The Next Door that Opens
It never fails when people enter my office, eyes are drawn to two famous actors of color that are on my office wall frame –Lamorne Morris (New Girl, Fox TV) and Danny Pudi (Community, NBC). I get the same quizzical look and question every time. “ Did they go to Second City? I didn’t know they were from here.” I smile and nod an emphatic “Yes”. But there’s more juicy detail to the story. Lamorne performed with three Outreach & Diversity shows –our shows where we feature new up and coming diverse talent , and was scouted and snapped up by yours truly to recruit for our division’s show. And like most directors, agents and curious folks looking for that new face, I drove an hour and half to only find myself lost in County of DuPage in hopes of catching Lamorne’s final senior college show. As many would agree about Lamorne’s comedy, he was naturally funny with a charismatic charm that could fill a room. Although he was brand spanking new to Second City, he was not to improv and comedy. It was in his bones.
Danny Pudi, a graduate of the Second City Training Center and alum of Chicago’s Asian American improv/sketch group, Stir Friday Night had been working on his solo routine with an outstanding alum director, John Hildreth . Circa 2006, Danny had performed in our studio theatre telling his story of growing up in a household of half Indian and Polish parents. He took big risks on stage with his lean, physical comedy that imitated some of his favorite characters and family members that influenced his comedy. It was pure joy to see his kinetic energy come alive. Later that year, I recommended Danny to a NBC Diversity casting executive where he showcased his solo work in a diversity showcase to an audience full of “looking to sign new talent” agents and managers. He got “picked up” and started doing national commercials and booking “big gigs” like the Community show.
You can say that all of us –directors, producers, teachers , family and improvisers work in various ways to support each other in our careers. The unsuspecting moments happen often and opportunity does come knockin’. The question is are you ready, present and aware to hear the knock? Do you recognize that doors are always opening and closing? They really are.
Diversity is not solely about race, ethnicity, and gender. It is about inclusivity and showing up at the door to bring the unique perspective, life experience and story that only you can share as a human being on this earth. It is passing the torch and empowering others to be the next generation of leaders, creative thinkers, and improvisers. It is about opening doors, walking inside and taking a seat, because you truly belong.
Learn more. Get involved. See an Urban Twist show.
As curator for REACH (Risky, Eclectic Artists’ Comedy Hour) shows, I’m always on the hunt for artists who are pushing boundaries , taking risks and making discoveries in their work. This is the kind of work that excites me. It is what I strive to teach in my workshops and lead by example in my own performance —those unique moments when I get to share the stage and become vulnerable, human and without filter. Add some comedy, and it’s a golden evening of laughter.
This past June REACH (Risky, Eclectic Artist’s Comedy Hour) had an amazing show featuring LGBTQ performers. If you missed the show and want to learn more about showcasing your work in our October 20th REACH show, e-mail email@example.com and join the community.
Here’s a peek of three artists from June’s show - comedy rap group Marson and FYF Crew, solo performer, Osiris Khepera, and guest poet Tiff Beatty.
Everyone has the capacity to reach and dig deeper in their work. As my improv teacher once told me, “don’t hold back…there is magic waiting to happen.”
Visit www.upcomedyclub.com for REACH show info.
12 Tips to Keep You Creative, Smart and Committed to YOU in 2013
By Dionna Griffin-Irons
- Establish a specific goal and artistic life plan. What do you want to do creatively THIS year that you didn’t do last year? What do you want to improve? Be specific. Do you want to work with a theatre company, director or institution that you respect? Introduce yourself. Take a moment and pull out that 2012 planner and calendar and review those past auditions, interviews and meetings and assess what worked and what didn’t. Use it to fuel your next appearance and build a better relationship in 2013.
- Expand your community and network with theatre companies, fellow actors, directors and producers. Get some business cards printed and some reasonable headshots and distribute. Make sure the headshot looks like you now, not in 1990. Ask for referrals to save money.
- Attend a network event, party, or opening of a show. Be a social butterfly for one night. Fake it if you’re not. Get to know your community and artist peers. In Chicago? Attend the Outreach Meet and Greet event announced in the newsletter. No one is going to know who you are unless you come out of your shell, dark cave, and studio.
- Commit to seeing more theatre and improv shows. Simple enough. Art inspires more art. Get out and see more work. Read a play a week. Read a book a month. Become a sponge and soak up everything that tickles your creative fancy.
- Take a class in improv, writing, acting and music – anything that gets your muse going. Why? You must always be willing to grow and allow yourself to discover and often that happens in the classroom setting. This keeps life exciting, hones your talent and keeps away the I’m-not-doing-anything-creative blues. Get referrals on teachers who are the best in what they do. Every city has them.
- Lock up your ego and start listening to your truth and wisdom. Start writing and journaling to help you hear your voice – the real you that knows what he/she wants.
- Junk the junk, release the funk and bring in the new. Whether it doesn’t serve you creatively, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually or personally (people, places, things), it’s time to let go of your dead weight you’ve been carrying over each year. That stack of papers that’s been hanging around since 2010 (or 1990), that book haven’t read in years, or that significant other who is not supporting your craft could be the very thing that is holding you back. It’s time to junk it, release it, and bring in new energy. A creative cleansing is in order. Start now.
- Act smart. Trick yourself into being disciplined. Break your activities into small increments- 10, 15, 20 minutes. Doing a task for 10 minutes sounds a lot easier than an hour, right? You only get better in this work through repetition and consistency. If you’re a writer, write; an actor, act; an improviser, improvise; a lover…well, you get my drift. Establish small rituals and routines that support who you are. Outsmart yourself and do the thing you really want to be doing.
- Become frugal for a season or year. We’ve heard from every finance guru around that we should save our money and spend less and get rid of debt. Isn’t it time we start listening? There is no reason to be a starving artist. Get a roommate and split the costs and save the rest. Sacrifice on the front end to reap rewards later.
- Fine tune a virtue. Patience, honesty, gratitude and humility are excellent virtues. Pick one or all of them and work on being your best self. Sounds a little Oprah-ish, yes, but let me be the first to say that a virtue never hurts anyone when it comes to the entertainment industry where rejection is normal. A virtue can cut through ego, depression and envy anytime, any day.
- Be thankful. Ah…gratitude goes a long way. You will breathe easier, sleep better and improvise better when you realize you have more than you think you have. Count your coins in your savings jar or count real blessings – people in your life who have helped shape your journey and who you are today including the mother who gave birth to you.
- Laugh until your belly hurts. Laugh hard and freely. Go to more places where laughing is encouraged. Break your inner silence and shake things up a bit. Laughing raises your energy and doesn’t cost a thing. Now, get on your train and start moving!
As we vamp up a for a new year fast approaching and wind down from 2012, I’m always surprised how fast 365 days and 8,760 hours has flown by.
Sometime in December, I usually take a good long look in the mirror for skin and body changes, measure my boys to see who is taller, review my snow gear, check out the house for problems, and listen to the car for any pre-winter fixes. Then I start preparing for a family trip to visit my beloved mother, Granny in Ohio or Michigan where I spent many years growing as an adolescent, teen and young woman. These traditions and self made rituals always point me toward self reflection and moments to pause in my life –which is exactly what I need at the end of the year.
One of my favorite mother mantra’s that I’m forever repeating to my five year old, Xavier is to - Stop, Look and Listen every time we cross the street. His little hands clasped between my grown up hands while listening to Mom say in a clear, direct voice “STOP, Look, and Listen, Xavi” is my rule of thumb that I’m teaching an energetic son, who likes to run without thinking, act on impulse, and crash into things because it’s fun and cool is actually a picture of all of us when we are racing in life.
So in our efforts to avoid crashes, here’s 7 questions for you to ask yourself as you slow down and gear up for 2013.
Don’t let the Xmas holidays blow you over like a storm and leave you exhausted, overwhelmed and depleted. Here’s your plan to recover, resist and recharge.Take the time now to pick up a book, a gift for yourself and really honker down on getting closer to something you’ve been wanting to do or improve with your career, personal development, art, spirituality and family, but maybe haven’t found the time to do.
Remember this very important tip. You never find time, you only make the time. It is only with your awareness in how you use, spend and devote your time can you get to the crux of what you want to change, add and do in your life. And if you have it all figured out, please share your secrets with me. I always like to hear new ideas.
7 Questions to Stop, Look and Listen at my Life
- What would I like to be doing more of that I’m not having enough TIME doing?
- What are my top three things that I would like to do in a day, month, year – my lifetime?
- Where can I go or research to find support, answers, and resources to help me on this journey?
- What can I do, create, start planning right now, today? Write your action and goal list now.
- Where do I need to see this plan to be accountable, inspired and rewarded?
- What makes me angry/irritated/annoyed and how can I infuse this energy and emotion in my work as an artist?
- What makes me smile and how can I add more of this to my life?
Take your answers and write them down and post them up. Start your research project with “Your LIFE” as the subject and plan this sucker out to get an A+. Invest this time and see what you discover. E-mail me as you pseudo professor and let me know how your progress is going. Contact me for a monthly reward and I will give you discount on a funny show or maybe even free tickets to get you laughing. Did you know laughter add 15 minutes more living to your life? Yep, it does. I’m looking forward to seeing, hearing and enjoying what you create in this world.
A long time ago, I had my first audition for The Second City. I was living in Detroit at the time, a graduate from Wayne State University and found myself back at the college audition boards looking for a prospective gig. The African American Touring company was holding Ain’t Misbehavin auditions which seemed to be right up my alley. I loved musicals and got a thrill singing and dancing. I quickly jotted down the who/what/where info and marked it in my planner.
Two weeks later, I auditioned. It went surprisingly well.
I got hired for a year long commitment with over 50 gigs in and around Michigan to perform the musical. Voice and movement seemed to be my forte, or more appropriately -my comfort zone, where I wasn’t in my head. It was easy to let go, be free and enjoy the moment. It felt easy playing my strengths to score in an audition.
About a month later, while still on tour, I ran into a college buddy who informed me that Second City Detroit was holding auditions for their touring company and resident stages. I had heard a little about Second City. The Detroit theatre was a sister branch of Chicago and I knew it had to do with comedy legends and improv. I knew improv in terms of jazz, music and dance. Improv and theatre was new territory for me.
My college buddy was insistent, “You should audition for Second City.” I smiled and thanked her for the compliment. Obviously, she knew something I didn’t know. I politely scribbled the info on a piece of paper thinking to myself it’s an audition, maybe it’s a sign from the universe –so why not give it a try.
The next day I called and scheduled an audition. Not your ordinary audition, a week long audition with over 400 people trying to get in. Pretty intense. The days left a memorable impression.
We had a director coordinating groups of twenty actors into your scene partners.
I was being lifted in midair by a group of strangers in a getting to know you trust exercise.Theatre games and warm-ups gave me an adrenaline rush.
Our group had dwindled down from 100 to 25 by a process of elimination.
I had reached the final callback audition in a group of twelve.
The director paired us in smaller groups of six to improvise short scenes with our partner.
My partner stood about 6’2 to my 5’4 and the director gave us a location of capitol hill. Go!
Without thinking, I looked into my partner’s eyes and said,
“Senator, I don’t think it’s fair that mothers on welfare can’t have a boyfriend living in the same house and receive aid from the government.”
My partner smiled and broadened his posture, agreeing with the relationship I assigned and responded with a witty remark. The second half of the audition consisted of an improvised musical between two rival paper companies. Then the director give us a musical style: opera. I instantly felt a boost of confidence. Improvising.
I don’t remember the dialogue or exactly what we said to each other in the scene in between our music verses, but we were having so much fun and so was the audience.
I could hear laughter – a sign that things were going good. It was during this last moment of the audition that I remembered that I have a niche. I couldn’t fail. There was something only I could do – I only needed to trust this nugget of gold.
That’s what everyone wanted to see. All I had to do was be me.
And, that’s what the audition process is all about.
Share and express your niche and trust the rest will take care of itself. It always does.
I remember a meeting I had with a student I was mentoring. She was feeling anxious about her Level A improv class at Second City. Although she had taken an Outreach workshop in the past, this would be her first time plunging into a full eight week session at the Training Center. Her nerves were on edge and she was a bit anxious. We met at the Second City lobby in the bar area and chatted about her first class.
I listened to several questions: “What should I do before class, is there homework, how can I make sure I have everything I need?”
Her feelings were like most of us when we enter a new surroundings or a foreign situation – we want to be prepared. My response was very simple. “ You don’t have to do anything, just show up. The rest will take care of itself.”
Improv can be scary for the newcomer and even the seasoned performer who shows up to perform. You bring only one thing - you. You feel vulnerable and unprepared. The same applies to relationships. The ego kicks in and you start to ask yourself..well maybe if I say this line or do this character when I get called on – then I will be okay and I will not feel awkward or foolish. If I do this or say this –the person will like me even more. I will come across likeable and lovable. Faux Pas! Absolutely not! The opposite is true.
Everything you bring to the space and stage is perfectly imperfect. That’s right, you are perfectly imperfect. The power of improv, as with any relationship, when you are connecting with another person is that you are discovering who you are in relation to others. You walk around in your body, in your head all day long and sometimes we don’t even know who we are until our buttons are pushed. That’s what improv does - pushes your buttons.
What do you do?
You take a risk. Throw yourself in, head first into the deep pool of the unknown, even if you can’t swim, you find your way. Allow yourself to be vulnerable, sink a little and trust that you are not alone —you will not drown. Why on earth would we do this?
The goal in improv is to let your guards down and play. Allow yourself to be in the moment, look at the color of someone’s eyes, listen to the tone of their voice, laugh and delight in the joy of being human. Delight in being in relationship to others.
Trust yourself. Don’t worry about not having everything figured out. Discover something new. Take your time and be patient. Take one step at a time…
Who knows, you just might find a butterfly waiting to remind you how brilliant, handsome and beautifully unique you are!
If you’d like to get more involved with improv and learn more more about the work I do in comedy, view this interesting clip.