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Posts from the Other Cool Stuff Category

Here’s a fun project for a lazy Sunday.

We have a ton of comedy ephemera we’ve collected over the years, but it’s just been sitting in a box. I decided to make this simple strip collage using programs from two of my favourite Second City revues, Live Wrong and Prosper and Dreams Really Do Come True! (And Other Lies).

I started by painting a piece of illustration board black (you can also paint cardboard or use black construction paper). I cut the two program covers into strips and glued them down with Mod Podge, or you can use any white glue. Then coat the final piece with glue to seal it.

I love the way it turned out! You can make a similar one with show flyers, posters, programs, or festival schedules. It’s a great way to showcase fond memories.

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There’s a theory in personal finance that says, “Your income is the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

It’s enough to strike fear in the hearts of actors everywhere.

If you’re not earning big bucks, the thinking goes, you need to seek out people who do and start spending time with them. (What they don’t say, is what to do if those five people are douchebags.)

Before you quit improv to become a commodities trader, there’s another concept that’s far more valuable in my opinion: the idea of “psychic income.” It involves all those things that you don’t get paid for, but which give something back to the world – and in so doing, fill your cup as well.

For most of us, improv pays little (if anything), but it’s off the charts in terms of psychic income.

Few things compare to the high you feel when you’ve finished a great set. The same goes for coaching or teaching. You may not be earning six figures, but where else can you experience the joy of watching grown men and women play “Big Booty”?

Citibank’s slogan used to be “Live richly.” (That was before the whole subprime mortgage meltdown. Then they changed it to “Citi never sleeps” – presumably because no one was sleeping after the subprime meltdown thing.)

If you want a rich life, it’s simple:

Surround yourself with people who enrich you.

People you admire or aspire to be like. People who are smarter than you, who broaden your understanding of the world. People who go out and make things happen, as opposed to just sitting around criticizing. People who make you laugh.

When I look at my favourite improv teams, they’re made up of friends who respect and support each other. They share what they have unreservedly, and celebrate each other’s successes.

That’s living richly.

Bonspiel! Theatre’s Ashley Botting, Alastair Forbes, Rob Baker & James Gangl spin comedy gold

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When you hear the word “artist,” what do you picture?

(a) That Picasso guy

(b) Turtlenecked hipsters who say “juxtapose” and “deconstructed” while stroking their Llewyn Davis beards

(c) That Van Gogh guy

(d) This

Well, it’s time for a new definition.

I don’t care if you’re a barista, a broker, or a shoe salesman. I couldn’t care less if you haven’t picked up a paintbrush since 1992. I don’t give a shit if the last time you did something creative was when Mr Beresford gave you a D minus in pottery.

What you do in your day job is not who you are, even if you work in a so-called “creative” field. Also, fuck Mr Beresford.

Being an artist doesn’t require paint or clay or a stage. It’s not about the medium you choose, it’s about using your ability to create, and using it daily.

That last part is key. Because while you’re an artist, the chances are very good that you’re blocked. Most of us are. We spend hours, weeks, months, years working on other people’s ideas, but somehow we never seem to find the time for our own.

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron will unblock you.

It’s a 12-week course in recovering creativity. You’ll learn how to silence your inner critic, make new discoveries as you heal old wounds, and find the joy in making space for art in your everyday life.

As a kid, I loved to draw, write stories, play the piano, and make my own “TV shows.” I did these things every day as far back as I can remember. But when I started working in advertising, I stopped making art for myself.

After 20 years of squeezing what creativity I could into ads for cars and banks and cleaning products, two things helped me find my own voice again: learning to improvise, and The Artist’s Way.

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” – Pablo Picasso

If you feel like you’ve lost your sense of play…

If you yearn to make short films or decorate cakes or write your own comics or make things from popsicle sticks…

If it’s been so long since you did something creative, not for money or someone’s approval, but just for the fun of it, you need The Artist’s Way.

Just as important, the world needs your art.

P.S. I bought the watercolour set above four years ago. The colours made me smile, so pretty in their little trays. But when I got home, I got scared. What if I tried to make something and it SUCKED? So I put it in storage and promptly forgot about it. Within two weeks of starting The Artist’s Way, I got over my fear, as you can see.

A special thank you to Shari Hollett for introducing me to The Artist’s Way.

We’ve all been there.

Venues where the bar fridge is louder than the performers. Shows where no one shows up. Sets so bad that no amount of alcohol can blot out the shameful memory.

For me, it’s any number of shows that took place at the Savannah Room. It was, to put not too fine a point on it, a shithole.

“You’re crazy if you think I’m touching this filthy stage.”

Photo © Reggie D’Souza

More than once the place had to be evacuated due to flooding. I remember seeing Matt Folliott doing tech, his sneakers submerged in cables and rainwater, and wondering if this was the night we would all die.

Then there was the stage.

It wasn’t large, but this thing had holes that surely led to Middle Earth.

One time Charna Halpern taught a workshop there. Forty or so people signed up. Half of us watched as the other half got on their hands and knees to do an organic opening.

They started pounding the stage with their hands, getting faster and more intense.

We watched in horror as a dust cloud rose from the ancient carpet. Prehistoric molecules, no doubt redolent of polio and semen, stood out in stark relief under the lights.

Oblivious, the players kept pounding. When the dust cloud was finally higher than Charna, everyone started coughing uncontrollably.

But my special and favourite Savannah story involved my first Harold team, Leroy. Rob Ariss Hills, Gene Abella and I were on stage when a cat brushed past my leg.

I was momentarily caught off guard, but went back to killing it with my patented Shaft character. That’s when I saw it again.

It wasn’t a cat. It was a rat. And it was coming back toward us.

I shrieked and jumped into the first row of chairs (empty, of course) as the rat swept the scene. Gene said later he wished he’d tagged it out.

Shortly after, the Savannah Room closed its doors for the last time.

That’s my worst show. What’s yours?

All artists are improvisers. And all improvisers are artists.

That’s why we love this TED Talk by Shea Hembrey. It’s hard to fathom the sheer quantity AND quality of his creative output.

Like an improv set, he started out on his artistic journey without much more than a strong point of view. Where it led him will astonish you.

Click below to watch.

When we came across the bookshelfies tumblr, we were smitten.

Here’s our improv-related section. Like a good Harold, it’s got a bit of this and a bit of that, but somehow everything’s connected. (See below for links.) What’s on yours?

Bookshelfie

The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron

Lies And The Lying Liars Who Tell Them – Al Franken

Final Cut: Art, Money And Ego In The Making Of Heaven’s Gate, The Film That Sank United Artists – Steven Bach

Zen And The Art of Stand-Up Comedy – Jay Sankey

A New Earth – Eckhart Tolle

On Writing – Stephen King

The Right To Write - Julia Cameron

The Actor’s Art And Craft – William Esper and Damon DiMarco

Comedy Writing Secrets – Mel Helitzer and Mark Shatz

And Here’s The Kicker: Conversations With 21 Humor Writers On Their Craft - Mike Sacks

You’re Not Doing It Right – Michael Ian Black

American Theatre Book Of Monologues For Men – Stephanie Coen

Taking The Leap: Freeing Ourselves From Old Habits And Fears – Pema Chodron

The Glass Teat – Harlan Ellison

Magical Thinking - Augusten Burroughs

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane – Neil Gaiman

Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life - Steve Martin

Truth in Comedy: The Manual Of Improvisation – Charna Halpern, Del Close and Kim Johnson

The Basketball Diaries – Jim Carroll

Improvising Better: A Guide For The Working Improviser – Jimmy Carrane and Liz Allen

The Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation Manual – Matt Besser, Ian Roberts and Ian Walsh

The Art And Craft Of Storytelling – Nancy Lamb

Story Line: Finding Gold In Your Life Story – Jennifer Grisanti

The Art Of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live The Life You Want And Change The World - Chris Guillebeau

Improvise: Scene From The Inside Out – Mick Napier

Play: How It Shapes The Brain, Opens The Imagination And Invigorates The Soul - Stuart Brown

Your Screenplay Sucks! 100 Ways To Make It Great – William M. Akers

The Elements Of Style – Strunk and White

The Office: The Scripts – Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant

The Zoo Story and The Sandbox – Edward Albee

Look Back In Anger – John Osborne

A Practical Handbook For The Actor - Melissa Bruder, Lee Michael Cohn, Madeline Olnek, Nathaniel Pollack, Robert Previtio, Scott Zigler and David Mamet

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If there’s one thing improvisers love to do, it’s play.

So when Cameron got himself fired from advertising, he started a group called Funemployed.

It’s a community of fun people with the time and dedication to having fun – be they actors/improvisers, writers, artists, chefs, computer geeks, or just folks between jobs.

Since more and more people now have jobs with flexible hours, Cameron wanted to create a way for people to connect and spend their time joyfully, instead of being isolated. Anyone can post an idea or event for the group, and others will join in.

So far events have included softball, frisbee, free Improv for Anxiety drop-in classes, bowling, board games, and even trampoline dodgeball.

There are other “Funemployed” groups on facebook, including a web series and a few for job networking or finding your purpose. That’s cool, too, but the Toronto group is purely a fun-based initiative.

You can join the facebook group here. And if you’re not in Toronto, why not start your own chapter?

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Photo © Jameson Kraemer

Photo © Jameson Kraemer

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