Sydney and Improv Thoughts

What am I learning? What have I learned so far?

First, to be grateful for what we have in Chicago. In fact, the ability to see an improv show (some times 4 shows in one night) every single day of the week is incredible- it ain’t all great, but it’s there none the less. Also, that many slots need to be filled and that’s the other side of the coin of all those shows… someone has to make/perform them. There’s that incredible opportunity to create new shows and experiment with new ideas and concepts.

Being steeped in the works and words of Del Close, I relish the chance to learn more about Keith Johnstone and TheaterSports. It’s fascinating, really. Here’s my take thus far; Johnstone believes in a friendly, nurturing, paternal God who helps things along, who makes sure things fall into place and no one fails too hard. That’s why there are narrators, hosts, MCs, rules, judges, etc.
While, Close, true to his pagan roots, believes in a more chaotic summoning ritual. The tribe summons, and succeed or fail, they have attempted it together. The Harold opening, the improvised Movie, even the Deconstruction are all group works where no one person is supposed to lead or stand out. We are all the narrator, the host, the mc….

20131117-230909.jpgDel Close, about to summon something.

The Trouble with Harold
The basic trouble with doing the Harold outside of Chicago is the learning process.. while Chicago had the luxury of a learning process, newer groups do not. We, for the most part, know what works and what does not because of an unique and rarified environment. A community that wants to perform the Harold, and knows of it by reading or even watching some online or from a visit to Chicago, is at a disadvantage. Imagine trying to learn ballet or kung-fu just from reading a few books or watching someone else doing the forms.
As Admiral Kirk said about humor to the young Lt. Saavik, “We learn by doing.”

I’ve been lucky enough to have joined Chicago improv at just the right time; 1995. iO had just moved into 3541 N. Clark and suddenly there were Harold (and other longform experiments) shows every weekend. That expanded and grew until now there are several shows every night of the week. And there’s the Playground, CIC, Upstairs Gallery, Bughouse, and more, all doing weird, crazy stuff besides the regular Harold work.
Being a good observational nerd, I cannot help but notice the parallel historical developments in various cities. I travel, we talk and I hear about their difficulties and I can see where and how Chicago dealt with a similar problem.
Being obsessed with history it is a fascinating scenario.

Can Shortform and Longform Coexist? ***WARNING: GENERALITIES***
Of course they can. In fact, they should help each other to grow and thrive. In fact, they CAN help each other grow and thrive. In most cities, shortform was there first. Then along comes longform, with its olive oil voice and quirky charm*. Because shortform was there first, those more experienced players tend to be older and more set in their ways, and in a reflection of that, longform tends to be craved by the younger, newer group of improvisers. The prudent, more productive (hell, even the more profitable) path is to embrace longform and devise a way for it to be incorporated into the existing system.

*- what movie, and who is being paraphrased?

Random Thoughts
There should be more improv shows than there are classes.
The best advertisement for your classes is a good show.
Regularity in show programming (every Thursday! or some thing regular) lets audiences know where and when to find you, but it’s consistency in show quality that keeps them coming back.
Actively cultivate an audience that has nothing to do with improv; cherish and nurture people who love comedy and love improv. You cannot long survive playing to other players.
Facebook is a great tool, but don’t rely on it alone.

I’m not homesick per se, but I do miss my friends and my shows and the comfortable life I have created for myself. So I guess that is homesick. Nevermind.
I look forward to returning home so I get back to work! I want to do some more shows… experiment with some forms and ideas that have popped into my brain over the past 20 days. I was in the middle of rehearsals for Close Quarters, Saturday Super Show just started up, Winter Funderland started with me, and now I have even more stuff I want to try. And, even more stuff I just want to watch!

20131117-231401.jpg This is the Jason Chin Intensive Project Class. A lovely group of people who make me laugh and are kind enough to answer my ridiculous questions about their country.

The time difference plays into my poor sleeping habits. As I write this on Sunday, 11pm, Chicago is waking up on Sunday morning (5am). I’ll sleep a bit, wake up on Monday around 7am and check FB and my email (Chicago Sunday afternoon.) I’m keeping my phone on airplane mode as much as possible; which is good… I’m not constantly checking it for messages, but the habit remains even though its just a fancy watch right now.

It’s raining most of this upcoming week but that gives me the chance to visit Sydney Tower and maybe, the Sydney IMAX (the largest IMAX in the world!!)

I am astoundingly behind in the writing projects I had planned for this trip.

20131117-231705.jpg the view from the walk to the nearby gym/pool. This area, Pyrmont, is wonderful, if a bit hilly.

Australia, Part the First: Melbourne

20131111-100211.jpg Me, after 24 hours of travel.

I have been in Australia for 10 days now and it’s so far it’s been a great time.

The flight went better than I thought it would… Chicago to LA was pretty easy and LAX has an amazing International Terminal- pretty snazzy. I was proud of myself for checking my seats on the website, SeatGuru.com and moving my reservation around accordingly. Had a great seat for the 16 hour flight and saw the worst seats on the site and instantly saw what the bad reviews were about.
There were many movie and tv options on the flight (thanks Qantas!) Watched The Wolverine and enjoyed it! But I ended up watching almost all of Downton Abbey season 3. Oh what delicate and hilarious class structures! Later at the baggage carousel, a very posh lady asked a porter, “All the bags come out here? Even the first class bags?”

Spent the first week in Melbourne; teaching a few classes and spending time with Impro Melbourne. Fascinating stuff, really. Sometimes I feel a bit like a anthropologist studying parallel cultures and noticing the similarities in development of cultural and communal patterns.
In a workshop there was a scene between two ladies discussing their “knickers.” I misheard the word and was very shocked/confused.
Around the corner from the shows/workshops there was a restaurant called Juicy Dumpling. It was awesome.
There is an trend in Australian pub food called Parmigiana. It’s breaded chicken topped with ham, mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce. There are various types of Parmigiana; Greek, Italian, etc.
Took the tram (electric-based trolleys) downtown and planned to just walk around…. wandering right into the Cup Day Race Parade. Cup Day is a horse race that is watched and celebrated nationally. Most of the businesses in Melbourne close of the day and other cities take half-days or celebrate in the office. In fact, “The celebration that stops a nation” is it’s catchphrase. Imagine if the Kentucky Derby merged with the Super Bowl. So, downtown Melbourne was packed with people and I walked right in to the parade. It was nice.
The alleyways of Melbourne are jam-packed with tiny bistros and cafes. It was quite lovely.
Meet with and workshopped with the Improv Conspiracy. They do Chicago-style Harolds. They were great as well. Lots of fun and fascinating developments going on in Melbourne.
And then I left.
Early flight to Sydney.
It was just a few hours long and when I sat down on the plane, I thought someone had left their ipad in the seat thingie. They didn’t. Every seat had an ipad with a battery pack and special receivers for streaming video; movies, tv shows, etc. all on the ipad. The ipad cover folded over and hooked on the back of the chair in front of you. It was neat.

More later on the wonderful city of Sydney!!
Stay tuned, True Believers!!
(the WordPress mobile app won’t allow me to insert pics after I’ve entered the text. It’s either above or below. Sorry.)

20131111-100508.jpg Impro Melbourne’s Shadowlands. Fun, visual effects merged with improv.

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The cafe and bistro jammed alleys.

20131111-100533.jpg The Improv Conspiracy