Everything Is Already Something Week 56: Listen to Some Plays

Allison Page is listening.

Often the plays I’m really excited about don’t happen to be playing anywhere near me, so I can’t see them. CLEVER WORKAROUND: Audible. For the last week I’ve been listening to high quality recordings of plays on Audible — often with the original cast I would never have had the chance to see in action. I’m in the middle of writing a new play right now, and I have to say it’s been extra hard somehow and has made me feel a little inadequate. *gasp*

Listening to really well-crafted works has felt like a mini masterclass. I totally recommend it. Here’s some I have listened to and some I intend to listen to:

THE MOTHERFUCKER WITH THE HAT
by Stephen Adly Guirgis

Swooooon.

Swooooon.

This was an extra great listen because I’m obsessed with Bobby Cannavale, and he absolutely kills it in this role. Bonus: Chris Rock. In a play. How often does that happen? There’s a lot to love in this script – it opens so quickly. There’s a brief phone conversation, then a character enters and shit hits the fan within a few minutes, in a really big way. Guirgis doesn’t waste time, and I really appreciate that. It’s a very full play, and none of it feels unimportant. I’m constantly trying to make that happen in my own work, and I only succeed sometimes.

BECKY SHAW
by Gina Gionfriddo

Okay, I was into the characters in this one, but something about the story didn’t quite gel for me when it was over. I’m not sure exactly what I wanted out of the ending but somehow I felt like I wasn’t quite satisfied. I was interested in what was happening, but at some point the story started to feel a little less structured to me in a way that caused me to distract myself a lot with thoughts of “But…what’s happening? Is something about to happen? Or is nothing about to happen?” Performance wise – I really liked the actors. I will freely admit I tend to be a pretty traditional storyteller and so something that doesn’t feel like it’s got a really tightly stitched-up ending is sometimes not my bag. I can be boring that way.

BEST OF SECOND CITY
By…ya know, everybody in Second City

Comedy swooooon.

Comedy swooooon.

I’m about 20 minutes into one of these right now (there are actually 3 volumes, it seems) and mostly it’s pretty delightful if not actually hilarious. I think just listening to scenes often doesn’t result in as many actually laugh-out-loud moments. It’s much more like “Hm, yes, that is funny. I see how that is funny.” But it is a fun recording in that it is chock full of a bunch of top notch funny people: Amy Sedaris, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Marsha Mason and Paul Dinello. So even if it weren’t great it would still be pretty great. And it’s good for listening on commutes because the scenes are short. You can end any time and pick it back up later not having to actually remember what was happening.

LA THEATRE WORKS COLLECTIONS

LA Theatre Works has several collections of plays on Audible: Modern Classics, Pulitzer Play Prize Plays (Volumes 1 and 2) and probably other things I don’t feel like looking for right now, which contain plays like: ‘Night Mother, Anna in The Tropics, Lost in Yonkers, Six Degrees of Separation, Agnes of God, True West, Anna Christie, and others. I haven’t dipped into these yet, but I plan to.

OUR LADY OF 121ST STREET
by Stephen Adly Guirgis

Yes, more Guirgis. I’m going through a phase. GREAT cast (including Laurence Fishburne). It’s much more an ensemble piece than Motherfucker, and thusly feels a lot more like vignettes on common themes and character relationships as opposed to one big story. Everything somehow ties back to a dead nun – though the actual death of the nun is sort of secondary to everything else that’s being talked about. A lot of talk of broken relationships and how traumatic events impact people over time. Fascinating, definitely, and Guirgis’ ability to write AMAZING arguments means I love him to tiny pieces. I dig a good fight.

Other plays to listen to:
The Noel Coward Collection
Pride and Prejudice
This is Our Youth
The Hound of the Baskervilles
The Lion in Winter (with Alfred Molina!)
Abundance
Arcadia
Art
The Rivalry
Three Sisters

Basically, there are a lot of them. I’m getting out and seeing more local productions this year, but having this resource to experience stuff not happening here is pretty cool. I don’t know about you, but reading scripts often makes me sleepy. And since I have a commute to contend with, I’m killing two birds with one stone.

HOORAY!

Allison Page is a writer/actor/co-creative director of Killing My Lobster. You can catch KML’s new show (which she happened to head write) Murder, She Was Murdered this Friday and Saturday at PianoFight. www.killingmylobster.com

Everything Is Already Something Week 34: I Can’t Do It Without A Papier Mache Dragon

Allison Page, once again using her life to help you with yours.

I’m feelin’ scrappy lately. I’m not the big guy in the fight, I’m the little fast one, bobbin’ and weavin’. When it comes to live performance, what do you really need to make that happen? Some actors, some material, and an audience. That’s all. Those are the basics of having a show. Then you start getting into more details, working out things that you think will make your piece feel more alive or believable: sets, props, costumes, specific lighting, sound design, etc.

When it comes to sketch comedy, those extra things can get real ridiculous real fast. When gutting the costume room of Killing My Lobster (sketch comedy company which has been collecting piles of this stuff for 17 years) this last week, we found some pretty crazy shit. Giant iPod costume, giant pieces of fake poop (for the man who has everything), wigs made out of who-knows-what, glow-in-the-dark robot costumes, 5 football helmets, a severed mannequin head wearing a motorcycle helmet (and fashionable eyeshadow), a REAL SWORD, fake dynamite (I hope), owl boots (not even trying to explain that one), a giant poster which proclaimed “BIEBER/PALIN 2038”, and assortment of things shaped like penises, and about a million billion other oddities.

Anna the German astronomer. From the first KML show I ever performed in. Farewell, drawn-on mole and unibrow.

Anna the German astronomer. From the first KML show I ever performed in. Farewell, drawn-on mole and unibrow.

It got me thinking: why do we need all this stuff? When you’re in the business of producing complicated plays, yeah, you’re going to need a lot of costumes and a lot of props. That makes sense. It’s hard to create Victorian England without the right materials. But we’re making sketch comedy. We’re here to make people laugh. I know we can do that without all this shit.

(I'm going to miss this cape and mask Lucha Libre Santa costume. Ahhh memories.)

(I’m going to miss this cape and mask Lucha Libre Santa costume. Ahhh memories.)

It can be really hard to change direction, especially when you’ve been going the same way for so long. It’s easy to say “But…but that’s the way we do it! We’ve always done it that way! Or at least I don’t remember doing it any other way…” but growth comes from change. Or so someone said one time on the internet or something. So, we’re changing. We need to be the scrappy guys, not the guys who stew over something for 3 months before it’s perfectly precious enough to bestow on an audience. I just want to be funny. And we can be funny without glow-in-the-dark robot costumes and without papier mache dragons. Write funny things, get funny people to perform them, and the audience won’t miss the humongous burrito costume. They might not even remember there ever was one.

Look at arguably the best, and certainly the most well-known, sketch creators in the world: Second City. (Yes, their roots are in improv, but they use that to create sketches) Overall, they keep it simple: a stage, some black chairs, and some people – oh, and also, they’re hilarious.

That's how much they like the black chair, they use it in their marketing.

That’s how much they like the black chair, they use it in their marketing.

You can hide behind an over-sized sombrero all day, but it’s when you take it off that the audience gets to see what’s really going on…dick jokes in Spanish. (That sketch is not real and if it were someone would probably think it was offensive…though they’d have to speak Spanish to figure that out.)

I don’t want to use crutches as a crutch anymore. I don’t need the rubber chicken. The rubber chicken is within us all.

Don’t eat rubber chickens, they’re not for food.

Allison Page’s first experiment with this theory, Killing My Lobster Takes It All Off: no sets, no props, no costumes, just funny premiers at foolsFURY’s FURY Factory July 10th and 11th, and at CalShakes’ Grove July 18th.