Saturday, February 11, 2012

How to feel like an ass without even trying: A way of life

Sometimes I am terrible at being a person. This is an email I wrote to a friend immediately after I got back to my apartment last night in a freak-out. Some details you should know first:

-D.L. stands for Diamond Lion, a musical improv group I go to every Friday with two of my improv friends, one of whom this email was sent to.
-This night I went alone to the show.
-Mike is our improv team coach and member of D.L.
-Eliza is a founder/member of D.L. and someone I have a mind-crush on because she's so friggin' hilarious and good at being funny/witty.

The email as it was sent:

GAH! So I am not allowed to go to a D.L. show alone, nor can I sit in the front row ever again. This is the long story of why:

After the show I left and started to head back to my apartment, but as I crossed the street I remembered Mike's words that I (meaning you, Chris and I) should hang out with all of them after the show sometime. I stopped and let my phone decide my fate for the night . Afterall, it is a SMART phone, so it should know best. I used the dice app, which three out of three times said I should go be brave and be social. That was bad choice #1.

Everything that follows is bad choice #2.

I turned around and waited outside the theater where I saw a few people I recognized from different shows. There were more performers watching D.L. than usual. The guest was some comedian I remember from somewhere as well, but I forget exactly. There was one of the cast members of the office hanging out there too. Mike wasn't out yet and I didn't want to embarrass myself so I went into that new bar right next door, waited outside the bathroom for a few minutes until I realized it was free and I'm just an idiot. Afterward I waited nearish the bar pretending like I was thinking of what I wanted to order.

I then went back outside and saw Mike (yay) with a couple other people. I greeted him, he introduced me to one of his friends, we talked for a minute before they all started migrating to La Poubelle. Mike's friend went to go check on his car so I followed Mike (the only person who knew me) who was talking to the other lady from D.L. The one that's not Eliza. At La Poubelle I held the door open for a few other people, one of which was a great improv guy I've seen in a bunch of shows and he teaches at Second City, he asked if we'd met before and I made some lame, awkward response, we shook hands before he scurried away from me.

This is where shit gets real!

La Poubelle is standing room only and full of real comedians. Like ones I've seen on TV, they must have been from that comedy show earlier in the evening. Moving my way through the crowd I brush past Stephen Merchant. Stephen Merchant! Co-creator of the original Office, and every other thing Ricky Gervais has done! Wow!

I basically moved slowly and awkwardly by groups of overwhelmingly talented people towards the back of the restaurant. There in a semi circle, next to Eugene who was talking to some guy, there was a people-sized space and--you guessed it--Eliza Skinner was talking to another improv guy, one of the people who I kind of "met" at the cafe the other day with Mike.

I thought that was the perfect set-up. I knew Mike was in line for the restroom and I couldn't stand creepily alone any I sauntered over to the group that I had the best shot with and incorporated myself into that circle. I couldn't have been creepier if I tried. Eugene was too deep in conversation with the other guy to notice me and Eliza had her back to me...but the people she was talking to gave me strong looks of "um...why are you creeping here you creeper?" It didn't help that I was doing and saying nothing. Their conversation stopped and Eliza turned around and smiled at awkward smile of "what are you?" I smiled and said "I liked the show." She thanked me. We stared. I continued with "I go to a lot of them, I really enjoy it, it's one of my favorites." She smiled and thanked me politely. I kept standing there feeling the awkwardness compound uncontrollably. Staring. Pressure. I blurted "I know Mike, he's my coach...and Eugene is 301 teacher."

Eliza's smile was even more forcibly polite, "yep, there's a lot of teachers in the group." I continued to stand as painfully awkward as anyone can.

I thought I'd name my thought, so I said "I'm feeling really awkward I don't know how to end this conversation."

Eliza said we could say our names, so we shook hands and said our names. Then continued to smile politely. In silence. I could not stop my brain or my mouth. "Yeah, I enjoy the stuff, this is really awkward. I don't know how to make it stop, so....yep...I should go now. Bye." At this point my brain hit the abort button and I just walked straight through the bar, past Stephen Merchant, the guy from the American Office and all the other people from TV and back into the night air where I mentally beat myself up all the way back to my apartment.

So yeah, from now on I'm not operating without wingmen...and I can no longer sit in the front row. Ever.

Vinnie Duyck

Friday, February 10, 2012

My 4 states

I'm taking a class right now that is kind of tying together my life. It's an improv-based class, but it's really focused on being emotionally big and believable on camera in the way all the Christopher Guest films are, and in a lesser way (or greater way, depending on your opinion), like Will Ferrell's movies.

We are working heavily on the commedia d'el arte notion of the four emotional states: Happy, sad, fear and anger. Man oh man, are we delving deeply into these! This is a great time for me to actually be revisiting this construct from my clown training a few years ago at the Portland Actors Conservatory.

The thing I'm finding is that for me and most of the other people in my class, fear and anger are the easiest to delve into. My personal thought is that it has something to do with the fact that we're all actors in LA, so we have plenty of reasons to be fearful and angry.

Three weeks ago I had a great breakthrough in another class where I had to play a scene in a hospital room with my dying mother (within the class rehearsal space). After some guided talk, I was fully in the reality of the moment and it was an amazing experience! It felt so real to me there was zero "acting" and 100% being. I have not been able to recreate that deep connection since then, but my overall realization was that to be an actor you have to be willing to put your loved ones in danger, at least emotionally and in the same part of your imagination that believes dreams are reality.

After thinking about that connection I have with the states of sadness, fear and anger, it intrigues me that the one state I find the hardest to go fully into is happiness. Apparently I'm not alone in this, it was consistently the most difficult for most people in class. The one state people strive for the most is the one that is hardest to get into.

While this one class is tying together all my training and stretching my muscles, the real question I am carrying with me is why happiness is so elusive. If I can get into the other emotional states with relatively little effort, why is happiness so elusive? Maybe I'm extrapolating too far out of bounds, but here I am searching for the answer to one of those big life questions. That in itself is an exciting and scary place to be.

Friday, February 3, 2012

My most embarrasing moment - on tape

I just watched the most embarrassing thing I've ever done (repeatedly in front of a crowd).

It was 2005, my bonus semester at Pacific University. I loved dancing, and I still do, and for some reason I had it in my mind that I wanted to choreograph a dance number for the autumn dance recital. Normally this is reserved for real dancers, ones who have actually studied. I had taken ballroom, swing and salsa, and ventured into courses in jazz and ballet, but I can by no means say I was good at any of them. I was bent on doing a musical piece that I knew would probably be terrible, but that excited and fueled me even more.

I love Weezer, and I fully believe that the blue album is one of the top 5 best albums of all time. As usual when it comes to things I end up adoring, I was formally introduced to the musical stylings of Weezer by a cute blonde girl. On one of their less appreciated albums there is a song "Hold Me." Listening to it I could visualize a story I wanted to tell in dance and movement. It would have a man and a woman, the two dancing separately for most of the song, enticing the other until the end when they come together. It was much like a movie where the guy and the girl metaphorically dance around each other until the end when they realize they are perfect for each other. I wanted to choreograph my half and have a girl choreograph her half and we would collaborate on merging our styles for the end of the piece. I had the girl in mind (a different blonde girl from the one who introduced me to Weezer). She was--and is very much still--an incredible dancer, and a wonderful, brilliant person. I approached her with the notion of collaborating on the dance piece. She said yes. We were both excited about it. Perfect start!

We met together in the dance studio several times working out the story of the piece, but after a few rehearsals, we came to heads about the choreography. Us choreographing our own bits was not gelling with her as she wanted one person to give the piece an over-arching style. My dream of having two wildly separate styles and pairing them might have been a bit of a fools dream, and I am always that fool. When we realized it wouldn't work out since neither of us wanted to hand over the reigns entirely to the other, we broke up as a dancing team. This was honestly one of the hardest break-ups for me, because I knew there was a lot of creative potential going to waste...and we were in no way a couple, but that did not make it any less of a break-up for either of us.

I wanted to forge ahead, and being a headstrong taurean, I wanted to keep the interplay of male and female energy, but I had no other person. My solution-I would do both myself. Solo piece! I kept rehearsing both parts, trying to give each a different energy and I designed a costume. Having access to the theatre's sewing room, I spliced together a skirt and frilly shirt for the left half and a men's shirt for the right half. In my dance, the right side would be male and have more angular movement and my left side would be female and have a softer, more fluid quality. My former dance partner still worked with me, but in ad advisory position guiding me along the way.

For the end of the song when the male and female energies merge, I kind of entered a frenetic spin where I ripped off the outer costume (I sewed velcro into the dress and shirts), revealing a white shirt underneath with my black dance pants. I then pranced about as a whole person embodying these two separate energies. Looking back, that must have been my idea of what a true relationship is. Sometimes I'm way too much of a romantic for my own good.

What brought this back into my life was a search for things I have done in the past to mine for comedy now. I did not have a copy of this performance (probably for the best), so I asked a friend who works at the college to track it down for me. She worked fast and a couple days later, here I am in my apartment watching myself prance about the stage almost 7 years ago.

It's not a long song, but by the end of watching it I was so embarrassed about my performance that I was sweating. It was almost a fear sweat from all the shame and excitement of seeing this kid--me--make a fool of himself. The reason it effected me so much is not because it was ridiculous, though it was. It's because I really meant it. The whole piece came from a deeply sincere place. When I performed it, I remember both enjoying the fact that people were entertained enough to laugh at it, but also feeling confused and hurt as to why, since it was a serious piece at heart. That one instance of putting my soul out on a limb taught me two things: 1. If you are a funny person, people expect everything you do to be funny, so be prepared to be laughed at for everything, and 2. Real pain is the true source of comedy.

I'm not saying I'm a clown with a tear running down my cheek, but I guess I did achieve what I set out to do. I performed in the dance recital with the most vulnerable performance of my life at that time. I entertained and expressed myself fully. I now have video proof that I am an idiot adventurer. Even though I am ultimately embarrassed at watching myself prance about the stage putting my heart into every awkward move, I have a little bit of pride in knowing that it was pure and a sincere performance. That doesn't mean I'll be sharing this video anytime soon.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


I find the notion of the Muse fascinating, an elusive and fickle creature who brings people inspiration, usually at the most inopportune times. Perhaps it's like the Easter bunny leaving little idea eggs all over, some of them we step on and squish out everywhere. I'm not sure anyone would approve of the Easter bunny showing up in August or whenever he wanted, we have a specific day scheduled for his arrival. Imagine the tooth-fairy showing up in the middle of the night to get your tooth, but she's so clumbsy she wakes you up every time, giving you face-bruises and instead of money she leaves ice-cubes, so if you don't deal with it right away you wake up in a cold, wet bed. That's just how I feel when my muse gives me a great idea in the car and for some reason I can't get to a pen and write it down, and by the time I get home I forgot most of it anyway.

It's also fascinating that most people talk about the muse as female. For most people, if Angelina Jolie walked in the room to tell you something, you'd probably drop whatever you were doing to listen. The problem is if she does this when you're in the middle of an important discussion or heated debate you can't just get out of, and when you are free to listen to what she has to say, she's gotten jealous of having to share your attention attention and moved on.

Stephen King in his book "On Writing" has the best idea I've heard about the muse. Instead of a gorgeous ethereal female figure, the muse it a fat, lazy man who sits on your couch eating chips all day, making messes everywhere you have to clean up. The problem is you can't kick him out because every once in a while he'll say something that is brilliant you just have to write that very second before he interrupts to tell you there's no more toilet paper so he used other things. (I took some liberties on this retelling).

Sometimes I find the muse is more akin to someone who sleeps around. More than once I've had a moment of sheer inspiration and written down what I believed to be a uniquely new idea. I was so excited about it until I went to see a movie the next day and saw that exact thing on screen. Apparently my muse and I are not in a monogamous relationship if she's giving out the same ideas to whoever she pleases. What if this can work both ways? Maybe I can have several muses I draw from...but the idea of sustaining a relationship with several muses is not that palatable when I think of how tenuous my current muse-receptor relationship is.

My new plan on relating with my muse is to treat it like a house cat. Cats can show you great love and companionship, but scratch your face the very next second. So far, very apt with the muse. The more you want a cat to come, the less it will. Yep, very muse-like. If you have a regular schedule, the cat knows it and adjusts, being all cute and cuddly when it expects to be fed. So, perhaps I will have to take the easiest and often most difficult approach to courting my muse. I must have a regular schedule where I write no matter what and completely ignore my muse. He/She/it will just have to adjust to not being fawned over whenever they want attention and fit themselves into my schedule if they want to be stroked.

Now it's more like a relationship that got too serious so I broke it off, but I still want to be friends. I might miss the compulsive nature of my muse and all the random adventures we used to have, but that's the price of a stable, reliable relationship...and who says we can't still drive to the beach at 3 am once in a while?