Jul 31, 2016

Camp Cooking Backyard Test

For the last few days I've had a hankering to go camping. Two things: 1.) I don't have a bunch of money to sink on buying gear and 2.) it is too hot here in Texas to actually go camp out for a while.

To remedy the first, I am frugally gathering equipment, some of it DIY. For the weather, I'll just have to wait until the wort of the summer dies down.

Here's me testing a Mainstay "Grease Pot" I got from Walmart for under $7. It should work out pretty well considering I won't be using it too terribly often.

Watch more of my videos at: http://youtube.com/dribblefunk

Jul 28, 2016

My history in comedy

Over the years, since the early 2000s, I have performed in a variety of comedy troupes and related acts. There was sketch comedy then improv. Ensemble work, then solo improv. Live shows now podcasts. I have learned a great deal from each troupe, even (or especially) when the troupe featured volatile interpersonal dynamics. I have discovered over the past 20 years that I like to be in charge, that I like virtuousity and experimentation and that I am comfortable not being the "funniest guy on stage," but the most dependably skilled craftsman. 

Below is an overview if the many comedy troupe/acts I have been involved with...

Santa Fe, NM (1996-1998)

In college, me and a classmate named Walter Wong put together a sketch comedy troupe on campus. We had about seen members and ran for three years (I left after 2 to study abroad in London).

I had my first taste of running a performance troupe as well as writing and performing comedy. As a group, we clashed internally a few times, but the shows were always awesome.

New York, NY (1999-2000)

Started by Erin Scott, this troupe originally performed sketches in the back room of the Telephone Bar in New York City. I liked the people involved quite a bit. It was me, Erin, Todd, Lydia and Jacqueline. I remember we rehearsed a lot, usually in the backyard of Erin's apartment, which was a teeny tiny backyard.

We also rehearsed several times in the downstairs space of a Dean & Deluca coffeeshop south of Union Square, which felt like a very chic place to rehearse.

I wrote a lot of sketches. I designed the posters.

This troupe eventually started doing improv because, Erin just declared one day that we would be an improv troupe and would stop doing sketch. I performed another time or two, but having no interest in improv at the time, I gradually pulled away from this troupe.

A few months later, I moved back to Texas from New York.

Dallas, TX (2000-2005)

Founded by my friend Vikas Adam and myself, this little troupe specialized in "experimental" comedy.

Final MD show at 2005 Out of Bounds Comedy Festival, Austin TX

Dallas, TX (2004-2006)

Last show of FCDs... March 25, 2006 at the Pocket Sandwich Theater

In 2004 Mild Dementia was performing at the West End Comedy Theater in Dallas. A Canadian guy named Brandon Enriques was working there as a bartender and approached me about being in an improv group he was putting together. Since I hadn't performed much improv up until that point, I said "sure."

It was a lot of fun at the beginning, though I quickly grew to hate the short form games. Brandon proved to be an inefficient leader and was often high while doing the actual sets. He drifted off after a few months and I kept the troupe performing under the same name for another year, expanding our gigs to the Pocket Sandwich Theater and to the Out of Bounds Festival in Austin. 

French Club Dropouts at the 2005 Out of Bounds Comedy Festival, Austin TX

The troupe was composed of Brandon, me, Victoria Hines, Angie Epley, Jeff Swearingen and John Rawley. The French Club Dropouts came to an end with a show at the Pocket Sandwich Theatre in March of 2006. Brandon came back to do the final show.

Dallas, TX (2004-2014)

Fun Grip at the 2010 Big Sexy Weekend of Improv (Addison TX)
Jeff Swearingen and I had worked together for several years and as Mild Dementia wound down, we decided the put together an improv duo. We also did French Club Dropouts on top of this, but they came a bit later.

Originally, we were called Fun Dip, but changed it a few years in. Jeff and I look like a comedy duo: he's wiry and short, I'm tall and heavy. We morphed into a good team over the decade we performed together. We would give each other a hard time on stage or try to crack each other up, all while maintaining a reasonable forward-moving narrative filled with off-kilter characters.

We traveled and performed widely. Unfortunately, we didn't do well when it came to workshops. Jeff and I differ on our teaching methods and our views on storytelling. Eventually, the thing ran its course, precipitated by a disasterous weekend in Tulsa, Oklahoma where we missed the first night, taught a confusing and aggressive workshop and then bombed during our final show. To top it off, there was an ice storm on the drive back to Dallas.

We just kind of stopped booking gigs (well, I did. I was the organizer of the troupe. Jeff just showed up and performed). This was 2014. I also started turning way from improv around this time period as well, no longer finding it as fulfilling as I once had.

Jeff and I performing as Fun Grip at the 2013 Improv Festival of Oklahoma (Oklahoma City OK)

Dallas, TX (2005-2014)

Dribble Funk is a completely improvised (i.e. NOT scripted) solo performance format I developed starting in early 2005. The piece usually lasts anywhere from 20 to 50 minutes - sometimes longer. It starts with either a short, informal Q and A with an audience member or a one-word suggestion. This chat or suggestion becomes the fodder for a spontaneous act of theatre. During the Dribble Funk, the solo performer portrays multiple characters in a cascading, interrelated network of improvised scenes, songs, monologues, abstractions and audience interactions that evolve into an unexpected multi-arc storyline. The structure and techniques of the format continue to evolve with each performance, but the Dribble Funk essentially surfaces in that crossroads between traditional theatre, long-form improvisation and storytelling.

A HISTORY (of sorts)...
Before I performed improv, I did a great deal of sketch comedy. Booking sketch groups into festivals and venues around the country became a pain in the ass. Sketch involved coordinating rehearsals with everyone, supplying travel and lodging for multiple troop members, including transporting and storing props, setting up tech rehearsals, and a hundred other logistics that had nothing to do with the actual performance. Improv groups were the same (except for the props). People inevitably complained, caused friction or refused to pull their weight and the shows suffered. I began searching for a very portable alternative that would also offer more challenge for me personally. What could I do with no props, and for that matter, nobody else on stage? I began doing traditional scripted solo theatre work around this time. I'd heard of Andy Eninger and his Sybil format in 2003 or 2004 (I later directed one of his plays). I never saw him perform solo, but I figured hey, if someone is doing it... About this same time, my friend Bearded Lamb also began doing solo improv. Then, a few years later I stumbled upon Jill Bernard and her wonderful format Drum Machine. I discovered the actual sub-arcana of solo improvisation is pretty scarce. After all, who'd be crazy enough to actually do this stuff? Improv is rough enough with a whole group of people. But to do it alone?!

Solo improv brought with it lots of technique/performance problems regular actors/improvisers never have to deal with. I figured the best thing to do was workshop it. I believe in process and experimentation and by running the beast in front of live audiences I could constantly tweak, rearrange, re-develop and whittle away at it. 

I had the opportunity to work on Dribble Funk over the course of numerous performances in order to create a completely original solo-improvised format. This format includes multiple characters, multi-pronged story arcs, unique interactions with the audience, live music, and interactive artworks. The goal was to develop a fast-paced, utterly original hybrid theatrical event: a unique celebration that is an abstraction of ordinary long-form improvisation and traditional static (i.e. storyteller sits in chair) storytelling. This new hybrid would be a pure and true act of theatre! 



For a time, in late 2005 and early 2006, I teamed up with a kick-ass guitarist, Mr. Jaymes Gregory (who's a performer in his own right). Mr. Gregory accompanied the performance with an improvised score as I unfolded a refracted, cascading improvisation. Mr. Gregory and I took this version of the Dribble Funk to various venues in the Dallas area. Then, Mr. Gregory bailed on a show and I realized in order for it to be truly solo improvisation I'd have to keep developing the format. The addition of live music, especially as an opener to the evening, however, proved fortunate. In the summer of 2008 I finally had a chance to work with Andy Eninger at Chicago's The Second City and absorb some of the techniques of his format SybilSybil shares some performance techniques with the Dribble Funk. There seems to be some necessary overlap, though enough differences to make them each distinct formats (Dribble Funk for example, uses a Narrator/Presenter character that is separate from the other characters or the performer of the piece, while Sybil focuses exclusively on the characters themselves relaying the incidents of the scenes). 

I have had the pleasure to perform Dribble Funk in places as disparate as Tulsa, Oklahoma and Hong Kong, with many venues in between.

As of autumn 2008 development of Dribble Funk has slowed considerably as other projects have popped up to fill my plate. Then, a concentrated focus on Dribble Funk re-emerged in mid-2010. Currently, I perform the piece occasionally, as it fits in with a wider body of artistic work I am pursuing.

In 2013 I performed a 380 minute (over 6 hours) Dribble Funk set alone onstage, in celebration of my 38th birthday. It was called Dribble Funk 380
In the summer of 2014, I performed the Dribble Funk for the last time (for the foreseeable future).

Dallas, TX (2007-2008)

I joined John Rawley, Ben Bryant and Jeff Swearingen in the improv troupe they put together a few months before a returned from living for a year in Hong Kong.

The troupe did short and long form improv. Over time, I disagreed with the direction I wanted the work to go. I wanted more "giant robot" scenerios and absolutely NO short form. Rawley, who was acting as makeshift leader, preferred grounded, realistic interactions and a mix of short and long form. Also, they expanded the troupe to nearly nine people at one point. Stage time became minimal with so many people. 

I parted ways with the troupe amicably and occasionally still perform with them. They are good people, just weren't doing the kind of improv I wanted to do. Coincidentally, they dropped short form and leveled the troupe at five members later on (Ben also moved on, but James Chandler, Kyle Bradford and Brian Kinkade stepped in). They also leaned more and more towards bizarre and non-realistic scenerios in the years that followed.

Dallas, TX (2011-present)

Here's the idea: a lone performer on the stage takes a suggestion given by the audience and then simply tells a compelling story or monologue, in character, based on that suggestion. I have been interested in this precisely because of the apparent simplicity.

Anyway, before the holidays in 2010, I brought the idea up to my friend John Rawley, who runs the Alternative Comedy Theater as a possible project and new format to work on. He liked it, so we gathered up our friend and colleague (and all-around improv guy) Jeff Swearingen and rehearsed the format a a few times.

The Monologue Jam is a simple (perhaps new?) format presented in two possible sections. 

Section one involves individual performers taking a stab at improvised story-telling based on an audience suggestion.

Section two - the optional one - is a "round robbin" (or "jam") session where the performers tag in and out continuing a single storyline based on an audience suggestion.
The Monologue Jam continues to evolve. In 2014 & 2015 it became its own stand-alone evening with the addition of games, contests, give-aways, etc. Tyler Bryce ended up hosting it in Austin at the Institution Theater as a monthly gig in 2015 and 2016, expanding the concept with monologue workshops and even (on one occasion) puppetry.

» February 2011 at Cafe Bohemia (Plano TX) First Annual
» January 2012 at Cafe Bohemia (Plano TX) Second Annual
» June 2012 as part of the Big Sexy Weekend of Improv, Dyer Street Bar (Dallas TX)
» July 2012 at the Cafe Bohemia (Plano TX) as part of a fund-raiser
» January 2013 at Cafe Bohemia (Plano TX) Third Annual
» May 2013 as part of the Big Sexy Weekend of Improv, Pocket Sandwich Theater (Dallas TX)
» March 2014 at Cafe Bohemia (Plano TX) 4th Annual 
» July 2014 as part of the Big Sexy Weekend of Improv, Margo Jones Theatre (Dallas TX)
» November 2014 at the Margo Jones Theatre, Fair Park (Dallas TX)
» June 2015 as part the Big Sexy Weekend of Improv, Pocket Sandwich Theater (Dallas TX)
» Starting in January 2015 thru late 2016 the Monologue Jam branched out to Austin, Texas as well, at the Institution Theater, hosted by Tyler Bryce.
» The Monologue Jam made a return as part of the 2018 and 2019 Big Sexy Weekend of Improv presented by the Alternative Comedy Theater.
» July 9, 2022 saw a return of the Monologue Jam, hosted by founder Brad McEntire at the 12th Annual Big Weekend of Improv presented by the Alternative Comedy Theater.

Online improvised podcast (2015-present)

Jul 27, 2016

New place to get work done

Found a great little coffee shop in my neighborhood. Good place to get some work done. # WritersLife

Jul 26, 2016

My Home in Dallas

Two years ago, I left this comment on a post by Will Power in regards to his article on HowlRound. He had recently moved to Dallas with his family so he could be the Artist-in-residence at the Dallas Theater Center. I have tweaked it a bit and reposted it here. It sums up what I set out to do and why I chose Dallas to do it in...

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Will, great post! You know, I'm operating on the fringe-size/indie side of things and I discovered the same thing about Dallas (which was a surprising revelation because I grew up around here).
I lived and worked in NYC. And I have visited Chicago for long stints at a time. When I finally committed to a career as a theatre-maker and turned my attention to specializing in my own idiosyncratic stage creations, I considered moving a bunch of different places: Minneapolis, Seattle or joining the bulk of my playwriting colleagues who have nestled in Brooklyn. 
Then I started thinking about what I actually wanted to do.
I had some concrete aims:
I wanted to create theatre where it didn't cost an arm and leg. Simple things like getting rehearsal space or building sets didn't have to be logistical nightmares. I'll admit, 24 hour places like Walmart, Kinko's and CVS are handy when you are producing theatre. So is having mega hardware stores like Lowe's nearby. After trying to move a couch across several boroughs in NYC one time for a play I realized I liked having space and easy transportation (heck yeah to harnessing the power of a pick-up truck for theatre!). These are all practical considerations of the actual "making" process that I took for granted until I went to other big cities around the country. I have lived in New York, but also in London and Hong Kong. Making theatre in these cities was difficult.
I didn't want to spend a fortune just to maintain a sustenance-level lifestyle. Dallas is comparatively inexpensive and the standard of living is super high. I have rented those four bedroom houses you talked about, complete with huge backyards and plenty of space, central air and heat, etc. for less than the amount I used to spend to sublet a *room* back in NYC. With space comes a surprising level of freedom (for rehearsals, meetings, thinking, building, etc.)
I wanted to travel. My wife casually pointed out on a map one time that Dallas is centered literally in the middle of the entire country. With a giant international airport here and no aversion to driving places (hell, it takes more than 12 hours to drive across the state... so pretty much anywhere in the midwest or south seems pretty close by Texas standards) Dallas makes a great "homebase." I consider the whole country my "field of operation" and keep coming back to Dallas as my welcoming HQ. From here I've taken pieces to festivals and venues all over North America.
Lastly, I didn't realize southern hospitality was an actual thing until I went other places. Dallas is a welcoming place. The arts patrons here are curious, sophisticated and actually pretty open-minded. Dallas, like Austin, is a little dash of blue in a mostly red state, politically. I like that. It is a good mix. I'm not saying there is more audience than other places, just that most of the time, the audiences here in Dallas are pretty engaged and smart. 
I'm producing my first large arts festival - the Dallas Solo Fest - at the historic Margo Jones Theatre in Fair Park later this month and I have solo performers coming in from all over the country. As the lead up to the fest is underway, it has been a pleasure to begin to show off Dallas to them. I'm hoping they leave with a good impression of the place and community here.
Anyway, great write-up, Will. Glad you and your fam are here. Glad you have experienced the positive side of Dallas for a working theatre artist.

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I am about to move into a new chapter in my theatre career, with a new focus. But I am still gonna be here around Dallas. It is still my home and my artistic HQ.

Jul 12, 2016

Book Report: The Compound Effect

I have been reading a lot lately. I read year round, but sometimes, I devour book after book because I'm in search of ideas. These times come when I am in a period of reinvention. This happens about every five years or so, which is pretty understandable. How many five year segments does a person get in life? Maybe ten or so after one is all out of formal schooling. 

Ten years ago, I started getting really into improv. Before that I was a gigging actor and sketch comedy guy. Five years back I drifted into solo performance big time. One thing kind of leads to another. I don't reinvent the wheel, I just pick a variation on a larger path (as a theatre artist who specializes in narratives) and see how far I can go. I'm not a hundred percent sure what is coming next, but I know I'm restless for new horizons. 

One of the books that I've picked up recently has been Darren Hardy's THE COMPOUND EFFECT.

I had never heard of Darren Hardy before. Apparently, he's a motivational dude comparable to Tony Robbins. He shows up in his own book preseting himself as quite a big deal, which was initially a bit of a put-off, but once I got past that, I found he has a lot of worthwhile things to say. 

The book doesn't break new ground, but the benefit of it is putting all the common sense stuff we need to hear, but often forget, all in one place.

  • Track everything.
  • There's no substitute for hard work.
  • Cut out distractions.
  • Figure out why you are doing what you are doing
  • Small, incremental changes add up over time.
  • Don't quite, keep going.

So, nothing groundbreaking. But Hardy puts all these things together in such a simple, accessible way. 

The things that I took away from the book have really stuck with me and I have started applying them directly to my life. For instance, Hardy reiterates that little seemingly inconsequential decisions really do either add to one's life or take away from it. 

For instance, he uses the example of three friends. One starts eating slightly less (like 125 calories less) per day by doing small things such as having one less soda or switching mustard in place of mayo on his sandwiches. A second friend doesn't make any change in his diet at all. A third friend puts a bit more luxury into his life. He puts a bigger screen television in his house and fixed himself cocktails in the evenings. After a few months, there was no noticeable difference between the friends. But after 30 months, the three friends had very different outcomes. The first guy had lost 20-something pounds. The second fiend didn't change at all. The third friend was 20-something pounds heavier. Just from the small, seemingly irrelevant actions, the compound effect yields drastically different results in the long-run.

Hardy goes on to point out, if friend one and three had stopped their actions after a short time, they would have seen very little effect. The big change happens in the long term. So, keep going. The take-away is to keep going.

I totally fall into the trap of instant gratification from time to time. I have been known to throw up my hands when I don't see results. Ultimately, I have never gotten that far in those areas where I expect a lot of apparent results in a short time. 

I have decided to switch my basic belief system in regards to this. If I have faith that the compound effect will work, that given enough time and pressure things are bound to change regardless of short-term noticeable evidence. 

The last big take-away for me is Hardy's insistence on direction over goals. Setting a goal and mechanically heading toward it in perfect measured ways is really difficult to do. But knowing that you are heading in a general positive direction towards what you want is enough. All the benefit in the long-run but without the stress and pressure. Again, small, incredmental changes add up to seismic shifts. The compound effect in action.

Recommended. You'll need to be ready for this book, or in need of it, but it is jam-packed with useful stuff.

NOTE: See more books that have impacted me on my Book Shelf page.