Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Closing the Books on 2010

I am hesitant to declare a year as being “good” or “bad”. I think any given year will have good things or bad things happen. To blanket-ly declare a year one thing or another risks glossing over some important events because they don’t fit the major category that the year is supposed to fit into. 2010 was a year of artistic triumphs for me, of sorts. Some significant shifts in my personal life, as well. Satisfaction in my life countered by increasing frustration and disappointment in our country.

“365 Sketches” – In January 2010, I finished my project of writing a comedy sketch a day for a year and later saw them ALL produced at Strawdog by Don Hall. 11 consecutive nights, 26 shows, 26 directors, over 175 actors. Solid houses, often SRO. This project was important to me on many levels. As a writing instructor, I wanted to do damage to a few notions, among them: “Those who can’t, teach” and “Writer’s block.” As a teacher of sketch comedy at Second City, I spent a few years earlier this decade NOT writing. Afraid that if I produced crap, it would undermine my credibility. I actually took pottery classes for a year to compensate for the lack of creativity in my life. My pottery was so bad, it drove me back to writing. When I formed Robot vs. Dinosaur as a writer-based company and started this blog, I began to write regularly, again. It truly is like working out and I needed to build my muscles. One thing that always bugged me – in classes and in RvD – is when someone would say they couldn’t think of anything to write about. They had writer’s block. An excuse I had also employed, by the way. But I always smelled bullshit. This mainly comes from my experience as an improviser. I could be reliably counted on to improvise a scene, how is writing different? It lacks a group mind, of course, but I’ve also done solo-improv playing multiple characters. It certainly is more like that. Much of the time, writing is transcribing the improv going on in my imagination. I grew as a writer. I have more confidence. I am also faster at cranking out a quality piece of work. The live event was simply a blast. I was blown away at how much hard work and enthusiasm people put into the shows. The event was an absolute success when measured by quality and ticket sales. It was so successful, Strawdog wanted us to continue the shows in their latenight slots or do a remount. We declined. We were beat. If there’s any sore spot over the event, it’s that more people didn’t hear about it. The press didn’t know what the hell to do with us, so they did nothing at all, save for two articles leading up to the event in PerformInk and TimeOut-Chicago.

“365 Sketches” – The Book. I self-published all the scenes. It was grueling to get it all formatted in time for the shows. I spent many a late hour and still didn’t ferret out all the typos! It was fun to have them at the event and to give them to the directors. It was a thrill to find out people were interested in buying them. I did a book event at Quimby’s and at Second City. I get a kick out of seeing the book on the merchandise shelf at The Second City Training Center.

My mother passed away. And, as only a mother could do, the timing was awful (I'm kidding, of course. My mother would appreciate this humor.) She passed away the Tuesday before 365’s opening night. I was able to be Skyped in for opening night, which was cool. The funeral was on Friday and I declined to repeat the video conferencing for the second night. I regret missing those three shows, but I wouldn’t have done it differently. I needed to spend time with my family. My mother’s death, by the way, came a bit as a relief. She had been suffering from Alzheimer’s and diabetes for a long time. I was missing her for years before she passed.

Houdini got very ill. This is something only pet owners are going to relate to. Houdini’s been in my life for 15 years. He’s a cat who really enjoys being a cat. He’s really into it. He’s very affectionate and playful. He’s also very charming. If you come over, he will make you his friend. He was having problems chewing so I took him in to the vet’s. I thought it was just a tooth that needed pulling. It was much worse. He had many bad teeth, they suspected some cancerous lesions, and kidney disease. For a little dude his age, he’s made a remarkable recovery. Turns out there was no cancer. The kidney disease has slowed down and there’s a noticeable increase in his energy and appetite. He yells at me when he wants to play. He makes a meow like he’s channeling Edward G. Robinson, “Me-yow! Me-yow, see.” A downside of the surgery and bump in health is that he seems to have lost his taste for licking the shower curtain. I kind of miss that.

On-line dating. I jumped in to on-line dating earlier this year. First with Match.com and now with OKCupid. Match is like the AT&T of on-line dating. It’s huge, but they’re really just about harvesting the money. I like OKCupid better. It’s free and very user friendly. The downside on both is that I have met very few people. Not exactly sure why. Might be the age bracket. Maybe I come across as too much of an artist for some ladies. Maybe because my profile makes it abundantly clear that being a teacher, I ain’t rolling in dough. Can’t say for sure. I do think I am better meeting someone in person.

I got to do a lot of things I had never done before. I was the best man at a wedding. I wrote and performed a piece for one of my favorite shows, The Paper Machete. I told some stories about birthdays for This Much Is True. I roasted Kimberly Senior along with Wendi Weber and Bill O'Connor at the Strawdog and made some friends from the event. While not completely a first, I co-wrote and acted in WNEP's The (edward) Hopper Project. It was my first time performing in the DCA's wonderful Storefront Theater and it was the first time I've been in a WNEP production with a two-story set to play on!

The Neo-Futurists invited me to submit a proposal for their B-Movie "film" festival, It Came from the Futurarium. I found a truly awful Roger Corman flick called The Saga of the Viking Women and their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent. It's a short movie, made for drive-in double-features. It's filled with delightful, over-the-top characters and some truly awful scenes, but there's a lot of non-verbal filler. If we did the script as it was, the show would be over in half an hour. And the sea serpent, who is revered as a god, is only gets about thirty seconds of screen time. So, I pitched mashing it with another film (based on a play) that also has a ridiculously long title. The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade. The full new title being The Saga of the Viking Women and their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Great Sea Serpent. We had so much fun, Robot vs. Dinosaur took the concept, expanded it into a musical and we ran it in the fall at Stage773. Great cast, great material, great fun. It's one of the few things I have directed outside of my usual Second City Training Center duties.

I have many things to look forward to this year, already. I have two shows at Chicago Sketchfest, Robot vs. Dinosaur and Don Hall and Joe Janes. The RvD show features some of our favorite scenes and songs from the last few years and, in what's becoming a usual RvD feature, an ending that will blow your mind. Don and I weren't going to do a show, but then we hit upon a title while talking about dating, Don Hall and Joe Janes Are Using This Show To Try To Get Laid. We liked the sheer honesty of it. Unlike our previous shows, we've brought in some actors to help us out; Dana Black, Erin Orr and Vinnie Lacey. John Pierson, one of my favorite writer-performers from the Neo-Futurists signed on to direct and the delightful Erica Reid did our choreography. This is unlike any Don Hall/Joe Janes show you have ever seen. In spite of the title, it's cleaner and smarter and, I think, funnier. And, like the title, it's also very truthful. And, yes, you will see us dance.

I also turn 50 in May. 50! I was really lamenting this near the end of 2010, now, I'm looking forward to it. I plan on continuing to have a lot of fun in my life and continue to be engaged in great artistic endeavors (look for 50 Plays in June!) as well as continuing to pursue my journey of being human and being the best human being I can become. I do believe that if you aren't busy living, then get busy dying.

Happy 2011. I hope it is full of happiness and prosperity for you. And that you laugh your ass off a lot. But because you found something funny, not because you are a maniac.