Chicago

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

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.

MINt (Music Improv Night)

Project Role: Improviser
Location: Chicago

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Wednesday,  October 25th, was bittersweet. It was my final night performing with my MINt team before a trip to KC would cause me to leave the season early. Not only that, but the future of MINt itself was up in the air, as its longtime home MCL announced they would soon be closing their doors.

So, I suppose that's the bitter. The sweet, though, was the opportunity to do all these fun shows. Music Improv Night is a long-standing tradition of, well, what it sounds like. It's not quite a class, it's not quite a troupe, it's more like a club - a club for people who didn't know they needed to be in the club until they found themselves there.

I auditioned for MINt waaay back in July, and from there was placed onto one of three teams that performed various long and short form musical improv every Wednesday night at MCL. Few if any of us actually made it to EVERY performance, but teams are stocked with a big enough cast that the show doesn't suffer for it. I think my track record was probably around 50% of the shows between when we started at the beginning of August and when I departed in late October. I wish I could have done more, because this was a blast. Huge shoutout to my friends on the unforgettably named team The Lion, The MINt, and The Wardrobe, and to our coach Ryan Cashman. Let's keep it rolling!

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Addendum 1/30/18:
MCL Chicago has now officially closed its doors, and will be missed. I'm very happy I got to be at the goodbye party.

The Rough & The Precious

Project Role: Writer / Actor
Location: Chicago

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We wrapped our sketch show The Rough & The Precious on Friday, October 13th. The show had a limited run of four performances and was independently produced for the Blackout Cabaret stage at The Second City.

The Rough & The Precious (so named for reasons I now can't fully remember) was written and performed by Michelle Leatherby, Molly Kessler, Brian Huther, and myself, and directed by the wonderful Heather Bodie. It was my first live sketch endeavor in Chicago, and I couldn't have asked for a much better experience. Receptive but small turnout for the first two performance gave way to full houses for the last two as word began to spread, and I'm very proud of what we put together. My sincere thanks to everybody who made it out.

Performance of "When God Made the Universe"

Performance of "When God Made the Universe"

This particular foursome had never worked together, but it wasn't long before the show found a voice. That voice, while definitely eclectic, was mostly very silly and endearing. Even its biting moments were embedded in broad smiles and bouncy melodies. It was a sincere joy to perform. We'll be on the lookout for another chance to put it up when schedules allow!

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:

The Onion: Steve Jobs Cosplay

Project role: Actor
Location: Chicago

Had a lot of fun on my first ever shoot with The Onion here in Chicago!

I've been a fan of The Onion and Clickhole for a long time, so getting the chance to visit the offices and get in on the action a little was a real treat. Hope there's more to come!

The video was posted to their facebook and twitter accounts on 9/22/17.

I Joined the Cast of Dinner Detective Chicago!

Project role: Actor/Comedian
Location: Chicago & Schaumburg

"It's a thrill!" - TimeOut

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After a few years of semi-regular performances with The Dinner Detective Kansas City, I've joined the Chicago/Schaumburg branch where it all started!

Dinner Detective is an interactive murder mystery dinner theatre show, full of surprise suspects, plot twists, and mostly lots of laughs.

Depending on the night, I may be blending into the unsuspecting crowd, waiting to play my part in the story, or acting as Detective, which is the role I usually played in KC. The Detective role is a real blast for me - combing lose script narrative performance with improvisation and stand-up style crowd work. It keeps me on my toes even when I've done a particular show dozens of times; it'll never be the same twice.

The company currently performs public shows in both downtown Chicago (Hilton Garden Inn) and Schaumburg (Chicago Marriott Schaumburg) most Saturday evenings, and is available for private bookings as well. Visit thedinnerdetective.com for tickets and more information.

Catego TV Ad

Project Role: Actor
Location: Chicago


"I am fast like-a the lightning, pow-pow!"

I don't think I've ever had this much fun working on just one line of dialogue.

I provided the voice of "Lightning Cat," one of three different feline characters featured in a new ad for Catego. The job was booked through my Kansas City agency Exposure for  Evolution Audio, who kindly agreed to patch me in from ARU Studio in Chicago for the recording session. The ads are being used online as well as TV in certain regions of the country.

Audio Recording Unlimited - 625 North Michigan Ave, Chicago

Audio Recording Unlimited - 625 North Michigan Ave, Chicago

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!
 

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.