The Third Place

Compliments of Friend Davey: check out this slideshow of "third places" (though I like "great, good" places even better). Davey also points out how this ties in to my writings on The Third Life(TM). If I remember correctly, I cribbed the idea for TTL(TM) off of a series of short plays a friend of mine from college produced, all set in a coffee shop, that third place for so many of us. Perhaps she had read Oldenburg's treatise on the subject.

Ba-Dum. Ching...?

Comedy is profitable. It's true. Everyone wants something different from their entertainment, and everyone's sense of humor is uniquely calibrated to some extent, but I think we can all agree that everyone feels better after a good laugh, and few people actively seek to avoid a situation in which they might be tempted toward laughter. It is possibly the most socially acceptable form of catharsis, ranking right up there with the sneeze as a fairly uncontrollable expression of release. Sure, there are "inappropriate" laughs galore, but we're generally pretty forgiving even of these . . . especially in situations in which social pressure to be moral is at a minimum. As a result, comedy is very bankable.

I have mainstream comedy (Define my terms? Heck no -- let's keep this as subjective as possible.) on my mind lately owing to several factors, not the least of which is that the next ACTion Collective event is devoted to comic two-hander scenes. You better hang on with both hands: It's going to be a crazy one. As a result, I've been gathering one-liners and dialogue-based comic scenes from a variety of different traditions, and it's got me thinking both about how important comedy is to business, and how much the two have intrinsically in common. Don't agree? How many major television studios have banked on trained actors for sitcoms, and how many have banked on up-and-coming stand-up comedians? Your honor, the defense rests. Bitterly.

Both comedy and business are modeled on a fairly direct interchange, one related to profit. For one it's money and the other, laughs, and in both cases if you're not growing then you're in trouble. As I read through comic dialogue from the recent past all the way back to the 17th century, I'm struck by how little has changed in all that time. The individual lines have gotten shorter (unless part of the joke is about how long someone speaks) and of course the phrasing has changed, but the rhythms and effects are frankly standard. Particularly looking at two-person scenes, in which communication is really broken down to some pretty basic, ping-pong dynamics. (Hacky-sack would be a better analogy [parenthetically].) A couple of people bat something around until a certain synergy is reached, which results, we hope, in some payoff.

Is this all that different from tragedy and non-profit organizations? (Not that I'm relating the one to the other, mind. [That's for a separate 'blog post {parenthetically}.]) Is tragedy not interested in profit of a different tender, and organizations in payoff in less materialistic ways? Certainly. And then again, no. It's less accountable with these forms, more subjective, and the structures are more complex. We can tie all sorts of genres and business models into this, but there's something about commercial business and comedy that goes naturally hand-in-hand. If for no other reason than because funny makes money.

Certainly that proves true in my own life, because I'm outrageously wealthy. Wait . . .. It does relate, in some way. I just had it. Damn. Oh well . . .

OH RIGHT. I mean to say, in terms of the jobs I've attained. See, in this context, the work is its own payment; which may be why I'm not - parenthetically - outrageously wealthy. Huh. Oh well, I'll figure that all out tomorrow. The point is, I think that the comedies I've been in outweigh anything else by a ratio of something like 5:1. It's what the people want, and I am more marketable as someone who can repeatedly fall on my ass than I am as someone who can make you think of your mother/father/first girl-and-or-boyfriend with a twinge of heretofore unacknowledged regret. Them's the breaks, kid.

Fortunately for us, comedy is a hell of a lot of fun to do, usually. Business, too, if you can get in the right mindset. Lately I've been trying to perceive my money-making as a night of comedy. Thus far "farce" might be a better term, but I'm slowly edging toward"parody," in hopes of eventually hitting "satire" and am confident that -- someday -- I'll have them rolling in the aisles over pure, profitable comedy.

Scaling Hypotheses

I am a great lover of hypothetical questions. To my mind, they are the most efficient method of getting a person to write you a very brief and personally grounded bit of fiction. Maybe this, too, is why many people avoid hypothetical questions -- they're all-too aware of how revealing their answers may be. I think these sorts of questions are a little too entertaining to be concerned for my own exposure, though. Over the years I've tried to disguise my hypothetical questions in forms people won't find too fanciful or threatening. Instead of asking, "If you were trapped on a desert island with a CD player and only five albums, which would they be?", I go for, "Top five albums?" Even then, many balk. "You're allowed to change your mind," I insist. Still, nuthin'. Some favorites of mine:

  • Would you rather be able to fly, or become invisible at will?
  • If you had to pick one musical artist or band to compose a running soundtrack behind your every moment, who would it be?
  • What would you do if you knew you had three weeks to live?

I thought of a new one the other day, and a series of events seemed to conspire to bring me back to my answer to it, over and over. I had the answer before I had the question, to be completely honest. The answer: Climb. The eventual question:

  • If you could only do three things for the rest of your life, which three voluntary actions -- besides sleeping, eating and sex -- would you choose?

So when I put it to myself that way, I came up with to climb, act and write. I took some time with it, because I figured that given more options I might come around to see that to climb was not my life's greatest ambition. And it's true. I don't aspire to climb, particularly. What it is about the act of climbing that puts it at number one is that it makes me the happiest out of these three things I love to do. This is very interesting to me. I notice that I am not a professional rock climber, nor a telephone-pole repairman, nor even a stuntman, per se. I could make some practical assertions as to why not, but all of these would crumble once applied to my chosen aspiration of maintaining a legitimate acting career.

I'm not sure I can explain what it is about climbing -- simply climbing -- that is so satisfying to me. It seems like such a simple action, yet it always cheers me up somehow, to the extent that if I had to give up acting or climbing, I really don't know which one I'd choose. (So please: Nobody ask me that one.) Writing's third because I love it, but it's solitary, and acting's second because it comes with some really nauseating lows right along with the dizzying highs. But climbing, it's very pure, and uplifting (see what I did there) and heck: I just don't know. I fantasize about getting a grant to do performance art for which I climb various public sculptures, turning major American cities into playgrounds. From what I've heard, I've always been this way. One of the earliest stories of me that my parents have involves climbing to the top of an nine-foot-tall metal giraffe. This same story also highlights a rather strange accompanying fear: of heights.

I don't know what this says about me, and I don't particularly care. I get a greater sense of reward out of definitively identifying a little joy for myself than I do out of plumbing its roots and motivations. So I instead put it to you, Dear Reader:

  • If you could only do three things for the rest of your life, which three voluntary actions would you choose?

Remember: Fun, not Freud.

Threes . . .

{A brief note from the Aviarist: Started this back in June, prior to being consumed by

In Bocca al Lupo

, so do forgive the lack of timeliness. There are still some ideas here I like. Anyway...}

All my theories about the nature of humor aside, they're not just for comedy

{Threes, that is.}


This post is inspired in part, of course, by the strange coincidence (in every sense of that word) of the recent celebrity deaths. Personally, I tend to perceive a desire for meaning where others might perceive an actual meaning, or pattern. Does this biscuit resemble a face to you? Yes, it does, but I believe that's because our most necessary and long-established pattern recognition ability is related to human faces, not because your biscuit is trying to tell you something. However, even I am given pause by the phenomenon of triple demises, or even just triple serious injuries. Maybe we're looking for a pattern to something that's very frightening for us, to make it somehow more rational, and pinpoint a supposed "end" of such a cycle. I don't know. But I know I have more trouble embracing that rationale for times such as those.

For the record, I'm not torn up about any of our recently departed entertainers. I usually am not when it comes to celebrities. Jim Henson was a big blow, and I continue to mourn in my own little way Jeff Buckley and Elliott Smith. But on the whole, I react to celebrity demise with a "how sad," not any profound catharsis. I did not, after all, know them, no matter how well I know their work.

In our work as Zuppa del Giorno, I and my comrades-in-comedy are always searching for and instructing others in "the comic three." We express this a number of different ways: set-up, narrative and punch-line; catch, wind-up and release; introduction, suspension and delivery. Typically, the real tricky beat for performers -- especially those unaccustomed to any stylized acting -- is the middle one. This is totally understandable in this context. It's the least concrete part, of indeterminate length, and it often functions in mysterious ways when it comes to a joke in particular. Is it exposition, important detail for later use, or is it in fact a misdirection that makes some sort of punchline or payoff possible? There's another set of basic terms we use to describe a progression of three: beginning, middle and end.

I can't say for certain what it is about threes that make them so generally comprehensive for we humans. Why is it that a three -- a beginning, middle and end -- should make sense to us on such a basic level? Why not a five, or a two? For the most part, I'm content to accept it as a fact. However, an idea occurred to me while I was mulling over for the umpteenth time this week what I find an interesting supposition. Maybe even a draft of an explanation. It has to do with how we, as individuals, perceive time. Maybe it's because we can't ever completely reconcile the past, present and future. Maybe it has to do with our relationship to reality as we understand it.

{Insert fart joke here.}

Now look: As much as my syntax and unabashed love for the layered parenthetical may argue against it, I am not a fan of pretentious theory. We can expound all day on reality, and perception, and philosophy, and phlah phlah phlah. I'll love it. Hell yeah, abstraction. Bring it. So long as it stays in the realm of discussion, and doesn't wander into realms of authority because, brothers'n'sisters, we just don't know. We don't. What we have are ideas, and ideas are exciting things. But let's keep our pants on, 'cause there's a time and a place. (And the naked philosophy party starts at my place at 9:00, Friday.) My idea, then, is something like this:

We all have distinct relationships with our pasts, or memories, and our futures, or dreams. We try to live in the present, most of us, because that's where it's at, man. Yet we're tugged, one way and another. The past seems to offer us answers, if only we can understand it well enough, the future to offer us hope for change. When you come right down to it, this paradigm makes up such an encompassing framework for our perception at large that it's extremely difficult to escape. When we speak about it in greater absolutes, it is a unifying experience for literally everyone alive today, regardless of culture or credo: we are born, we live, and we die. It's the great commonality, and so that rhythm translates across any border. It's the music of comedy. As for why students of comedy seem to have the most trouble with the middle bit, well, isn;t that the same in life, too?

Sure, yes, okay -- I acknowledge that this could be a rather backwards deduction, fitting reality to a three because threes are there. I could be seeing faces in biscuits here. But it's an intriguing idea to me, nonetheless. Plus, it makes me laugh.

Done Taught Some Learnin'

Is it specifically making fun of southern folk when you use that dialect, or just making fun of ignorant folk in general? It's clearly meant to sound southern, but I can't say fer certain if that or the horrible syntax connotes stupidity.

Yesterday I taught as a guest artist in

Suzi Takahashi

's classroom at


. In spite of being mid-cold (oh doh!) I thought it went rather well. The space was awesome: a movement studio built into the ground, so you entered to a sort of balcony overlooking the whole room, and once you descended a flight of stairs you were on a 25x35 wood floor with an approximately twenty-foot ceiling above you. The class was a slightly shifty one, but by that I don't mean they were suspicious in any way. It was a class of about 19, but a few were late, and a few had to leave variously early, and most of them weren't especially interested in theatre. In fact, many of them did turn out to be dance enthusiasts who ended up in the class due to a syllabus error. Nonetheless, they were a great group -- very attentive, and with good energy to put into the work. I worried a bit at the beginning, when some of them were exhausted by the warm-up, but they were mostly crying wolf on that count. The conditioning at the end of class . . . now that rolled them out pretty flat.

I gave them a good long warm-up, explaining as we went why we were doing particular exercises and how they related to the work. Then I got into the typical commedia dell'arte characters, introducing them one-by-one by groups:


, then


, then


. I ended up bring along some cut-outs from a calendar I bought in Italy a couple of years ago. I questioned what I would do with them when I saved them, and now I'm glad I did and surprised that I didn't immediately realize they'd be good teaching aids. Each time I introduced a type of character, we spent a little time on specific versions and always, always, keeping the students moving and trying the forms physically. They took to it beautifully, hopefully aided in that effort by my advice, "You can only fail in this form by NOT making a fool of yourself." We just had enough time to get through the three basic categories, then touch on two "hybrid characters" (Capitano and Pulcinella) before I only had ten minutes for conditioning and homework. We worked our upper bodies today (my sadism in full effect with circle push-ups) and I asked them to observe people for character studies to bring into class when next we meet.

As I say, I had a good time. The experience of teaching solo meant that I had to work a little smarter to get everyone to accept me and glom onto my humor. I hadn't realized how similar to having an audience plant it was to have a co-teacher. I also found myself looking at all this stuff, that I teach and have taught for years, in a fresh light. That really ought to happen with every different group of students, of course, but occasionally I feel less enthused about the whole thing. This time, however, something about the almost total ignorance of the form that the class had motivated me to seek out fresh connections between what they did know and instinctively performed, and what I had to add to it. Sometimes I wonder if my enthusiasm for teaching might be based a bit too much in how occasionally I do it. If I had to teach multiple classes every weekday, would it retain my interest?

Suzi and I had a bit of a conversation about this and other things related to education and making a career in the theatre after class was dismissed. She has had a very interesting (and informative, for me) path through acting, directing, bachelor's, master's and even PhD programs, and at present is adjunct teaching quite a bit in New York and elsewhere. We talked about what it was like to return to school, to teach and to get jobs in the academic theatre scene and the world at large. I don't know what to make of all we discussed just yet, but it was great to talk so openly about what I plan to do with my life over the next few years. I ended up being more plain than I generally am with other theatre folk (networking always being in the back of my mind somewhere) and learned a lot about what I see for myself and what I'd like to see.

Now this is a funny point for me. Generally speaking, I like to talk here about the tribulations and rewards of what I call

The Third Life

, meaning what one does in addition to a personal life and a money-making life. More and more, that distinction has come to seem artificial to the point of being obsolete. The artistry for me is not a separate part, even when the goals may seem to be in conflict with the other two parts. Catholics may prefer the divine paradox, but as for me, I was raised Unitarian, so I guess we all should have known I'd take it in that direction eventually.

Assuming that unity as real, or at least as a prospective goal, suddenly my vow to generally leave the minutiae of my personal life out of the 'blog is unwarranted. Basically unhelpful and wrong, in fact. All is one.

That having been said, don't worry: I'll still try not to flood the Internet with things like a detailed schedule of my flatulence. (Note to self: New social networking site idea: "Tooter.")

My point (and this time I do have one) is that it feels very personal,


personal, to talk completely openly here about what I want for my future. But it also feels like I need to get past that, in a way, because part of what makes me feel vulnerable is an awareness that I'll be held more accountable for anything that makes it down in type here. So I may not be as open as I could be, but henceforth I'll be more open than I have. Balance in all things, as they say. This may be a little old-dog/new-tricky for me, of course.

But, as they say, it's never too late to learn.