My friend, Ashley, works for HipDot, which promotes shopping on its site through facebook live broadcasts. If you’ve been on facebook recently, you saw the kickstarter video for RompHim, a romper for men. Ashley suggested a parody to her bosses. They green lighted it. Here’s the result. Glad to play a part. I’ll add that women’s rompers are quite comfortable, although I’m not sure how to best navigate using the bathroom with them on, I got a nice spaghetti strap tan line on my shoulder, and I wish they were made of moisture wicking material. I’ll also add it was a blast too see support from both shop owners on Larchmont Ave (we’ll gladly take a picture with you) and the LAPD (thanks for snapping a pic as well).
I grew a lot as an actor this year – more physical, playful, artistic, vocal and comfortable in chaos. I also made a big distinction toward the end of 2016 that really changed my perspective, and subsequently, my outlook for 2017: there’s a huge difference between struggling and being in the struggle. The latter includes acceptance, it’s active, and it’s empowering. Before I kick 2017’s ass, here’s a look back:
Pilot Season Prep
I took AdlerImprov Acting Studio‘s Pilot Season Prep class, taught by Rob Adler and Amie Ferrell, to kick off my 2016. By watching how other actors approached each week’s script, I realized there really is no right or wrong way. Instead, there’s your interpretation of the character and how you communicate the circumstances. There are certainly better, more active choices one can make that better serve the story, but relieving the pressure to “get it right” really changed my approach and, ultimately, freed me up to make more artistic choices.
A good friend from Chicago, Jason “The Dragon” Markoff, invited me to perform a Christopher Durang monologue in the middle of two one act plays he and another Harvard grad, Rushi Kota, were putting up to showcase their talents. Having enjoyed my experience working with Jason on episode 7 of Platoon of Power Squadron, I jumped at the chance to work with him again. I also played a cowboy in the second one act. Both characters required dramatically different physicality and vocal dynamics. I had so much fun bringing those characters to life. It reminded me why I started acting in the first place.
The second play was Bootleg Theater’s original work, The Stand-In, written by Pete Monro and Alicia Adams and directed by Ric Murphy. This was a tremendous opportunity and I’m extremely grateful I got to work with and watch some fantastic actors and see their process. I played three different characters, each with a different physicality. The beauty of Ric’s direction is that everything is measured by what it communicates to the audience. The choices aren’t necessarily good or bad, but rather communicate or don’t. Two examples in particular. As one character, I came out futzing with a belt. The action pulled my head upstage so the audience couldn’t see my face. A brief second, but it didn’t work. I scrapped it. The second was a regimented walk and turn as a soldier. A fairly standard choice. On closing night, Ric suggested I play with communicating the environment’s temperature (it was cold) rather than the regimented walk. The result – a blow of both hands to warm them up and a deep breath. A complete change of character and a heightened chilling affect on the scene.
Mike Stutz is a writer, director, actor and producer. He wrote and produced a short called Fat Lamb (directed by Rob Adler), which asked the question, “What if instead of ascending to heaven in a blaze of glory Jesus just sorta…stuck around?” In it, I played a suicide hotline operator. This was a hoot and the lines in the final cut were completely improvised.
Mistress Jane is a short written and directed by Roberto Roquer. It’s a story about a mistress who lets down her guard and falls in love with her sub. I play the sub. I’ll share the final cut with you when it’s available.
The same Mike Stutz mentioned above taught a six week writing class at AdlerImprov Acting Studio. The beauty of this writing class was that it was physical. All the writing takes place in the space, not in the head. You’re on your feet most of the time, letting distance, gesture, movement, and ultimately, your body, inform the writing.
iO West puts together a team of graduates to perform the Harold in a show called The Pool. Six weeks of rehearsal with a coach and four performances. Doug Sarine was our coach and often pushed us to keep it simple and emotionally vulnerable. And the group was extremely supportive and willing to take risks. What a great experience!
Commercial Technique Intensive
Amie Farrell is a commercial booking machine and she shared her tips and tricks with us over a weekend intensive at the AdlerImprov Acting Studio. The big takeaway from Amie’s class was camera awareness and environment, and using both to keep my face in the screen early and often.
Deb Barylski is an Emmy award winning casting director with monster comedy credits on her resume: Arrested Development, The Middle, Home Improvement, Just Shoot Me! This workshop offered insight on type and worked several scenes. Deb champions actors and pushes them to offer the best versions of themselves in auditions. She is specific with her feedback and generous with her time. Highly recommend taking her workshop if you have the opportunity. Unfortunately, she’s a St. Louis Cardinals fan, but I digress.
My previous commercial agent and I parted ways and I signed with DPM Talent just before the holidays. Daniel has been a commercial agent for almost two decades and tells it the way he sees it. He’s a no bullshit guy. Unfortunately, he’s a White Sox fan, but I digress. I’m looking forward to this partnership.
At the tail end of the year, I had the opportunity to work with 30 or so up and coming directors in the American Film Institute‘s directing program. The teacher, Rob Spera, an accomplished director, studied with Sanford Meisner and teaches the Meisner Technique to his students to help them craft deeper emotional stories and better understand the process actor’s go through to deliver their performances. He invites a handful of actors to demonstrate the technique and share their experiences with the students. I’ve participated in this program twice and loved every second of it. Special thanks to my friend and talented actor, Katie Adler, for sharing this opportunity with me.
I continued studying with with Rob Adler, Ric Murphy and Amie Ferrell at the AdlerImprov Acting Studio throughout 2016, taking the Sunday Advanced AdlerImprov and On Camera Scene Study classes. It is my artistic home and I continue to cherish the time I spend there and the work I create there. The space has enriched my work and the artists who work there continue to challenge, inspire and motivate me to achieve and do more.
At the end of 2015, I wasn’t in great physical shape and it affected me emotionally. I stopped working out for the last quarter of the year and, as a result, I was depressed. I felt sluggish. After stepping on the scale at my mom’s house for the holiday break, I knew I needed to make a change. Since then, I’ve worked out at least four times per week. I weigh about the same as I did last year, but it’s muscle. And as a result, I feel more vibrant.
I started seeing a therapist to figure out my blocks and the behavioral patterns holding me back. I’m an analytical person and I tend to focus on hypothetical outcomes, which ends up draining a lot of mental energy and creating a lot of unnecessary worry. I also tend to avoid. After two months, I’m already seeing the benefits. I started making more active choices. I started using my words. I talk to myself in a more positive, healthy way. And I’m less stressed. I look forward to reaping the fruits in 2017.
I took more breaks in 2016. I went for walks. I hiked. I napped. Taking a break freed me up to brainstorm and ponder. Naps recharged me. It’s easy to get caught up in the grind of LA and the idea that constant motion is necessary. That’s draining. And to quote a popular line in The Princess Bride, “Get some rest. If you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything.” In 2017, I want to chew my food literally and metaphorically by enjoying the world around me.
That was my 2016. I have aggressive plans for 2017. But I’ll share those in a different post. Wishing you continued success on your path and health and happiness in your life. Embrace the struggle.
Oh. This show. THIS SHOW! Poignant, moving, thoughtful, engaging, lovely, funny, hopeful, inspiring.
Here’s the description:
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and The Second City bring their ingenious collaboration, The Art of Falling, to our stage, creating an unprecedented performance that’s lively, charming and adorably absurd. The brainchild of five choreographers, four writers and more than 30 dancers and actors, this show takes dance and sketch comedy to a whole new level.
I’ve seen several Second City main stage and etc. shows and I’ve loved them all, but this show was different. I suppose that’s the nature of the collaboration and physically having more space to play. Dance on a full airplane? Yep. Dance using office chairs? Yes. Falling from the sky with clouds passing? Yep. Dancers using their physicality to serve as office furniture, stairs and exercise equipment? YES! It’s a funny show, for sure, but the beauty of it is that the scenes are allowed to breathe. It’s fundamentally about relationships, truth and heart, with a few zingers/moments we might expect/anticipate at our own holiday dinners in the not too distant future.
The show’s main through line is a new relationship between two men and how one quickly falls in love while the other keeps his walls up – and the consequences of those walls.
The other through line is meta – an improviser that does corporate comedy shows – underpinned by a new hire who’s desperately trying to fit into her new company while her boss is seemingly oblivious to her name, function and seating arrangement.
Both through lines point to universal experiences – the desire to connect, trying to impress in the early stages of a relationship, the self imposed walls we put up to keep ourselves safe, what happens when our existing beliefs are unexpectedly challenged and what happens when we push beyond our comfort zones and try something new.
It’s a beautiful show. I hope it makes a return appearance because I’d love to see it again.
A couple other miscellaneous thoughts:
The opening to the second act is a stunning dance sequence between two sets of partners to a piano and a string instrument. It is simple, but stunningly gorgeous, and incredibly moving.
A chat with two audience members yielded an improvised dance number that was also lovely. Spirit animal – koala. Favorite show – Silicon Valley. Machine problem – shower head. It seemed like the dancers truly relished the opportunity to improvise the dances and what they showcased was impressive and extremely playful, mostly because they committed with their whole bodies (as you might expect) – from extended fingertips to tips of toes.
There was a throwback scene from a review a while back about a single guy and his lady lover for the evening that I personally thought was improved by replacing the original cast member with a dancer.
Having spent most of my life in Chicago, some of the references hit closer to home, including a ride on the L, a Divvy bike and a closing hat tip to Sheldon Patinkin, a member of The Second City Chicago in 1959 and eventual Artistic Consultant.
Improv auditions are interesting. I’ve now auditioned for house/Harold teams at iO Chicago, iO West, The Annoyance, The Playground and for Rogue. Two nights ago, I added UCB LA to the list. 512 people auditioning. Less than 5 percent get in. Seems about right.
A couple thoughts about this audition:
1) The auditors were extremely supportive. Cheers when you entered the room. A warm greeting. A quick explanation of the process. And off we went. Genuine laughs throughout. Cheers at the end to escort us out and high fives from the folks coordinating the auditions and manning the doors. Great atmosphere for a high pressure audition. Completely different than other auditions where it feels like you’re heading into a walk in freezer.
2) The auditioning group was extremely supportive. Top to bottom, this was one of the best groups I’ve had the privilege to audition with. The four first beats were all solid. Good initiations. Good responses. The second beats had some nice tag outs and support moves to bring everything together. I found myself starting to watch from the back line.
3) The warm ups were loose. Sometimes, the warm ups feel like a magic trick to distract you from the impending pressure cooker, but I genuinely felt like the warms ups were fun and, more importantly, far from perfect, which created a playful atmosphere that followed us into the room.
4) Veterans auditioned. Rachel Mason, the one from UCB NY, was in my group. She performed a one woman improvised show at UCB Sunset the night before. Frank Caeti auditioned. He’s a long time improviser and has directed several sketch shows. I think that speaks to UCB LA’s influence. People want to be part of that community. People want to be on their Harold teams. People want to perform for packed rooms.
All in all, I’m pleased with my audition. I kept it simple. I maintained my point of view. I made physical contact. I know there were some things I would have done differently. Some more physicality. A bit more philosophy to highlight why my character did what he did. More spatiality. But those are nit picky. I also kicked off the audition by providing my 60 second monologue about a major milestone birthday that got a lot of laughs. That’s why I do improv – I love making people laugh. And I’m a damn good storyteller.
Here’s the second part of my interview with UCB LA’s Jake Regal.
How has improv changed?
When I was first taking classes, the philosophy was a very much a writer’s philosophy. It seemed solely about the game – finding the unusual thing, playing the move. It was very mathematical. Almost too mathematical. Never as bad as detractors made it out to be, but you knew the cheat/short cut system to isolate funny. I think the theater has increasingly incorporated more acting technique and human response to its improv.
Tell me about coaching. What do you love about it? What’s your philosophy?
I love seeing how a team changes over time and I’m happy to have been a part of it. I can shape a young team in a positive way. Philosophically, I’m trying to stop the evil improv in the comedy community – uncommitted improv performed for other improvisers and joke telling for each other. I consider my duty to teach people not to do that. My goal is to get people to commit to the reality of the universes they’re creating.
Who were/are your mentors?
Chad Carter. I had him for three classes and he coached my practice group for a year and a half. He always said, “Keep being funny until you can’t be funny anymore.” He was great at getting the game play side of improv working.
Eugene Cordero. He worked the humanity side of improv – play more like a person on stage vs. robot moves. He always pushed emotional moves.
Will Hines. He was critical to the development of Cardinal Redbird and created a very specific insanity that has meshed with the team.
What makes a good improviser?
Willingness to not be funny. The most important thing in my opinion is a willingness to not be funny. That is the breakthrough between 301 and 401 students – they learn/start to tell the jokes at the right time. The transition to good improviser is to exist in their space, create a baseline reality and the ability to just be there is invaluable.
Actor or human being skills. Be more present, active and be a better listener. I love seeing two human beings on stage.
Perseverance. It will take you time. It is as much about willing to stick it out as it is about talent. Improv will be there for those it’s worth it to. If you legitimately enjoy it, it will be there for you.
We’re chest deep in Harold auditions. Any tips?
Set reasonable expectations. Don’t put your entire life’s purpose on getting on a team. There’s 20 spots or fewer and 100s of people auditioning.
Have fun. Don’t focus on making a team. Be enthusiastic about the attempt.
Commit. Don’t play for laughs. Most people auditioning lose commitment. You will impress the auditors if you’re a committed human being listening and reacting in your scenes and responding honestly. If you’re playing the game, great.
It’s a lot of work. I made a Harold team and played on Harold night. Then our team blew up and I got kicked off. I told myself, “I will not stop to get back on Harold night!” I had four years of depression. I took classes and worked incredibly hard. You have to figure out to yourself if it’s worth it.
There is no correct way to do it. Every method has proved correct and incorrect.
Team chemistry is a fickle beast. Getting put on a team doesn’t necessarily translate to team chemistry. Form your own team. Play with people you enjoy playing with.
Remember – improv is fun above all other things. It’s not about how to do things. It’s a celebration of this stupid thing we’re doing. That will eliminate stress of having to be somewhere as an improviser.
The people that perform at UCB love improv, even after they “make it.” Improv isn’t necessarily the means to the end.
Don’t expect riches. I was fortunate to book a national commercial every year, but I was basically poor. I didn’t spend money. It wasn’t until very recently that I began to live like a human being.
Personally, I love it. I’m a huge egoist. I love people laughing. I get to play with other people and that’s where I get a lot of fun. Art in general comes up in improv. I love those moments of unexpected honesty. They happen in music and movies. Truth permeates and that can happen a lot in improv. That’s why the commitment is so important. Be a person on stage. The unexpected honesty – I find those the most gratifying moments.
Do the Long Hard Improv Jam. I started hosting it for the same reason as the 3 on 3 tournament.
Back then, the Jam was a train wreck. People would steam roll other people out of scenes. I felt so uncomfortable. I knew I needed to keep doing it until I was comfortable. I had to keep going back until I gained confidence.
Now the Jam is much more patient. It’s still more wild than the average improv show because you don’t know the people or why they might make certain moves and they’re aggressive, but it trains your confidence muscle.
To connect with Jake, follow him on twitter or email here if you’re looking for a coach.
If you’ve ever caught a Harold show at UCB, you’ve likely seen Cardinal Redbird. And if you’ve ever had a practice group, you’ve likely heard the name Jake Regal suggested as a coach. Jake plays with Cardinal Redbird. And he’s one of the best improv coaches I’ve had in LA. He’s efficient with time, specific with notes, and malleable with exercises.
I sat down with Jake to learn more about his story.
How did you get started in improv?
I was always interested in acting. We did improv exercises in drama class in middle school and I enjoyed them. We had the Improv Olympics (not to be confused with iO), which was a series of short form games. One of those was a debate game and I quoted SNL while I was debating Sarah. I called her an ignorant slut from the infamous Weekend Update sketch and almost got in trouble for it.
I went to college at UC Santa Cruz. I had huge academic apathy. I stopped doing work to determine where I wanted to go to school. I just applied sight unseen to Santa Cruz and was accepted.
There was an improv team called Humor Force V, UCSC’s oldest improv troupe. HFV specializes in performing long-form improv comedy, and while the members have changed over the years, the creed stays the same:
I auditioned for it on a whim as a first year student. I did well, but didn’t get on team. I auditioned my sophomore year and did worse. That felt like shit. I took UCB classes in the summers as a way to get better at auditioning for Humor Force 5. It took me four years to get on Humor Force V.
I really started pursuing improv earnestly when I graduated college. I started UCB 301 when I graduated.
In February 2009 I joined my first Harold team – Lincoln’s Bedroom. Even though we were eight very talented improvisers, it was one of the least successful Harold teams in LA history. Not a joke. We just didn’t have the perfect chemistry as an ensemble.
I joined Cardinal Redbird in October 2013.
What makes Cardinal Redbird unique?
We’ve always been strangely on the same page. We started doing bits early like we were on a team for a year, but we barely knew each other. We were a Frankenstein team, put together with a whole bunch of different people, but we instantly clicked. We had that going for us early. Interestingly enough, for the first six to eight months though, we struggled to find and play the game in our first beats because of our organic opening, but our second and third beats were always solid. We were technical, but finding the game steadily improved without losing the fun energy. I’d like to think we’re solid all around these days!
What do you love about improv?
My favorite teams are not necessarily the most technically adept. There are some great teams at UCB who do improv so well, but my teams are the ones truly enjoying themselves. The ones being inclusive and sharing experience with the audience. Teams like Flap Jackson, Last Day of School and Bangarang! Cardinal Redbird is following in those footsteps.
There’s a period of time when you’re doing improv and you transition from in your head to second nature. Can you talk about that?
It’s not like it clicks one day. You keep improving in ways you didn’t think you would. I don’t think I was a really good improviser until my first Harold team. I was in my head for the first year trying to figure out what do I need for this scene.
I played in the 3 on 3 tournament. Toni Charline, Jason Sheridan and I made it to semifinals by beating a well-known team. We were 301 students and they were the god team to me. I thought they were so funny. It was huge for my confidence. I thought, “Maybe I’m funny too.” We were no names before that tournament.
It’s a constant plateau, then progress, and then plateau again. You don’t have the perspective because it’s incremental progress.
I recently hosted the 3 on 3 tournament because it was an opportunity to give back to up and coming improvisers today.
How has improv changed?
When I was first taking classes, the philosophy was a writer’s philosophy. It was about the game – finding the unusual thing, playing the move. It was very mathematical. Almost too mathematical. Never as bad as detractors make it out to be, but you knew the cheat/short cut system to isolate funny. I think the theater has incorporated more acting and human response to improv. I love seeing two human beings on stage.
Ever see a show that changed how you improvised?
Yes. I saw Jason Mantzoukas (The League) do a one-person completely silent monoscene for a cagematch. The suggestion was hermit. He was so slow and patient. You could see he was dialing a girl’s number and hanging up when she answered. At the end, he reached into a space dresser and there was an audible gasp from the audience because they knew he had a gun. He put the gun up to his head and they pulled the lights. I vividly remember that show. He had the best reactions and that was a breakthrough moment. That’s when I really learned that lesson – let a facial expressions be a line – show don’t tell basically.
Now that continues on. I do a two-person show with Laura Chinn. They are really patient monoscenes. Total opposite of Cardinal Redbird and I love them equally. I get to be insane and then I get to act the shit out of scenes with Laura.
Stay tuned for Part Two of my interview with Jake next week.