Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sir Launcelot at the Chapel Perilous

Right so Sir Launcelot departed, and when he came unto the Chapel Perilous he alighted down, and tied his horse unto a little gate. And as soon as he was within the churchyard he saw on the front of the chapel many fair rich shields turned up-so-down, and many of the shields Sir Launcelot had seen knights bear beforehand. With that he saw by him there stand a thirty great knights, more by a yard than any man that ever he had seen, and all those grinned and gnashed at Sir Launcelot. And when he saw their countenance he dreaded him sore, and so put his shield afore him, and took his sword ready in his hand ready unto battle, and they were all armed in black harness ready with their shields and their swords drawn. And when Sir Launcelot would have gone throughout them, they scattered on every side of him, and gave him the way, and therewith he waxed all bold, and entered into the chapel, and then he saw no light but a dim lamp burning, and then was he ware of a corpse hilled with a cloth of silk. Then Sir Launcelot stooped down, and cut a piece away of that cloth, and then it fared under him as the earth had quaked a little; therewithal he feared. And then he saw a fair sword lie by the dead knight, and that he gat in his hand and hied him out of the chapel.

Anon as ever he was in the chapel yard all the knights spake to him with a grimly voice, and said, "Knight, Sir Launcelot, lay that sword from thee or else thou shalt die."

"Whether that I live or die," said Sir Launcelot, "With no great word get ye it again, therefore fight for it an ye list."

Then right so he passed throughout them, and beyond the chapel yard there met him a fair damosel, and said, "Sir Launcelot, leave that sword behind thee, or thou wilt die for it."

"I leave it not," said Sir Launcelot, "For no treaties."

"No," said she, "An thou didst leave that sword, Queen Guenever should thou never see."

"Then were I a fool an I would leave this sword," said Launcelot.

"Now, gentle knight," said the damosel, "I require thee to kiss me but once."

"Nay," said Sir Launcelot, "That God me forbid."

"Well, sir," said she, "An thou hadst kissed me thy life days had been done, but now, alas," she said, "I have lost all my labour, for I ordained this chapel for thy sake, and for Sir Gawaine. And once I had Sir Gawaine within me, and at that time he fought with that knight that lieth there dead in yonder chapel, Sir Gilbert the Bastard; and at that time he smote the left hand off of Sir Gilbert the Bastard. And, Sir Launcelot, now I tell thee, I have loved thee this seven year, but there may no woman have thy love but Queen Guenever. But sithen I may not rejoice thee to have thy body alive, I had kept no more joy in this world but to have thy body dead. Then would I have balmed it and served it, and so have kept it my life days, and daily I should have clipped thee, and kissed thee, in despite of Queen Guenever."

"Ye say well," said Sir Launcelot, "Jesu preserve me from your subtle crafts." And therewithal he took his horse and so departed from her. And as the book saith, when Sir Launcelot was departed she took such sorrow that she died within a fourteen night, and her name was Hellawes the sorceress, Lady of the Castle Nigramous.

...haven't had the chance to adapt this one yet, but boy I'd like to. Have a hearty Hallowmas, y'all.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Fringe Memories

A few months ago, I did an e-mail interview with Ed Huyck of City Pages. He asked me a question, I gave him a series of excessive, verbose answers, and he wisely excerpted one. But this is a blog, and I have no pressure whatsoever to be wise! So here's some of my memories from the past ten years of the Minnesota Fringe:

2004 -- my first Fringe, and if I recall correctly (I might not be, and that's a caveat that goes for all of these) it was still using the first-come-first-serve system (rather than the lottery, which I believe was introduced in 2005). I was anxious enough to show up ridiculously early enough at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage for Leah Cooper to be the only other one present. She walked up to me as I was sitting alone in the empty risers, made some gentle inquiry about why I was there, and I burbled something about "Well, you know, I'm chronically late so I overcompensate." She smiled far more politely than the comment deserved and left me to ruminate.

2005 -- I was doing a preview at an outdoor Farmer's Market. Allegra Lingo was previewing some of "Hubcap Frisbee" as an absolutely apocalyptic storm front began creeping up on us. Eventually she paused, peered out at the rest of the staff, and asked "Do you need me to stop?" The answer was yes, and moments later the artists and audience were huddled against the building to avoid the torrential downpour while the merchants frantically attempted to pull down their wares. In an uncharacteristic burst of civic-mindedness, I decided to help, and I vividly remember clutching a tent pole as a powerful gust of wind caught hold of the canvas and actually flew me a few feet through the air like a goddamn kite.

2006 -- two brief verbal exchanges spring to mind. I was running down the steps of the Rarig Center when I heard a voice call my name -- I looked up to see a mother and her teenage son.

ME: Oh, hey, what's up?
HER: We saw your show at the Bryant-Lake Bowl.
ME: Cool, that's great! What did you guys think?
HER: It was really heavy on the F-bomb.
ME: Oh, uh...sorry about that.
ME: Whelp, gotta go!

The other one happened at one of the Fringe after-parties, where I was standing around with a group of colleagues and a woman I hadn't met before. (Keep in mind this was my first year as one of the official Fringe bloggers.) Someone referred to me by name.
HER: Wait a minute, are you phillip low?
ME: Yes.
HER: Oh.
HER: I thought you'd be angrier.

2007 -- I performed at Patrick's Cabaret, which was both poorly-insulated and had no air conditioning at the time (both have since been corrected), rendering the space into a gigantic oven. I breathed a sigh of relief when I walked in and saw that the staff had set up dozens of fans -- and then groaned as I realized that (quite rightly and responsibly) they were all pointed at the audience. I also agreed to shift another one of my shows to the closing day to help out an out-of-towner. I also got the Encore slot. I had three shows in that space that day. I practically had to peel myself out of my T-shirt with a spatula.
2008 -- most of my memories involve long, heated arguments on the roof of the Bedlam -- my show that year included both racial slurs and metafiction, and I was startled to realize that the audience could be neatly divided into people who were offended by one or the other -- that there was no overlap between the two, and that they were equally impassioned.

2009 -- oddly, my most vivid memory of this Festival is of a hypnotized Tim Hellendrung repeatedly screaming "Ah! Rattlesnakes!" in Four Humors' Fringe show that year. What this says about me, I leave as a Freudian exercise for the reader.

2010 -- The Shelby Company impulsively asked me (and several others) to do a quick walk-on bit for one of their variety shows. I showed up and they popped us into several sets of antennae, telling us that we were aliens who would dance onto the stage and kidnap one of their cast members. I bounced onto the stage and promptly knocked the antennae off my head. I would have been more concerned about this if I wasn't blitzed at the time.
2011 -- I had a show crunch, between Theatre Arlo's "Macbeth: The Video Game Remix" at the Rarig Thrust and my own military drama -- across town at the Bryant-Lake Bowl. I skipped out on the curtain call, frantically dressed on my way out the door, and bolted down the Rarig steps in a WWI-era trench coat, weapons and props clanking loudly about my person, into Courtney McLean's waiting vehicle. (Made it in plenty of time, by the way -- hardly suspenseful at all.)

2012 -- was totally happy to lose my Encore slot to the extraordinary Mary Mack who, rather than doing her show again, elected to devote a good chunk of her set to systematically roasting every page of the Fringe Producer's Handbook. (She also took on her audience reviews, which is very, very hard to do without alienating an audience, but I will say that the little-girl voice she uses to do so is far more charming than mine.)

What about you? Any pleasurable/ridiculous/humiliating Fringe memories from years past? If so, don't hesitate to send 'em to me at this link, and I may share 'em in this space (if I deem them sufficiently entertaining, because I am whimsical God). Or better yet -- share them in person at our upcoming fundraiser next week! Because the Fringe is turning 21, and alcohol doesn't judge. Just, y'know, everyone in its immediate vicinity does.

...but we're Minnesotans, and if there's one thing we know how to do, it's how to judge quietly.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Reviews Are (partly) In

...running late between shows, as usual, but wanted to take a minute to link to some of the press my shows have gotten: the good, the bad, and the arse-ugly.


Kansas City Star (Robert Trussell)
Twin Cities Daily Planet (Matthew Everett) (Rob Callahan)

PHOTO: Kansas City Star (Shane Keyser)

AUDIO: Twin Cities Theatre Connection (Josh Humphrey)
AUDIO: Obsessed (Joseph Scrimshaw)
AUDIO: Apropos of Nothing

VIDEO: Youtube Trailer
VIDEO: Fringe-For-All preview
VIDEO: Youtube Trailer (The Diamond Lens)
VIDEO: Rockstar Storytellers showcase
VIDEO: Interview (Baron Dave Romm)
VIDEO: Minnesota Fringe Festival 20th Anniversary Webcast Interview Series


Fringe Festival (audience reviews)
Pitch Weekly (Liz Cook)
petsnakereggie (Tim Wick)
Twin Cities Daily Planet (Kate Hoff)
Twin Cities Daily Planet (Matthew Everett)
Pioneer Press (Emily Gurnon)


Fringe Festival (audience reviews)
Twin Cities Daily Planet (Wendy Gennaula)
Twin Cities Daily Planet (Jay Gabler) (Camille LeFevre)
Stubble Magazine (Tom Johnson)


Fringe Festival (audience reviews)
Twin Cities Daily Planet (Rachel Reiva)
Twin Cities Daily Planet (Matthew Everett)
Pioneer Press (Dominic Papatola)


Fringe Festival (audience reviews)
petsnakereggie (Tim Wick) (Rob Callahan) (Rob Callahan)
Star Tribune (Brian Leehan)
Pioneer Press (Richard Chin)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Going Off Script On Line

It's one of the frustrating ironies I can't help continuing to marvel at -- that the more projects I commit to, the less time I have to promote them. Which is my artful way of observing that I'm buried in creative work, which is why I haven't been advertising much of any of it in this space.

One thing I have been spending a lot of time on, though, is promoting my upcoming shows -- which means that I currently have plenty, no, seriously, *plenty* of work online right now. Sorted from shortest to longest:

Trailer for "The Concept of Anxiety"
LENGTH: 00:01:40
DESCRIPTION: Hey, look! A trailer for the upcoming Missouri/Minnesota Fringe show that I'm producing/writing/directing/performing!

TITLE: Rockstar Storytellers at CONvergence 2013
LENGTH: 00:05:00
DESCRIPTION: So, hey, this happened. A very polite, articulate gentleman thrust a camera into my face, and I proceeded to be both very impolite and very inarticulate.

TITLE: Twin Cities Theater Connection
LENGTH: 00:23:12
DESCRIPTION: The ever-articulate Joshua Humphrey pulled me aside to grill me about all four of my Fringe Festival shows.

TITLE: Obsessed with Joseph Scrimshaw
LENGTH: 00:34:37
DESCRIPTION: A podcast that I appeared on with my frequent writing/performing partner Ben San Del, in which I grow progressively more militant towards the audience.
TITLE: Minnesota Fringe Festival Twentieth Anniversary Webcast Interview Series
LENGTH: approximately 01:57:00
DESCRIPTION: A series of interviews that I performed with a measurable number of people with immeasurably more skill, talent, and dedication. These were a real honor to do.

TITLE: Apropos of Nothing
LENGTH: 02:28:00
DESCRIPTION: If you've ever wanted to hear me scream drunkenly at a panel of nerds about mortality, Superman, and video games, this is the answer to your bizarrely specific wish.

Check it out now, funk soul brother. Right about now, funk soul brother.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Some Long, Hard Knights

So I'll be performing at Britcon this weekend, a brand-spankin'-new convention focused on British popular culture. I'm expecting a lot of Doctor Who and Monty Python quotes, but when I heard about it through the pipeline it was sort of impossible not to angle for it, since I've, y'know, devoted the bulk of my career to adapting British texts.

I'm not sure entirely what to expect -- from what little I've gleaned from social media and correspondence, it looks to be running into the usual first-year chaos and damage control. Which is fun as a spectator, but a tetch nerve-wracking as a performer, insofar as I'm not really sure what I'm preparing for here -- a packed house, or three people?

I've got an hour slot, so I'll be sampling excerpts from the Camelot Cycle. Which is where a good chunk of my creative energy has been going for the past two months -- finding the right pieces, arranging and restructuring them, memorizing, and reblocking (with an emphasis on more casual accessibility -- I'll be in street clothes, chatting up the audience in between sets, et cetera).

Another reason I'm nervous is that I'm really flying in the face of conventional convention wisdom here, in terms of doing something both dense and dramatic. (One of the reasons I think I struggled to sustain a con audience is because I've so rarely brought straight-up comedy. My big geek show has some pretty hefty production values and is a pain in the ass to remount, whereas most of my solo comedy material tends to be pretty racy, confrontational, and riddled with cheap shock humor, so a tough sell for an audience that's not already seeking out that specific thing.)

Still, I've received a lot of the same advice about the Fringe -- to quote Mel Brooks "no matter what you do on the stage/keep it light, keep it bright, keep it gay" -- and over a couple of years I've managed to carve out a space for my more weird, expressionistic stuff, so who knows? I've made my peace with my fate as a niche entertainer -- and if ever I'm going to find a body of people as obsessed with early Brit Lit as I am, it's here.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Speakin' Easy

So I've been devoting some thought cycles lately to the nature of time limits in storytelling. Those limits are a thing that performers of every stripe chafe against, naturally, and I firmly believe them to be both necessary and a Good Thing: we all stumble every now and again, of course, but learning to work within those limits is a necessary part of the discipline of being a writer/performer and ultimately makes us much better at both.

I do think that they pose a unique challenge to storytellers (as opposed to, say, poets or comics) because we depend so heavily on *narrative*. Which is not to say that poets and comics don't, obviously, but arguably to a lesser degree (their chief rewards for the audience lie, I think, in other areas).

Twenty minutes feels to me about the right length for a fully embodied, self-contained story with a complete narrative. Venues that play to this are rare. Certainly I've grown more comfortable with flash fiction, with the number of open-mics that play to three, five, and seven-minute slots, but what I write for those feel to me less like short stories and more like gimmick delivery systems: that's about long enough to set up and punch a clever idea or two, not to deal with things like plot or character to any worthwhile degree. (Particularly for a writer as interested in structural games as I am. Even in the latest Rockstar shows, which typically offer 10-12 minutes, I've found myself excerpting sections of longer pieces that showcase bits of writing I'm pleased with -- giving small moments room to breathe, at the expense of contextualizing them.)

(Which is to say nothing of the discrepancy between lengths on the page and the stage. Lay out all the words spoken in an hour-long Fringe show and that's still only a few manuscript pages, well within short-story length by any publication's definition.)

I was talking with a group of storytellers last week, and this dearth was mentioned -- the fact that there's a plethora of mics where you can flash your best bits at an audience for a few minutes at a time, and there's the hour-long Festival slots, but there's not much room to work out your material in between. Oh, there's a few -- Patrick's Cabaret, for one, or Loren Niemi's Two Chairs Telling for another -- or Speak Easy Twin Cities, which I'll be performing at this Saturday.

Returning after a hiaitus (and it's been missed), the show books 2-4 storytellers in alternative spaces (garages, living rooms, etc.) I was a fan of the series in its original incarnation, and I'm delighted at its return, more delighted still to be a part of it. In true speakeasy fashion, tickets must be reserved in advance to discover its location. Looking forward to the opportunity to give the potboiler room to boil, yo.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Giggling and Wiggling


Swung by the Smitten Kitten – Uptown’s resident sex-toy shop – to pick up a prop for a comedy bit yesterday. I’ve only been in there once before, for an item for, er, recreational use, and I have nothing but positive things to say about the staff – they’ve been consistently cool, collected, and professional.

Here’s the thing, though – I haven’t been. Not consistently, anyway. When I was there previously, to pick up something fairly innocuous, I reverted to a stammering wreck of a bashful Catholic schoolboy. This time, when I was picking up something much more unusual, I was totally cool and collected – because it was for a professional purpose.

Later that night, I swung by Target to pick up a supplementary item for the bit, and was a stammering wreck again. Because at the Smitten Kitten, they’re prepared for unusual requests! Why, the clerks at Target might think I’m some kind of deviant!

…one of these days I really need to sit down and figure out exactly what social conventions my subconscious is apparently selectively observing.


So most of my energy this week has been going towards a pair of burlesque shows I’m hosting, both a bit out of my usual stomping grounds: one in Rochester, one in St. Paul.

I had the pleasure of meeting Lucky DeLuxe last year in Kansas City. The Festival has a number of hosts they cycle through for their late-night events – I’ve been one for a couple of years – and she was the clear standout in 2012. She’s a crazy skilled lady, with equal parts loquacity and, er, curvacity, and it’s an honor to share a stage with her again.

Particularly because the last time was not exactly a slam-dunk. The venue was less than ideal, taking place in a bar in which the greater portion of the audience was actively disinterested – my impression of the crowd was that of a dull roar which we were often trying to shout over.

She was interviewing me with a series of playful, random questions, one of which was “Do you do any impressions?” I had a split-second of panic (“Fuck no I don’t do impressions, I’m hilariously bad at them”), followed immediately by what I have come to regard as my best and most valuable friend onstage – anger (“Why am I wriggling like a goddamn fish on a goddamn line for a goddamn audience that’s not even paying any goddamn attention?”).

At which point I grabbed the mic and said “Sure, I’ll do an impression for you.” I leapt to my feet and bellowed incoherently at the crowd for several seconds. When they stared at me in bafflement, I concluded “…and that’s my impression of you motherfuckers!”

…anyway, I guess she thrives on audience hostility, because she asked me to warm up the crowd for her. So check out the Wiggle and Giggle Burlesque Comedy Night this Thursday-Friday – we can call it a “professional suicide watch”!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Fearful Productions

A heads-up that I'll be hosting the Word Ninjas open mic again this Tuesday, for the first time in a while. I've written at length about my deep and abiding love for the local open-mic scene -- it was my introduction to performing in the Twin Cities, my first foot in a lot of doors -- I still rely on it heavily, and it's exhilarating to see old friends, as well as first-timers taking their own anxiety-ridden baby steps, week after week.

I don't really think in terms of "contribution to the community" -- I generally find such claims dubious, difficult to quantify, and reeking of self-justification -- but having been a part of establishing Word Ninjas, even in small part, is one of my great points of professional pride.

Also been trying to pick a piece for the upcoming Fear Itself, a collaboration between the Rockstars and Fearless Comedy Productions, a new company founded by some old acquaintances.

I've been doing this long enough to have built up a pretty large library of sets and routines, and I've found that the greater part of success for me these days is picking the right piece for the right audience. This is often complicated by trying to weigh what percentage of any given audience will have seen a piece before.

I'll confess that this is a trend that I acknowledge, but don't fully understand -- the degree to which audiences actively resent hearing a set more than once. I interface with storytelling in much the same way that I interface with music -- if there's a single that I like, I'm happy to listen to it over and over.

Comics don't seem to have this problem, which gives them the luxury of working and polishing their routines at greater length. And as I write that, I think, no, the greater issue is that there's a larger number of comedy-oriented mics in this town. I've often bemoaned the lack of storytelling mics, but the fact is that even the ones that exist tend to have a lot of audience overlap -- I'm likely to keep seeing the same people at most of them.

(This problem is often exacerbated by the fact that when I have a larger gig or a show coming up, I want to work the individual pieces as much as possible. Though it pains me to say it, it's entirely possible that the local audience pool for storytelling is too small to sustain this kind of process.)

That's why getting booked at places like Patrick's and Sample Night Live is such good fun -- because I perform there more rarely, it's an audience that hasn't seen most of my material.

So have I chosen wisely? Find out next week -- different Verbosity-Time (Wednesday March 13th at 7:30pm), different Verbosity Channel (at Honey. Honey? Seriously? Just "Honey? I'm both bewildered and vaguely aroused).

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Reverse-Engineering Comedy

A six-month sabbatical from blogging? Hardly suspenseful at all.

My professional life lately has revolved around time management. In the good way, id est I've been getting hired a lot. Currently doing script work for four Fringe shows, and been developing four more outside of that.

One of those scripts is titled Missed Connections, a Theatre Arlo project that's had one of the more bizarre development processes I've been a part of in recent memory: I showed up for a bunch of rehearsals that turned into script workshops and ended up walking away with a co-director credit.

The thing is, through a convoluted series of events, we found ourselves putting up a remount of a show that none of us had ever seen -- a show that was clearly collaboratively developed by an existing ensemble. A show which, by all accounts, was hysterically funny -- but what we received wasn't so much a script as it was a collection of notes for the performers. Here's a sample:

jap eeko 217 - woman4man
*LAUREN* (Play off the audience: This post could literally last for 30+ seconds with the right crowd)
(unintelligible language)
LAUREN sits. JAKE to mic.


I mean, I get the basic idea here -- it's a prolonged, vocal playing-with-the-audience type deal (with a race joke in there somewhere? I guess? Maybe?) -- but it's clearly built around a comic's existing schtick/persona, and I have no idea how to play this. It's like trying to do a retelling of the Aristocrats joke based on a written description.

Likewise, the company is clearly more improv-based than we are -- many passages call for ad-libbed banter. I've spent enough time onstage to be comfortable riffing with an audience when the occasion arises, and I often do -- but improv and I have always been uneasy bedfellows, and I'm dubious of my ability to play a text that relies upon "Insert spontaneous hilarity here!" passages. (And, in my experience, this kind of schtick tends to rely upon a cast that knows each other well -- and, while our cast consists of many fine individual comics, many of us hadn't worked together before. Until, like, opening night. My point is that building a show around snarky ensemble riffing probably wasn't going to fly.)

So...what to do? Whip out the red pens and rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Develop new schtick that's built around our particular styles and personae. Chop out the jokes that are hopelessly opaque. Pair off the actors with a history of working with each other. Give the improv routines to the comics who actively desire them. Raid the prop closet and load the script up with sight gags. Slather whatever accents and voices we have in our collective back pocket across the top, and voila! Functional punch lines!

No one is more stunned than I am that this actually seems to have worked -- the show's ended up being a pretty effective laugh machine. What were able to piece together of the underlying script appears to have had some solidly constructed structure and text, and I'd be genuinely fascinated to see the original production. I wonder how much our shows have ended up having in common.

In any case, you've got one opportunity left to catch ours: this Friday, March 1st, 7pm at the Bryant-Lake Bowl. Doors open at 6pm if you want to grab a drink. Alcohol was a critical part of our process -- why shouldn't it be a critical part of yours?