Friday, May 30, 2008

Intercourse and the Metropolis

Dee and I went to the movie theater to see "The Strangers" tonight. Unfortunately, we (or at least I) forgot that tonight was also the opening night for "Sex and the City." When we arrived at the theater, there were probably a hundred girls lined up to see the movie. They were all decked out in their little black dresses and expensive shoes and goofy hats and way too much makeup and other things that made them look sluttier than it did classy. They were all checking each other out as if they were trying to figure out which girls were worthy of being in their foursome of materialism.

As I was taking in the scene, a thought occurred to me: What is the difference between these girls and the guys who dress up like Darth Vader to go see "Star Wars"? The next thought that occurred to me was: Absolutely nothing. It was a nerd-fest. A huge "Sex and the City" nerd-fest. They were dressed up like their favorite characters, just like the "Star Wars" geeks. The only difference was that they thought everyone thought they looked hot, while the "Star Wars" folks know they just look like an evil Sith Lord.

Monday, May 26, 2008

TechPoint Mira Awards

On Friday, May 18th, Dee and I piled into the car and headed down I-65 to Indianapolis so that we could attend the TechPoint Mira Awards banquet. Why would we do such a thing? Well, my late father was to be given the "Bridge Builder" award and the TechPoint folks wanted the family to be there to receive the award. They asked my mother to invite the family and to have someone say a few words on behalf of my father. My mom isn't a big fan of public speaking and asked me to give the speech. So that's how Dee and I got invited to the Mira Awards banquet.

Dee and I arrived in enough time to make a quick change into our formal clothes in the Embassy Suites next door. We then made our way over to the cocktail hour and met up with my dad's assistant, Maureen. Maureen got our table assignments for us and we shared some stories about my dad as we had a few drinks and waited for my mom, grandfather and aunt to arrive.

The ceremony was very nice. It was held in the Indiana Roof Ballroom and a couple of local television personalities did some lame bits to kill time before, during and after dinner. We sat at the Bitwise Solutions table as guests of the President and CEO. He and his wife (who I had met briefly at the wake and funeral) were very friendly and we had good conversation over a nice chicken kiev type dish.

Eventually, time came for the presentation of my dad's award. Dave Banner, President of the Board of Directors for TechPoint, gave a very wonderful, praise-filled speech about my father and his efforts (and successes) to get technology into Indiana schools that needed it. My mother and I were then called up to the stage to receive the award. It wasn't until we were halfway to the stage that I realized that everyone was standing. My mom and I were both caught off-guard by this display and we both had to take a second to compose ourselves before we could speak.

Mom thanked everyone for giving this award to my dad and told them that the money would go towards the David C. Ford Scholarship Fund for Indiana students interested in studying technology. She then passed the podium to me and I gave a little improvised speech about how much importance my father placed on the use of technology in our education system.

I told a story about how he bought a brand new TRS-80 when I was a kid. He sat down at the machine and taught himself BASIC and began writing a program that would quiz me on addition, subtraction and multiplication. When I started the program, it would ask me to enter my name, and every time I got a question right, it responded with, "Yes, very good, Jeff!" I was so excited that the computer knew my name that I would sit for hours and hours adding and subtracting and multiplying. Soon enough, I wanted to learn how it knew my name and dad taught me what he knew about BASIC and I was hooked. I told them that the little program my dad wrote for me was the reason I became interested in computers and why I work that industry today and that he believed that all children should have the same opportunity I had to fall in love with computers and technology.

After our moment, they handed out a few other awards and called it a night. We spent some time after talking to some folks who knew and loved my dad until we were the last folks left in the ballroom. Many people thanked us for being there and expressed their sorrow that my father had passed.

My dad never did the things he did to win awards. He was just trying to do what he thought was right. He wanted to give people the best opportunity to succeed. Had he still been alive, he and my mom would have gone to the banquet and I would have never known. He would have tucked the award into a box along with the rest of them and gone about his business. Of course, he handled things this way because he thought it was the right thing to do. It turned out that this was his last gift to us. His big surprise. He had been hiding all of those other people that loved him, too.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Idol Finale

I'm watching last night's episode of American Idol on TiVo and I just realized something: David Archuleta is Panda Express. He's the corporate reproduction of something interesting and flavorful. In other words, bland. Take a great song, mix it with a little David Archuleta and you'll end up with a good song that doesn't really challenge, move or inspire you.

America loves Panda Express. America loves David Archuleta. He'll win and that's too bad.

Think about it. Will you ever want to listen to David Archuleta after tonight? Will you pay your hard earned money for his music? You know that his first album will blend together and sound like one long boring song about something cliché and sappy. David Cook? Yeah, you have a pretty good idea of what his album is going to sound like, but there's bound to be at least one song on there that will surprise you. You'll hear a hard rocking song that will be good, and you'll hear an acoustic ballad that will be good.

I'll take the second any day.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

American Idol

I'm watching American Idol as I type this. Yes, I watch American Idol. Dee got me hooked once we started dating - she's seen every season. I've only watched since the season that Taylor Hicks won.

ANYWAY, I'm watching right now. It's been disappointing so far. First of all, David Archuleta is the most predictable and boring performer I've ever seen on this show. Sure, he can sing but he sings everything like it's a corny Christian ballad. He's a 17-year-old kid that sings like he's 60. Unfortunately, America has been duped by his tinyness and put-on sheepishness and all-around boring kidness. Ugh. However, he has provided my favorite moment on the show this season when he sang that Chris Brown song and had to say "Boo." I guess that's what happens when his dad isn't around to pick the songs for him.

Sayesha. Really? She made the top three? She should have been voted off about six or seven shows ago. She's been good these last few shows, but I honestly only pay attention because she's hot. She won't win, but she doesn't care. She'd rather be an actor or some kind of TV host because she has no other expression than that goofy ass grin she's always sporting.

David Cook is my favorite. He's the only one that tries to change the songs to suit him. He kinda takes chances. Kinda. It's American Idol, no one really takes chances. He ended the show by singing Aerosmith's "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing." An easy one he could knock out of the park. Of course, it won't change the fact that Archuleta has locked down the all important demographic of people who actually vote for this show. Unfortunately for David Cook, I don't vote. Too much work.

Though blogging about it isn't too much work, apparently.

This is what happens when my brain isn't working.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Criticism

Don Hall does a much better job of explaining the criticism phenomenon in theater in this post than I did in my previous post about improv. Check it out.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Posters

Just found these posters online and decided that I needed to share:


Monday, May 05, 2008

Primaries

Tomorrow, Indiana and North Carolina hold their Democratic presidential primaries. For the first time in my life (at least my memory, anyway) my home state will actually play a role in deciding a presidential candidate. Typically, the candidates have been decided by the time the Indiana primary has rolled around and it's all just a big formality. This time, the people of Indiana have a say in who the next Democratic presidential candidate will be. The best part?

Indiana will go to McCain in the general election. Indiana always goes Republican.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Improv

I don't write much about improv, but today I'd like to rant and rave a bit about the interesting quirks and side effects of getting involved in this strange little art form.

Improv is a strange little beast that attracts an interesting (and fun) group of people. Most of my life has been spent hanging around middle-class white dudes, and improv is no different. Improv in Chicago is dominated by a bunch of middle-class white dudes (myself included). This is neither a complaint or a commendation, but simply a fact. That's not to say that there aren't any minorities because there are. The minorities are just, well, in the minority.

The improv community - as many performance/art communities - attracts a certain type of person, however. This person is obviously not afraid to get up on stage in front of large (but mostly small to medium sized) crowds without having any idea what he is going to say. This takes a certain amount of confidence in your ability to think quickly. Of course, these people are most frequently stepping on stage into nothingness under the premise that they can make the audience laugh while making things up. Once again, that's borderline cocky. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, it's necessary to be any good at all. Fortunately, for most improvisers that I've met, the confidence they have in their abilities does not turn into annoying cockiness off stage. Often times it's quite the opposite. I've had many conversations with improvisers who are quite uncomfortable in well attended social situations (myself included). Don't think that all improvisers have some kind of social anxiety, but it's not as uncommon as you might think.

The nature of improv requires that you learn to trust your scene partner and the one cardinal rule is "yes and" - or some form of that. "Yes and" simply means that you accept what your scene partner says and then build upon it. Improv is free-flowing and ever-changing so you'll often hear people say that "no choice is a bad choice" or something to that effect. This is great and there is a certain zen to it all, but the fact is that there are bad choices. Or if you prefer, there are better choices.

Many times, this idea that no one is wrong gets translated into the coaching or teaching world and coaches will do nothing but praise their teams or students. I've also performed with a large number of people who think that a director is "mean" if she gives out critical notes. In fact, this is the one thing that really bothers me about improv. There are too many people that think everything should be sunshine and rainbows all the time. Sure, we should generally be nice and respectful to one another but there is nothing wrong with saying that an awful scene sucked. Of course, that comment should then be followed by constructive notes that help the performers learn from the mistakes they made in their crappy scene. The last thing that many improvisers need is someone telling them they were great when they weren't. In fact, the only way that you can improve as an improviser is if someone consistently gives you critical notes. If you already think you're great and you're told so all the time, you won't do anything to change or improve.

In my opinion, improvisers are babied too much and it hurts the quality of improv everywhere.

One of my favorite things about improv is that you really learn a lot about yourself simply by trying to do it. You find out real fast if you're the kind of person that steps up to the challenge or completely shuts down under pressure. I found out that I'm the kind of person that steps up to the challenge and gives it my best shot. That certainly doesn't mean that I bring down the house every time I step on stage. I've had my share of nights where I just wasn't funny. Fortunately, those nights are less frequent than the nights where I am funny. See, there's that borderline cocky thing.

The most important lesson that improv has taught me is to be confident in myself. Since I've been improvising, I've learned that I can trust my instincts in nearly every situation I encounter. I've become more comfortable speaking my mind at work and my presentation skills have greatly improved. Plus, it kinda helped me find myself. I'd always had a creative side that never really got much attention, but improv allowed me an outlet for my creative tendencies and I've been much happier ever since.

If you'd like to see me do my improv thing, check out www.whatisph.com. I perform on Friday nights.