Tuesday, October 13, 2015

What A "Trill"! Comedy, Craft, and Community in Houston, TX!

Station Theatre - Houston, TX

I just returned from the Trill Comedy Festival in Houston, TX.  I'm glad to be in my own bed but already miss the great friends I've made, the colleagues sharing their passion for improv, and the support I was shown while I was there.  It was an experience for my personal history book thus I want to document it here while it's still fresh on my mind.

Talking Taboo -  Playing with Race, Gender, and other No-Nos
I got the honor of doing my inaugural festival workshop Talking Taboo, a workshop designed to allow players to play characters and situations that they don't feel they can due to societal norms and conventions.  Here's a description of what it addresses:

"Ever wonder what it’d be like to play characters, relationships, and situations that you’ve always wanted to but others told you not to? Have you shied away from exploring new creativity because of how you may be perceived? This workshop is to discuss and play with the taboos of improv such as race, gender, religion, politics, sex, mortality, and language among many others to break down the barriers to unlock realism and depth to your scene work based on every day human experience."

They gave me two workshops to do over the weekend and they both went splendidly.  We spent time coalescing skills that may have already had regarding "truth in the scene" where the players play characters with wants & needs with respect to the reality they initiate in the scene.  Although this concept is not novel, what was was adding a layer of playing characters and addressing situations that the community normally avoids.  I felt that the folks got something out of it if not just on their work on stage but as a way to begin talking about these things to explore areas formerly closed off to us actors/improvisers.  There was one individual who really had some breakthroughs both personally and artistically in the class.  

I was so happy to get the chance to do these workshops.  It gave me a place to give back to the community by addressing something that I feel has been hurting us collectively.  I also liked accomplishing a goal of being "that guy" who taught something at a recognized festival!

Impro Español
Me and Blad Moreno
I was fortunate enough take Impro Español, my English/Spanish two-man show with the über talented Blad Moreno, down to Houston.  We were given a headlining slot for the Saturday 7 PM show featuring Freudian Slip, the College Improv Tournament champions from Texas A&M, along with local sketch duo Ned & Kelly bringing out the best humor with a Redbox influence.  Our show was off-the-hook!  In the span of 35 minutes, we were able to not only able to showcase fun Spanish & English scenes with no translation included but had a very well-received silent scene Blad commanded along with a scene where I took a many risks of bodily harm (walking on chairs, over people, and staking unstackable chairs to get on top of) that sent the audience into a frenzy.  We topped it off with some characters showcasing the concepts taught in the Talking Taboo workshop as well as by pulling up someone up on stage to help us with a callback.  IT. WAS. AWESOME!!!

Silent Mime Fight Scene During Impro Español's Set
Here're some of the comments I heard from the weekend on that show (I really wish I could document these things so that a] it doesn't look like they were made up b] I don't come off too bragadocious):
  • "You guys were DEFINITELY  the headliners for that show." - JB
  • "I've never seen anything like that before. It was so cool that even though I couldn't understand the Spanish, I still understood what was going on." - Asif
  • "You should come back next year!" - TJC
  • "Why aren't we doing this more often?!!" - Nelson & Blad

Having such a great show and such fantastic support really made this trip memorable.  But there was definitely more to this experience than one show.

One thing that I must admit is that I don't do a lot of "experimental" improvisation.  I've been playing it safe with trying to just get good at the "standard" forms out there (short-form & long(er) form).  Houston seems to be very open to trying out all kinds of improvisation.  I learned just how much more I have to learn.

One form that I've heard about but not really given second thought of performing personally was the monoscene form where the entire show is one continuous scene between static characters in a static location.  It's more like a one-act play than a traditional improv show.  I got the opportunity to try it out in a non-performance fashion with a Houstonian who I sat down next to in the green room on a couch.  She had taken my workshop previously that day. She was drinking the remaining maragarita mix straight from a bottle when  I struck up a conversation with her playing my beloved "bum" character "Cecil". She played along and we did what felt like a 20-25 minute set of improv between the two of us going back and forth.  We covered everything from politics to religion to medical ailments to societal ills.  We even got the chance to practice concepts from the Talking Taboo workshop by bring up/playing things we knew could offend but if played from a position of truth, would be forgiven/ignored.  It was so much fun!

It went so well and I got so inspired by this exchange, I was tempted to ask if we could pull up the couch on stage after the last show so we could try it out at the festival.  Luckily, cooler heads prevailed and instead it's got me thinking about what I need to do/learn to do this show in the future.

Houston's Scene's Got A Leg Up on Chicago
Houston,TX Skyline
One thing that struck me as being so different than the scene of improv I'm used to was just how closely knit the Houston scene was.  Everybody semeed genuinely happy for each other to succeed and were willing to help others to get ahead.  I cannot say that about the Chicago improv scene.  I feel that we're 80% haters and 20% okayers with regards to supporting each other(FYI, I'm guilty of hating too).  When I was there, there was genuine interest in what was going on and a sense of pride as to what their scene had to offer.  It's left an impression on me to bring that attitude back to foster amongst my projects back home.

Everybody was super nice and were willing to bend over backwards for the performers. Usually I find someone to not like at these festivals for some reason or another but I left Houston loving everybody.  No one was rude or dickheaded - everybody was chill.  It was "yes and" personified!

I can't wait to go back next year. Special shout out to the curators, the theatre owners, staff, performers, and audiences that came out this year.  You helped me grow both as a person and as an artist.  THANK YOU!!!!

P.S. Special thanks to Jessica Brown, Zak Kinnaird, Roger Anderson, and Steven Saltsman for their super hard work, awesome hospitality, and most of all friendship!