Amadeus: Week Two

Project role: Actor
Location: Colorado Springs

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

Checkin' out the Fortepiano 

Checkin' out the Fortepiano 

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

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

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

Mark loves working with me!

Mark loves working with me!

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

 

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

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

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Let Me Get This Straight - Pilot Episode

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amadeus: Week One

Project role: Actor
Location: Colorado Springs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Table read at the first rehearsal on Tuesday.

Table read at the first rehearsal on Tuesday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

(READ WEEK 2's BLOG ENTRY HERE)

A Brief History of April Fools' Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gann Asphalt & Concrete Ad

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

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

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

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

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

History of the Internet

Project role: Sound Designer
Location: Chicago

Image by Michelle Leatherby.

Image by Michelle Leatherby.

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

This is the History of the Internet.

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

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

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

Facebook Event Here
Website Listing Here

Image by Michelle Leatherby.

Image by Michelle Leatherby.

Movies: Live! Anchorman

Project role: Actor / Improviser
Location: Chicago

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

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

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

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

An Enemy of the People

Project role: Actor (Extra)
Location: Chicago

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

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

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

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

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Along the Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mary Scruggs Works by Women Festival

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday night's cast

Saturday night's cast

The Ballad of Lefty & Crabbe at CMTF

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

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

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

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

 

Table read with the cast.

Table read with the cast.

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

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

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

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

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

Snapshot from our expedited rehearsal process.

Snapshot from our expedited rehearsal process.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part of the Chicago Musical Theatre Festival

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

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

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

Costume designer Nancy Robinson
Production assistant / understudy Bob Linebarger

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.

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
 

No Sleep November 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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:

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.

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.