Tag Archives: Chicago

Get your towels ready.

10 Dec

achievement-unlocked-template

I have accepted an offer to be a music director for Second City Theatricals aboard a cruise ship.

When I was preparing to move to Chicago, people told me that this work existed, and that I’d have a good chance at it. Getting this gig was a short- to medium-term goal for me, and I’m pretty damn happy: it’s a recognisable standard for music directors in Chicago and a great basis for landing future projects.

This contract is also a big reason I moved to the US: New Zealand doesn’t have this volume of work for comedy music directors. Chicago really is the centre of the universe for the most niche skill I have.

600-norwegian-dawn-Cruising-NYCI will be on the Norwegian Dawn from 21 February to 29 July 2016, with a one-month hiatus while the ship is in dry dock. In the spring, I’ll be plying my trade on the New Orleans-Cozumel-Roatán-Belize-Costa Maya-New Orleans route, and in the summer I’ll do Boston-Bermuda-Boston.

This is great for a whole bunch of reasons:
– I’ve always wanted to work on a cruise ship – or even set foot on one. I’ve never had the chance up until now.
– Out of all the cities in the United States I haven’t yet been to, the two highest on my list are New Orleans and Boston. And they’re just landing in my lap!
– I get to do improv and sketch full-time… for a time.
– Free board, free food. I should be able to save money pretty well.
– I escape Chicago’s winter in the middle of February. Yes please. Given that winter hasn’t properly started yet and it’s mid-December, it’s probably going to last quite late into April & May. Glad to leave that behind.

In the meantime, I still have plenty going on in Chicago. Come to some of my shows!

Hitch*Cocktails: every Friday 10pm, The Annoyance Theater, It’s an improvised Alfred Hitchcock-style thriller/drinking game. Tickets $20/$15, book here because we often sell out over the holidays.

VAMP: every Friday & Saturday 10:30pm, MCL Chicago. It’s all short-form musical improv. I lead a four-piece band for Saturday night shows, and the rotation of improvising singers are freaking amazing. Tickets $15, book here including for my birthday VAMP on Saturday 12 December, and a free show we’re videoing on Sunday 13 December.

The Great Annoyance Melodrama and Vaudeville Revue: Sundays 8pm, until 27 December, The Annoyance Theater. It’s a traditionally hokey Christmas story about a small town, a tall tree, and a meddling villain. Written and directed by C.J. Tuor of Hitch*Cocktails fame, I’m the composer and music director.Ask-Your-Doctor-Poster-400x499$12/$8, book here, it’s family-friendly!

Ask Your Doctor: Thursdays 8pm, 7 January to 11 February, The Annoyance Theater. It’s a brand new musical about pharmaceutical sales reps and the dodgy shit they do. Written and directed by Jillian Mueller, I’m the composer and music director. $20/$15, book here, we’re currently in previews.

PlayGround Zero: Fridays 7:30, 8 January to 5 February, De Maat Studio, Second City. This is a Writing 6 graduation show, written by students who have done the full one-year course at the Second City Training Center. Directed by Aaron Sjöholm, I’m their music director and composer. $12, book here.

And I’ll leave you with this video.

Where is home?

22 Apr

The first Google Image Search result for "home", because every blog post is supposed to have an image because of search engine stuff or Facebook or whatever. Source: moneysmart.gov.au

The first Google Image Search result for “home”, because every blog post is supposed to have an image because of search engine stuff or Facebook or whatever. Source: moneysmart.gov.au

Where is home? I’ve flippantly said “Home is where your stuff is”, but that’s not the whole picture.

When you move countries, when do you actually move? When do you comprehensively separate day-to-day ties with your previous country and properly integrate into the new? This is a thorny question given that I came back to New Zealand for a two-week trip less than three months after settling in Chicago.

I’ve got all sorts of contending dates.
– 27 December 2014: when I entered the United States on an immigrant visa and became a resident alien.
– 5 January 2015: when I reached my new home city of Chicago, and the room in my apartment.
– 7 January 2015: when I bought a bed in Chicago
– 14 January 2015: when I spent $573 at IKEA in Chicago on furniture and pillows and kitchen stuff
– 6 February 2015: when I did my first paid, taxable gig as a US resident
– Today, 22 April 2015: when I fly back to the United States after a short New Zealand return trip, and when I henceforth have no fixed future plans to return to New Zealand.
– 1 June 2015: the date from which I (hopefully) have Affordable Care Act health insurance, as opposed to travel insurance
– (unidentified future date, but probably some time in June): the date from which I’m earning more income from United States sources than New Zealand sources. I’m actually doing alright at this freelance composing malarkey, although I’m aware that may not last when I’m not showing my face at concert venues up and down the country.
– October 2015: when this year’s commissions have all received their first performances in New Zealand: the various Sonatina for alto saxophone and piano people; the Jade String Quartet; and the Westlake Boys High School choir Voicemale performing the full version of Howler Monkey at Prizegiving
– (unidentified future date): when I stop regularly listening to most podcasts from Upbeat and Standing Room Only
– (unidentified future date): when my Facebook algorithms serve me far more US/Chicago content than New Zealand content
– (unidentified future date, TBA when): when I have more Facebook friends in Chicago than in Auckland
– (unidentified future date, heaven knows when): when I intercontinentally relocate all my books from my parents’ house in Auckland
– (unidentified future date, possibly never): when I have more United States Facebook friends than New Zealand friends
– (unidentified future date, possibly never): when I intercontinentally relocate all my stuff currently in storage at my parents’.

Tell you what, it doesn’t feel like it’s today. Five hours ago I finished a concert in Hamilton, and boarding is right now imminent at Auckland International Airport. Less than 24 hours after I land in Chicago, I’m doing a gig in the Chicago Improv Festival.

This week, I have rehearsals or gigs Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. There’s a date line separation in there, but it really just feels like a busy week with a couple of flights and an intercity return trip thrown in.

And you know what… that’s pretty awesome.

I’m a jetsetting freelance arts person. Granted, I will probably need to find some form of stable day job once I return to Chicago (at least part-time), but you know those Chicago gigs this week? Most of them I was asked to do while I was out of town. People are remembering me in Chicago and obviously think I’m half-decent at what I do.

That’s pretty baller. International arts freelancer right here. Feels pretty good.

Feels better than Economy Class, anyway.*

* And thanks to the very kindly Air New Zealand check-in lady who let me get away with 23.7kg. You’re baller too.

The extremely belated Chicago arrival post

26 Jan

I'll give you my mobile number on request.

I’ll give you my mobile number on request.

Hello world.

Today marks three weeks since I arrived in Chicago, my newest city of residence. It’s the first time I’ve lived outside New Zealand, and the first time I’ve set myself up in a city with so few connections.

If you’ve come to this website because I’ve handed you a business card in the last three weeks, welcome. I am indeed here in the city that you met me in. I live in Wicker Park – a neighbourhood sort of inconvenient to Lake View, where much improv takes place, but wonderfully hipster all the same.

I’m attending Wicker Park Fitness and working with a personal trainer there; I’m enjoying coffee at Intelligentsia on Division, The Wormhole and Brü; and I’m eating regularly at Sultan’s on North Ave and Chicago Bagel Authority on Belmont.

I came to this city to work as a music director for improv, comedy and sketch; and other related things around that. I’ve acquired a few regular shows as MD:
The Second City Teachers’ Jam (Tuesdays 10:15pm, De Maat Studio)
– House Party (Wednesdays 8pm & Sundays 7pm, ComedySportz)
and starting on 6 February:
– Hitch*cocktails (Fridays 10pm, The Annoyance).

Playing at Drop The Mic, a show at MCL. (source)

Playing at Drop The Mic, a show at MCL. (source)

I’ve also done occasional one-off performances:
– Drop The Mic at MCL Chicago, performing my epic Belgian waltz Dry July
– SalsaSketch 2015 with Salsation at Gorilla Tango Theatre, in which we devised/rehearsed/performed 25 minutes of sketch in a day. I played a French chef/teacher and Pope Francis.
– And there’s a one-off revue at Second City on Friday 20 February, for which details are a little sketchy right now!

And I’m taking two classes:
– Level 1 at iO. It’s nice to go back to basic principles, especially in an improv tradition which is quite different to my own.
– Writing 1 at The Second City. This is a great bombardment introduction to sketch writing. I have homework for the first time in a long while.

Impressions:
– The first week was really quite cold (got as low as 0F, or -17C) but without big snow storms or huge wind it was manageable. Since then it’s been pretty mild. I’ve heard people say “winter is coming” quite a lot. Sometimes in a Game of Thrones style.
– So many theatres have their own pianos/digital pianos here. I mean, I’ve bought my own, but I haven’t had to schlep it anywhere yet.
– Chicago hot dogs. They’ve got all the trimmings and are quite marvellous.
– The El train is great. The buses are patchy. I rely on some buses, particularly the 72 (North Ave).
– When the weather is cold in New Zealand, you feel it inside the house as well. When you step out your front door, you’re only feeling 80%. Chicago, as most of the US, heats its dwellings properly. I can quite happily walk 15 minutes in -10C because I’m warm at either end of my journey.
– Free delivery on SO MANY ITEMS when you order online.

I was well laden.

I was well laden.

– IKEA. I had quite a time shopping out in Schaumburg. I spent like $573 on furniture and bedding and stuff.
– When it’s been snowing and the footpathssidewalks turn to slush, there’s etiquette around tracking your outside shoes too far inside.
– Cheap shavers from The Warehouse are inevitably 240V only, and will not last all that long being charged on 110V American power. At least I didn’t make the same mistake in reverse, which may result in molten plastic.
– This is the Midwest. Basically everyone has a college football allegiance.

In summary:
– I’ve been here three weeks.
– I’m making connections bit by bit.
– I don’t need a day job just yet but probably will after my April trip back to New Zealand.
– I’m invested too heavily and sold too much of my New Zealand life to be in Chicago for anything less than the long haul.
– We’ll see! It’s a fun adventure.

Get out please Robbie, head overseas.

1 Aug

So, news.

Uniquely American objects.

Uniquely American objects.

I have a US green card. Well, I have a thing in my passport which entitles me to enter the USA within the next five months and hold permanent residency.

It was nearly two years ago I entered the Diversity Visa lottery on a whim, but my number came up (literally) and I went for it. It’s been a long process – from entering the lottery to entering the United States will be 26 months all up – but hardly an arduous or harrowing one. All in all, if you meet the criteria and are careful and conscientious with your paperwork, getting from the chance stage to the “heck yes I got me a green card” stage is straightforward*. My interview at the US Consulate had remarkably few questions for me to answer – just a two-hour wait while I read some Thomas Mann.

So I am moving in less than five months. Today I booked flights from Auckland to New Jersey to see my sister and my nephew (who is currently -6 weeks), and following that I will migrate westward to Chicago and settle there.

What a lovely view.

What a lovely view.

Why Chicago? In short, because the North Side of that city has the highest concentration of comedy, sketch and improv on the planet. Three of the best improv shows I’ve ever seen were during a short stay in Chicago last year. Also, thanks to the heritage of The Second City, there’s great respect for the role of music in comedy.

Furthermore, just this year there have been all sorts of venue expansions for the better:
iO is relocating from two stages in Wrigleyville to their new four-stage home in Goose Island, with one theatre dedicated to a new sketch revue from TJ & Dave;
The Annoyance has just moved from Uptown to Belmont;
– The Second City is expanding its premises in Old Town;
– and least of all, but most excitingly for me, Chicago now has possibly the world’s only theatre dedicated specifically to musical improv and musical comedy.

This image, on my own site, is 14th in my Google Images search results for "improv troupe stock photo".

This image, on my own site, is 14th in my Google Images search results for “improv troupe stock photo”.

However, there is a wider question: why improv? To compare to other things I’ve done and could pursue overseas, it’s not as stable as a job as a radio producer or presenter; it’s not as well-paying as composing (assuming you can attract commissions); and it’s a lot more niche than music recording and production.

But out of all those things within New Zealand, there are many composers, lots of broadcasters, and plenty of people who produce music, yet there are very few of us who do musical direction for comedy. There are even fewer who play music for improv. If I’m going to pursue something, it should be the thing that I am the most specialised in. The United States is a big place with potential careers that simply do not exist here in New Zealand, and you don’t just turn down a green card.

This is a daunting time – I’ve never moved countries before, I’ve never sold a large proportion of my worldly possessions, I’ve never calculated rent by the month, and figuring out the United States’ health insurance systems scares the crap out of me. Also, January is not exactly the warmest time to move to Chicago. Regardless, I am finally fulfilling every middle-class kiwi’s destiny by living overseas.

I will hold a massive farewell bash in Auckland on Saturday 13 December (also my 30th birthday), and departing New Zealand exactly two weeks later. In the meantime, you should give me lots of well-paid work, cause I’m freelance and I need the money.

This is happening!

— — —

* As long as, like me, you are an educated, healthy, white, middle class male native speaker of English with a sensible haircut, a clean criminal record and no visible piercings or tattoos, and are not a member of any organisation to the left of the Labour Party. It also made life administratively simpler that I am unmarried, have no children, and have never lived in a country other than New Zealand. And it helps I live only 35 minutes’ walk from the only US Consulate in this country. Your mileage may vary, but in most cases you have nothing to lose by applying. DV-2016 opens October 2014.


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