Deep Dish Narcissist – Plando does Chicago
We finally touched down and I was able to slowly get out of my non-reclining back seat on the Southwest piece of crap plane. It was about 95 degrees, the air was denser than anything I had experienced in years, and I had packed for a San Francisco May – that is, jeans and flannels. The heat and humidity and rampant allergens did not soil my mood though, because I WAS MOTHERFUCKING IN CHICAGO, SUCKA!!!
Chi-town is the home of iO, Second City, the Annoyance Theater, etc etc ad nauseum, and is heralded as the hub of the improv and sketch communities in America (and has a vibrant and manly theater scene as well). I’ve been pining to make the pilgrimage for years, and my girlfriend’s best friend’s college graduation (on my birthday!) gave me the opportunity and excuse to take a few days off of work and fly to the Midwest. So as soon as Narcissists Anonymous emerged victorious from the Endgames Thunderdome, I took off for Mecca!
This place is fucking huge!!!! I work in the Financial District in San Francisco, and so take my lunch time walks among some of the City’s tallest buildings. Chicago’s buildings are not only taller, but wider (similar to other aspects of the Midwest; read: the people). And the absence of any hills allowed me to see buildings and buildings to end of my eyes’ reach and caused me to feel like I was truly in a sprawling Batman-esque city. I took a class in college about postmodern theater, and Chicago was always described as the home of “tough theater”. This place felt Tough with a capital UFF.
Another huge difference between San Francisco and Chi-town – sensitivity to allergies. I have a lot of friends here in Frisco who are servers, and are regularly drilled on the components of the meals they serve and what type of floral hints are in the wine. I am incredibly allergic to dairy, and went to a “vegan” diner before a night of seeing Harolds at iO. I had a delicious vegan sweet potato quesadilla.
Only it wasn’t vegan. After watching one brilliant, mind blowing scene at iO, my girlfriend forced me to leave because I was visibly turning red and audibly wheezing. My girlfriend really didn’t want me to die, and I was unable to convince her I was fine (I wasn’t) and that we should stay at the show. So there went 18 bucks, UGH.
I slept through the graduation ceremony the next day, endured an extremely poorly timed, post-graduation break-up (not my own), got really high (ironically, on imported herb from Northern California), and went back to iO for Harold night: Round 2.
After drilling an extremely short and linear Harold for our 20-minute Thunderdome set, it was awesome seeing Henrietta Pussycat and the Deltones perform much more open and freewheeling Harolds. Rather than sticking to a strict A-B-C-Game-A-B-C-Game format, they made their transitions by connecting ideas and themes.
For example, Henrietta Pussycat’s Harold began with a scene about kids in detention. The next scene was about sex-games-relationship-counseling. It was largely a gag scene, and so rather than wrapping it up at its logical end, they continued into the future and saw the counselor dealing with his own relationship problems (something that will be easier to come back to later). Once an offer of alcoholism came up, the actor playing the counselor stepped forward and addressed the teacher in charge of detention.
“Hey Teach, let us drink some of the Jagermeister in your desk.”
Everyone instantly reverted to scene A’s tableau, and we were back in that world.
These scene changes, prompted by thematic offers rather than by logical scene ends, created a dynamic and surprising performance, where a beat might take the shape of A-B-B-A-C-B-Game, or something totally different. Less linear than the standard Harold, but with enough focus to avoid the confusing mushpots of truly “freeform” improv.
The Deltones did a musical Harold. It was totally mind-blowing; it was the first improv group I had seen with serious music theory training since seeing LA Impro’s improvised Sondheim.
We also saw a show at Second City (Charna Halpern was sitting right behind us!), cruised Wicker Park and noted the differences between SF and Chicago hipsterdom, and experienced a thunder storm with no rain.
Chicago is a ton of fun, and it was amazing to see such a large and non-nerdy audience for improv.
I’m excited to incorporate the lessons I learned into the Narcissists bag of tricks, and can’t wait for my next trip. Until then, I’ll try to pretend I still think San Francisco is a big city.