What We're Loving: Other People's Mix CDs, Dream Composing, Non-Educational Educational Shows, Failures of Language

image (1)Each Friday, DCH performers, teachers, and students offer their recommendations for what to watch, read, see, hear, or experience. This week David Allison rescues dying media, Ashley Bright welcomes whimsy into the world, Amanda Hahn discovers comedy that speaks to her, and Ryan Callahan finds improv lessons in an unlikely place. 

Used-CDs When it comes to buying used media I always strive to be aware of the market.  I’m like the Jim Cramer of thrifted content.  For the longest time, the best value in this realm was, obviously, VHS tapes.  The medium had an eight year run of being the best bang for your buck if you wanted some cheap entertainment.  That’s no longer the case as the continued march of time has rendered many VHS players useless and many VHS tapes dated.  It’s the end of an era.  So what are you, as a consumer, supposed to do?  Where do we as a society go from here?  I’m here today to issue some direction; used CDs are a BUY BUY BUY.

Recently, I spent very little money on a handful of CDs from a local resale shop and have been reaping the benefits ever since.  But David, why?  To me, used CDs are an excellent opportunity for entertainment because you have a chance to listen to them everyday (In your car) and their availability litters the shelves of every thrift store.  Here are some tips:

  • Make sure the content isn’t streaming
    • You probably have a subscription to a service like Spotify or Slacker that allows you to stream most music on the go.  If you see something you like on the shelf, check to make sure it’s not streaming. I don’t want to see you waste your money!  I recently made this mistake with the soundtrack to Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.  I’m a dummy.
  • Soundtracks are a hidden goldmine
    • I went over this in detail last month herehere, and here.
  • Mix CDs are the best
    • I know we all loved a good mix cd (Or mix tape if you’re like a billion years old). You can find people’s personal CD-RWs at most thrift stores.  They are definitely hit or miss, but that’s why we buy stuff used, we’re all chasing the magical dragon of a good value.

Since I’ve gone on my recent CD buying spree (I’ve purchased five CDs in 2014 alone, which places me in the top 1% of CD purchasers) I’ve discovered that I really enjoy Taylor Hicks, Space Jam’s soundtrack belongs in the pantheon of all time greats, and that music producers in 2008 thought that autotune fixed EVERYTHING. They were wrong.  Learn these lessons and more by joining me in making 2014 the year of the CD! - David Allison

BluebearI don't get enough whimsy in my life. So, this week I finally started reading Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures by Walter Moers. Years ago, I read and immensely enjoyed Moers' The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear. I'm actually going to tell you more about Bluebear because I've yet to make a significant dent in the nearly 700-page Rumo. We first meet Bluebear when he's tiny and floating in a walnut shell precariously close to a whirlpool. He is saved by tiny Minipirates, but is left on his own when he outgrows their ship. He learns to the art of speech by some talking waves, the Babbling Billows. In one of my favorite of his 13 1/2 lives, Bluebear finds himself in the head of a giant and lands a job of a 'dream composer' to keep the giant's brain occupied. He makes his way out of the head and into Atlantis, where he makes his way to be the King of Lies and keeps his title for a year. The King of Lies is a Congladiator tournament in a colosseum, where instead of fighting, the congladiators much weave fictional stories to the audience and the audience crowns a winner. Bluebear encounters the character Rumo on his travels. Making Rumo the Mork to Bluebear's Happy Days. These books do ring of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but feel a little less sardonic. If you're a fan of Douglas Adams, fantasy, Vonnegut, or just good stories, I encourage you to give a world created by Moers a go. - Ashley Bright

BlastoffI love learning and school. I love it so much that being a professor is my #1 dream job. I also love comedy. Being a comedian is my #1.1 dream job. So what did my friend recently recommend to me that combines both learning and funny? Professor Blastoff! I’ve only listened to the first episode of this podcast so far, but I’m already hooked. It’s hosted by her-great-goddess-of-comedy-forever Tig Notaro, along with Kyle Dunnigan and David Huntsberger. The three of them talk science, philosophy, math, theology – whatever interests them, under the premise that a Professor R.L. Blastoff used to host a radio show in the 1940s in the basement of Kyle’s house. He got transported into another dimension (I don’t remember why, and it doesn’t matter). Now the three of them are filling in until Professor Blastoff comes back. I didn’t learn anything new from the episode I listened to, but I didn’t care. The three of them are friends (Tig and Kyle are BFFLs and writing partners), and it really comes through in their interactions. They ask each other questions, share what they know, and joke around (they’re just like us!). I felt like a fly on the wall of a funny person’s living room. If you like talking about stuff that interests you but don’t know much about with your friends, you will love this podcast. They have guests every week, and the next episode features Nick Offerman talking about bees. I doubt I’ll learn anything meaningful about bees, but I’m sure I’ll have a blast (get it?!) listening to the four of them muse and wonder about them. - Amanda Hahn

51xUIEAv0aLKate returns to her typewriter from time to time. She writes memories, anecdotes, observations. She makes and misses connections, struggles to remember and express her thoughts. She goes mad. She might be the last woman on Earth. This is the plot, in its entirety, of David Markson’s brilliant novel Wittgenstein’s Mistress.

Like all of Markson’s later works (Reader’s Block, This is Not a Novel, Vanishing Point, and The Last Novel) Wittgenstien’s Mistress is told entirely in a series of one to two sentence paragraphs, without chapter breaks or time stamps or any indication of where we are. Yet the story draws in the reader with its cyclical structure, looping around and around the same themes, the same stories, the same moments, each time adding an element or introducing a new detail.

The themes are the themes of humanity: disease, madness, and the consistent inability of language to communicate what we truly mean to say. This book is a must read for those who love literature, those interested in philosophy, and, most importantly, those who study improv.

Like a great long-form improv show, Wittgenstein’s Mistress relies on patterns, connection, callbacks to create a fully formed whole out of a series of seemingly disparate parts. Every statement is an opportunity for exploration. Simple anecdotes evolve into complex games. Scenes 100 pages apart mirror each other. The end is in the beginning. - Ryan Callahan

DCF14: Susan Messing

Messing_S_293web-1Susan Messing will teach two workshops AND perform in the festival's closing show on Saturday, March 22nd. She's one of the top improvisational comedy teachers in the world and she's been improvising for over 25 years. There will be a lot to learn next week, but the teaching starts today. How did you get started in comedy? I was a theatre major at Northwestern University. I was a horrible actress. I started taking classes at ImprovOlympic after graduation and never had to butcher Chekov, Ibsen, and Shakespeare again.

How has comedy changed since then? The face of Comedy has evolved so much it is almost mind boggling to see where it was when we started. What was considered verboten then is banal now- improv forms from the past look static and crunchy and now it seems there is a freedom that I don't know that we thought even had the potential to exist. Thankfully I get to be in a position to evolve with the art and not sit and bemoan "the good ol days."

The evolution is so natural in this work that all of a sudden you look around and realize that improv reaches a certain level of performance sophistication that sky's the limit. It's been difficult to put improv on tv and make it look as effortless and exciting as it is live. That is a huge challenge- it still looks flat- but if that nut is cracked it'll open an entirely new can of worms of delight.

How has improv affected the rest of your life? Every fiber of my being wants to be a snotty "no but" person. Saying yes when I would have normally shot an idea down or being agreeable to something out of the box has led me to extraordinary places in my life. It helps me formulate creative ways to raise my kid that I might not have had otherwise, and we laugh a LOT. Being agreeable also led me to saying yes to the love of my life. I had known him for 25years and one day he sent me a text that said, "Stop farting around, Messing. Life is short. We should be together. And, you're perfect." So we got married a year to the day that he sent it- Uh, yes AND. By the way, men shouldn't feel bad about not coming up with that kind of line- he's an extremely good screenwriter.

Who influenced you when you were still a fan? Who inspires you now? When I first started, there was a team at ImprovOlympic (now iO) called Grime and Punishment with Dave Pasquesi, Rich Laible, Mick Napier, Tim Meadows, Dave Razowsky, and Madeline Long. Their team work and comic sensibilities blew me away. In particular, Mick Napier made me an instant fan of his work.

Everyone,and I mean EVERYONE, good, bad,and ugly, inspires me now and I have no idea how my observation of the human condition will affect my work, but it always seeps in there.

You'll be performing and teaching at the festival. What do you get out of teaching versus performing and vice versa? Teaching gives me the opportunity to share what I have learned in almost thirty years in terms of saving my students time- time that they could be pursuing joy instead of suffering trying to improvise "right." Performing gives me the opportunity to SLOW down and love exactly where I am with exactly who I'm with- I am nothing without my friends onstage and feel immensely fortunate to be able to play with them.

How did teaching become such an important part of your comedy career? I fell into teaching but once there I truly understood the mindset of the student because I distinctly remember being there. Plus, when I walk my talk I have more fun than anyone onstage and I win. When I don't, I am a hypocrite and can be as horrible as someone who fell down a mineshaft and landed on a stage. Teaching keeps me honest. I'm not going to rest on my petty laurels at this stage of the game. The day I stop growing is the day I start dying and I'm too young to die.

What is one lesson you wish every improviser could learn today? Improvisers can do anything and take the damn note. No, really. Shut up and take the note.

What makes festivals special? How important are they in the growth of a performer? Festivals are a celebration of our community. They are important because although our world is huge in comparison to what it was when I started, it is still tiny in many ways- our joy for this art brings us together and there is a celebration of trust and collaboration with improvisers that I have never seen anywhere else. It's kind of majorly beautiful and stupid and awesome.

What are you most excited about at this year's Dallas Comedy Festival? I am delighted to be invited and extremely excited to be in Dallas to soak up their enthusiasm for this art. I can't wait to play with my friend Kate Duffy, who now lives in L.A., and I miss very much. And I know I shouldn't mess with Texas, but after all, my show is called Messing With A Friend and NO sort of always means yes…

Take Susan's workshops during the festival.  See her perform with Kate Duffy at 10:30PM on Saturday, March 22nd.  Tickets available here.

Fun Fighting

You'll often find yourself during your improv career arguing on stage. It's an easy scene to get into because we naturally like to prove we're correct about something. Also, we feel that by giving a scene conflict, we're making it more interesting to the audience. Most of the time, though, it's not interesting to them. In fact, it's quite tiring watching people argue on stage. But there's a way you can handle conflict and make it fun. It's called the Shakespeare Insult Kit. Just use this handy guide the next time you want to argue on stage with someone, and you'll immediately make the scene more interesting and fun for you, your scene partner and the audience.

Shakespeare Insults

Space Work is Important

If you're an improviser, you know how important it is to maintain some sort of reality when you're on stage. Whether that's holding a gun properly (no pointing fingers!) to putting on clothes to answering a phone, the way you do these everyday actions go a long way in helping propel scenes forward in a truthful manner. The following video, "How to Spot an Improviser," from CBesRun makes fun of space work. I thought you'd enjoy it.

The guy doing the phone bit is totally doing the space work weird. You only answer the phone with devil horns if hell is calling.

Touching You, Touching Me

Hands by Bárbara FonsecaToo many times we witness scenes of talking heads. While there is nothing incorrect about that, it's more exciting to see a scene that involves movement, maybe even....touching. Consider the relationship scene. Couples in real life touch each other, make small gestures of intimacy. It may be holding a hand or giving a pat on the back. However, too many times we watch performers stand or sit and just talk.

Maybe all your relationship experience involves no touching. I bet, though, that for a majority of you--and audience members--touching plays a role in life. You're probably not aware of it, but when you're watching a show and two performers who are acting in love don't touch, it sticks out.

"Most improvisers are not in touch with their bodies...," Mick Napier wrote in Improvise. "They often believe that improvisation is all about the words and the funny, not about the body or the physical."

Physicality is a sure-fire way to help you create more realistic improv. Don't be afraid of a little body contact every now and then. It will definitely help you get out of your head.

What are your thoughts on physicality on stage? Do you ever use body contact to initiate scenes? Or are you a hands-off performer? Please let us know in the comments.

(Photo via Flickr: Bárbara Fonseca / Creative Commons)

Andy St. Clair's Workshop Secrets

We recently spoke with Dina Facklis about improv and some upcoming workshops she and her buddy, Andy St. Clair, would be conducting at DCH. She offered some great advice and choice quotes. But you know what was missing? Andy. Andy was missing from that article. Andy St. ClairNot anymore. We have some Andy now, and he has seasoned our questions with answers.

Why do you think people have such a difficult time initiating scenes? 

Because people are too busy playing plot man. Plot will kill you. It's boring. I want to see relationships and how you treat that person or how you and that person interact with each other. Great ways to initiate scenes? Give that person a gift about their personality. Also, emotion. I'll also give you a workshop we go.

Workshop secret  No. 1: Dina has mastered the art of watching improv scenes while playing Angry Birds on her phone. She's a master at it.

Most improv is based on short exchanges of dialogue. How can monologues help with scenes and character development? How can improvisers perform monologues without being thought of as scene hogs?

Monologues help with scenes and characters because it can set up who you are to people/fellow improvisers, almost making it easier and giving them (fellow improvisers) an easier time helping them have an opinion on your character. Also, keep those monologues short. Don't give it all away in the monologues.

Workshop secret No. 2: Dina loves drinking a gallon or two of vodka before any "rehearsal." You can't smell it. Girl can put it down! Don't be afraid to buy her a drink or seven. Watch out Texas!

What can improvisers learn from scene writing that they can bring to their stage work?

Kinda similar to question  No. 1 to me. Let the character move you forward and not the plot. Did Dina say that?

Speaking of Dina, workshop secret No. 3: When Dina says in a workshop "Look, I know it's hard when you're 27. Hell, I'm 27, and I get OUR problems." She's not 27, everyone. She's 77. But she looks great.

How do you remember to keep fun top and center while improvising? 

It's improv. It's not rocket surgery (see what I did there? Don't steal it. I've been saying that for years). It has to be fun otherwise the sadness/anger you feel about it not being fun will make its way onto the stage. Nobody wants that. It's comedy!

You think I'm doing a workshop secret No. 4, don't ya? Nope. Rules of three guys. Brain science everyone.....brain science! (I really forced that in there but I did it.)

Thank you, Andy. Now, readers, improvisers and countrymen, go forth and take Dina and Andy's workshops.

March 26-8:30 p.m.Scene Intensive with Dina Facklis Believe it or not, starting a great scene is easier than you think--you’re the only thing getting in its way. This intensive will get you out of your head and into a place where successful scenes can’t help but happen. Get ready for an early evening of effortless scenework that will help you figure it all out! (14 person maximum) Register
March 33:30-6 p.m.Finding the Comedy Gold in Your Improvisation with Andy St. Clair The No. 1 rule of improv: have fun! How many times do you forget that little gem? From personal experience, my guess would be A LOT. Hell, with all the rules and nuances of improv, who wouldn't forget? This workshop will show improvisers how to make the rules work for them while having a ton of funso that you have a ball while mining every single piece of comedy gold you can from a scene! (14 person maximum) Register
March 3 & 4Noon-3 p.m.Monologue Development with Andy St. Clair You can count on this: You have more characters in yourself than you think. And this workshop is not only about finding them, it's also about developing a written piece from them that is carefully structured with perfect timing. This workshop will conclude with a showcase of these monologues on that Sunday night at DCH. (14 person maximum) Register
March 3 & 43-6 p.m.Writing Scenes from Improv with Dina Facklis How many scenes do you have in your improvisation past that you wish you had written down? I personally have ABOUT ONE MILLION. This workshop will allow you to either bring in beat outlines for a scene that you've already improvised or find your scene with a partner through improvisation. You will then work with me to write this scene as to maximize its potential in terms of timing, character development and story arc. This workshop will also conclude with a showcase of these monologues that Sunday night at DCH. (14 person maximum, please feel free to sign up in pairs) Register