a Norwegian Blue pining for the fjords…

roar shackWhat does writing improv look like? Like the Live Write at David Rocklin’s Roar Shack in Los Angeles.  Here is how he describes the Live Write:

Live Write! A thrilling feat of writerly improvisation! As you arrive, you get to vote on a prompt. The winning prompt will be revealed to four intrepid authors – two of us and two of you audience types, onstage for all to see! We’ll all write to that prompt while our musical guest plays – it’s going to be impossible not to listen, but no one said this was going to be easy. Then the Live Writers will each read their just-written words, and the audience gets to vote! The winner will develop the work into a finished piece to be read at the next show.

Monty Python’s Dead Parrot sketch

With acting improv, it’s important to slow down, listen, trust that you can be quiet onstage sometimes, and to play. It’s supposed to be fun. Have fun! With writing improv, the fun and play still apply, but it’s more about allowing ideas to flow, to let the story appear and run. Let the characters go and follow them to see what happens next.

Neither form responds well to force and that probably holds true for any art in general. Both benefit from intelligence and knowledge and love of research. Of course there are situations – often involving deadlines – where you have to power through and get something done, but as the year winds down, try lightening up. Write a sketch or improvise…. Have fun. Play. Let your work, whether it’s on the page or the stage, breathe. Trust. And let us know what happens…..

a death in the family…

Gary hsMy brother died November 19th.

Growing up at the beach, I was in the water all the time. One of the scariest things that can happen is getting caught in that washing machine when big wave after big wave comes pounding into shore and you can barely get your breath in between and you wonder if you’ll make it back to shore, how you’ll ever get your feet under you again. That’s what grief is like, that’s what events since August have been like. I will be glad to see 2013 go with its bad news and heartbreak. Here’s hoping it’s all out of the way now so 2014 will be better.


I don’t need to write about my brother because Richard Russo already did for the most part in Nobody’s Fool. There’s a lot of him in Sully. Or vice versa, I’m not sure. Paul Newman played him in the movie. Appropriate. Handsome with eyes every bit as blue.

What do you take from real life into characters? What ignites that alchemy? Recently I was asked out on a coffee date, then the day before he decided that a Catholic who loves bacon was unacceptable to a self-described “tapas-loving Buddhist.” I would have never imagined that interaction! (it’s just coffee!!) So there’s a seed for a scene or a couple of characters. And that is where improv comes in. A premise, strong characters…

Yes, and…

wonderbookIn his incredible Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction, Jeff Vandermeer quotes Philip K. Dick finalist Karin Lowachee who says, in part, “An actor once said that acting to him was ‘finding truths in imaginary circumstances,’ and I think that applies equally to writers. Writers, to me, are very similar to actors in how they engage with their process and with the ultimate work. It’s just that actors output through motion and speech, and writers output through the written word.” (17)


Sometimes it is hard to say “yes and” to life. And yet we do and we keep going, keep creating, and sometimes, if we’re lucky, spin grief into art.

last pic w Gary

TED Global and music

Elizaveta. Photo:James Duncan Davidson

Do you know what E in TED stands for? Entertainment. I know, I thought it was Education. Nope. And I’m glad because all the artists enrich the experience. Not that I’m biased or anything. 😉

The music at TED was extraordinary and there were performances at each of the twelve sessions. This year, the performers were Natasha Bedingfield, Jamie Cullum, Elizaveta, Egyptian singer Dina El Wedidi, classical guitarist Tariq Harb, Israeli jazz pianist and improvisor Yaron Herman, from Kenya it was Just A Band (I danced on stage with them at the closing

dancing on stage with Just A Band Photo: TED Conference
dancing on stage with Just A Band Photo: TED Conference

party!), American folk rock from Lissie, remixer Tim Exile, Irish vocalist RuthAnne, and three Palestinian brothers who form Le Trio Joubran. Hard to imagine a wider range of musicians. Please check out the links, go watch them on YouTube buy their music. I believe most are on iTunes. They are fantastic.

Photo: James Duncan Davidson

John Kenny opened the conference playing the carnyx, an ancient Celtic horn brought back after hundreds of years. He played with piper Roddy Weir and when they post the video, will put it up.

Had the chance to talk to Yaron about how he prepares to improvise. He has a very specific way of practicing specific things so that when he sits down and composes in front of an audience, he has hundreds of things to draw from. Same thing I’m learning in improv for the stage at IO West.

Joel Taylor

I also had the great pleasure of meeting Joel Taylor who plays here in Los Angeles and saw him at The Hotel Cafe. At TED, he played keyboards for RuthAnne and here he is with his own band. 

Your brain gets a workout during the week – all parts of your brain, thanks to the music and art. I heard over 70 lectures in a matter of days. At first, they all blended together, but since we are pattern seeking beings, things began to sort themselves out.

The theme was Think Again and that I did, not only about the work I do, but who I am and why I’m here. There’s something that happens at TED that is hard to explain if you haven’t been there. It has nothing to do with your own abilities or accomplishments or comparisons, but there’s the awakening or can be (and I’ve heard it from different people who attended in different years, so I think there’s something to this) of “what the hell am I doing with my life?” It’s not about feeling bad, just the desire from so much inspiration to make this life count and make a difference. So many small things have such huge ripple effects…. It all has me thinking again.

In the next post, I’ll go into some of the talks that resonated and some of the conversations that changed my thinking.

Writing & Improv #1

Monsters & MermaidsQuite possibly the first in a sporadic series….

This year, I returned to acting. I studied theater in college and worked both sides of the camera when I came to Hollywood. This time around, a remarkable number of things fell into place. I rejoined SAG-AFTRA and started meeting amazing people. Much of it led me to improv – specifically at IO West in Hollywood – which has been an amazing, thrilling, challenging and super fun experience.

One of the “enemies” of good improv is plot. How’s that for a novelist and screenwriter? Challenging, to understate the case. The task in improv is to kill plot. What???! You’re asking a writer to forget all about plot?


And I look forward to seeing how playing with improv impacts my writing from here on.

In addition to class, nine of us have formed a troupe, Monsters & Mermaids. We performed our first public show last Saturday as part of the L.A. Indie Improv Festival. It went well and we had a blast doing it.

the evidence... at Oh My Ribs!
the evidence… at Oh My Ribs!

Here are some of our notes from rehearsals:

  • Begin with who are you, where you are and what you want
  • Let your imagination do the work
  • Have a specific “want” at the beginning of each scene
  • Create the physical environment to ground the scene
  • Be specific and rich with details of both character and the environment
  • Think about what your character does, why they do it and how they do it
  • Establish the character’s agenda before the story; let the characters and their relationships develop first.

Hmmm, not so different from writing when it comes down to it.

Huge shoutouts to Dave Hill and Aaron Krebs for their coaching, plus their brilliant shows at IO, and to Gavin Leighton for taking great notes during rehearsals.