Friday, January 6, 2017

Growing Up vs Growing Old


Tomorrow Salsation Theatre Company, NFP takes the stage at The Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival (more commonly referred to as "Sketchfest") 2017.  We've put together what I consider to be a really good show and I am hoping the audience appreciates the hard work everybody has put into it.  As we're on the eve of Sketchfest, I'm reflecting a bit before going to bed.

Back From The Dark
Salsation has been pretty quiet over the last couple of years.  We had Los Improviachis keeping the name out there but it pretty much became its own monster of an improv team known for putting on really fun, audience interactive shows.  Salsation has been more known for sketch than anything else and as a group, we were tired.  Plain and simple.  The senior members of the ensemble had a lot of changes come into their lives and continuing on in the same manner we had been operating over the years was taxing us to the point that we couldn't continue delivering quality material.  We needed a break and decided to "go dark" vs. just abandoning it since Salsation does have a place in the history books of Chicago improv & sketch comedy for being the longest lasting Latino theatre company doing the art-form.

My break took me into new places within the improv community.  I began teaching, touring, and playing a ton more.  I got to run workshops, attend improv camps, start new teams, showcase my existing teams, and be featured in improv festivals.  With all of the unscripted joy, I knew at some point I would want to get back to doing original scripted work.  With the advent of ImproƱol and continuation of Los Improviachis, I also started mining more of my heritage.  I started speaking a ton more Spanish and having to incorporate it into my art.  The political season of 2016 made me face some realities about Latinos in this new era that I felt needed to be explored.  All of these things culminated in bring Salsation out of hibernation and into the light.

The Writing Process
One of the biggest changes for this show was that it basically started as a two-man show.  One of the other members of the group was jonesing to be more involved artistically and since I was feeling the pull of sketch comedy, I decided to take a chance on just having some fun.

Most sketch comedy shows are put together in the following way:
  • A group of people get together and want to produced a sketch revue
  • They might find a director or writing coach to start writing a bunch of scenes.  They also might go at it themselves for a bit.
  • They spend weeks getting those sketches up to par with what they find funny.  
  • They then get a venue to play and start blocking scenes, memorizing lines, and rehearsing.
  • They do the show for 4-6 weeks and then do it again at some point down the road.
I'm leaving out a lot of other things that happen but creatively I feel I've captured the gist of the process.  This takes typically 3 months to put together.  I didn't want to feel that weight on my shoulders because I've been there/done that with this process enough and its exhausting.  I decided to put on new rules for this endeavor:
  • Sketches will be written from improvisation.  All improv will be taped and posted for others to review.
  • If a sketch was brought in, it'll be table-read by everyone involved then we will immediately re-improvise it (aka known as "drop script").  Revisions will be written based on what major things were memorable from the table read and any new gems gathered during improvisation.  The process is repeated until the team deems it "good enough" to perform.
  • Sketches that are not fully completed are able to go into any show deemed fit.  The expectation is that getting these kinds of premises in front of people might bring some goodness out of the people acting them out.
This process isn't novel.  The Second City mainstage productions pretty much does this as their method of writing material.  I found this process to be totally freeing and very collaborative.  Too many times have I been part of shows where I am put in a position to write material only to have my 10-15 sketches completely ignored by a director or a group that doesn't see value in my voice.  This method  would give my material at least a better chance to make it viewable by an audience.   It also makes the process more organic and reduces expectations and disappointment because everything is much more collaborative.

The Results
We started with two people.  We then brought on another once they had heard of the process and the ease of expectations from me which was much more laid back and easy going.  Then we brought on another who was willing to just be a part of it.  With this group of people we were able to put up two shows at Second City with good feedback on the new material.  Then later to my surprise we brought on another person who I thought would never want to deal with another sketch show again after being in the trenches like me for so many years and feeling unheard.  After reconciling rehearsal dates and schedules, I found myself having a really good group of fun, smart people who put their all into putting together a great show for Sketchfest.

What I Learned
Improv (and age) has really helped me chill out on my intensity and need for control in the creative processes.  I've done so much improv that I see how much more fun letting go and going with things can be.  It doesn't mean I'm a push-over; rather, I see that when I don't force things to happen, magic normally occurs.

I hope you're able to join us for the showcase.  For more info, visit http://bit.ly/salsketch17.


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