Tom O’Connor

Fade Out

A small but influential “Blackbox” theater in Hollywood closed its doors tonight for good. This isn’t an unusual happening here in Los Angeles, in fact, small theaters “go permanently dark” with alarming regularity. …but this time it was different. This time it was my theater.

By “mine” I don’t mean I had any financial stake in the place, I didn’t pay the bills. I just showed up there. A lot. For nearly 15 years. I had done some improv classes before, both in Boston and when I first got to LA. I had also done a tiny bit of stand-up in Boston, but not much. After a couple rounds of improv classes at some of the better-known LA improv venues, I audited a class at bang. that was being taught by the founder & creative director, Aliza Murrieta. Within ten minutes I knew that I had found the place I needed to find. I started as a student and went though the program & graduation like most people would but then — I didn’t leave. I stuck around for years of “Master Classes,” weaseled my way into more shows than I could possibly list here, became a teacher and even, for a little while, an actual “Board Member.”

Bang was special because they wanted “alumni” to keep contributing. No idea was too outlandish to pitch to Aliza. A 36-hour improv marathon? Sure! ….oh, you’ve never done more than 10 minutes of stand-up but you want to do a one-hour one-man show? We’ll give you a Saturday night slot! I couldn’t have asked for a better, safer place to really figure my shit out, to “fail epically” a million times and still feel welcome back on the stage to do battle again. As I said, I couldn’t possibly name all the shows I was a part of, or all of the great people I performed with… There is just too much to remember.

As often happens when humans congregate regularly, bang. became more than just a theater for many of us. I agree that the whole “family” thing is a cliche’ but one thing you do need in a big anonymous city like LA is a central place for your creative self that also gives you some real human connections. A “home field” kind of place. So bang. wasn’t just about the shows & the comedy. Some of the longest-enduring friendships of my life were started there. We’ve attended weddings, and funerals together. Nearly every paying job I’ve had in the past decade has come from a bang. connection. Heck, I even (accidentally) made my first, and I’m pretty sure only, real “enemy” there… a painful, but very useful lesson. What I’m saying is, okay, I’ll avoid the word “family,” but I’m going to have to go ahead with the word “community,” because that is what it was, a very family-like community. There is just one problem with being the “best-kept comedy secret” in Los Angeles…. No one knows you exist.

Tonight’s last show was, fittingly, a Student Group Graduation night followed by an alumni jam. Nothing fancy, just bang doing what it always did: Improv for Improv’s sake. I’ll miss it. It would be lying to say otherwise, but I also know that it would be doing all of my improv training a disservice if I didn’t keep looking forward and saying “yes, and…” to whatever is going to come next.  …because something always comes next.

Dawn of a new day.

This is what dawn looks like from my front door.

I’ve always been a nightowl. Even as a child, I preferred to stay up late and sleep in. I know this isn’t at all uncommon, especially for Americans. Lately though, my nightowly ways seem to have magically shifted and I find myself waking up before the alarm on a shockingly regular basis. I promise you this was not planned… but I have grown to like it. Stranger still, I find myself able to really focus and write in these early-morning hours, before coffee, before checking email and facebook etc. It is almost like discovering a new muscle. I’m not quite ready to start strapping on my sneakers for early AM runs just yet… but who knows?

Creative work has been going well, even if I haven’t gotten around to posting about it lately.

  • I’m five weeks in to teaching an improv class at bang. At our theater ‘level 2’ is all about “characters” – how to create them instantly and how to (hopefully) hang on to them for the duration of a scene, or even for an entire long-form set. I love teaching this stuff because I’m not an improvisor who creates a lot of big or cartoonish characters… but even “small” characters are insanely important to a good scene or set… more important than any “plot” or “conflict” you could come up with. Create a person with a point-of-view or a consistent attitude/worldview and trust me: The “plot” will take care of itself.
  • So far this calendar year, I’ve written two spec sitcom pilots and outlined two new comedy feature ideas. That would be bragging if I felt like I could take credit for any of it. I honestly don’t know where all this output is coming from. In fact, I’m afraid to over-think it, for fear it might evaporate…. so that sound you hear is me typing as much as possible, as fast as possible.
  • Still booking shows and doing readings around Los Angeles every chance I get. This Friday I’ll be returning to The PEZ Show at Actor’s Comedy Studio. A great show in an awesome little space. Some other shows are in the process of being booked for April and May. Stay tuned for those.

I sense that some positive and long-awaited changes are coming. Can you feel it?

Used to the Muse.

By almost any standard, 2012 is off to a good start.

Creatively I was visited, and a bit roughed-up by, “The Muse” all through the month of January, and I’m not complaining about it. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not really a  touchy-feely, new-age guy, but I’m having trouble finding a rational explanation for what occurred. In less than 30 days after New Year’s Eve,  I managed to write – from blank screen to finished script – not one, but two “spec sitcom pilots” … a feat that would normally take me half a year. Odder still is the fact that these two scripts didn’t spring out of ideas I had been mulling around for a while etc. …no, they both came to me like they were being downloaded directly into my head. No kidding. It was an exhilarating and unfortunately very rare feeling. I simply couldn’t type fast enough to get it all down – and I can type hella-fast. This would only be bragging if I pretended I understood it and was trying to take credit for it. More than anything else – I’m just grateful for the experience when it happens. And yes, the scripts have started “going out” and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive so far… although no one has busted out their checkbook…. yet.

My January performance at Comedy Central’s “Sit n Spin” show went well. I hope to have the video posted to my Funny or Die page in a week or so. Looking forward on the calendar, I’ve booked a return engagement at the PEZ Show, Alex Alexander’s great ‘readings’ show at the Actor’s Comedy Studio, and I’ve submitted material to a couple of other shows on new (for me) stages. Will keep you posted on all that… and keep an eye on my “Performance Calendar” over here on the right –>

And last/not least:  I’ll be teaching a new “level 2” improv class at Bang starting next week which I’m sure will be the fun highlight of my week for the next 2 months… I just have to make sure it is equally fun for the students.

Welcome to 2012

The new year is less than a week old and already plenty busy. Before I get to all that, I’ll do a quick recap of the year we just wrapped up.

I would be lying if I said 2011 wasn’t a challenging year. Just like nearly everyone else I know, I dealt with a lot of changes – some good. some bad, some just different, but when all things are considered 2011 was a much better year than 2009 and 2010 so we’re clearly trending in the right direction. Some highlights:

  • I did a lot of shows all over Los Angeles – mostly “reading/essay” shows, which got me on some new stages, introduced me to some new people all over town and, since some of the shows were recorded for various podcasts, got me a bit more into the ears of the world’s cyber-citizens.
  • TWO of my spec ‘sitcom pilots’ were recognized in 2 different writing contests,  which raised my profile a little bit and gave me an excuse to finally travel to Austin Texas for their unbelievably awesome film festival.
  • I picked up some interesting freelance work – “adapting” the scripts of some Japanese anime feature films for their english-language DVD releases.
  • I had a lot of fun teaching some very funny & creative people in both improv and writing classes.
  • I wrote. a lot. You have no idea how much time I spent sitting right here, typing away… which is one of my favorite pastimes.
  • My home-away-from-home; Bang comedy theater got a big injection of new people, ideas & energy. This is always a good thing and it has definitely increased my excitement to “get down to the theater” just to see what is going to happen next.
  • I put my long-running punk-rock advice blog, Ask A Punk on “extended hiatus” after three and a half years of weekly posts (never missed a deadline people!) I didn’t take the site down, so if you’re interested, you can still go check it out and read every post. I’m still getting mail from some readers, which is nice, and I tell them the same thing I’ll tell you: I reserve the right to start it back up at any time… so stay tuned.
  • I entered the world of podcasting with an East Coast friend and, even though we’re still developing our ideas, it has been a lot of fun taking on the new challenge – both technically and creatively.
  • I saw Bigfoot. Twice.

Looking ahead now to 2012:

  • I already have some exciting shows scheduled (see the calendar link to the right of this post) including, in a few weeks, a return engagement at Comedy Central’s “Sit n Spin” show… one of my very favorite gigs here in Los Angeles.
  • Next week I start teaching a ‘level 2’ improv class at Bang.
  • I’m in the final draft stage of yet another spec sitcom pilot and the outlining stage of the one after that.
  •  Even though I put AAP on hiatus,  I’m still hitting my weekly deadlines on my cartoon blog, Another LA Cartoon. The feedback I’ve gotten on that has been thrilling and there might, might even be a small “gallery showing” in my future. More on that as it develops.

I hope 2012 is a great  year for you, for me & for everyone.

( PS: OK, I didn’t see Bigfoot. )

September News & Comment.

Greetings. In an effort to (for once) not bury the lead, I’ll let everyone know that the big news is this: One of my scripts  has “advanced” through the competition in the Austin Film Festival’s top-notch screenwriting contest. My submission in the “Original Sitcom Pilot” category made it into the top 10% of entries (out of nearly 6000) which is, apparently, a big enough deal to land me an invitation to the festival along with some “special access.” Who can say no to special access? …so I’m now mapping out a late-October trip to Texas, my first-ever visit to the Lone Star State. And since I’m being a bit self-aggrandizing with all this, I’ll mention just one more thing: The script that did so well in this contest is a different “sitcom pilot” than the one that was a ‘finalist’ in the LA Comedy Shorts screenwriting competition last Spring… so that’s two respectable showings for two separate scripts in just a few months. Not bad, and I’ll take it… sooner or later, people are going to notice these sorts of things.

More than telling the world or blowing my own horn, the preceding paragraph was mostly written for my own benefit – I sometimes need to remind myself that I do know what I’m doing when I sit down at the keyboard. Lately I’ve been wrestling with a 3rd draft of a script that just isn’t working… and it seems that the universe itself is telling me that this particular idea/script just isn’t going to come together in a satisfactory way. These things happen of course, but they can really take the wind out of a guy’s sails… but we keep typing/rowing until the wind finally picks up again to launch us in new directions.

And finally: Check out the calendar of upcoming shows (to the right –>)

I’ve got another reading/essay show coming up on Friday 9/30 and I’m very psyched for it. Come on by if you’re in LA (but call ahead, this show sells out every time.)

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