AMerican Road Trip Through Chicago Sports Radio

After two days, one night, six states, and two-thousand seven hundred seventy three kilometres, I was able to reach my long sought after destination – a beautiful little girl named Jasmine, in Regina, Saskatchewan – where she’s old enough for a part-time job, but still young enough to jump into my arms and call me ‘daddy’.

There was also still snow laying about.  WTF?

Toronto to Regina, via Chicago.  I like long road trips.  Yoga for the mind.  Nothing to do but keep it between the lines.  Traffic moves between 130 and 140 km/h.

Detroit, Chicago and Minneapolis were the only major spots where I lost time, but I didn’t mind.  I like seeing the big cities from my view out the windshield.  8 lanes.  10 lanes.  Merge lanes.  Big glass towers.  Old brick industry.  Ball parks.  Park parks.  Highway lines and back bumpers.  Mind my place in the left lane flow, and I’ll be just fine.

Sometimes I drive in complete silence.  Sometimes I listen to audio books.  This time I stuck mainly to AM radio.  Just picked up what I could as I passed from place to place.

There’s something about AM radio that makes me feel like I’m actually traveling somewhere.  The crackle of the distance between me and the signal’s source is more tangible than FM band somehow.  AM signals never really fade – they go down fighting.  The background static just gets louder and the signal screams for dear life.

And as the mile markers blink passed me, that crackle takes me through time.  I imagine myself 80 years ago, stuck in some distant nowhere – big vacuum tube radio, picking up something from anywhere – especially on a starry clear night.

I travel the dial as I put miles behind me.  Talk radio voices – accents from places laid out like road markers on the side of the highway.  Old country music stations.  Gun advocates.  Preachers.  Politicians.  Local news.  Weather reports.  Flood warnings.  Sports.

I caught the Chicago Bulls playoff game just as they went down by 14 points with 3 minutes left to play.  Someone from Brooklyn missed an easy dunk.  I was on I-94, crossing from Indiana into Illinois.  Hit Chi-town just as the game went into overtime.  Was heading into the tunnel downtown as the 2nd overtime began.  Cleared traffic on the north side of town as the team pulled out the win at the close of the 3rd overtime period.  Every radio voice on the air said it will go down as one of the greatest playoff games ever played.  I really wouldn’t know.  It was the first NBA game I ever heard on the radio – and for that matter, I’ve never seen an actual NBA game on TV either.  Reminded me of the time I caught seven periods of overtime between the New York Rangers and the Washington Capitals in 1986.  I was a kid and hadn’t really taken an interest in hockey yet.

The signal faded as I approached Rockford, Illinois on I-90.  The next clear signal on the dial was a NASCAR race in Richmond, Virginia.  Listened to the first 192 laps until that signal faded, somewhere northwest of Madison, Wisconsin on I-94.  Next clear signal on the dial was a Chicago Whitesox game in Tampa Bay.  Caught an inning before that signal broke up.  Next turn on the dial made me laugh out loud – a Chicago Cubs game in Florida!  What’s with all the Chicago teams?

Baseball broadcasts lack the action of basketball or hockey.  They’re more like conversations between announcers that get interrupted by bits of action from time to time. Almost seems like an inconvenience.  Still, it remains perfect platform from which to experience a game.  AM radio, baseball, and a late-night road trip go together like nostalgia, old photographs, and painted memories.  Imagination takes the stage for a crack at the miles barraging my soon-to-be heavy eye-lids.

Further up the road, near Eau Claire, Wisconsin, I turned to the next clear signal on the dial, a home broadcast of the St. Luis Blues.  Guess who they were playing?  The Chicago Blackhawks!

It’s good to be home.  Turned the dial one last time as Regina’s lights came into view.  620 CKRM.  The most nostalgic of all AM radio to me.  Roughrider games.  Pats.  Childhood memories of late night polka parties, playing cards with my Grama in Assiniboia, Saskatchewan.  Willie Cole & Fred King.  Geoff Courier.  Carm Carteri.  Rod Pedersen.

I’m getting together with my buddies for a hockey pool draft on Tuesday night.  I was thinking I’d take Penguins as much as possible, but there’s something about this road trip that has me thinking seriously about Chicago’s chances.

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Pleasing the Home Crowd

I finished the final vignette for the Mayor’s Arts & Business Awards at 3am on Monday morning.  Woke up six hours later to finish the title cards – the screen shots that go between the vignettes, displaying the name, category, and sponsorship logos for each section of the awards show.  There were 49 title cards in all, and I was far, far too foggy to concentrate on those sorts of details for more than a few minutes at a time.  But I did anyway.

It only took me a couple hours to finish the cards, and then another hour to create the final self contained video with all the vignettes and title cards in place.  The whole rest of the day was spent watching progress bars.

There was a progress bar telling me how long it would take to compress the video (4 hours).  There was a progress bar telling me how long it would take to upload to my server (3 hours).  There were internet and wifi connection hiccups that caused me to have to monitor the situation closely.  And then when it was all said and done, I had to help my client find a solution for how to download the video.

It seems Apple went and made some changes to Safari that made, what was once a simple, ‘right click to download’, into something impossible.  We were on the phone for an hour before we eventually downloaded an FTP application that would allow her to cut and paste the URL directly into a window, that would begin the download of the MABA video immediately.  Now we know for next time.

The highlight of my day was going for a walk while the video was compressing.  It was a warm sunny day, and I’d been housebound most of the weekend.  Found a pub in the Junction called, ‘Axis’.  I sat on the patio and read my book for Boardwalk Empire.

Back home in Regina, I heard it was -20 C.  Judging from the Facebook posts, it seems people are about ready to go postal on Mother Nature.

[several hours pass]

I received a couple of texts and one email from people who were at the event, congratulating me on a job well done.  It’s very gratifying to be pleasing the home crowd with my work.

Four Speculative Weeks

I’m spending the weekend housebound while I finish up a number of nominee videos for the 2013 Mayor’s Arts & Business Awards that are taking place on Tuesday in Regina.  I can get one video done per hour – so Sunday afternoon should see me emerging from from the murk, relatively free of this project.  I’m enjoying the work, and I enjoy working with my client even more.  Doing something for a Regina audience, makes me feel rather close to home.

Once this project is wrapped up, I’ll be finishing up a short film I’m editing for my friend Shonna.  Probably another day there to finish.  After that, I’m clearing my slate for the next four weeks.

My entire world is going to be focused on researching and writing a spec script for Boardwalk Empire.  To this end, I need to get my hands on a copy of Season Three.  Only Seasons One and Two are available in Canada.  I’m thinking I’ll make a purchase on my way to Regina through the US.

The deadline to apply for the CFC’s Prime Time Television Program is May 17.  Working backwards from there, I don’t have a lot of time to waste.  I’ll be required to submit a pilot script for my own series idea, a spec script to an existing series, and a number of other odds & ends.  Having spoken to Ian, a writer and graduate of the program, he told me to focus on the spec script.  He’s read the pilot that I’ve already written and thinks it’s great.  No need to write another pilot script – especially within the limited amount of time I have.

In the absence of a Season Three to watch, I’ve purchased, ‘Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times and Corruption of Atlantic City’.  It’s the book Terrence Winter based his series on.  Lots of really great information there.  Story comes from research – and as I previously mentioned, I’ve got a ton of research to do before I can even think about crafting a script.

Also, as previously mentioned, I’ve got a ton of editing to do before I even get to my research.  Might as well get myself started.

Full Time Hot Chickable Companionship With No Strings Attached

On Wednesday night, I found myself sitting next to Aubree on the patio outside my apartment.  She was playing the ukulele and sang songs she picked up from past shows she’s done.  We sipped tea and watched the neighbourhood go by.  It was a perfect moment.

She’s been crashing on my couch for the past week, taking advantage of being in Toronto so she could set up meetings to advance her career.  We’re both from Regina, but we only began hanging out when she moved to Stratford (an hour from Toronto) in February.  Our friendship’s grown to the point where I’m comfortable to let her and her boyfriend stay in my place when I take off for a trip to Regina in May.

Having a hot chick around, whom I wasn’t trying to bed on some subconscious level was incredibly relaxing.  We doted on each other a bit, prepared meals, sat together for mornings on the patio, went for walks and otherwise just hung out.  No end game to it.  No expectation.  Full time hot chickable companionship without any strings attached.  It’s been a very long time since I felt that.

Aubree’s visit reminded me of my best moments with Nadia, whom I lived with for 18 months immediately after PJ and I ended our marriage.  Nadia was going through a divorce too.  There was nothing sexual or romantic about our very close friendship.

We confided in each other.  She picked out clothes for me when I went out on dates.  She took me out.  I cooked for her.  I read to her.  At times, she even cried on my shoulder.  I grew incredibly from those times, and look back on ’em fondly.

It was moving to have a little taste of something like that again with Aubree.

A Staged Reading – Fully and Completely Realized

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Duncan (Andy) Fisher (left) as ‘David’, Laine Maret (centre) as ‘Kate’ and Jeff Glickman (right) as ‘Richard’ during the staged reading of ‘Not Being A Dick’

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Duncan (Andy) Fisher (left) as ‘David’ and Aubree Erickson (right) as ‘Becky’ during the staged reading of ‘Not Being A Dick’ at C’est What in Toronto.

Last night’s staged reading of Not Being A Dick was incredibly gratifying.  The play means so much to me personally, and to see it so warmly received by an audience was something beyond words.

Last night’s event, was actually the first and only time we ran the show from beginning to end without stopping.  It was the first and only time we had the full cast together on that stage.  We didn’t even have time to block it out before presenting it to the audience – just a quick run through of our entrances & exits as people arrived (and watched us work).  We truly were up on a high wire and working without a net – and it all went off without a hitch.

I am so proud of the hard work, effort and talent my cast brought to the project.  We took the play so far in such a short period of time.  Every expectation I had for this undertaking was exceeded by a long shot.  The performances were strong.  The blocking was solid.  I was able to ‘see’ the play and then learn from it.  I also was able to learn something from how the audience received it.

We did a Q&A with the audience, and while everyone had great things to say about the relationship between David and Richard, and the humour between them, there remains some ambiguity between David’s relationship with Kate & Becky, as well as the women’s relationship to each other.  I’m thinking I’m going to have to write a new penultimate scene, to take place AFTER David professes his love to Becky.  Perhaps something where Becky confronts Kate.  Need to make sure there remains some high conflict in the scene, otherwise the play loses its momentum, and the scene falls into expositional drivel land.

Aside from making plans to meet with my cast individually for final thoughts, as well as addressing some of the pencil marks I made on my paper copy of the script, I don’t think I’m going to rush into writing the next draft.  It’s time to let things sit a spell – perhaps wait until the next theatre gets booked.  I’m thinking Chicago sometime soon – take advantage of some of the theatre contacts I’ve made down there.

More than anything I’m pleased that I followed through on a commitment I made to myself in back in February.  The timing took a little bit longer than what I first thought, but I did it.  I realized the goal, fully and completely.  It’s not often that I’m able to say that about commitments I make to myself – at least not ones that require so much effort from so many people whom I have no control over.  I am truly greatful for all the help I receieved.

Now, it’s time to begin the next thing.

‘Not Being A Dick’

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David is a very nice guy with a talking penis named Richard.  Richard likes Kate.  David LOVES Becky.  Conflict!

Our final rehearsal for Not Being A Dick took place in my apartment last night.  We worked exclusively on the David/Becky scenes.  It really is amazing how a scene can go from feeling flat and lumpy, to flowing and alive, just by marking the beats and driving them.  It took us over 3 hours, and I wound up with goosebumps when Andy & Aubree played their final scene.

We hit the stage at C’est What, in the heart of downtown Toronto, tonight at 7pm.

Downtown Toronto!  My play.  Three years.  What a journey!

I met Courtney four years ago in a Philosophy 100 class at the University of Regina.  My thoughts are very much with her in this moment as I reflect on how this play came to be.  Quite simply, it would never have been written if I hadn’t ever met her.  So much joy.  So much pain.  So much to learn.  So far to grow.

Becky stopped being Courtney shortly after I met Julianne last year.  Writing a play whilst playing with fire is an intoxicating and dangerous mixture.  Becky began to grow into her own person during this time.  Where I was simply unable to turn the screws and put this character through hell, like every good playwright needs to do with his characters, I simply couldn’t because of who she represented.  I couldn’t hurt Courtney.  Things changed when I fused Julianne’s spine with Courtney’s spirit.  Becky truly came into her own.

In the hands of Aubree, who plays Becky, the character has taken on yet another major shift.  Becky now lives and breathes.  She has a voice – a singing voice.  She has a way of holding herself.  She is nothing like Courtney or Julianne.  Aubree gave Becky her smile.

My mind is racing right now through the places and faces that moved me through this period of my life.  Not Being A Dick is more than just a play to me.  It is a vessel that holds many precious memories from the last four years of my life.  Real life with the boring bits removed.  Theatre at its most naked.

Thank you for taking this journey with me.

Reading Between the Lumpy Bits

I set aside a two-week block of time primarily to accomplish two things; write/rehearse Dick and cut the music video together.  Didn’t really see this block of time as ‘strategic’ to my career or anything – it just seemed like something I had to do.  I am a writer and I need to write.  I am a filmmaker and I need to create.  Period.

Something unexpected has happened.

The music video has opened some doors to potential opportunities.  I met with Matt Devlin Thursday morning, looking for advice on my documentary series idea.  We came up with a much bigger concept together.  It’s still too early to get excited about anything concrete, but I came out of the meeting with far more than what I expected going in – I’m developing a project with somebody who’s worked for a number of major US networks and has connections that I don’t have.

The music video also opened some doors in terms of corporate work with my friend’s production company here in town.  They’re using the video as part of their pitch package to a big client.  They get the gig, I’m in – and I’m earning enough money to focus three quarters of my time on writing and developing my own projects.  A very excellent balance methinks.

Version 10 of Dick has been completed.  We rehearsed it Thursday night with the full company present.  The new changes held up, and there remains only a small tweak in the final scene to address.  We can make the change in pencil, it’s so small.

Rehearsing the play has been incredibly gratifying.  I am constantly being surprised by how my words in the hands of other artists, transcend what I imagined them to be, when I wrote them.  Blocking was our major focus – so much so, that some of the David/Becky scenes were glossed over in favour of getting a full run of the play in, before it was time to call it a night.  Those scenes suffered as a result.  They simply weren’t as tight as the rest of the play.

I actually didn’t sleep well that night.  Combination of things.  I was thrilled with the scenes that thrilled me.  I was excited to have Renee present for part of the rehearsal process (she won’t be able to see the show on Sunday).  I was concerned with how often we had to stop and start because of blocking issues.  I was occupied with how to simplify everything, without cutting too deeply.

Movement in Dick is as important as the dialogue.  It speaks as loudly.  We need to see Richard dance.  We need to see the tender, unspoken, moments between David and Becky, contrasted against the sex scenes with Kate.  Obviously those scenes with Kate are scaled back from what they would be in a full production, but the David/Becky scenes can be played very close to how they are written.

Readings for a play can be everything from actors on stage, reading from the script behind music stands, to something closer to what I’m trying to do – rudimentary blocking, on a cobbled-together set.  No light cues.  No music.  Someone offstage reading the stage directions to the audience.  I don’t think I’m asking too much of my cast to present the later.

Andy, Aubree, and Laine are coming in tonight to rehearse the David/Becky scenes.  We hit the stage tomorrow night at C’est What.

Rewriting An Unexpected Turn

Looks like Version 10 of Dick is in the works.

We rehearsed Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.  Many discoveries have been made about the play – most of them, unexpected.  The biggest change thus far will be a major rewrite of my penultimate scene (scene 13).  The dialogue will only have to be tweaked, but the setting and the circumstance is completely turned on its head.

In the current version, Becky turns up at David’s apartment to tell him that she loves him, but can’t be with him – and his heart breaks.  In the upcoming rewrite, David shows up at Becky’s apartment unexpectedly.  The conversation takes place in the hallway of her building.  She won’t let him inside because, unbeknownst to him, there’s another guy inside.  He professes his love, and she to him, but it’s just not a good time for her.  The stakes are high because she doesn’t want him to know she has someone over.  She loves him, but can’t/won’t be with him – and his heart shatters into a million pieces.  Becky’s story arc changes, but not too far from where I want her to wind up.  It clarifies her journey.  It also reinforces some of the themes coming out of the story.

Along with the discoveries we’re making together as a company, we’re also getting some rudimentary blocking in.  We all headed down to C’est What for a look at the stage yesterday afternoon.  We had the place to ourselves.  It was practically our own private rehearsal hall.  Came up with a basic set design based on what was already laying around and worked with it.

It felt great.  We’re really doing this.  We’re a company with a script, a venue, and an audience to please.  We’re going to be a little rough around the edges, but we’re going to tell a great story.

Our next rehearsal is Wednesday afternoon.  I need to have a rewrite complete by then.  Let’s see how it holds up.

Beating A New Ending Into Shape

Remember that thing I was saying yesterday where I was like ‘my work is so brilliant I didn’t have to change a thing to my final scene’?  Something to that effect anyway.

Well guess what?

C’mon.  Guess.

Yup.  I tore the final scene apart last night and rewrote half of it.  Completely changed the ending for ‘Kate’ and ‘Richard’.  ‘David’ shifts slightly and ‘Becky’ remains the same.  Maybe a page and a half of new material, with an equivalent amount taken out.  Not a significant change in terms of word count, but a gynourmous huge shift for ‘Kate’s’ journey.

It’s the correct shift too methinks.  It was a major glaring problem and I didn’t see it until we attempted rehearsing it last night – nine revisions after I first wrote the scene.  Funny how that works.  Am I missing anything else?

I hope not.  In general terms, I was always unsettled with ‘Kate’s’ journey in the story.  Something about her was missing from the pages.  The vast majority of Version 9 spoke to ‘Kate’s’ missing pages.  But for a tweak of a line or two, the new material with Kate held up.  I’m hoping for the same with this final scene.

The rehearsal itself was great.  I spent three and a half hours with Andy and Laine (‘David’ and ‘Kate’), going through their scenes in my apartment, while sitting around my coffee table.  There were times where I needed to read ‘Richard’ and/or ‘Becky’ so we could get through a scene, but that was kind of fun too.  Being a Director is a very different job from being a writer.

We would read a scene from beginning to end, then stop and go back to the beginning.  No notes.  Maybe some questions were asked of me, but I wasn’t too interested in diving in that deeply into the script after the first cold read.  Actors can usually figure things out on their own if you point them in the right direction.  It takes a bit longer, but it provides for a far better performance in the end.

Upon the second read, we set out to identify the ‘beats’ of the scene – those moments of understanding between two or more characters.  Beats provide the shape of a scene.  The actors use them as markers.  We start off slow at the beginning of a beat, then pick up momentum, surging towards the next beat.  We hit that beat, drop the pace slightly, and surge towards the next beat.  Hit that beat, drop the pace slightly, and surge towards the next.  Think of it as shifting gears in a car with a manual transmission.

Much discussion comes from discussing where the beats are in a scene.  In order for the actor to surge towards a beat, he needs to understand what his character wants and what tactic that character will use to achieve it.  The pursuit of that objective is what ‘drives’ a scene.  Conversations around subtext – what’s really being said with a line – happen here too.  From a lofty perch, the actor can look at all his scenes in the play, with those beats and objectives clearly marked, and see how his character’s journey progresses through the story.  Just as he gives his scene a shape, he then gives his character’s journey through the play a shape.

It was incredibly satisfying to see these characters come to life.  The script held up to close scrutiny with the exception of that one scene.  Laine and Andy are soooooo good.  I could not imagine a better fit for those two characters.  I can only hope the audience agrees with me next Sunday.

Version 9

The 9th draft of Not Being A Dick has been completed.  The first rehearsal begins in less than three hours.

There are small changes throughout the script, and bigger changes towards the later scenes.  In all, I’ve added 6 pages of new writing on top of making tweaks and changes to the existing dialogue.  Got most of my new ideas in too.  Still not sure if there’s room for more, or if it’s found a happy place.  I suspect there will be some small changes as we move through the rehearsal process.

Interestingly, the block of text I came up with yesterday, didn’t quite materialize as written.  Indeed, the text did belong to Kate in Scene 12, but David picked up bits of it in Scene 13.  The passage was broken up into smaller bits so it didn’t seem too much like an exposition laced monologue.  Breaking up the text also allowed me to increase the conflict in the scene because Kate really did want to say it all in one chunk, but wasn’t permitted because David kept interrupting her.  If a character is going to be permitted to emote about her feelings, she needs to fight for the privilege.  If she’s going to wax philosophical about her point of view, she needs to meet obstacles at every utterance.  Giving her a free pass, is just bad writing methinks.

Another unexpected development was the fact that the scenes which saw the most rewriting, remain recognizable from their previous incarnations.  I fully expected to be blowing up the final two scenes, but with the development that had taken place earlier in the script, and salted in throughout, nothing needed to be shifted too much.  Instead of feeling ‘tacked on’, the final scene emerges as a great way to wrap things up, as opposed to being required to explain everything that came before.  I actually didn’t have to change a single thing in that scene, and I thought it would be the most problematic of them all.

I guess, instead of taking 6 pages worth of new information and dumping it all in at the end of the play, I broke the information up into bite sized pieces and used that information to punch up the conflict within all the scenes equally.  The scenes become stronger as self-contained units, and the play becomes stronger as a whole.

I am excited to see how the new draft sounds when it’s up on its feet.