Rom Com

It might surprise some people to learn that I really like romantic comedies, but I do. I like the genre, and I like a format in which we laugh at what's really a huge concern for most all of us, and then - when it's done well - really feel the emotional tug of the narrative at its climax. As I've said before, high and believable stakes make for the best comedy.

The trouble is, most "romantic comedy" by conventional Hollywood standards misses the mark for me, and there may not be much worse than a bad "romcom" that's neither funny nor emotionally effective. Such misses just end up making us feel trivial, having wasted two hours of our time on something superficial that purports to represent us.

Now, this is not a

Harold & Maude

argument, or anything like that. I love that movie, but it tends to get plucked as an example of an unconventional genre movie, one that proves its case by being the exception from it. I like far more conventional fare, like

My Best Friend's Wedding

. Of course, that one defies convention in certain ways, but the mechanics are true to the genre. Others I appreciate include



When Harry Met Sally

, and

Punch Drunk Love


I'd like to do a romantic comedy of some kind, possibly even a web series. I think it's a format that's perfect for that kind of story, especially if you're looking to build a longer episodic story. Mine would have two people who really need one another (not just pretty faces that you want to be) with intention, less misunderstanding and more genuine conflict, and it would probably use New York City for its backdrop. (Just to ratchet up the difficulty of filming, I suppose.) I'm going to do some thinking on this.

And you? What would your romcom consist of?

Student Silks Show

On May 15, our silks teacher Cody Schreger had her first student showcase: Coming Attractions. It was a great experience all around - a first time performing for many of her students, and a show of which we all felt a sincere ownership. I was, unfortunately, getting over the flu at the time. I couldn't do my whole piece (a loving tribute to Die Hard) but Cody still let me do a little of what we had planned. Below are some of my favorite photos from my portion of the show. All photography by James Glader.
The rest of the class is women, you see. I just wanted to fit in!

I could've done it in the dress.

Adorable argument.

Definitively the shot that shows my post-flu state best.

A couple of real silks performers come out to let me know
I should quit while I'm only so much of a disappointment.

"Well anyway, can you help me down?"
"We don't do that."

One-Set Wonders

The wife and I have become fans of the sitcom


.  We weren't from the start.  In fact, we very specifically gave its premiere and first few episodes a shot because we liked so many of the people involved, and were very specifically disappointed.  I believe I said something along the lines of, "It's what I was afraid of - unsympathetic protagonist and trite set-ups."  These are my least favorite aspects, after all, of Joel McHale's version of

The Soup


Talk Soup

).  There's very little TV Wife Megan and I can agree on, but

The Soup

 combines stuff she likes (the [ahem]


 of talk shows and reality TV) with stuff I like (some smart writing and unabashed silliness) at a time when we're both groggy and couch-bound.  So we tried


, didn't like it, stopped watching.

That was then, this is now.

There are several things about the show that have since won me over (not the least of which was a couple of friends forcing me to watch the Halloween episode in which the character Abed

impersonates Christian Bale's Batman

) but one is especially unique.  That is, the use of a single set.

I'm stirring controversy here (my DOZEN of readers will revolt in the comments) because, of course, the original formula for a sitcom is a single set.  That's how they started, for practical and budgetary reasons, and by-and-large that's how the sitcom has stayed.  In fact, looking at the overall picture,


 has a much broader canvas than most sitcoms.  It gets to take its characters all over, and sometimes off of, a college campus.  In a sense, their setting has more in common with a science fiction one (not the only link to that genre - see

this article

by Chris Greenland) in that it takes place in this huge idea of a building (or ship) with recyclable corridors and archetypal rooms.  Compared to

The Honeymooners

' apartment, this is an elaborate structure.

But I'm not just talking about constructed sets here.  One of the things I've come to love about live theatre is the way in which shows that use only a single set put a particular emphasis on character.  Take that even further - again, often as a result of budget issues - into the realm of minimalistic sets, and you're really putting emphasis on the people who occupy the space.  The last show I performed in,

Speaking to the Dead

, was set up in this way and performed in a completely white room.

It came about as a result of a combination of factors, but I found it strangely apt for a somewhat absurd comedy dealing with the afterlife.  It reminded me of a quiz I learned when I was a kid in which one of the questions was, "You find yourself in a completely white room with no doors or windows, and the only other thing in the room is an enormous white armadillo.  How do you feel?"  Your answer, it would later be revealed to you, was meant to be indicative about how you felt about death and/or heaven.


 has had a few episodes - and one especially so - that have hinged on what I think of as the

Twelve Angry Men

 scenario.  That is, for one reason or another, a scenario in which people in deep conflict have to stay in a single room together and work something out.  Normally, the single set in


is a study room on campus where their particular clique has a habit of gathering.  The especially singular episode is #8 in season 2, entitled "Cooperative Calligraphy." In it, one of the character's pens goes missing and the group is forced to stay in the study room until the mystery is solved.

That of course is a device, albeit one that few television comedies would attempt (apart from set-up for a flashback episode).  But throughout the series, much time is spent in the group's homebase, and several other episodes strand most of the group into a single setting together.  (More recently, they had an episode about the group playing a tabletop roleplaying game, and though they of course cut away to in-game imagery, the fact remains that it was an episode about people sitting around being themselves [and other people...?].)  In particular, the study room and its ubiquitous rectangular table highlight the single-set choice for the series.  Each character has their place at the table, and a standard shot presents them as having a sort of stage made from the table surface leading up to a 3/4 bust.  It's simple, theatrical, and puts emphasis on what the actor is doing.

In general, film and television are mediums in which the viewer's attention is rigorously directed, sometimes to better effect than others.  One of the things I love about theatre is that free will has a bigger role in it in almost every respect, making it more unpredictable and frankly dangerous.  In my opinion, be it ever so humble, film and television actually have an obligation to direct our attention.  Without that direction, I can't help but feel abandoned, as I do when I see sloppily directed play.  I don't begrudge them that control at all but, God, do I love it when that control is practiced with moderation, and shared with the performers.

I heard recently that our spatial understanding, particularly as it applies to travel and personal orientation, can be described as a symphony of coded signals in our brains.  Codes like: me walking corridor, me walking corridor, me walking corridor, me turned left, me arrival at doorway, me in new place - room.  Wherever you go, there you are.  Many better writers before me have written about the "empty space" of the theatre, and the significance of theatre being a shared act or storytelling in the same room, but it makes especial sense to me when I think of it in terms of those "me" orientation codes.  


 am in the story room.  


 are going places together.  In fact, part of what theatre allows us to do is orient ourselves, just for a little while, in tandem with others.  Perhaps it's that the simpler the setting, the more inner-orientation there is potential for.  I don't know.

(Shameless tangent: How much better is a fight scene when the director has done just a little bit of work setting up the space in which it takes place?  Makes it more like an arena, and lends more unity to the whole thing.  [My favorite example of this is the stairway to the roof in

Die Hard

. We go up and down it and through the room several times before McClane gets into his final hand-to-hand brawl in there.])

Now, I'm not saying that


 pretends to this kind of ambition.  (How about that title though, eh?)  What I am saying, though, is that this is something the show gets right.  It's a situation comedy that's more about the characters than the situation.  Just about every dramatic presentation is aiming to have its audience identify with one or more of its characters, but not all of them do a good job of inviting the audience to join them in the room.

The First Step is in Recognizing you Have a Problem

A collaboration with Pavarti over on The Node, submitted sans comment:

Loch Ness Monster - Chronic Insecurity
Far from his reputation for being "elusive," the Loch Ness monster is all up in e'rybody's grills, all the time. "I'm told I'm the best at hiding," he'll let you know at any available opportunity, all while preening for some unwitting tourist's camera. Then the photographer will try to leave, and Nessy will be all, "Oh, you have to go, huh? Right now? What've you got planned? Who are you meeting? It's not Duncan, is it? Well can I come?" If you say yes, you'll have to discretely text Duncan and anyone else to give them fair warning while Nessy stumps along behind, talking incessantly about being the best at walking on fins. And if you say no, well...have you ever had such huge, wet, black eyes stare at you while a prehistoric amphibian mumbles something about guessing he understands, what with how close you and Duncan are and all? Actually, it's not so much that no one can capture Nessy - it's that they quickly discover there's too high a price to pay for that particular accomplishment.

Vampire with Seasonal Effective Disorder

Nosferatu's attitude is just turning south. We JUST turned the clocks back, isn't his depression supposed to hold off at least until December? I don't know if I can take another winter in this cave with him. The rest of us are partying, thrilled to be able to have so much time out in the world, but whiny pants just can't stop muttering about needing a UV lamp. Seriously? He can't have that thing in here, if he wants to burst into flames that's fine but other people live here too and personally I'm perfectly happy without the tan.

Yeti - Body Dismorphia 

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE! WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE! You are not supposed to BE here! Oh, GOD! I don't have nettles in my fur, my claws aren't christened with fresh ram's blood, and...OH! Well, the timing couldn't be worse. I mean, I've only consumed five whole rams per day for the past three months. Of course I look WAY too skinny. If I had known you were coming, I could've plumped up a bit and been properly Neanderthal, or closer, anyway. If I had known...but it's too late now, isn't it? You've seen. You're already judging my fur. IT'S TOO SILKEN, YOU THINK I DON'T KNOW THAT?! Some of us just have finer hair, and that's all there is to it. You know, we just, like, get the wrong impressions from the media. Ever since that damn WAMPA movie came out - you know the one - we're all supposed to be 500 pounds and have HUGE tusks. Forget it. I'm going to go eat a truckload of vegetables and then get a bikini wax. That'll show you. THAT'LL SHOW YOU ALL!"

Chupacabra - Trichotillomania

Hi. Uh, hi! Down here! Yes, hi. I, uh...I don't go to parties very often. I don't know why, I guess I just don't think of it. How are the pigs-in-a-blanket? No, no, I haven't tried them. Too cooked, you know how it is. Plus I'm kind of full. Um, so.... What? Oh yeah, I'm fine. Why? Oh, the mange, you mean? No, it is, it's mange. Um, well.... I don't really think it's a problem, but I kind of maybe over-groom. A bit. A little bit. I'm going to stop. Totally. I mean, I know it's a little off-putting, what with the scabs and all, but hey, look: you try combing with these fangs some time and see where you get. So anyway, how about that Middle Eastern sit -ACK! Oh, excuse me. ACK-ACH! ACGGGGGGHHHHCHOHKK! Oh wow. Sorry. Hairball. I...hey, where are you going? Okay. Can you maybe grab me a bit of the goat tartare, if there's some left?

Wolfman with Classic Narcissism

I find it difficult to go out. You know, there's always that feeling of living up to what people expect of you. I mean, really, I just want to be a guy. I know that I intimidate a lot of folks but, it's just hair. It's luscious and soft and stays perfectly in place but in the end it's really just hair. Always having to be the beautiful one really takes its toll on me. One day I'd love to just be the fat friend or the ugly friend, you know, stay out of the limelight, but it seems like no matter what I do, everyone's eyes are trained on me. I guess that's the price you pay for beauty...

Jersey Devil - Performance Anxiety 

Guys, I'm starting to worry about Jersey, for reals now. Ever since we did that tour through Connecticut, he's been missing practices and spending lots of money on new gear. He says he's working on new stuff, but he won't let me hear any of it. Just mumbles something about "progressive alt-anti-folk with a dub-step beat" and how "it's not ready yet." I mean, he's got the perfect metal look and all, but even on tour, didja notice his bass just kept getting quieter...and quieter? And, I mean, I'm not even that close to him or anything, but even Delaware Succubus thinks something's up. She said something about "gone soft," or "completely impotent," or whatever...

The Boogey Man with Generalize Anxiety Disorder

Sometimes I just feel so overwhelmed. Like I just want to crawl under a rock and die. There's so much to do, so many kids to traumatize and so much pressure to really get it right. You know there are movies about me? And books and songs!? But whenever I'm out with the guys I just feel so disconnected, they have jobs and families they can talk about and I just feel the panic rising in my chest whenever the conversation turns my directions. Lately I don't go out at all. I feel safest in my room. This Saturday there's a bachelor party for The Blob and I don't want to go. Just the idea of all those people, god, I feel like I'm going to throw up just talking about it. F%*#...I can't catch my breath...I need to just go lie down for a while...

Medusa - Battered Person Syndrome
This fall, check out the new romantic comedy from the people who brought you Over Her Dead Body and Mannequin: On the Move!  In spite of her seductive good looks, nothing has worked for Medusa - bars, speed and online dating, even her shadchen can't help this brash beauty out.  Men seem to just freeze up around her.  Her so-called friend Athena even switches her conditioner with ammonium thioglycolate.  Some girls just can't catch a break!  And just when she was starting to get comfy with the idea of eating in every night for the rest of her life, along comes an intrusive neighbor: Perseus.  He's ripped, he's rude, and he's got a bad attitude - and Medusa just can't get enough of him!  Watch her try to circumnavigate his gruff exterior, and find the loving man she knows he can be, if he'll just stop hysterically screaming and weilding blades!

On Chris Hardwick, Nerds in General & Collaboration

I can't quite remember how it started.  I got awfully into podcasts several months ago, and I think I heard that Chris Hardwick (at the time, to me: that guy who sometimes reviews gadgets on Attack of the Show) had one, and so I gave it a try.  I liked it, and subscribed to his 'blog, The Nerdist.  Not too long ago, Signor Hardwick started casting about for 'blog contributors and, having something of an idea at the time, I submitted a proposal.  It was not accepted (but not NOT accepted [but we actors understand what that means]) and I thought, oh well: Can't fault a guy for trying.  (I've since had a much better idea for a pitch.  Still mulling it over, though. [Spicily.][I'm kind of hoping you actually didn't see what I did there....])

So this cult of Chris: I'm in it.  There's a lot that appeals about the dude; he's funny (helpful quality in a  comedian), intelligent and kind.  He's self-professed nerd, which means my likes match his likes pretty durn good.  The thing that really grabbed me about him, though, is what he chooses to talk about and how he talks about it in his interviews with various celebrities on the podcast.  Hardwick has a lot of fun, makes (occasionally crass) jokes, is well-supported by fellow podcasters Jonah Ray and Matt Mira, but the key for me is that he seems to love most of all to talk about people's ideas.  Not just their work, mind you, but the work they'd love to do.  To my mind, there's nothing more telling about a person in the moment than that, and frankly nothing more interesting to me.

About a week ago, I acquired an invitation to join the alpha stage of a new little project by Chris and collaborators Rachel Masters and Athena von Oech (of Red Magnet Media) called "The Node."  The Node is an idea that Hardwick had been hinting at on his podcasts for some little while, realized.  Essentially it's an online social network specifically for nerds (or whatever description you'll apply).  Now, I flinch immediately at the idea of another social network.  Thank you Friendster for reminding me of birthdays, MySpace for making me feel I could manipulate my own web presence, LiveJournal for...uh...being there when I just didn't get it at all, and Facebook for at least initially making me feel safe to come out and play again.  Thank you, and done.  Great.  No more.

EXCEPT:  The Node has a proclaimed purpose.  It's an exciting idea.  Something Chris calls "nerdsourcing," referencing the term crowd-sourcing, or utilizing a group of folks of varying (including no) acquaintance to accomplish something concrete.  The purpose of The Node is to facilitate this kind of collaboration between nerds or, as Hardwick puts it, people who are unabashedly obsessive and creative.  In other words, we're hoping here to create a little online community of folks who will make cool stuff and happenings together, not just post pictures of their pets (yes, I posted a picture of my cat). Will it happen?  I hope so, but we'll have to see.  And I use the word "we" because I think I'm in, dogs.

When I look back over the work I've done over the past several years, the strongest and most consistent component has been creative collaboration.  Now, I always pretty much chalked this up to my being deeply entrenched in theatre projects, and theatre being sort of the ultimate collaborative art form.  On considering it lately, however, I've realized it all has more to do with collaboration being a huge personal priority.  Not necessarily for any logical or pragmatic reason, I value collaboration a great deal.  It's like having a built-in audience at every stage of creation, and means that whatever you made is something greater than yourself just by the nature of its making.

There's a lot going on for me right now that shares this theme, from directing the next Zuppa del Giorno show, to revamping The Action Collective with Friend Andrew, to an untold-of project or two.  So far, The Node seems to be facilitating mostly a lot of excited nerdly chatter, and one or two ideas for real-world nerdsourced projects.  I'm trying to dream one good one up myself, though my first contribution to the pitch pile might simply be from a necessity that arises out of my current work instead of some nifty new thing.  I can't, in other words, give as much time to The Node as I might otherwise (though I'm stealing time left, right n' center).  If it sounds like something in which you might be interested: Hit me up, dawgs.  I can invite you in.  Such is the power of an alpha nerd.  *barks quietly, pushes glasses back up snout*