Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Sheldon, the Savage

Last night, my Acting III: Comedy Workshop class performed a sketch revue called Savage Breast at Donny's Skybox at The Second City. I've been around Second City and the Skybox for so long, I sometimes forget what a huge deal this is for people. Students had family and friends - local and from out of town - there. The place was full to capacity. (A huge shout out to Jay Macintosh, the manager of the Skybox, and Jason Flowers, the technical director of the space. These guys went above and beyond to set up the evening and make it work as best as possible for the show. These guys are saints and I would bend over backwards, or forwards, for them.)

Even though it's a student show, I was a little nervous, too. My girlfriend came to the show. Julie's not in theater, but she's an excellent critic. Her input has been very helpful to me in "course correcting" a show or two.

But the person who really makes me nervous is Sheldon Patinkin. Sheldon is the Dean of the Theater Department at Columbia College and one of the founding members of The Second City. He's an artistic consultant to Steppenwolf Theater, as well as an author, playwright and well-respected director. He also knows a lot about vaudeville and has a book coming out on musical theater.
He's a walking piece of Chicago theater history and I'm very aware of it.

This semester is my first teaching Comedy Workshop. It's been a lot of fun and taken a lot of my time and energy. We develop a sketch revue through improvisation, writing and performing previews. We do four shows throughout the spring term. And while I've thrown myself in to teaching this class, I've also dropped the ball in keeping Sheldon informed on the class's show times and dates. There have been changes over the semester that I didn't let him know about. The same thing happened tonight. At one time, our show was supposed to be at 7:30pm. John Hildreth, the teacher of Improvisation 2, which performed on a double bill with us, and I decided to change it to 7pm. We told our classes. We told the Skybox personnel. We didn't tell Sheldon. He missed the first twenty minutes of my show.

I was expecting to royally be chewed out by Sheldon. I deserved it. He came in late and had no place to sit. He stood to the side and watched the show. I made an old guy stand through a student show. How bitter and cruel this must be! Oh, and The Fart Scene is up. I know he hates The Fart Scene. I was already planning my "it won't happen, again" spiel and how I'll make sure it doesn't happen in the fall. Unless he fires me. I made him come late and stand watching The Fart Scene. At intermission, I went to look for him. I thought maybe he was upset and split. Nope. He was already backstage, individually congratulating the cast on a job well done. And then he told me the same.

Here's the thing about Sheldon. He cares. The Dean of the Theater doesn't have to go to ALL the student shows. The Dean of Theater at my college certainly didn't bother. I've never known Sheldon to miss any of them (except for the one a month ago where I forgot to tell him we changed the date). He sees a lot of half-assed theater, my friends. I've sat through some of the same shows. Shows that made my skin crawl and my brain try to crack it's way out of my skull to escape the intense boredom emanating from the stage. He's either a glutton for punishment, or he really, really cares about the students and their growth as artists. He asked me specifically about a few of the students who shone very well in the Comedy Workshop show. So, I didn't get yelled at. Instead, he seemed very appreciative of my work. The bastard.

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