Chicago

Milking Christmas (2018)

Project Roles: Writer / Composer
Location: Chicago / Kansas City

A show I co-wrote that premiered last year at The Living Room Theatre is has returned for an all new run!

It’s a musical comedy called Milking Christmas which I created originally with my frequent collaborators Brian Huther, Seth Macchi, and Ryan McCall. You can read more background on that in my post from last year.

It was a hit in 2017. The run became The Living Room’s highest selling show on record in their 8 year history. The reviews were good, the cast was having fun, and despite my own misgivings about a few script elements that still, to me, felt half-baked, audiences by and large were eating it up. I think we decided more or less right away to do it again next year, though we didn’t get down to brass tacks until months later.

So, why do this again? It may seem like the answer to that is pretty simple; it sold well. It’ll probably sell well again. Cheers to selling things! But the truth is, that barely factors in - at least in the short term. Yes, big adventury holiday musical comedies are the types of things that have a wide draw, but they’re also expensive to produce. And The Living Room isn’t some big for-profit joint. They are, as the wonderful playwright John Kolvenbach once called them, “theatre pirates.” The money that gets made in a place like this goes to keeping the ship afloat, not padding anybody’s pocket. Most of that money doesn’t even come from sales, it comes from grants and donations from folks who just wanna keep good theatre in their community. Maybe - hopefully - in the next few years, we can get some more regional theatres interested in this piece and start selling the rights. For now though, substantial profit is out of reach, and that’s totally fine.

Because the main reason we decided to give this another go is easy: we like it.

When we laid it out last year, our goal was “make something good enough that we’re interested in revisiting it.” That being accomplished, our goal this year was “make the show more complete.” The 2017 version ran about 85 minutes with no intermission. This year we set out to create a more standard ~2 hour, 1 intermission experience, with more fleshed out character arcs where needed, more exploration of the world, and better communication of the themes and messages.

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Missing from the mix this go-around was our co-writer Seth. Seth has spent most of 2018 on hiatus from theatre work, so he gave us his blessing and joined for a couple of phone meetings but had to mostly bow out. We missed his off-the-wall concepts and how-the-hell-did-you-think-of-that contributions. But we did have the advantage of starting from a solid base rather than from scratch this time, which helped compensate a bit.

The revision process was a little more harried and extensive than we’d anticipated. Scenes were cut, story threads were replaced, the ending was reworked about a dozen times, songs were added, then one was removed again, and by about two weeks from opening, we realized the damn thing was just too long and it was time for some brutal edits.

We worked mostly from Chicago, spending a few days in KC at the theatre to sit in on rehearsals and sort out the types of music questions that you just can’t manage on google docs.

This rehearsal process - like so many do - had plenty of challenges. In addition to the standard new work issue of constantly making adjustments, there were things like good ol’ winter illness, rehearsals cut short for bad weather, and a death in the KC theatre community that left many shaken.

In the end, despite it all, this incredible group of people pulled it off. I knew they would, because they’re amazing, and because they’re the type who will sacrifice just about everything - including sleep - for a project they care about. I wasn’t in the room most of the time, but every moment I was, I saw joy and fun on the faces of these beautiful artists despite whatever obstacles that day has brought.

The two-act version of Milking Christmas opened December 7th, 2018. The first weekend saw large crowds, great energy, and positive reviews. I’m so, so proud to and floored to get yet another opportunity to collaborate with this incredible crew. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll come give this show a chance. It runs all the way through December 6th!

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Directed by Missy Koonce & Rusty Sneary
Musical Direction by Ryan McCall
Accompanist Jeremy Watson

Starring Elise Poehling, Bob Linebarger, Ellen Kirk, Mike Ott, Nellie Maple, Hollis Wilhoit, Pancho Javier, Enjoli Gavin, Maragret Veglahn, Haddy Wilczewski, and Eli Black.

Shawnna Journagan - Scenic Artist / Prop Designer
Technical Director - Kyle Dyck
Lacey Pacheco - Stage Manager
Emma Dodge - Assistant Stage Manager
Alisa Lynn - Production Assistant
Nicole Jaja - Lighting Design
David Kiehl - Sound Design
Nancy Robinson - Costume Design
Regina Weller - Scenic Artist
Emma Carter - House Manager

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.

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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

October Improv Specials

Project Role: Improvisor
Location: Annoyance Theatre & Cards Against Humanity Theatre, Chicago

I’ve been way less active in improv than I’d like to be lately - which is why I’m excited to say I’ve got some fun shows lined up this month!

Every Saturday night in October I’m doing a special midnight show at Annoyance called POEssession - a psedo-experimental improvised Edgar Allen Poe format that’s been a lot of fun to kick around. I think the tickets are only like $5, so, if you’re out and about in Chicago one of these weekends, come check it out!

I’m also very excited about a one time event called The Primary, which goes up Thursday, October 25th at the Card Against Humanity Theatre in Chicago. This get-out-the-vote comedy event aims to arm the audience for the upcoming midterms while holding sham of a political race that if we’re lucky might be 1/10th the comedic train wreck as the actual 2016 Republican primaries.

Apparently I need to decide on a persona and a platform to run on. I honestly have no idea what that’ll be yet but let’s find out together. Tickets and more info here.

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

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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.

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!

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!

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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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

The Butcher's Son

Recently I've had the pleasure of designing some video projections for The Butcher's Son, a musical memoir by my friend and KC colleague Vi Tran - playing soon at the Chicago Musical Theatre Festival!

The show recounts the true story of a young Vi, his family, and their perilous and touching journey as refugees out of Vietnam. It is equal parts dramatization, story-telling, and song, and if you'll be in Chicago this month, I highly recommend you come check it out for yourself (see info at the end of this post!)

 A quick & dirty tech rehearsal for Butcher's Son. Photo: Mackenzie Goodwin-Tran

A quick & dirty tech rehearsal for Butcher's Son. Photo: Mackenzie Goodwin-Tran

A lot of my design consists of map animations illustrating various steps on the long journey the company describes. Other flourishes include text, emotional abstractions, and the integration of real photos. I think this is the third (fourth?) time the show has been performed,  and my contributions will appear alongside many elements from past productions, provided by director Mackenzie Tran.

 

While I don't consider myself an expert in this sort of thing, I do have a healthy background in video production, and I really enjoy diving into projection design now and then, as it gives me a chance to combine two different mediums about which I'm passionate. I try to be sparing in my own projects; as tempting as it is, sometimes projections in stage shows can come across as cheap, or be way more trouble than they're worth. However, in this case I think the use of images is a perfect choice by the creative team. Carefully selected bits of real photos and illustrative elements help tell the story vividly and immersively, and I'm quite happy to be a part of it.

If I'm remembering right - and I never am - this is the seventh time I've done this type of design. My first couples go's at it came during my undergrad; a trial-by-fire multi-screen fever dream production of Tommy and a prologue for Radioactive Man and One Eyed Electrical Socket, which is maybe the greatest piece of art ever made. Once out of school I made material for personal projects Fountain City Sketch, and surreal fringe-turned-indie show Our Author Died Today. The most recent three have been for Stuffed Buffalo Productions (Vi and Mackenzie's company); with staged charity readings of Finding Nemo and Eternal Sunshine (which I may have spent an obscene amount of time obsessing over) prior to Butcher's Son.

Anywho. Come see The Butcher's Son at The Chicago Musical Theatre Festival. While you're there, come see my show The Ballad of Lefty & Crabbe, which I'll be posting about soon! Dammit, just come see all the shows. I'm sure gonna try.

The Butcher's Son
by Vi Tran


Greenhouse Theater Center
2257 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago

Saturday, 2/10 at 3pm
Wednesday, 2/14 at 8pm
Sunday, 2/18 at 6pm
Friday. 2/23 at 7:30pm