Archive for February, 2009

picture-12Improvisational theatre in performance is a challenging art form. Not a bad statement, and it’s something I fully back. I come from the thinking that theatre is accessible to everyone. Not always easy when audiences want amazing productions for low ticket costs. In fact, I think improv can do better. It can offer an amazing experience for a low cost.

Improvisers believe the Harold is a sacred art. Oh, we love it. Long form is an athletic and mental feat unlike any play. It takes guts, stamina, and ingenuity to make a golden egg from nothing.

Improv is both a reliable and terrible way to make some moolah. I’ve seen both sides of the commercial spectrum. On one side, I’ve been an audience member. I’ve paid $20 to see an hour and a half show which was full of quality improv. I’ve also paid $2 to see students, and that was fun too. On the other side I’ve done shows where we performed for free (and got a tip of $20.) Plus I’ve done high-paying private shows. We’re talking $1000 for an hour and a half..

Now the most impressive number is the production cost: $0. Now, yes, that number can go up. One could pay for props, marketing, and space rental. However, it’s feasible to produce a high quality show for $0. Be crafty, make deals – er, be like any artist without a budget (see below for tips.)

So why aren’t there more improv troupes? And I’m not talking scarcity. There are a fair share of improv groups across the country. I’m saying, why not more? It seems like a great starting point for artists. You learn the business side of the arts with a lower risk (though, god, there is always a high risk with the arts.) Plus, as Conan revealed in his “Inside the Actor’s Studio,” improv teaches writers and performers to throw it all out there.

And no one’s good at the start. It’s too freaking scary to be good at the start. But everyone gets better, more comfortable. Instead of making bad jokes, all improvisers learn to be more natural. They learn to rely on each other.

I see so many new theatre companies from college students and post-grad (after all I started one.) From that, I learned that a theatre company needs so much energy, time, and funding. It’s one of the most difficult endeavors to start a theatre company, but they’re popping up everywhere. But a lot of theatre companies fail thanks to artistic and funding pressure.

In improv if you put on a bad show it’s hell. You’re scared to death already, and the pressure of ticket buyers sits right on top of that fear. That’s hell, man. I’m talking stress. Though, I’ll take it over a theatre company.

Actors and the improv troupe’s business can recover from those early, amateur performances. And the low financial risk allows you to develop your talents professionally, in front of an audience. These troupes need to develop with audiences because acting in your garage won’t develop you.

And again, with some time and commitment you’ll start to see audience members fill up those seats.

I don’t mean to just make a case for actors to start an enterprise. I also hope the entire performing arts community will welcome these efforts.

Improv isn’t that respected, but I think that needs to change. Any theatre professor will tell you about Commedia dell’Arte, the old grandpappy of improv, still cherished in Italy’s theatre community. It has a proud tradition, and I think it should have a promising future. But the arts community has to see why it’s worth those $20 tickets, those $1000+ bookings.

Sure it’s sometimes dirty jokes and silliness, but improv should be seriously considered as medium for new projects. It’s already a developmental process behind the scenes of several popular TV and movie comedies. New playwrights are leaving room for actors to wiggle around the text. On top of that, dramatic improvisation has unexplored territories.

Prominence leads to pioneers. Advance the art by creating a business. It won’t pay all your bills, but it won’t leave you in ruins. Start a troupe.

Start a troupe.

Learn, build, apply.

Here are some resources and ideas:

  1. The improv encyclopedia at humanpingpongball.com. You can jump into some online articles, peruse some games, and learn about nationwide improv troupes
  2. Books: Truth in Comedy, Improvisation in the Theatre by the mother of improv Viola Spolin, and Impro (my favorite.)
  3. See a show. I’m betting there are at least 2 improv troupes near you.
  4. Talk to artists about improv. Ask if they’re interested in projects that might implement improv into the process. It could be an ensemble-driven play, or it could be a film project that uses treatments rather than traditional scripts.
  5. Talk to artistic directors at small theatres; see if there’s interest in teaming up for a project – “Improv Tuesdays” $10 tickets, split the tickets amongst your group and the theatre company. (Yes, when you need experience, it’s okay to take $3 and give them $7. Sound like bad business? It’s not. You’re gaining money – though smaller than you’d like – to gain important experience.)
  6. When you’re ready to jump into your own place, start at a community center. Bargain. Negotiate. Try to rent a space for 1 hr at 100 – 200 dollars. $10 tickets mean you only 20 people. 4 people in troupe, everybody market to 5 people. If you can’t find a place that cheap, keep searching. It’s not easy, but you’ll find a place. A coffee shop, a place about to be torn down, a community college or high school.

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x1ul7Holy cash cow, Batman… Er… I mean, crap, I’m not good at this whole comic thing. Batman has nothing to do with Marvel, but I couldn’t think of a good attention getter with a marvel character. “Slashing adamantium, Wolverine!” uh…” Thrashing thor”…

Okay, I’ll stop being lame.

According to Appleinsider, Marvel and iTunes will be a dynamic duo. (Shit, another DC ref.) You will be able to download some “motion comics” from the popular online media store.

Look, Stan Lee and Steve Jobs want your money. You can resist, but I bet you’ll end up spending money. They are good at getting people to spend money…

Now what is a motion comic? Eh, I really don’t care, but it’s a comic that combines their artwork, some animation, sound, and character voices… Sounds great, guys…

Nerds, imagine it. Next time you’re out of the house (Does that happen? Do you leave your homes?) you’re not bored because you’re experiencing your motion comic on your iPhone or iPod Touch. All your nerdgasms will be fulfilled by the rich digital color and sound of – crap I’m running out of superheroes – the Hulk smashing some crap.

Sound cool?

jump to Appleinsider’s post. They’re nicer….>>

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picture-31Yesterday Facebook added the Like feature (as seen next to the comment button in the pic). The button mimics Digg and other social sites, allowing users to show their support of a user’s action without commenting. It saves some time, but is it really necessary?

As someone in awe of the Twitter movement, I’ve got to compare the microblog to Facebook. The former is blissful simplicity, and the latter looks like a blob engulfing other site’s ideas. Facebook is now a cocktail made from Twitter, WordPress, Digg, Flickr, and Hulu. It’s all those services centralized. The problem is centralization doesn’t equal an effective user interface. It can, but how do we define Facebook now? It used to be defined as “a place where we caught up with distant friends.” Now, the definition is convoluted.

Our Facebook accounts are cluttered with so many interactions, and it seems Twitter has focused those interactions into 4 primary means. Twitter isn’t just simpler, it’s more conductive. Our interactions on Twitter happen with ease. Let me show you.

Let’s say I want to talk about “In the Beginning” at Dallas Theater Center on Facebook:

  1. First, I choose how I’ll talk about it. I can make a status update (probably the easiest); I could write a note (more lengthy); I can go to a theater group (reach a target audience who cares about what I say); or I can comment on Dallas Theater Center’s page (people definitely care.)
  2. So let’s go to the next step in the interaction for each one (sigh). I write a status update that I enjoyed the show, and people can write their comments agreeing or disagreeing as well as pushing the new like button. Easy enough. Writing a note. I will get out my full opinion, tag some friends, and in return they can comment on the note. Theater group. I can start a discussion group and post the first comment, and people can continue the discussion with their own comments. Bonus: I might reach people who aren’t my friends. Dallas Theater Center’s page. I can comment on the page, and maybe someone from DTC will respond to my review as well as friends and new people.

Okay….wow….that was a lot. Now let’s look at Twitter. If I liked the show, I can tweet:

I ❤ @dallastheater‘s new production “In the Beginning.” It’s brilliant, riveting; acting = superb #theater.

And…I just did everything that Facebook can do in my 1 tweet. I got my review out in the same amount of characters as a status update, people can respond to me with the @reply, my hashtag will reach theater people, and @replying DTC will let them know about my review….

Thus, I rest my case that Facebook is becoming more cluttered than effective.

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picture-21Obama is at his second town hall meeting in Fort Myers, Florida. He’s talking with people there about his recovery package.

The Senate has just approved their version, which includes more tax cuts than the House’s bill.

It’s obvious from the town hall meetings that several people love Obama, that several people want to see Obama, and that several people want to speak to Obama. (The crowd cheered when he announced the Senate’s passing of his bill – so obviously these are Obama fans.)

But my question is whether he’s the best salesman for this job. I’m only concerned because it opens him to attacks from his critics that he’s a better campaigner than office holder. The buzz from the critics is that Obama must be ignoring some pertinent business in the oval office.

In defense of President Obama, he’s done his work. He’s talked to economists and advisors, he’s planned out his vision, and he’s met with representatives and senators. He hasn’t met with the American people. What are the American people’s fears and concerns? Think about it. Most presidents tell us they know our feelings when they only know through statistics and news stories. Now when Obama says he understands our problems, we can look at these town hall meetings as evidence.

There has always been a bubble around our presidents, and Obama is trying to break it.

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The creative common license, as seen on sites like Flickr and Zhura, allows people to share their ideas with the community. These artists probably enjoyed writing chain stories in 5th grade English class (just like me.) The artists also understand that beyond their private projects there is something to be created in shared ideas.

And to be honest, there is an arms race in the ideas sector. If we don’t copyright our book, script, photo then someone else can benefit from beating us to the punch.

We race and race, but an idea is just an idea. It’s a starting point. Two people will take different journeys, or they discover new territories.

Don’t be greedy with your ideas; you can’t create all of them.

Besides, the idea isn’t yours. No idea really belongs to anyone because even the best ideas can be thought up by several people. So instead of an arms race, share. The artistic community will flourish with new products from your one seed.

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picture-11Today, I was walking around the main track at River Legacy. About halfway I realized the absurdity of the trail. It’s a park where hikers are free to explore the entire wooded area and open fields, but I was walking down a manmade cement trail on the rightside of a divider of yellow paint. I had chosen to ignore my freedoms and take the normal boring path.

Frustrated with my lack of individualism, I decided to trek across an open field. Most people bike, jog, and skate the cement trails, and only a rare bunch of people cross the open field. At first, I felt like an individual; I was going against the grain. Then it hit me…

Without purpose, there is no reason to explore.

I might have felt like an individual but I certainly had no reason to cross the giant field. I just got scared of being like everyone else.

I know others, including some friends of mine and myself, want to be pioneers in our fields. We want to explore new terroritories of our crafts and professions. We’re proud of being iconoclasts; we’re proud of our free-thinking. And it scares us to be total conformists.

But trailblazing is about purpose. In playwriting, we have rules. These rules are tested, and we can rely on them to craft a strong narrative with interesting character development. In playwriting, we have rule breakers. Famously, Samuel Beckett plopped the craft on its belly in the 60s. The avant-garde sector of theatre is constantly rethinking the rules.

In fact, my generation is trying to find its voice. At my level, all writers are exploring new territories by breaking the rules. We’re worried that our plays will turn out to be this generation’s Waiting for Godot, Arthur Miller play, or anything that resembles Albee. Most writers my age can’t write a play without being compared to Sam Shepard… And seriously…my generation is tired of hearing that the 60s were so great for theatre..

While we look for our voice, we can learn a lesson from the past (ugh, okay, even the 60s movement.)

That is purpose. Why did each of them break the rules of writing in each of their cases?

I don’t have a full answer, just a beginning of the search…

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The homeless man & the email marketer.

I’ve been the, how to put it delicately, victim of several email marketing campaigns. Theatres, products, Politicians – every single one of them are begging me for their money. Much like a homeless man.

Now, my friends, do not let the email marketer’s suit fool you. Right now, this person holds the same job as a bum. I figured this out in the parking lot of Barnes & Noble. A guy was begging people for some change. I didn’t run into him, but I definitely observed his methods. Try one target with one story, try another target with another story; keep trying until someone breaks. It’s the same as any other bum.

And it’s the same as any email marketer. See, our inboxes get flooded with emails because each marketing campaign is designed to try different methods until we break. I’m going to point a finger at MoveOn.org. As a fairly liberal person, I don’t like calling you out, MoveOn.org. I’m sure money comes in, but only because we’re attacked by 10 emails a day (and it was worse during the election.) One email comes from a celebrity liberal, the next a politician. Your third one is with video. The fourth is from the executive director. And it goes on….until you break.

Theatres do the same. They send emails about their shows, new reviews about their shows, new programs that need funding, subscription deals, mid-season subscription deals, emails from the artistic director, from the stars, from the show’s director….get the point?

This is my second post today that references Seth Godin, but the man’s thoughts seem so goddamn relevant to me. He teaches us permission marketing… Consumers and donors only want information when they ask for it. It seems simple right? Yet, email marketing continues to cram information down our throats.

And worse…it’s all asking for money.

The guy in the parking lot is relentless. He’s going to ask and ask. Rather than allowing me to donate money to organizations that help the needy, he’s going to ask me for money in the parking lot. It annoys me (and I never give money to a person begging in a parking lot.)

Consumers want everything on their terms and conditions…not the companies. When I feel like donating to theatre, I will. When I feel like buying a product, I will. And when I want to help the needy, I will. Any request before that moment is noise.

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picture-7Okay, I’m like freaking out, man. The more I submerse myself into Twitter, the more I realize a future problem. Yes, it’s in my title. I fear we’re fiercely pushing towards the tipping point.

Think about it…

Twitter is the ultimate tool for conversation, and we have two types of twitter-ers. These early adopters are either building their Godin-like tribes (creating unique content that will inspire a following), or they are creating a low demand for information.

I grow suspicious of the twitter-er who follows 16,000 and has 14,000 followers. Is that person really listening to those 16,000, or just offering a common courtesy. That’s bad. See, there could be a high supply of people speaking on Twitter with a low demand from the listeners.

Information is a precious commodity. We can’t treat it like a mass produced pair of sneakers because quality counts with information. This high supply/low demand situation waters down the quality of tweets. Why speak when nobody’s listening? It’s the same thing that happened to blogs. Right now, because of sites like Huffington Post and Perez Hilton, we’re seeing a second upswing of interest in blogs. The first upswing had a big crash – everyone opened Live Journal and Xanga accounts, started speaking, and then stopped.

Why did they stop? Because there were too many speakers, not enough listeners. We got bored with our blogs because nobody was reading them.

Twitter is at the start of the upswing. It’s going to get more popular, but I don’t want to see the same crash happen to it.

Make your tweet count. Here’s some advice on shaping your content and conversations:

  • Don’t follow someone unless you want to listen to them and converse with them. If they’re tweeting useful information, they will find followers elsewhere.
  • Find a niche in #hashtags. Converse with other twitter-ers talking about the niche topics relevant to your content.
  • Read Seth Godin’s Tribes.
  • Make your Twitter soap box matter by spreading your thoughts, revelations, and expertise.
  • If you’re going to converse via Twitter, make it a conversation that more than 2 people will care about.
  • Retweet the relevant. Twitter is the conversation that’s happening now (loosely translated from @unmarketing‘s famous tweet.) Don’t retweet the trivial – remember it is a recommendation.
  • And it’s still okay to share your life. Sometimes we’re following because you do exciting things!
  • Use TweetDeck: if you’re going to truly interact and deliver relevant content, TweetDeck helps you. It gives notifications of new tweets and @replies to you, let’s you shorten URLs to share, connects with TwitPic, and simplifies all of these actions.

Don’t have a Twitter account yet? Sign up. And then follow @miketobias (haha…but only if you think I have something to say.)

Have an account? You can tweet this: http://tr.im/em9e

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miley-cyrus-asian-racist-photoWe’ve got to give the 16 year old a break. But first…

Let me catch you up on the situation. That’s Miley Cyrus in the pic. Her and her friends are pulling their eyes to look like Asians. Racially offensive?

The OCA seems to think so. They’re an Asian-American advocacy group. They want an apology from Ms. Cyrus because they believe her behavior will encourage other youth to be racially insensitive.

Now, what’s the difference between hate and goofin’ off?

That seems to be the age old question. Can we tease each other about race without offending a whole organization? If the OCA gets its apology, will the Asian-American agenda record it as progress. Think about that, in the scope of Asian history:

Tuesday February 3, 2009 the Asian communtiy finally took a stand against immature 16 year olds! They have long opressed us with their “Me Chinese, me play joke” hate speeches, but we can proudly say we have struck a blow.

Yes, Miley is a role model. And yes, she’s a retard who eats ketchup alone. But we know that lessons on race sensitivity begin in the home. The parent passes their views to the child, and the child chooses to accept them or not. They’re constantly learning. They are always looking and listening to our examples. Don’t attack the insensitive and the immature; Shine the light on more Asian role models. After all, there is a reason why the Asian-American community is proud and strong. Don’t let Miley fucking Cyrus hurt that pride because she’s acting like any dumb kid.

Pick your battles. And Miley…goddamn, WTF…

(And, for the record, I don’t think it’s offensive that I used the word retard up there. People, stop being so sensitive!)

If the post won’t offend your followers, tweet it: http://tr.im/eezi

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A free and open Internet, which I support, is frightening to most people. We all know the Internet’s a crazy place because many sites rely on their communities to police user-generated content. On social networking sites, we worry about predators and malware developers. And around every corner someone is trying to scam us out of our credit card number. We know this, but it’s still frightening.

There are two news items today that need some discussion.

pee-wee-hermanThe first comes from MySpace [via TechCrunch.] They’re boasting an increase in safety on their network, citing that 90,000 sex predators have been found and removed from the site. I’ve gotta say, that’s like me telling you that I cleaned out 90,000 rats from a mall… It’s a little disgusting.

Now, most of us view MySpace as a creepo stompin’ ground. But I think MySpace is doing the best job it can in the free and open Internet. Could it be more private like Facebook? Sure, but they don’t need to mimic Zuckerberg’s site.

Parents, your kids already think Fbook is infinitely cooler. If they don’t, introduce them to privacy settings.

Pervos, ugh, just take your stache somewhere else, or MySpace will find and remove you.

See? This free and open Internet isn’t too bad.

Now the second item is a stickier situation because it involves the saintly Google. If you don’t know, Google is on the vanguard of the battle against legislators who’d love to remove neutrality from the Internet.

It turns out that 4 Google executives are being accused of criminal activity. Now, we’re used to executives facing jail time for white collar crimes, but these four execs didn’t even commit a crime. A user posted a video on Google video of bullies teasing a kid with down-syndrome. The prosecutors intend to prove that the execs are to blame rather than the user.

It’s sticky. Is MySpace to blame if a sexual predator uses their service to create an improper relationship? If an airline sells a murderer a ticket that he will use to escape the crime scene, is the airline an accomplice? This case gets into the nitty gritty of community-regulated content.

YouTube can’t pull down all those naughty vids alone. They need help from the users. Just like Ebay can’t monitor all potentially fraudulent auctions. See, the execs can’t block all harmful videos, and they can’t monitor all videos because, let’s face it, the number of vids is in the millions.

Google released this statement:

As we have repeatedly made clear, our hearts go out to the victim and his family. We are pleased that as a result of our cooperation the bullies in the video have been identified and punished. We feel that bringing this case to court is totally wrong. It’s akin to prosecuting mail service employees for hate speech letters sent in the post. What’s more, seeking to hold neutral platforms liable for content posted on them is a direct attack on a free, open Internet. We will continue to vigorously defend our employees in this prosecution.

Basically, Google’s service does a lot of good too. It’s a neutral platform that news organizations, entertainers, and teachers can utilize to spread information.

MySpace, on the other hand, is also a great service. It’s a neutral place to connect to your friends and their friends, as well as socially interact with music and television content.

If the Internet were to lose its neutrality we’d lose our ability to create new and exciting services. The big dogs would run the show, and the little startups wouldn’t have a chance. The Internet doesn’t favor one company, one idea, one country, one religion…it is a truly diverse place because of its neutrality. Let’s keep it free (er, with a few, minor conditions…)

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