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Month: August 2013

Running in the Community Pool

I met a Canadian B-List celebrity from the 1980s over the weekend. Jealous much? He might have even been an A-List celebrity at one point. I’m not really sure. Either way, now that I’ve interacted with greatness, every other encounter I have had – and will have – will be uninspired. It’s a good thing you can’t talk back to me, blog, because perhaps you too would have left me wanting.

I kid of course. But let me tell you about the sketch-writing workshop with Kevin McDonald from Kids in the Hall that I took this weekend. It was awesome! The workshop involved using improv skills to develop comedy sketches. I loved every minute. The instructor had all sorts of fun anecdotes from working in the television and comedy writing industry, and I took vigorous notes, so now I too have fun anecdotes about working in the television and comedy writing industry. He also taught us his approach to sketch-writing and re-writing. It’s very straightforward. You come up with a concept, you improvise a scene, and then you re-work the scene until it tells a good story and gets some laughs.

Here’s an example of one of the scenes we worked on and the transformation it went through. I’ll change the names of my classmates of course.

Take 1: (Entirely improvised)

Location: Community Pool
First Line: “No running!”

Paul: (starts running)

Greg: No running!

Sally: Yeah! No running if you’re going to run that slow!

Mitchell: You can’t tell my kid what to do!

Greg: He’s getting in the way of all the other kids!

Mitchell: How dare you! How old are you anyway?

Greg: How old am I? How old am I?!

Sally: Show some respect. This lifeguard is 40 years old!

Mitchell: Oh.

Greg: I AM.

Sally: And we owe this man a round of applause. He is only recently allowed to be around young children again.

Sally: (begins clapping – everyone else begins awkwardly clapping as well.)

Greg: Thank you. Your kid needs to run faster.

Sally: Yes, perhaps we can help. In fact, I know we can help. I propose that Greg chases your son. That will compel your son to run really fast.

Mitchell: I’m not sure about this.

Greg: Yes…yes…I will chase your son.

Paul: Okay! (Starts running)

Greg: (starts running after Paul)

Mitchell and Sally start cheering: Run! Run! You can do it! Oh! Wait!

Greg: To the parking lot!

Mitchell and Sally: What! Not the parking lot!

Greg: I got you! I got you! Get into my van!

Paul: Oh no!

Greg: (mimes getting in a car and driving off and smiling like a crazy person)

Paul: (Looks very scared behind Greg)

Sally: (turns to Mitchell, who looks upset) I’m sorry Ma’am. I …didn’t think that would happen. Hm. Who could have seen that one coming?

End scene.

So…I confess, I was Sally in this scene. And I sincerely didn’t think Greg would follow-through on abducting Paul, because Rule #87 of improv is actually something along the lines of “Thou shalt not molest children.” Even though the sketch got a lot of laughs, we understood it wouldn’t really work as improvised because it was too dark.

Take 2: (Workshopped)

Location: Community Pool
First Line: “No running!”

Paul: (starts running)

Greg: No running!

Mitchell: You can’t tell my kid what to do!

Greg: (looks nervously at Sally)

Sally: (shaking her head and looking at her notepad) Greg, if you are going to pass the Life Guard Life Coach test, you need to step it up.

Greg: (nods, summons strength) I said, “NO RUNNING!” He could fall and hurt his head!

Mitchell: My son will hurt his head if he wants! He is training to be a professional football player and being exposed to concussions will make him even stronger.

Paul: I don’t know Mom. Maybe I shouldn’t be running. (takes out small bag of chips and starts eating)

Greg: What should I do Life Coach Coach?!

Sally: Concentrate! Remember Step 5! Life longevity!

Greg: (nods and rushes over to Paul) Are you stress eating? You should eat healthy!

Mitchell: MY SON WILL EAT HIS FEELINGS IF HE WANTS TO! HOW DARE YOU! He is eating to be a football player!

Sally: Greg this is not going as planned! Turn to Step 7! Dreams! You can’t get certified if you don’t pass Step 7!

Greg: Son, do you even want to play football? What do you really want to do with your life?

Paul: Well..actually…I want to be a publicist.

Mitchell: A publicist…FOR A FOOTBALL TEAM!

Sally: Greg you’re going strong here. You’ve established his dreams. Now…all you have to do is Fix the Family Dynamic. Fix it, Greg. It’s broken right now.

Greg: (Nods and turns towards Mitchell) It’s very clear to me there’s no man in your life.

Sally: Greg, what?

Greg: (gets down on one knee in front of Mitchell)

Sally: Greg this is not part of the reference material. What are you doing?

Greg: I would be honored if you would take me as your husband. I will be a father to your son and a lover to your needs. Will you marry me?

Sally: (scribbling madly in her notebook)

Mitchell: (touched) I…I don’t know what to say….I, YES. Yes! I do! You’ve made me so happy!

Sally: GREG THIS IS UNPRECEDENTED! And INCREDIBLE! You have fixed this family dynamic! AND PASSED THE LIFE GUARD LIFE COACH TEST! Congratulations! Welcome to the team! (reaches out to shake Greg’s hand – Greg shakes it.)

Greg: Thank you, but I’m afraid I can’t accept the position.

Sally: What? You’ve worked so hard for this.

Greg: Well, I can’t make it on that salary. I have a family to take care of now. I have mouths to feed.

Sally: Huh?

Greg: (Turns towards family)

Paul: Daddy! (Famly hugs)

End scene.

We received feedback after this second version that I thought was solid.
1) Play up the Life Coach, Coach jokes
2) Insert some parts where we do Life Guard/pool activities, for example switching towers or testing for chlorine levels.

I would have liked to have played with those ideas of course. Perhaps I will come back to this!

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Prequel: First Writing Workshop

Big news friend! I have signed up for a sketch writing workshop. It’s my first sketch writing workshop, so I’m not sure how to pack. I’ve set aside a really nice empty notebook, free of any cluttered previous thoughts, made of 100% recycled paper. I also wrote down the directions to the venue.

I’m going to pack a pen. Wait, no, two pens. A red pen and a black pen, so that I can red-line my own notes. I will also pack a mechanical pencil, in case my pens run into any kind of pen shenanigans. I hope no one asks if I have an extra pen to borrow, because I will be forced to either

a) Say yes, and compromise my infallible note-taking strategy
b) Say no, and create mild discomfort when I start switching between my red and black ink pens and my unprepared classmate takes notice

I think I will also pack bottled water, because hydration is key.

Next blog post: a sketch!

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Buying a Movie Ticket

When it comes to purchasing movie tickets online, I’m what you would call a kept woman. David takes care of all online movie ticket purchases for me. I haven’t had to use that wizardry in years. Well today I wanted to buy a movie ticket, and I went to the movie theater website. The website was so slow! Even as I type this, the second page on the site is loading. ANGELIKA FILM CENTER – I DUB THEE THE SLOWEST WEBSITE ON THE INTERNET. Are they hosting the actual movies on the site?

I frantically emailed David to ask what website he uses to buy tickets. Fandango! He replied. Of course! I should have remembered the charming ads with the talking paper bags.

Fandango did not disappoint. They have nailed this whole movie ticket buying process. All I had to do was enter in my email and credit card information. Then, this is the part that was most impressive: I was offered the opportunity to have the ticket sent to my cell phone to eliminate the need for swiping my credit card at the theater to print the tickets.  This was uplifting proof to me that the arc of the technical universe is long, but it bends toward efficiency.

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This is how I feel. All the time. Well, some of the time. Maybe mostly just yesterday.
Sad Clown









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Cubicle Warrior

I am a cubicle warrior. Every conference call is a battle.
The other day I resolved a problem using web meeting. It was invigorating. I heard one end-user gasp – a rookie mistake, he should have been on mute – nevertheless I appreciated the subtle applause I so very much deserved for deftly navigating three web pages in the midst of a screen share.

I dial in two minutes early to each meeting: this demonstrates I’m organized and schedule my meetings appropriately. And given the day, I can decide whether or not to take part in the early-attendee-weather-banter or to remain on mute and multi-task, as I so efficiently do.

I’m a mute master. If someone, especially a client, makes a joke, I’m quick to un-mute and chuckle. I won’t leave them hanging. And I’m quick to mute again, lest I begin typing in the midst of the conversation and disrupt the flow of discussion. That kind of mistake will make you the topic of water cooler discussion and not the good kind.

Do I follow-up? Absolutely. Oftentimes I’ll begin while the meeting is still in progress and send the note within half an hour of the meeting end time. If the follow-up requires more time, I send a note informing the attendees. That’s right. I manage expectations.

Like a boss.

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