A surfer. A salsa dancer. A cancer survivor support group organizer. A yogi. A MA theatre studies grad. A personality test aficionado. A dog walker. And a publicist. That’s who played in the second round of iO West’s “The Pool”, a show that features graduates of the iO West and iO Chicago improv training program.
Like “The A Team,” we were a special forces unit hand selected to perform a “Harold” on iO West’s mainstage. We had a four week run at 7 PM on Tuesday nights. We opened for various Harold teams.
If you’ve ever performed a Harold, you know how challenging it can be when eight strangers get together to try and create group mind, especially in just six weeks. Veteran improviser and our coach, Douglas Sarine, pushed us early and often to come from a place of truth. Aside from grounding our performances and creating a shared, relatable experience with the audience, it helped to simplify our approach to performances, i.e. less need to manufacture.
This was an extremely positive experience. The only bummer was that I felt like we were just starting to hit our stride in our fourth and final performance.
St. Patrick’s Day. One of my favorite holidays. When I was a kid, my parents would make corned beef and cabbage. I hated it. It wasn’t until years later that I appreciated its delicious goodness. Every St. Patrick’s Day, my father would put his Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem Live at Carnegie Hall record on heavy rotation. To this day, it is one of my favorites.
St. Patrick’s Day is a cultural institution in Chicago. They dye the Chicago River neon green. The South Side Parade is a fixture. And if you ever get the chance to go to Chief O’Neills Pub, it’s packed to the gills and the Trinity Irish Dancers make several appearances and Elevation, the U2 cover band closes the night.
During my high school and college years, we lived down the block from the Irish American Heritage Center, which meant during St. Patrick’s Day, the neighborhood was buzzing with bagpipes and drums. The neighborhood, Mayfair Park, was very Irish Catholic too and several families were composed of fireman and cops, some second and third generation – Kelly, Bresnahan and Coughlin.
Years ago, I had a breather between corporate gigs and decided to travel and use my then brand new passport to visit London, Scotland and Ireland for two weeks. I enjoyed London and Scotland, but absolutely loved Ireland. It’s called the Emerald Isle for a reason – the shades of green grass are unlike any other. I stayed in Cork, Dingle, Galway and eventually made my way to Dublin to fly back home to Chicago.
In Cork, I met Finbar and Sean. I was watching the World Cup while enjoying a Murphy’s Irish Stout when those two knuckleheads came up and asked me where I was from. After replying “Chicago,” they said, “You’re partying with us. Cork won the hurling championship!” I took them up on their offer and had a great time.
I also saw a production of Midsummer Night’s Dream at a park/playground in Cork. The audience stood around a pool as the actors moved around the space. I happened to be standing near a corner of the pool where a family of tiny ducks gathered to sleep for the evening. As the actors would near the corner, the ducks would stand up and waddle over to the pool to find safety and security in the water. They’d paddle around quacking until the actors left. Then they would pop out of the pool, shake the water off and huddle together for sleep. Inevitably, the actors would return and the process would repeat.
In Dingle, I rode around the peninsula on a bike I rented from a hardware store. I saw sheep cross the road from one pen to another. It was 75 and sunny with a light breeze. It was one of the most peaceful days of my adult life. I also had to stop about halfway through the bike ride because I wasn’t in bike riding shape. There was a brief period of time where I thought I might not make it back to the town proper. That evening, I went to a local watering hole and saw a three piece band play traditional Irish songs. A woman lead the band in a couple songs. And at one point, a large, early 40’s man with a beer belly engaged her in some Irish step dancing. It was lovely. And magical.
In Galway, I went to an open mic night with some folks from my hostel. I vividly recall a woman singing Radiohead’s Fake Plastic Trees. Mesmerizing. I also remember a white gentlemen who resembled a young Val Kilmer calling himself White Chocolate and singing an 80’s tune. George Michael or WHAM if I recall correctly.
I arrived in Dublin six hours later than I originally intended. I forgot my passport and credentials in my pillow, so two hours into my trip from Galway to Dublin, I had to hop on a bus back to Galway, walk back to the hostel, grab my info and then head back to the terminal to get on a bus. By the time I got to Dublin, I just wanted to eat and sleep. I had the best fish and chips I’ve ever had in my life and a Guinness to wash it down and called it a night.
Ireland holds a special place in my heart and St. Patrick’s Day is a warm reminder of those days. I love Irish music. I love St. Patrick’s Day. I loathe Notre Dame.
Later today, you can find me at Ye Rustic Inn enjoying some corned beef and cabbage. Until then, The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem will be on heavy rotation. Enjoy this St. Patrick’s Day. Slainte!
2015 was a character building year. I started the year in debt, which is fine. I’ve become accustomed to a certain degree of living in discomfort. But it’s the first time where I’ve carried debt for an entire year. Nothing crazy, but enough to be a nuisance. The problem with debt is that it hangs over your head like a storm cloud because if affects every decision you make. Go out? Grab dinner? Catch a show? Do a workshop? Take a class? Buy new underwear? It also means you mother is constantly asking if you’re OK. I am, thanks mom.
I almost climbed out of debt a couple times, but there was the time my car was towed because I parked in front of a small driveway. 300 smackers. Or the time I had to pay for a master cylinder so my brakes worked. And then there’s the fees for license and registration.
Here’s the thing about LA. And being an actor. It’s just like running a small business. As much as it is a talent game, it’s also a marketing game, which means it’s a cash flow game. Cash flow is king. So, when you’re constantly looking over your shoulder, you’re not looking ahead.
Despite being hampered, I managed to accomplish a lot:
- Completed UCB’s improv training program.
- Completed Lesly Kahn’s Comedy Intensive.
- Made Rogue Improv’s house team, Wishing Fish, and performed in several of their shows.
- Shot a short scene with the very talented Isabelle Schuler and had the opportunity to work with her and fellow AdlerImprov studio members on a short film.
- I started marketing myself more aggressively using Dallas Travers’ Actor’s Business Blueprint.
- I did two casting workshops with comedy casting directors. Both had ties to Chicago. Just like that, we have a bond.
- I took a vacation – to Chicago – for a week in September.
Most importantly, I continued to grow as an actor. I’ve been studying with Rob Adler, AdlerImprov, for two years now and taking his scene study class for a year. All the tools I’ve picked up since I started acting are congealing. And that’s exciting heading into 2016, which brings me to my goals, which are ambitious, but reasonable, and since I can’t control the number of commercials, movies or TV shows I’m in, I’m going to focus on the things I can control. Here’s my goals for 2016:
- Get out of debt ASAP
- Get my SAG card
- Build even stronger relationships with comedy CDs
- Run a couple 5Ks
- Increase my cash flow through an online PR course.
- Take a passport vacation
- Attend Cubs spring training game
- Get better sleep
- Taste my food
My longline coming out of Lesly Kahn’s class is a young Jack Lemmon meets Richard Kind as Chandler. Expect more of me in 2016.
As I walked to the Space Station Casting Studio, a tall, lean squared jawed man in full baseball regalia walked out.
“Do I need a bat?” I asked.
“Yep. You take four couple swings. Two to camera and two in profile,” he responded.
“Damn.” I said.
“Yeah, just ask someone who’s after you if you can use their bat,” he said.
“Thanks,” I muttered.
I didn’t want to ask because I felt like it was a sign of being unprepared.
“I should bail on this audition,” I thought to myself.
The audition was for a regional healthcare provider and they were looking for former baseball/softball players. I consider myself athletic, but I’m more of a weekend warrior these days. I haven’t played baseball since Little League and softball in Chicago isn’t exactly athletic, especially when it’s 16 inch softball. That softball is more about getting through the game without pulling a hamstring so you can sit comfortably eating pizza and drinking beer.
I walked back to my car and Googled Sports Authority, Dick’s Sporting Goods, baseball store. My audition time was 4:00 and it was 3:30. Then I remembered there was a Target on Santa Monica. I hopped into my car and zipped over.
I walked into the store, bolted to the back half and found the sporting section aisle. I grabbed an Eason softball bat, took it to the register, paid for it, got back in my car and zipped back to the Space Station.
I walked into the Space Station. My audition was in the back. As I walked through the door jam, I saw baseball players of all shape and sizes, but most were carbon copies of the tall, lean, square jawed man I ran into on the street. Most were in full baseball regalia. I was in Chicago style softball gear – long shorts, black socks, running shoes, three quarter sleeve t-shirt and my Cubs hat.
The thought, “What the fuck am I doing here?” crossed my mind. I signed in. And waited. And waited. And then I went outside and took some hacks with my new bat. And came back in. And waited. And then something happened. I built my imaginary world.
I was standing at home plate at Wrigley. The sun was shining. It was 78 degrees with a light breeze. I smelled the fresh cut grass. The stands were packed. The announcer said, “Now batting, Rob Lynch.” The crowd erupted. I stood and smiled before getting into the batter’s box. I tapped the bat on the plate, pulled it back and gave a nice slow swing. And smiled again. I was ready.
They called four guys, including me, in to audition. We slated and then shared our history.
1st Guy: Built like a fireplug. Reddish brown beard. Played college ball.
2nd Guy: Tall. Lean. Square jaw. Played Double A or Triple A ball. He rattled off all the team names, easily 10 or more, where he played semi-pro ball. He still had the ring on his back pocket where his chew used to reside.
3rd Guy: Older. Mid-40’s, early 50’s. Chiseled. Wide back. Rattled off two stats – lifetime hitting avg and on base percentage.
Me: “I’m Rob Lynch. I played six years or recreational softball in Chicago.”
We went through the audition. Two pitches to camera. Two pitches in profile. Two swings to camera. Two swings in profile. Each guy who went before me had a baseball swing, the hip turn followed by explosive bat speed.
Then it was my turn. I decided I was going to out act these guys. I pictured the batter. I pictured the ball. I didn’t just go through the motions. I crushed a pitch to left.
I didn’t book the job. I did something more important. I overcame my fear and insecurity.
Put me in coach, I’m ready to play, today.
It’s been two years since I pulled into Brian and Rachel’s driveway in Thousand Oaks and officially arrived in California. My high school friend, his wife and their two kiddos graciously housed Uncle Rob for three weeks while I searched for accommodations in LA. Reminder – I still have their kitchen table and two red wooden chairs. I should probably give those back at some point.
A lot has happened in two years. I have an agent. I’ve taken a shit ton of classes. I’ve secured more freelance public relations clients to cover the bills. And now I have a five year vision and a checklist of things I need to do each month/week. I’m currently executing Dallas Travers’ Actor’s Business Blueprint, which I’d recommend.
Special thanks to Rob Adler, AdlerImprov, for ongoing coaching, guidance, support and friendship. You have made the transition to LA infinitely smoother and more enjoyable.
Special thanks to Rogue Improv. I get to do some improv comedy every Monday night and I’ve met some great new friends.
Special thanks Vine Auto Center for keeping my Corolla in fine operating condition to get to auditions and class. Which reminds me – I’m due for an oil change.
I visited Chicago in early October. Friends and family often ask if I’ll ever move back. I doubt it. I’m in this for the long haul.
In the second half of my interview with Julie Brister, she addresses questions about acting in Los Angeles, what makes a good improviser, how improv has changed since she started, how UCB has changed and what’s in store for her future.
Most everyone who moves to LA with dreams of pursuing their passion is faced with the artist/commerce conundrum. Julie said, if you’re not full time on your passion, it’s a grind, unless you’re equally passionate about your day gig.
“In New York, I had a full time job. And ‘wow.’ I do not how people do it and still pursue their passion,” she said.
During her first year in LA, she focused most of her time and energy on kick starting her acting career.
“I was pretty dogged about pursuing acting work. I created opportunities for myself. It’s a hustle. And that work paid off. It’s not easy. It’s hard. And it took time. I still look and see what’s on Actor’s Access. This is my job,” she added.
One of the traps of Hollywood is getting wrapped up in product vs. process, the idea that success is right around the corner. It very well may be, but there are no guarantees.
“Once you accept how random, arbitrary the chances are you’re going to get this thing, you can forgive yourself for doing it,” she said.
I asked Julie what makes a good improviser:
- Listens and respects others
- Be someone who plays well with others
- Be brave and take risks
- Be willing to commit as an actor in the scene. There should be no delineation between an improviser and an actor. In one of my early classes, Ian said, “This is an acting class” and there was a rustling among the 20 something’s. You have to react. If you don’t, you’re not going to be good until you get that. You have to be affected by what’s going on.
- Have other interests and bring them to the scene. Don’t just do improv and don’t just focus on comedy. It’s important to feed the well because it makes everybody better.
With respect to UCB, she said:
“They’ve done an incredible job. I’ve seen it from the beginning. They brought together supportive, like-minded people that want to create funny work. Besser in particular said, ‘We want keep cost of shows down and provide a place where people can play and take risks – not pay to play.’ That’s rare to tell people we want people to push themselves and be dangerous on stage. I think that’s exciting. And to see it go from small thing to enormous thing is so satisfying. I’m proud of us. That we’ve made that happen. When I started classes at UCB, you gave your check to a lady to a lady named Celia who was helping them with classes. From having her put it in an envelope to five spaces to two major schools. That blows my mind!”
I asked about the evolution of improv:
“I’ve watched style, even within long form, change. I love watching improv evolve. I love it all – fast and gamey style scenes and slower, more patient improv. TJ and Dave was a shift for me personally. There was a realization that we don’t have to always come in with a premise. The fast style of play works great in a Harold, but sometimes, as an improviser, you want to slow it down. And they are the masters. It was a re-energizer too. We all get in slumps or get a little burned out. Seeing something like that – patiently listening and not letting anything get by and really using information given to you – that’s so much fun to watch.”
As for what’s next, Julie said it’s going to be a little more of the same:
“Hopefully more performance opportunities. I’m in a couple episodes of “Review” (2nd season). I have a couple movies coming out this year, including “Kitchen Sink,” a zombie/vampire/alien movie. “Night of the Living Deb” is coming up and “Is That a Gun In Your Pocket?” which has women go on sex strike if men won’t give up guns. It’s a modern day “Lysistrata” (ancient Greek play).
I asked Julie about how improv has infiltrated TV and film. She said:
“It’s really amazing to see how far improv has come culturally. There are a lot of improvisers in TV shows and it is so much a part of the working process today. That’s super exciting in the minutest ways. As an actor, seeing how it changed is exciting. Back in the day, most actors would be like ‘I don’t know what to do off script’ and it was a real edge to be an improviser. Now, most people have some improv experience, especially here in LA. There are so many more opportunities for it. It’s exciting to see it’s become part of the mainstream.”
I asked Julie about improv and life and she said, “The basic tenants of being a good improviser, playing well with others listening, these are life rules. If that bleeds into society, that’s a good thing. Everyone would be a lot happier and a lot better off if they had a little improv in their life.”
I said in in my first post and I’m going to say it again. If you’re taking improv classes at UCB, Take class with Julie.