Episode 9: The Christian Campers

(For a better viewing experience click on the HQ button once the video starts.  Looks a lot better in full-screen…)


{First of all, a very big thank you to Eileen Little for clicking the Donate button this week and helping to fund 50in50.  I happen to know that Eileen has recently co-founded an aerial theatre company that is doing some truly innovative and very compelling work.  Check out Matchbook Productions for more info.}

[Big ole thank yous to my co-stars this week, Mr. Dylan Ricards (who has helmed the camera on a number of episodes), and Ms. Stefanie Charlotte (a.k.a. my real life girlfriend).  More on these two later.  I also want to thank Ms. Erika Yorio and Ms. Evonne Gambrell for providing the location for so much madness.]

Okay.  So.  Let’s talk about this one.

I’m not quite sure where to start.

This episode had a couple of big firsts for this project: it was the first episode to be shot live in front of an audience; it was the first episode that was all one take (with no cuts); and it was the first fully scripted episode.

The results are a mixed bag.  I hand wrote this skit on the back of some scrap paper the day before we performed it.  It was based on a skit I’d written last year for the same “Summer Camp”, where it was the camp’s young, Christian love-birds (an archetype I am extremely fond of), preaching the importance of abstinence (or “obstinence”, as they said).  I’d recommend the documentary Jesus Camp, if you haven’t seen it already, to give you an idea about real kids like this (which is waaaaay scarier in real life).  This episode makes light of the misconceptions and misinformation that has been stuffed into these kids’ heads, but the truth is actually kind of terrifying.  Anyway, the skit won the talent show last year, and I loved these characters, so I wanted to bring them back.  I decided it would be the same two characters, but this time they would be warning campers of the dangers of drugs.  I knew I was going to pull some script out of my arse for the talent show (on the final day of camp), and that we’d have fun with it.  I didn’t realize, however, that it was going to end up being my 50in50 episode.

I had started working on a character, leading up to camp.  It was this very 1970’s guy talking about “camp rules” and giving advice (all of it bad).  I had a great costume, and some pretty decent ideas.  Then we got hit by thunder storms during the day, and I was asked to help out with another act, and there were activities galore, and wouldn’t you know it, Cos Fireston (that was his name) got shelved, and I was just going to have to use the “talent show” as my episode.  This made more sense, really, since I wouldn’t be getting home from the woods until Monday night, and on Tuesday I would go straight from work to a rehearsal for a staged-reading I’m doing, and then I wouldn’t be home until after 11pm tonight (Tuesday).  So there would be no time for editing before Wednesday morning.  So, I decided to roll the dice and see what I’d get.

What I got was a mixed-bag, but there were certainly a lot of lessons for me in there.  First of all, in my opinion, Dylan and Stef blew me off the stage.  They aren’t “professional actors”, but they were both so funny, so committed, and so creative that you never would have known.  I love them for this (especially the part of me that wrote the episode and had my expectations greatly exceeded).  My own performance, though (which is what I’m supposed to be focusing on with this project), seems rather hit and miss, and I can tell you exactly why (retrospect is amazing, isn’t it?): I wasn’t entirely focused on what I was doing IN THE MOMENT.  Brent the Writer was still in there, wanting the text to be just right; cringing over tiny blunders (my own, mostly); obsessing over my idea of “the vision” for the piece.  Brent the Producer (of 50in50) was also in there, wondering if we were being loud enough, if I needed to wait longer before I spoke after audience laughs to get clean audio, if we were getting the shot.  When that duality (or whatever the word is it for three-alities) is occurring, a solid performance rarely comes out.  One of the most important things in acting, if not THE most important thing, is often referred to as “moment-to-moment” work.  In other words, the goal is to be entirely present in the current moment.  To be engaged in the feedback loop of information.  Constant (seemingly) spontaneous give and take.  That’s the goal, to be very present in the moment, and having performed it, and watching it now, I can tell exactly when I wasn’t entirely in the moment.

So, what’s the lesson for that?  One hat at a time.  When the camera is rolling and I’m performing, I’m just a performer.  I can check the footage after (in theory) and direct from there (though not in this case, because we only had one shot at it)… but I can’t be directing the scene while I’m doing the scene.  That leads to badness.  Also, I was so focused on the writing and logistics, that I didn’t do nearly as much character work as I should have, and I think it shows.  The physicalities Stef and Dylan had developed were so specific, and it really added a lot.  The moments where I was  specific, had an intention, and was in the moment, worked.  The others didn’t.

(As a quick aside, I will say that as I writer I am actually pretty damn proud of this piece.  It was really rushed out, and I see a couple things I would fix, and a couple of jokes I would add, for sure, but I’m really, ultimately, very happy with how it turned out.  It’s a good representation of my brand of humor, I think.  Also, as a writer, I adore Dylan and Stef in this for being so God damned funny and making me look better.  I’d do well to remember those sorts of sentiments, which I hope would help motivate me next time I’m in something.)

Going forward: I think I’ve gotten a bit off track.  I haven’t been doing the character work that I need to be doing.  I’ve been relying too much on plot and jokes.  While I’m happy that those seem to be tools in my bag, I’m not happy that I’ve somewhat shirked the responsibilities of this project in terms of the in-depth character work I originally set out to do.

To be fair to myself (I’m not normally that charitable), these last few weeks, have been jam-packed, and there just haven’t been nearly enough hours in the day to do everything I have to do.  I can’t spend a few days really working on an accent, or a character’s backstory, or his physicality, and giving those things the attention they deserve because I don’t have that time.  Because I work so much.  Because, because, because.  I still fantasize about having funding for this show (even if it was only enough to keep a roof over my head and food on my table)… the extra 60 HOURS A WEEK I would have to devote to this project… I think I could achieve something magical.

Yes, yes, you’ve said this all before, Brent.

Yes, yes, I know.  Well, I’m not married to my job yet.  We’ll see what happens.  In the meantime, however, I’ve got to start fleshing out my characters to a greater extent, again.

Once more into the breach, dear friends.

-B 5.27.09  2.40am

P.S.  I’m coming up on Episode 10 here, which is kind of a cool (if arbitrary) landmark.  I’ll try to get my thoughts on what I’ve learned/discovered during the last ten weeks.

~ by 50in50 on May 27, 2009.

6 Responses to “Episode 9: The Christian Campers”

  1. I am, to say the least IMPRESSED…with all three of you, but particularly you, Bremt! When I saw you on Friday, after a long work week, completely drained and on your way to a long weekend of debauchery at adult camp, I worried that you may not have it in you to pull off this week’s episode. But it was absoultely perfect- the writing the acting, the setting, shot live and in front of an audience. It was simply hilarious. So proud of what you’re doing! Can’t wait to see more…

    Hang in there, kiddo! The $$$ will come later.

  2. You three crack me up, my lord.

    Unexpected treat: you trying to do jazz fingers and gun-hand simultaneously?! Love it.

    • Jazz finger/gun-hand combo was TOTALLY my favorite part! Brilliant.

      • Ah, sweet! I was afraid that wouldn’t read in such a wide shot. We shot a close-up angle as well, but I decided to go with the one shot, continuous thing, which I think makes the viewer feel more like they’re in the actual audience (no artificial movement, or sudden “unrealistic” changes of perspective).

  3. SO GOOD!! And yes, Dylan and Stef were amazing :) I love the live audience aspect too. I wanna be in an episode!!

  4. Ahh yes, church camp. Such good memories…I used to go every summer. Talk about a bunch of kids with RAGING hormones. Great episode. Stef and Dylan were fantastic! You were pretty great too. ;-)

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