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 – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com and @IndyTheatre on Twitter.

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

© 2013 Hope Baugh

CD Review: “Levels of Difficulty” by Paul Strickland

I love comic storyteller Paul Strickland’s new CD, “Levels of Difficulty.” It was released earlier this week.

Paul Strickland is from Tennessee but you may remember him from the 2010 and 2011 Indy Fringe Festivals here in Indianapolis, Indiana. I enjoyed his 2010 storytelling show, “A Brighter Shade of Blue,” but his 2011 storytelling show, “Any Title That Works,” bowled me over.  I saw it twice.

His “Levels of Difficulty” CD has a more stand-up feel than either of his Fringe shows, which makes sense.  According to Chad Riden on NashvilleStandup.com, Paul’s CD was recorded live at the Comedy Caravan in Louisville, Kentucky.  However, just as Paul’s stand-up skills informed his storytelling shows, his story crafting skills inform his stand-up.  Both are treats.

Continue reading CD Review: “Levels of Difficulty” by Paul Strickland

“La Tragedie de Carmen” by the Indianapolis Opera

 

(3/17/11 – Updated with a correction.  See below.)

I made the little video above with my trusty iPhone.   Visiting stage director/production designer Joachim Schamberger was very gracious about giving me some of his time during a very busy week for the Indianapolis Opera.  Thank you again, Joachim!

I am going to indulge myself with an even-longer-than-usual post about my first experience of the Indianapolis Opera a) because it was such a core-shaker, b) because I usually only write reviews of performances, not rehearsals, c) because I really have no business reviewing opera at all, and d) did I mention it was a life-changing experience?

If you don’t have time to read something long, at least let me tell you that this particular production of “Carmen” in the intimate space at the new Frank and Katrina Basile Opera Center is a profound and accessible treat.  There are only four more chances to experience it yourself.  Tickets are $34 and $60 and may be purchased through the Indianapolis Opera’s website: www.IndyOpera.org.

Okay, so here’s the detailed version of my night at the opera (if you want to know only about the show itself, jump down a few screens to “The Show”):

Continue reading “La Tragedie de Carmen” by the Indianapolis Opera

Dance Review: “Love Is…” by Dance Kaleidoscope

"Love Is..." - Dance Kaleidoscope

Last Thursday night I attended the preview night of Dance Kaleidoscope’s “Love Is…” program at the Indiana Repertory Theatre in downtown Indianapolis.  It was a wonderfully cathartic evening, artistically admirable in and of itself, but also coincidentally a perfect fit for my euphoric, spring-time mood and my emotional and aesthetic needs at the time.  I left feeling washed and ready.

The next day I still felt physically and emotionally uplifted by the experience.  I think this was because the program had incorporated not only strong, graceful dancing and other visuals but also spoken words, sung words, and explicit, well-communicated storytelling in the movements of the dancers (as opposed to abstract emotions.)  Most of it was easy for me to relate to, and yet there was also content that stretched and inspired me. 

The program included four pieces, all of which were new to me.

Continue reading Dance Review: “Love Is…” by Dance Kaleidoscope

Discovery: Sports Storytellers on the Radio

"coltssaints355" photo by Paul J. Everett

The rest of Indianapolis has moved on from the Colts’ attempt to win another Super Bowl on Sunday, February 6, 2010.  However, I had an artistic gestalt that night and now that I think I may have my home computer working again, I would like to record a few more thoughts about my “discovery” of the performance art of Bob Lamey and other sports storytellers.

Most of the world does not call them that, of course.   They call them sports announcers or radio hosts or commentators or something like that.

Whatever you call them, you can not deny that the good ones bring unique skills and impressive knowledge to create an exciting, in-the-moment spoken interpretation of what is happening on the field.

Continue reading Discovery: Sports Storytellers on the Radio

Review: “Carmina Burana” at Clowes Hall

Kenoth Shane Patton in "Carmina Burana"

Last Sunday afternoon, I met a friend at Clowes Hall on the Butler University campus on the north side of Indianapolis to see and hear a six-group collaborative presentation of “Carmina Burana,” by Carl Orff.  It was a transformative experience.  This might sound silly, but it’s true: at one point in the program, I could actually feel my chakras clicking into balance.  Bliss!  After the show, I happily walked into walls a bit until I found my way back to my car. 

My friend loved the show, too. When we met back up at a restaurant downtown for an early dinner, we both said that we hadn’t wanted to turn on the radio while we were driving because we were so enjoying the music from the show that was still running through our heads.

Neither of us had had any first-hand experience with “Carmina Burana” before this, but my friend said that when he lived in Germany, everyone he knew was very familiar with it.  He was glad to have a chance to finally experience it for himself.

I hadn’t known a thing about it except that Dance Kaleidoscope was involved with this production of it, and it had been too long (last January!) since I had seen a DK show.  When I heard that there would be live musical accompaniment to the dancing, I thought, “Well, won’t that be nice.”

I was unprepared for – but exhilerated by – the level of stimulation that a stage filled with powerful, graceful dancers gorgeously costumed and lit and framed by overflowing banks of live, talented musicians would provide.  This was definitely a case where the sum was even bigger than its parts.

Continue reading Review: “Carmina Burana” at Clowes Hall

Theatre Tweeting at Penrod

 

I had a wonderful time at the Penrod Arts Festival on the grounds of the Indianapolis Museum of Art yesterday.  I confess that part of what got me there was the thought that I would be able to bring my iPhone along and “tweet” about my day at Penrod as @IndyTheatre on Twitter.com.

I also made another little video, this time with Dave Ruark from the Indiana Repertory Theatre.  (See above.) 

Below is the expanded version of my tweets, so that you can see what tweeting is like, if you haven’t already tried it.  It’s not for everyone.  Please don’t think I’m trying to sell you on Twitter or anything like that.

Continue reading Theatre Tweeting at Penrod

Theatre Review: “ComedySportz”

ComedySportz member Troy Hanna getting ready to participate in Mutt Strut - photo from ComedySportz blog, used with permission from Ed Trout

Last Saturday night I judged an Encore show that let out relatively early.  I didn’t feel like going home yet, so I drove to downtown Indianapolis to Massachusetts Avenue to see if ComedySportz had a 10:00 improv show on Saturday nights. I was delighted to find that they did.

I had been to see the Three Dollar Bill Comedy Company – a current-events-based sketch comedy troupe – in the Friday 10pm guest slot at ComedySportz several times before, and had a great time.  I had also seen various Indy Fringe Festival shows on the ComedySportz stage last summer.  In other words, I already felt very comfortable with the venue.  I also had seen some of the ComedySportz improv artists perform as part of the Laugh-a-thon Fundraiser for various charities at Theatre on the Square several weeks ago. I had been meaning to see what a whole evening of their work would be like.

It was SO…MUCH…FUN!

Continue reading Theatre Review: “ComedySportz”

Theatre Review: Spotlight 2009 and Asia LaBouche

Asia LaBouche of The Ladies of Legend of Talbott Street

On Monday night I attended the Spotlight 2009 gala at Clowes Memorial Hall on the Butler University campus.  It was presented by the Health Foundation of Greater Indianapolis and Efroymson Family Fund: a CICF Fund.

According to my program, the event was “One extraordinary night of singers, dancers, musicians and actors to benefit the Indiana AIDS Fund.”  In other words: “One Night.  One Stage.  One Reason.”

It truly was extraordinary.  A sampler of many artistic treats, from music to dance to theatre and more.

I had intended to give myself a night off and NOT write about an arts event for once, but now I find that I really want to record at least a few comments about Spotlight 2009 here on my blog as a souvenir.

Here is a list of the arts organizations that donated their performances.  I wish I had time to write about all of them in detail. They were each a pleasure:

Continue reading Theatre Review: Spotlight 2009 and Asia LaBouche