As promised –  my short film that was shown during our recent sketch review: The Moral Compass Rumpus

Huge thanks go to the cast, to all of my friends and family who I managed to wrangle at the last minute and to my outstanding crew who made it happen on a very tight schedule.  I couldn’t have done this without you.

See my earlier post: Hot Spots: Behind the Scenes if you’re not sure what’s going on.

Hot Spots: Behind the Scenes

Next week, after the run of our show has come to an end,  I plan to upload my short film onto something like YouTube, Vimeo, or Funny or Die. I haven’t decided which, but people with bigger thoughts than mine are being asked for their opinions and suggestions.  All those sites play videos, right? BUT before that even happens, I thought I’d give you some background on the short I created since it’s a little Austin inside-jokey. You see, there’s a rumor going around that some of you may not be from Austin.  It’s ok, your cities are good, too.  I bet they even have their own inside jokes.  They’re probably even funny, too.

Every year around March Austin hosts a film, music and media festival called South by Southwest (or SXSW)   It’s a festival that draws people from all over the world and showcases great talent.  Movies are premiered.  Favorite bands perform. Panels on a variety of topics are held.  From the mainstream to the off-beat, you can see it all (with a wristband and a great deal of luck).

This past year a clever ad agency had an idea to employ some of Austin’s homeless and turn them into Wi-Fi hotspots.  How it worked: Let’s say you were a hipster in need of internet access and Starbucks was packed, all you had to do was consult your trusty hotspot map, locate a homeless guy, pay them a recommended $2/15 minutes and log in.  It was a way to create needed hotspots during the festival, directly benefit the homeless involved and, as the ad agency argued, help make those individuals visible.

Needless to say, Austin earned a certain amount of attention over this creative use of the homeless.  We were even mentioned in The Daily Show.  (I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear Texas is getting any kind of national, or even worse, international (or Daily Show) attention I tend to cringe.  It’s usually for a good reason. One that  makes me want to point east and say, “Hey guys, look over there.  I think Alabama is doing something crazy!  Did you hear that guy in Missouri?  Insane, right? RIGHT?”)

When all of this was happening, I was starting one of my sketch classes and in need of material.  This topic looked perfect. Plus, I reckoned everyone else had taken their shot at it.  It was only fair that I got my turn.

That’s how Hot Spots came to be.

If you’re new to this controversy, I encourage you to read a bit more about it and watch the testimonials from the homeless involved.  You’ll then be armed and ready for my short. You see, I don’t want you blinking confusedly at your monitor and wandering aimlessly throughout your house. That would make me sad… especially if you bumped into things.

The Atlantic
Wi-Fi Hotspots Made of Homeless People: Not As Horrible as They Seem

The New York Times
Use of Homeless as Internet Hot Spots Backfires on Marketer

The Moral Compass Rumpus: A Sketch Comedy Review

Banner created by Asaf Ronen

Looking for another excuse to DVR True Blood the next few Sunday nights?  Feel like it’s your mission to “Keep Austin Weird”? Have $5 wadded up in your pockets that you just don’t know how you’ll spend? Then I’ve got just the thing!  Come see…


The Institution Theater presents The Moral Compass Rumpus: A Sketch Comedy Revue written by The Marshmallow Overthrow and performed by The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Minions.

The writers of The Marshmallow Overthrow are Richard G. Bingham II, Andy Hush, Beth Doughty, Roanna Flowers, and Jessica Green Salinas.

The performing members of The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Minions are Ben Carneiro, Roxy Castillo, Channon Ford, Topping Haggerty, Lucas Reilly, David Rosenbaum, Beth Shea, and Steve Wright.

You can find more details and purchase tickets by clicking on this link The Institution Theater.

You’ll laugh, you’ll get that warm fuzzy feeling of goodness and I will give each one of you a hug.  That’s right, I will hug! Now there’s a deal you can’t pass up.

I can’t wait to see you there!

That’s a Wrap!

I have amazing friends.  This is a fact.  Granted, they have fairly poor taste and hang out with the likes of me, but you should forgive them – everyone has to have a flaw. I’m just thankful I’m that flaw.

The Sunday before last I met with my friends Meredith and Jerin.  They’re movie people. They’ve had films in film festivals.  They’ve both worked in television. They’re professionals. I, on the other hand, work for the state and have three sketch classes to boast about.  Still, I somehow managed to con them into agreeing to come over to read a sketch I wanted filmed.  I just wanted to pick their brains to understand how to create a shot list – something I was told I needed before I could film.  I realized this was  a bad idea once they walked through the door and transformed immediately from “oh, these are the awesome people I hang out with” to “holy cow, film-making rock stars are standing in my hallway!” I audibly gasped.

They settled in and I handed them my script wondering what possessed me to be so cocky.  I mean sure, they’re great people, but here I was boldly asking them to bestow their professional wisdom on the likes of me for something ridiculous that I probably should have Googled.  Clearly, a better move would have been to just offer up BBQ.  What was I thinking? I could probably defrost something and throw it on the grill.  I mean, that’s why God made armpits, right?

They took the scripts and stated that if they didn’t like something, they weren’t going to spare my feelings.  They wanted me to learn and grow from my mistakes and their criticisms would not be a reflection on me personally.  They added, “this way you know we’re being honest with you when we say we do like something.”  Fair enough.  As they scrutinized my script, I swear it jumped from being a mere three pages to something that was surely 30 to 100 pages long.  Did an hour just roll by? Two? Each question that bubbled up became confirmation that I shouldn’t be showing them my sketch – that perhaps I should distract them with snacks and then, while they weren’t looking, slip the sketches into the recycle bin.  I would look innocently around, seeming a bit confused if asked and say “what sketch? No, you came over for dinner.  Remember?  Hehe, a sketch.  You guys are such kidders!  Love that sense of humor! Never lose that. You know I don’t write sketches.”

Long story short – they liked the sketch and a few hours into our conversation while they were in the midst of tutoring me on filming basics, Jerin said, “I would like to shoot this.”  My jaw nearly hit the floor.  “Is that being too pushy? I understand if…” I think at that point I started blathering about how this was more than I could hope for and how I had wanted to ask them for a while, but couldn’t muster the courage.  How I had always admired them.  I’m sure I started sounding a bit insane and they probably worried about getting a restraining order, but thankfully they still stuck around.  They added, “We’d also like April on this”.  Having April involved is always a good idea for just about anything you could think of that you might need another person.  I put this on my to-do list, “wrangle April.”  April also works in television and is just another one of the amazing people I’m extremely lucky to know.

The following day, I panicked as I realized we were going to have to shoot the next Sunday (last Sunday to be exact). We were only going to get a week to prepare when I hoped we’d at least have the luxury of two. I called them up, they said something along the lines of “we can do this” and they hopped on board. So, in one short week I managed to have a location scouted, actors rehearsed, props procured/built, extras signed-up and best of all a Director of Photography, an Assistant Director of Photography (that was April – yes, I got her!), a Script Supervisor (who apparently don’t get enough respect, but are extremely important if you want a successful film – in fact, if you meet one, hug them), a PA, and a sound person/editor – all for my goofy little film.

I learned a great deal thanks to Meredith and Jerin’s patience. They checked-in throughout our 6 ½ day to make sure I was doing ok, that I thoroughly understood what was happening and to confirm I was getting what I wanted.  They were careful to make the shoot about me and my vision.  I honestly will never be able to thank them enough.  They’re amazing and they’re also very generous with their knowledge and time.

Huge thanks to my core crew: Meredith, Jerin, Richard and April.  I couldn’t have pulled it off without you.  I hope you all know I mean this quite sincerely when I say, you are my heroes and I am in considerable awe of your talent (I always have been).  I am very fortunate to know each of you.

I’ll share more set stories later, but my favorite moment as we filmed the last scene and the cast and crew looked on:

Meredith: That’s it.  Beth, do you want to call it?

Me:  Ok, umm… that’s it!

Meredith: (quietly) You say, “that’s a wrap”.

Me: OH!!! That’s a wrap!!!!

And… that’s a wrap!

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?)


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.

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.


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.

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!