Thursday, August 29, 2013

Advice Column



Sometimes I get emails asking for advice. Sometimes I respond to them.

Here are a few:

Dear Sean,

Recently, my hometown has been beset by...well...I guess you'd call them zombies. After fleeing from the rampaging hordes (who spread their undead plague by feasting upon the brains of the living) my family and I have fled to the local mall. We have fortified our position, and the barriers we have constructed at the mall's various doors seem to be holding, but we are bored, and have only large soft pretzels to eat, and orange smoothies to drink. How would you recommend we escape from this perilous situation?

-Mary

Dear Mary,

Zombies are funny to me. See, they're not alive, but they still move around and stuff. Plus they hunger for the flesh of the living. That's what makes them scary, right? But when you REALLY think about zombies, they aren't scary at all. I mean, their flesh is rotting. So theoretically, if you hold out for a week or so, they're going to fall apart. Like, their arms and legs will fall off as the ligaments and tendons that hold them together fall off of their bodies. They'll fall apart even faster if it rains, or if flies lay eggs inside of them. Also, zombies are REALLY dumb. They possess, at best, the intelligence of a very hungry panda. And you know what's not scary at all? Pandas. Seriously, how are pandas not extinct yet? So if you get impatient, just remember that zombies are wicked dumb, and you could probably crawl out of an air-duct or something and they wouldn't even notice.

In closing- zombies- not scary, kind of dumb, will fall apart with time.

Love,

Sean


Dear Sean,

I am a sentient candelabra. Once, I was a man. I had a nice job as a steward in a large castle working for an annoying, but mostly harmless prince. However, the prince was rude to a witch one time (as teenagers tend to be towards elderly folks) and she cursed him! She turned him into a monster- a regular beast, and everyone in the castle into animate inanimate objects. 

So here is my question- as my body is now comprised of bronze and three wax candles, how do I move? 

-Lumiere

Dear Lumiere,

I can totally understand why a witch might curse a teenager. Frequently, when I ride the train home from work, I encounter teenagers listening to loud music, harassing elderly folks, and just generally being a nuisance, and I think to myself "Sean", I think "You should use magic to turn these teenagers into something unpleasant, like a frog or JJ Abrams". But I don't because that seems like an overreaction. So to turn a rude teenager into a beast, and to turn his servants who didn't hurt ANYBODY into appliances or whatever seems way out of line.

As to why you can move when the materials your new body is composed of are not malleable- I'm guessing that what appears to be wax or bronze is actually some sort of organic compound that merely resembles those materials. You probably have developed an exoskeleton- a carapace- like an insect, or a crustacean. Your insides are probably still organic- meaning you still have a brain, stomach, muscles, etc. This would explain why you can move, speak, and still feel sexual urges towards feather dusters.

Or you know, magic or whatever.

Love,

Sean

Dear Sean,

I am a Tyrannosaurus Rex and I am very concerned about how my kind are portrayed by the mainstream media. Frequently, in movies, and TV programs, T-rexes and other dinosaurs are portrayed as being slow-moving, and covered in scales. Don't the people who make entertainment follow paleontological journals? Don't they know that current fossil evidence suggests that dinosaurs like myself were warm-blooded, and covered in feathers? Don't they realize that modern birds PROBABLY evolved from guys like me? In fact there's evidence that chickens evolved from t-rexes? 

Really, I just want to see a t-rex like me on the big screen covered in beautiful, downy feathers. Is that too much to ask? I am gorgeous, and the world needs to know.

Truly Yours,

T-Rex

Dear T-Rex,

Seriously, right? Here's the deal- when humans (like myself) first started researching the dinosaur fossils we found, we were all like "Sharp teeth? Long tails? Must be some kind of ancient alligator thing". If you go back and watch REALLY old movies with dinosaurs, you guys basically looked like big iguanas. Because that's basically what we thought you were. But, as time has gone along and we've gotten better at science and found more fossils, we've realized that yeah, you guys are basically birds. However, humans can be really weird about stuff like this. See, when somebody draws a picture of a dinosaur with feathers, people get really pissed off for some reason. They say stuff like "That doesn't look like the pictures of dinosaurs I grew up with! I hate change! Don't change things! Make it like the dinosaurs from "The Land Before Time"", and Hollywood is all like "Marketing, marketing marketing" and science is all like "but science" but then Hollywood is like "EARLY TEST SCREENINGS AND GOOD WORD OF MOUTH AND TUMBLR" and science goes and plays in a corner with literature, art, and other stuff that is awesome but doesn't always sell well.

Basically T-Rex, I'm not sure what to tell you. I'd like to think that some day we'll live in a world where the folks who make entertainment get together with the folks who make science to create dinosaur movies with feathered dinosaurs, but for the time being I'm not hopeful. If I were you, I would go find a sickly triceratops, and eat it. That always makes me feel better.

Love,

Sean

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

On Harry Potter and "Growing Up"

This is going to sound kind of impossible but....

...some people don't like Harry Potter.

I know, I know, how can you dislike Harry Potter? It's a wonderful series full of vibrant characters, a compelling story, great world-building, and important, but difficult moral lessons. It's helped millions of children around the world fall in love with reading, made billions of dollars, and in the long-run, made the world a better place.

Plus, books about kid wizards are just fun, as a general rule.

But some people don't like it, which is fine. You are allowed to not like things, even if they are wonderful things like Harry Potter.

I would like to comment on a few things that I've noticed about some of the people who hate Harry Potter, however.

First, when you start talking to them about it, and you say things like "Why don't you like it? Do you have a problem with JK Rowling's writing style? Or the themes of the books? Do you find Harry is an unlikeable protagonist?"

"Well, I've never read the books."

Okay, you just failed. See "Sean's Guide to Hating Stuff", then come back and let's have this conversation when you've gone through the steps outlined there.

Back? Now what do you think?

"It's juvenile. It's kids' stuff. I mean, here's what pisses me off: you have all of these adults reading what's basically a children's book- there are characters named "Longbottom" and "Higgldeyfidget*" and shit like that. So you have grownups obsessing over these books, paying money for them, paying money for the films, paying for merchandise. They DRESS up as the characters and go to events with other GROWNUPS who dress up as the characters. Look, I think these are fine children's books. But, they are children's books. Grow up, read some Cormac McCarthy, and move on with your life."

I want to note that this is a conglomeration of actual statements on Harry Potter I've had with actual people who are explaining why they feel such vitriol regarding the series.

I get pissed off about statements like this. I'm an adult. I am 31 years old. I have a job, and a wife, and an apartment. I pay taxes. I drink craft beer. I enjoy fine dining, and nice bowties, and  jazz. These are all things that most people who consider hallmarks of adulthood.

I also like spaceships, and hobbits, and dinosaurs, and superheroes, and lengthy series about the trials and tribulations of a group of kids who go to a school for wizards. Speculative fiction like Harry Potter has a very important place in our society. Besides the fact that it's fun, that it provides a release from the day-to-day monotony that makes up many peoples' lives, that it allows people to imagine worlds and lives that are beyond not only the world outside of their front yard, but outside of the WORLD in some cases, speculative fiction (including "kids' books") allows us to explore IDEAS and lets us look back in on ourselves. I am a better thinker because I have spent time in the imaginary worlds of China Mieville, and NK Jemisin, and Alan Moore. I am a better PERSON because I have spent time with Harry Potter, and Frodo Baggins.

So how do you respond when someone tells you that you are childish for enjoying Harry Potter?

Try this:

"Well, do you like sports?"

"Of course I like sports."

"Like football? Basketball? Baseball?"

"Yes, I have tickets to the Bears game this weekend. They're playing the Lions. I just got a new Walter Payton jersey that I'm wearing to the game. Oh! And this giant foam bear claw that says "Bear Down" on it."

"Let me get this straight- you are paying an obscene amount of money for a pair of tickets to watch grown men play a child's game (moving a ball from one end of a field to another). The two teams have each chosen a ferocious animal as their avatar. You are dressing up in a costume (your jersey) of your favorite player. When you get home, you are going to log on to the internet and draft players for your "fantasy football league" where you will be putting together a pretend team of kids-ball players. You will probably experience various states of elation and distress over the course of this season, because of a children's ball game. And I'm the one who needs to grow up?"

Chances are, this will not make the person change their mind about Harry Potter, but it should at least shut them up for a minute or two. And in the mean time you can apparate to another room.


*Higgldeyfidget is not a real Harry Potter character

Friday, August 23, 2013

Ben Affleck is Batman

I actually love Ben Affleck.

Good Will Hunting is STILL one of my favorite movies of all time, and Ben Affleck is great in it. He's also great in Chasing Amy which I still like, even if I've kind of fallen out of love with Kevin Smith movies as I've gotten older.

Plus, the guy can direct. When we look back at this period in film history, and we list the best directors of this era, Ben Affleck will be on the list. "Gone Baby Gone" and "Argo" are GREAT movies. "The Town" is also great until the last sequence when the robbers rob Fenway Park and the movie gets 15 kinds of ridiculous.

And speaking of 15 kinds of ridiculous, I GET why so many folks are upset that Ben Affleck is playing Batman in Superman/Batman. Because we're still thinking of Armageddon/Daredevil/Reindeer Games/Bennifer Ben Affleck. For some reason, after making a great little movie in Good Will Hunting, Hollywood, and Ben Affleck decided that Ben Aflleck was a "movie star". And why not? He's handsome, he's charismatic, in interviews he seems down to earth. But as we all discovered, Ben Affleck is no Will Smith. He is bad at being "that guy"; the guy who carries blockbusters and rides in limos and dates Jennifer Lopez. The movies of the "Blockbuster Ben" era were awful. Affleck went from being a breakout star, to a "movie star", to a national punchline.

For some people, he never stopped being a national punchline.

But guys, that's over. Affleck broke up with Jennifer Lopez, started dating Jennifer Garner, settled down, got married, and found what he's really good at- directing and playing lower-key, acting-y roles (like in Argo). "Blockbuster Ben" died like, 5 years ago, and emerged from his chrysalis as "Really Good Director" Ben Affleck.

With that said....

I don't really think Ben Affleck should play Batman.

You know what Ben Affleck is really good at? Playing best friends. He's GREAT when he's not "the guy". When he can just ease back, and play the dude who shows up with a six-pack when the main character just had his heart ripped out? Ben Affleck is really good. Affleck is a very solid supporting actor. 

He isn't Batman.

Batman is intense, and driven, and tortured by his past. He's obsessive, and charismatic, and kind of scary. That isn't a part Ben Affleck can do, and we know this because he already played a VERY similar role when he played Daredevil, and SPOILER ALERT, he wasn't that great.

Oh, and if you think Ben Affleck doesn't quite make sense as Batman? He REALLY doesn't make sense as Frank Miller's crazy, elderly, uber-militant, ultra-violent Batman. 

I mean, it's not like this isn't without precedent. Affleck is now joining a very elite club- pretty good actors who should never have been cast as Batman. In a few years, Affleck will be allowed to descend into the "Pretty Good Actors Who Should Never Have Been Cast as Batman" Batcave and have a drink with George Clooney and Val Kilmer (I will fight you if you try to tell me Val Kilmer is a bad actor #MadMartigan4Life). And that will be nice for him- being able to reflect on his shared experience of playing this big part that he just wasn't right for.

I guess the toughest part of this is that this was never going to be a very good movie. Zach Snyder is bad at directing movies. The movie is based on a property (Dark Knight Returns) that should never have been made into a movie. And now? Affleck is the Batman

It's so weird watching Warner Brothers make these movies and realizing that they just don't understand the properties they own. Like, Christopher Nolan made three awesome Batman movies, so that really gave us all hope that maybe they (WB) had finally gotten their heads out of their asses and realized why Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc. are all so frakking awesome. Nope. Superman is a dude who lets innocent people get murdered before murdering someone himself. Wonder Woman is "too confusing" to be used in a film (seriously?!?!). Oh, and they cast Ryan "Two Guys a Girl and a Pizza Place" Reynolds as Green Lantern. Meanwhile, Marvel is releasing "Guardians of the Galaxy" which features an alien tree, and a talking raccoon, and will probably be awesome.

Sigh.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sean's Guide to Hating Stuff

I'm a nerd, and nerds are generally passionate people. Nerds love stuff and nerds hate stuff, and generally there isn't alot of in-between.

I don't like X-Men. I LOVE X-Men.

I didn't like Pacific Rim. I thought Pacific Rim was the best frakking movie I saw all year.

And I didn't dislike Star Trek Into Darkness. I thought Star Trek Into Darkness deserved to be cast into the fiery pits of Mt. Dhoom to forever break the power that it holds over the minds of mortal men.

So, yeah, passion.

It should be noted that loving stuff, and expressing love for stuff is way better than hating stuff, and expressing hate for that stuff. Like, I'd rather talk about how much I love the Star Trek: TNG episode "Tapestry" or, the end of the film "Iron Giant" than talk about how much Star Trek Into Darkness makes me want to stab out both of my eyes and feed them to a conspiracy of ravens.

The cool thing right now, is that the "light side" of the nerd force (loving stuff) seems to be winning out over the "dark side" (hating stuff and using homophobic/racist slurs to talk about hating stuff on internet message boards) of the nerd force.

In fact, I have read many articles, and watched many videos, and had many conversations wherein a nerd/geek extolled the virtues of loving stuff over the perils of hating stuff, and I think that's great.

However, we all hate some stuff. Like, I know how much we all hated Star Trek Into Darkness. And we should be allowed to hate stuff. Hating stuff is part of what makes us human. But there is a right way to hate something, and there's a right way to express an opinion about something you hate.

To help you learn how to better hate stuff, here is Sean's Guide to Hating Stuff.

Step 1- Actually consume a thing- You know what's maddening? When you talk to someone, and they say something like "I really hate Game of Thrones", and you're like "Well, that's interesting. Why do you hate it?" and they're like "Well, I've never watched it, but..." and that's exactly the moment I zone out. Because if you've never watched "Game of Thrones", but you've decided that you hate it, then the house of your opinion does not have a foundation. Generally, people who hate (or even like) things without watching/reading/watching/eating them are basing their opinions on hearsay. They've heard from a friend of a friend that the show is bad so they think it's bad. Or it just isn't the type of thing they would like. This is all dumb. If you want people to take your opinions seriously, make sure those opinions are informed.

Step 2- Really think about that thing- Have you ever had this happen? You're in high school, and Star Wars: The Phantom Menace comes out. You go watch it. Your immediate reaction is "That movie was frakking awesome!" You go home. You sleep. You wake up. You eat breakfast. You go to school. You come home from school. You're doing your AP US History homework, when all of a sudden you start thinking about the movie and you start thinking things like "Man, what a great movie. I mean, I guess Jar Jar Binks was annoying, and the bad guys were awful stereotypes of ethnic minorities, and I didn't really buy that little kid as Darth Vader, and Liam Neeson was kind of...wooden for Liam Neeson and the special effects made the whole thing look kind of fake and..." then you pause. You look at your homework assignment (writing an essay about the Whiskey Rebellion). You stare up at the wall, and you realize that you didn't love Star Wars: The Phantom Menace at all. Nope. You actually hated it.

This happens to me all of the time. My initial reaction to a thing ends up changing when I really give that thing some thought. You might love/hate something, and your opinion of that thing might very well change. It happens all of the time. Before you decide to rant about how much you hate something, think about it a little bit. Give yourself a few days and really think about it.

Step 2A- Expose yourself to other strains of thought on a thing- Consider a thing from all angles. Like, Star Trek Into Darkness is terrible, but before I wrote about it, and started drunkenly ranting to people at bars about it, I read alot about the film. I read interviews with the actors, and director, and writers. I read reviews- good and bad. I watched videos where people expressed their opinions of the film. Remember that by expressing a hateful opinion, you are setting yourself up for arguments. You want to win those arguments.

When I had really thought long and hard about my reasons for hating Star Trek Into Darkness, I let my scorn-filled opinion fly free.

Step 3- Does this thing hurt anybody?- Here's a big one. When I watch/read/eat something, and I find I don't really care for it, I consider WHY I don't like that thing. Like, is it just not to my taste? Or do I think that this thing is actually making the world a worse place? For instance, I think the television show "Law and Order" is very boring. However, lots of people like "Law and Order", and when I really think about it, "Law and Order" isn't hurting anybody. It's not making the world worse. You could argue that by making people happy, it's making the world better. Therefore, I don't really see any reason to walk around letting lots of people know that I think "Law and Order" is boring. It's just not worth my time.

On the other hand, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" actually made the world suck alot more. The movie featured racist caricatures, dumb jokes about robots with testicles, sexist portrayals of female characters, and a total lack of original ideas. And Bumblebee transformed into a Camaro instead of a Volkswagen Beetle. I'm still mad about that. Oh, and it's targeted at impressionable pre-teen boys, who are the LAST group of people who need to have stuff like that beamed into their brains. I hated that movie, and I will tell anyone who wants to hear it that I hated that movie. By providing an intelligent critique of the film I feel like I am improving the world in a small way. Therefore, my hate is constructive.

Step 4- Don't Make Your Hate the Focus of Your Life- Here's the big one. So you watched a thing. You thought about that thing. You realized that that thing was making the world a worse place. You let your opinion into the world. Now comes the most important part:

Let it go. Just let it go.

Don't let hate consume you like it did Obi Wan's apprentice. Even if it's something you're very justified in hating like Star Trek Into Darkness. Hate may be worth SOME of your time, but it certainly isn't worth ALL of your time or even MOST of your time.

It is worth just a tiny little bit of your time, and should only be expressed in the MOST constructive way(s) possible.

Now, get out there, and get hating.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Decade

I moved to Chicago, Illinois in August of 2003 from Newburyport, Massachusetts.

So, while I don't remember the exact date, I've lived in the city for roughly ten years.

In the last ten years I have:

-Been on 1 team at the Playground theater, Space Robbers.
-Been on six Harold teams at iO Chicago including Rumpus, Beelzebuddies, the Washington Generals, War Dove, Mike Helicopter, and most recently, Coup de Grace.
-Played in a variety of independent shows including Our Feature Presentation, the Halloween Show, Improvised Star Trek, and quite a few others.
-Coached a few teams including Party Shark, the Riot, and Thank You, Dr. Science (who are still one of my proudest achievements as an improv person)
-Did some time on the Harold Commission.
-Traveled the world- I've been to Canada, New Zealand, and Ireland.
-Been romantically involved with 1 woman.
-Got married to her.
-Had a Steampunk themed wedding.
-Worked for 4 companies- 1 of which was a temp company, so I sort of worked for 8 companies.
-Grew a beard.
-Attended Barack Obama's victory rally in 2008.
-Started doing Crossfit.
-Gained 30 pounds.
-Got two cats.
-Lived in 5 apartments.
-Watched the Red Sox win two World Series.
-Watched the Bruins win 1 Stanley Cup.
-Watched the Blackhawks go from being a laughingstock to arguably the most successful franchise in Chicago since the 90's Bulls.
-Became a morning person.
-Met some really incredible people. Improvisors, people who work at World Book, brewers, chefs, artists, actors, Crossfitters, politicians, activists- Chicago is home to some amazing folks.

Overall, it's been an incredible decade of life. I'm so grateful to Chicago, and the people who live here, especially the improv community, for filling my life with so many wonderful things every single day.


Monday, August 12, 2013

"I'm Not Really Much of a Reader"

When you meet someone, generally, the questions you ask them during the "getting to know you" process look something like this:

"What is your favorite band?"
"What kind of movies do you like?"
"What sports do you follow?"
"Who is your favorite living actor?"

Etc.

Now, imagine if you answered these questions like this:

"I'm just not that into music."
"I tried watching a few movies, but I just couldn't get through any of them."
"I only followed sports when I had to for school."
"I just think actors are boring."

You'd probably be fairly baffled if someone said ANY of those things, right? I mean, how can you not like ANY music? What kind of person doesn't have a favorite movie? Who only paid attention to sports for school? Who gets bored watching all TV/Movies (I mean, some TV/Movies, sure, but not all of them)?


Now imagine someone asked these questions:

"What kind of books do you like to read?"
"Who is your favorite author?"
"What was the last good book that you read?"

In contrast, think about how many times you've heard someone reply to any of those questions with an answer like:

"I don't really read books."
"I only read for school/my job."
"I'm just not much of a reader."

And how did you react? Probably like this was a pretty normal response, right? Because tons of people just don't read books! That's normal.

Why the hell is that normal? Who the frak decided that that was okay? We EXPECT people to watch movies, and TV and listen to music, but we don't EXPECT people to read books? Seriously?

So the next time you say to someone "what's your favorite book?" and they say "I don't really read books.", punch them in the shoulder and then take them to the library.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Superman is Going to Fight Batman and I Am Not Excited About It.






In 1998, Marvel Comics and New Line Films released a movie about a vampire hunting vampire named Blade. The movie was called...well..."Blade".

The movie was significant in that it was a superhero film (kind of) that didn't suck, and made some money. This was important because a few years prior, the film "Batman and Robin" had been released, and it was so terrible, and bombed so badly at the box office that it was decided that no one anywhere should ever make a superhero movie again because only NERDS like superheroes, and apparently nerds have no purchasing power even though, you know, Apple and Microsoft and Google and whatnot.

But "Blade" made enough money that Marvel Comics started licensing all kinds of it's properties to all kinds of film studios. 20th Century Fox made an X-Men movie. Sony made Spiderman. Sony made Fantastic Four. 20th Century Fox made Daredevil. Marvel made a whole bunch of money. Marvel made SO much money that eventually, they said "Screw these film studios who don't even understand superheroes ANYWAY and let's do this ourselves." So Marvel Studios was born. On top of bringing their film production "in house" Marvel launched a really grandiose plan- they would release four films, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and the Incredible Hulk that would all exist in the same universe, and would culminate in one big movie "The Avengers", where all of these characters would meet, and Marvel would, hopefully, make all of the money.

Which they did. "The Avengers" made $1.5 billion dollars worldwide, making it the third highest grossing film of all time. And that doesn't count merchandise sales, and DVD sales.

Other comic companies have licensed their properties and caught some of that sweet, sweet superhero movie money too. Dark Horse made two "Hellboy" movies, and DC Comics, Marvel's biggest competitor, made a whole bunch more Batman movies.

And they were really good! DC made 3 really good Batman movies. And the Batman movies also made all of the money, but compared to the Spiderman, X-Men, and Avengers franchises, the money that the Batman films made was just a drop in a pond. Oh, DC tried to leverage their other properties into films. They made a Superman movie (Superman Returns) and Green Lantern, but those films were duds. Oh, and they made Watchmen, but the less said about that...movie...the better.

For some reason, DC just couldn't capitalize on it's properties (other than Batman) the way that Marvel did.

And by "Some Reason" I mean "DC did a really bad job making movies. They got shitty directors and mediocre actors, and writers who didn't really understand, or even care about the characters they were writing films about, and guess what, they made some shitty movies." As opposed to Marvel where they got AWESOME directors, GREAT actors, and writers who actually really truly cared about the characters they were writing about. Also, Marvel realized that they synergy that worked so well for their comic book universe would also transfer to their film universe. Like, hey maybe people might like seeing the Hulk and Thor hang out!

So DC took the note.

Over the Summer, they finally made a movie that was a hit that didn't involve Bruce Wayne. They made "Man of Steel".  Despite middling reviews, "Man of Steel" made all of the money. Why? Well, people really do love Superman. He's a popular character. Also, they marketed the movie really well. I mean, the trailers were awesome. Regardless, the execs at Warner Bros. (which owns DC) could finally breathe a sigh of relief because they could FINALLY say that they made a movie with no Batpersons that was profitable.

You may ask yourself "How will they follow up this box office success?"

And the answer is some Marvel style synergy.

They're making a movie with Superman and Batman...together.

That's right, Superman and Batman. In the same film. The world's finest team! Together on the big screen for the first time ever! Aren't you nerds excited!?!? Don't you want to see Zack Snyder direct a movie with the world's second and third greatest superhero?!! Don't you want to see a kind of adaptation of Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns"?!?! Don't you want to see Superman fight Batman?!?!

Well sure, I'd love to see a Superman/Batman movie. Those are two great characters who go great together. It would be SUPER neat (see what I did there) to see Superman and Batman team up to save the world from Lex Luthor and the Joker. Or Darkseid!

But here's what I DON'T want:

1. I don't want Zack Snyder to direct the movie. I kind of hate Snyder as a director. I think his films represent some of the absolute worst tendencies of nerd culture in film form. Like the 300 is a great action movie, but it's also super racist. And Sucker Punch is visually stunning but it's insanely sexist. And Watchmen...well don't get me started on Watchmen. I could write a book about how crappy Watchmen was. Watching Zack Snyder make a movie is like watching an internet troll at work in a message board. WOULDN'T IT BE KEWL IF SUPERMAN KILLED ZOD?!?! BECURSE Y WOODN"T HE? HE"S SPURPERMAN!?! HE"S THE MORST PERLWFUL SURPERHERER! ALSO BEWBIES! No, I don't want to see Zack Snyder direct this film. Or any films.

2. I don't want to see Frank Miller's "Dark Knight Returns" adapted for the silverscreen. At San Diego Comic-Con, when they announced the film, they read an excerpt from Frank Miller's "Dark Knight Returns". And apparently Frank Miller has been hired as a consultant for the film. Now, don't get me wrong, I...like "Dark Knight Returns". It's one of the most influential comic book series in the history of the medium. Along with "Watchmen", it helped the genre to grow up, and ushered in the "grim and gritty" comics of the eighties. But you know what? Frank Miller's interpretation of Superman is wrong. In "Dark Knight Returns", Superman is the ultimate tool of a fascist US government. When Batman goes too far, the evil government sends Superman to put him down. And because he's a good toadie, Superman does just what they ask him to. Batman then proceeds to beat the living bejeebers out of Superman. That's the comic. So Frank Miller's Superman isn't a beacon of hope, he isn't a champion of the weak, he isn't a symbol for us to aspire to- he's a jackbooted thug. I don't want to see that Superman in the movies. An "Elseworlds" comic? Sure. But an "in-continuity" movie? Oh, heck no.

3. I really don't want to see Superman and Batman fight. There's this classic superhero thing that happens where two superheroes meet, there is a misunderstanding, they fight, they realize the misunderstanding, and then they go fight some bad guys. I don't want that. I'd rather just cut to the chase and have them team up and fight crime, or an intelligent sun (Solaris4Life), or something. It's like in a harold (for my improv literate readers)- scenes are more interesting if two characters are working together towards a common goal rather than fighting each other and putting up roadblocks to each other's progress.

So...I'm less than excited about this film. Just like "Man of Steel", I am hopeful that it will be good. I mean, I want every superhero movie to be good, but with superheroes of the caliber of Superman and Batman, I want the film to be extra good. What I don't want is a dark, jaded, gritty movie where the two characters fight each other for 90 minutes. I'd rather they spend those 90 minutes punching injustice.


Friday, August 2, 2013

15 Years Later: a West Side Story


Prologue:

When I was in high school, I fell in love with theater. I was a small, skinny, unathletic kid from a family that worshiped sports. I was never happy in my own skin (like most teenagers, I now realize) and theater became my outlet. Onstage, I didn't have to be a small, skinny, unathletic kid. In a play, I could be anyone. I could be a larger than life hero, or villain. I could be strong. I could be smart. I could be whoever I wanted to be, or whoever the script called for me to be. Also, it turned out that I had some talent for acting, and for the first time in my life, I got that feeling of being really, really good at something.

My sophomore year of high school, for the annual Spring musical, we put on West Side Story, and for a high school show, it was epic. We had a policy in my high school that anyone who auditioned for a show got to be in the show, and for WS we ended up with a cast of over 100 people. The stage was too small to accommodate the show and we ended up performing on the gym floor. I played Baby John, one of the Jets. It's not a huge part, but I got a small solo (in "Officer Krupke") and at the time, it was the most fun I'd had doing a play.

That was 15 years ago. While I studied theater in college, I stopped doing musicals after high school (I'm a better actor, writer, and comedian than I am a singer or a dancer). After college, I mostly stopped doing plays to focus on improv comedy which is still my primary...thing (incidentally, come out to iO Chicago tonight at 8 PM and see Coup de Grace!).

Main Story:

About a month ago, Chelsea and I were on a bus driving around Ireland with my family and we got an email from our friend Adie. The 2009 Broadway revival of "West Side Story" had come to Chicago for a very limited run, and Adie had made plans to see the show with her mother. "West Side Story" was Adie's Mom's favorite musical. Except she didn't end up seeing it. Long story short, Adie's mom ended up in the hospital, and by the time she got out, "West Side Story" had left town.

So, Adie had an idea.

Why not put up a production of "West Side Story" just for her mom on her mom's birthday in her mom's backyard?

Realizing that to put on a show you needed actors, and musicians, Adie emailed her friends (Chelsea and I included) and asked if we'd like to be involved in the show. We would have 3 days to rehearse, memorize the lines and songs and choreography, and then we would put up the show.

Interestingly enough, when Chelsea asked me if I wanted to do it, my first inclination was to say no. It's been a very busy Summer between work, shows, and the usual Summer social events (weddings, vacations, bachelor parties, festivals, etc.) and adding one more thing to my schedule sounded like the straw that would probably break the camel's back.

But...but...I love a challenge. I especially love a creative challenge. Put up a show- and a musical at that- in 3 days...with a cast of random strangers...in a backyard...

If you ever watch Star Trek (and you should) the culture portrayed of the Federation has largely done away with money and capitalism. The humans of the Star Trek future are primarily motivated by the idea of intellectual challenge. There's something about doing something that's hard, something that stimulates the creative centers of your brain, of going out and doing something that seems relatively impossible (or at least unlikely) that gives you a feeling that is so much more satisfying than getting a paycheck.

So for that reason, the challenge, I said, "Umm, yes, let's do that". Also, it feels good to do nice things for people. For friends. For people who ended up in hospitals. For people you know. For strangers.

Plus, I already knew all of the songs.

Now, it should be noted here that my expectation was that this "play" would probably end up being more of a choral performance. I imagined that five to ten people would probably sing 3 or 4 key songs from the show while the instrumental music played on a radio or iPod?

Imagine my surprise when Chelsea and I showed up to the first rehearsal Monday night, and found ourselves in a crowded room with 20 other people, including seven (or so) musicians playing piano, bass guitar, and trombone amongst other instruments. Imagine my further surprise when I realized the scope of the project included fully choreographed dance numbers. And while we didn't do the WHOLE show, our half hour version of West Side Story included a narrator, a rumble, lights, a scrim, costumes, props- basically a small version of the whole shebang. You see, I wasn't the only person who got that email and thought "That sounds awesome". Many of Adie's friends, and friends of Adie's friends, thought the same thing.

Oh, and I should mention that in this version of "West Side Story", I got promoted. Instead of Baby John, I played Riff, the leader of the Jets.

So how did the show come out?

It was amazing. It was one of the most satisfying performances I've ever done in my life. The band sounded awesome, the singing was great, the rumble was thrilling, and in the end, Adie's parents gave us a standing ovation.

As a performer, what more could you ask for?