Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Central Park Reunion

On Sunday June 12, my 2nd Sunday off with my new work schedule, I got the opportunity to realize how wonderful it is to be active in my church again.

It all began the Wednesday night before (June 8). After the evening bible study and children's ministry program was over I wandered into the church sanctuary. The college age kids from the church were rearranging and decorating the front platform for Vacation Bible School which began the following Monday. The theme for this year's VBS was "Big Apple Adventure" which was based on the people, places and things in New York City.

Being from New Jersey, I am quite familiar with New York City; at least more familiar than the average Kentucky resident. Our associate pastor, Mark, is from Buffalo,NY  so he's knows the city as well.

In a moment that happened rather spontaneously, Mark and I started having a conversation using exaggerated New York accents and catch phrases. We said things like "I'm walkin here" and "yous guys". We were just fooling around trying to make the college kids laugh. I had fun improvising my favorite way to get laughs. After it was over I didn't think any more about it.

The next day Pastor Mark called me and asked if I'd be interested in writing and performing a sketch using the "characters' we did the night before. It would be a means of promoting VBS during the next Sunday's morning worship service.  Anxious to become "active" on Sunday morning again I jumped at the chance.

Immediately my mind became flooded with ideas that included more catch phrases, cultural icons, and jokes that were associated with New York City. I then came up with a believable sitation where they could be used.
I jotted them all down and later began writing the sketch. It came to me easily and quickly. Writing the sketch was one of the best creative experiences I've had in quite a while. The words just flowed from my mind, through my fingers on to the computer screen.

I wrote what I imagined to be a conversation between a pair of guys, who were buddies in high school and  run into each other, years later, in Central Park. I used the names "Vinnie Gandalfo" (the name of one of my favorite roller derby players from when I was a kid) and "Kevin O'leary" for the characters. I figured 2 guys of Italian and Irish decent would be examples of your typical New Yorkers. As Pastor Mark had suggested I ended it with the characters singing the song "New York, New York".

Because of our individual schedules Pastor Mark and I couldn't get together to even read through the play until 6 o'clock on the Saturday night before our scheduled Sunday morning performance.

We decided to use the short version of the sketch. The long version had a few more jokes and lots of references to the Yankees. (What can I say I'm a true blue Yankees fan?) Also, at Mark's suggestion, we decided to sing along to a Frank Sinatra version of "New York, New York" rather than use the Karaoke version I had on my IPod. That turned out to be a good decision.

I really have to tell you I truly believe God had his hand in this whole process because of how smooth it all went. We quickly memorized our lines and staged our movements so that it was about as good as it was going to get given the very limited preparation time. 
The next morning during the Sunday service, right after the children's sermon, we did the sketch. The congregation, including our target audience, the kids, really loved the whole thing. They enjoyed the jokes and laughed at the right places. Even an ad lib of mine after a 10 second ear piercing sound system feedback got a good laugh.

When we began our musical number with a two man kick line the crowd gave us our biggest laugh and a smattering of applause.

It went so well that the next Sunday evening at the closing ceremonies we did "Central Park Reunion, Part 2." We prerecorded it on video because Mark left for his vacation the day before.

I've written all of that to write this. This New York sketch was a real learning experience for me. It helped me realize some of the things I need to work on for my ventriloquist act.

First of all, I have learned that it's okay to write jokes for "the other guy". I know I've been writing jokes for my vent puppets for 5 years but essentially it was me saying both the straight lines and punchlines. But this sketch helped me realize that what it's like to allow another person to be funny with jokes I write. It's okay for the other guy to get the laughs; as long as someone does. In the future I need to approach my ventriloquist act like it's a comedy sketch between two "actual" people and not just me speaking in two voices.

Also I learned the importance of expression through movement; exaggerated movement. As I watched the video of the Sunday morning sketch I saw that Pastor Mark was much more animated than I was on stage. His physical movements that accompanied his lines made him more believable.

Not only did this observation lead me to be a bit more animated during our 2nd sketch, it illustrated to me the importance of conveying a vent puppet's character and attitude through movement.

In the art of ventriloquism this is called "manipulation". The skill of making a puppet seem alive and communicate his, her or it's personality through movement and body language is very important. I never realized just how important until my experience with the "Central Park Reunion" sketches.

I've also learned that the best thing you can write about is what you know. I wrote a pair of pretty good sketches with New York characters in them because I know New York. In the future I should try to write what I know for my characters. This means I need to get to know the characters.

There are a few more things I've learned but I won't go into them now. I've written quite a bit already.

I just want to say "thanks" to Pastor Mark for his faith in me as a comedy writer and his contributions to the sketches that made them as good as they were. I couldn't have done it without him. Also, "Thank You, New York". Yous two guys is da greatest.

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