Friend Dog Studios

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

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!

Camp Comedy with Ben & Brian

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

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 SqueezeBox is a brand new space in KC.

SqueezeBox is a brand new space in KC.

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

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


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

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

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


Update: 7/10/18

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

But in broad strokes, I can say this:

 Practicing some improv with Brian

Practicing some improv with Brian

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

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

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

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

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.

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

Kiss & Tail 2018

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

Kiss & Tail is an annual Valentine's event at the Kansas City Zoo. As far as I can tell it's been going on since 2012; an adults-only evening of wining, dining, and entertainment.

In 2015 my writing partner Brian and I were commissioned by the KC Zoo (or rather, by The Living Room Theatre, which was producing) to write a new show for the presentation part of the evening. In years past, an expert biologist would give a talk about the weird and interesting mating habits of various animals, and the organizers felt that it was time to up the spectacle a bit.

So, in January of 2015 we got down to writing a 45 minute play about animal sex. Play is the wrong word, it was really a series of sketches with a simple through-line for the narrator and his love interest. I grew increasingly concerned about what might happen if someone stumbled onto my google history around this time (how many times can I look up "elephant penis" before I'm put on some kind of watch list?), but the end result worked. Unfortunately, neither of us could be there for the performance, but all reports say it went over great - and they probably weren't lying, because they've had us back to write a new version each year since.

 A rehearsal for the 2015 version.

A rehearsal for the 2015 version.

All the media in this post is from the first two runs of the show (2015, 2016), but there have now been four versions total. The first three years we did some recycling; keeping a few sketches that went over big the previous year, replacing a few others. This time, however, the zoo specifically requested a 100% original script. They're noticing a lot of repeat customers, and they want to ensure that no one is bored by material they've already seen. So, with that in mind, we sat down in our Chicago apartment and churned out an all new half hour featuring everything from dance competitions to mooching angler fish to exploding bumblebee testis. The script is now in the hands of director Missy Koonce and her stellar cast, preparing for the big performance on February 10th.

 Victor Raider-Wexler, Seth Macchi, Amy Attaway, and Ryan Hruza rehearsing in 2015.

Victor Raider-Wexler, Seth Macchi, Amy Attaway, and Ryan Hruza rehearsing in 2015.

The cast and creative team has changed every year, with a few repeat offenders returning to their roles. The Living Room has signed some top notch talent to this thing every time, and this year is no exception. In addition to our perfectly bombastic director / narrator Missy Koonce, the show will be performed by Donovan Woods, Sebastian Smith, Damian Blake, Emmy Panzika, Missy Fennewald, and Molli McCulley. Each will be playing a wide variety of animals in an eclectic script that we tried our damndest to keep...possible.

Unfortunately, I won't be in town to see it performed, as I'll be here in Chicago doing our musical Lefty & Crabbe. In fact, I've never actually been able to see it, weirdly enough. But I want to wish everybody all the broken legs, and apologize in advance to whomever has to do the penis fight in the flatworm sketch.

If you'd have asked me upon graduating college if I ever thought I'd get paid to write infotainment comedy, I'd say, "What kind of a question is that? How did you get here?" But weirdly enough, this has become something of a pattern. Four zoo shows, something like 40 Did You Know videos, and a history show called Slant KC, which, incidentally, might be getting a revamp this year. I'll take it! It's fun AND I get good and learned!

Huge thanks to both The Living Room Theatre and the Kansas City Zoo for this ridiculous and wonderful gig. 

Tickets and more information here.

Milking Christmas: A New Musical

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

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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
 

ScienceLite!

Project Roles: Co-writer, Actor, Editor
Location: Chicago

Friend Dog Studios had its second release in a week with ScienceLite!, an absurdist, satirical sketch on pseudo-science, junk science, and the easy proliferation of bad information on the internet.

In other words, it's a video about sharing made up crap.

I hesitate to list myself as co-writer for this one because it was mostly Brian's work, but I contributed a line and edit here and there as well. The sketch was written for our live show The Rough and the Precious - currently playing at The Blackout Cabaret at the Second City Chicago, Fridays through October 13th.

We decided to adapt it to video for a couple of reasons. First, we liked it and thought it translated well to a social media format (since that's what it's about), and second, we thought it might make good cross-promotion for the stage show. Telling people in Chicago you have a sketch revue is like telling them you have a collection of oxygen; you need something more to catch their attention.

This was one of the easiest shoots we've ever managed; just a few shots on green screen in our apartment's dedicated office space. With some assistance from Michelle Leatherby (another collaborator on the live show), we managed to finish up in about 3 hours from set up to tear down. The post-production process was considerably longer for reasons that will be obvious from watching the video - along with the usual steps of timeline building, color-correcting, and audio-tweaking, every second of every shot was passed through After Effects CC for some fun, albeit kinda cheesy extra visuals. Lucky for me, I've had similar experiences editing various projects such as our Jones-Forrester installments ("Taxes" and "Payday Loans"), so I've picked up a technique or two that help with my efficiency. The result was about 13 hours of staring at my PC to get the final product below:

Making a Masterpiece - Part 3: The Product

Project roles: Improviser / Editor
Location: Shot in Kansas City, edited in Chicago

The long awaited (??) finale to the Friend Dog Studios series Making a Masterpiece was finally posted on Oct 3rd, 2017 to our YouTube and Facebook channels.

This series is bonkers, and this installment is a special kind of stupid that a joy to put together. If you're confused, of course you are. If you'd like some clarify, you can see the series from the beginning here.

Making a Masterpiece: Part 2

Project roles: Improviser / Editor
Location: Show in Kansas City, edited in Chicago

Friend Dog Studios released our second installment in the Making a Masterpiece mini-series. The series was improvised on set and I've been having an interesting time creating a story line out of the odd pieces in editing. See my previous blog post for part 1 and more information!

Making a Masterpiece: Part 1

Project roles: Improviser / Editor
Location: Show in Kansas City, edited in Chicago

After a hiatus of about three months to focus on stage work, my comedy channel Friend Dog Studios has returned to creating patreon funded online content! Making a Masterpiece premiered on our facebook and youtube pages this morning, and I tell ya what, it feels good to be back.

We took a premise based, no-script approach to the production of this one. While still in Kansas City shortly after the closing of our musical, we co-opted The Living Room stage and essentially improvised for about two hours while Director of Photography Joe Carey rolled camera. The result was a hilarious mess that I've been picking through from my editing bay for the last few days, ultimately forming the experience into a multi-episode story arc about three colorful playwrights.

I think there will probably be three episodes in all. Look for the next one to premiere in a couple of weeks.

The Ballad of Lefty & Crabbe

Project role: Co-Writer / Co-Composer / Music Supervisor
Location: Kansas City, MO

"Playwrights Ben Auxier, Brian Huther, and Seth Macchi have put together an absolutely enjoyable evening at the theater. Dialogue is tight. The jokes are funny."
- Alan Portner, Broadway World

I don't even know how to begin writing about this. This has been one of the single greatest experiences of my life, both professionally, and personally.

The Ballad of Lefty & Crabbe is a musical comedy that began its life as a 55 minute piece in the 2015 Kansas City Fringe Festival. I co-wrote it alongside my Friend Dog Studios collaborators Brian Huther and Seth Macchi, and the response we received was so wonderfully positive that we all came away knowing we weren't done.

Rusty Sneary and Shawnna Journagan at The Living Room theatre produced that fringe original as well as this new, expanded version. Their trust and support have been absolutely integral to the existence of this piece; it simply wouldn't be around without them, and I'll never be able to thank them enough for that.

 A poster design I created for the show.

A poster design I created for the show.

So, sentimental blubbering aside, what is this show? The Ballad of Lefty & Crabbe is the story of a comedy duo who find themselves down on their luck as the vaudeville circuits die and give way to the early popularity of film. Determined to stay in the entertainment business they love so dearly, the two follow a fast-talking agent to Hollywoodland, and are soon dizzy from the rapidly changing industry landscape around them.

The show is lightning quick, blissfully silly, 100% heartfelt, and designed to be a piece of pure entertainment. In many ways, it's a simple show, but in many others, it is fiercely and fascinatingly challenging, and I couldn't possibly have asked for a better team to pull it off. The casting consists of Lefty (Michael Hudgens) and Crabbe (Seth Macchi), surrounded by an ensemble of six actors (Brian Huther, Molly Denninghoff, Mike Ott, Ellen Kirk, Joshua Gleeson, and Elise Poehling) who portray some 46 additional characters throughout the show.

The piece was directed by Rusty Sneary of The Living Room, with choreography by Kyra Weinberger, costume design (no small undertaking here) by Nancy Robinson, lighting design by Lacey Pacheco, and dashes of sound design by David Kiehl. A very special kudos to the stage management team as well - led by Ellyn Calvert - who juggled more elements than I could possibly count in a stunningly flawless manner. I could go on and on about this cast and creative team, but there's too much to cover, so I'd invite you to read the reviews (below) to hear more about the incredible fruits of their labor.

One of the best things to come out of this experience was a new partnership with musician Ryan McCall, who acted as both our music director and our arranger, converting our chords and melodies into fully-fleshed out numbers that are better than I ever could have hoped. Ryan had to leave the production as accompanist after the first week, replaced by the incredible Eryn Bates, but we at Friend Dog Studios know we want to work with him again, and in fact are already getting started on our next collaboration!

"The writers and actors won me over with the sheer joy of performing and love of theater. And that’s something you can’t fake. The Ballad of Lefty & Crabbe is part of the Living Room’s mission to produce original work by local or expatriate artists. Other theater companies should take note. I suspect this show has a future."
- Robert Trussell, KC Studio

"Playwrights Ben Auxier, Brian Huther, and Seth Macchi have put together an absolutely enjoyable evening at the theater. Dialogue is tight. The jokes are funny."
- Alan Portner, Broadway World

"The team is also able to tap into some kind of immediacy — whether it’s the small theater, the local talent or the 1920s nostalgia — that makes this production something to savor. (And don’t forget to stay for the post-curtain call sequence.)"
- Christine Pivovar, The Kansas City Star

"The heartfelt performances and unbridled silliness add up to an affectionate evening of escapism. The Ballad of Lefty and Crabbe is the stage equivalent of a summer blockbuster..."
- Liz Cook, The Pitch

"Hudgens and Macchi absolutely carry the show with their singing and acting. They are a joy to watch. The interaction and camaraderie amongst the cast sends electricity to the audience. ★★★★★"
- Bob Evans, KC Applauds

The Sexy Accident - I'm Going to Love Your New Boyfriend (Music Video)

Project Roles: Actor / Co-Writer
Location: Kansas City, MO

"At your dinner party
Our eyes locking as he
Says he doesn't like Scrabble..."

Today was the public release of the music video I'm Going to Love Your New Boyfriend by The Sexy Accident, produced in conjunction with Friend Dog Studios and Cooper Films.

After being approached by bandleader Jesse Kates, Brian Huther and I had a great time developing the concept and story of the video, which was beautifully shot by Morgan Cooper and his team. I like to think of it as a bittersweet, tongue-in-cheek expression of what it's like coming to terms with the fact that your chapter in someone's life has come to an end. This was my first collaboration on a music video in any professional capacity; a wonderful learning experience resulting in an end product I'm quite fond of. Huge thanks to Jesse for the opportunity!

We decided that Brian would take the reigns as director and that I'd play the lead in the video opposite the fantastic Nicole Green. Seth Macchi plays the mysterious "boyfriend" in some of the greatest bacting* ever seen on screen.

*acting with one's back

Huge thanks to all the wonderful cast and crew! Full credits listed in the youtube description.

Check out this behind the scenes feature from director of photography Morgan Cooper!

The Joy of Memeing with Bob Ross

Project Roles: Writer / Video Editor
Location: written & edited in Chicago

"Bob Ross really memes what he says." - George Takei on facebook

We tried something a bit different in the latest Friend Dog Studios release; an anachronistic little parody/tribute to Bob Ross and the world of dank memes, both of which have a special place in my heart.

The sketch was posted to our youtube and facebook accounts on 3/13/17, and as of this post three days later, it's accumulated over half a million views altogether, thanks in large part to crossposting by Did You Know and our BFF George Takei. The reception has been almost universally positive and it's been a lot of fun to see the joy this silly piece is bringing to many.

I did most of the writing on this one - and I gotta say it's one of the easiest things I've ever done. It's a comfort to know that hours and hours of watching an instructional show on something I'm never going to try finally paid off somehow. I also handled the post-production with input from Brian and Seth. That step provided some interesting challenges, such as creating a convincing false screen, giving the footage an outdated feel, and not being lulled into a pleasant slumber every five minutes by the soothing voice.

KC actor John Rensenhouse graciously loaned us his dulcet tones in the role of Ross. The video was shot in Kansas City by Vetter Brothers Filmworks, directed by Seth Macchi. Wig and beard were played by a wig and a beard, expertly applied by our good friend Heidi Bowles.

Fake News Now

Project Roles: Co-Writer / Actor / Co-Director / Co-Video Editor
Location: Chicago, additional footage shot in Kansas City

"How do you spot fake news?
By watching this. This is literally Fake News."

Friend Dog Studios embarked on a new project with the release of Fake News Now; a parody news and variety show released March 1st, 2017 on their youtube and facebook pages.

As with many Friend Dog Studios productions, I wore a lot of hats on this one; actor, co-writer, co-director, and co-editor. The hope is that more installments of the show might be created in partnership with an interested producer.

The video was shot entirely on green screen in two different cities; Sam Ott of Peace Frame Productions was director of photography in Chicago, and Brandon Durkes of Rellitray Studios DP'd in Kansas City. Special thanks to voice over artist Sam Williamson, and to Ashley Osborn, Bobby Miller Jr, Brandon Durkes, Coleman Crenshaw, Jenny Holden, Michelle Leatherby, and Tosin Morohunfola for their cameo appearances!
 

Couples Charades

Project Roles: Director / Actor / Video Editor
Location: Kansas City, MO

"At some point in your life you've probably been the third wheel, so we can all relate to this video to some degree. Friend Dog Studios displays this awkward feeling in a more than true way..." - Right This Minute

The 2017 Valentine's release from Friend Dog Studios is all about what it's like to be surrounded by all these damn couples.

I directed, edited, and co-stars in this sketch which was penned by our brilliant guest writer Jonathon Chase. Seth Macchi takes the featured role alongside guest stars Ellen Kirk, Brianna Woods, and Donovan Woods.

The video, posted on February 11th 2017, was shot by Vetter Brothers Filmworks with audio engineering by Adam Doria. Hair & makeup by Heidi Bowles, assistant director Sam Findlay.

TV program Right This Minute did a feature on the sketch which you can see here!

2016: The Movie (Trailer)

Project Roles: Co-Writer / Actor / Director
Location: Written in Chicago, shot in Kansas City

"It’s a been an exceptionally bleak year. So dark, at times, that many have wondered whether we were all living in a real-life horror movie. But now the idea has been taken to the next level by the amazing creatives at Friend Dog Studios who have imagined the trailer for the movie of 2016. And it’s almost pant-wettingly scary." - The Huffington Post

Our comedy channel Friend Dog Studios had our biggest viral hit to date with 2016: The Movie (Trailer). As of this update on February 22nd both the youtube and facebook uploads have surpassed three and half million views, with shared copies by UniLAD and LADBible reaching tens of millions more.

I got to direct this one (with a good amount of help from Brian), as well as co-write and co-star in the trailer parody which playfully sends up the running joke that 2016 itself was out to get us. The video was uploaded December 28th, 2016 and received a flurry of media attention in the days following; getting featured by Entertainment Weekly, Cosmopolitan, Us Magazine, AV Club, Huffington Post, The Independent, NY Daily News, and many more.

It was shot and colored by the generous geniuses at Vetter Brothers Filmworks with invaluable audio engineering by Adam Doria. Along with Friend Dog Studios co-owners Brian Huther and Seth Macchi, the video features the talents of LA actress Anna Gilchrist, KC actor and improvisor David Martin (as 2016) and the voice talents of Salem Deel as the obligatory creepy-singing-trailer-kid.

To contact Friend Dog Studios please email dogandfrienddog@gmail.com
For any inquiries on using this video, please contact licensing@storyful.com

 "Guys...they shot a gorilla."

"Guys...they shot a gorilla."

Did You Know?

Project Roles: Co-Writer / Actor / Video Editor
Location: Kansas City & Chicago

"What 'right thing' will you do today?" - George Takei on facebook

My writing partner Brian Huther and I have been writing and starring in a series of fun fact videos for online informational channel Did You Know.

Did You Know, the content company behind these ultra-shareable little tidbits, has contracted us to produce comedic video renditions of some of their most popular fact sets. Actress and frequent collaborator Ellen Kirk also stars in several installments. As of the writing of this update (2/22/17), over twenty of these videos have been posted, with topics ranging from money to Star Wars to orgasms.

The videos are featured on the Did You Know and Did You Know - Video facebook pages, which have a combined reach of 5.8 million followers and growing. You can also check out all the videos in playlist form via their youtube channel.