29 November 2010

A Disappointing Movember


Movember is a sad time of year for me. And not because it's the month for sombre reflection upon personal heroes struck down in their prime, or generally acknowledge the finite nature of robust health. I wish I were that caring or philosophical.

No, it makes me sad because I cannot, for any reason, or in any substantive shape, shade or form, grow a respectable fucking mustache. As much as I love them, (and from the Chaplin/Hitler to the ape-hanger handlebar, from the Selleck to the Old-world Colonel, I do) I am unable to get anything better than a slight whisper of brown fuzz to populate my upper lip. If mustaches were troops, the space beneath my nose is Iceland - there's an occasional wispy nod to the notion, but no standing army.

Movember is a worthwhile cause on many levels: first and foremost it promotes men’s health. Given that, statistically, most men are fat and lazy and getting fatter and lazier, this is a noble and timely cause to champion.

At the same time, Movember allows men of all ages, regardless of background, job, or marital status to assert a bit of individuality. That this ‘statement of individuality’ comes in the midst of so many other men asserting their own individuality means he won't stand out so far that he risks solo humiliation. Any embarrassment is a badge for the brotherhood.

Actually he will stand out – but rather than getting snickered at for being a douche or a hipster-douche people passing in the street will look at him and think “Well, look at that guy, bravely cultivating a soup strainer on his face to raise awareness of prostate cancer and other pressing threats to men's health, in spite of the potential embarrassment. He may be many things, but that guy sure isn't a dick.”

From a fiscal responsibility standpoint, the annual November cultivation of some radical face furniture gives conservatively-dressed City workers license to do something crazy that doesn’t involve gambling away other people’s money, which may just have a knock-on effect of curbing the egregious mismanagement of others' life-savings that has been the watchword of the (male-dominated) financial industry for years. Possibly.

Myself, on the other hand, for this Movember I again look the unsupportive non-participant: just a regular jerk who thinks he's too cool to pitch in and raise awareness of important issues that need to have awareness of them raised by sporting some horizontal face plumage. But the tragic truth is that I lack the capability. I'd love to participate but I can't.

I have even tried to get my mo going this Movember, working on it for nigh on a fortnight. It was as futile as farming the Gobi. And even when I was trying to participate I looked like a non-participant.

In a weak moment I borrowed my wife's mascara to give my upper-lip growth “fuller, lusher volume.” I’m not ashamed to cop to this act of desperation, I’m only ashamed to admit that it was largely ineffective; until L’Oreal devotes greater attention to the crossover-market potential for a mascara-like product to thicken weedy facial growth, their product lines will remain unfit-for-purpose.

But this isn’t about stuffing advice into L’Oreal's market research suggestion box, it is a fist-shake at the heavens for damning me with teenage-level mustache-growing capabilities, and an envious doff of my bowler hat and squint of my monocle at those dandy gentlemen who have succeeded in crafting their lip-whiskers into a badge of honour and awareness-raising.

For me personally, this is the extent of my contributions to the cause: go get your prostate checked.


23 November 2010

Roman Around... to Brussels


Exciting news for anyone who is interested in Roman Around, and especially those who "like" the show.

Roman Around: A Guided Tour of the Eternal City will be showing in Brussels for two nights only. December 10,11 at the Warehouse Theatre.

Tickets and info are here.

You may already know how awesome this show is, having seen it yourself. If not, I can vouch for its awesomeness. If that's not good enough for you, and you're wondering what the critics think, check out some reviews.

If you live in Brussels, you should definitely come. If you used to live in Brussels, you should tell all your friends there to come. I'd really like to play to a big happy audience of friends, well-wishers and Belgians.

Mostly, I'm super excited to get this show back on its feet and take it on the road. Especially since taking it 'on the road' means a reason to go back to Brussels and see a bunch of wonderful people, teach an improv workshop, have lekker Belgian beer, and share the stories, jokes and 'invisible site-seeing that is Roman Around: A Guided Tour of the Eternal City.

Book tickets here.


22 November 2010

The Magical Land of Oxbridge

When I first moved to the UK I was excited because London is a cultural hub with tonnes of fashion-action, thriving avant-grade arts pockets, comedy and tomfoolery aplenty, and history like you wouldn't believe. It has largely lived up to the hype.

But there was also one other special place I was looking forward to visiting: Oxbridge. In my imagination, based on the tales I'd heard, Oxbridge was a place that smelled of old books, fresh air, and enthusiasm. A place where rowing was a constant sight on a river made of glass, and people of all shapes and sizes went to better themselves. Sounded like a great place to visit.

Even the name, Oxbridge, conjures up the image of a river crossing where hard-working beasts of burden trundle along a rickety wooden overpass, on their days journey from toil to travail, bathed in dawn light. How romantic.

But Oxbridge is a myth.

It is a magical fairy-tale land where, allegedly, people go to become "the dominant forces in Britain's cultural and political establishments." As if. I mean, how naïve was I to believe that such a place could really exist?

Look on a map of the UK and you won't find it. (Actually there's a tiny village called Oxbridge in Dorset, but it a tiny and sleepy place; there is no way that 85% of the judiciary went there: they wouldn't fit. Especially not if the majority of politicians were already there.

After falling for such an obvious ruse, I now get embarrassed when people mention Oxbridge, and all the benefits bestowed on those who manage to make it to this special place.

It's just too good to be true.

Besides, I've recently heard of a place that sounds even more interesting: Camford.

It's a depressing industrial town where children of the elite go to learn how to do soul-sucking low-paying menial jobs. That I'd like to see.

Problem is, I can't find it on the map anywhere.


15 November 2010

Marbles Takes Flight

Literally and metaphorically, spiritually and happily, Marbles has taken flight. Our first gig, opening for the delightful, hilarious and gifted improv craftswomen Katy & Rach, was an unqualified success.

But our second gig, which took place last night, was even successfuller.

We were probably more relaxed, and maybe the fact that we hadn't seen each other (let alone rehearsed) in more than two weeks gave us a bit more excitement about pushing our very freeform comedy show out into the uncharted waters for another round.

I don't know what it was, but it worked. The laughs and ideas came fast and furious, and we travelled via characters, banter, and audience quips and heckles, into a pretty special place.

The show began with a discussion of Dave's tendency to overanalyze things. That observation was prompted by Dave's attempt to explain to the audience, in a very detail-oriented way, the structure of our show.

That led to scenes and discussions and discoveries that all tied into a central theme of science and religion, certainty vs doubt, and the writing of stories.

Characters from different scenes willfully entered each other's stories until the whole thing became an interconnected puzzle that doesn't quite defy explanation, but almost.

Which seems appropriate.

And the banter between scenes was unforced and witty, with generous contributions from a warm crowd of Brightonians.

And now, freshly fired from a show Dave said afterwards was his best ever, and upon reflection, one which I've realized was my best in many many years, the more Marbles activity seems to be only a matter of time.


13 November 2010

Brad's Eye of the Tiger

My friend Brad MacNeil is an Ottawa-based actor, writer, husband, comedian improviser, videogame champion, movie critic, gadabout, and, starting very recently local hockey arena hero.

See photo, taken from his antics at the Canucks-Senators game from Thursday. Click through to watch his live 'how-to hype up the home crowd at a hockey game' instructional video.

I'm also honoured to have a minor consulting role on this.*

*We were especially helpful last time, when the song was Bon Jovi's Living on a Prayer. I have an in-house Bon Jovi specialist.


08 November 2010

Marbles in Brighton


Me and Dave Waller have a new and awesomely tremendous two-man improvised comedy show. We go by the name Marbles, and we're available for birthdays, weddings, bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs, conventions, funerals, dinner parties, corporate retreats, comedy festivals, parlour games, basement bashments, and gigs above pubs in delightful seaside towns in the southeast of England.

To wit: This Sunday, November 14, Marbles will be performing at The Temple Bar, right there in Brightopia. We'll be ably supported by two members of our delightful hosts, A Fish Called Improv.

So, it will be a well-rounded evening of two-person improvised hilarity above a nice-looking pub in an awesome town, all for 5£. (Although, I have it on good authority that you can get in for 3£, provided you have a valid excuse.)

Read on through for the blurb

Marbles are Ryan Millar (CAN) and Dave Waller (CWL). At the start of their show they walk onto stage. Then they say and do a bunch of made-up stuff. Right in front of you and your amazed friends.

Between them, Dave and Ryan have over 12 years of improv experience, and they've known each other for almost eight months (!)

Marbles first outing was on the same bill as the wonderful Katy & Rach at the Miller in London. A show presented by improv stalwarts, Hoopla.

Expect riffs, banter, light bickering, frustrated characters, and the occasional jape.

Tickets on the door.

Location: Temple Bar, 121 Western Road Brighton, UK
Facebook Event Page: This One
Date: Sunday, November 14, 2010
Time: 19:30-21:30 GMT


01 November 2010

Working Undead: Zombie Professionalism

Zombie image by Lone Orc David Harrison

I've done lots of regular acting, but until this past weekend I've never done any 'scare acting'. However, I do love Hallowe'en, and needed some flexible gainful employment, so, when I found out that The London Tombs were hiring for the Hallowe'en rush, I went for it.

I made it through the selection process and dutifully spent all of my Hallowe'en time this past weekend terrifying the public.

My job title was 'Scarer', but I like to think of it as 'Professional Zombie'.

At its worst it was great stretches of monotony, meandering in the smoky dark, while the wail of sirens, snaps of air cannons, hissing snakes, and/or creepy clown music droned on around me. The air was moldy, everything I touched was filthy and covered in sticky. The basement labyrinth was disorienting - the strobe lights, netting, smoke machines just making it worse. For hours at a time I would be stuck in this confusing maze, on high-alert lest a group of people in need of a scare pass my way.

At its best, the job was a thrilling game of hide-and-seek. One in which I never had to worry about getting caught. I was always 'it'. Crouched behind doorways, hidden in shadows, sneaking up behind unsuspecting victims. Hilarious good times for me, and good bang for the paying clients' terrified buck.

A great scare, like a punchline, can fall flat if delivered too early. Or too late. The trick is to ride the tension until it's almost unbearable, and then release it.

And sometimes that release can be a throaty RAAAWWWWR, or a high-pitched yowl, but that volume isn't always necessary. Some of the best scares came from silently coasting out of the darkness (call it the 'creepy factor').

But that creepy slowburn scare isn't my thing. For me, it just can't compare to leaping onto a simulated sacrifice table and lunging claws-first at a girl screaming the horror of someone who is watching their life flash before their eyes. Her terror is something I won't soon forget.

Nor will I soon forget: the guy who used his girlfriend as a human shield (even running her into a wall in an effort to get away from me) as they raced through the Snake Pit; the pair of teenage girls who, pinned by their fear up against a chain-link fence, spent a good thirty seconds trading screams with me in the Generator Room; or the Goths who decided on doing the Tombs with their flashlight on, to ward off the darkness – not realizing how well a flashlight accentuates the shadows, giving me multiple opportunities to scare a dribble of urine into their PVC trousers.

Without getting too 'inside baseball' on the whole experience, let me just say that I spent, of my Hallowe'en weekend, about 70% of my time dressed up like an undead workman, prowling the bowels of The London Bridge.

Of that 70% of time, I spent 20% crouching behind a shower curtain, 15% frozen in a pose of Amazonian decay, 18% lurking in, or racing to, miscellaneous shadowy areas, 2% applying earplugs, 7% laughing maniacally at your fear, 8% cranking up the smoke machine, 18% lurching out of the aforementioned shadows at nervous Hallowe'en-goers, 11% chasing the terrified and terror-stricken, and 5% applying or removing makeup.

It's possible that the numbers don't add up, but I'll tell you what: zombies are artists; they aren't really into math.