July 26, 2007

San Diego Improv

I'm by no means an "actor", although I've done a lot of local community theatre in my day.

REAL Actors, being dramatic!
I think the guy in the sheet's in trouble for something.

Doubtful what I did on "Live on Tape" could really be called "acting" either - but it more or less got the job done back then.

See? All it takes is funny hair, some glasses and voilĂ ! Acting!

Either way, I enjoy getting up on stage or in front of the camera and making an ass out of myself.
Shortly before I left the shining jewel of the Midwest known as the Quad Cities...

Three of the Quad Cities in their "hey day".

...for the brighter lights of L.A. I became involved with an improv group called ComedySportz.

ComedySportz in Rock Island, Ill

This is where I was introduced to what's known as "short form" improv... it's the "Whose line..." type of game improv. I performed in Rock Island for only about a year and half before heading west.

In LA I've performed with a variety of improv groups. Including IO (ImprovOlympic) in LA. I was a founding member and performed with them for over 5 years. I even took workshops from the late Del Closer, their founder and guru.

IO in Hollywood & Del Close... hey, he looks like the guy in the sheet!

IO is now a big machine in LA (which is great) - but that's no longer for me. It became a magnet for actors - meaning, lotsa' pushy people fighting for their few moments on the stage. So I decided it was time to bow out; I wasn't really enjoying it any longer.
Since I do improv just for myself and to have fun, the decision was an easy one. This whole time I was still performing with ComedySportz, but up in Santa Barbara. By then we'd opened a theatre in San Diego called The National Comedy Theatre. And this is where I decided to perform. But this decision came with a price. And that price is: TRAFFIC.

The trek to San Diego to perform improv is something I do about every other week. And it's an endeavor that consumes 12 to 18 hours out my day. The drive to San Diego from where I live in LA SHOULD be about a 2.5 hour drive. That is, without traffic, but there's always traffic. So the best I can hope to make the trip is 3 hours, but it's taken me as long a 6 before. And that's just one way.

Here's a typical trip to San Diego to perform at The National Comedy Theatre. Call time isn't until 6:30pm, so hitting the road at 12:20 should be safe.... yeah, right.

Friday, July 13th 2007. 12:20pm all ready to go!
Friday the 13th?! Aaack! What was I thinking?!
Fortunately, I'm wearing underwear.

Since traffic is such a huge factor in driving in Southern California, very often the quickest way to get somewhere is not the shortest way. The shortest distance from LA to San Diego is down the 5. But during the day, on a Friday or Saturday, it'll be gridlock. So I go around LA, heading East before going South. It adds more than 50 miles to the drive-- but generally it's a hell of a lot faster.

Just outside of Pasadena... Hey things are looking good! Clear sailing!

Driving... nerves of steel... ready for action!

Uh oh... I've got a bad feeling about this...

CRAP! Traffic comes to a complete standstill.
And this won't be the only time...

I've gotten used to this drive, I've been doing it for nearly 7 years now. There's plenty of time to think, reflect, listen to the radio, books on tape, pick your nose, look around...

Ooo, cool car!

That's pretty much how the drive goes... go, stop... go, stop... go, stop... All the way down. It's nerve wracking, but that's what driving's like on the freeways out here. After a couple of hours, I see this:

A BIG bridge! Is it going to attack? I hope it's friendly...

When I see this massive expanse over the 15 freeway, I know that I'm getting close to San Diego. By 4pm I reach San Diego. The drive really wasn't all that bad. Only took 3.5 hours. It could have been a lot worse.

India Street, where the National Comedy Theatre is!
It's up there in the building with the sign saying Marquis. Even though
that's NOT the name of our company, it just the name of the building.

Our theatre is tucked back in a little courtyard area that we share with a British Pub and a British specialty shop... and a pizza place. On the outside the theatre may not look like much, but on the inside... it's, ah... um... pretty much the same. But as a space to perform in, it's great.

Hey! Who left the door open?!

I'm one of the "veteran" players on the team. That's a nice way to say that I'm one of the "old guys". There are a few of us geezers on the team so I'm not alone, but most of the players are young folk. I rarely play on Friday nights, generally I'm down on Saturdays. Friday is when the younger and newer players perform. This is a Friday night.

Katie, Emily, and Kamarra before the show. Katie always
smiles "chin first" for some reason.

Our theatre is not huge, but it can seat about 100 people comfortably, or 118 uncomfortably. The stage itself is great to perform on. It's just got a nice "feel". The theatre is sort of a "black box" space. Not really a formal theatre and not really a club... so I wouldn't really know how to describe it.

Kamarra sweeping before the show... any spare change we can find helps.

There are few things about the way the stage is laid out that have bugged me for a long time... like the door that's cut into the wall dead-center. We NEVER use it and it just looks awkward. Also, the bright yellow strip outlining the proscenium, what's up with that? This is the first time I'd seen that, the strip had just been added. I'll go on record as sayin' that I'm not a fan of the yellow border. Especially when you compare how this looks to other improv theatres I've performed at:

-ComedySportz, Milwaukee Wisconsin-
Practical door, window and openings for entrances

-ComedySportz, Rock Island Illinois-
Turn of the century vaudeville palace!

Okay, this last one's not really fair. The Rock Island theatre above is Circa' 21 the dinner theatre next door to ComedySportz. This year Rock Island hosted the National ComedySportz Tournament and this is the theatre they used - so it was a big fancy-schmancy deal. But their regular theatre is about as nice.

Back to our show down in San Diego... On Friday's and Saturday's we do two performances: one at 7:30pm and one at 9:45pm. Before each show we gather in the Green Room, which is an odd pattern of reds and blues with no green at all, and we get ready.

Joey (lower left) is instantly hypnotized, as Joe (on steps)
plays dulcet tones from his invisible harpsichord.
The fact they share the same name creates this unusual bond.

Katie in the gondola of our blimp ready to launch!
Actually, this is our sound booth.
Katie ran lights and sound for the shows

Joe Birdsong, our ref for the show, warms up the audience.

The show! Full of action! Excitement! And standing around!

Our "loyal fans" enjoying the show.

Both shows go well. The theatre is about 3/4 full and the audience seems to really enjoy it. At the end of the evening it's all hand slaps and high-fives as the crowd leaves. After the show we all pitch in to tidy up the theatre and then settle in for notes on how we felt the shows went. By 12:20 am I'm back on the road, headed for home in LA.

This and the radio will be my only companions for the next 2 plus hours.

If I listen to music on the drive back, it generally makes me sleepy, so I usually tune into talk radio and listen to Coast to Coast on KFI in LA. So I get to hear George Noory moderate a number of loony callers taking about everything from bigfoot, to aliens, to time travel.

12:20 and no traffic!

And then... IT HAPPENS!

A detour?! Aw CRAP!

Caltrans generally does a lot of their road-work at night, so sometimes while there may not be much traffic in the early morning hours, there can be other delays... and these can be really frustrating. This detour forced me to double back on the freeway and go back about 8 miles onto another road before getting back on the freeway again. However... it's not long before I encounter more construction and this one causes a HUGE traffic jam!

1:52 am and gridlock!


Eventually I make it through the traffic. I hit several other pockets of construction that either divert me another way or slow me down. But I've made this drive so many times, that it really doesn't phase me all that much... and by the time I arrive home, the drive is nothing more than a blur that I'm ready to forget.

2:58 am. Home at last...

The drive back only took about 2.5 hours, so it really wasn't bad at all. But when I get home I'm exhausted, yet wired from the drive. It'll take me awhile to fall asleep. This drive to San Diego once or twice a month may seem like a huge ordeal (and it kinda' is) but many times I'll go down early (with Emily) and we'll spend the day sight-seeing or hanging out in San Diego before the shows. Sometimes I'll get there early enough to catch an afternoon movie. So it's not just peforming the improv, it's also a chance to get out of LA for the day.

Believe it or not, the big drive to San Diego, dealing with the traffic, and the long day, is a hell of lot better than dealing with Hollywood actors, and the shows in San Diego are ten times more satisfying.


Anonymous said...

Yay Pasadena!

Anonymous said...

Hey! I love right around the corner from where you perform! I think I'll check it out. I want to try out for it too!