Sunday, July 31, 2022

I dedicate this post to all of the UNLV Improv students who graduated from Bleach Improv Level 1 today.

July 29 was #SayDay. When Jason Chin in Chicago passed away, TJ Jagodowski came up with this concept as a way for us to thank the people in the improv community who have influenced and inspired us.

This year, July 29 was also my 30th birthday.

I have delayed posting this twice.

Even in times I got a chance to rest, I don’t think I’ve really had a chance to think about it. But a lot about improv is not thinking about it, right? At least not thinking too hard about it and go with the moment.

I’ve been away from home for the past 7 weeks visiting family, taking time for Dalcroze, and a whole lot of improv. I’m “home” in Buffalo, but start heading back to Las Vegas tomorrow afternoon and arriving 1am on Tuesday. I’m pretty sure my non-aloe plants are dead now. I’m exhausted.

But at the same time, I think this has been all worth it.

With the option to go on family vacation in Europe in spite of COVID conditions at the time, I decided to spend the summer to visit improv communities I hadn’t seen since pre-pandemic and during pandemic. I had this opportunity to travel and see people I had never met before in person or people I haven’t seen for a long time, and who knows when I’ll see any of these people ever again. So Carlo, thank you for letting me use the van. Thank you Joe, Barbara, Valerie, and Emmy for letting me sleep over.

I have to thank all of the volunteers, participants, and musicians of InterCity Improv for staying with me over the last couple of years. It started somewhat of a ragtag group of improvisers looking for something to do that’s grown into a community of some of my closest friends and colleagues I’ve ever known.

Everywhere I went I was thanked for everything the InterCity Long Form Jam did for the improv community, how we and the other online improv jams, workshops, the theaters that kept going, we just kept going, and it seemed to be a beacon of hope for a lot of people that improv was alive and carrying on, for those who got to play together and those who stayed at home resting and watching us happen, waiting for that opportunity to join us in person. Even today, as friends came and went, as the world started to open back up, as others after us started their own thing and carry on the legacy, you can’t help but feel we had something to do with it. I always get anxiety for receiving praise for the jam, because in the back of my head I know that it wasn’t just me, it was all of us who came together to take initiative and become something that was bigger than all of us, which will forever be a part of our art form’s history and lexicon.

I went to my second in-person ComedySportz Championship in Seattle, technically third or maybe fourth since I offered workshops in the online championships. This one was different; last time Jasmine Kojouri, Robert Cochrane, and I represented the newly formed CSz Las Vegas, so we had to meet people and make friends on our own, which wasn’t hard since ComedySportz is basically a second family once you’re in, but now we finally had a healthy continent with Lana Green and Justin Green to lead us. There were so many moments that kept my heart full, from hosting a surprisingly successful workshop, to a show stopping Trapped In A Musical (Heather, Jason, Jakob, Luis, Ashley), all of the hijinks with the matches, and even technically winning a match by points as a musical director in a Championships match. I have to thank teams in Chicago, Richmond, Portland, and San Jose for bringing out the best in me. I also really need to thank Conor McLean for taking me home Friday night, as well as MJ Matheson and Ian Lootens for pitching in for gas for us.

The biggest moment for me had to have been the match between Seattle and Vegas. Outside of Vegas, I have played matches for Buffalo, Seattle, and Boston (Courtney thank you for hosting me). I had just played for CSz Seattle the week prior, and I had just worked with Mark Ableidinger and John Araya in the booth for those matches, so leading up to the match, especially it being Vegas’ first match, I had a lot of excitement to see not only what Vegas could do, but how they would do against the people I had just befriended the week prior. And when they stepped onto the stage as the Vegas Lucky 7’s, the only thing I could think was “we made it. Let’s show everyone what we’re all about.” And even though Vegas won the match against the home team Seattle, just the energy both teams brought to their games hit me. We were close to being selected to play in the final match, so attaining that status in our first year made me proud to be a part of CSz Vegas.

A special place in my heart rests for the community at Unexpected Productions at the gum wall in Seattle. I was introduced to Alex Engelberg early on in my MD career, who let me sit in on Improv Happy Hour shows with him around Christmas time, later on getting my own shot at accompanying TheatreSports. Fateful encounters with Jessica Robins at only of my online workshops led to meeting Dre Anderson on his birthday in Vegas, leading to an in-person jam I hosted which connected Jessica to Jason Newsom, then hosting Dre on bis birthday for a second time not only in Vegas with Bleach but at UP in a musical improv jam. Then Kent L. Whipple telling me about UP’s 39th Anniversary Show with no scheduled MD, it was only right to step in since I was available to play. When I first came around, I would knock on the door and get weird look from people, and I would have to explain why I was showing up before doors opened, but this time I was welcomed with open arms and smiling faces as if I was one of their own. I got really emotional at points when some of the veteran improvisers talked about the history of the theater. (I also got away with playing a well timed PornHub sound byte from the piano). Thank you Jill R Farris and Jay Hitt for including me, and thank you Richard Templeman for driving me home. Also thanks Nicole for getting me to do my first stand up slot outside of Las Vegas.

Pittsburgh has been a key city for me as I found the community at the end of my Second City tour to learn how to MD, as well as the beginning of my Dalcroze studies at Carnegie Mellon. I performed my very first long form set with Kevin O'Brien at Steel City, who introduced me to Arcade Comedy and the Pittsburgh Improv Jam hosted by Well Known Strangers, the jam that the InterCity Jam was modeled after, and where I met Benjamin Amiri. So to help see the Pittsburgh Improv Jam come back after two years of hiatus because I wanted to jam on my 30th birthday, and seeing on stage the realization from the face of Well Known Strangers that this was actually happening, I couldn’t help but feel the sense of joy to be able to give back to their community for being so hospitable to me, and on Say Day even. Thank you Katie Tarara for hosting the post-jam impromptu Say Day sharing and impromptu 30th birthday party for me while dodging certain nut allergies. I was so happy when they announced they already scheduled next month’s jam, and even with small steps I hope they’re on their way to keep their jam and Say Day sharings sustaining.

Thanks also goes out to Mike Rhodes for allowing me to sit in during Best in the Burgh’s The Latchkey Kids, as well as the cast who LITERALLY saved me after I was supposed to improvise a song solo from the piano, panicking because I blanked during the show and forgot half of what had just happened, sang “Somebody Save Me,” and then one by the the cast, in spite of not even talking about singing as an option and half not even doing musical improv before, stepping up one by one to sing a line about what we all learned today. I took a chance, failed, but everyone else got my back and created one of the most beautiful moments of Yes, And I will ever remember.

Buffalo, Scott Wojtanik and Meghan Joyce, thank you for allowing me to bring my family into the fold, especially that one time in 2018/19 where my extended family and my best friends from high school got to see me do what I do exactly in a CSz Buffalo match. You give me a deeper appreciation and connection the to community I grew up in but actually found later in life.

Michaelangelo Henegan thank you for holding down the fort in Las Vegas. I’m glad that the Vegas Improv Community as accepted you with open arms, and that another piece of the world has opened up for you to embrace. I have to give thanks to all of the improv musicians who took the time to train me and advise me, with the understanding that there are not many of us around to support the number of improvisers that depend on us to access a joy in music in improv they long for, those who need that spark and inspiration (duh music = of-the-Muses) we can offer to help them from holding onto themselves to just embrace and share their vulnerability. I think all I ever wanted was to pass down down “the magic” given to me, in some cases for free cough cough Stephanie Mc Laura Hall Stacey Smith cough cough, just to keep the legacy going. There’s still much so much to do, and I’m looking forward to the work to be done when I get home. I’ll also thank MacKenzie Reed, Michael Olivier, and Casey Johnson for letting me pass on to you what I know.

(side note I made a list, and we’ve had 31 different musicians of varying skill levels come through Bleach, One Take, and InterCity Improv. Imagine if we kept bringing in more musicians.)

Thank you Rich Hilborn for helping me set up a jam/not workshop in Ottawa, I’m sorry it didn’t work out in Quebec so I won’t forget to go through Ontario next time. We will make this work, and thank you Lana for almost hosting me.

Thank you Leslie Purcell Upchurch for watching my improv performances in Pittsburgh. You might be the the only one who may truly understand my relationship between improv theater and Dalcroze. Hopefully we can nudge Nicole back into it.

There are still so many people to thank, again I’m exhausted and I apologize to you if I left you out. Let’s duke it out in the DMs.

Maybe I’m doing Say Day wrong. I think we’re supposed to be thanking people who influenced and inspired us like a mentor or a hero, like Jason did to countless improvisers in Chicago. But I feel like everything and everyone is precious and important, right? Like everything is a gift? So we have an obligation as artists to acknowledge everything as special and important, or at least give it a chance. Two statements I have never forgotten: 1) Ed Jacobs: treat everything like a masterpiece the first time, then you can tear it apart; 2) Natalie Sullivan: when everyone is responsible for everyone, no one is responsible for everyone. Our players, our musicians, our stage techs, our front office, our custodians, our loyal fans, everyone is part of it.

Which is why I dedicate this post to the UNLV Students graduating from Improv Level 1 today. Just like I said on that random shore in Lake Tahoe, you are the future of our art form. You will always be a part of us whether you decide to keep on improvising or move on to where we live takes you. So it’s worth it, for the sake of humanity, to share the love and joy of play, curiosity, and discovery to all of you. It’s never about the points. It’s never about who wins or who’s better than who. It’s about the relationships we have with one another and what we decide to do with them. Even when it may inconvenience you a bit, I think it’s worth it to bring up the people around you, help them be better versions of themselves just be being there and being present, trying your best without trying to impress anyone, listening way harder than you sing, and appreciate everything. Let them know often, and trust they got your back.

So I hope everyone had a wonderful Say Day, I’m 30 years old now and I think I turned out to be something (more on that later). I’m just ready to come home and keep going.