Friday, November 9, 2007

Mob Scenes


Last night, I went to a wine tasting. It was a fundraising event for Lion's Club that my girlfriend put together. Given her support of my various and multiple projects, it was only fair that I give up one evening of Robowriters to support her. It was in Hinsdale and I had to get there via public transportation. Here are a few things I observed...

- I took the Metra train from 18th and Western to Hinsdale. I like the Metra. The trains are usually very clean, the fellow passengers usually very considerate, the conductors friendly and it has bathrooms! This train was running about six minutes late and there was an announcement letting you know that. On the section of the train I was on I never saw a conductor and never paid my $5 fare to Hinsdale. This was kind of cool as it made me feel a simultaneously sneaky and lucky. The one thing I don't like on the Metra train are the green tinted windows. I like to sit near the window and see the parts of Chicagoland I don't get to see very often. Everything looks a sickly green.

- Man, it's getting dark early since the time change. I arrived in Hinsdale at 4:40pm and it was dark as night. Plus, they seem content to get by with less street lighting outside the city limits. Hinsdale looked like a lovely shadowy little place.

- There are some funky bridges out in the burbs! To get to the lodge where the wine tasting was, we had to cross over this one-lane bridge that was short, but bowed pretty high. My cab driver of foreign descent actually said "Wheeee!" as we were going back down the other side.

- Wine tastings are fun, but that's all they give you - a taste. I'm there for wine drinking. Don't be holding back on that bio-dynamic pinot noir! I also like silent auctions. They had several gift baskets and I bid on all of them. I also got outbid on all of them. The next time I do a fundraiser, I'm going to have a silent auction for "regift" baskets where people fill decorative baskets with books, CDs or DVDs they want to get rid of. Or it's filled with food from the cupboards that never gets used, like tomato paste and white beans.

- My girlfriend rocks as an organizer. The event went very well and she handled the bumps in the proverbial road with grace and treated everyone helping at the event very well.

Robowriters Assignment

Courtesy of Chris Othic

Every one-act sketch revue should have at least three scenes that highlight the entire cast. An opener, a closer and a scene in the middle. This gets trickier the larger the company. My current Columbia Comedy Workshop class has thirteen students so I have to be on the lookout for when I can add people to scenes. Your scene takes place on a whale watching boat? Guess what? Everybody's on the whale watching boat!

The assignment this week is to write a group scene. If you don't have a specific company of actors that you are writing for, I recommend keeping the cast to six, three men and three women.

Here a few things to consider:

Character’s voices: When writing a group scene, it’s easy to give every characters the same voice, usually the voice of the writer. Try to use little tricks to distinguish between characters, such as remembering each character’s point of view, motivations, status and background. Or even accent.

Relationships: Just as in two or three person scenes, remember to establish relationships between the characters. Sometimes you might want to go with a room full of strangers, but if the group members all have some sort of history, good or bad, it’s a great way to inflict drama and heighten the conflict in the scene. A married couple trying to voice their opinion as one at a condo board meeting might be more interesting if they don't fully agree on what to do with the common courtyard. We can watch their marriage unravel over it.

Setting: When doing a group scene, it’s easy to get so wrapped up with who is doing what to whom that some other important things get pushed aside. Remember the setting. If you have a group of plane crash survivors stranded in the Amazon Basin, let’s see some of them get bitten by mosquitoes or suffer dehydration. Man versus nature may not be the thrust of your scene, but if two of your characters are fighting over who gets to be the alpha dog, then use the setting to raise the stakes and enrich the scene. But keep in mind the scenic focus. Use the mosquitoes, but its not about the mosquitoes.

Distribute the load: In some group scenes, you may have two or three “main characters” and a handful of supporting players. That’s fine. Just remember to give each of those supporting characters a good reason to be there, and use them to move the story forward and heighten the scene. In other words, give them something interesting to do. No actor wants to be in your scene as the “third spear holder on the right.” If he’s holding a spear, give him a reason for it.

The basics: Finally, remember to stick to the basics. Set up the scene by letting us know who this group is, where they are, and why they are there. Introduce the conflict. This may be an internal conflict within the group, or it could be an outside force that they are facing together. It may even be a little of both! Heighten the conflict and place obstacles in the group’s path. Finally, find a resolution and show us whether it succeeds or fails.


A lot of folks have told me they visit "Bite and Smile" specifically for the Robowriter Assignments and the comedy writing advice. If you have any questions, I'd be happy to try to answer them for you or try to find someone who can answer it for you. You can leave questions in the comment section or e-mail them to


Yesterday, I asked...

"The national debt has hit $9 trillion for the first time. Under which president did the national debt first break $1 trillion?"

13% said "Lyndon B. Johnson"
- LBJ (or, as I like to call him, "El BJ"), had an expensive war on his hand, but he managed to keep it under a trillion.

11% picked "George Bush (the dad)"
- He is a previous record holder, but like his son had to top him in Iraq, he had to top him in spending, too.

No one thought it was "Dwight Eisenhower"
- Back in Ike's day, the word "trillions" and "dollars" were unthinkable together. Just goes to show you what a little imagination can do.

55% knew in their hearts it was "Ronald Reagan"

According to the Associated Press, the national debt has hit $9 trillion for the first time. Last month, Congress passed and President Bush signed into law an increase in the government's borrowing ceiling to $9.815 trillion. It was the fifth debt limit increase since Bush took office in January 2001. Those increases have totaled $3.865 trillion. It took the country from George Washington until Ronald Reagan to reach the first $1 trillion in debt. That's one ironic thing I have noticed about Republican presidents and candidates. They talk about how fiscally responsible and conservative they are and how "tax and spend" happy the democrats are, but the evidence is clear. Republicans believe that if we need more money, all we have to do is print more and slap a variety of state mottoes on them.

Here's a national debt chart that speaks for itself. Click on it for a larger image. Thanks Gardena Valley Democratic Club...