Friday, December 21, 2007

Anton Chekhov's Bastard Child

One of my favorite shows ever that I directed was called Anton Chekhov's Bastard Child. The first and only show, that I know of, that tried to mix improv and writing. It featured four writers, on stage, with manual typewriters and four actor/improvisers. Writers would be churning out scripts as actors would rip them from their printing machines and act out scenes until they ran out of printed words and then start improvising. There were typos a-plenty, which the actors usually incorporated with glee. We did break-up songs, puppet shows and news casts. The big finish was an exquisite corpse-style poetry slam with guitar and drums. It was quite an undertaking. The original cast of writers was Aaron Sjoholm, Amy Guth, Greg Pokuza and Joe Linstroth. The original actor/improvisers were Gabe Garza, Kate Powers, Mike Johnson and Rebecca Wallenford (I probably just royally screwed up Rebecca's last name - sorry Rebecca!). That company of peeps became the seedlings of Teatro Bastardo which begat Robot vs Dinosaur-Chicago.

When the show rocked, it tore the roof off the place. When it sucked, it sucked mightily. There was no in-between. It's a tough show to deliver and I think our ambition was running a few yards ahead of our talent. The last time we did the show may have been in 2003. It would be interesting to bring it back to see how our chops measure up to the demands of the show.


We used to start ACBC by getting a line of dialogue chosen at random by an audience member from the works of Anton Chekhov. The four writers would immediately dive in to cranking out three three-line maximum scenes. The actors would start performing them after the first four were complete. The last four scenes were usually pulled from the typewriters mid-sentence.

Your assignment is to crank out three three-lines scenes based on the following quotation...

"We shall find peace. We shall hear the angels, we shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds."
- Anton Chekhov from Uncle Vanya

The quote is a jumping off point. Use it directly, use it indirectly. Move quickly, so there's not a lot of time for you think about it. The idea is to capture a moment in these three-line scenes. Use the stage directions almost as you would a narrator if you want to give background information. It's stuff you can use later, if you decide to develop the scene further.

Here's an example that I am pulling out of my butt as I write. The word peace makes me think of war which makes me think of Iraq and the desert at night.

(Lights up on Randolph. He is a young man in his early twenties. He is tough and wiry and alert. If he weren't wearing khakis and a flak jacket, he'd be wearing an orange jumpsuit in a prison in Jackson, Michigan. Next to him stands Vernon. A man in his late 30's who looks tired. They are both holding rifles.)

I'm going to lie down.

Don't lie down. You'll die out here.

Fuck that. There's nothing going on and I am whipped.

(Vernon lies down using his pack as a pillow and his helmet to cover his eyes. Randolph looks agitated. He shoots Vernon. Lights out.)

Brilliant! Brilliant, I say! Well, okay, maybe not. But I like the characters and I can see developing this further and, if I keep anything, this might be the very end of the scene.

Have fun.


Yesterday, I asked...

"Kyrgyzstan has decided to name a mountain what?"

30% said "Mount Jesus"
- Is that an order?

28% said "Mount Osama"
- Well, it would make him easier to find.

14% said "Mount Muhammed"
- Yeah, all we need is another reason for the zealots to get all uppity

28% got it right with "Mount Santa Claus"

According to the Associated Press, just in time for Christmas, Kyrgyzstan authorities say they plan to name a snowy peak "Mount Santa Claus." Why is a predominantly Muslim and former Soviet land honoring the jolly old elf? "We want to develop tourism, and Santa Claus is an ideal brand to help us do this," said Nurhon Tadzhibayeva, an official with Kyrgyz tourist authorities. I guess Kyrgyztan is a little behind in the use of focus groups. They also, I believe, missed an opportunity to infuse their economy with some mega advertising bucks. Mount Bee Movie, anyone?