Acting

GOP Jesus

Project roles: Actor / Writer / Producer / Editor
Location: Chicago Area

My comedy channel Friend Dog Studios released our latest video about a week ago on facebook and youtube.

I’m writing this entry in a bit of a hurry, but I hope eventually to come back and fill out the story of this project a little more, because it was a doozy. We’ve produced something like 60 public videos in the last few years, and, ordinarily, the time from when we first sit down to write to the day of posting is one to two weeks. In a few cases, 3-4 days. Not with this one, though. This was one case where our micro-budget clashed head on with our vision, and our time kept getting claimed by other, more immediate deadlines.

Each step of the process was repeatedly postponed, rescheduled, and reconfigured, to the point that we came very close to dropping the concept altogether. When you see the finished product, you may not immediately understand where the difficulty came from. There are no special effects, no grand sets, no complex editing, nothing that screams logistical nightmare. But I’m tellin’ ya, it was.

 Brian location scouting along the lake, north of Chicago

Brian location scouting along the lake, north of Chicago

Luckily, through a little persistence and a lot of amazing luck finding an excellent cast and crew, we got production done, and a few weeks after THAT, we finally uploaded it on Saturday morning, 11/10/18.

42980184_10217618599645176_808454402934308864_n (1).jpg

I don’t want to spend too much discussing the thought process behind the writing. Partially because I’d like it to speak for itself and partially because with such contentious subject matter explanations often come out sounding defensive, and I’m not interested in that. What I will say is that it was clear to us from the very beginning that this was not a “new” concept. This is an idea that’s been in the social consciousness for a long time, and has reached new heights in the age of Trump. We didn’t invent it, we just wanted to do our take on it.

So, after all that, what was the response?

In terms of numbers; very good. Within a week the facebook upload had accumulated over a million views and over 20,000 shares. The youtube growth started slow but it now growing by a rate of 20-30 thousand views per day. I’m never sure when to call a thing “viral,” so I usually wait until I hear somebody else say it and then point to them as the authority on the matter. In this case, an article by the Christian Post about the video used the word, so let’s go with that.

(EDIT 11/16/18: The video continues to grow and has been picked up by several outlets including HuffPost and RawStory, and several notable tweets like the one from Mark Ruffalo at the top of this post, which I found particularly exciting.)

In terms of critical response, the majority of the feedback we received was quite positive, and seemed to be coming from people who, even if they disagreed with the thing, understood it. It also stirred up plenty of classic comment fights and a threat of hellfire here or there, but that’s the cost of being a citizen of the internet, so, no bones broken. We especially appreciated some of the more thoughtful takes on it from within faith communities, like this piece on churchleaders.com

Questions about this video? Feel free to email Friend Dog Studios at dogandfrienddog@gmail.com


Written, produced, and edited by Ben Auxier & Brian Huther

Directed by Brian Huther
Assistant DP Doyla LaCrua
Assistant director Erin Moreland
Sound Engineer Sarah Putts
Costume Designer Jazmin Medina
Colorist Cory Vetter

GOP Jesus…………..…...Ben Auxier
Sick Woman……..……….Caroline Lyell
Disciple…….......……….…Justin Parlette
Child……………....………...Amaya Tredway

Followers:
Sean Buckley
Alisa Goldberg
Johnathan Koller
Kaitlyn Nibbelin
Anne Ogden
Josh Patel
Sachi Patel
Sanjay Patel
Graig Tertulien
Marie Tredway

Special thanks to Michelle Leatherby

Comethazine - Walk (Music Video)

Project Role: Actor
Location: Chicago

This was wild. I got hired on pretty last minute to be in a music video for Illinois rapper Comethazine.

The video, directed by Cole Bennett and produced by his hit company Lyrical Lemonade, shot for one day in smaller town about an hour north of Chicago. I come in at about the last third.


**EXPLICIT CONTENT WARNING**

Lots of language - viewer discretion advised and all that.

Ads, Ads, Ads!

Project Roles: Actor / Writer
Location: Chicago

I debated making individual posts for each of these things but seeing as how I’m so behind on updates, I’m gonna condense, dammit.

I’ve been doing some ad work here and there lately in different capacities, and I’m excited to be able to share what I can from that!


TOTINO’S • Actor

When I submitted for a role in Onion Labs’ new project for Totino’s, I was thrilled to see that the call explicitly noted that all participants had to be ok with eating pizza rolls. I, as it happens, am the most ok with eating pizza rolls. So imagine my heartbreak and betrayal when after spending a whole day on set - despite a solid spread from craft services - not a single roll was on offer.

Still, it was pretty cool I guess. I had a background role but somehow snuck my way into having a line, which you can see toward the end of the video. I recommend giving it a watch, it’s genuinely funny and the lead cast is great. Onion Labs is doing some great stuff. As of this moment I’m actually prepping for a lead role in another of their ads and I’m very excited. Updates on that later.


SCOTT GALIGER LAW • VOICE OVER

It was my pleasure to step into the home studio of Wayne Watrach in Chicago and see the cool operation he’s got going! Watrach Multimedia is a versatile little company run by Wayne and worth checking out if you’re looking for freelance production & animation in Chicago.

I was hired on to do VO work for two animated spots he’d been commissioned to do by Sctt Galiger Law, a firm in North Carolina. I’m not sure if they’re broadcast out there or just being run localized web ads.


PRESTIO.COM • WRITER

20180922_135615.jpg

My writing partner Brian Huther and I received a commission from startup Prestio.com to write a long-form ad for the web and to send en masse out to the industry.

They wanted a comprehensive ad that thoroughly introduced their online car-buying portal and explained its advantages, while staying funny and engaging enough to keep average viewers watching. It was a special challenge and a lot of fun to work out a concept and bring it to completion here. Unlike a lot of our projects, we were only involved in writing and making a suggestion or two in other areas of pre-production. Production and post were handled out in KC shortly after we’d handed in a final script.

As of the time I write this (10/13/18), the company is just in beta testing, and I don’t think a final version of the video has been publicly released, but I’ll try to remember to come back and update this entry when I know more.

It's 2018

Project roles: Writer, Actor, Producer
Location: Chicago

This Fall has been extremely busy and as a result I’ve fallen way behind in my updates. Time to play catch up real quick!

In late August Brian and I made plans for our next Friend Dog Studios release. We had a concept in mind that would be easy to produce; a list-comedy style video in which serious looking millennials held up ridiculous signs in a parody of a long-overdone style of advocacy piece.

The more we talked about it though, the more we wondered if that concept alone was enough to be worth a damn in the current climate, and whether we felt good about who or what exactly was the object of the joke. We talked about social frustrations, idealism, political exhaustion, and everything in-between.

On my drive to the KC Improv festival, a concept clicked together in my head, so I recorded my thoughts in a voice memo, sent it to Brian, and we got to work.

I’ll let the end product speak for itself.

As with most of our releases, the youtube response was mild, but the facebook upload received hundreds of shares before all was said and done. Hats off to Brian for spending something like three days tirelessly sorting through all our available footage and piecing this comedy puzzle together with care.

We shot the whole thing at our apartment on a simple white backdrop with the help of a stellar crew and cast, which came in and out for short segments throughout the day. I’m really happy with the result!

Oh and also

FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, VOTE

“It’s 2018”
Written by Ben Auxier & Brian Huther
Directed by Brian Huther
Director of photography Doyla LaCrua
Assistant AD Derek Nickisch

Edited by Brian Huther

Cast in order of appearance: Aaron Branch, Evilyn Riojas, Diana Lee, Brian Huther, Ben Auxier, Carlos Rivera, Olivia Corkery Perry, Shon Ruffin, Vi Tran, Sami Ismat, Michelle Leatherby.

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

Camp Comedy with Ben & Brian

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

33333103_10216520630836642_3268663445913862144_o.jpg
 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.

download.jpeg

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?

IMG_20180414_135035-01.jpeg

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!

Movies: Live! Anchorman

Project role: Actor / Improviser
Location: Chicago

28471692_10215837076068200_2781106330499284992_n.jpg

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

IMG_20180309_144943-02.jpeg

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!

IMG_20180303_123904-01.jpg

The Mary Scruggs Works by Women Festival

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

26962247_10156101380059861_1786299965611530917_o.jpg

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.

Mary Scruggs Works by Women (3).jpg

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:

awards2.png

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

Milking Christmas: A New Musical

Project role: Co-Writer/Co-Composer/Actor
Location: Written all over the place, performed in Kansas City

DSC_9838.jpg

2017 is over and I am officially tired. Somehow, against all odds and reasonable medical advice, my collaborators and I managed to squeeze out a second full-length musical before the year was over. It's hard to know where to begin with this one, so bear with me as I hit ya with some background.

The whole thing started as sort of a joke during late night conversations toward the end of the run of our first musical, The Ballad of Lefty & Crabbe. Brian and I had recently watched a fascinatingly awful Christmas movie in the form of an MST3K episode and we were so intrigued by it that we started musing about turning that into our next piece. Then the idea of writing a Christmas show became less of a joke. And Seth got on board. And Ryan (composer/musician extraordinaire) got on board. And the artistic director of the theatre got on board. And then our fate was sealed.

It started with a couple of brainstorming meetings. We really had no idea where we were headed other than "Christmas." We quickly scrapped the bad movie concept, though one or two elements from it made their way into the final piece. By the end of the two days, we had a core concept.

The story would take place in Christmastown. That much we knew. North Pole, Santa's village, sleigh, reindeer, the whole nine yards. In addition to the standard cast, we wanted to use figures that would be recognizable as Christmas characters, but that didn't get featured a lot. The 12 Days of Christmas turned out to be a goldmine. Lords-a-Leaping? Ladies Dancing? Who the hell were these people? We had loads of fun figuring out how to weave them in. We'd landed on one of the eight "Maids-a-Milking" as our protagonist; it felt like kind of a perfect choice. Milk Maid is an inherently low status character, a great place to start for a hero, and it seemed unexpected but not out of place. We knew that this Maid (eventually dubbed "Macey") would make a troubling discovery about Christmastown, and have to fight to save the day.

 White board from one of the first writing sessions.

White board from one of the first writing sessions.

I hesitate to say more because we hope to stage the show again, and I hate to spoil my own stuff. I'll just say that we landed on the title Milking Christmas for three reasons: 1) Milk maid protagonist 2) Themes of exploitation of the holiday and 3) A wink to the fact that that's exactly what we were doing by putting up this show.

The writing process was a bizarre beast. Following the close of Lefty and Crabbe, we had to shelve this project for a bit to get other things done. By the time we refocused, we had about 3 months, in 3 different states, to put together a full script and score.  Brian Huther and I worked from Chicago. Seth Macchi had recently moved to New York. And Ryan McCall and producers Rusty Sneary and Shawnna Journagan were in KC. Thank god for google docs.



 

 Writing session from 3 different states.

Writing session from 3 different states.

Once Brian and I, and later Seth, got back to KC, it was really crunch time. We'd have full day sessions with Ryan tying up musical loose ends and finishing numbers, then we'd retire to the building's basement and work a few more hours on book revisions. Lather, rinse, repeat.
 

Since this was such an infant of a piece, we were still playing and writing and adjusting basically up till tech week, which I'm sure caused no shortage of headaches. Luckily, there was an amazingly talented and supportive team on this show remarkably adept at punch-rolling. All four of us writers were in the show (Ryan on keys, though often throwing in a line or an animal sound). Was this a good idea? I dunno, but it was a hell of a ride. Seth had originally planned on being in New York during the run but stepped into the cast last minute to fill a vacated spot.

 A production meeting midway through rehearsals.

A production meeting midway through rehearsals.

I could churn out two dozen more paragraphs on this from a writing standpoint, but none of that is as important as the incredible people that really made this thing happen. Rusty and Shawnna at The Living Room, as usual, demonstrated unconditional support, absurd amounts of trust, and ingenious leadership and flexibility in bringing a really odd vision to life. Our incredible director, a Kansas City legend and self-proclaimed Director-of-All-The-Plays, Missy Koonce, pulled a sort of triple duty as set designer and choreographer, which makes me tired just writing it.

I won't gush about each artist individually because this post is already too long, but they are all listed at the close, and suffice it to say that their professionalism, drive, and willingness to go the extra mile for a yet thoroughly unproven idea was tremendously humbling, and I owe these folks a lot.

So - how did it go?

Our goal, as writers, was to have the show go off well enough that we left saying "Yes, we'd like to keep working on this." I think we certainly achieved that. It was a crazed and wonderful first stab - thanks in no small part to the commitment of the actors - and we're already brimming with notions of how to make it better. Some nights, the response was subdued chuckles and warm smiles. Some nights, it was wall-to-wall hysteria. That's fairly typical for a comedy in my experience; there's no telling what the energy's gonna be. But I don't think any crowd left feeling disappointed. And boy did they show up! About a week before it even closed, Milking Christmas officially became the highest selling show on record in the history of The Living Room.

It was well reviewed, well enjoyed, and maybe most importantly for my selfish ass, a wonderful time. A Christmas "cheers" to all of you, team. I love you, I miss you, and this is one holiday season I'll never forget.


Milking Christmas: A New Musical
Book and lyrics by Brian Huther, Ben Auxier, and Seth Macchi
Music by Ryan McCall, Brian Huther, and Ben Auxier

World premiere: The Living Room Theatre, December 2017
Director/choreographer Missy Koonce
Musical director Ryan McCall

CAST
Elise Poehling.............Macey Maid-a-Milking
Bob Linebarger..........Santa Claus
Seth Macchi................Chris Claus
Ellen Kirk......................Mrs. Claus/Masha/Carol Jolly
Mike Ott........................Jingle B. Elf/Ginger/General Sparkleshine/Lord 1
Nellie Maple.................Citizen Cane/Lt. Puddings/Mildred/Holly Hunter/Lord 3
Brian Huther.................Clyde/Mandy/Lord 2
Ben Auxier....................Krampsnickle/The Christmas Mole/Mike
Margaret Veglahn......Mildred/Toy Soldier
Andrew Stout...............Coal Miner/Toy Soldier/Mika/Lord
Cam Burns....................Coal Miner/Toy Soldier/Mary

Stage management: Lacey Pacheco
Regina Wellner
Emmy Panzica
Shawnna Journagan
Costume designer Nancy Robinson
Lighting design Nicole Jaja
Stage carpenter Kyle Dyck
Scenic artist Regina Wellner
Properties by Shawnna Journagan
Artistic director Rusty Sneary
 

No Sleep November 2017

Project role: Actor / Host
Location: Kansas City, MO

No Sleep November is an annual tradition at The Living Room Theatre. It's a 24 hour play writing event and it goes like so: a handful of playwrights are featured. Each one is grouped with a few actors and a production assistant through a series of draft picks and challenges. Each is also issued a few elements that must be incorporated into their work: a prop, a line of dialogue, and a costume piece. 24 hours later, a brand new 10 minute play from each writer will be performed for the public in a one-time-only showcase.

It's a play festival meets a lock-in, and it's delirious fun. The expansive four floor building that comprises TLR provides housing for a bustling mob of 35+ artists and administrators to develop, rehearse, design, and tech their new works. Also sleep, occasionally, though that's far from guaranteed.

The results of this venture are often hilarious, often touching, and always innovative. The immediacy and live-wire sensibility of the show gives both the artists and the audience a sense of being plugged into something unique and exciting.

 The wonderful Curtis Smith and I starred alongside Diane Bulan in "Alamo Love"

The wonderful Curtis Smith and I starred alongside Diane Bulan in "Alamo Love"

As I was already in KC to work on our new musical Milking Christmas, I was excited to get another chance to hop into NSN. This was my third time as an actor for the event and second time as host. I was also a writer one year, but I prefer not to talk about that, as it broke my entire brain. This time around, Rusty and I had fun coming up with new drafting techniques, and I got to play one of my wheel-house characters (the dry and baffled straight man) in a funny, visceral piece by the one and only Ron Simonian, who is maybe the most prolific writer in KC. Big thanks to everyone involved - I think this was the best year yet!

If you live in KC, be sure to check out the next No Sleep November at The Living Room Theatre. It's a night you'll never forget - and a little secret you get to be in on.