Update: Short and sweet or TALL AND BITTER?

Hey everyone! Just a little update.

Right now I’m:

  • Working away on THELMA BEE edits. This is happy work!
  • Planning a new author website! I’m working with the awesomely creative Mike Robinson of Portable Heroes* fame. We should be launching sometime in September.
  • Getting super excited about a project that Mighty Media Press has in the works for THELMA. I’m going to keep it secret for now, but stay tuned 🙂

Also, I’ll be a guest on Parenting Your Human at the Riot theater on August 7th – wouldn’t it be fun to hang out!? Come join us!

I guess there’s nothing tall or bitter about this update, sorry for the false advertising.6_20Cinnamoroll_20Cab_original

cute pastries via ubertiny.storenvy.com

*Portable Heroes is my husband’s high school rock and roll band. This is a true thing.

Women in Improv: Power

Note: This post is inspired both by #yesallwomen and a conversation I had with a female improv student who wanted advice on what to do when a male scene partner makes you uncomfortable on stage.

I would love to hear your thoughts about this topic if they differ with my own. I just kind of have OPINIONS on being a female in improvisation.

Improvisation is the most democratic form of comedy. Regardless of gender, ethnicity, physical ability or disability, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status, the improviser creates his or her own reality on stage.* The improviser is not at the mercy of a script someone else wrote.

In college, I had a conversation with a (wildly talented) female comedian who was in a sketch group. She felt like she got edited out of shows. They didn’t usually include her writing and any time she appeared on stage it was as mom or wifey. This kind of thing doesn’t have to happen in improv because you’re the writer, the editor, the performer, the set designer, the whole thing.

If you are in an established group, the hope is that you enjoy and respect each other. In fact, I will go so far as to say that some of the best men on the planet are improvisers. I think it attracts guys who are smart and funny who listen well and are genuinely fantastic. That has been my experience working in groups. You know each other’s personal boundries. However, in a class environment when you are paired with strangers, this mutual understanding is not a sure thing. You want to hope that a guy will pick up on cues if a lady is uncomfortable when he gets randy and that he modifies behavior. You want to hope that.

But here’s the incredible thing about being a woman in improv – you can have a machete in your backpack and threaten his life if he doesn’t back off. Or you have a laser gun that turns men into cows. Or you are a super powerful wizard and know like a million spells including ones that render men respectful.

I mean, we don’t want to Michael Scott our way through life, but the point is this – IT IS MAKE BELIEVE! It doesn’t exist! That means you have power. You have so much power.

We should make the stage a safe space for everyone. As a community we should all agree to not be jerks. The #yesallwomen hashtag has been painful and illuminating for me. Just thinking about how much crap we put up with and don’t think twice about on a daily basis – it’s awful. Here’s something cool though – you don’t have to put up with crap on stage. And if someone gives you a hard time for not “yes anding” something that makes you uncomfortable – screw it. You are the priority. The only wrong answer is being a jerk.

My opinion about women in improv – we are powerful. Power is beautiful. Use it.

amy-poehler-book-cover-h724POEHLER POWER

 

*As with all performance, this is compromised if you have a disrespectful audience – and lord knows I’ve performed in front of bachelorette parties.

** If you are a potential bachelorette party goer reading this, please have mercy on the performers. We do think you are special and hilarious and we hope you’re having a good time. Just, you know, be quiet during the show.

Flow: Improv, Laundry, Writing and Ditching the R.O.U.S

According to the uncompromising accuracy of Wikipedia, the psychological definition of “Flow” is:

The mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.

Doesn’t that sound like the best? Ugh, I want to eat that for lunch.

I mean, I’ve felt it before, I think most people have. The times that come to mind have to do with writing, improv, washing the bathroom, folding clothes, and drawing Ariel from The Little Mermaid over and over again in my room growing up.

Writers spend lifetimes trying to create the perfect atmospheric soil for flow to grow and thrive. We have routines, special pens, a white noise machine, maybe some coffee…whatever it takes to coax her out of her shell.

In improv, flow is everything. It’s hard to talk about this without sounding a wee bit new agey, but it’s important. If an improviser is lucky he or she has moments on stage when brain, body, voice, and team come together to create something magical without effort – that’s got to be flow.

For me it feels like a buzzing, taut energy that is off the charts wild, but still laser focused. There are three key factors that are always there when I’ve experienced this incredible feeling: Trust, Risk, and Action.

First though, the obvious: To feel dumb is easy. For me, it’s pretty much a total cake walk. But anyone who’s ever read an inspirational quote-a-day calendar knows that self doubt achieves nothing. It is a staid, boring, lethargic force.

JANUARY 4th

Self doubt is dreaming of making a delicious meal, but first you just have to bury all your pots and pans in the backyard real quick.

I’m drawn to improv because there’s no TIME for that bull. You are on stage with people you enjoy and by doing so you have entered into a sacred agreement with your team to be kind, supportive, and to lift each other up. What results, when done right, is great art. What results when the sacred agreement is undermined? The worst crap you’ve ever seen.  Just really bad, gotta wash it off in a hot shower yuckiness. I’ve been lucky to have great teams.

Writing is harder because you’re on your own. No team. No applause. One woman show. But, I’m positing that it can be done and these are NOTES TO MYSELF.

 

TRUST: Yourself. Don’t delete that thing just keep writing. Get there.

 

RISK: You aren’t working in an ER. No one dies if your idea isn’t perfect. Great things may lie beyond your imperfect idea, but you have to go through them like the Fire Swamps to get to the other side. Don’t deny your maybe-brilliant idea just because you are afraid you’re going to get eaten by an R.O.U.S.

 

ACTION: Literally, write words. A bunch of them. All strung together.

rous

 

Another technique: clean my damn bathroom.

Probably just going to sketch Ariel again.

On Not Being Funny

For Writer’s Voice, kindly click here!

Ryan picked up one of the “Conversation Starter” cards on the restaurant table and he read, “What is your favorite part of camping?”

Without hesitation I replied, “The open mic.”

This is a story about the least funny thing I ever did.

I grew up next to Logan Airport and by “next to” I mean “practically on the runway”. Winthrop, though a pretty suburb, is also lousy with jet-fuel. Most outdoor conversations endure long pauses to allow for overhead traffic. We lived minutes away from downtown Boston, and camping was just something people did on TV.

But we did have a Brownie troupe and my mom was the lead-mom. We made crafts and drank juice after school on Tuesdays in the cafeteria. It was great and sometimes there was freeze-dance. Which ruled.

I think all Brownie/Junior/Girl Scout participants have to go on a camping trip, and ours took us to some big lodge that seemed like utter wilderness. In actuality I think it was probably just 10 minutes away from a mall. Oh, but we were wild, free, and checked for ticks pretty much every 15 minutes.

I’d heard the song, “Camp Granada” somewhere and thought it was the height, I mean, the height of hilarity. When I think about the way my sense of humor developed as a kid, I get a total kick out of it. Just that sentiment of , “They’re feedin’ me SLOP over here!” was uproariously funny to me.

So, for the open mic I did a rendition of “Camp Granada” only Brownie style. I don’t think I had anything particularly planned, but I just got up and started singing …and singing…verse after verse of improvised “camp is a drag!” lyrics. I think I replaced “Camp Granada” with “Brownie-ada”. Right.

It was the least funny thing I ever did.People just started getting up and getting snacks/going to the bathroom after verse four. Even the adults. It was a true comedy fail.

When I think back on it now I cringe a little, but moreover, I’m in awe. In second grade, when I was hanging out with my friends, I didn’t give a crap. I liked singing, so I sang…and sang…and sang. If this story was set in fourth grade, just two measly years later, I wouldn’t have dreamed of getting up in front of everyone. Adolescence brought on so much anxiety for me, as I think it does for a lot of people.

I was just reflecting on this – the pure joy and confidence of being a little girl. To not even know what embarrassment is! I think I’m still on a journey of trying to get back to that place of total unselfconsciousness.

We should all be able to just sing and sing and not be funny, and not care. That’s living.

So then Ryan responded, “What? Erin, do you know what camping is?”

The difference between improv and everything else

Here’s something I love to do: Shuffle out on stage towards the back of a line of performers.

Usually a bunch of the people before me in line will be running and whooping. Sometimes they will be punching the sky in expectant triumph. I will not be doing that, but I will be smiling sheepishly and clapping, maybe. There are no fewer than three other people with me in this scenario.

Then, I kind of look at my feet or squint out at the audience while allowing  someone else to interface with the audience, get a suggestion, etc. There are times when this person is me, but in general, it’s great when this person is not me and is, for example, Taylor Newhall.

A little audience chatter occurs and I hope I’m wearing something that doesn’t make me look like a chub monster. Then we can finally play. That’s the fun part, and in this scenario, I work with my little funny-team to make the audience laugh for an indeterminate amount of time, and then retreat into the wings while someone else says things like, “Thank you! Give it up for Mark/Jason/Steve in the tech booth! Stay for the 10pm show!”

This is fun, and for me, feels very safe. I hardly ever freak the crap out – mostly because it’s something I’ve been doing for way too many years. Also, if I’m on stage with a group of people at this point, you can be sure that I trust them completely. That’s a nice thing about getting older and kind of knowing what you’re doing with improv. You don’t have to perform with anyone who makes you feel creepy.

Nice, safe, group improvisation. Last night though, I had to go it alone.

I blogged about my friend Sara’s book event (buy the book, it’s so good!)  and how I was going to “open” for her. Not Bastards Inc. or Bearcats, but me. I had to write something funny and read it. Sounds simple, yes? I mean, I usually get up in front of people with NOTHING to read, and it’s easy.

I kind of started obsessing about it a few days in advance. I wrote something and went over it a few times, made Ryan tell me I was brilliant (he’s really great at that, part of the job description), and printed it out.

Everything went really well. I was able to play it cool and maybe even come off as casual, but I have to say I was really taken off guard by my physiological reaction.

I got off the little mini-podium-stage thing to kind applause and sat down, but I was shaking. I was hot as hell, my face was buring up, but I was nervous-shivering. Because I read a 6 minute long personal essay in front of probably 30 people. Really, Erin? Really? I’ve performed for a thousand people before! And even with some pretty famous people – and I’ve never really felt like that.

I think if I do more of this stuff in the future, maybe it’ll get easier, but it makes me view stand up comics with a kind of awe. You’re so alone up there — there’s no team!

All in all, it’s kind of awesome to feel a new kind of challenge. It’s kind of fun to realize that I can still get super nervous and freak out. In a weird way it makes me feel young or something.

Sara is doing this kind of thing all over the country (I believe her trajectory in the past 48 hours has been NY–>LA–>BOS–>NC. Insanity.) Not bad for an agoraphobe.

Hat’s off to you stand-alone types. And thank you to my friend-teams. You make life easy.

Born Right Next to the River

I’ve spent a long time doing a lot of comedy. I love improv and I love ImprovBoston.

Last year though, there came an exhausted moment. I needed a little bit of slow time to quiet up my life a little. My husband and I moved to a town well outside of Boston in the summer and I fell suddenly in love. Less frequent trips into the city, more farmers markets. Fewer late night parties, more buying a laundry machine and actually using it. It was nice. Also, air and trees. Overall, a marked rage decrease accompanied the easy parking.

Everything comes in cycles, of course, but this time away is what led to the creation of my first novel, THELMA BEE.

It was the river, specifically. Our new home has a yard and the yard has the Assabet River – full of weird awesome animals and the occasional kayaker. Ryan and I would sit out by the river and eat dinner at night and I found my imagination racing. Keep in mind that I grew up by Logan Airport. Lots of cars, lots of noise, lots of …cars. Living in a place where bats come out at night and beavers paddle against the current felt like living in a Discovery Channel documentary. I was excited and inspired and it made me feel like anything was possible.

I started making lists of things that inspired me. Words that I thought were cool. It kept circling back around to a few themes — Old New England, Ghosts, Childhood

And then Thelma, little by little, came into being and that was the beginning.

More on the writing process later, but I do want to mention that I’m still performing and THIS: Image

…is happening starting this Friday. My Dark Love is a YA Parody based on Twilight. Yeah, I’d trek into Cambridge for this one too.

xo

Erin