Wednesday, August 28, 2013

I think I'm getting out of my head.

Improv Class Appears to be Working.

This is part two of the blog story from a couple weeks ago. Remember  when I talked about my experience at the beginning of a six week introduction course into the art of improv? At the time, I was struggling with, as I have been for a while, getting out of my head. It's a term in the acting world used to describe someone that over thinks everything and is always on the defense. I can say that describes me to a T.

As I was entering this brave new world I came to the conclusion that my behavior was induced by working in the public relations field for so many years and having to always be on the defensive, carefully choosing my words so as not to be taken out of context or interpreted differently than I had intended. My job was always on the line.

Fast Forward to week five of improv class. I do believe that the process has begun.
This kind of reminds me of a song I played on the radio as a DJ many years ago by Little Anthony and the Imperials – I Think I'm Going Out of My Head.

I'm still in my head but giving myself permission to speak freely without over thinking is an evolving process. It's not going to happen overnight. In improv class it has become easier each week. I think a lot of that has been due to familiarity with the team (other students). As we become accustomed to each other, our thought processes and personalities, we find ourselves becoming more spontaneous and not having to think about our responses. For me that is exactly how I interpret things. Again, I could be over thinking this, but it gives me pleasure knowing that I am, at times, able to just be me. Unfortunately, there are always going to be those “foot in mouth” moments when you say something that you wish you hadn't. I guess that comes with the territory.

As we near the end of the six week class we are starting to work on character development. For characters we repeat what we already know with a few embellishments. It's actually quite simple but takes practice. I found it quite easy to be a character when called upon as long as I allowed myself to just let it flow. Once I started to think about it – wham. I froze up.

Lesson learned: Characters are drawn from things we know and experiences we have had. There is nothing new and we don't need to create. So, I guess the fact that I'm the oldest guy in the class should mean that I should be able to draw upon a ton of life experiences and develop many characters. 

DVD Cover Image - Grumpy Old Men
Now, I'm asking myself the question: What kind of characters or roles should I pursue? I got it. Grumpy Old Man Improv. I would be perfect. I could just be myself. Besides me own experiences to drawn upon, who would be my role models? Why Walter and Jack, of course.

Now, will you kids just get off my lawn and wipe that silly grin off your face.  

Thursday, August 22, 2013

My top five voices of influence...

and they're not the ones you might think.

Who are the voices that I have most admired in my lifetime? Most people in the voiceover world will toss out names like LaFontaine, Blanc, Cullin, Hermann, LaMarche, Adler, Brick, Foray etc. For me the names are somewhat different and for various reasons, not necessarily because they were voiceover talents, but because they were extremely creative and talented men. Yes, men. I think that's beacuse I admired them and looked up to them as role models. So, these are my top five:

5.Arthur Godfrey – He was the champion of conversation (and controversy). Starting first on the radio and then embracing television, Godfrey was the person that I was often referred to as a young radio broadcaster. I was told that if I wanted to succeed in radio I needed to develop a conversational style, one the listener could relate to. People told me that I needed to pay careful attention to how Arthur Godfrey handled conversation and an interview. Surprisingly his radio broadcasts lasted until 1972. So his style of interview and chatter was readily available to a guy like me that had only become interested in broadcasting ten years earlier. Arthur Godfrey made you feel that he was speaking directly to you.

4. Ken Nordine – When I first heard “Word Jazz” and “Son of Word Jazz” many years ago I was most impressed with the voice behind what has been called “beat poetry.” Nordine established himself very early and was on the pop charts in the mid fifties appearing on Billy Vaughn's album “Song of the West” and a very popular hit recording of “Shifting Whispering Sands.”

Best of Chickenman Cover

3. Dick Orkin – No, not the Orkin man. In my teen years I was an avid listener of the big 50,000 watt radio stations WCFL in Chicago and WKBW in Buffalo. Dick Orkin was a staffer at WCFL along with Jim Runyan and Jane Roberts. They created Chickenman and later The Tooth Fairy for WCFL. The series became so popular that Orkin created a syndication company and started distributing the radio comedy series to other stations across the country including WKBW. Orkin is brilliant.

2 William Conrad – Gunsmoke was still running on the radio at the time I got interested in broadcasting, as was Suspense and Yours Truly Johnny Dollar, the last of the first wave of radio dramas. CBS later resurrected radio drama with Hyman Brown's Mystery Theater. To me William Conrad was the voice actor of voice actors. His portrayal of Matt Dillon was in my opinion far superior to anything James Arness could do for the television role. The nuances with is voice and the way he handled the character was top shelf in my book. I followed his career to TV with Cannon and Jake and the Fat Man, and others. Later, thanks to transcription recordings, I discovered his contributions to CBS's Suspense and another high adventure series titled Escape.

1. Stan Freberg – When I first heard his version of The Yellow Rose of Texas I knew that his bizarre sense of humor was going to be one of my favorites for a lifetime. Later he created, with the help of Sarah Vaughn the “Who Listens to Radio” campaign for the Radio Advertising Bureau in which he drained Lake Michigan and then filled it with Hot Chocolate, topped it with whipped cream and the Royal Canadian Air Force flew over to drop a ten ton maraschino cherry on top (woosh).

Be sure you play the link to that skit below. Brilliant!

Monday, August 12, 2013

I can do this...

 but first I need to “get out of my head.”

About a month ago I was given an opportunity through a casual friend I met at Faffcon 3 in Harrisburg, PA. Faffcon is a gathering a of voice actors and actresses who assemble to work on professional improvement through a series of non-conference type workshops. Peter Kappesser, known by his voiceover stage name Peter Katt, invited me to check out Salt City Improv's introductory class. Peter told me that he decided to take the class and others offered, extolling the benefits of improv to a voice actor. He liked it so much that he joined the troupe and regularly performs on stage at the Syracuse based theater. I was hesitant, but since others have also suggested improv's benefits I decided to take the intro class which lead to my enrollment in a six week basic improv series with instructor Jeff Kinsler. I don't think Jeff realized what a challenge I would be when he accepted me as student of improv.

Since I'm rapidly approaching the mid-way point in the six week class, I decided to describe my experience to-date, sharing what I have learned and the challenges ahead for a sixty-six year old who is still stuck in his head.

Gems I have learned

  1. Improv is not as easy as it looks.
  2. “Yes, and” are two very powerful words.
  3. Being a “good listener” is crucial to improv and life for that matter..
  4. It's not about me, it's about the team.
  5. Over-thinking is learned and they say it can be “un-learned.”.
I want start with numbers one, four, and five. In life, I tend to carefully think out what I want to say and how to say it so as not to offend or be singled out. That's what I call the “political science” approach. I am constantly over-thinking and analyzing. I have realized it's a conditioned approach I have acquired through life and through past jobs where I had to think and speak that way. I don't think I was this way when I was younger or even in my early days of broadcasting when I was a live, outspoken performer on the radio. As I look back, I see that improv was part of what I did. Young people have not learned to put that guard up yet, which makes it easier for them to do improv. Their imagination flows freely. I keep telling myself (and so does instructor Jeff) that I need to “get out of my head.” To date I haven't mastered it. I'm wondering if I ever will. I think it also has a lot to do with being part of team, something that's pretty foreign to me, having never been interested in or rarely participated in a team sport. Jeff says that the mind can only think about one thing at a time and that if I focus my mind on another activity, such as making silly movements or gestures that the words will come freely. It's easy for him to say. They don't. If I don't think, the words don't even seem to come out.

Numbers two and three are lessons I will take from improv and they will be forever part of my life, not just during class. The home work assignment from an early class was to utilize the “yes, and” technique in real life situations. Believe me. They are very powerful. In a conversation, you “yes” or acknowledge and accept what the other person has said and then you add to it. “Yes, and let me add to that by saying...” is more powerful than “Yes, but I like green better than blue.” “Yes, but” kills a conversation. “Yes, and” builds a conversation. If you haven't listened clearly, you can't very well do “Yes, and.” Yes and I have heard and accept what you said and add to that by saying...

So, the improv experience has already given me tools I can use. Time will tell if I will ever be able to “get out of my head.” 

 To be continued...

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Five Advertising Lies

That'll suck you in every time.

Free with Purchase
One man I had the opportunity to work for in my broadcasting career was Jim Graham. Jim was an early television veteran, “working his way up,” with the Dumont Network. He died several years ago and wasn't a pleasant man to work for. He had some steadfast rules when it came to advertising and the local community had a difficult time adjusting to them. He would never allow any advertising to run on the radio stations he managed offering: “Free with purchase.” He believed that if you have to pay money (buy something ) to get something for free, then that item is not free. So that would be false advertising. I agree and still do. It's only free if that person offering it will give it to you at no charge just for the asking. The proper phrasing would be “offered at no additional charge.” BOGO is an incarnation of this lie. Buy one, get one is only a lie if you add the word free. If you simply modify that buy saying “at no additional charge,” it's perfectly OK to do. But, the advertisers seldom do.

Images of various advertising offers

Nine tenths of a cent does not equal a penny. The gasoline industry has been doing this since the 1920s. It's rounded off anyway when you reach the register or pay at the pump. So it is one big lie. To make you think that $3.49 9/10 is not really $3.50. Show me how I can pay you 9/10 of a cent and I'll retract this.

BUZZ Words
Buzz words that mean nothing. They might as well be lies like: Super, King Size, Improved, Deluxe, Economy, Lite, Zesty and on and on. What did you do to the product to make it “New and Improved?” Why is it now a “deluxe” package? What makes it a “king size” or a “fun size” for that matter?” Please tell me how a beer or carbonated beverage can be “crisp.”

Offer ends soon order before midnight tonight. If you believe that lie, I have bridge that I'll sell you in the Mohave Desert. Never mind. The London Bridge is there at Lake Havasu City and is not for sale.

Gratuity included.

Wait a minute. It's not a gratuity if you add it as a charge. If I feel like be gratuitous or that your service is worthy of an extra cash bonus, then that's my choice, not your mandate. I will decide how much, thank you.