Tag Archives: Chicago

Holy Cow!

Until very recently, Chicago’s iO Theater stood in the shadow of Wrigley Field. If you had a show on a game night, it was awful getting to the theater. When you arrived, you’d stand outside to warm up while wave after wave of homeless guys would stumble through your circle and beg you for change. It was less than ideal. Now, the site where iO stood is just a dirt lot being prepped to become a huge Walgreens or some other dumb chain. It’s probably for the best. Winning teams attract even bigger crowds, making it even harder to focus on object work or word association before a show.

Today, the Cubs are world champions. They lost for 108 years before finally sealing the deal. It is true in improvisation as well as baseball, you may suck for a minor eternity before you finally get a win. You keep learning and trying new things and experiencing setbacks, but you can’t give up. I do believe Second City will hire me in about 106 more auditions.

On the night the Cubs finally won, I had to direct a tech rehearsal for a sketch show. I was pissed. My baseball-loving wife of 31 days was pissed I would not be with her. Did we really have to do our tech on that night of all nights? As the game bounced back and forth between the Cubs and Indians, I was literally supervising someone pressing a button to make a fart noise at the proper time. It was the last place I wanted to be. But the show was going up in 24 hours. It was my duty to direct, so I did. As theater folk, we give up a lot to entertain audiences. People may come and see a show and laugh, but they don’t know about all the work that went into it. A grand total of zero people will approach me after this sketch show and say, “Excuse me, are you the director? I very much enjoyed the direction of this show and I would like to thank you for sacrificing Game 7 of the motherfucking World Series when the motherfucking Cubs won for the first time in 108 motherfucking years so you could make sure that motherfucking fart cue came in at the right time tonight. Cheers.”

Anyway, the rehearsal was less than a half-mile from Wrigley Field. As I walked home, I stopped to grab video of the mobs of people peering through windows at televisions, the crowds of crying, laughing and hugging people, the weirdos who just wanted to scream and the people who just turned out to party. You can watch it below.

Chicago is my favorite city for a lot of reasons. It’s a town of underdogs. Lots of people come here to make a name for themselves because they don’t want to do what their fathers did in small towns across the Midwest. The people who come here to study improvisation are almost universally kind and smart and eager to learn. Ego and backstabbery are advanced courses taught only in New York or Los Angeles. Here, it’s about the work. And sometimes the work means missing out on sharing what may be the happiest day in your city’s history because of fart noises. Such is the bargain we have made.

I spent two hours walking 1.5 miles through Wrigleyville on the night the Cubs won and it reminded me of the prime directive of improvisation: Yes And. The “Yes” was evident. All the people in the neighborhood had agreed that the Cubs finally won and this was a good thing. The “And” took many forms: a guy in a horse mask, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, two cute girls making out. I shot it all and marveled at how everyone was getting along. There was no judgment about how someone chose to celebrate, there was acceptance, smiles and participation. You couldn’t have planned the crazy menagerie of costumes and styles of celebration. It just was. People were eager to join in with whatever they had to contribute. Every person brought a brick and together, they built a cathedral. I just wanted to document it all.

If you’d like to learn directly from me, I’m teaching Level One at Chicago’s Under the Gun Theater starting in December. Register here. Save $25 by enrolling before November 14 with the code “early.”

And if you’d like to hear that fart noise in all its glory, the all-female sketch revue, Lip Cervix, is running Nov. 3-Dec. 15 at the Public House Theater, just a stone’s throw from Wrigley Field.

Porn Minus Porn

On Saturday nights this September, a show I created returns to Chicago’s Under the Gun Theater.  It’s called “Porn Minus Porn.”  I give a group of actors a real porn movie script they’ve never seen before.  They have to read the lines, but there’s a twist.  I’ve removed the sex scenes.

“Porn Minus Porn” began as one of eight competitors in Under the Gun’s 2015 Tournament of Shows.  By popular vote over three performances, it was crowned the champion.

Here now, is an interview with the creator: me.

Boiling Point: Thank you for joining us.

Ben Bowman: My pleasure.

BP: Why should we see this show?

Bowman: It’s completely absurd.  The actors are reading along when they hit an idea that seems to come out of left field.  They have to overcome their surprise to finish saying the line while remaining in character.  They break.  A lot.

BP: Can you give us an example?

Bowman: In one of our shows, a bar employee walks up to the bar owner to tell him they’re out of rum.  The two go to the storage room where he tries to grab a box off a shelf and ends up smashing her in the face with his elbow.  He apologizes and she says that she likes that he’s clumsy.  Then they have sex.  Just out of the blue.  Reading it on the page, there’s no hint a sex scene is about to happen, but it does.  It has to.  It’s porn.

BP: How did you come up with this idea?

Bowman: I used to watch a TV show called Up All Night.  In the mid 1990s, the USA Network would show two really terrible movies back-to-back every Friday and Saturday night.  One was usually a bad horror movie where teens on Spring Break were stabbed.  The other was usually a soft core porn movie, like “Bikini Car Wash Company” or something.  When you’d watch these on basic cable, they couldn’t show the sex, so you’d see the bad dialogue leading up to the sex scene , then it would cut to a couple lying in bed together after the deed.  It was ridiculous.  This show brings you the same experience.

BP: Where do you get the scripts?

Bowman: I actually have to transcribe them.

BP: What?

Bowman: Believe it or not, the internet doesn’t seem to offer any adult film scripts for download.  So I have to watch these things and transcribe all the words.

BP: That must be time consuming.

Bowman: It takes about one hour of transcribing for every ten minutes of screen time.

BP: How do you select the films?

Bowman: It was tough in the beginning.  I didn’t know how long a script would be once you took out the sex scenes.  Eventually, I settled on the old Cinemax soft core series, “Life on Top.”  I’ve been using those scripts and the cast seems to like them.

BP: So you’ve been using multiple episodes?

Bowman: We present each episode in its entirety, but if you come back week after week, you’ll be able to follow the characters as they have new adventures.  The first show we ever performed, an erotic model named Bella had a huge crush on her photographer, Vincent.   He shot her down and slept with another model.  Bella was heartbroken.  The next week, Bella made no mention of Vincent and he didn’t appear.  The cast was asking me whether we’d see Vincent again.  Vincent does reappear, but much later in the series.  The people making the show seem very disinterested in episode-to-episode continuity.

BP: What can the audience expect at these shows?

Bowman: It’s a great time.  The dialogue is stupid.  There’s no way those words would lead to sex in the real world.  The actors are fighting to stifle laughter.  And we have an audience participation portion, too.  It’s just a night to celebrate silliness.

BP: Why only four shows?

Bowman: As I said before, this is really time-consuming.  If this run goes well, I could dedicate more time to it, and we could do it more regularly.  It all depends on the audience reaction.  It’s been overwhelmingly positive so far, but Under the Gun is a young theater in a city with tons of comedy theaters.  This is something unique, so I hope people come to see it and tell their friends.  It’s the perfect way to spend an hour in Wrigleyville.  It also makes a great date night.

BP: How do we get tickets?

Bowman: This link will do the trick.  It’s a bargain at $12 a seat.

BP: Is there a way to learn more about the show?

Bowman: Follow @MinusPorn on Twitter and like the show on Facebook.  I’m hoping to turn the live shows into a podcast to spread the word.

BP: Thank you!

Bowman: No problem.

Read more about the show in Newcity Stage, The Columbia Chronicle, Cusp Magazine and at Under the Gun Theater’s News Site.

You can see Porn Minus Porn at Under the Gun Theater (956 W Newport, 2nd Floor, Chicago, IL) on Saturdays.  Tickets are $12.

What the CEO of Twitter learned from improv

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo recently delivered a commencement address to the University of Michigan.  He speaks about the importance of making daring choices, being in the moment, the futility of planning and how he bombed a scene with Steve Carell.  (Start watching at 2:54)

It’s important to note that Costolo had the same dream many (most?) improvisers have.  Come to Chicago, study improv, get on “Saturday Night Live,” get rich and die happy.  But sadly, Costolo didn’t get his dream.  He just had to end up as the CEO of Twitter.

If you end up on SNL, God bless.  Most of you won’t.  But you can carry the lessons of improvisation through the rest of your life.  And they will make you a success.

Got an improv question?  E-mail me at boilingpointimprov[at]gmail.com