A game of rock, paper, scissors is called to determine who will read next. I can see that Morgan is going to throw “rock” by the way she’s holding her hand in the 1-2-3 lead-up and I immediately throw “paper”, because I like to win. Then I realize, “you threw paper!!! IDIOT! What were you thinking?!?!”

I had to cast my sketch, “I’d like you to play the part of Clara, I’d like you to be my narrator, and…” Once the roles are cast, I immediately proceed to shake as my words are read. I don’t like being a squirrely, twitchy person, but as you know, my writing being read out loud does this to me every time. It’s much worse if I have to read it. I watch everyone’s reactions to see how it’s playing out and to my delight they seem to be laughing. Whew, they get the jokes. I can tell when each one realizes what I’m parodying.

When it’s over, I throw my notebook down on my lap and prepare for the feedback on how to make it better. I can conceal my trembling easier on my lap than I can on the table.

Morgan turns around and looks at me and says something like, “Beth, that was great. I have nothing.” Well, she likes me personally. She’s my friend. Did I mention that purse? So, I wait for someone else and that’s Jason, whose writing I admire greatly (in my next life I’d like to be as funny as he is). Jason adds, “I’ve also got nothing and I’d like you to submit this to the Etch-a-Sketch showcase I host on Fridays.” I don’t know any actors and shyly stammer that out. Jason responds, “I’d be glad to play a part.” That’s when the rest of the class chimes in, “me, too!”

The only real suggestion for a change I receive is, “maybe change the mummy’s name from Amenhotep to Tut – it’s easier to say.” (I may have killed my narrator with the number of times he had to say “Amenhotep” until our teacher finally gave him some relief by suggesting, “go ahead and say ‘the mummy’ instead”. Part of the fun of that sketch for me was forcing someone to say “Amenhotep” repeatedly. I’m a simple soul.)

I left class giddy and aglow. Their approval and willingness to play parts in my sketch was almost as a great as a “Best Girl” ribbon. So, tonight my sketch parody will appear in the theater’s sketch showcase and will star my super supportive classmates.

I guess I can’t quit until next Tuesday.

Sketch Writing 101: The Sketch

On Sunday we had a showcase for all of the Sketch 101 writers featuring one of our pieces (we’d written 5 over the course of the class).  Throughout the course of the class, I had some lows and some very lows and an extremely dramatic meltdown that I dragged several people and my teacher into (lucky them!) because I felt like I was completely outclassed and over-my-head.  I mean, what was I thinking? I write a series of run-on-sentence style blogs.  Whether true or not, I felt like I was the kid with the Big Chief pad and jumbo pencil trying to muscle into the table with actual writers.  I spent the first part of the class trying to spontaneously combust.  Did you know that turning to ash on cue is actually a lot harder than you’d suspect?  You probably never thought of that, did you?  Errr… me either. *cough*.  Then I kinda found my writing legs.

So, without further ado here is my sketch:

WARNING: It’s PG-13 for suggestive language – if you’re easily offended, it might not be your cup of tea.  Also, it’s from a 101 class.  Several improv teachers just cringed because I typed that, but there you have it.  Oh, and watch the guy 2nd from the right, he has some subtle stage directions at the beginning and you may need the audio turned up a little to hear.

Confessions

Thanks to my super supportive friends and my awesome husband, Jay for putting up with me during this process.  A huge thanks to Tom Booker, my teacher (the guy on the far right – he was in Babylon 5!) who talked me off the ledge and read my stage directions for this performance.  Also a huge thanks to the actors who brought my words to life.