Monday, January 14, 2008

Kick It, Yo

Last week, I received an e-mail from Ken Robertson, an actor, improviser, writer and occasional reluctant director in San Francisco. Ken has run into a problem that I think most everyone runs into eventually, even in New York and Los Angeles. He states, "I’ve pretty much hit the wall for the level of teaching offered in out-of-town-intensives and over-the-Internet classes, as well as the limit of sketch-writing instruction I can find in San Francisco. And relocation to Chicago ain’t likely anytime soon." I can relate to this. In Chicago, I don't feel anyone is offering a sketch writing class that would benefit me at this stage in my development, but I think it's important to always be receiving coaching on the quality of your work. . In connection with this dilemma, Ken had some specific questions for me.

What sort of practice do you do on a daily \ weekly basis to keep yourself sharp and improve your writing?

- I paint myself into corners where I have to write. This blog is one example. I will also get involved in projects like 24-Hour Play festivals where there is a huge time crunch to produce material. It's also helpful to develop relationships with theaters that produce original material. WNEP often has writing sessions for generating material for shows. The Armageddon Radio Hour and Soiree Dada: Blinde Essel Hopse are two recent ones. Currently, I am working with them on a series of pieces based on Edward Hopper paintings. Robot vs Dinosaur also keeps me producing material on-goingly. Projects like these have also helped me professionally when I have to create material under a deadline. San Francisco has a rep for being a bit of a theater town, there must be somebody there doing something you like.

What things do you aim for \ look for when you work to improve your pieces (or your writing in general)?

- I usually just write to tell a story. However, I will always share what I have written with like-minded folks whose feedback I respect. This is important. The improvement usually comes in the re-write. They will tell me if I need to make something clearer, or more focused. Sometimes I will set out to emulate someone's style which helps expand my range. All the guys in Robot vs Dinosaur have unique absurd intelligent styles and I will sometimes try to write a "Nat" piece or a "Greg" piece. Or I will challenge myself by trying to write a silent scene, or a satirical piece, etc.

What sorts of actions would you recommend to someone like myself (working solo or at least in an area without a group of accomplished sketch writers) who wants to improve their sketch and comedy writing?

- I would recommend taking non-sketch writing classes and workshops and bringing what you learn into your sketch work. I will sometimes take classes in screenwriting or playwrighting to do this. But I also think classes in short story writing or poetry would also be beneficial. Fundamentally, all writing tries to achieve the same thing, but takes a different road to get there. I would also try to find one or two other like-minded writers that you can meet with regularly and give one another constructive feedback. They don't have to be accomplished, just people whose opinion you trust. And then get that material up in front of an audience. They're the ones who will give you the most honest feedback.

I hope that was helpful to you, Ken, and to others. If anyone else has questions about sketch writing, please send them along to


On Friday, I asked...

"Shona Adams, the owner of a look-alike agency in London, hopes to make a fortune off her newest client who looks like whom?"

40% said "A midget Mr. Bean"
- Only in my fantasies.

40% said "Benazir Bhutto"
- Yep. That would be sick, but the right answer is even worse.

10% said "Princess Di"
- Oh, she already has one. And for an extra 10 bucks, she'll pole dance.

10% got it right with "Maddie McCann"

According to The Sun, the boss of a lookalike agency who hopes to make a fortune out of a little Madeleine McCann double said last night: “It’s not sinister – it’s entertainment.” Shona Adams reckons three-year-old Kelsey Lynn Kudla’s similarity to missing Maddie could earn her £9MILLION for starring in a proposed feature film about the vanished tot. A film that only exists in Shona Adams' mind, by the way. This is just horrifying. Maddie's parents, of course, are deeply disturbed by all this. If there was a line between sinister and entertainment before this, Shona Adams has obliterated it. However, the person who should be really upset is Raph Fiennes. On the Juliet Adams Model Agnecy's Look-a-Likes page, they have this listed as his picture.