Star Thoughts After Reviewing the 2014 Indy Fringe Theatre Festival for Nuvo

My media pass for the 2014 Indy Fringe Theatre Festival

I wish I could find the post I read several weeks ago by a guy who was throwing down his approach to the star ratings on GoodReads.

I’ve tried finding it again but instead found only that there are a gazillion posts from people delineating their approaches to star ratings and, except for the one I’m looking for, they all make for tedious reading.

So I’ll just paraphrase what my guy said:

Continue reading Star Thoughts After Reviewing the 2014 Indy Fringe Theatre Festival for Nuvo

Q Artistry’s “Bomb on a Bus” (Nuvo review)

I saw Q Artistry’s “Bomb on a Bus: a Speedy Musical” (book and music by Paige Scott) at the Irvington Lodge the first weekend it opened.  I was on assignment for Nuvo. Here is a direct link to my review.

Director Ben Asaykwee gave the curtain talk.  I was delighted to hear that Q’s “Bunny Spectacular” show for families will be back this April and their “Zirkus Grimm” will be back this summer.  You may remember that I loved “Zirkus Grimm” so much that I saw it three times during its first sold-out run.

I was also  delighted to hear Ben talk about their next “Q Kids” (I think he called it) production: “East Side Story.”  Ben said that each of the twelve (I think) kid actors would be paired with an adult mentor for the rehearsal process.  During the show itself, the kids would be the Jets and the adults would be the Sharks. (Or vice versa, I forget.)

“There is no sex in this version,” Ben scolded us, which made everyone laugh.  “It’s a story of FRIENDSHIP here on the East side of Indianapolis.”

 Three of my next four assignments for Nuvo are shows I probably wouldn’t have made time to see on my own but now that I’ve accepted the assignments, I am very much looking forward to them.  I’ll try to link to them from here on my blog, too, once they’re up, with whatever bonus news I might have that didn’t make sense to put in the official review.

I think I’d also like to put the basic “who did what” from each show here on my blog, too.  It will be more searchable that way than merely keeping paper programs in a drawer or relying on theatres to keep the info on their own websites once a show is over.

But I find that kind of record-keeping tedious so we’ll see.

‘See you at the theatres…

Hope Baugh – and @IndyTheatre on Twitter.

A New Chapter In My Theatre Writing Life: Writing for Nuvo

I am very excited.  This morning I met with Nuvo Arts and Entertainment Editor Scott Shoger and signed an “Editorial Freelance Agreement” to write for them about theatre.  In case you’re reading my blog from some other city, Nuvo is Indianapolis, Indiana’s weekly alternative newspaper/website.

Continue reading A New Chapter In My Theatre Writing Life: Writing for Nuvo

Two Vacation Days (includes a review of Claire Wilcher’s show at Chef Joseph’s at the Connoisseur Room)

My storytelling went well, if I do say so myself.  Thank you, again, to all who participated in any part of the Basile Emerging Stories Festival earlier this month!  If you missed Matthew Roland’s lovely preview article about it in the Indianapolis Star, here is a link that should let you read it for free if you haven’t already read 30 free articles from the Star:   Its headline is “Storytelling is slow entertainment in fast-paced age.” Slow entertainment like slow food.  I feel more relaxed just thinking about it.

After that very full weekend and the anxiety leading up to it, I successfully completed a very full week at my day job.  Then I finally went on vacation and…I RESTED.  No Facebook, no Twitter, no work email, no clocks, no appointments, no promises, no plans, no expectations, no lists, no goals, no answering questions of any kind from anyone, no public sharing, no promoting, no entertaining, no coaching, no managing, no work, NO COMMITMENTS for a whole week.

Well, okay, I had two commitments.  And of course they were theatre-related.

Continue reading Two Vacation Days (includes a review of Claire Wilcher’s show at Chef Joseph’s at the Connoisseur Room)

Storytelling Preview: “Hoosier in Tokyo: a Tale of Leaving Home and Finding It Again” and the Basile Emerging Stories Festival

Photo by Christopher Anderton

“I usually tell people that I moved to Japan because I wanted an adventure…”

That’s how my “Hoosier in Tokyo” story begins.  I’ll be telling it again this Saturday, November 2, at 7pm in the Indy Fringe Theatre building as part of the Frank Basile Emerging Stories Festival.  The tickets are only $5 per telling, with your choice of eleven different tellers over the course of the three-day festival.  There is more info on the Storytelling Arts of Indiana website.  If this kind of thing interests you, I hope you can come!

In the meantime, I’d like to share some thoughts I’ve had as I’ve been revisiting this piece in preparation to tell it again.

Continue reading Storytelling Preview: “Hoosier in Tokyo: a Tale of Leaving Home and Finding It Again” and the Basile Emerging Stories Festival

Theatre Review: “Zirkus Grimm” at Q Artistry

"Zirkus Grimm" Q Artistry

I’ve been thinking about “originality” a lot lately.  Artistic director Ben Asaykwee often describes Q Artistry as a theatre company that is devoted to producing original works.

Ironically, most of the shows they’ve done in Indianapolis so far have been adaptations of other works.  “Cabaret Poe,” for example, was a musical adaptation of the stories of Edgar Allan Poe.  “Bot” was a robot opera based on the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.  “Perry Haughter” was a musical spoof of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter.  And so on.

Even the first show I saw from Q Artistry, back in 2010, “USO: Songs of War,” was basically a collection of popular songs from World War Two, loosely tied together by a frame story about letter writing between soldiers and the folks back home.

I am not complaining about any of this.  Of the several Q shows I’ve seen so far, every single one has brimmed over with creativity, freshness, wit, skill, talent, and successful collaboration.  Every single one includes in its adaptation some totally new material in the form of music, choreography, dialogue, perspective, and more.  That is definitely a kind of originality.  I mean come on: “The Fowl” was a two-part musical re-enactment of Hitchcock’s film “The Birds” by an all-child cast except for the Ostrich, with the second part told from the point of view of the birds.  If that is not original, I don’t know what is.

Most importantly, all Q shows include a love and a mischievous respect for the previous works.

I mention all this in prelude to talking about the world premiere of Q Artistry’s newest show, “Zirkus Grimm,” as a way of saying yes, there are umpty-billion adaptations of the spoken stories that folklorists Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm collected and wrote down from the everyday people that were telling them (and adapting them!) around their hearth fires in Germany in the late 1700s and early 1800s.  Some adaptations are quite bad, some are ho-hum, and some are informative and/or enjoyable.

I bet none of the others is as all-out intriguing as this one is. 

Here are the main three reasons I love this show and had to see it twice. (I would see it again if I could.)

  1. It actually combines two iconic things – Grimm stories and the circus – seamlessly and gives us a lot to think about.  I love shows that give me a lot to think about.
  2. It is richly layered artistically.  It includes dark-yet-sparkling music, poetry, dancing, storytelling, juggling, flirting and more.  All are performed exquisitely on a very cool set with costumes that tell stories of their own.  All are well blended into a coherent, if almost surreal, whole that addresses all of the senses.
  3. It is richly layered psychologically.  Being in the audience feels like being in a lucid dream.  You observe things like a clown pulling a rope from a guy’s fly and it turning into Rapunzel’s hair but you don’t question it because you know you’re dreaming.

There is a lot to take in.  I’m going to write about my two experiences of the show below as a way of processing them for myself and not worry about spoilers.  If you’re thinking of going (and I always encourage people to experience a show for themselves and form their own opinions), I would make reservations right away, not just because the first five of seven nights sold out but because the Irvington Lodge venue has been transformed into an intimate circus tent with the audience sitting around the edges inside.  The large cast uses every square inch of unoccupied floor space under the black “big top.”  Management will not be able to cram in extra chairs to accommodate crowds.

If you do get in, you’ll literally be rubbing elbows with the circus folk.  They are as thrilling as live wolves.

So leave the little kids at home.  This isn’t a Disney show.

Continue reading Theatre Review: “Zirkus Grimm” at Q Artistry

Here’s to the Dilettantes and Blockheads

I love what former Indy Star critic Jay Harvey wrote in response to my recent post welcoming him to the world of arts blogging.  Here is a direct link to his smart, delightful post entitled “And worth every penny, too: The mixed pleasure of being an unpaid writer”:

A few years ago I was trying to figure out how to do what I wanted to do (i.e., write more thoughtfully and usefully about live theatre) without going back to school.  Much as I would love to get two more master’s degrees – one in journalism and one in theatre – I probably won’t ever be able to afford to, for a number of reasons.

I discovered the American Theatre Critics Association and thought, “Ah-HAH!”  I couldn’t afford to do the ATCA’s “critics’ boot camp” right then but I can see it, or something like it, happening for me in the near future.   It sounds like heaven! 

In the meantime, I read as much of the ATCA members’ work as I could, looking for models.

Two of the members had retired from their paid careers as newspaper theatre critics and started their own theatre review blogs.  Both had abandoned their blogs after a while, saying it just felt too much like drudgery when they were no longer getting paid for it and/or being formally published by someone else.  (I’m sorry I can’t remember the writers’ names to quote them exactly, but I don’t want to take the time to look for them again.)

So…when Jay Harvey said he was leaving the Star and starting his own blog, I wondered if he would eventually feel as they did.

But…maybe for him, something else will happen.

Blogging is hard work, even when it’s fun.  And sometimes it’s a tool for influence (with all of the responsibility that comes with that.)  And sometimes it’s a sort of spiritual practice, like meditating.  I’m also beginning to think an independent blog about the arts can become a work of art in its own right. 

Or maybe that is just what I want mine to become.

Anyway, I’m still figuring it out as I go along.  And I look forward to reading more of Jay’s posts!

‘See you at the theatres…

Hope Baugh – and @IndyTheatre on Twitter.

Reflections on a Concert by Anne-Sophie Mutter

Friday night I accepted a last-minute invitation from a friend who suddenly had an extra ticket to hear violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter at the Palladium in Carmel, Indiana.  It was part of the Bose McKinney & Evans Classic Series.

I don’t know much at all about classical music and I confess that I had never heard of Anne-Sophie Mutter.  I accepted without knowing anything about the show simply because I wanted to spend time with my friend. 

However, the concert itself was a sublime experience on many levels.  I am in the middle of writing some theatre reviews but I want to write a quick post about this right now in an attempt to capture a few of the details.

Continue reading Reflections on a Concert by Anne-Sophie Mutter

Improv Diary: Begin in the Middle

This is my fourth week of an eight-week “Intermediate Improv for Adults” class at ComedySportz in downtown Indianapolis. 

What I Love About the Class

I love that the class is teaching me about story crafting as well as about acting.  It is not a writing class, but it makes me want to try writing fiction again.

I love that the class is teaching me about generosity, boundaries, and community on stage.  It’s too soon to tell if these lessons will affect the rest of my life, but I bet they will.

I love that the class is both mentally and (for me) physically demanding but not crushing.

I love that the class is thoughtfully structured, with a notebook of lesson plans that the instructors refer to, but within that structure, the instructors make each night unique.  They respond very specifically in the moment to our attempts, pulling from their own years of improv experience to offer advice.  I love that the instructors take the work seriously without taking themselves seriously. 

I love that the fifth rule of improv at ComedySportz Indy is “Have fun.”

“There’s no way to do this wrong,” instructor Michael Davis said on the first day.  “However, there are always choices.  Some choices are stronger than others, so I’ll be giving you feedback to help you learn how to make the stronger choices more often, but don’t worry about…” making a mistake, being imperfect, looking foolish, whatever.

I “failed” again and again that first night (and in the nights since) but it was in an atmosphere that made me want to keep going, keep trying, keep working, keep playing.

The Rules

There are actually all kinds of rules in improv, but here are the five we started out with:

1.   Pay attention.  (For example, if your scene partner mimes putting a chair in the middle of the stage, don’t walk through it a few moments later.)

2.   Agree. (For example, if you enter a scene thinking you’re going to be in a garden shed and your scene partner says, “Welcome to Disneyland!” then just go ahead and turn your imaginary rake into an imaginary mouse balloon or whatever.)

3.   Put the ensemble first. (Don’t judge or blame.  Do contribute.  Don’t overwhelm.)

4.   Commit. (For example, if you find you’ve become a frog in a scene, then hop your little heart out.  Use all your energy.)

5.   Have fun.

6.   There are no rules.

Other rules that have come up along the way so far:

  • Don’t ask questions.  Michael said that asking questions is what we’ve all been trained to do, socially, to show that we’re interested in other people, but in an improv scene it just means you are making your scene partner do all the work.  So, for example, don’t say, “What are you holding there?” say, “I love that machete you’ve got there.”  Don’t say “What are you going to do with it?” say, “Boy, I hope you’re planning to use that machete on the weeds in the back yard rather than on my neck” or whatever.  If you forget and do ask a question, fix it yourself by turning your question into a statement.
  • Begin in the middle.  Use names and other things to show that you and your scene partner have pre-established relationships.  The “hi, nice to meet you” stuff is boring. 
  • Get out the names, place, and situation as soon as you can.
  • Don’t block other people’s ideas. (Wait, that’s the same as the Agreement rule.)
  • Listen, watch, remember.  (Wait, that’s the same as the Pay Attention rule.  Hmm.  Maybe everything is a version of those basic five rules after all.)

Warmups and Tools

So far, we have had three instructors: Michael Davis, Jon Colby, and Ed Trout, all excellent.  I think Michael will be teaching most of the rest of the sessions but it is nice to work with other gurus once in a while. 

No matter who is teaching, each week we first stand in a circle and stretch and chat a bit.  Then we play games in a circle:  to warm up our mouths and vocal chords; to raise our energy; to focus our attention; and to hone our imaginations.

Then we take turns getting up on the tiny ComedySportz stage and doing various kinds of scenes.  Michael said this week that both the warm-ups and the scene work are meant to give us tools that will come in handy with any kind of improv work.  I think they will come in handy with life, too, but as I said earlier, it’s too soon to tell.

My Take-Aways So Far

Each two-hour class is filled with experiences and ideas.  Here are some things that particularly resonated with me:

Week One:  Most people that do improv will tell you that “Yes, and…” is the most important thing to remember.  I realized as we worked that first night that this expression does not mean “be a doormat.”  The “and” is as rich and important as the “yes.”  Yes, I accept what you’re saying and doing AND I’m now saying and doing such-and-such to help us move forward in the story.  The story on stage or the story of our lives.

Week TwoToday is the day that _____ happens.  ComedySportz shows are funny but actually, improv work is not about being funny.  This surprised me.  Improv is about being honest and open and strong and vulnerable and present in the here and now.  People like to laugh, but even more, they like to watch authenticity.  Also, people like to watch someone going to the place where they want to go but are reluctant.  Improv is about the unusual, even the unique. If it happens every day, why show it?  In improv, today is the day that a meek man tells off his boss, asks out his neighbor, takes a voyage, whatever he wants to do but would normally not do because of his inhibitions.  And what an optimistic, exhilarating approach to real life, too!  Today is unique! Today is the day a drunk man stumbles into our class, thinking ComedySportz is a bar, and our instructor, Jon, says firmly, “Yes, and I need you to leave now.”  Today is the day a gorgeous man offers strong, independent me his hand to help me down a tricky set of stairs, and I accept and am simply grateful for the help.  Today is the day that _____ happens.  I wonder what the “blank” will be today!

Week Three:  We worked hard this week on discovering and developing characters, first by “walking them” and then by using their inner and outer wants to drive scenes.  We practiced building tension with silence, too, and other improv tools.  It was all fascinating and more complex than anything we had done before, and by the end of the night I was exhausted and very aware of the opportunities I’d missed in our scene work.  Ed said, “Forgive yourself.  If you missed opportunities, eh, it’s improv.  You’ll never have to see it again.  Of course, the reverse is true, too.  If it was brilliant, you’ll never get to see it again, either.”  In either case, that’s just life.  I mean, improv.

Week Four: This week we continued to work hard.  Michael told us afterwards that the black notebook calls this lesson “Keeping the Story in the Scene.”  We did “freezes” – where two people do a scene for a few moments until Michael says, “Freeze!  Hope, change places with ___.” Then I go up on stage and put my body in the exact same position as my classmate’s. She or he leaves the stage and then my other classmate and I start a new scene from that frozen position.  We also practiced doing 3-person scenes in which the first two people give the 3rd person usable information about himself (or herself) before he enters, through their conversation.  It is much more helpful to say something like, “you know, my friend Joe that limps” than “my friend Joe who has brown hair,” for example.  We also practiced paring down minute-long scenes into 45 seconds, then 12 seconds, then 6.  Then we practiced expanding a 6-second scene into a minute, which was much harder to do.   I realized that even though I am taking this class for personal growth rather than from any desire to get back on stage for a paying audience, I am still interested in the artistry of the work as well as the therapy of it.  Michael said, “One difference between doing improv and just playing make-believe on the playground is that in improv you say, ‘Later, at the barn’ or you open an imaginary door and walk out to the barn.  You don’t just appear there.”  Improv is a lot of fun, and it offers food for thought about life, but it is also worthy of respect as an art form.

Homework (aka Icing!)

This 8-week, 2-hours-per-week course cost $195, which is a bargain in and of itself, but guess what else?!  Everyone in the class received a handful of free passes to ComedySportz shows so that we can go to them for observation and enjoyment as “homework” in between classes!  What a treat!

‘See you at the theatres, including Comedy Sportz…

Hope Baugh – and @IndyTheatre on Twitter.

(Photo above taken by me with my trusty old iPhone.) 

© 2013 Hope Baugh