ALEX JONES' NEW SHOW!

Project Roles: Writer / Producer / Editor
Location: Written and edited in Chicago, shot in Kansas City

Ok, story time.

As I've mentioned in this blog before, Brian and I have resumed our work creating video releases for our comedy channel Friend Dog Studios. We've renewed ourselves for a season and committed to releasing something every two weeks at least through August, probably September.

There are a number of reasons why we've decided to do this, but I won't go into that now.

There's a big, production-heavy concept we really want to do here in Chicago. Unfortunately, we keep having to push that back because of the challenges involved in getting the necessary cast and crew.

A little over a week ago, it became clear to us that this bigger idea wasn't going to happen in time to keep with our release schedule. So we pushed it back. Now we needed something new to take its place. Something that could be shot by Thursday at the latest. And hopefully something, yanno, funny.

I had personally become fascinated with the current news stories involving "TV personality" and foaming-at-the-mouth lunatic Alex Jones. His legal cases, his de-platforming by just about every major company, all of that. And I remembered that our good friend Michael Foster had - maybe a year ago - mentioned that he thought it would be funny if he played Jones for us at some point.

I talked it through with Brian for a while. We formulated a concept. One big hurdle was that Foster was in KC, and we had to stay in Chicago. I'd have to produce this thing remotely and assemble a crew in a totally different state.

I am blown away to tell you that not only did that happen, but I actually ended up with more volunteers than we even needed. On Sunday and Monday I waded through a flurry of emails to get all the arrangements made.

 On set-shot.

On set-shot.

On Tuesday I wrote the first draft of the script. Brian made revisions.

On Wednesday I finished the script, created a shot list, and had a phone call with the director.

On Thursday, our incredible production team shot the whole thing in KC, then sent me the footage via Google Drive.

Friday and Saturday, I edited. For like, 20 hours.

And now, this thing exists.

The point of this story is that my mouth is kind of on the floor. I'm proud of myself for all the work I put in, but more importantly, I'm  b l o w n  a w a y  by the amazing artists who stepped up and made this happen in such a high-quality way, so quickly, knowing all along that we could afford to pay them little to nothing for their time.

Having friends like this is amazing.
Knowing artists like this is spectacular.
I am a lucky, lucky man.

Hope you enjoy the vid.

"ALEX JONES' NEW SHOW"
Michael Foster............Alex Jones

Directed by Jamie Campbell
Director of Photography Cory Vetter
Hair & Wardrobe by Nancy Robinson
Lead Production Assistant Dalyn Le Grand
Production Assistants / Audio Engineers Corbin Eaton & Drew McCall

Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart.  

Stay Chill

Project role: Writer, Actor, Producer, Director, Editor
Location: Chicago

My comedy channel Friend Dog Studios continued our new season with the release of a new sketch we called Stay Chill. We had an entirely different video planned, but were having difficulties getting the necessary crew together to get it shot in time for our release schedule, so we continued to work on that larger concept while swapping in this project for a more immediate drop.

The sketch was originally done back in October of 2017 in our live revue The Rough & The Precious, which played at the Blackout Cabaret at Second City. That show was developed and performed by Brian and I as well as our friends Michelle Leatherby and Molly Kessler, the latter of whom sat in on this shoot.

We changed up the script a bit from its original form. Swapped in our own names (originally this was performed by Michelle and I), made a few tweaks, and changed up the ending to something we thought would play better on screen.

Maybe the coolest milestone of this particular release was connecting for the first time with Chicago film dudes Doyle LaCrua, who served as Director of Photography, and Derek Nickisch, who served as assistant DP and operated a behind the scenes camera. Both were incredible and I can't wait to work with them again!

The next day, I put in maybe 10 hours of editing and it was ready for patreon early release by Saturday, as planned. Speaking of which, the support we've been getting on patreon lately has been astounding. When we returned to online content creation after a long hiatus, our numbers on the funding platform had understandably atrophied, but in the span of just a few weeks we've gained back something like $150 in pledges, and that's awesome. Thank you to all our patrons for their support and generosity. If you'd like to join them and get bonus perks, check out the info here!

Your Drunk Neighbor: Donald Trump - Space Force

Project Role: Writer/Actor/Editor
Location: Chicago

The comedy channel I co-run known as Friend Dog Studios has been largely on hiatus for a while, but we've returned for a new season of content, kicking off with a probably overdue installment of our "Drunk Trump" series.

The video is the seventh (or eighth, depending on what you count) episode of what started as a one-off joke that gained a decent amount of viral popularity. The premise is simple; take Trump audio clips and lip-sync them in character as some loud-mouthed, drunken, neighborhood menace. The effect works shockingly well, as we've found over and over again in the series, which you can peruse in its entirety via this playlist.

The decision to release a new episode of this series after nearly two-years came from a couple of factors. First, Trump keeps talking. And despite our best efforts, it's absolutely impossible to ignore the severity of the shitfaced babbling he blesses us with on a daily basis. Originally we set about to do what we'd done traditionally, which is listen through several of his speeches and select various clips. What we discovered, however, is that the now infamous "Space Force" speech gave us so much fodder that we could easily create an entire arc using little more. In addition to pulling almost entirely from one speech, the video is also unique in that it's the first installment in which anyone other than Trump speaks. We wrote dialogue for a neighbor character, which I played, who comes along to ask "Trump" to keep it down, and provides a sort of dialogue glue to connect his rantings about delusions of grandeur and space exploration.

A second reason for the release is that it serves to kick-off what we're calling a new "season" of content. The plan is to release something new every couple of weeks for a few months. Once that season is over, we'll take a little break and decide when and how to renew ourselves, basically. If you'd like to learn more and help us do what we do, please check out patreon.com/frienddog

Let Me Get This Straight: Episodes 1-3

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My latest podcast venture, Let Me Get This Straight has released three episodes, with more to come in the near future, we hope.

The gag is basically this: my friend Ryan Hruza goes off on tangents that reveal his (character's) bizarre way of interpreting the world, while I try to reel him in and wrap my head around it. Simple as that, really. And I love it. Give it a listen and subscribe via whatever crazy podcast thing you have! I dare you!

2018 KC Improv Festival

Project Role: Improviser, Accompanist
Location: The Kick Comedy Theatre, Kansas City

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This year - if all goes according to plan - I'll be heading back to the KC Improv Festival with my troupe Business of Otters!

As I am committed to growing my career in Chicago, I will abdicate my spot to a substitute performer should something come up here. But, it's only a couple of days - so unless some shoot pops up in a very narrow range - I've got my sights set on the fest!

KCiF is one of the oldest improv festivals in the country, and if memory serves, I've been performing there in at least one troupe every summer since 2014. This year, I'm slotted to perform with Business of Otters, which also happens to be the group I've been with the longest. We formed back in college. At the time (and I think to this day?) there was no official improv going on at Avila University, so a small group of us started putting up projects on our own time. We had a couple different names before landing on Otters, but the core idea and cast remains the same.

 The Otters after one of our two Improv Thunderdome wins. I think I still have that belt.

The Otters after one of our two Improv Thunderdome wins. I think I still have that belt.

Andy Perkins, Michael Hudgens, Joshua Gleeson, and I (with occasional appearances by Peter Weber) have toyed with various format specifics, but the heart of the act is a style we call "basement-prov," which is less creepy than it probably sounds. The act is just big and dumb and goofy and free; the sort of vibe that came out of playing just for ourselves in a basement. No audience, no pressure, just fun. That's what we try to bring with us. It's all helped along by the kind of chemistry that you can really only get from college buddies.

Whether that sounds like your cup of tea or not, I highly recommend checking out KCiF if you're in the KC area this August. More information on their website: http://kcimprovfestival.com/

UPDATE 8/14:

In addition to my set with Business of Otters I'll also be making the following appearances at KCiF! Here's my full schedule:

August 23rd, 7:00pm - Business of Otters
August 24th, 7:00pm - Accompanist for headliners Shrew
August 25th, 5:00pm - Hot Mess: The Musical
August 25th, 10:00pm - Accompanist for headliners Shrew

For tickets and more information you can visit the festival's official website here!

Camp Comedy with Ben & Brian

Project Roles: Teacher/Coach
Location: SqueezeBox Theatre, Kansas City

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 SqueezeBox is a brand new space in KC.

SqueezeBox is a brand new space in KC.

My friend and long time collaborator Brian Huther and I will be popping back into Kansas City for a short while run Camp Comedy - a week of fun for kids in 6th - 8th grade!

This program is an initiative from the newly opened Squeezebox Theatre in the Crossroads district of KC. The owner Karla Deel has been a long time friend and supporter of ours and reached out about the possibility a few months ago.


As I write this, camp is right around the corner. We start Monday, June 24th and Brian and I are currently busy filling out a curriculum. The basic plan as it stands now is that we'll start with an introduction to team building and improv, then move into sketch writing, then sketch performance, and finally rehearse a showcase that brings all the elements together for friends and family.

I have a fair amount of teaching experience in these areas for a wide age range. I hope I can keep up with the energy of these kids - and I'm really looking forward to seeing what comes outta their heads. One of our goals with the week is to give the "campers" a taste of what all this is - enough that they should walk away either knowing it's not for them, or excited to delve in further. I'm incredibly grateful for programs like Christian Youth Theatre and others which gave me an opportunity to explore, at that age, what would eventually become my life's work. If we can be that first door for any of these kids, it'll be well worth it.

I'll post more later on, and hopefully have some sort of video.


Update: 7/10/18

Well, the camp has been over for a couple of weeks now and I'm just getting back around to bloggin'. As usual I wish I'd written on the experience itself sooner because so much happened so fast and the details have already started to scamper away.
 

But in broad strokes, I can say this:

 Practicing some improv with Brian

Practicing some improv with Brian

There's no video to show. We had thought that part of the camp experience would be creating a vid with the kids to post to our Friend Dog Studios page, but this was planned as a sort of bonus goal in case "we got ahead of schedule." In retrospect, that was a pipe dream. In just four days we gave a group of kids a crash course in improv as well as writing and performing sketch; nobody was gonna be gettin' ahead of nuthin'.
 

It was fascinating and hugely rewarding to get to know so many different personalities in these young folk, and help them figure out what funny ideas were already floating around in their heads, waiting to be realized. It was good stuff, too. Like, for real. Even without time to weed through a big pile and find the gems (which is how sketch shows usually work), we put some truly solid premises up on that stage Thursday night, and the students showed huge bravery diving into formats and situations they'd never previously known.

It's been a while since I've done something like this, and re-orienting was certainly a personal challenge, but I'm really proud and grateful to these kids, to Brian, and to Karla & Sterling, our gracious hosts and employers at Squeezebox. The room was buzzing when the showcase ended, and the question on everybody's lips was "Next year?"

The answer is: I have no idea.
...but I hope so.
 

Dad Show: A Father's Day Weekend Sketch Show Fundraiser

Project Roles: Actor, Writer
Location: The Cornservatory, Chicago

I'm happy to announce I'll be making my debut performance at The Cornservatory with "Dad Show!"

I've contributed a little writing and a lot of talking to this sketch revue directed and produced by Michelle Leatherby, with whom I've previously worked on Fountain City Sketch in KC, and The Rough & The Precious at Second City.

As you may have guessed, the theme of the show is dads. In honor of Father's Day, this show is a celebration and loving roast of all things paternal, ranging from the sweet to the surreal. And if that's not enough to get you out to see it, consider the following:

  • A) It's only $20, and that's just a suggested donation. You can be cheaper than that if you want, Cheapy McGoo.
  • B) There's free beer
  • C) There's free donuts
  • D) You can BYOB if you want
  • E) Go back and read A-D again because this is pretty sweet

    You can get your tickets online or at the door for either performance. Both shows are matinees:

    Saturday, June 16th - 2:00pm
    Sunday, June 17th - 2:00pm

    The Cornservatory
    4210 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago

EDIT 6/20/18: The donuts have been eaten, the beers have been drank, the dads put to bed. What a fun weekend it was performing this show! Thanks to everybody!

Directed by Michelle Leatherby

Ensemble:
Courtney Matula
Heather Meyer
James "Shamus" Jarvia
Morgan Vesper
Shelby Wolstein
Stephen Schumacher
Zach Abel
Ben Auxier

Signing with Shirley Hamilton

I'm very happy to announce that I'm now represented as an actor by Shirley Hamilton Inc in Chicago!

This wonderful agency has been thriving for over 50 years, and currently operates with a busy and buzzingly friendly staff of seven (plus interns, I think) at their offices in Streeterville. I've only spent a very limited time with them so far but I'm already thoroughly won over by what a welcoming, genuine, and enthusiastic atmosphere they create.

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They were already representing my friends Shea Pender and Molly Denninghoff, whom I'd like to thank for putting in a good word and lending advice during my submission process. Same goes for Emily Hatley (Peterson). Both these ladies walk on water as far I'm concerned and if you don't know 'em you oughta fix that.

Currently we're doing our parts on both ends to get everything updated and connected, so it may be a few days yet before I'm listed on their site, but starting now all inquiries can be directed here.

Here's to next steps and a fun future!

Amadeus: Weeks Three through Six

Project Role: Actor
Location: Colorado Springs

READ PART 1 HERE
READ PART 2 HERE
THIS IS PART 3

I'm a little (a lot) behind on this post. I had planned on writing weekly entries on my incredible experience playing Amadeus at THEATREWORKS in Colorado Springs, but time got away from me. I regret that now, as there was so much packed into each week, and now I'm far enough out that most of the day to day details have blurred together. So, I'll do my best at a brief overview, if for no other reason than to preserve what I can for my own sake.

WEEK 3

 Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods

Our final week dedicated entirely to rehearsals, week three started with two lovely days off, in which I got some work for other projects done as well as visited the jaw-dropping Garden of the Gods with Dana. Our friendship is maybe the coolest thing I got to take from this entire experience, and it was great to see the sights with her.

 Mark and I at KCME

Mark and I at KCME

On Tuesday, Mark and I did little publicity work via a radio interview at local classical/jazz station KCME. Thanks to our host Keith Simon for sending the audio over; you can listen to the segment below.

 Kyle, pre-tech

Kyle, pre-tech

We got back to rehearsing on Wednesday, and had two 10 out of 12 tech days that weekend, then we all came home and fell over dead. Moving from our rehearsal space into the theatre itself and witnessing the incredible design elements, though, was hugely revitalizing.

 

 

In the weirdest piece of happenstance, an orchestra was performing a biographical overview of Mozart's life and work in the theatre right next to ours at the Ent Center. Dana and ran from tech during one of our ten minute breaks and slipped inside, in costume, to check it out.

WEEK 4

During our day off on Monday, our director Kyle and his wife Emily came by the house. Mark and I piled into the car with the two of them and had a great time cruising around the mountains and enjoying the scenery.

Tuesday and Wednesday we had our dress rehearsals, and Wednesday night some gorgeous production photos were taken. You can see a full gallery here.

 Production photos credit: Isaiah Downing 

Production photos credit: Isaiah Downing 

Technically our opening was Thursday, but the overall feeling amongst the cast was that that was a "soft" open. The true bolt of energy hit on Friday. What a ride that was. I wish I could recapture it, but knowing I can't makes it more special. I leaned into the part without reservation that night, and my entire experience was taken to the next level. I think that goes for most of the cast, really. We were off and running.

WEEK 5

 My mom, grandma, and I at Balanced Rock

My mom, grandma, and I at Balanced Rock

Early in the week my mom and grandma flew in to see the show, and we spent a bunch of time on either end of the performance exploring the area. It was a lot of fun and extremely sweet of both of them to come all the way out. Later in the week I was surprised by another visit from one of my oldest friends, Christopher Sauer, who drove in all the way from KC without warning! Having loved ones appear in audiences otherwise composed of strangers truly meant the world to me.

Prior to some performances, an excellent quartet performed Mozart in the lobby! I came out once to show ‘em what’s what.

WEEK 6

By now, I won't lie, I was tired. Real tired. This role was turning out to be the most exhausting I'd ever done. The mania of it, the physicality of it, the vocal hugeness, the overall constant state of being at a "10." It was a lot. Don't get me wrong; I loved every minute of it, but I was finding that my plans of exploration during the day were usually dropped in exchange for naps and TV to conserve my energy.

My friend and writing partner Brian Huther flew in toward the end of the week, which provided a ton of fun as well as a hearty shot in the arm.

 I did manage to get out of bed on one of the last days and check out some awesome ancient cliff-dwellings in town.

I did manage to get out of bed on one of the last days and check out some awesome ancient cliff-dwellings in town.

The final lap came at closing weekend. Like the weekend before it, this stretch contained four performances in the span of 48 hours; Friday at 7:30, Saturday at 4:00 and 7:30, Sunday at 2:00. By the time we'd ended that, I was both very ready for a break, and downright heartbroken to say goodbye.


I could write pages and pages about my gratitude to everyone involved, my love for this play, the journey of tackling this role, etc. Our crowds were full and consistently appreciative and enthusiastic. Our crew was dedicated and ready to go. The cast was a blast. And of course, I can't bring this to a close without thanking Kyle Hatley, and all of THEATREWORKS, one more time for bringing me in to do this. This turned out to be a dream role I didn't even know I had. And - no joke - it's now my mission to do it again before I age out. What an enormous gift this was. What a wonderful experience. I don't know what more to say than this:

Thank you.

(Just a few unforgettable views from the cast house I stayed in)

Amadeus: Week Two

Project role: Actor
Location: Colorado Springs

READ PART 1 HERE
THIS IS PART 2
READ PART 3 HERE

 Checkin' out the Fortepiano 

Checkin' out the Fortepiano 

If you're uninitiated with this project, check out the week one blog entry here.

A couple days ago we finished up our second week of rehearsals for Amadeus, and as I write this we're coming to the end of two days off. Week two was a doozy. We worked our way all the way through ACT II and wrapped up with our first full run on Sunday, which I'm happy to say went very well!

For the Mozart role, the first act is devoted mainly to impish mania and unrestrained outbursts. In other words, it's mostly just fun. He's still playful and beaming with arrogance. The second act, however, is where the waters get choppy. Now you're navigating through a constant onslaught of crippling defeats, which produce fury, horror, grief, madness, and eventually, death. It's a pretty big challenge, but it's a rewarding one, and I hope to do it some amount of justice.

 Mark loves working with me!

Mark loves working with me!

I think the day from this week that's going to stick with me was when we first blocked out the ending. Well, Mozart's ending. On that particular day we had a LOT to get through - something like 20 pages - so there wasn't much time to stop and smell the roses. The result of this was Dana and I running through Mozart's death sequence several times amidst some surrounding logistical work.

 

What amazed me was that even though we were just kind of sorting through it, we were both WRECKED by the time it was over. Constanze pleads with her husband to stay alive while Mozart himself, hardly registering her, desperately attempts to finish his own Requiem in his mind. A selection from that piece plays throughout the scene, and it is achingly beautiful. Lying on that table, floating through that incredible piece, is already one of the coolest moments I've had as a performer, and we're just getting started.

Next comes tech week. It's going to be a lot of hard work. I feel ready. And unprepared. How do shows always manage to do that?

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Let Me Get This Straight - Pilot Episode

Project role: Improviser
Location: Recorded in Colorado Springs / KC

Today my buddy Ryan Hruza and I released a pilot/concept episode of a podcast we're calling "Let Me Get This Straight."

Ryan and I have known and worked with each other for a few years now, originally connecting through The KC Improv Company. The idea for the podcast came about when when were both in Chicago this January performing a musical. Almost all of our off-stage conversations were riff-sessions of some kind, and we kept finding ourselves in these patterns where he'd say something intentionally dense or misguided, I'd play straight man and get him to elaborate, then slowly we'd weave up some elaborate, ridiculous concept. That, basically, is the show.

My previous experience in improv-based comedy is the podcast For Serious - a Friend Dog Studios venture with Brian Huther and Seth Macchi. Technically we never quit that show, it's just been on an extended hiatus. The reason for that isn't a lack of love for the program - I personally am head over heels for it - it's just that it's a concept that takes extensive post-production time (10-20 hours per episode, usually) and we just sort of ran low on resources.

This concept, however, is the sort of thing that can be recorded in about 20 minutes and edited in about an hour, so the pressure is very low, and we can just sort of feel it out for now. The pilot is a proof-of-concept, recorded on decent mics from Ryan and I's current residences in KC and Colorado Springs, respectively.

Let me know what you think! We'd love to make more.

Amadeus: Week One

Project role: Actor
Location: Colorado Springs

THIS IS PART 1
READ PART 2 HERE
READ PART 3 HERE

Something I've been gleefully and nervously anticipating for the past couple of months is finally underway. My friend and fellow KC expatriate Kyle Hatley called me unexpectedly a while back to offer me the role of Mozart in an upcoming production of Amadeus by Peter Shaffer. The show is at THEATREWORKS in Colorado Springs where I'd be housed and well taken care of, he said.

Once I'd picked my jaw up off the floor and said yes, he went to check on some Equity stuff to make sure the whole thing would be union compliant, and I basically didn't breathe until a couple days later when he called back with the confirmation.

  Pikes Peak after a day of snow, as seen from the theatre.

Pikes Peak after a day of snow, as seen from the theatre.

So, here we are. In a gorgeous mountain town with an incredible new performing arts center, rehearsing one of my favorite plays. Depending on how you look at it, Mozart is either a sort of co-lead or secondary lead. The story centers around him, but it is told through the eyes of fellow Vienna composer Antonio Saliere, a part played here by KC acting great Mark Robbins, who is making us all look bad. Seriously, I don't remember the last time I saw an actor come in so thoroughly and perfectly prepped for such a massively demanding role.

  Table read at the first rehearsal on Tuesday.

Table read at the first rehearsal on Tuesday.

My wife Constanze is played by the fantasticly talented Dana Omar, a fellow Chicago-based actor. The three of us are all currently living in the (top-notch) cast house provided by the theatre, and I consider myself immensely lucky to be working with and seeing them both on a regular basis. The rest of the cast are local actors (listed below!) whom I've just had the pleasure of meeting in the last few days, and I'm constantly being wowed by their hard work and incredible skill. I've got some hardcore impostor syndrome goin' on right now, this is a hell of a group to be accepted into.

There's so, so much I could write about, so I'll try to keep my thoughts organized and split this into multiple entries as the process goes on. At the moment we've just finished week one, and I've been spending the day getting some rest. We covered the first act at a breakneck pace this week in Kyle's capable and energetic hands. I am having an absolute blast. Mozart (as depicted here, and, probably in reality) is a capricious, spoiled, ego-maniacal, eccentric, fiery, silly, genius little man-child. He gets the whole spectrum of emotional experience in his arc, and it's honestly difficult to find a choice that's "too weird" when playing around with him. Not that that's gonna stop me from trying.

  Definitely a painting and not a hastily taken selfie during a promotional shoot.

Definitely a painting and not a hastily taken selfie during a promotional shoot.

The main difficulty I've had thus far is just the sheer volume of possible avenues to pursue. Dozens if not hundreds of books have been written about the guy, a full playlist of his recorded music is over TWO WEEKS long, and a google search for "Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart" turns up just shy of 2 million results. And none of that is to even mention the storied history of the play (/film) itself. It's an embarrassment of riches, but, unfortunately, there's only so much time before that curtain opens, so I've had to be choosy about what to focus on, and what to explore, both onstage and off.

Tomorrow, we dive into ACT II, which is where things really start to fall apart for Amadeus. It's gonna be a challenge for sure, but I'm so, so grateful to be surrounded by a director, crew, and cast that are so generous, so encouraging, and so thoroughly capable. I'm literally figuratively pinching myself; I don't know how I got so damn lucky.

The full team for the show is listed below. If you're in the area or would like to be (it's beautiful here, come take an affordable little vacation!) check out the website for tickets and more info. 



CAST:
Mark Robbins - Antonio Salieri
Ben Auxier - Wolfgang A. Mozart
Dana Omar - Constanze Weber
Jennifer DeDominici - Joseph II
Bob Morsch - Johann K. Von Strack
David Hastings - Count Orsini-Rosenberg
Tom Paradise - Baron Van Swieten
Monica J. Thompson - Katherina Cavalieri/Ens.
Erica Erickson - Teresa Salieri/Ens.
Kara Carroll - Salieri’s Cook/Ens.
Hossein Forouzandeh - Salieri’s Valet/Ens.
Marisa D. Hebert - Venticelli I
Sammie Joe Kinnett - Venticelli II
Omid Harrison - Major Domo/Priest
Steve Wallace - Bonno

ARTISTIC TEAM:
Kyle Hatley - Director
Jack Magaw - Scenic Designer
Maggie Armendariz - Asst. Scenic Designer
Stephanie Bradley - Costume Designer
Amanda Zieve - Lighting Designer
Joseph Concha - Sound Designer
Kristen Wickersheim - Stage Manager
Lauren Duggin - Props Master
Alex Williams - Asst. Stage Manager

(READ WEEK 2's BLOG ENTRY HERE)

A Brief History of April Fools' Day

Project roles: Actor, Writer, Graphic Designer
Location: Chicago, w/input from Kansas City

Friend Dog Studios emerged for a moment from our video-producing hiatus to present A History of April Fool's Day, a totes wrong mini-documentary that of course went live on April 1st, 2018.

Originally the concept was to present it as some sort of Ken Burns historical doc - maybe even faintly believable at first - to lull unsuspecting facebook scrollers into a false sense of education before releasing it was another dumb joke. But as it developed, we started favoring a more absurdist, rapid-fire approach, as we usually do.

Brian, Seth, and I sussed out the script over the course of a few writing sessions, with Seth phoning in from KC. Our biggest problem was narrowing down the ideas; this being a list-comedy video, the concepts kept coming, and we had to kill a few darlings to keep it under 3:00 like we prefer.

Once we had the script, Brian and I recorded VO (directing each other in turn), then I gathered up/created graphic resources and handed them over to Brian for editing while I skipped town to head to Colorado Springs.

This video is real dumb. But I like it a lot. I hopes you does too.

Gann Asphalt & Concrete Ad

Project role: Actor
Location: Recorded in Chicago, Animated in Colorado Springs

A few weeks ago my friend Jeremiah England invited me to send over a VO audition for some character work he needed on a client's project. His company, Sound & Shadow, based out of Colorado Springs / Denver, produces a variety of videos for clientele.

I play both "Pothole" and "Sidewalk" in the animated spot, which was fun and easy to contribute. I simply recorded the audio using a basic rig at my apartment in Chicago and sent it over, going back and forth a few times for notes and redirects. 

In the weirdest coincidence, as I type this I'm actually in Colorado Springs myself for something utterly unrelated (much more on that soon.) Ya never know where the next gig will come from!

Thanks to everyone at Sound & Shadow for having me on!

History of the Internet

Project role: Sound Designer
Location: Chicago

 Image by Michelle Leatherby.

Image by Michelle Leatherby.

The time is the nearish future. The place is a school; a school where, by orders of DeVos, the books have probably been replaced by "paintings of White Jesus and pictures from her mission trip." A starry-eyed student stands before her class and tells the tale of a once-great global network in the days before its treasures were open only to the rich.

This is the History of the Internet.

My friend Michelle Leatherby has written and directed a truly funny and at times downright terrifying comedy vignette play for Corn Productions in Chicago, and I highly recommend checking it out. Her distinct voice shines throughout, and the ensemble sells the thing from start to finish with energy and innovation. And hey, that's just from watching a couple of rehearsals; I can't imagine how killer opening night's gonna be.

Unfortunately I won't be around for opening, since I'm currently stopped in KC on my way to Colorado. But a little piece of me will be there in the form of a sound design I created (with help and input from Michelle) for the piece. The episodic nature and tech-driven subject matter made for a hearty cue load, which was an enjoyable challenge. I was also hit with waves of dizzying nostalgia as I scrounged around for lost gems like dial-up noise and AIM chat sounds. I might have even composed and recorded an intentionally cringy sitcom theme. If that doesn't get you in the door, then frankly, I don't think you even know how doors work.

The History of the Internet runs Thursdays - Saturdays at 8:00pm, March 29 - April 28
Corn Productions, 4210 N Lincoln, Chicago, IL

Facebook Event Here
Website Listing Here

 Image by Michelle Leatherby.

Image by Michelle Leatherby.

Movies: Live! Anchorman

Project role: Actor / Improviser
Location: Chicago

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Last night I had a lot of fun in my premiere appearance with Movies: Live! at the Uptown Underground in Chicago. I played Champ Kind in their parody staged reading of Anchorman alongside a talented and energetic cast and artistic team, and I thank them all for having me along!

The series performs one film parody per month (one performance only - though I hear they're currently looking to expand that due to good turn out). The format is fast and loose but constructed with care; you're sort of seeing the movie script performed, you're sort of seeing something new. Narration is well-used to smooth over some of the rougher edges that come along with translating from screen to stage, gags and musical numbers are inserted, text is shifted, and the script is full of blanks and bold lettering inviting the actors to improvise along the way. I love doing readings and I love improv, so this experience was right up my alley. Plus, Anchorman is the first movie to ever make me literally roll on the floor laughing, so there's that.

If you're in Chicago, come check 'em out sometime. And if you're in KC, go check out a similar regular event at The Buffalo Room in Westport! I've done several of those in the past and have extremely fond memories. This format makes for a thoroughly giggly night out.

Thank you to Maggie Mitchell, Nik Whitcomb, and everyone else at Movies! Live and the Uptown Underground for letting me in on the fun!

An Enemy of the People

Project role: Actor (Extra)
Location: Chicago

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Just wanted to make a quick post expressing my gratitude to Shannon Rourke, Nik Whitcomb, and everyone else at The Goodman's production of An Enemy of the People for giving me such an interesting and enjoyable experience over the last few weeks!

Ibsen's classic work is currently running through April 15th in the form of an adaptation based on an English translation by Eleanor Marx-Aveling; molded and adjusted by director Robert Falls into a hyper-relevant and impassioned production designed to deliver a 2018 gut-punch through the vehicle of an 1882 play.

Myself and dozens of others participated as "extras" (a term not usually associated with stage work but it's the best descriptor) in the play's extended town hall meeting scene. I was only able to do a handful of performances in the time before I have to leave town, but that quick window was a fun and fascinating opportunity to watch, learn, absorb, and play a little.

The staff, artistic team, and cast were warm, welcoming, and kind without exception; I thank them all sincerely for their time. Check out The Goodman's website for more information on the show!

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Along the Line

Project role: Contributing Writer
Location: Written in Chicago, performed in KC

As I type this the cast and creative team behind Along the Line are celebrating their closing night in Kansas City. I myself am still in Chicago so I can't join in the fun, but I was very happy to be given the opportunity to contribute two micro-plays to the project.

Along the Line is a new play festival produced by KC's Heidi Van. The festival, now in its third year, serves as a sort of sample of a moment in time - with 75 plays (1 minute or less apiece) showcasing thoughts, hopes, fears, messages, and jokes from the minds of a large cross-section of writers.

This year's theme concerned the future; imagining what it might be, what we might like it to be, etc. Tasked with setting two short vignettes 10, 100, or 1000 years from now, I had a hard time avoiding sci-fi, but I came up with a couple of avenues to express sci-fi ideas that I hope will land well; one a sort of silly slap in the face, the other more tender. I'm told an archival video was taken so I greatly look forward to seeing the mosaic of work produced for the show. Thanks to Heidi and the festival for inviting me to join in!

 A snapshot from my 1 minute play "Reset." Image courtesy of Emma Carter

A snapshot from my 1 minute play "Reset." Image courtesy of Emma Carter

The Mary Scruggs Works by Women Festival

Project role: Actor
Location: The Second City Training Center, Chicago

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This past weekend it was my pleasure to take part in The Mary Scruggs Works by Women Festival at The Second City!

This annual festival features a wide range of performances and events written (and largely performed) by women in the comedy community. My part was in the "Punch Up!" Series; selected sketches by students of the training center program, performed as cold reads for a live audience and then responded to with feedback from senior Second City artists.

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We had three showcases a night on Friday and Saturday, each with 8ish new sketches that we would quickly look over and perform nearly - or entirely - cold. I was expecting a standard staged reading, with music stands, little to no blocking, etc. But it was awesome to find that both ensembles I was dropped into were comfortable and adventurous enough to actually put on much fuller performances, missing very few beats as we shot from the hip.

I want to thank Michelle Leatherby, Jay Steigmann, Jesse Swanson, Sheena Laird, and all my fellow actors for letting me come play, and making it such a cool experience. I absolutely love cold readings and this was probably the liveliest one I've ever been a part of. Some really killer sketches combined with a spur of the moment energy made for a very fun weekend.

 Saturday night's cast

Saturday night's cast

The Ballad of Lefty & Crabbe at CMTF

Project role: Writer, Composer, Actor
Location: Greenhouse Theater Center, Chicago

What started as a Fringe fest show back in 2015 is now in its fourth iteration and its second city - The Ballad of Lefty & Crabbe is [as of the first update of this post on 2/13/18] right in the middle of a limited run at the Chicago Musical Theatre Festival!

Set at the decline of vaudeville and the rise of Hollywood, Lefty & Crabbe tells the tale of two talented but down-on-their-luck performers as they attempt to navigate the rapidly changing world of entertainment. I've written more extensively about it in a post from Summer of 2017, so check that out if you're not familiar with the show.

The festival, now in its fourth year, brings in an eclectic collection of around 10 shows, and we're very excited to be one of them. The Living Room Theatre, which has been making this show possible ever since its inception as a fringe short, has been gracious enough to produce the piece, and, in addition to funding and management, schlep half the cast back and forth from KC to Chicago to make it happen.

 

 Table read with the cast.

Table read with the cast.

In an effort to avoid a novelization here, I'll try to give a quick, non-dumb description of every element of this that I've been wrapping my head around.

As far as writing, we've made several small tweaks and a couple of bigger ones. The most significant are an overhaul of the opening number to better set the tone of the show and a beefing up of the character arc for Lolo - the clever Starlet who helps green-light our protagonists when they get to Hollywood and eventually finds her own liberation. That element is still being developed. A solo song for her was drafted and I'm very excited about it but unfortunately it's not quite ready for prime time. Look out for it in the next one.

This is my first time actually performing this show as an actor, which is a strange thing to say because I feel like I've been in it all along. I was accompanist for the fringe run, but it's safe to say I fit a lot better here.

As for promotion, it's been an uphill battle selling a small show in a new city, but audiences have shown up and the reception has been great! Lots of laughter, positive feedback, and some nice networking.

It's been so incredible and humbling to witness all these talented people give SO MUCH of their time and effort to this silly show. Some have been involved before, others are stepping in for the first time. Because the cast is split roughly 50/50 between KC and Chicago based actors, our time as a full group was extremely limited, but not only did everybody bring their a-game to rehearsals, but director Rusty Sneary, stage manager Lacey Pacheco, costume designer Nancy Robinson, and production assistant/understudy Bob Linebarger constructed and carried out an absolutely brilliant compacting of the whole process.
 

 Snapshot from our expedited rehearsal process.

Snapshot from our expedited rehearsal process.

 Ryan Hruza & Shea Pender are playing Lefty & Crabbe for the first time in this production.

Ryan Hruza & Shea Pender are playing Lefty & Crabbe for the first time in this production.

I love these people, I love this show, and I'm prouder than I can express to get the opportunity to show it to a new city.

UPDATE (2/19/18): The run officially ended yesterday. We had a great second weekend! I will give this post a final update once the festival comes to a close next week.

UPDATE (2/26/18): The festival came to a close last night with an award ceremony, and I'm over the moon to announce that we received 10 nominations and 4 wins, including the coveted "Best of the Fest" award! HUGE thanks to the festival staff, the Greenhouse Theater Center staff, the judges, all the incredible artists in the festival, and of course, the Lefty & Crabbe crew (listed individually at the bottom of the post!) As for what's next, it's too early to say, but there are some very exciting things potentially on the horizon for our little show, and we can't wait to share them with you! Feel free to visit leftyandcrabbe.com for the latest information. Below is a list of all nominations/wins:

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The Ballad of Lefty & Crabbe
Greenhouse Theater Center
4427 N Lincoln Ave

Part of the Chicago Musical Theatre Festival

Book & lyrics by Brian Huther, Ben Auxier, and Seth Macchi
Music by Ben Auxier and Brian Huther
Arrangements and additional music by Ryan McCall

Directed by Rusty Sneary
Musical director / accompanist Ryan McCall
Stage/production Manager Lacey Pacheco

Ryan Hruza.......................Lefty Childs
Shea Pender.....................James "Crabbe" Hathaway
Elise Poehling..................Lolo Carmichael / Ensemble
Mike Ott.............................E.G. Swellington / Ensemble
Molly Denninghoff..........Evelyn Rose / Ensemble
Brian Huther.....................Gene Sherman / Ensemble
Nellie Maple......................W.W.W.W.W. Rocksfeld / Ensemble
Ben Auxier.........................Mac Lloyd / Ensemble

Costume designer Nancy Robinson
Production assistant / understudy Bob Linebarger