Rewriting

 Mid-way through rehearsals in Jessica 

Mid-way through rehearsals in Jessica 

 

I hate rewriting so, so, so much. I always have. I don't where it started, but I imagine somewhere after my first long essay in elementary school. Showing my work to my dad and him telling me I needed to start over from the beginning. I always dreaded the idea that I had to take the sense of accomplishment I got from writing those seemingly endless pages and throw it out to start anew.

 Every play I've written has started as an idea that became a quick-lived obsession. Usually the idea will pop in my head, I'll let it cook in my mind for a few months, then one night I'll just literally pour it all out on the page. It's here where I'll begin to see all the holes and problems that I didn't initially think of in my mind. Usually the first draft will be compelling enough to let me know that a good play exists within these words, but it will take a long time before that 'good play' actually comes out.

And this is where, for years, I've fallen apart. That initial part is such a love affair. To get those words on the page for the first time is so fun and exciting and exhilarating. But then you wake up and there's flaws in the logic, characters with no arcs, and 'to' where should be 'too.' This is where often, I consider how much I actually want to write this play and how much I actually care about telling this story. More often than not it's easier to abandon this piece and go on to the next one rather than really try and make this first one work.

Cue Jessica. My first full-length play after college. After nearly a year where I felt like I couldn't write anything, Jessica's first draft was completed during a particularly rainy week in April 2016. It was a blast to write, and I knew something about it was special. But then I abandoned it for nearly 2 months, rewriting it just before submissions in July 2016.

And by that time, the love affair was over. Jessica was full of glaring problems. A passive protagonist, a catalyst that didn't occur until the second act, and characters that weren't really sure why they even existed. These problems were so monumental I didn't even know where to begin. I did what I could and I sent it to a few places. I started writing other plays, and I mostly put it in the back of my mind.

Fast forward to December: Someone sees something in my writing. It's Sanguine Theater Company, and Jessica's a finalist for their New Play competition. And then in January, after a brief 20 minute excerpt, Jessica was selected as the winner. A production would occur in late July. Awesome. Except now I had to do something I'd been putting off for a long time: taking my writing seriously. 

After I graduated, it was easy to detach myself when I was receiving rejection after rejection. "Oh, well I wasn't really trying on that one" or "I didn't really want that anyways" was basically my defense to the idea that rejections made me think: "Hey, maybe this isn't for you." Obviously, I know that's not true now, but at the time I was scared of going all into this and failing. I mean, I definitely still am. The more I share my work with people, the more of myself I put out there, the more it becomes possible that I'm going to fail colossally and publicly. It's terrifying and maybe it's irrational, but it's kept me from trying as hard as I should've been for years.

But Jessica, whether I liked it or not, was going to go up in July. I could detach myself. I could say "Oh this was something I wrote a while ago and I don't really care about it." But that's a giant middle finger to anyone who ever read my writing and found something they liked in it.

Not to mention, with a production, there's people giving hours and hours of their time, doing their best to serve this script that I wrote. From actors to the director to the designer, plays are a massive undertaking from anyone, and they are all relying on the idea that they're helping tell a story I'm passionate about. Theater is a collaborative art form, one of the most collaborative art forms that exists. And when I'm shitty to myself, I'm shitty to everyone around me. 

So this year, 2017, I've been writing like my life depends on it. I've written 2 new full lengths, with a third on the way, and countless one acts and ten minute pieces. But most importantly I've rewritten Jessica. Over, and over, and over, and over again. And honestly? It was still pretty hard. With every change, comes a bunch of new questions, and other changes that need to be made. But it's also unbelievably rewarding. To re-examine every line and discover it's purpose. To see things in your writing that even you didn't see for the first time. To finish a draft that actually made you feel something, and maybe it will make other people feel the same.

For the most recent draft, the one that's going to be performed at IRT from this Saturday until August 6th (Buy tickets here lol: http://irttheater.org/3b-development-series/jessica-by-patrick-vermillion/) I was having trouble finding an ending. I'd asked for an extension, cutting down to the wire on figuring out what I wanted to close out the play on. It went down like this:

It was July 7th. I was packing up from another failed writing session around 9pm, and it's about a fifteen minute walk from the coffee shop to where I was staying teaching a writer's camp that week. As I walked back, this MASSIVE rain storm occurs. I had no umbrella, there were no nearby trees, and the whole thing was up hill so I'm not about to run. I end up getting soaked and it sucks hard at first but eventually I embrace it and I'm like: ok. This is going to be a new start. A fresh try. And I started to think about the very fundamentals of my playwriting education.

I think: In the simplest playwriting terms, There's wants, and there's actions to get those wants. The climax of the play is when our protagonist either gets or doesn't get what they want. And their emotional growth comes through either achieving the want or being denied it.

When I got back, still soaking wet. I opened my laptop and started writing the last scene.

And as I finished my final draft of Jessica (for now) at 2:00am on July 8th in a small college dorm. I looked back on how insanely far this play had come in the last year and a quarter or so. How much more it looks like what I originally wanted now than it did when I first wrote it. How it was really hard and difficult, but ultimately extremely satisfying. I'll always be working on this play, trying new things and seeing where I can take it. But I'll always remember this was the moment that showed me: Rewriting is worth it. It sucks a lot, but it works.

Please come see Jessica, I've worked really hard on it. As have the director, the actors, and the designers. I hope you like it. 

 

March: Exploring

 Too much fun.

Too much fun.

Here's a vivid memory I have: I'm 5 years old playing Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on the Nintendo 64. My dad bought it for me after reading a newspaper article about how it was one of the best video games ever made. I'm calling my mom into the room every five minutes because I can't read yet, and I need her to tell me what the characters are saying when the text appears on screen. The lore is complex and confusing and neither my mom or I understand it, so I spend most of my time in this small village hitting chickens with my sword. If you hit them enough times the chickens begin to attack you and it's one of the most incredible things I've ever experienced.

I talked last month about how video games were a huge occupier of my attention when I was young. I'm talking very young. Like a three year old playing Mario 64, trying to conceptualize how to pick up the giant bomb king at the top of the mountain so I can throw him off kind of young. I was born right into the three-dimensional era of gaming, so almost every game I played had these large levels where you could move about at your own free will. In most of these games there are objectives that you need to complete, but I much preferred the games that wouldn't bother you if you were just running around doing whatever. I remember playing Tony Hawk's pro-skater with my sister. We'd play split screen and instead of competing for tricks or points, we'd create our own skatepark and make up stories about our characters.

And in that bizarre way, video games became my primary creative outlet as a young kid. Often I'd play the game as it was until I got bored, then I'd make up my own stories that I thought were more interesting. Now, make no mistake, that's incredibly lame. But I had so much fun walking around these worlds playing pretend within an already pretend digital landscape. Something I'm always seeking when I play games today is that sense of freedom and wonder. A place where you can go through the story beats or go climb a rock and have just as much fun.

Breath of The Wild came out three days into this month and I really wish it hadn't. Mostly because I have so much to do and no time to do it, and also because I can't put anytime into a video game without the overwhelming dread of being a colossal failure. Playing a video game, more than any other medium, weighs on me in a dark way. Putting anytime into this leisure activity I relatively enjoy usually accompanies a sense of anxiety that I'm falling behind, missing a chance to be productive, or just in general growing into a failure. It's a really strange and bizarre feeling that keeps my game time to a minimum in my adult life. That is, until a Zelda game comes out.

A big Zelda came has come out every 5 years or so since I first played Ocarina of Time in 1998. With each game I was a dramatically different age, in a different location, and a different place in life. Yet each release reduces me to the same wonder that five year old version of myself had back in '98. These are colossally important markers in my life and I have vivid memories of each game and who I was as a person when I played them. They're essential to my identity, the way Star Wars and Harry Potter is for others, and I will be forever bias towards a piece of media with the Zelda name on it. Even the bad ones like Skyward Sword (and yeah, that one is NOT great), still enrapture me for hours on end. The games come out every five years. I obsess for a month or so. Than I move on with my life.

I'd much rather Breath of The Wild come out in December, or sometime where I at least had a few days off to go be by myself and get this temporary obsession over with. But unfortunately, it came out March 3rd, and I was not ready. Not only is the new game perhaps the best in the series but (please keep in mind what I said earlier about being eternally bias) maybe the best piece of interactive media yet.

The game is impeccably designed with that sense of discovery that kept me occupied for so many hours as a child. Except this time the world is so dense, so deep, and so well fleshed out that my childhood self would hardly have had to make up anything. There's a lot to go on about, and it's very nerdy stuff, but essentially: the developers created a world so dynamic and filled with life that your own journey through it will no doubt be as interesting as it is unique. I have spent many hours this month playing this game. Often I find myself sitting back, impressed with how the designers thought out this particular moment or system. Other times I'm having too much fun to play armchair designer. It's so good and such a wonderful reminder of why this medium is important, that I am almost able to eliminate that feeling of dread in the back of my head. Not quite, but almost.

Ok, so the dread feeling. It's shame, I believe. We often see video games tied to lazy, unattractive men who have no motivation or ambition in life. I often see myself as that when playing and even though I know it's not necessarily true, I begin to worry it will become true. It's a hobby with a lot of negative connotation around it.

Here's the thing though, you can't really blame people for seeing video games this way. For one, the games industry started by marketing to boys in the 70s/80s, then teenage boys in the 90s, and finally bro-y adult men in 00s and today. In terms of representation, the video games industry is maybe the worst offender in terms of blatant sexism and non-inclusionary bullshit. 90% of the games you see or hear about are about huge white dudes shooting aliens with huge guns. The other 10% is Pokemon, Mario, etc.  These aren't all games by any means, but these are the games that get the most money and press. It creates that image of the lazy dude with no ambition cause it feels like that's who they're marketing towards.

Video Games, or interactive media in general, are such an incredible art form in terms of engagement that it's genuinely a shame how homogeneous they've been. In recent years we've seen an independent video game scene emerge. Here, there are games pushing boundaries of video games as art and a more active effort to create games that appeal to different kinds of audiences. I think of Undertale, Inside, and The Witness to name a few. But truly I think these games are so exciting because they are made and completed by as few as one person (shout out to my friend Kenny Sun). Just like independent films and theater, you can see these games challenge and change the status quo of the medium in exciting and daring ways.

Ten years ago there were barriers between people who played video games and people who didn't: Consoles / capable PC's, common knowledge of universally accepted controls, harsh difficulty curves. Today, the spectrum is so much wider. You can play a deep and complex game like Zelda or blow your dad's mind with The Stanley Parable. Still, I think it's a shame that so many of my friends, particularly my artsy friends, shun interactive media as child's play. I acknowledge there's a lot of work the games industry needs to do in order to make this an environment they feel comfortable returning to. I myself would love to take a stab at it one day. I think exploring a narrative in conversation with someone who's interacting with the story is way too interesting to pass up.

Until I do that, though, I'll continue playing games like Zelda. Keeping in mind that the thing I feel in the back of my head isn't so much shame or failure as it is guilt. That other people around me weren't given the same privilege (a game starring someone who looked like me, made by an industry that largely catered towards people like me) to enjoy this wonderful sense of exploration I've gotten to have throughout my whole life.

January Update: Protests and Plays

The first month of 2017 is down the hatch and already, so much has changed. I'm 24 now, there's a new president in the oval office, and it feels like my world has grown more and more unpredictable everyday. Despite all this, I managed to do a lot and learn a lot in the first month of this year. If anything, it's set a strong precedent that I'll have to work hard to continue for the rest of the year.

 

Protest

The news cycle since January 20th has been relentless, as each day of the Trump administration brings new threats, strong reactions, and terrifying theories. It's very tempting to get caught up in a whirlwind of anxiety and on more than one recent occasion I found myself unable to sleep worrying about the future of my friends and loved ones. Moreover it can be hard to work at any capacity, let alone creatively while this continues to happen.

I am lucky to be surrounded by smart and diligent people in all aspects of my life. It's made friendly discussions occasionally a little more bleak, but also a lot more functional. We fact check each other, spread useful information, and organize for various forms of activism. When there's a bad day for one of us, the rest are there to give a pep talk.

My revised philosophy during the Trump administration is to be vigilant and wary. Vigilant in staying informed through reliable news sources. In being ready to partake in a call to action at any moment. Whether it be a march, contacting representatives, or contributing to a cause in any possible way, I want to partake in peaceful and constructive activism as often as possible. When I say wary, I mean not getting too caught up in speculation or rumors. I mean continuing my life, but taking into account my new passion and knowledge when creating and writing from this point on. I want to be wary to not prioritize my personal comfort as people less fortunate or less privileged than I suffer from new rules and legislation made by the Trump Administration.

I owe a big thanks to my friends and family for being open to talking about such issues, and helping me shape a strong ideology for how to handle larger forces. Regardless, it is part of growing up to acknowledge that the world is bigger than my own personal goals and aspirations. While I think I and many my age were jolted into this, I believe it's ultimately for the better and good things will come of it.

 

Plays

January 2017 was all about putting on plays for me, partially because so much of the latter half of 2016 was all about writing those same plays. Ever since I graduated in 2015, I've gotten "no", "no", "no" for so many things, and then I kept submitting on and on until eventually I started getting "yes." It felt good to have persistence to pay off: after so many different rejections, or just no responses at all, people started seeing something in my work. More importantly for me, all the acceptances came for work I'd written within the past year, which hopefully means I'm maturing and growing as an artist.

 

 Great acting on a strict budget.

Great acting on a strict budget.

The Bench

Writing the Bench was a blast! I got the idea while visiting my parents in early October. Something about driving a car around again (an activity I seldom do in New York) reminded me of thosedays where I was confined on the route between home and football practice. Even more fun, I think, was to explore how the glorified expectations of being a Football player can falter when we don't live up to society's gold standard of masculinity. It can be funny and agonizing: you spend all this time getting your ass kicked and people still don't view you the way you dreamed.

The best part of the Bench, by far, was reuniting with Carsen. Even though a play with four high school boys may not be her dream project, per say, I admired her ability to recognize the core themes in the play and highlight them in ways I never saw fit. One of my favorite exercises she did was have the boys compete in a game of ping pong and then run their lines as they did it. That sounds so fun! And I am very happy to say she took home the best directing award, something she not only deserved for her work but also her willingness and dedication to put so much time into a short play.

Similarly: the boys of The Bench deserve equal recognition. Jesse, Bucey, Julius, and Maxwell are all great actors and they brought their A game to a project that dragged them to Bushwick and Queens at least ten times total. The play requires high energy from the outset, and these guys never missed a step. They did six shows, were on time to every single one, and killed it so frequently that we ended up with the highest score from our program. That's just the kind of work you can only dream of from your actors.

 

 Pflaster.

Pflaster.

Other good news: I got my first piece of press from this project! The Queens Courier! It's a short blurb and my name is completely wrong, but that's okay! The reviewer seemed to like it, and that's all that mattered. A few more things like this and I might be able to start a "press" section of my website soon!

 

 These dudes were awesome!

These dudes were awesome!

Jessica

I found out about Sanguine Theater Company's Project Playwright last year when I was desperately looking for outlets for my writing. I submitted this year, and was delighted to find out I managed to be a finalist. This was a company dedicated to promoting and featuring work from upcoming artists, and I was really excited to work with them. 

The experience was great, if not initially scary. I've worked almost exclusively with friends in the past, or at least people in the Sarah Lawrence Community. So it's equally exciting and nerve-racking to have an entirely new group of people read work I've written. But I could not have asked for a better group. The actors were brilliant, and the director had all these brilliant ideas. 

 

 I am still unable to express the emotion of happiness.

I am still unable to express the emotion of happiness.

With the combined effort and talents of the cast and director, I got to take home the top prize for Project Playwright. Sanguine will be producing Jessica this August at the IRT theatre. I'm really ecstatic, not only to get to put up the full play, but to be able to continue to work with the amazing people at Sanguine. You can expect several promotions for this in the future, I promise

 

So now we're in February. My goals for this month are getting some sketches filmed for New Greta, finishing one play, and starting and completing another.  It's a tall order, but I want to write like a mad man this year! Thanks for reading if you read this, it means a lot. Mostly just because this is just way to practice for me. Have a good day! 

 

 

 

Year in Review (2016)

2016 is the first full year of my life that did not exist on any academic spectrum. I didn't change grades, I didn't have the summer off, I worked the same job, and I moved less than a mile away from where I lived in 2015. I was 23 for 332 days of it. In many ways I didn't change at all. In fact, I think most people would argue the first year outside of school is mostly for getting your grounds together. It certainly seems like that. I feel in many ways like I've made no progress. That's why I decided to compile this list. To remind me that I am moving in SOME direction at any given point in time.

This year took away idols, friends, pets, and family members. My heart sunk more times reading or watching the news than ever before. The president-elect is an inexperienced fascist and populism and nationalism are rising around the globe. I have no idea where the world will be next year. I have no idea where I'll be. For now I'm going to reflect on the good things. The stuff I worked hard to make and put up with my friends and colleagues. Stuff that I'm proud to have worked on and put up.

 

New Greta

New Greta was a fresh a team at the beginning of this year. We'd done maybe five shows in total since forming in October. We didn't know where to play or what we wanted to do. We met one Friday night, the first of several meetings that would take place this year, and we listed our goals and what we wanted to do with the group and our career.

We went on to do over fifty improv shows this year. Some of them were to packed houses (see later on) others were in bar basements with three people in the audience. In a year with passing projects, New Greta remains the collective I am always collaborating and creating with. They will pop up many, many more times as this list goes on. If the year had one concurrent theme it would be the work I put in with these 6 (eventually 7!) people. They're some of the hardest working people I know, and they constantly inspire me to do more and do better. I couldn't have possibly imagined the scope of what we accomplished in this single year.

 

Orange is the New Greta

We hit the ground running in January with Orange is The New Greta, our first original sketch show since leaving college. It brought a difficult new challenge: How do you produce a show in New York City? We didn't need a huge amount of space or time, we just needed a half hour to perform and enough advance notice to bring a crowd. We ended up doing a test run at The PIT's Pilot Season and putting it up at La Luz, a DIY venue in Bushwick, in a joint show with fellow comedy group Andrew Skort.

Producing is where art and business collide. It sucks because in addition to trying to make the best show possible we also have to worry about making enough of our initial investment back to not have net loss on the show as a whole. It's a bummer to charge people, especially when the money goes directly to you. Our philosophy has always been to keep the shows as free and cheap as possible. It guarantees a bigger crowd and allows us to experiment without guilt. But producing is expensive, and rehearsing a sketch show to reasonable perfection costs a lot of time and money (renting spaces). The week of the show we rehearsed for three hours nearly every night, each time after working full days at our own individual jobs. One Friday night I particularly remember doing a two hour improv practice with New Greta, leaving for a half hour to find a quick dinner, then coming back for a three hour sketch rehearsal. It was crazy.

But then, we put up the show. We had a packed crowd in a small room and almost every bit we worked on hit the way we needed it to. Sure, we were performing in a Yoga Studio. Sure, the lighting barely covered our performance space. And sure, someone paid for a $5 cover with a $100 bill (which we had to provide change for...). But there's something oh so gratifying about doing it all yourself. We wrote, acted, directed, did sound design, set design, props, and even produced our own show for the first time. It was 100% our creation and effort that lead to our show that night, and it paid off (literally. We made out money back and then some).

After the show we went to a nearby bar, drank with our fellow performers and audience members, and sang karaoke long into the night. We were happy the stress was gone, glad it went well, and sad it was over. The only thing we knew for sure was that we had to do more stuff like it again.

 

 Great cat right here.

Great cat right here.

Frosty

One important thing I learned in 2016 was the value of friends in the adult world. College brought upon an almost excess amount of social stimulation: I was seeing everyone all the time whether I wanted to or not. Especially at a small college, like the one I went to, friends are more or less inescapable. Fast forward to post-college: It's almost impossible to see anyone. Between 40 hour work weeks, creative projects in the spare time, and slow weekend subways; you have to really work for any friendship you maintain in New York City.

For the first six months after college I barely wrote. I didn't even know if I wanted to still write. My feet were firmly planted in the comedy scene, and I just couldn't seem to find a community in playwriting. Add that to rejection letter after rejection letter for a multitude of things I applied to, and I found playwriting fast fading from my list of daily priorities and activities.

Thank god for Bella, then, who lived all the way in Hamilton Heights vs. my Bushwick (about an HOUR train ride on certain weekends) who saw something within me that I wasn't seeing in myself at the moment. And who gave me an opportunity despite how rarely we got to see each other.

Frosty was a short play about my dearly departed cat, who randomly one day had to die. It was inspired by a conversation I had with my friend Max once, where I described the simultaneous confusion both me and my cat had when we had to put him down. A few days ago he was sitting next to me while I pet his head. Now he had to die, and the vet's explanation didn't seem to make any sense. I wrote it to try and explore the way I justified to myself telling him goodbye, when I wasn't really sure why I was saying it in the first place.

It was absolutely wonderful creating and working on this project with Bella, it reminded me of all the joy (it had been nearly a year since my last production) that came with working and bringing work to life. And it was that wonderful March day that reassured me that I needed to keep working. It also reminded me how amazing friends can be and how vital we can be in giving each other the opportunities that help us keep doing what we love

 Poster from the May show

Poster from the May show

New Greta Has Friends

One thing New Greta struggled with in its first year was performance time. Too many shows in bar basements with six or less people in the audience. Too many shows that lasted way longer than they had any right being. In December, we put on a show that was a little over our heads. Perhaps overestimating the number of attendees we ended up playing to a mostly empty crowd.

In February we started New Greta Has Friends. The concept of the show was simply giving ourselves, and a few friends, a platform to perform improv. The first show, on a cold Saturday in February, had less than four people in the audience. Eventually we found our footing with the Pit Loft, who offered us a monthly slot. Each month we slightly changed an element or added something new to the mix.

My favorite thing about New Greta Has Friends is that it is constantly changing, much like our aspirations as a team. Originally we just featured improv teams, then we added stand ups, characters, musical acts. In the summer we began to film promos and do photoshoots for posters. Now as we enter 2017 we are considering adding shows themed around different ideas and comedic forms.

I'm excited to see where this show takes us in 2017. Regardless, it's been a wonderful experience to have a consistent monthly show for nearly a year. As young comedians, it's been thrilling and fun to put on a brand new show every month, meeting loads of new people along the way.

Del Close Indie Cagematch Tournament

Art as a competition is tricky. So much of art requires putting yourself out there to an uncomfortable degree. In art competitions it's not just your performance being judged, it's your self. Unfortunately, in an age where more people and more people are working at the entry level of every art form, competitions are often the only ways to perform and put up work. I consider myself lucky then, that my friends and I on New Greta have pulled through this challenge on multiple occasions.

The Del Close Marathon is the biggest improv festival of the year (probably in the world). It also receives HALF it's applications from New York. Not too surprising then, that a young indie team around for less than a year would be rejected. But for us, who'd coasted on the near guarantee of acceptances in the past (college teams usually get in easily and ours had been accepted the previous two years) it was a devastating blow. This festival was so fundamental to our place in the improv community, and we would be witnessing it from the outside.

The only way to receive entry into the festival after a rejection was the Del Close Indie Cagematch, a tournament style competition where the winners get a fifteen minute slot on Satruday afternoon in the festival. It seems small but to us, on the cusp of the community, it meant a lot.

The experience was exhilarating. Much like our victory at The College Improv Tournament one year prior, we performed with a heightened sense of purpose. The nerves, usually contradictory to the nature of improv, made every move ring out with a heightened sense of importance. Nothing was lost or dropped. Moves were carefully acknowledged and brought back. The group was in synchronicity in way we'd been practicing for months prior.

When we did take home the prize, it was a truly validating moment. There is so little mobility for independent groups outside the major theaters, we had just received one of the only opportunities possible for a small group like ourselves.

We're guaranteed entrance to next years festival, and we'll be hosting the tournament as well. For me this victory will always symbolize the hard work of a group of friends finally paying off.

Sunday Special

In July we stumbled into another monthly show. This show, a 90 minute slot in the back of a random bar, felt like the perfect compliment to the hustle and bustle of NGHF (our acronym for New Greta has Friends). A small and cozy space, we can have more teams and take more risks with our own improv. We added a musical element, with sets inspired from songs that our friends performed. The night as a whole ends up being one of my favorite every month: A chill Sunday that ends in a lowkey show, followed by drinks with friends.

 

 

Love In The Spring Time

For some unknown reason, almost ZERO pictures of the Shrt Wv fest exist, besides this little snapshot from their website. But make no mistake: Shrt Wv definitely happened, but it happened super fast. I got my acceptance a week before the show went up. Then it was a matter of getting actors, a director, and putting it all together in six days.

Molly Bicks came to the rescue here, in our first time collaborating as writer and director. Molly is insanely in depth, and she treated this short ten page venture with love and care. She saw so many things within this play that I was not able to see when I first wrote in 2015. And she brought it to life in way I previously did not think possible.

I truly admired the work put in by Molly, Sam L, Maddie, and Bucey on this piece. They took a script and five days and turned it into a complete piece of theater. The result was delightful:

My Favorite Media of 2016

The continually horrific events of 2016 seemed almost coordinated to a young college graduate like myself. As I ventured out of the safety net of academia the world suddenly became a lot more complicated than I had anticipated. I think it resulted in a rapid change of my personal tastes. Things that were once goofy action fun had become gratuitously violent. Comedy I had once found funny suddenly seemed misguided or in poor taste. On the other hand, certain things that once seemed boring and pointless suddenly peaked my interest with rich layers of meaning beneath the surface. TL;DR My tastes grew up this year. A lot more than one might in a typical calendar year. More than I wanted them to, really.

When I look back at the stuff I watched / read / listened to this year, I see equal amounts of escapism and innovation. For every groundbreaking piece I consumed that changed the way I thought about everything, there's about twenty episodes of an old TV show watched with absolutely no current artistic value at all. It's the balance that a year like this requires: The comfort and revitalization of old favorites and the new groundbreaking challenges that allow us to grow as people.
 

My picks below represent this balance. An equal amount of self care and new ventures. You'll probably be able to guess which is which.

 

YoureTheWorst1.jpg

You're The Worst

After I graduated college my parents moved to LA, so with every 10 hour round trip to visit them I attempt to expand my pop culture library in some way. To my surprise, watching the first season of You're The Worst in a small seat several thousand feet in the air was one of my favorite experiences of this year. Since then I've gone through the entire second season and watched the third as it aired this fall.

The show, starring three horrifically selfish people and one very kind person, sounds unbearable on paper. But after the initial few episodes the show delves deep into the backgrounds and psyche of each character. It seems insistent on, if not making us like them, at least having us understand why they are who they are. Naturally this leads the show to delve into somewhat dark subject matter for a half hour comedy, but it handles these themes with such care and craft that it never seems exploitative or demeaning. It's also very, very funny.

The show is near-perfect for it's entire three season run, but a particular highlight comes in the larger arc of the second season in which the show delves deep into one character's struggle with chronic depression. Lesser shows here would become melodramatic, but You're The Worst makes a point to never let the humor die while simultaneously understanding the uncomfortable reality of a condition that few people really understand.

 

611RU-a0p7L.jpg

How to be the Greatest Improviser on Earth by Will Hines

Improv has been one of the most important things in my life since I was 16. It brought out the performer and the writer within me and without it I could assure I'd be a much more boring person today. But I've also struggled a lot with improv post-college. I stopped enjoying the moment and I found myself making moves I thought coaches or teachers would want instead. Additionally, The competitive scene of NYC leads to less performance time and it can be demoralizing to put money towards crafting a skill that you rarely get to demonstrate.

Hines' book is not for beginning improvisers. It's for people like me, losing love for the form that originally brought them so much joy. He writes from a perspective of someone who considers himself not so much outwardly talented at improv, but someone who has paid attention and worked to make himself the best over years and years of practice. His advice is invaluable because it comes from someone who seldom relied on charm or god-given gifts to get where he wanted to go. He struggled with his own insecurities and hang-ups, and he overcame them by tackling them one by one.

The book functions well as back pocket advice. Read a chapter a day (especially if you have show or a practice) carry the mantra with you. I noticed myself having more fun, feeling more confident, and more assured in my own voice. Most importantly, I enjoyed performing improv again. And that's invaluable to me.

Ranch Viejo

I'm a working playwright (in theory) but rarely do I get to see actual plays, especially new plays. Make no mistake: I've been to plenty of readings this past year, but high ticket costs limit me to one or two Broadway or Off-Broadway productions a year (Off-Off Broadway I'm there though. Especially if tickets are less than $15!).

I was so excited then, when a friend had spare tickets to Dan Lefranc's new play, Rancho Viejo. Lefranc had previously written Sixty Miles to Silver Lake, which remains one of my favorite modern plays to this day. I eagerly sat down for a Saturday matinee, which took place of three hours and included two intermissions.

Rancho Viejo is an incredibly intimate epic about the existential struggles of four late-middle-aged couples living in a pleasant dessert town in California. There's no yelling, not much crying, and there's no major betrayals or dramatic twists. It's a slice of life narrative in which the characters spend most of their time casually philosophizing at parties. Yet the play remains endlessly fascinating, as the long run time allows small things to grow exponentially in meaning. What may begin as a fun distraction for one character eventually grows into the purpose for their existence. Something as small as attending an art fair becomes the valuable social capital that these characters strive to give and receive from one another.

Rancho Viejo ended it's short run on December 23rd. I don't know if it will be published or performed again, but that long afternoon spent with those characters has stuck to my mind like glue in the past few weeks.

 

 

Moonlight

I will eternally acknowledge that my perception of Moonlight might be skewed. I entered with little knowledge to what it was about, and after being deeply moved by it, got to see a surprised Q&A by director Barry Jenkins who had been present the whole time. Much different than many of my peers who had been hearing hype from critics for weeks before finally being able to see it.

Moonlight has it's flaws, mainly in how little we get to know about the main character, Chiron, as we see him in three different phases of his life. But as someone who's always been more concerned with writing and narrative structure than visuals and production (Sorry La La Land), I found myself amazed at how rich of a visual vocabulary Moonlight offered me. So often I see beautiful movies that fail to contribute anything to the narrative besides visual style. Moonlight is that rare movie where each shot contributes to not only the atmosphere, but the story being told. It's one of the only instances I can remember where a shot of character's eyes speaks louder than most of the dialogue I've seen this year. It's one of the only movies I saw this year where the visual medium of film is not only justified, it's absolutely necessary.

My favorite two movies this year come between Moonlight and Manchester By The Sea, but Moonlight wins here because of it's dedication to the medium. Lonnergan's writing may overtake Jenkins' in a few areas, namely dialogue and flashback structure, but it's long running time prevents the pure frame for frame perfection that Moonlight delivers. This is all just my opinion of course.

 

 

The Holy Fuck Comedy Hour

The days after Donald Trump were elected president were some of the strangest I've ever had. A huge cloud seemed to perpetually hang over New York City as we collectively began to understand what just happened and what it all meant. The first time I truly felt all right again after the election was when I went to go see The Holy Fuck Comedy Hour that Thursday night.

Holy Fuck is a brand new show every week, like SNL, only way with a way smaller budget ($0) and way more room to improvise (almost every sketch goes completely off script). The result is inconsistent, but the regular performers there are responsible for some of the hardest belly laughs I've had in recent memory. It is not uncommon for me to leave the show with an aching jaw from how much laughter was being expelled from my mouth.

The other advantage to a brand new weekly show is the ability to tackle current events as they happen. Just like South Park or SNL, Holy Fuck often has the ability to tackle a subject from an angle before most comedians enter the writer's room. Though the show never goes out of its way to talk about current events, they inevitably play a part in the weekly show's many sketches.

The week of the election was one of the best Holy Fuck shows I'd ever seen. It was raw, honest, hilarious, and ultimately positive and uplifting. It was a comforting reminder of the healing powers of comedy and I headed home with a more optimistic outlook on the world.

I go to Holy Fuck as often as I can, especially in the particularly rough or trying weeks this year has served up. It's cool to know that however bad the days get in the upcoming years, there will be people making comedy somewhere for free on a Thursday night.

 

 

Rocket League

In terms of best value per hours of entertainment this year, Rocket League is the clear winner for me. For $20 I've spent many (so many. an embarrassing amount of) hours playing this game side by side with my roommate. It's a near-nightly ritual for me and him to play a game or two when we both get home late at night.

The concept is simple: soccer played with small rocket-powered cars. As a competitive online game it has that amazing easy-to-get-into, hard-to-master-quality that gives room for consistent improvement in skill while never taking away the fun. Add that to an amazing matchmaking system that almost always succeeds in placing you with similarly skilled players and you have the perfect amount of challenge that keeps me and my roommate coming back time after time.

Finally, Rocket League succeeds in being one of the few remaining games to have split screen multiplayer. As I get older and have less and less time to partake in the huge long-winded experiences that video games offer, I can't help but fall in love with games that are easily accessible for me and any friends that might be strolling by. I hope there will be more like this in the future, but in the mean time my roommate and I are no where near exhausting our love for Rocket League.

 

 

 

Cardinal by Pinegrove

I have bad taste in music. I have a variety of theories for why this is, but let's chalk it up to me never really playing instrument besides the trombone and not particularly everenjoying playing that instrument. It's not that I don't enjoy "good" music, I can definitely listen to it, especially live. But for some reason I'll always prefer to listen to the lyrically charged (but rhythmically simple) sounds of Pop-punk or folk-punk (my most listened to albums of the last 3 years have all been by The Front Bottoms).

How refreshing is it then, that Pinegrove arrived this year with an easily accessible but rich debut album that is somehow simultaneously country and emo. With vocals similar to Colin Meloy, lyrics as intricate as the best of The Front Bottoms, and a Montclair, New Jersey origin story, Pinegrove fast became my new favorite band this year. And on top of all of that I think they make genuinely good music. I could be wrong though. I have terrible taste.

I recommend checking out the song Old Friends first. If that doesn't do it for you, it's probably a band best left for my listening pleasure.

 

 

/Filmcast

I have listened to this little podcast since I was fifteen years old. It's gone through changes in format, name, and hosts since then, but it has remained consistently my favorite podcast of all time. It's really simple: Three hosts and a special guest sit down to talk about what they've been watching, film news, and close each episode out with one movie review. It's something I've looked forward to every Tuesday for almost ten years.

This year the /Filmcast got a little deeper though, as the hosts began to make apt comparisons from the things they were watching to the country's current political climate. They also added a brand new segment: /Filmcourt where people write in with moral dilemmas regarding the world of film and they judge accordingly.

It's nerdy, but I have gone out of my way to see the films they review, just because I love listening to them talk about films so much. It's the kind of bond I have sustained with few pieces of media in my life, and I hope there's many more years of the /Filmcast in the future.

 

The Simpsons

I was not a Simpsons child. I discovered Family Guy first and that became my go-to immature adult cartoon for most of my early teenage years. Not to mention I came of age long after the "golden era" of the Simpsons and there was never an easy way to watch them.

Thank god for FXX bringing a streaming service that allows me to watch every episode of The Simpsons ever created. This year I came close, or at least close in the first eight seasons. There's literally nothing left to be said about the Simpsons. But I'll say this: the way this show manages to be smart about it's dumb humor is something that never gets old. Also just an incredible demonstration of how individual characters and their comedic deals can be used in harmony like a beautiful piece of comedy music.

I know I'm on the cusp in terms of its decline, but I am eternally thankful for the nights where my insomnia kicks in and I have a huge library of episodes to choose from. We'll see how I feel next year though.

 

 

Toni Eerdman

This is last on the list because I'm almost afraid of recommending it to people. This three hour German screwball-comedy is by far the weirdest thing I have seen in theaters this year. It also seems just impractically up my alley: the tale of a dad who loves doing bits so much that he creates an extended character to cheer up his workaholic daughter. It sounds like an Adam Sandler movie but it remains grounded even through its strange premise.

The thing I loved the most about Toni Eerdman, perhaps even more than how much it made me laugh, is its dedication to the present moment at hand. For a movie about a father and daughter, it relies on almost no information in the past and instead chooses to live entirely in the actions you see played out. It ultimately leads to a commentary on the passage of time and living in the moment. It's the exact kind of movie I needed for the end of 2016. A film that demands one stop living in the past or worrying about the future and asks you simply to exist with these characters for a while. It's also unrelentingly positive in a year full of negativity, death, and violence.

It will be too boring for some, too strange for others, but if you manage to catch it, give it a chance. Toni Eerdman is one of the most unique movies I've had the pleasure of seeing in years.

 

 

Honorable Mentions:

Annie Baker's John, Manchester By The Sea, Atlanta, Better Things, High Maintenance, We've Got it From Here Thank You Very Much by A Tribe Called Quest, The Handmaiden, and The Wind Waker.