I Survived A Performance At Black Box Improv Theater

Black Box Improve Theater
Mark DeBruin (left) looks baffled as I experience an issue with my pants during a sketch. On the wall, John Dysert (far left), Sara Jordan, Karen Chick and Ryan William watch everything unfold.

Muscle to muscle, toe to toe
The fear has gripped me but here I go.
— Alt-J, “Breezeblocks”

For six weeks, 13 individuals and I embarked on a journey learning the introductory stages of improv comedy, led by regular weekend performer Andrea Fantacone.

Each week was just another step closer to the night where my classmates and I would perform in front of a live audience for the first time. The night of the show came faster than most of us expected. We didn’t really stop to think about it, really.  We knew that between the hours of 4 and 7 p.m. on Sundays, we’d be spending our time prepping ourselves for the day of the show.


 Close to an hour and a half before performing, we ran a quick dress rehearsal with Andrea. Performers normally don’t do run-throughs on the day of the show, but due to a power outage during our normal class time, we made an exception. As a group, we felt strong as we blazed through a handful of sketches.  It seemed that we were firing on all cylinders, finding games more quickly than previous sessions. Perhaps we were starting to figure it out?

After an hour of work on stage, Fantacone instructed us to make our way to the green room. I grabbed my bottle of water and enjoyed a cupcake brought in by one of my classmates, hoping the nerves and adrenaline would slow down from the wild and chaotic pace that I was experiencing. I took a deep breath and began scanning the room. Conversations fell in line with the light and funny; laughter from the small clusters of people was bright and breezy. I saw one or two of my classmates stretching out and getting loose at one end of the room.  I picked up on the music that had started blaring through the speakers out on the performance area. The expanding audience’s chatter seeped through the hollow walls of our room. I couldn’t help but remember the Friday performance I attended as a spectator – unaware of what I was going into, but excited to see what was about to happen. Fast forward six weeks and here I was on the other side – prepping to go onstage myself.

COUNTDOWN (87 bpm)

 After some words from theater owner Justin Howard, Fantacone got us set to hit the stage. We were instructed to divide into two groups. I was going to be in the first group, which made me happy. I figured if I was in the second group, I would have gotten into my head more than I already was. We stood near the door, listening to what was being said outside, and waiting to hear our cue to walk onto the David Michaels Stage. We take one finally look at each other before opening the door separating us and the audience. Our facial expressions were telling the story. We hear the nod, and off we go.\

SHOWTIME (95 bpm)

 I walk toward the stage and take a look at the overwhelming crowd circling me. I place my foot onto the wooden platform, step up and position myself onto the black wall. The onlookers finish clapping and my classmate Karen Chick asks for someone to shout a one-word suggestion. As I stood in the back, everything came rushing to me as if I was a surfer crashing into a wave. I started thinking about that abysmal first encounter of being on this exact platform. That infamous flamingo sketch. Seeing family, friends, strangers settled within their chairs shook me back to reality.
Black Box Improv Theater
Charmaine Kunzler (far left) and Karen Chick (far right) discuss how good John Dysert and yours truly (Tommy Johnson) look when portraying chickens in a sketch. In the back, Sara Jordan, Mark DeBruin and Ryan William look on.
I stood there listening to Chick move along during her monologue, making sure I heard anything and everything that might be good to act upon. When she finished, my classmate Charmaine Kunzler lightly touched my arm, signaling that she had an idea for a sketch and would like me to join her. Walking toward the opposite side of the stage as her, I felt a tingling sensation circulate through me. Everything that had been encompassing me as I stood there vanished without a single trace, or even a warning. I lost control of the moment.

Normally, you would be unsure of allowing yourself to be that transparent. But improv is about being in the moment. Listening to your partners onstage. Paying attention to what they are giving you. You have to go without thinking, which is exactly what took place that second.

I honestly don’t know what happened during the group portion I was in. Fortunately, I was able to obtain video of the show to see what transpired. The opening sketch I participated in featured Kunzier suspiciously trying to not reveal that she has been disposing the family animals in a variety of ways.  Another skit featured a classmate and myself as chickens that a mother and daughter may want to take home. In my monologue, I spoke candidly about the one-word suggestion I received: pants. One other pants-involved sketch involved me as someone who had a rather catastrophic accident – a lower back side injury due to padded slacks.

When our time was up, the second group took the stage and performed an exhilarating set. One of the monologues centered around one of the members speaking about his short stint working at a smoothie stand. He spoke about several experiences that featured him as an object of lust. Another sketch involved a male who is unable to do sign language struggle to shop at a local grocery store.

Black Box Improv Theater
Black Box Improv Theatre’s Level 1 Improv Class. From bottom left: Joseph Bretzfelder, Kara Jobe, Vanessa Roberts, Karen Chick, Charmaine Kunzler, Victor Hanrahan, Kevin Turner, Mark DeBruin, Matt DeNuzzo, Sara Jordan, Fran Hoover, Tommy Johnson, Ryan William, John Dysert.

LIGHTS OUT (85 bpm)

 As the light went dark on the final sketch of the evening, all of us went up on stage and took a bow. We glided back into the green room, flying high from what occurred. What took place during my section of the show was still a bit of a blur. We dissected some of the sketches, swapping comments and ideas that we thought would have worked. Overall, we landed on some great stuff. We were able to find the game in a majority of the sketches early and we ran with them. Some sketches tended to take longer to develop, but they ended up rolling along smoothly.

When I walked into the level one improv classes for the first time, I was unsure of what I was getting into. Each week, I walked across the black curtain excited and prepared to learn all about the art. Six weeks later, I was up on stage with some of the greatest people that I will ever met in my life. I don’t think we all intended to become so close with one another at the pace that we did. We pushed one another to be better.

The Black Box Improv Theater has an impressive array of talent that continues to grow. I wish I could describe how much Justin Howard means to all of us. By opening up the small theater, he has allowed a new world to open to those who dared to see what it was all about. I can honestly say that this has been one of the craziest and most terrifying experiences of my life.

I just hope that I don’t have to do another flamingo sketch. Ever.

Living The ‘Nerd’ Life: An Interview With Rapper K. Carter

K. CarterKevin Carter (who goes by K. Carter) revealed to me when we met up that his passion ultimately was to play football.  Growing  up in Dayton for a large portion of his life, Carter moved to Tallahassee, Florida for a short  period of time.  While attending high school, he participated on the football team; envisioning himself  attending college and possibly expanding his playing days to further notice.  When he wasn’t on the  gridiron, you found Carter working at the Tropical Smoothie shop down by where he lived.  The  manager at the business, Ali, was an exceptional poet and helped young Carter begin exploring his idea of  becoming a rapper on the side.  Ali overheard Carter riffing throughout shifts when they worked together, which impressed him deeply.  Once Carter agreed to take notes for Ali, the duo  started off by doing rhyming drills; concentrating on having the sense of expanding the mind.  An  example Carter gave me was a time when the duo drove down to Miami for a poetry slam that he  described as one of “the craziest and best atmospheres of my life”.

“We were driving to Miami, and he (Ali) would see a sign that would say ‘coffee’”, Carter stated.  “My  job is to say a different rhyme about coffee, but not use the word ‘coffee’.  I would use ‘he caught me’  as an example.”

The high cost of attending college forced Carter to reluctantly make the choice to  have his football days come to a close.  Choosing to go down another path lead him to another passion of sorts, Carter moved back to Ohio to attend Wright State University and major in computer science.  In 2007, he began performing with a local rock group.  The band wanted to enlist a rapper into one of their songs during a recording session, and allowed Carter to step in.  Carter walked into the booth for the first time ever when he worked with the ensemble; unaware of how the end result was going to turn out for both parties.

“I did the verse to their music, they didn’t switch nothing up…when I get it down I wanted to do over.  I looked up and all five of them were staring through the little window like ‘Oh my god!  Is that real?  Did that just happen?’” Carter said in an enthusiastic tone.  The success he had collaborating with the pop rock band seeped into having Carter performing with the band during a show at Madison Theater, located outside of Cincinnati.  Carter described the night of the show, pointing out that over 2,000 individuals filled the theater to see the ensemble play live.  The audience didn’t know that Carter was scheduled to come out at some point during the set and perform with the band.  As he stood behind the curtain, Carter came out onstage when he heard his cue.  Walking out, he examined the look that each and every single person was portraying.  Mostly siding on the area of confusion, no one knew what was going to happen next.  Much like the moment in the recording studio, Carter was ready to blow people’s minds.

“I started rapping and I’m telling you-it erupted,” Carter gleefully recalls.  “I’m out there and girls are putting their hands out wanting me to shake them.  When I got done, everybody was saying ‘Hey-what’s your name?’  That’s when I knew-I’m good.”

On July 4th, Kevin Carter’s debut album Revenge Of The Nerd will be released.  The rec10659389_10152264605161017_3617655663413250727_nord has been in production for some time now-dating back to all the way back to November 2013.  Wrapping up recording in February of this year, Carter worked tirelessly to make each song stand out to listeners.  “I’m not a perfectionist, but I want it to be right,” he declared.  Carter recorded fifteen songs that will make upRevenge Of The Nerd; highlighting his fun-natured personality that has infected all that have had the pleasure to meet and spend time with him.  Proclaiming himself as a “nerd” due to his occupation (cyber security specialist), Carter presents lyrics that at times include a humorous spin on a variety of topics.  For example, Carter pointed out that he has written some songs that dive into the world of computer programming, smoothly bringing in lyrics about everyday life.  As you listen toRevenge Of The Nerd, Carter utilizes skills garnered from his time spent with Ali-making people see what he is saying, as if he is telling a story.  “I try to be very descriptive,” Carter says.  “The Harry Potter books are always better than the movies.  There’s more information in the book.  I want my words, my music to be the book.  Not the movie.”

When Carter isn’t rapping poetically, you can catch him on most weekends performing on The David Michaels Stage that’s located inside Black Box Improv Theater.  When he starts or steps into scenes in progress, Carter’s  wittiness along with his undeniable charm are hard to resist.  You are glued to your seat, wiping away the tears that begin flooding your eyes when you watch Carter and the others performing.  Whatever it’s him thriving under those bright, searing lights that hang above the stage at Black Box or working towards emerging as an up and coming gifted rapper within the world of music, one thing is undeniable-Carter is destined to be special.

“I have a message…I feel it in my heart that I can’t change the world, but I change people’s minds to think; to make this world better.  Or just make it more positive.”

Revenge Of The Nerds can be released on July 4th. For more info, including getting a copy of the album on either CD, iTunes, or even on a flash drive-click onto K. Carter’s Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/pages/KCarter/122546891016?sk=timeline

“Walk”ing Tall: An Interview With Marion Walker

Marion WalkerSince moving out of their homes in Reno, Nevada and setting out on their two-month stint  on the road began back in May, Marion Walker’s tour has experienced a couple of  unfortunate events.  For starters, an electrical issue that forced them to cancel the first out of  town show.  When they finally diagnosed the problem, they were able to do enough to get  them rolling again.  During a stop in Austin, Texas, the members of the band came into the  town unaware that they were entering in one of the most torrential  thunderstorms in the city’s history.  While the group was able to leave town before the worst of the damage,  they had friends of friends  that weren’t so lucky.  One of the members of the band, vocalist/guitarist Kyle Akins,  spoke about a story that involved a group of teens staying out late due to it being  their prom night.  The steady rainfall started to grow more intense on the road; trapping one  of the teens inside her car.  Frightened and unsure as to what to do, the young girl calls her  father for help.  As he instructed his daughter on what to do, he sees the line drops.  The  young girl’s phone dies and went missing.  When retelling the story, you can hear the  suffering that Akins still has lingering.

“So tragic”, he says softly.

While most would start to consider this being a sign to pack on up and cancel the rest of the shows, Marion Walker have an unwavering desire to continue on.  The 3-piece ensemble had about twenty minutes left to drive before they’d stop for the night.  Tonight’s set will be performed at Tree House Lounge in Washington, D.C.  In the meantime, the band have stopped at a nearby rest stop when we began our conversation.  While the tour as a whole has been going well, the beginning stages of it tell a much different story.  When explaining it, Akins summed it up by referencing a quote from the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre:

“Mercury has just went into retrograde.”

In 2012, Akins was throwing around the idea of doing experimental dance music when he was introduced to Jessie Smith by one of his musician friends.  When she was a kid, Smith mentions that she would get ribbed by her parents because she would climb all over everything.  Once she got really into dancing in high school, she knew that it was something that she wanted to be serious about long term.  After seventeen years of dancing, Smith’s resume is full of accolades; owning her dance company titled Dead Bird Movement, choreographing for Seattle art/theater group Saint Genet, and dancing with Seattle choreographer Dayna Hanson.  The duo immediately hit it off and soon began putting some music together.  Smith choreographed the group’s recent video “We Won’t Be In Love Much Longer.”  Filmed with no crew in the foggy Florida forests, Smith and Akins had to discover different ways of thinking about making the video.

“It’s all photo stills…we had to figure it a way to make the shots interesting using a tripod,” Akins explained.  “In each frame in the video is actually four or five seconds of movement.  We had the shutter open and we were experimenting with light exposure.  If you watched the video in real time, it would be about thirty minutes long.”  Akins added that 36,000 photos were taken during the video shoot, while only 2400 are used.

Musically, the early recordings of Marion Walker showcased a folksy sound; focusing on the music being pushed to be intimate.  Now with their upcoming EP Serious Picnic was released on June 23rd, the band switches gears towards exploring a more psychedelic rock sound.  The 3-song, 11-minute and 11-second EP is a machine that is heavy on the reverb and features a beautifully interwoven mixture of Akins and Smith’s vocals.  The writing sessions began back in June of last year in Asheville, North Carolina while Smith was performing a dance show.  The tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri with the death of Michael Brown navigated Marion Walker into a collective stream of consciousness.  Now meant to be consumed in its entirety, the opener “Seriously,” a haunting fuzzed out opus.  Straight into the churning “Silver Drone”, “Volunteers” finishes the EP strong.

In the later stages this summer, Marion Walker will start prepping for what could possibly be a full-length.  With a few weeks left to go on the road, Marion Walker will spend some time with family down in Florida once their latest leg comes to an end.  Time that they deserve to have, no question.

Using The Force; An Interview With Jon Wessel Of Anakin

AnakinJon Wessel for years strive to become a musician that would pay his dues while having his life on the road. While he yearned to make it work by performing all across the United States, the time would come when he would see the writing etched on the wall. He became displeased and disenchanted with how things were going. He grew tired and weary of feeling that the imagined outlook wasn’t heard towards what he thought would led. So, Wessel decided to go another way with his career; learning and constructing a home studio and he soon began recording. As the project moved along to the point where it was ballooning up to having other members included, Wessel turned to the internet to look for someone to hopefully put together some designs for him.

Throughout his own time in the music industry and seeing designs being an essential part of being successful, Brad Chancellor found a passion for graphic design. His portfolio features styles leaning towards clean lines with sleek retro undertones; exploring within various design realms. When Wessel stumbled upon Chancellor’s work online, he was captivated by what he was seeing and began communication. Wessel also became aware of Chancellor’s band that he was in, which happened to be Anakin. Chancellor began Anakin in 2008 primary as a personal project; allowing him to create music that was aesthetically pleasing to him. At the beginning stages of the inception, Chancellor created the band by utilizing his friends and others he recruited to help.

When Wessel stumbled upon Chancellor’s work online, he was captivated by what he was seeing with the graphic design stuff, but also with Anakin. At that time Wessel became aware that the band was running a Kickstarter campaign to help get their first studio album Random Accessed Memories in full gear. After Wessel contributed to the drive, Chancellor sent an email thanking him for his pledge. The initial exchange between the two set up for more conversation;  exchanging thoughts and ideas to another became more frequent.

“I showed him a demo one day after asking and feeling him out if he could do some graphic design work for the band,” Wessel explained during our phone conversation while he was in at his home in Kansas.

For Chancellor, the demos from Wessel found him finding more than what he expected. After releasing Random Accessed Memories, Chancellor was hearing exactly what he was envisioning how Anakin should be sounding. When a short period of time passed from obtaining those initial demos, he contacted Wessel in hopes of having him join the band. Before he would agree to do join Anakin, Wessel explained that his role couldn’t just be the singer.

“I’ll sing, but I don’t do something just a singer. I got to play an instrument,” Wessel said to Chancellor when he was invited to join Anakin. “I play bass, guitar, little bit of drums, little bit of keyboards.”

Immediately after Wessel accepted Chancellor’s offer, the duo went directly to work. With Chancellor living out on the West Coast and Wessel having his life as of now deeply rooted in Kansas, the ability to have Anakin move in the direction that they want has them rely heavily on the internet. Wessel mentions that he and Chancellor are working almost seven days a week on focuses on strictly on Anakin-related material; bouncing ideas and demoing them out to be sent back and forth to one another via Dropbox. The frenetic pace that the two work can be exhausting at times; tinkering with each song to get the full sound that they wish to capture. Wessel also mentions that he and Chancellor aren’t afraid to scrap songs if they don’t feel strongly about them.

“Ideally for him and me, we write when the inspiration is there,” Wessel adds.

For their latest album Celestial Frequency Shifter released in February, inspiration came in the form of Weezer, HUM, Nirvana, Failure and the Rentals. With the help of the production team Eric Graves and Joel Wanasek, Anakin’s features a layered atmospheric sound. The band’s bassist Landon Cobarrubias incorporates a fuzzed-out, shoegaze feel to a number of the tracks while Beki Andreasen on keyboard ties in a heavy spaced-out experience for listeners. Although Anakin’s music is powerful and sonically ruthless, Wessel’s vocals centering on Chancellor’s interstellar lyrical themes are soft and pretty.

Anakin’s mission of reaching a deeper connection through their music with their fans caught the eye of the people behind No Sleep Records, an independent label that is located in Huntington Beach, California. The signing with No Sleep Records allows the band to expand their catalog without comprising how they operate.

“I still remember before we hammered out the contract, the biggest thing they said is that they wouldn’t put something out that we weren’t happy with,” Wessel said. “As soon as I saw that, whatever apprehension I might have had-that went out the window.

With the release of Celestial Frequency Shifter out of the way, it should come to no surprise no one that Anakin have already begun work on their next album. With a large number of songs near completion (lyrics from Chancellor are still needed for each one), the band hopes to get out on the road soon and play a string of shows.

For Wessel, getting back out and performing live will no doubt bring some of that delight and satisfaction that he once had.

You’re Going To Me Hear Me Roar; An Interview With Abertooth Lincoln

Abertooth Lincoln (photo by Jordan Epperson)
Abertooth Lincoln (photo by Jordan Epperson)

Over the last five years, the members of Abertooth Lincoln have continued to grow with one major priority; to strive to be a group that pushes their music to new levels.

Their latest release, Osteoferocious, highlights the group’s evolution that puts emphasis on a furious mixture of punk, metal, prog rock and jazz. Distributing online in late 2014, Osteoferocious is beginning to pick up momentum with listeners and show attendees. When asked how they felt about the album’s reception so far, the members of the band gave positive feedback with realistic expectations.

“We were smart about knowing how that works,” James Lampe says. “You put out a record that you are really proud of and like everything though, there is so much content out in the world and the internet to see; it doesn’t make the fucking immediate splash right when you come out of the door with it.”

“We have had great success online,” bassist Andrew Humphrey mentions. “We’ve had a shit load of plays, people are sharing. It’s been great.”

Recording with Nashville based producer/engineer Eric Westmaas (which the band affectionately refer to as Uncle Milk with no explanation given), Abertooth Lincoln spent the better part of a year working on Osteoferocious by taking numerous weekend trips down south. The days were long for all that were involved; recording sessions often reached up to twelve plus hours a day.

However, everyone knew something special was occurring. The patience and dedication started to show its teeth. When the vocals were recorded down in the Aberplex basement, Westmaas continued to push vocalist Jacob Gandert harder and harder to get the right amount of roar.

“Every ten second part I did probably thirty times,” Gandert says.

“He (Westmaas) would just be, ‘I think you got another one in you. You got another one in you…’” Lampe included.

The meticulous attention to detail, like making sure the vocals were precise, is just part of the lure of Osteoferocious. Lyrically, the band focuses on calling to attention on a variety of topics that affect us not only as a nation, but globally. “Medicaretastrophe” shines a bright spotlight onto the unstable nature that is our national social insurance program, with Gandert snarling at the beginning “Goddamn I’m sick again/I’ll call the ambulance so I can rack up massive debt.” “GMO Shit!” goes after genetic engineering techniques while “Dreamy Kids” centers on trying to not become stagnant.

With the serious temperament surrounding the entirety of Osteoferocious, Abertooth Lincoln swear that they are no way trying to beat their views into everyone, but rather to further conversation; provoke the fans and listeners of their music to dive more into the topics that are being presented.

As far as their live performances are concerned, Abertooth Lincoln keeps things light-hearted, with the goal in mind to make sure everyone has a good time. Take for instance that each member of the band have bestowed individual stage names and will dress up in a variety of different ensembles. At a recent show in Dayton that was advocating for marijuana to be made legal in Ohio, everyone in Abertooth Lincoln was outfitted from head to toe in police officer gear.

“We looked like the fucking Beastie Boys,” Lampe said humorously.

In the midst of all that Abertooth Lincoln have going on within their camp and the increased exposure coming along for the ride, some new material is putting together in hopes to record with Westmass in the foreseeable future. Production is also underway on a comic book that will feature of the band’s fictional character Abertooth Lincoln’s and his war against The American Beef Battalion (a meat and labor replacement fleet) and his battle with the dreaded Osteoferocious.

The music does come first, though. Having the opportunity to play more shows outside shows than they have previously, the band is looking towards the summer time of going on a Midwest tour.

“People are reaching out to us-that’s starting to happen a lot more now,” Lampe says.

(Visit the band here: https://www.facebook.com/abertoothlincoln.)

I Survived Classes At Black Box Improv Theater

(Justin Howard and Karan Singh during a performance at Black Box Improv Theater)

Throughout high school, I had the opportunity to take part in several productions in the drama club. Performing scripted lines in front of a large audience was always a thrill for me. Adrenaline would pump through my body right before someone drew the long, red curtain open. Hearing the audience respond to us onstage was always hypnotic. You become addicted to those hot spotlights that beam down.

For many, the opportunity to get out there and perform ends at different times. The sand in the hourglass ran dry when I graduated.  It was extremely hard to step away, simply because I didn’t know if the opportunities like the ones I got in my school days would ever present themselves again.

When I attended a show at Black Box Improv Theater in downtown Dayton, there was a portion of the show where anyone can come up and try some improv.  Justin Howard, owner of Black Box, approached me between sets and said I should give it a try. With that, I finally had the chance to get back to acting.

After one of the main weekend performances came to a close, a handful of others and I took turns jumping on the stage with Eric Spencer, one of the regular performers. I took the stage ready to knock off the cobwebs from years of not performing.  I shake my limbs carelessly, trying to shake off mounting nerves.

We are set to go as soon as Spencer asks the audience to shout out a one-word suggestion. “Flamingo,” someone blurts out. A little unorthodox, but we can make it work.

The scene starts with my partner and I acting as flamingo models. My attempt to stand in a flamingo-esque position is an utter failure. Spencer comes to the stage, pretending to be someone who hired us.  He looks us up and down, mocking how we look. I snap back, telling him he thought I looked good as a flamingo model just last night.

From that point, the scene takes turns that lose track of itself. Overall, I bombed throughout the whole skit. I flopped around trying to come up with lines and struggled to keep the momentum rolling in the right direction. There were some chuckles from the onlookers, mostly due to Spencer.  In the end, the flamingo modeling scene never quite took off.

But I was going to learn how to be better on stage – I was about to embark on improv lessons.  My six-week long classes were taught by Andrea M. Fantacone, one of the regular weekend performers. Having graduated in the very first improv class in Black Box’s history, Fantacone has been teaching for the past few years. His experience and knowledge was going to be beneficial.

Throughout the level one course, my classmates and I learned how to properly start scenes. First, we had to learn how to establish what’s called “baseline reality” during our skits. By getting a one-word suggestion from Fantacone, we set the who-what-where of the scene. Once the baseline reality is set, we begin to gain knowledge of discovering what is called “the game.”

The interesting, unique or strange thing about the scene that involves the characters is what makes the game. With the baseline reality rolling and the game announced, we start letting it rip. Some classes focused on specific skills, like acting with imaginary props that allowed us to enhance the scene – and all without any lines.

In order to get loose, Fantacone would start every class by playing a few improv games. I’m not talking about the games that were mentioned earlier – these games forced us to look and listen to one another. Improv is about being wholly aware of what others are saying and doing.  If you don’t listen to what your partner is telling you, the scene becomes disjointed and eventually unfunny. One game we played was “3 Lines.” Here, you and a partner establish as much as you can as fast as you can with just three lines.

Another game was a circled riff off to some degree, much like one featured in the movie Pitch Perfect. The class formed a circle while one person stood in the middle. That person would start singing a song and the rest of us would sing along.  When a classmate got a song ready in their head, they would tap out the person in the middle and start the new song.

After several classes to lay down the fundamentals, we begin working on our level one show. The show starts off by asking the audience to suggest a word. Once it’s chosen, the party starts a monologue based on it. Other performers would carry out scenes based on what they took out of the unscripted story.

With each passing week, we became more comfortable. Less apprehensive to take an idea and run with it. We built trust with one another. Personally, I felt the song game was one of the moments that truly got us to start trusting one another. In improv, trust is crucial – without it, the audience won’t buy into what you’re doing onstage.

The week of the show, we felt confident that we could put on a great performance. I no longer was thinking about the night when I bombed. I learned what I did wrong and was eager to get back on stage and perform in front of live audience. I yearned to have that flamingo scene recreated, this time with better results.  But I realized that having that sketch go off the rails was a blessing in disguise. Without it, I wouldn’t be so attentive to how I could become better. I wouldn’t have felt the need to work on perfecting the craft.  Fantacone had prepped us to be our best, and that’s what I wanted to concentrate on.

The day finally comes: the level one performance show at the Black Box. We do a quick run-through before the crowd fills the theater. Fantacone instructs us to start walking toward the green room after executing a few scenes. The music blares from the speakers, and the spectators make their way in.

It starts to sink in for all of us when we enter the small quarters.

We are about to go live.

7 things to know about local director Henrique Couto

CJanesmallThis year will be quite eventful for director Henrique Couto.

The local filmmaker is set to begin production on his first-ever directed Western film, Calamity Jane’s Revenge, which will be filmed in New Lebanon and has a planned release for this winter.

The screenplay, written by Western enthusiast John Oak Dalton, will rewriting history – a little. The story centers on an American frontierswoman seeking retaliation against those who conspired to kill her acquaintance, Wild Bill Hickok.

Calamity Jane, who will be played by Erin R. Ryan, will blaze throughout the West and into the South alongside her sidekick (played by Haley Jay Madison) as they look to take justice into their own hands, leading to a potential showdown with the lead villain (played by Adam Clevenger).

In order to make the film as authentic as possible, Couto and the crew are prepping costumes and are searching for Old West-style buildings.  Story-wise, Couto wasn’t interested in narrating a male-focused story.  It was Calamity Jane’s fight to fix wrongs that was intriguing to Couto.

“I want to tell a story about a woman’s struggles that we all can identify with,” Couto says. “Calamity Jane was notorious for not showing any feelings. Every emotion she could show was considered weakness. Calamity Jane was notorious for not showing weakness. This movie will be about her living that way and what’s beneath it – where the hurt actually is and can she learn to grow.”

Here, get to know Henrique Couto a little better.

1.) He started making films at an early age. Growing up in Dayton, Ohio, Couto got his first digital video camera when he was 15. Once he was ready, he immediately called his friends and started shooting short films. On Friday nights from 4 p.m. to midnight, the assembled group would go out and record as much footage as they could. The films that he produced are about 20-30 minutes each, with little or no script. Couto would edit the films and put music to them. He even had a friend from the Internet that would create DVD box covers. Using recycled Blockbuster Video cases he found in the dumpster behind the stores, he sold his movies to his classmates in school for a small price. “I still have a few, but I don’t want anyone seeing them,” he said.

2.) He moved to work at a production studio. When he was 18, Couto packed up and moved to New Jersey to work at POP Cinema. While at the production studio, he thrived on traveling to fan expos while promoting DVD releases to fans and distributors. He also did additional editing duties for feature films. The time in New Jersey was life-changing for him, but ultimately, he felt that being back in Dayton was where he should be.

3.) This past year, he committed to being a full-time independent filmmaker. While some would be paralyzed with fear knowing no net is there to catch them, Couto thrives on it. While maintaining the vigorous work schedule that includes filming, editing, writing and setting up meetings, he has also been given an opportunity to work on some other projects and freelance work.  He essentially got the idea of doing his own Western while working in Canada on the film Jesse James: Lawman, starring Kevin Sorbo and Peter Fonda.  Brett Kelly, the film’s director, is slated to help produce Calamity Jane’s Revenge. While working together in Canada, Kelly suggested that it would be good for Couto to direct a Western himself.

4.) Henrique has over sixteen director credits, with ten being featured films. Since the first video he directed in 2003 titled HeadCheese was released, Couto’s resume continues to grow with some great micro-budgeted films. From suspenseful flicks like Bleeding Through to Haunted House on Sorority Row, he has also crafted some holiday-oriented films like A Bulldog For Christmas and Awkward Thanksgiving.  One of his best films to date is the dark comedy Depression: The Movie.  Along with starting shooting on Calamity Jane’s Revenge soon, he’s wrapping up the script and casting for his first romantic movie, Making Out.

5.) Henrique’s work has quite a cult following. With the insane goal of trying to film and produce at least three micro-budgeted films a year, Couto has started to see the hard work pay off. He successfully launched a Kickstarter campaign for Making Out, and the goal was passed in less than 48 hours. At HorrorHound Weekend in Cincinnati last March, people stopped at Couto’s booth, telling him how much they loved his films and asking him what’s next. Several of his films premiered at Englewood Cinemas and were sold-out shows.  Couto’s A Bulldog For Christmas was even featured on television in Europe this past year. As he works with more small budgeted production companies, the opportunities for him will only skyrocket.

6.) He’s got a pretty unique personality. If you happen to come across Couto, you’ll notice he’s got quite a distinguished look. With his unique collection of eyeglasses, handlebar mustache and idiosyncratic choice in clothing, he appears to be a rare breed. His individuality is a refreshing change in a world of carbon copies. As a filmmaker, he embraces his creative side each day – it’s just another reason why so many have become so smitten with him.

7.) He can play a mean ukulele. You could never imagine the sweet strumming of a ukulele can be turned upside down. That’s exactly what Couto does when he hits the stage. He seldom plays live these days, as he spends most of his time making films. From time to time, he’ll blow off the dust, plug in the instrument and perform at various shows and open mics around the area. His performance of Dramarama’s “Anything, Anything (I’ll Give You)” is absolutely mind-blowing.  The energy that he exudes while thrashing on his ukulele always gets the crowd going.

A night behind the scenes at Black Box Improv Theater

Black Box ImprovIt’s Friday night at the Black Box Improv Theater on East Third Street in downtown Dayton. The first of two performances are about to begin within 20 minutes when I walk into the green room with Justin Howard, the theater’s owner.

As we stroll in, the group of performers for this evening’s shows is gathered in somewhat of a circle.  The vibe inside the small quarters is loose; some of the individuals are laughing and swapping stories to one another. Others begin doing a few stretches and some are having a beer to relax.  For some reason, I begin to feel butterflies in my stomach. Some nerves begin to creep up on me.  I’m only a spectator this evening, but it feels like I should be prepping to be a performer also.

Howard offers some well wishes for everyone to have a great show and two of the actors hit the stage to warm up the crowd with a monologue.  The rest of us stay inside the room and wait for the cue to take the stage. Minutes into the opening, we hear the audience’s laughter muffled through the walls. The cast and I try to stay somewhat silent. The cue to hit the stage seems like forever to me, even though it’s only been 10 or 15 minutes. As the monologue comes to a close, the two members come backstage while Howard and the others head out for their turn.

This Friday’s opening act features Howard interviewing a random audience member. The willing participant happens to be a local career center teacher. As Howard conducts the Q&A, the actors listen attentively while standing along the black wall. Some of the actors have their heads down. Others have their eyes locked on the subject.

Chock-full of warmth and compassion, the teacher’s stories are raw material for the actors’ memorable skits. We learn about the teacher’s dedication to provide his students with opportunities that go beyond the classroom. We hear about his children being mystified of a time before cell phones. This translates into improv gold: the actors play out a sketch of a father struggling to receive medical attention, while his children are incapable of operating a landline phone.

After the first set is over, the actors head backstage to the green room for a breather. The cast starts dissecting how things went on stage. They bounce off one another, sharing thoughts they had when they were acting out the sketch. Some of the dialogue fell off at times, some actors noted. Overall, everyone felt that the first half was a success.

In a daring attempt to drum up inspiration for the second act, Howard has randomly picked another audience member to contribute. This time, the cast will go through the selected person’s social media account in front of everyone. Howard selects a female in the crowd and sits down with her. He explains what will happening during the set, and says he simply needs her to accept his friend request on Facebook. After the interaction, Howard returns backstage. He scrolls through her profile while everyone is engrossed with other conversations. He mentions out loud that he thinks they have some good stuff to go with on this next set.

Howard and company return to their audience and explain what will be happen in the next act. A large projection screen hovers on the wall, displaying the audience member’s Facebook page. The photo albums have interesting titles and the photos linked to them, sparking interest from the actors. We hear from the audience member that while joining a sorority, the pairing of her and her “big” (big sister) wasn’t exactly the best match. In addition to this discovery, the skit included a disgusted sorority sister with no interest in her big and vice versa. Meanwhile, two frat brothers continue to pass the sisters, loving that they were paired together.

On this Friday night, laughter from the crowd throughout the evening caused the foundation to tremble slightly. Another round of spectators will leave satisfied in part because of the work put in by the actors. Each person needs to work together in a seamless flow in order for the scene to work. That means the improviser has to define some element of the reality of the scene. Giving another character’s name or identifying a relationship or location is just some of what’s needed to make a sketch perfect. The night’s performances showcased how magical the craft can truly be. It’s something that Howard has been working towards for most of his life.

Graduating from Tippecanoe High School in Tipp City, he was attending Wittenburg University when improv called. With the intention of building a nice career as a salesman, he decided to take an improv class as an elective – and fell in love. He loved it so much in fact that he moved to Chicago after college to further his studies in improv. The Windy City also provided him with opportunities to do some teaching. But even though the big city treated him well, his ultimate goal was to open an improv theater in Dayton. He saw how significant the arts are here and wanted to add more excitement to the area. After moving back to town, he opened The Black Box Improv Theater in July 2012.

The theater has grown in a very short time. Since opening, Howard said that it has gone from being “just parents” in the audience to roughly 40 to 100 people a night. Each show, onlookers gather to see Howard and the actors perform on stage with excitement and joy.

And I want to be one of those performers.

I have signed up to begin improv classes at The Black Box Improv Theater in hopes of becoming a regular performer on the weekend shows.  By going through six weeks of lessons for three hours a week, I’ll learn the basics of improv.  I’ll learn how to work with others on stage in improvised scenes, making sure that I’m allowing the others to perform at their highest potential. I’ll learn how to tell a great story. With each conclusion of the three levels, we will perform a show in front of an actual audience. My first show will take place on April 25.

But after watching the Friday night show, I know I have a lot of work ahead of me. It’s been a while since I last took the stage – high school, to be exact. The world of improv is vastly different from normal theater. I won’t be given any scripted lines to remember. I’m nervous, but also excited. I’ll be taking the stage with no net. For many, that’s a crippling thought. But I am up for the challenge and ready to boldly step into the world of improv.

It’s time to take my place on stage. Let’s hope this doesn’t go too bad.

Want to go?
Improv Sketch Shows
WHERE: Black Box Improv Theater, 518 E. Third St., Dayton
WHEN:  7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
COST:  $5/Thursday, $12/Friday, $15/Saturday
INFO: http://www.daytonblackbox.com/

No More “Silence”; An Interview With Tom Gilliam Of Ghost Town Silence

GTS Live PanoramaGhost Town Silence will take the stage in support of the  release of their EP Shadows at Oregon Express.  Formally The Rebel Set,  the set will mark the end of an era for the band.

Before Ghost Town Silence, the five piece group The Rebel Set formed in  2005 when lead singer/guitarist Tom Gilliam and vocalist/upright bass  Gavin Spencer enlisted members Jason Johantges (rhythm guitar), Adam  Kempf (drums/trumpet) and Ken Hall (keyboards/trombone) to join.  With  the releases of their 2008 debut Ghost Town Silence and the 2009 follow  up Across The Relentless Sea, The Rebel Set saw their live performances at  the local establishments filled to near capacity.  Their fanbase followed  them to every place they played at.  In 2010, Gilliam mentions while we  met up recently that they were at their highest point of being together.  It  was hard to not mention The Rebel Set as being one of the most popular  bands in town.

With all of the work they were putting in around that time, life began to start take over.  What was pretty standard of playing on most weekends now transitioned-with the band performing a few shows during the year.  Most of the members starting having their families grow larger when children started coming.  Johantges made the move to Marysville and has been the most recent to have a baby.  Overall-the band started to shift their focus onto their other responsibilities.

Even with all of the changes happening with each member of the band’s lives, they continued to get together and write music.  In August of 2013, The Rebel Set went into the studio to lay down some songs at In the Red Recording, hopeful to release a full-length.  The first five songs were mix, mastered and put on CD while the last half was still being worked on.  In November while the band was taking a break from recording, Hall made the decision to leave the group to concentrate more on his newborn and his other bands-Human Cannonball and Shrug.  With his parts already done with the first five songs, the second half of the full-length was up in the air.

“(Hall) committed to doing the rest of the album,” Gilliam mentions.  “It was just the other five or six songs were in various levels of completion.  We just let him go.”

The Rebel Set decided to release the finished five songs now planned on being released as an EP titled Shadows.  Right as they were getting prepped to set up photography with EP cover, the band faced even more roadblocks.  In 2010, a Tempe, Arizona band that also went under the name The Rebel Set bought the naming rights to trademark themselves.  The signing of Burger Records, supposed radio airplay with their music overseas, and an upcoming tour propelled the group to send a message to Gilliam requesting him to change his band’s name.  It was also mentioned that legal action would be taken if the adjustment wasn’t made.  The Dayton group could have gone to court and fought to keep the name. Gilliam and the band instead opted to adjust the title.

“It just seem that the time was right for one anyways,” Gilliam said.  “There were all these signs that were saying ‘do it’”.

No longer being allowed to be called The Rebel Set, the band went to work on configuring a new name.  While Gilliam went to work scrolling through the internet, other members began logging down names.  Along with it being the title of their first album and Gilliam simply liking it, Ghost Town Silence had some history.  It was also a lyric in the song “130” and had a huge part to do with the cover.  The choice of Ghost Town Silence was chosen by the band during a practice down in Spencer’s basement.  Before he could declare the name to be a contender, Spencer uttered the name out loud.  Ghost Town Silence was greenlighted from that moment on.

The other business that needed to be taken care of was the departure of Kempf in June of last year.  With accepting a new job occupation, the need to fill in the holes became menacing.  Lucky for Ghost Town Silence, the empty roles that Hall and Kempf held in the band were quickly filled with Nathan Warden on keyboards and drummer Brian Winter.  Warden has been already playing at times with the band, but Winter was brand new.

No longer does the looming cloud of uncertainty covers the band.  Gilliam indicated that there was times when the band’s status as active was seriously in doubt.  All was not lost in that time, though.  With the somewhat hiatus that Ghost Town Silence was ensuing, Gilliam took his passion for photographer to another level.  He started snapping pictures of a variety of subjects; raging from landmarks to various events.  Today-Gilliam currently is the founder of the well-known account DaytonGram.  Sharing the Dayton, Ohio area’s past, present and future through photography & community (aka Instameets).

GTS_Wallet 4p 1CD_right Glue EndWith Winter and Warden being integrated as full-time members of Ghost Town Silence, the duo have brought new life into the band.  Gilliam mentions that has soon as the EP Shadows is released, Ghost Town Silence will be moving on.  The band has been currently working on new material.  With a name change, new members, and an upcoming slot in the upcoming Sideshow festival-it will start a new era.

Shadows is now available at http://ghosttownsilence.bandcamp.com/.

A Call To Arms; An Interview With Tim Anderl Of Arms Race

Arms RaceFor almost twenty years now, Tim Anderl has written some of the most compelling stories and informative interviews for several outlets.  He  has been in contact with artists/bands that span all over the world.  From cutting his teeth in the business as an intern at Alternative Press  magazine to now being frequently featured in publications like Ghettoblaster Magazine and New Noise Magazine-Anderl has spent a large  portion of his life involved in the world of music.  So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone then when you are made aware that Anderl is  also in a band-right here in the heart of Dayton, Ohio.  The band is called Arms Race. This past fall, the foursome released their debut EP  (and one of the best releases in 2014)Brought a Hug to a Gunfight.

The other members of Arms Race; bassist Cole Bohanon, drummer Justin Satinover, guitarist Kris Neises began the work on music together  back in 2013 with another guitarist at the time, Seth Ratliff.  The lineup consists of members from other local bands such as The Black Hearts  of Men, Kris N, Giant Defiant and The 1984 Draft.  Satinover’s basement became the setting to where most of the music started to be written.    As soon as some demos were recorded, Satinover presented them to his 1984 Draft band mate Joe Anderl, who is also Tim’s brother.    Satinover’s intention was to optimistically recruit him to come onboard and sing lead vocals.  Unfortunately due to timing not being ideal to  join at that time, Joe respectfully declined the offer.  He did listen to the demos though and immediately knew who should be contacted-Tim.

“I get this email from Kris saying that him and some buddies of his were playing in this band and were wondering if it would be something I  would be interested in,” Anderl explained during a recent sit down.

It wasn’t going to be the first time Tim was possibly going to be involved in a band.  In college, Anderl performed in another 90s-era emo  band titled Low Pan.  The 5-piece set went on a 10 day tour at one point and also played all over Ohio.  When Anderl graduated from Ohio University, Low Pan parted ways.  After spending some time in Cleveland working and returning back to Dayton, Anderl performed in a few other bands that lasted briefly.

When Anderl started listening to the instrumental demos, the sound coming out echoed the classic definitive sound that the 90s emo scene provided.  The songs reminded him of the days when while he was growing up in Beavercreek as he would attend D.I.Y. basement/hall shows around the surrounding area.  Memories of listening to bands like Texas Is The Reason and Braid began to resurface when the demos rolled on.  It has been ten years since he last performed in a band.  However-Anderl was hooked and agreed to join.  Shortly after Anderl integrating himself within Arms Race and they began playing a little, Ratliff exited from being in the band due to becoming busier in another band was in and also getting married.  With Ratliff’s departure, Arms Race made the decision to keep things were they were.
In July 2014, Arms Race went to work on recording Brought a Hug to a Gunfight at Popside Recordings Studio in Troy with ex-Hawthorne Heights’ guitarist Micah Carli.  While recording, Carli stepped in a little to play some guitar to add some layers.  The end result is an EP that influences include mid-90s alt-rock, grunge and emo.  With Neises recording Thankful Parade with his other band Kris N in 2013, along with Joe Anderl and Satinover’s The 1984 Draft recording the EP Bo Jackson Up The Middle in 2014, the choice to work with Carli was a simple decision.

“He’s so easy to work with and was just a nice person,” Anderl said.  “He also has such amazing equipment.”

Among Columbus and Dayton already under their belts, Arms Race plan to play more shows hopefully in 2015.  An LP being recorded with Carli has also been discussed, but for now Arms Race plans on staying focused on writing new songs and having their performances stay as strong as possible.  If Arms Race were to never have gone to the studio, play live, or simply do anything but just jam with really no intention of doing anything-Anderl would have been okay with that also.

“It felt like the kind of band that could be really fun to practice with and never play a show live,” Anderl says.  “Once we graduated to actually doing things in public-that was icing on the cake.”

For more information and to hear the band’s EP, Brought a Hug to a Gunfight, visit soundcloud.com/arms-race-dayton-ohio.


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