Man, what a weekend. I haven’t had a lot of time lately to blog, because it tends to be the first thing that falls off of my priority list when things start to get a bit crazy. They were indeed crazy for the days leading up to the festival.
I think I can relate this trip to being like a Harold. Our opening was the sleepover for Big in Japan that I hosted at my place on Thursday night. Five of us crashed here on Thursday night so we could get a nice early start on Friday morning. We spent all night just hanging out and talking. We formed all sorts of inside jokes and came up with ideas that sort of influenced our entire weekend. We didn’t get a lot of sleep. I think I slept about 1 hour that night, and then the alarm was going off for us to pack up the car and head to Buffalo. The trip down was uneventful. We zipped through the border, and because we had checked in with Jet Blue on the Internet the night before, we pretty much just walked onto the plane.
My first impression of NYC was the heat. It was stinking hot. Douglas Adams once described New York’s air as smelling “as if someone’s been frying goats in it, and if you are keen to breathe the best plan is to open a window and stick your head in a building.” That’s not too far from the truth. The air is stifling like a hot layer of molasses, and it just doesn’t move at all.
We took the Air Train from JFK to the Howard Beach subway station, and caught the A train into Manhattan. The trip took about 40 minutes to an hour. It wasn’t an exciting trip, but I enjoyed it because I like to see how ordinary people travel when I visit places.
We got off at 33rd Street and 8th Avenue, which was 13 blocks from our hostel at 20th Street and 8th Avenue. I am a big fan of the NYC street grid system. It makes it pretty easy to find just about anything in the city. By the time we got to the hostel, we were all drenched in sweat from carrying our luggage. I took this picture before we started walking, which is why we’re all still smiling.
After medium amount of hassle and confusion from the front desk because of the changes to our reservation (Alisha couldn’t make it, and Sarah’s flight from Chicago was cancelled), we checked into the hostel, and saw our rooms. They were typical hostel rooms, I guess, with four bunks per room. The girls got air conditioned rooms, but the guys didn’t. I got stuck with a top bunk, which was sweltering hot because of the lack of air conditioning. We tried to bring a box fan into the room to put into the open window, but quickly discovered there was a dead mouse in the fan, which made a fairly unpleasant odour whenever the fan was switched on. We quickly got rid of the Rat Fan and scammed one from the downstairs lounge instead. I think that bit of moving air was the only thing that kept us alive at night for the next three nights. As it was, I sweated nearly continuously while in that room, and gulped down probably 2 litres of water each night just to maintain hydration.
The weather forecast called for rain all weekend, so we decided to walk around and do all of the touristy things we could that afternoon. It poured rain on and off for the first hour of our walk, but after that, there was no rain all weekend. It was sunny and blazing hot every day. This is just more proof to me that weather forecasts are useless. I think we walked for about five hours straight. I didn’t see anything earth-shattering, but I wasn’t bored either. We wandered around Times Square for quite a while, bombarded by all the lights and electronic video billboards of this mecca of consumerism. Eventually we made it back to the hostel, had some food, and then walked back to the UCB theatre at 26th and 8th to see some shows. The general level of improv was fairly bad in the early going. I managed to watch about four groups, three of which sucked. I found myself falling asleep around 2am, so I headed back to the hostel to lie sweating in bed for a few hours.
The bad thing about sleeping in a room that hot is that it’s actually impossible to sleep. I think I got about 4 hours of sleep in bed all weekend. The rest of my sleep came from passing out in my seat in the air conditioned theatre, which seemed to be perfectly acceptable, since it was a marathon, and plenty of people spent the entire weekend in there. The good thing about having a room that is that hot is that you don’t want to spend much time there. I spent a lot more time wandering around the city, hanging out with friends, and watching improv.
The trip was such a great opportunity for us all to bond. We drank a lot, waited in lines a lot, and wandered the city endlessly together. It’s strange because we know each other quite well on stage, but don’t normally socialize as a group. I think the bonding that we did by just spending time together and discussing improv and life and relationships and politics endlessly really brought us to another level of understanding about each other. I think we all realized what vastly different people we are, in personality and in the stages of life we’re each currently experiencing. Yet somehow, that doesn’t seem to hurt us, and in fact the diversity brings us even closer together.
By the time it was almost our turn to go onto stage, on Sunday at noon, we were prepared for anything. We had watched a lot of known-to-be-good teams crash and burn under the pressure of performing on a foreign stage in front of a big audience. The problem with the teams that failed was that they seemed to be playing like groups of individuals, each trying carry the team, and trying so hard to be funny. The jaded marathon audience wasn’t tolerant of that kind of behaviour, and many 30 minute sets were played out in total audience silence. The pain these groups suffered was almost palpable. We also realized that the best teams were the ones who were having the most fun with each other. It was so clear by the smiles on their faces which groups were having the best time out there. That tends to be the way we play too, which meant that if we could remember not to change anything about our approach, we’d do just fine.
Somehow we did it. Our suggestion was “chalk” and we grabbed the audience by the face with our opening, and then never let them go until the lights went down a half hour later. I don’t think a lot of groups had done organic openings, so we were able to really get their attention with our energetic approach. The scenes were solid too. The audience, which had been nearly silent for the previous set, really got into our performance and were cat calling and whistling at us. I was really proud of this set. We didn’t sell out, we didn’t go for cheap laughs. We played slowly but intensely, and we connected our ideas together in hilarious ways. We have a video tape of the set. I hope it turned out ok so I can get it online. With any luck, the tape will be good enough to show that we can perform well on a major stage like the UCB so that we can submit it to other festivals too.
The rest of the weekend was very relaxing after releasing the tension building up to our set on Sunday afternoon. We went for drinks to celebrate, and then I mostly hung out at the theatre watching more improv. It was pretty rewarding to have complete strangers coming up us me all day and night, congratulating me on Big in Japan’s performance.
The trip home was pretty easy too. We woke up and hopped on the same trains, planes and automobiles to take us back home. As we traveled back, our jokes called back to the original ones from the sleepover. It was ending where it began, just like a great Harold should.