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In my 1,000th performance in my 50th state on my 32nd birthday, I shared the journey of what it was like to live as a nomad, why I did it, and what I learned from the experience.

A big shout-out to Civil Beat in Honolulu for letting me tell this story and for putting on an incredible storytelling event.

To learn more about the journey, check out my other travel posts.

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8th floor improv banner

11 April 2015. Columbus, OH

I looked around the room at the 30+ people playing the warm up Kitty in the Corner. Everyone participating was at least 18 years old and having an incredibly fun time.

I was the oldest person in that room (by just a few weeks). I was also one of the reasons they were in that room to begin with.

I was in Columbus, OH, having returned for the 8th Floor Alumni Weekend. The 8th Floor, an improv comedy group me and 5 other friends started while at The Ohio State University, was still going strong. One of the many traditions, along with others like music making you lose control and unique birthday celebrations, was that every year there was a reunion weekend where as many of the groups’ alumni return for socializing, practicing, and performing.

As one of the founders, I try to return as often as I can, not just to see old friends and group members, but to also to check in on the group.

This was the 11th year of the group’s existence as the premier improv comedy group on Ohio State’s campus, and while we never really imagined it getting this big, we selfishly wanted the group to survive as long as possible. After all, it’s part of the legacy we’ve left at OSU.

The whole thing started while playing Halo (the video game). My best friend wanted to start an improv group… so we did. We started as 6 friends practicing in the basement of Residence Halls. By the time I graduated 2 years later, we were a cast of 16 performing twice a week at a black box theater on South Campus.

5 of the 6 founders.

5 of the 6 founders.

After the founders left is when the group really took off. Some very smart people came into the group and got them performing at Freshmen Orientation. Immediately every on campus knew who the group was. Now, 11 years later, it was one of the established things to do on campus, with shows selling out 150+ seat auditoriums.

Tonight was about celebrating that history. In just a few minutes we’d head upstairs to the theater in the Union, where we’d do long-form sets as teams mixed of all generations of the group.

But for the moment, kitty was in the corner, and he went that way.

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stepping forward csz

28 March 2015. Richmond, VA

I stepped out into center stage, or as we call it, the middle of the playing field. The stage lights shined brightly in my face. The loyal fans eagerly awaited what I had to say.

I was performing in a ComedySportz match, playing one of my favorite types of games, with some of my favorite people.

The people were fellow managers of other CSz Teams from around the country. ComedySportz is produced by CSz Worldwide and can be found in 25 different cities in the United States and in the UK and in Germany.

The show is improv comedy played as a sport, where 2 teams go back and forth in game-based improv, where the fans help decide on a winning team. More so than any show that I’ve ever been a part of, ComedySportz is about celebrating the fans who come to see the show, making them the starts of the night as opposed to the performers on stage.

We were all in Richmond, VA for a Shareholders’ Meeting, where all of the managers from the individual cities get together once a year and talk about business strategies, city updates, and general tomfoolery. For the past few years, I had been taking an increased role in those meetings helping the lead branding committee and serve on the executive council.

This was a bittersweet meeting in Richmond because I was stepping away from a lot of those duties as part of this nomad adventure that I was going on.

Back on stage, the show continued on. Thus far it had been a blast, not a surprise when you’re playing with incredibly talented improvisers, many of whom have more than 20 years of improv experience.

The game I so loved was called Celebrity Punishment, a jump-out style game that includes making puns based off of celebrity names, much like Garth from Wayne’s World (“If she were a president, she would be Baberham Lincoln”). Like all ComedySportz games, Celebrity Punishment starts by getting a suggestion from the audience, for this game, the name of a celebrity.

I was stepping out to make a pun based off of the suggestion of Bruce Willis. I took a breath and then shared, “If Bruce Willis was a mediator, he’d be Truce Willis.” The audience mostly laughed.

I stepped back, while my fellow managers and players stepped in sharing their own jokes on Bruce.

I couldn’t help but marvel at the fun that ComedySportz is; it’s one of the funnest shows I’ve ever done and I’ve had the privilege of doing it since I joined CSz New York in 2008.

It’s also given me a ton of opportunity within the corporate world. I’ve helped lead a number of workshops at a number of different organizations in applied improvisation. Much of what I’ve learned in training and performance can be attributed to the people on the stage with me.

I bring my focus back to the match just as the suggestion changes. It’s now Britney Spears. A few managers share their lines before I step out and say, “if Britney Spears were more advanced she would be Britney Bow and Arrow.”

The audience groans in delight at the terrible joke. Admittedly, I take delight in a groan as much as a laugh. The suggestion changes to JFK.

I step forward, “If JFK had come a little bit later, he’d be GES.”

I’m definitely going to miss this.

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performance review 2013

For the third year in a row, one of my goals was to perform at least 100 times. Last year I hit 133 performances, the year before 119. This year it was 102.

Here are some stats regarding the performances:

  • 54% of shows were shortform improv, 5% of shows were traditional longform improv, 23% were musical improv, and 17% were stand-up.
  • I had 14 shows in July (my busiest month) and only 4 shows in September. I averaged just 8.5 shows per month (3 less shows per month than last year).
  • I performed for approximately 6,100 people in 2013, including 1200 people at the Gilda Club benefit and 5 at an early ComedySportz show.

And finally, a show breakdown by team:

  • ComedySportz – 56
  • Mint Condition – 23
  • Stand-Up – 17
  • Other – 6

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performance review 2012

For the second year in a row, one of my goals was to perform at least 100 times. Last year I hit 119 performances, this year I hit 133.

Here are some stats regarding the performances:

  • 41% of shows were shortform improv, 36% of shows were traditional longform improv, 18% were musical improv, and 5% were stand-up.
  • I had 19 shows in July (my highest) and only 5 shows in both September and October (my lowest). I averaged 11 shows per month or 2.5 shows per week.
  • I performed for roughly 5,000 people in 2012. My biggest audience was in front of 400 people (our CSz Championship Show in Chicago); my smallest was in front of 4 people (at a stand-up open mic).

And finally, a show breakdown by team:

  • ComedySportz – 51
  • Mint Condition – 29
  • Silver Fox – 18
  • Grappler – 18
  • Stand-Up – 7
  • Other – 10

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performance review 2011

One of my goals for 2011 was to perform at least 100 times. I was able to meet and surpass that goal, finishing with 119 total performances.

Here are some stats regarding the performances:

  • 57% of shows were long-form improv, 42% were short-form improv and 1% were stand-up.
  • 39% of the total shows were at the Magnet, representing 75% of my long-form shows.
  • May was my least productive month (5 shows); June and August were tied for the most (14 shows each). The average was 9.9 per month and 2.2 per week.

And finally, a show breakdown by team:

  • ComedySportz – 56
  • Mint Condition – 14
  • Front Page – 9
  • Class Shows (Magnet / UCB) – 8
  • Grappler – 7
  • The Danboys – 7
  • Easy, Tiger – 7
  • Other – 11

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I just got back from the Shoot from the Hip project and had an amazing time.  Not only did I meet some great people and make a pretty solid movie, I learned a ton.

I learned more about filming in 10 days than I could have by reading 100 books.  Here are some of the bits of wisdom I picked up on making a film:

Acting

  • Just like in improv, you have to interact with your fellow actors. Be paying more attention to them than yourself.
  • Once you connect to your characters background, motivation, and objective, it becomes a lot easier to react as they would.
  • Be willing to have fun with your characters and make interesting choices.  Something as simple as having skittles with you can turn into a symbolic moment for the movie.
  • When shooting the film out of order, remind yourself in each scene where you are in the story so you still have the right progression as a character.
  • When improvising scenes, establish the important beats of the scene that need to be hit and then go. On the next takes, keep what worked and refine what didn’t

Editing

  • If you create a consistent hierarchy of folders on all of the computers you are working on, it will make it easier to transfer files and save the Final Cut Pro project files.
  • Watching your edits on a big screen will help you identify small fixes such as needed cuts or audio issues.
  • At the end of the day, continuity is less important than the performance. But it is what will set your movie apart from being amateur.
  • If you “notice” an edit, it’s not good.
  • Multiple camera angles make switching between takes easier. Also having shots of the other person (and not being able to see the speakers mouth) allows you to use the best dialog without worry about syncing.
  • Just like in improv, reactions make the joke. Your edits should include the best reactions.
  • Cut in the middle of dialog when possible to maintain audio continuity for the audience. This also looks more professional and allows you to see reactions.
  • Shots without actors acting or speaking can be used to round out the movie (things like establishing shots)
  • If you sync all of your angles into a sequence you can quickly jump back and forth between the two angles.
  • One way to do editing is in the first pass “edit for radio”–just worry about getting the audio where you want. then you can adjust the video as needed.
  • When possible, the editor should be the one to log and capture video since they will need to be watching all footage anyway to do their editing.
  • When editing as an ensemble, you can create a master editing list that assigns scenes or chunks to each editor.

Directing

  • When shooting two camera, if the OTS or CU shots are shot at the same time, then its easier for the editor to do back and forth edits (as opposed to shooting one cu and one wide and switching back and forth btwn takes).
  • You can use lighting, sound, and camera placement to help tell your story.
  • Allow for time to improvise in scenes. The best moments of the film can come from completely improvised bits in the moment.
  • Having multiple cameras is easier on the actors, helps with continuity and shortens the shoot time, but is more footage for the editor, requires more people and potentially restricts the types of shots you can do.

Production

  • Being able to do every role helps you appreciate them more and realize what you can do to make their jobs easier.
  • The more filled out a continuity sheet, the more helpful it is to the editor.
  • To help the editor, create a document that lists which tape and scene numbers were used for a particular scene.
  • The setup is usually what takes the longest, not the takes. If the director can pre-plan as much as possible the crew can get there and set up. The talent can then come in once its setup (assuming they are rehearsed and have also already talked with the director).
  • It can be tough to balance wanting to be efficient and stay on schedule and also taking the time to have fun and play with different decisions and options
  • For scheduling, print each scene on a single strip. Highlight the different combinations of INT/EXT and DAY/NIGHT.
  • Group each location time together and piece together the scenes that can be shot together.
  • Organize all of the scenes into respective days taking into account location, time, characters, and costumes.
  • With an ordered scene list, list the needed crew people for each one (and call time if different).
  • The assistant director is there to make the directors job easier. They’re the ones that keep things moving, on schedule. They have to be more in command even if to the point of sounding like a jerk.
  • The AD yells quiet on set and then roll cameras. When the cameras are rolling and focused on slate, they each say speeding. The slate person then reads the slate information and drops the clapper. The camera people then get to their frame and say frame when they are there. The director then says action when ready and cut when done.
  • The clapper is incredibly important when using more than 1 camera. The visual helps with the editing process for logging and the clapper hitting is the first nonblurry frame and is what allows you to sync audio at the sound of the clap.
  • When slating, its better to actually clap the sticks instead of letting them fall. This will help in editing because the clap will be more succinct and the top won’t bounce.
  • Having a list of all of the beats of the movie is important. Then ultimately having a list of every scene plus a couple of sentences about the crux of the scene, major character changes or information, and any key lines
  • Masking tape on floor can help you set your marks (even for things like tripods).
  • Script supervisors are responsible for continuity of things like costume, actor movements, props, etc.
  • You can take digital pictures to track prop locations and wardrobe.
  • Slating at the beginning will help editing (both on camera recording and on the log).
  • Script supervisor can also track how each scene went (good takes, mistakes).

Lighting/Sound

  • When first setting up a scene, first try to control the environment (sound and lighting).
  • Light is like water–you can have direct hard light or when you bounce it off something, it will spread and also become softer.  Gels can change the ambience of the light.
  • Work to make your lighting and sound seem realistic (you almost don’t notice it).
  • Top and back light can make someone pop out more.
  • Use a blanket on the wall or floor to try to muffle any echo in a room.

Writing

  • To determine the plot, think of each storyline separately and decide on each of their resolutions. Then list all scenes and beats for each one and match up where they overlap.
  • For the story, write down all of the scenes on small cards and then rearrange them into the flow of the movie.

Camera

  • For each location (and really any new shots) the camera settings for light and sound should be checked.
  • To get focus, zoom in on your main focus point, get focus and then zoom to frame.
  • Main types of shots include wide/master, establishing, closeup, ecu, two shots, over the shoulder.
  • Remember the rule of two thirds when framing.

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21 tips I picked up from watching a variety of performances this week:

Monday – Acting Class Graduation Show

1. Commitment is key. If you don’t believe it, the audience won’t believe it.
2. Always think about stage picture, always.
3. Acting is reacting–to your scene partner, environment, and circumstance.

Tuesday – Upper Level Improv Class Show

4. The ending of the show will leave the most lasting impression.
5. Never leave your scene partners hanging.
6. The “star” of an improv show isn’t the person with the most stage time, it’s the person with the most support moves.

Wednesday – Amateur Improv Show

7. Bigger / louder characters does not mean funnier.
8. Amateurs go for blue comedy by default.
9. Emotional reactions are entertainment.

Thursday – Professional Dance Show

10. It’s the job of the performers to tell the audience what they should be paying attention to.
11. When the audience can tell you are having fun on stage, they’ll have more fun.
12. Repetition (plus variation) and mirroring actions is fulfilling for the audience.

Friday – Professional Improv Show

13. It is better to edit too soon than too late.
14. Be specific–it’s funnier.
15. Commit fully and do it immediately.

Saturday – Amateur Television Script Read

16. Make a choice. It doesn’t matter what choice, just make one.
17. Know your audience and know what they know.
18. You have to sell it. Hilarious lines are ruined by poor performance. Poor lines are improved by commitment and confidence.

Sunday – Semi-Professional Play

19. A mistake is only a mistake on stage when it is called out as one.  Otherwise the audience thinks that it was supposed to happen.
20. Know the history of the character, even if it never is said or written.
21. Look for the deeper meaning in the words or actions.

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