Friday, 9 December 2011

Improv: Explaining in Reverse

**Warning: In this post I use the word "anus". That is all.**

In this week's Sea Tea Improv rehearsal, a series of events happened that I wanted to write down, probably because it is an example one of my favorite things about improv: explaining in reverse.

Often times in a scene you find yourself making a big, bold, character/universe defining statement or action only to later need to dig yourself out of the hole you just put yourself in. Actually, that's not quite right. Its more like finding yourself at a mountain peak and then trying to find the path that got you there.

I admire my teammate Joe because I often see him doing this in one breath. He often makes bold declarations in scenes. You can see the process in his eyes as he realizes that what he said probably needs some explanation, thinking of some backup, the light when he gets an idea and the satisfaction as he gets the audience from point 1 to point c (not a typo). All this without hesitation.

The example from this week's rehearsal was more of a slow, group explanation in reverse. We were doing a montage long form, which means getting one suggestion and then doing a series of scenes off of it. It is extremely free form. The scenes can be short or long, and often there are recurring themes/characters/story lines.

In an early scene we met a character of Dan's who was a "dungineer" (or dungeon engineer). When I heard that, I immediately started wondering what dungineer school would be like, so later on I initiated a scene with Dan's character starting his first dungineer class. During the class it came up that I had tortured the sickest man ever, which made me the sickest man ever ever. In response to this, I gave Dan's character my card and said in an offhand way "Here's my card...keep it close to your anus."

Let's step back a moment. Now, I had no in-scene motivation for saying this at all. However, the previous montage we had run included a very detailed story of both a pair of hamsters living in people's rears' and a male prostitute with an amazing amount space. Of course these story-lines ended up meeting for a very odd ending. Also, in Dan's dungineer class he drew a picture of a cow whose mouth was sewn to it's own ass (after being instructed to draw the sickest thing he could think of). Perhaps with those things fresh in my mind "anus" was just at the tip of my....nevermind.

Regardless, Dan did the best possible thing he could do in the situation. He took it in stride, gratefully took my business card and placed it where directed.

Now, that could have been the end of my nonsensical statement, but twice in later scenes characters exchanged business cards from their anuses (never did I think I would need to pluralize "anus"). By repeating the gag, they were also making it normal and a part of the world we were creating. It's a little like watching a kid's movie where the main character can talk to an animal; the first time it happens it can be a bit odd, but the more it happens the more you just accept it and the rules of the universe are defined.

The best part, though, was a later scene when a character of Greg's needed to get a business card because he didn't have any yet. Dan was brilliant as the business card maker and passionately explained how we keep business cards near our anuses because dog's have the right idea in sniffing each other's butts: the anus contains the essence of ourselves and is the fastest way to know the true nature of a person. Greg was "fitted" for a business card by having his scent imprinted on a business card, and gleefully went on his way.

In particularly successful long forms, I love trying to trace back the threads of the world we have created. This one remained clear in my mind from my original statement, to a great "yes, and" from Dan, to support and continued use from other players, to final explanation. I am sure I could have picked a less anus-centric example, but this is what you get.

Anyway, all that aside, we have a show this Sunday at 7pm at the City Steam Brewery in Hartford. This show is actually a benefit show, where any donations or shirt sales will go to a cancer group (I don't want to write the actual name just in case google brings anyone to this entry. I don't think they would appreciate being connected to an entry about anuses.) If you are free you should definitely check it out!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

New England Clam Chowder on the Fly

Clam chowder is one of my absolute favorite things in the world. When I was young and set in my ways (as opposed to now when I am slightly older and set in my ways), I would pretty much always order the same thing to eat when I went out with my parents: grilled cheese and clam chowder. And I mean New England clam chowder. If there is one thing that will vamp up my New Englander pride more than anything else, its the superiority of our chowder. Thick, creamy and delicious with big chunks of tasty veggies and clams...that's how a chowder should be.

That being said, it occurs to me that I don't think I have ever made clam chowder before. I know my mother has a recipe for a low-carb chowder (made when we were all on the Atkins diet a million years ago), but I don't think I ever even made that recipe. Despite that, Sunday night my mother mentioned that she had collected the ingredients for clam chowder and Monday night I found myself flying blindly, yet somehow confidently, into my first attempt. Clam chowder is a passion of mine, surely I could just make it by instinct.

I searched the fridge and freezer for bacon but none was to be found. That was really my only setback for the evening and easily solved when my father suggested rendering some salami he was currently slicing up for a pre-dinner snack. Once I had something to sautee my veggies in, I chopped up 3 peeled potatoes, 6 stalks of celery, half an onion, 3 peeled carrots and a partridge in a pear tree. Everything got mixed up with a spoonful of minced garlic. Once all the veggies were nicely mixed up and starting to get their cook on, I poured in water/clam juice that I drained from my large can of clams and set everything to simmer for a while.

In the large soup pot, I started to make my roux. I melted two whole sticks of butter (this chowder sure wasn't going to be healthy but it was going to be rich) and whisked in about a cup and a half of flour until it was thick and smooth. I slowly whisked in Half and Half until I got the consistency I wanted.

It was around this time my mother came into the kitchen and said "Do you know what you're doing?" and I answered honestly, "Nope."

I turned the heat off of my roux and made a little over two cups of clam broth using some clam base, which I kept set aside. I kept checking my veggies while they were simmering away until I could easily slice a large hunk of potato with a spoon. Then, one ladle-full at a time, I added my veggies (including the clam juice), my clam broth and the now-drained can of clams to my roux. I turned the heat back on and kept it on just long enough for everything to mix up and heat through. While I was mixing I added fresh cracked pepper, garlic salt and a little Old Bay seasoning. Right before turning off the heat and serving, I stirred in a bit of red wine vinegar.

Although I can never be 100% pleased with my cooking results, I was pretty excited more than anything else about the consistency. I wanted a nice, thick chowder and that's what I got. It needed a bit more seasoning, but that can always easily be adjusted bowl by bowl, whereas trying to thicken a chowder after its done would probably end disastrously. I've had it for lunch the last two days and is the perfect thing for a dark, rainy Connecticut December.

Honestly, I think the thing I am most disappointed in is my pictures for this entry. Since renewing my blog mojo I have been looking at other blogs and the photos I have been seeing make me understand why people use the term "food porn". Maybe I should stop using my cell phone and break out an actual camera.

I think this post might be the closest entry I have so far to being an actual recipe, since I did try to mention measurements when I could. Question for my reader(s) for the future: would anyone actually use a recipe if I tried to write down what I was doing during one of my "flying by the sea of my pants" cooking adventures?