Improv

Michael Davenport! West Coast Trip Part 2


I've been hanging out with Deja Sue for a couple days now. We've hit San Fransisco for two burlesque shows. I've gotten tattooed. Photographed two tattoo shops. Seen Pismo Beach. And now Deja and I are driving to Sacramento which brings us to my next good friend, Funny Mike D, Michael Davenport.

Mike and I in a booth at the Pick Me Up Cafe in Chicago. Photo by Steven Townshed, with whom we were discussing art, women, and... that was probably it.

Mike always had good facial expressions. He's often compared to Jim Carrey.


Mike and I met in our first improv class at the Annoyance Theater. This was the same class Deja Sue and I were in. We all met at the same time.


Mike and I fell right in together. We'd do improv scenes and we absolutely could not keep from breaking. Every scene. It was terrible. I don't know if that means we were really funny, or just terrible actors. Probably somewhere in between.


I was dating my first girlfriend around that time. Deanna. Mike was a dog walker and used to walk a dog near my apartment. Every other day he'd come by with a dog and we'd walk and talk life, improv, and girls. He gave me the false confidence that when Deanna and I broke up I'd be just fine. I wasn't. But I had Mike. And honestly, with how long we've been friends, I got the best end of the deal.


Mike and I took every class in Chicago that we could. We'd often set a goal to break an instructors lesson. That sounds like dickish move, but it was really effective and helpful. The premise was, whatever the instructor asked us to do we'd go way over the top with it. If the goal was to find "objects" in the "space", we'd go around touching everything. If the goal was to play an emotion hard, we'd take it as far as one possibly could. If the goal was to have no silence between dialogue, there was no silence. We were always pushing. Trying to be as good as we could. 

There is nobody I trust more to push the boundaries than Mike Davenport.


We had one class with Susan Messing and everyone had to get into pairs to do a longer form two person scene with a Q&A in character with everyone in the class. Immediately we snapped into what would become a recurring set of characters for us. Jack-O and Landrover. Our characters cooked meth in our grandmothers basement, and every scene ended up with us wrestling on the floor. Basically we invented Breaking Bad.


At some point, I started getting stage fright. I could no longer perform on stage. I started pulling away from the community. I was ashamed and didn't know how to handle my anxiety. Mike never stopped believing in me. He would often ask me to direct, or take part in whatever he was doing. That led to the greatest directing experience of my life. Melange. We did a short run at The Second City on the ETC stage, and that group killed it. Every once in awhile during rehearsals I'd jump in and play. I never felt uncomfortable with that group. And Mike was a big part of it.


But hat only paints part of the picture. Mike was also one of the biggest fuck ups I ever met. He would drink until he was passed out in someones lawn. He lost several jobs, and had to move around a bunch. There was a brief time while unemployed that Mike would board the CTA in the morning during rush hour and tell jokes for money. I don't know that he ever made back his train fare, but he hustled.


After a few particularly bad benders, Mike came to live with me. I lived in a two bedroom place at the time and had recently broken up with my second girlfriend. Mike and I became roommates. That was a difficult time. Mike had an abscess in his *mouth and his body was literally poisoning itself. Mike would have loud nightmares. Or he would come home absolutely shitfaced. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a difficult time to be his friend. Every day I dreamed of kicking him out. 
But Mike was my friend, and if I have a fault it's giving my friends a really, really long leash.

*Eventually Mike got his tooth fixed and wouldn't you know it, he started feeling a lot better.

Before Mike's wedding, we dragged him down to a river and baptized him. Ray did the honors, being the minister/officiant. 


Eventually Mike moved out, and then decided he was stagnating in Chicago and needed to move for a new challenge. He picked up and moved to Oakland. "A dumb idea" I thought at the time.
We would talk on the phone about some show he was trying to put together or some improv team he was trying to join. I remember after he had burned some bridges with a local group he decided to form his own theater. He put together some improvisors and found some jazz sax player and a poet to perform at an art gallery. That sounded interesting. Then Mike started talking about going to kinko's and making flyers and how he was walking all over town promoting this show. He'd talk to everybody.


And slowly that became a thing. Mike worked his ass off promoting, teaching, and performing until he finally had The Magic Jester Theater. He had a troupe of people following his lead. With the distance between us, it was harder to notice subtle change. All I saw was Mike going from a crazy uncontrollable force, to a focused mindful artist.


He would eventually meet his wife through that theater. That's a phrase I never thought I'd write. But it's amazing. I'm so happy for Mike, as I was standing up at his wedding.

Mike and his wife Jessica on their wedding day. I stood up for this guy!


Eventually his wife got an amazing job in Sacramento. Mike had to leave his theater behind, but he's unstoppable. He started another theater in Sacramento that is growing. Morpho Theater. I couldn't be more proud of my friend. Mike, I love you. We've been through so much together, and I look forward to going through more.
 

My friend Mike and his wife Jessica. I love them both so much.

Chuck

Click for larger versionWell I don't know what it is about guys holding beer, but I seem to get a lot of shots of it.  Maybe I'll put together a show of guys with beer some day. 

Anyway, this is my friend Chuck who I see about once a year usually at the Phoenix Improv Festival.  He's a very talented improviser who performs out of Wisconsin and Minnesota.  He was in town this year to teach an improv masters class, but sat in with Joker and Jester and then later performed in a "Bat" which is basically improv in the dark (not a good show for picture taking ;).

This shot was taken after those shows had wrapped.  Chuck snapped into this "determined" pose after he saw me approaching with the camera.  The ambient light in the theater was very dark as it was the festivals party time, so I shot this at ISO 1600 f/2.8 1/100th.  I really like balance created by the two lights in the upper left.  I went with black and white in this image because some of the lighting was gelled and generated an ugly color cast.  As with any ISO 1600 image, we get a lot of grain.  Some people love grain, others hate it.  I'll hold my opinion for now and ask what do you think of the grain?

If you've got any questions or feedback feel free to leave a comment.

Thanks for stopping by,
Greg Inda

PIF 8

This past weekend I was in Phoenix for the eighth Phoenix Improv Festival (PIF).  I've been going for the past couple of years to perform with the Phoenix Neutrino Project and run lights and sound for Chicago's Bare.

This year the festival took place at the Herberger, a beautiful theater in downtown Phoenix.  It had 3 seating levels including the main floor, mezzanine, and balcony.  It provided a ton of great shooting angles, but my favorite quickly became level 2.  It was high enough to isolate the performers on clean backgrounds, yet low enough to still get facial expressions. I chose to shoot mostly from the "house left" side as it allowed me to use the festivals logo as a background element.  Its always important to me that I give a context or a sense of place, and that logo brings those elements together.

Shooting in theaters can be challenging depending on the lighting.  Some shows are very bright, some are dark, and it's often out of your hands.  The stage at PIF had a lot of gelled light which put some wonderful colors on the performers, but it did cut down the power.  Flash was not allowed, so I shot at ISO 1600 often at f/4.5 and 1/60th.

Below are two photos from the festival that were shot from the 2nd level with the goal of isolating the performers against a clean background that offered some context.  I'd love to hear your feedback in the form of a comment.

ToySoup out of Salt Lake City, Utah. One of the festival highlights.COG from LA's iO West, a perennial festival favorite in their last show.Thanks for stopping by,
Greg Inda