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 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.
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
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.
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: