Day 7: Monologues

14 Skills for 14 Days a.k.a. Stay Home, Learn Skills

Day 7: Monologues

So many actors are suddenly circling back to their monologue and self-tape work. Just stand alone in front of a camera and do theater. Perfect for isolation.

I’ve done a lot of this on both sides of the camera. I’ve helped friends create self-tapes for everyone from scam Craigslist agency ads to Jason Bateman.

Sure, talking to yourself is a notorious sign of going a little bit bananas while you’re isolated. But if it’s for a good cause…

I thought about making a new digital monologue for this post, but honestly nothing tops this gem I made in 2010 in terms of what to do with too much time on your hands.

14 Skills for 14 Days

14 Skills for 14 Days a.k.a. Stay Home, Learn Skills.

It has come to my attention that many people are suddenly looking for creative options for socially-distanced activities.

Not to brag, but between the ages of 10-15, I was pretty incredible at social distancing.

I had very few friends. I was homeschooled. I participated in solo sports like tumbling, trampolining, and rock climbing. My hobbies included hiking, learning circus skills from books, and reading science-fiction.

DIY skills
A plethora of self-teaching books

And honestly, I got a LOT done. The skills I developed in that window have gotten me a foot in the door for a lot of professional artist gigs. And I’ve never gotten back to that level of self-taught productivity. Sure, I’ve had windows of social downtime that have led to picking up weird skill sets (learning jumpstyle dance in 2012, becoming a freelance audiobook narrator in 2016) but the years of my childhood where I got out of the house the least were the years that I picked up the most special skills.

Now, I’m not going to talk about *WHY* someone might be looking to spend a lot of time practicing new skills at home. That’s not my field of expertise. I’m not trained as a sociologist or epidemiologist. I cannot speak to the state of the world or best practices for personal health.

I’m trained as a writer and entertainer. And if people are looking for ways to stay occupied for 14 (or more) days at home, well BY GOLLY I’m going to give it to them.

For the next 14 days, I’m committing to staying in my house and practicing socially distanced creative skills. During this time, I’d like to share one skill a day that I have successfully taught myself. Some of them I’m good at. Some of them I’m bad at. But most importantly, all of them are fun challenges that YOU TOO CAN TRY FROM THE SAFETY OF YOUR OWN HOME.

The subjects I’ll be covering include:

  1. Monday, March 16th – Baking Bread
  2. Tuesday, March 17th – Juggling
  3. Wednesday, March 18th – Cartooning
  4. Thursday, March 19th – Unicycling
  5. Friday, March 20th – Stop-Motion Video
  6. Saturday, March 21st – Break dancing
  7. Sunday, March 22nd – Self-tape Monologues & Solo theater
  8. Monday, March 23rd – Building a catapult
  9. Tuesday, March 24th – Puppetry
  10. Wednesday, March 25th – Yo-yoing
  11. Thursday, March 26th – Headstands & handstands
  12. Friday, March 27th – Moonwalking
  13. Saturday, March 28th – Audiobook Narration
  14. Sunday, March 29th – Tabletop Theater

If anyone has a range of skills they’d like to spend two weeks sharing from home, I challenge them to create their own iteration of this. Let the games begin!

 

Explorations: Eco-puppetry

It’s a rainy fall day here in Pittsburgh.

I’m digging through some previous work for inspiration. I stumbled across a video edit I made in 2017. I was tasked with creating an ecologically-minded piece of performance research. It was a stressful semester, so my approach was to just walk off into the woods with a friend and make a puppet out of natural objects. It was there we discovered Bark Dog, the Autumnal Good Boy.

I edited the research footage a couple different ways, and then forgot about it for two years. Now you can take an inside look at the explorations we made. Two years later, I still find him utterly charming.

Career Planning for Artists

There are no perfect plans.

From 2015-2016, I spent a year making different styles of art projects. The plan was to try everything I was potentially interested, and go to grad school for whatever I was most successful in. I tried it, I successfully wrote a lot, so I went and got an MFA in Dramatic Writing.

I like writing. But (as evidenced by my Finding the Framework challenges) I also like a lot of other things. Even after trying to spend two years concentrating on writing, I’ve ended up trying a lot of different projects. I joined an aerial dance company.

I started working for the Andy Warhol Museum

I started turning trash into puppets. And then touring shows with those trash puppets.

I joined the team for the largest immersive theater piece in town.

Three years ago, I thought I was playing with different disciplines to find my specialty. Now I can see that ‘playing with different disciplines’ is my specialty.

There’s no way I could have planned a path to end up here. I’ve discovered more of my next steps on accident than I have on purpose. Any accurate maps I have of what I’m doing are being drawn in retrospect. The creative process is all about discovery, so why shouldn’t the career plans be as well?

A Year of Kicking my Brain in the Face

This is it.  It has been one year since I embarked on my Finding the Framework challenge.  I would say that I had no idea what I was signing up for on Oct 1st, 2015.  But let’s be real.  I knew this would be a comprehensive and exhausting creative challenge.  I’ve pushed myself as hard this year as any year during my undergraduate career, pursuing projects that were well beyond my comfort zone.

While I feel that I could have gone further with many of these projects, I’ve come to terms with the fact that a year is still a finite length of time.  I’ve explored a wide range of avenues of artistic projects, and have ended up with a much clearer picture of where my strengths and interests lie than I had a year ago.

I’ll spend some time in the next few months synthesizing my experiences pursuing different artistic fields, but here at the 1 year mark, I’d like to briefly overview each category, and rate how successful I think each challenge was:

1. Write a novel – 8/10

novel

Last November, I completed a 50,000 word manuscript as part of National Novel Writing Month.  I’ve written similar projects before, and thoroughly enjoy the intensive one month writing project.  However, I know the draft has a number of plot holes and stylistic flaws.  I didn’t invest time in rewrites, and while I know I’ll be writing more prose fiction manuscripts, I don’t anticipate them reaching a professional level any time soon.

2. Write a full-length play – 10/10

playwriting

This is my jam.  Writing roadmaps for living, thinking people to play with and put into action in real time and space is a place where so many of my creative drives overlap.  I wrote a play Baikonur to complete thins challenge, which I’ve submitted to some workshops and am also revising on my own.  Buuut, just for good measure I also wrote the 50 minute show Outside the Lines, and the short plays Road Rage, Unknowingly Agnostic, Waiting for Kyle, Give Me the Chicken and a collection of monologues for both Caution: Not a Step and Find Your Backyard.

3. Perform in a play – 10/10

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I performed in a 2 week run of Deirdre of the Sorrows at the Dairy Arts Center, for 2 weeks of my solo show Outside the Lines in the Boulder International Fringe Festival, and in short runs of Find Your Backyard, Caution: Not a Step, and Five 5ths of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth.  I realized during Outside the Lines, though- I’m really not looking for a career as an actor.  I am capable of acting, and sometimes I enjoy it.  But performing night after night onstage in major roles takes a huge amount of energy from me, and I know it’s not something I could sustain for a routine work schedule.  I will continue to end up on stage, but realizing that stage acting is not going to be my primary artistic pursuit has really helped to hone down my focus for future projects.

4. Perform in a dance showcase – 6/10

dance

If I had world enough and time… This year started off well.  Back when I sat at my desk job, swimming in tens of dollars of expendable income, I could pay for aerial dance classes in my free evenings, and jazz dance classes during my lunch breaks.  And then I began to get more serious about my artistic pursuits.  The expendable income went away as I began sinking money into producing shows.  And the free evenings went away as I began designing costumes and teching shows.  And then the lunch breaks went away as I transitioned to freelance work.  And so the dance went away, and I was left rehearsing my movement pieces alone in apartment with no appropriate dance flooring.

But gosh darn it, I performed my dance piece anyways.  There was music, I moved around in a relatively coordinated manner, and people clapped at the end.  That’s all that matters, right?  Caution: Not a Step was honestly much better received at the Ft. Collins Fringe than I thought it would be, and this was definitely an activity that stretched my boundaries as an artist.

5. Produce a show – 10/10 

Production.JPG

Prior to this challenge, I had only officially produced 2 theatrical events outside of college- one staged reading, and a one-night only dinner theater show.  Now, in the past 6 months alone, I have produced a 30 minute dance theater showcase (Caution: Not a Step), a 50 minute play (Outside the Lines), a 75 minute variety show (Find Your Backyard), and a 10 minute act for a fundraiser (Give Me the Chicken).  Now that I’ve realized that I possess all the tools to make original live entertainment happen, I have a feeling the fun is only just beginning.

6. Produce a music album – 7/10

Album.jpg

To stick to the original challenge, yes, I teamed up with composer Nigel Deane to create a soundtrack for Outside the Lines.  And by that, I mean I threw some ideas and words at Nigel, and he came back with fully formed auditory masterpieces.  But hey, team effort, right?

But, in the world of audio production, this year I realized another major field where my various interests overlap.  Audiobook production.  I took a class on audiobook narration starting the first week of this challenge, and it caught my attention.  One year later, I’m finishing up the editing on my 10th audiobook title.  I had never even thought that it was a plausible freelance gig to pursue, but all it took was a little creative push and some support, and now I have a whole new avenue of creative projects.

7. Create a webcomic – 4/10

Webcomic.jpg

I absolutely love comics.  I now also realize how much time, effort, and creative energy they take to routinely produce.  And patience, big time.  Technically, I did create a webcomic this year- Best Fiends.  However, I have only completed 5 strips, and haven’t developed any routines or patterns for consistent drawing and posting like I had hoped to.  But through my research and attempts, I have a much better understanding of the process of creating webcomics, and certainly have more practice than I did before this year.

8. Create a short film – 5/10

Short film.png

I had really hoped to spend a week out in the sand dunes shooting a short post-apocalyptic comedy with actor friends from around the country.  I had kind of hoped to spend a weekend in an empty office building filming a comedic short about internships.  I had vaguely been interested in drawing strange cartoon hedgehogs on old brown paper packaging and animating them to music.  But then I got sucked into all my other projects and put all my resources into show producing.  So I ended up with some eclectic promotional videos instead, like this one.  and this one.

I hope to put together at least one more project from footage and ideas I got from this year.  But for the time being, you can also have a link to the Five 5ths of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth footage as consolation.

9. Display an artwork at a gallery – 2/10

Gallery.JPG

Yeah… about the whole “gallery” thing.  I’m not going to pretend that I can casually teach myself to be a successful visual artist from a couple of books and youtube videos.  I had kind of planned to just display an artwork in a nearby community arts collective on one of their open studio nights.  And then I stopped by one of their events and realized that a lot of their events were centered around talking through their experiences with mind-altering substances and sharing paintings of flowers resembling genitalia.  Thanks, Boulder.

Ironically, I now actually work part-time in a building with several galleries, and talk through art with paintings and have actually made a couple of sales.  I’m refining plans for a collection of sarcastic art jokes masquerading as a gallery, but I couldn’t rush through it enough to fit it within the official year of the project.  Stay tuned though!

10. Learn to make macarons – 8/10

Macaron.JPG

I am so glad I added this challenge on to the end of the list.  Honestly, I think this was the category that I had the most growth in.  I started at a skill level of absolute zero as far as macarons were concerned, with my first batch ending up as sticky, almond-flavored glop.  Now I have the process down to a relative habit, and can whip up a batch with little effort, complete with a custom maple-brown syrup filling.

On top of these official challenges, I have also ended up fully submerged in all the arts world related activities that falls between the lines of the categories I laid out.  It’s a little ridiculous how much things have changed.  At the start of the challenge, I was an assistant at a small publishing company who did performing arts on the side.  Now, I’m a freelance artist working for a number of the region’s big arts groups for a living.  In the past year, I have been paid to work as a costumer, carpenter, welder, props manager, stage manager, actor, producer, playwright, director, stagehand, lighting technician, sound engineer, projection designer, makeup artist, house manager, and box office manager.  I’ve taken some substantial risks, failed spectacularly a number of times, and racked up a huge pile of rejections.  But letting go and leaping into the unknown has led me to a crazy new life as a fully fledged member of the artistic community.  I still have a long way to go, but I really can say: I found the framework.

Finding the Framework: Dance Performance

I set out to perform a dance in a show at some point during Finding the Framework, and by golly, I was going to perform a dance.  Due to schedule and mostly not being able to afford dance classes and recital fees for local programs, I made the totally reasonable decision to just produce another show and do a dance piece in that.

focofringe

Caution: Not a Step was a variety showcase that incorporated sufficient movement and musicality that parts of it could indeed be considered ‘dance’.  There were also the usual shenanigans – stand up comedy, handstands, backwards Shakespeare, and impromptu juggling classes with audience members set to ragtime music…

Juggling class.jpg

The show was in an arts collective warehouse on the outskirts of Ft. Collins and I had absolutely no time to market or promote the performance.  Somehow though, I still had larger crowds for some of my 30 minute acts than for some of my full Boulder Fringe performance of Outside the Lines.  It was great to get to bring a weird, experimental show to a community that was so ready to embrace the full fringe-eyness of the festival.

Throwing My Hat In the Ring

The 2016 Boulder International Fringe Festival is well under way now, with all of the acts having performed at least half of their shows.

Outside the Lines is probably one of the hardest projects I’ve ever done- certainly one of the hardest I’ve ever done without a larger creative team.  I’ve been working on the writing for 8 months, designing for 5 months, rehearsing for 2 months, and now it’s finally being performed for a paying audience.  I made it!

But then I look around.

To be realistic, most of the shows in the festival are better than mine.  There are shows in the festival that have performed in New York, Canada, Scotland, and Australia.  There are Off-Broadway actors, people who have been doing this for decades, people with sponsors, or organizations supporting them, or carefully cultivated audiences who will attend anything they produce.

I’ve thrown my hat into a broad and impressive ring full of artists.  I believe that I do have a distinct message, a story in my show that only I could tell.  I’m fairly confident that I have a premise and setting never before used by an American playwright.  But that’s not going to make my show stand out over the others.

I got reviewed by ALOC Media, the local indie artist press.  The review itself isn’t great, but it’s honest.  It evaluates the show in its context, relative to its neighbors.  I could spend years honing and refining my script and performance, and still be out of reaching the competition.  Adam Smith of the SF Neofuturists has a great piece, Theatre Show that makes bolder, more compelling meta-theater choices than anything I’ve seen live.  John Fico has a solo show Made For Each Otherthat does everything I’d ever want a one-man show to do (compelling story, song and dance, well-structured narrative, cross-dressing…).  Studio Playhaus, a dark horse group of young theater entrepreneurs, has toured up a marvelously polished production, EllieIda, that is jam-packed with fast paced physical comedy, well executed non-linear narrative, and powerful feminism.

It’s a crazy beautiful world of independent art out there.

Outside the Lines – Soundtrack!

Well, I set out in October with a goal for this year to produce a music album.  As someone with a horrible singing voice, only moderately horrible ukulele skills, and no music composition training, I had no idea what was going to lead to that result.

But over the year I’ve been realizing more and more how much I enjoy collaborative projects- specifically, collaborations with skilled and passionate artists.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve gotten to work with Nigel Deane on a number of shows in the past 3 years, and contacted him as soon as I decided I needed new music as part of my Fringe performance.  He’s worked tirelessly on the project all summer- flying in to Boulder for a week of rehearsals and recordings, and writing, editing, and composing back in Texas for 2 months.

Now the soundtrack is finished!  You can listen to all the tracks here.  I’m excited to be performing to this score in a frighteningly short amount of time now.

I hadn’t expected to be part of the creation of an album of new music in this context- as a writer collaborating with a composer to create symbiotic music and text.  While most of it is going to be a live mix of text and music, I really like the way Nigel mastered this track, bringing the music together with the spoken word of a non-representational flashback segment.  The credit belongs to Nigel, as well as my wife Grace and the guitarist Nathan Fenner for their skillful contributions to the album.  But as this is exactly the sort of way that I want to help catalyze new music projects in the future, I’m going to chalk this up as a Mission Accomplished for the album goal.  Yay music!

 

Outside the Lines- Set Design

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The set is ready!

I made some last minute changes involving me not wanting to have to do carpentry in the parking lot, and now I have all the final pieces for what building the world of Outside the Lines!

More info about the show.

Troilus and Cressida Revisited

This winter I read and wrote a little about the play Troilus and Cressida.  It made my reading list because it was announced as part of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival‘s 2016 season, and I had never read it.  I attended their auditions for the season, but didn’t land a part.  I thought, “oh, well, at least I’ll get a chance to see it this summer” and that was that.

Then in May I got an email asking if I wanted to come in and help hang some lights for the festival’s outdoor space.  That’s the thing about arts immersion- when you establish yourself as a generally useful person, a surprising number of people start asking you to lend a hand on projects.

I was hired to hang lights, then when the lights were hung I was asked to work in carpentry for Comedy of Errors before it opened.  Then Comedy opened, and I was asked to help in the metal shop.  After the metal shop, it was over to the props department to help sew banners. And after the banners it was the crew changing sets in rep in the outdoor space…

I was initially asked to help with the first two weeks in May, before the festival even opened.  Now it’s August, and I’m spending all of next week as part of the team striking the festival.  It’s been a crazy summer, learning and practicing a whole range of skills that weren’t even covered on my list of fully immersive arts experiences for the year.  When I read this play a year ago, I never expected that I’d be getting to build and raise the gates of Troy every week this July, nor that I would get to tear them down myself before the summer was over.

Troilus and Cressida Set 4
Photo credit- Colorado Shakespeare Festival