Tag Archives: improv

Join Me for the #WomenKickAss Twitter Party!

Hey Dudes and Dudettes,

I missed you all last week!

I was pooooooooped after three nights of improv shows, and my parents were in town, so needless to say, I rested.

The improv shows were a blast and I’m looking forward to continuing on. I had no idea how physically challenging and tiring improvisation actually is. When I looked at my knees on Sunday, they were covered in purpley-brown bruises that still haven’t gone away. I think it’s because I spent my weekend as a guinea pig, a circus monkey, and a hunchback. Basically, if you need a creature that crouches, I’m your girl!

(Pretty sure that’s not how famous works.) *shrugs*

Here’s a few pictures from the show, courtesy Chuck Charbeneau.

improv circus monkey improv judging faces improv menopause opera

Anyway, here’s to the next exciting adventure coming our way! 

I’ve joined forces with the Artemis Film Festival and kindred spirit, August McLaughlin, the host and creator of Girl Boner for the #WomenKickAss Twitter Party!

We’re working to end sexual shame by creating dialogue. August and Dr. Megan Fleming will be leading a non-explicit Q & A, and I’ll be hosting Sex Trivia with prizes from Good Clean Love.

For example:

What body part besides the genitals and breasts enlarges during sexual contact? 

Any guesses? It’s the inner nose. It’s made of the same erectile tissue as the penis. 

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It’s all happening this Thursday, October 29th at 7:00pm PST. Just follow along using the hashtag #WomenKickAss.

You can find out more about the event and listen to August’s podcast free here. I make a cameo at the end. 🙂

But if you need yet another reason to attend, here’s me personally inviting you to twitter party with us.

So what do you say? You in? 

Sign up for the party on Facebook if you like too! 

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I Said ‘Yes’ For a Week, and Here’s What Happened: 5 Lessons Learned

I want to talk to you about…my schedule. It’s busy. I work as a freelance writer, am a board member for my nonprofit writers group, helped found and organize a monthly feminist education series, participate in a book club, attend twice a week rehearsals, and work a 40 hour day job.

You know what? I love it.

Say Yes to the Work

Working lunch. Working on writing assignments over dim sum.

Last week was really hectic for me. I had places to be every night of the week. But I think it was one of the best weeks I’ve had in awhile.

Here’s a little rundown…

Monday night started with a board meeting for my writers group. We are going to be hosting the Feminism on Tap gathering in October and since I work closely with both groups, I’m planning it.

Tuesday was a special treat wherein I traveled a couple towns over to meet with New York storyteller and filmographer, Jen Lee. A dozen area “makers” – artists, craftswomen, writers – gathered to learn about her latest collaboration, The 10 Letters Project, a correspondence documenting the creative process and how we critique ourselves. I was invited to attend because another writer and I were offered the chance to emulate the project.

I spent six hours on wednesday night at the public library for a back to back film showing of Johnny Guitar, the 1954 film by La Crosse, WI born director, Nicholas Ray. I was representing Feminism on Tap and co-led a discussion after each viewing. (And during the second showing, I ate pizza with some of the library staff and wrote one of my freelance articles standing up in the library kitchen.)

10 Letters Project

Jen’s book with fellow storyteller/writer, Tim Manley. Everyone who attended also wrote their own anonymous letters and got to answer one anonymously too. Very cool experience connecting with other makers.

I hemmed and hawed most of Thursday over whether or not to audition for an improvisation group, but the writer I met on Tuesday and will be working with on the local 10 letters project was in the group and invited me to go. I went, expecting an audition and nothing more. It turned out to be a two hour improv workshop wherein I became a monster, a pterodactyl, an overtired mother judging a fake gymnastics tournament, and I pulled (imaginary) gum out of a guy’s mouth. At the end of the two hours, I signed up for the next rehearsal.

Friday afternoon I left work and headed to a dim sum shop where I finished my freelance assignments (due that day). Then I hit up the library book sale and came home with a bag of books just in time for date night with my husband.

Finally on Saturday, I attended the first rehearsal for the improv group, which started with a photo shoot for a newspaper article and show flyers. When I got home, my friend picked me up and we hit the shops so I could help her back to school shop for a family through the Salvation Army and find a wedding gift for her sister.

Wow. I’m tired writing this. 

It sounds exhausting. And it is a little, but in the best possible way. I’m a person that thrives on having lots to do. Too much time will make me bored and I will not leave the house or stop watching movies for days. You guys, I’m really good at watching movies! I can do it all damn day!

But here’s what this week of “YES” taught me. 

1. Saying Yes Leads to Amazing Opportunities

I made new friends and connections all last week. From future partners on events to kindred spirits in creativity. I’m looking forward to partnering with a new writer for our project, and through partnering at the library, I got valuable information about hosting film festivals that may lead to a future partnership. Whatever happens, the best part was it was all fun!

My book sale buys.

My book sale buys.

2. Saying Yes Gets You Out of Your Head

I can be a worrier. I overthink things. I love when I find something that takes me out of my head and makes me focus. I use to think only hard exercise could do this, but I was wrong. Improv allowed this. There’s no time to think in improv! I had to close my mind outside thoughts and completely be in the moment. I love making people laugh (that’s why I wrote a humor blog), but what I loved more and why I decided to join the group was because improv allowed me to get out of my anxious brain and just play. That’s a great life lesson.

3. Saying Yes Helps You Process Quickly

With a jam-packed schedule, I learned fast what parts of it I liked and didn’t like. I learned what my strengths and weaknesses are. I played a variety of roles – from the facilitator to the student – throughout the week. It helped me process where I am in my life journey and what I want to spend my time on.

4. Saying Yes Makes You Vulnerable

I was out of my element more than once last week, but I think that’s ok. I thought a lot about something a friend once wrote that moments in our lives where something big is happening cause us to panic about what we’re going to “give” of ourselves. What kind of impression are we going to make? What witty words are we going to say? But sometimes, those moments aren’t about us giving, they’re about receiving. What can we learn from this now? What am I listening to? What resonates? I took a step back a few times and reminded myself that I was in a “receiving” moment, and to enjoy the experience.

5. Saying Yes Makes Each Moment Matter

When time is precious and packed, then the things you’re doing with it have to be just as important. I’m glad I was able to still have a date with my husband and go out with a friend. You learn what things you’re willing to cut out in order to preserve others. Yes, I was busy. But I still spent quality time with the ones I love. In fact, I even called my mother. 😉

Tell me about a time you said yes and it led to something great. 

Creativity? How to Force More of It and Have Fun Too

Did you know you can get a degree in creativity?  Oh yes, it exists.  I’m not sure what the criteria for the degree includes, but you can probably google it.  I want to talk about the guy I met at the Writers Institute who has this degree, a Masters in Creativity from Buffalo State College.  His name is Doug Stevenson, and he has a passion for thinking outside the box.  Well, actually, if you ask him, he’ll tell you to think outside the box, but don’t forget about the box.  Doug started out in American Studies, then Advertising, and then got his masters in creativity.  He spent years working in improv acting groups like Second City (a beginning point for most Saturday Night Live actors).

Doug Stevenson

Doug led two sessions at the conference and it was clear they were going to be creative in theme based on the title alone.  For instance, I went to a class called “Innovation is Like a Box of Chocolates:  A Savory Study of what Everyone Suddenly Needs.”  Doug highly recommended that writers take an improv class at some point.  Now, now, before you all start slinking to the back of the room, hear his argument out!

  1. Improv requires no judgement, it’s about accepting invitations and rolling along with the story.
  2. It teaches you the power of “Yes, AND…”  You build on ideas.
  3. You learn how to cooperate with discovery.

In the classes, Doug had us do several warm up activities from his improv days.  I pushed myself and decided to volunteer for one.  There were 7 of us lined up in the front of the room.  Each of us was given an emotion to portray and the opening line of a story “It was a dark and stormy night…”  (I know, a whole room full of writers, and that’s the best we could come up with!)  So our emotions included sadness, anger, frightened, bitter, giddy, confused and I got the lovely assignment of pretending to be in love.  The story took several interesting twists as each of us were allowed to spin our takes on it.  It began on a stormy night, a couple was going on a date (yep, that’s me), my date was sad because he was a lot older than me and the night certainly wouldn’t bode well.  Passersby were frightened by the storm and could only think of stripping in their fear, while others were bitter about them having the nerve to strip.  A giddy thief was stealing from our car and a woman was angry she was stuck in a city with the likes of all of us, and I ended the story by changing my mind and hooking up with the car thief instead of the old man.

That’s all hysterical and wonderful, but what’s the point, Jess?  The point was none of us could plan where the story was going, we had to continue from what we were given.  We could change the direction but we were forced to be creative and open-minded when doing so.  You constantly looked at the story with new eyes, and that’s what Doug wanted us to do with our own WIP when we were struggling.  If something wasn’t working, he said to put it aside, step away, and come back to it later with new eyes.  Or, use a story box of combinations and just go with it, maybe adding in an unknown will lead to something spectacular.  Here are some examples of what we did.

Story box:

The President                    Hypnotization                   Carnival

A Cartoonist                     Melting Apocalypse         Underwater

A Cowboy                          Greek Mythology              Underworld

A Bird Watcher              Murder Mystery                 Boise, Idaho

Ok, so we’ve got this box with columns of character ideas, themes and places.  You can randomly select from them and try to make a story.  For example, The President and a cartoonist must go to Boise, Idaho where everyone is melting in the Apocalypse.  Or, a lone bird watcher travels underwater to claim his true identity as a Greek God.  Whatever, I’m just getting your gears grinding!

The other thing we did was use story cubes.  Story cubes are a toy you can buy that lets you roll dice with pictures/actions on them and you can incorporate that into your story.  It’s up to you how many cubes you use.  We did a practice using just one roll with one di.  So I rewrote the story of Mary Had a Little Lamb, to be Mary Had a Gala Apple.  Again, do with it what you like.  You could roll 6 dice and try to make a story using all 6 images.

Jess, you ask, I’m writing a story about a magic princess slaying a dragon and marrying the man of her dreams, who just happens to be a hobbit/wookie mix but through their love the people of the planet Condroidmilock find acceptance in intergalactical love.  What do you want me to do with the canoe I just rolled?!  Geez, you guys, do I have to do everything for you?  Where’s your acceptance?  Where’s your Yes AND…, where’s your cooperation with discovery?  *Bangs head on laptop*

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Sorry, about that.  I’m good now.  Use this as a warm up.  Use it as a way to hone your craft, pick objects that would never go together and try to make it work, just see where the writing process takes you.  If you’re writing the next sci-fi romance that is going to change the way we think of social class or race, then maybe incorporating a canoe into your story wouldn’t make sense.  But, what if while writing that side story, you discover in your protagonist a new strength or quirk you didn’t know they had.  What if it makes you view them in a whole different light?  Or more importantly, WHAT IF YOU HAVE FUN WRITING??

None of us would have chose to be writers if we didn’t love writing.  I’m not saying that writing isn’t fun, but we know writing can be work sometimes too.  When we’re stuck, feeling drained by the non-galactical chaos of normal life, wouldn’t it be nice to have a way to springboard our inner creativity into writing again?  That was Doug’s point.  And mine too.  I’m not trying to sell you guys into taking an improv class if it terrifies you, but DO think about improv as a way to non-judgementally accept new ideas into your writing.  We write because it’s our way of being creative, and who couldn’t use a few more skills in their arsenal of writing talents?

So, I’m challenging you, readers!  Write me your best quick story using these items:  a baby doll, a duck painting, a pillow shaped like a banana, and a remote control.  (These are random items collected in my basement.)  The winner of the contest gets:  A postcard mailed to you from exotic Wisconsin and a feature interview by myself to be posted on my blog!  Happy writing!

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