Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Improv Interviews

Here's a pretty sweet (although poorly navigable) site featuring interviews with prominent improvisers. I've barely scratched the surface, but the one with Dave Razowsky, who'll be coming to Austin for Out of Bounds, is pretty sweet.

h/t to Roy for this info.


Monday, May 21, 2007

Just making an observation

I'm sure that this will spark all kinds of concern, but the Austin improv scene seems more gossipy right now than it has been in a long, long time. That is all.

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I love Michael Kupperman

For things like this.


Photo of us with Fred Newman

I mentioned this earlier, but here's a photo of me, Buzz, and Graham hanging out last week after our show with Fred Newman.

Photo courtesy of the lovely Ms. Anne Heller.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Last night's show

So, Get Up had a show last night. There was a group before us; we didn't see a single second of it, but we didn't hear much good about what went down, and in fact a sizeable chunk of the audience walked out during said show before Shana and I were up. A couple women asked for a refund even. But the cool thing is people enncouraged these folks to stick around because they knew we were coming up. And so while it was too bad that some people may have initially had a bad experience because they saw a show that wasn't working out, I'm glad that Shana and I were able to turn the evening around for them. Even better was the feeling that other folks were saying, "Hey, you might be having a bad time, but Get Up is always reliable." That was nice.

Afterwards went with Shana and Roy and Kaci and Asaf for drinks and sushi at Silhouette where Ace was bartending. Were joined by a couple of audeince members as well. Outside saw a little elf of a man who by far was the worst example I've ever seen of what tobacco can do to a person. Just horrifying. The guy was probably 45, tops, and was obviously just damaged beyond belief and smoking himself to death. It gives one pause.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Improv Interview

Is up. I talk about why I do narrative, which I promised earlier I would write about. Please check it out if you're so inclined.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007


As a kid living out in the rural Midwest, I never really had that much experience riding bikes. More about that later, but I just wanted to report that last night I biked further, by a factor of about 700, than I ever had before. That's still not saying that much.

But it's awesome. I will be getting my own bike soon and doing quite a bit more. Totally great.

I feel this way too

What informs your improv?
I try to study human behavior and to get characters from real people I encounter everyday. Also, I read a lot, both fiction and non-fiction, so chances are that anything that comes up in a longform is going to remind of something I know at least a little something about.

From a pretty nice little bio interview of Craig Cackowski over on the IO West page.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Before I forget to write about the experience, I should mention that last Saturday, Buzz and I did our Foleyvision show with Fred Newman, the sounds effects guy from A Prarie Home Companion. It's a running joke around my house how little I care for APHC, but damn, Fred Newman is a freaking genius. There were some battle and explosion scenes where Buzz and I didn't have anything to do, and we just looked at each other gobsmacked while Fred made the sounds of explosions and giant flying Japanese robots and Godzilla-like monsters and motorcycles, simultaneously, with his mouth. Totally amazing. And he was really complimentary to me and Buzz, which felt good.

So funny

Drank too much coffee today and am having total insomnia--went back through some of the old 'contentious' posts on the forums that today's super long post was about. Turns out in retrospect my ire is only raised by two or three people. Heh. The 'some quarters' line is more like 'some nickels' or 'some pennies'to make a really lame pun.

My next post was going to be about why narrative appeals to me, but Roy has asked me that question for the upcoming Double Barrel interview, so peeps will just have to wait until then...

Monday, May 14, 2007

The debate that refuses to die

So, for the past year and a half or so there’s been something of a low boiling argument over on the Austin Improv forums, the gist of which, at least as expressed in some quarters, is that the Austin improv scene is biased against “Chicago-style” improv in general and the Harold in particular. This argument occasionally spills over into pretty heated headbutting. My own comments in this conversation, abetted by the rashness and intemperance with which they have often been made, have probably led some to associate me with some kind of anti-Chicago cabal among our community. Nothing could be further from the truth. My respect for the legacy of Del Close and the importance of Chicago improv should probably be the subject of another post, but I should state that fact right upfront lest people get the wrong idea of where I’m going with this post. I’m sure my improv partner Shana would discourage me from writing this entry lest I be misunderstood or stir up more confrontation. But it’s something I find myself regularly embroiled in, recently in a fashion that to my own shame led to some harsh words on my part. This post is mostly for me to set down some thoughts about why I react so strongly to the discussion and to maybe clear up these thoughts in my own mind so that I don’t go off half-cocked when the subject inevitably raises its head again. I’d also like to address any misconceptions I’ve perpetuated by my own hastiness in these arguments, and to provide fodder for a thoughtful conversation should anyone be so inclined.

What I’ve come to realize is that in no way am I against the Harold, at least how I’m going to define what that means here. What I am against, though, is the way the debate is framed, at least, as I’ve said, how it’s framed in some quarters, namely that the Austin community is biased against the Harold. This framing is what, I suspect, motivates my strong reactions. A sizeable portion of the Austin improv community have lived and worked in Chicago, have trained at IO or taken classes from people whose view of improv has come from IO training. That in and of itself would seem to mark out that there is a sizeable portion of the community that is obviously not biased against the improv philosophies of Chicago. Now, granted, a significant majority of these people are of recent Austin vintage, but from my vantage the rapidity with which these folks and their work have been assimilated into the Austin improv community, have become leaders in the community, in many instances the public face of the community, and are ambassadors of our scene to other cities, belies any sentiment that the community is biased against their style. In fact, I would say anyone holding these views is somehow arguing that they haven’t been fully accepted by the Austin improv community, and I think that says more about the person holding those views than it reflects the community’s responsiveness.

But perhaps what is meant when the sentiment arises that Austin improv is biased against the Harold is that people who’ve learned improv locally rather than elsewhere are the ones who have these feelings. But I don’t think that position holds any water, either. Again, I would say that the manner in which people from outside of Austin are embraced as they arrive argues against that interpretation. There are tons of Austin improvisers who have avidly learned from new transplants, been coached by them, been open to trying new things. There’s a whole crop of folks learning at new training centers who are also part of the community, so they aren’t part of this supposed anti-Harold claque, either. If one wanted to lamely scorekeep this kind of thing, one could easily make the argument that Austin-bred improvisers take to these new schools of thought more eagerly than people coming in from outside seem interested in learning a more Austin-centered Johnstonian approach to improvising. That’s not a bad thing at all, and nor should one extrapolate that anyone of that ilk is somehow anti-Johnstone or anti-narrative. It’s just that they’re indifferent to that approach, partly one assumes out of temperament and partly out of the fact that they already have well-defined and well-established artistic goals. But somehow, the discussion isn’t a two-way street, in that indifference or miscomprehension of the Harold is mistaken as hostility. I think this is what usually sets me off in these discussions.

Of all of the Austin-bred improvisers, I can think of two people total who are vocally and avowedly anti-Harold. One person has softened those feelings recently, however imperfectly, and the other person isn’t particularly active in Austin improv anymore. It would be fair to say, though, that there are a sizeable handful of people, myself included, that are indifferent to the appeals to the Harold. It isn’t, though, that we’re hostile or ignorant, or that we have chips on our shoulders. It’s just that our artistic interests and goals lie outside of what we perceive the Harold having to offer, no different than is the case for people who aren’t particularly interested in learning or performing narrative improv. I’ve tried to raise this issue before, but to my discredit I’ve expressed those sentiments rudely and derogatorily rather than rhetorically, which is how I mean for them to be taken. “Why don’t you want to learn how to improvise a narrative?” “Because I’m not interested in doing shows like that. My interests and talents lie elsewhere.” “Right. That’s cool. Please afford me the same prerogative without alleging I’m against the thing you like. I’ve just got other interests.”

Artists shouldn’t feel compelled to be all things to all people. They should be able to pursue what they want to pursue without having their lack of interest in another thing be taken as a sign of hostility. I can’t imagine a jazz trumpeter trying to perfect his craft being taken to task for not being interested in learning how to play Handel and Strauss trumpet parts in the classical repertoire. Nor can I imagine moving to Chicago and griping about how no one is interested in learning Johnstone-style techniques. If I wanted to see more people do what I love, I would, I hope, try to lead by example and instill my beliefs by putting on shows so compelling that people would want to emulate me rather than wasting time assuming that the vast hoards of folks uninterested in me were somehow operating from a position of bad faith.

Another couple of sidelines that arise in these conversations is the idea that Austin-trained improvisers don’t like the Harold only because we’ve never seen a good one. Again, I think this misses the mark to a degree, and from a certain point of view it’s insulting and infantilizing, as if people can’t develop strong artistic identities in improv without having been exposed to the whole improv buffet. While it’s true that some Austin improvisers haven’t seen that many Harolds done well, I’m not sure if seeing a group like Cog or the Reckoning (whom, by the way a number of Austinites saw in Dallas a couple of years ago) would change much of the way Austin improv looks. Last year, 3 For All came down for Out of Bounds, and while they’re some of the world’s best improvisers of sustained narratives, hardly anyone who wasn’t already into what they were doing had a religious epiphany that made them compelled to start doing hour-long linear stories. This doesn’t mean people would be unreceptive to a killer Harold; again, it just means that people are already following what’s interesting to them. And besides, there’s something to be said for carving out new artistic space in the discipline rather than trying to get reasonably good at something tons of other people have already perfected. Nor does it take seeing that many sub-par Harolds to lead one to believe there’s nothing inherently magical or mystical about the form or anything more compelling about it than any other form executed to perfection.

The final little sub-argument that often comes up in these discussions is a feeling that people who haven’t gone through a Chicago-style curriculum or seen tons of good Harolds are somehow disqualified from having an opinion. I do think it’s worthwhile for people to explain misunderstandings, but creative misunderstandings, incompletely digested influences and even disagreements and outright hostility are time-honored ways that art changes and progresses. Again, to use the jazz analogy, jazz wasn’t born out of a bunch of people treating their musical influences as museum pieces; it was born out of musicians messing around with those influences, being irreverent toward them, even having incomplete understanding of what they were messing with. If someone in Austin cooks something up worthwhile based on an incomplete understanding of the Harold, or even if they’re motivated to do work in complete reaction against it, I say more power to them if they in truth make something worthwhile.

The great thing about the Austin improv community is how open we are to all different kinds of things without devolving into camps or factions, and I hope the arguments that have transpired in the last year are so are a sign of our strength rather than the nascent buds of factionalization, although I sometimes feel the latter is more likely. I feel bad about whatever part I will have played from my rash remarks in any splintering of the community. In truth, I really am open to people here doing anything they want and carving out their own little corners of improv excellence, and I suspect that people who disagree with me on any number of philosophical points can agree with me on that one. At least I hope so.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

First Bike

Just got Emmett his first bike for his bithrday this Thursday. He really enjoyed getting on it, and was more willing to give it a try at the store than I thought he might be. Thought he might get frustrated easily and not want to keep pedalling. But he kept at it. When Lacey get's back this afternoon, we're going on a ride. He looks pretty damn cute in his new flame-bedecked helmet.

Got Lacey the new Bjork and Feist albums, since she's been complaining about not having music for her car. Also got her Embroideries, one of Marjane Satrapi's books. A lazy Sunday after much business yesterday.

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I love Flannery O'Connor

This mini-essay that Maud Newton posted a little over a year ago has a great take on writing and art as she talks about her story "Good Country People," one of my favorites of hers. Wonderful stuff in here to think about for improv, and the use of telling details, especially in narrative improv. Those details have to have a life on the surface first. It's a wooden leg first.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Emmett the Rainbow Warrior

Mud Day 2007 032
Originally uploaded by sadogre.
Taken at his school's "Mud Day" this morning.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Job security

Lacey, Emmett, and I witnessed the greatest thing ever yesterday. We went to get some lunch at Amaya's Taco Village near our house. The line was really long, so we got on the list and then walked along the shops at Capitol Plaza, killing time.

We eventually need to get a mattress for the new house, so we walked all the way up to Mattress Firm. We decided before we got there that we probably didn't have time to shop, that we were just going to peek in the window.

When we got there, we looked in, and the store clerk, who sits at a desk right in the center of the show room floor, was so profoundly asleep words will fail to do it justice. This was at noon, mind you, and the dude's head was lolled back and to the side at this wicked angle that it made me wonder if in fact he were not sleeping but had had his neck broken by a member of Delta Force. What made it even better was all the comfy mattresses surrounding him and the giant photo of a woman with her head on a pillow dozing peacefully behind him. We didn't have the heart to open the door and wake him. We did, however, point out the scene to a stout guy walking into the H&R Block right next door. He also got a kick out of it.

While we bemoaned not having a camera to record the image to posterity, we we did crack ourselves up all day long bringing it back up.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The world's best (worst) restaurant

Today, ordering food from Emmett's "restaurant":

Emmett: We don't have that.

Me: You don't, huh? Well, what do you have?

Emmett: We've got French Fry Meal, Plate with Food on It, and Potato Chips.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Webby Winner

Before today is totally over, I should post that the show I host for Dell just won a People's Voice Webby! Hella exciting.