Thursday, March 29, 2012

Batsu? Hajime!

Awesome week. Two new students, three new companies interested in possibly hiring me for voiceover, a couple workshops with Shakespeare stuff, parties, couchsurfers, and none of it stopping any time until next week or so.

But I think it all began with what you see to the left: Batsu. This is an underground Japanese game-show style improv competition. The name, Batsu, roughly translates to "punishment." Which is exactly what the contestants suffer when they screw up.

The show is a lot like Who's Line Is It Anyway. There are a variety of improv games and impressions, plus at least one old fashioned drinking game that seems an awful lot like an adult version of musical chairs (just with sake instead of chairs). And those who lose suffer Batsu. Look carefully at the photo. See the guys on the right? the things on their faces that you can't quite make out are clothespins. They were not placed there of their own volition.

The least strenuous of the punishments were the ones the volunteer audience members suffered who went up and competed with the promise of a free beer and a ticket to another show. After they signed a waiver, that is. I did so, and ended up eating five wasabi rolls (California rolls, each with about an inch of wasabi layered on top). Yes it burned, but hey, I can always use the endorphins. Plus the free food, booze, and ticket to another show.

The punishments suffered by the other contestants, however ranged from funny to cringe-worthy to "oh-dear-lord-don't-DO-that-to-him." the funniest and simplest one was when a dude came out in a chicken suit, did a little dance, "laid" two real eggs, and smashed them on the victims heads. The second worst was the either the paintball shots to the chest from across the room, or the shock collar. The worst was when there was a tie breaker for the championship: they brought out a stun gun, and told the final two contestants to do their best Barney impression, winner determined by audience applause. That was not nice.

So if you like your improv with a streak of sadism, Batsu happens in a St Marks Place basement every Monday. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Nil Significat Nisi Oscillat

I'd forgotten how hot it gets inside these social dancing places.

I'd just come back from being a pallbearer at my great-uncle's funeral. This doesn't seem like the appropriate place to pay him tribute, but I will say briefly that he was a WWII fighter pilot and a great, adventurous man. Henry A. Lee will be missed. I think the best way to pay tribute to man with a full life is to keep living to the fullest after he's gone.

So, to that end, I bit the bullet and headed out to a dance studio near Penn Station. I've got a wedding to go to in a month, and the reception is going to be entirely swing dancing. I had a half hour lesson in the Charleston once, years ago, and various female friends over the years have tried showing me the basic step at parties. But I'd never taken a real lesson before.

Enter Yehoodi's "Frim Fram Jam." $8 entry, $4 extra if you want in on a group lesson beforehand. And it was a good group. We learned the basic triple-step/triple-step/rock-step, a 6 count circle, a tuck turn, two reverse turns (I think) and one random butt shaker after a backwards stop. Like most white guys, I'm not so good or enthusiastic when it comes to that last one, but the others I think I got.

And then the lesson ended and the dancers who didn't need it hit the floor. Before, I'd had this image of myself at the wedding sweeping unsuspecting partners off their feet. Then I saw real men (and a woman lead or two) actually doing just that, and I realized I'm probably not going to pull that off in a month. But I can least learn enough to hold my own.

Next time, I'm at the very least bringing my own water bottle, and possibly a towel. With the crowd like the one you see above, in a room with little to no ventilation, dancing like crazy people, it gets very, very warm. After just two hours, I was so drenched in sweat that I had to leave-- I was too embarrassed to ask anyone to dance with me until I'd taken a shower. I wanted to get to a couchsurfing meetup anyway.

At that meetup, by the way, I learned about an improv event unlike any other I've heard of. I'll be checking it out next Monday, after the table read for my next short film. Details about both of those things coming up soon!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Dancing to Music Only We Can Hear

The title of this post is not a metaphor. It's how I spent roughly six hours of my night last night. Normally I try to upload a picture with my blog post. But a picture really doesn't capture this one. So for the first time on any of my blogs, you get video. 
After a tip from one of my best friends in the city, leading to this website, I headed out north of Prospect Park in Brooklyn in a set of quiet and dark streets. I buzzed a unit in a spray-painted building and was let into a massive loft that looked like a scene out of Rent.

Inside were about thirty people (the number about doubled in half an hour) lining up, hanging out, and signing paperwork for special sets of headphones. They were wireless, connected to two channels, only identified by the lights on the front, either green or blue.

I sat down on a couch and talked to a minor YouTube celebrity I'd never heard of before, and at one point looked around and asked him how he'd classify the crowd.

He paused and said "I think if we decided we weren't going to do this and said we're going to play Dungeons and Dragons instead, we'd get a lot of people who'd be cool with that."

Nerd, then. I saw it. But honestly the first label that came to mind for the crowd we'd gathered was "Cyber-Hippies." We saw a little body paint, a rainbow of hair colors, battery powered Christmas lights wrapped around legs, a hooded ankle-length faux fur jacket, and I don't even remember what else. One very proud girl and her boyfriend were showing off her recently pierced nipples to pretty much anyone who they could bring the topic up with. Whatever the mainstream was, it was staying out of the room.

After a minute, a signal went around, and we all put on our headphones and switched to the blue channel. Over a nice beat (broadcasting from a portable transmitter on the person of a tall mustached man in a blue jumpsuit) one of the leaders spoke into a cordless mic to explain how the night was going to work. He showed us how to use the headsets, switch between green and blue channels (which would each have a different track of dance music playing). And then he told us our destination.

And that was how about seventy people, most of whom looked like they'd just stepped off a bus from Burning Man (how half the crowd knew each other), got onto a Queens-bound A train to Far Rockaway Beach, dancing like nutcases to music only we could hear.

I think the video explains what happens next pretty nicely. The most fun was watching people at first who were completely mystified by what was going on. Then one of us would lend them a pair of headphones for a couple minutes, and this huge smile would spread across their face and they'd start rocking out.

Two or three hours between subways out to the skinny spit on the water called Rockaway, an hour or so in a startled but pleased dive bar, two or three hours back into Brooklyn. Dancing all the way.

I think I was in bed by 5:30am. I think. Just in time to ring in St. Patrick's day in New York.

Sleep might become a problem.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Foodie Expo

This, my friends, made my cooking dinner a frustrating experience. My lunch today was a very, very hard act to follow.

I managed to score a pass into one of the biggest food service conventions in the world. About half of it was booths of deserted displays of cookware, restaurant furniture, and servingware, staffed by alternately bored and angry vendors.

The vendors were bored and angry because everyone else was ignoring them and going straight to the other half of the booths: The food vendors.

"Why?" you might ask. Well it's pretty simple. Take vendors who have good enough products to feature at one of the biggest food service conventions in the world and whisper two words into their ear: 'free samples.'

I munched on about a dozen different kinds of gourmet cheese, fresh calamari and clams with sauces I'd never imagined before, ginger ale made with fresh ginger and infused with things ranging from passion fruit to jasmine tea, and Angus beef sliders. But the top prize in my mind goes to what you see in the picture above. Not on the display, look at the small black plate in the hand of the man taking a picture with his iPhone. That, ladies and gentlemen, is lobster ravioli with a saffron cream sauce. The fresh lobster chunks inside were nearly size of my thumb.

...what the heck are you supposed to cook yourself after eating that?

A tasty end to a satisfying weekend. My mouth and stomach have finally forgiven me for making the mistake on Saturday of trying to cure my second ever hangover with the closest thing to chicken noodle soup I could find in the corner store: Hormel brand canned turkey stew. If I had seen the recipe on the back for "Teriyaki Turkey Chow Mein" before I had bought it, it would still be on their shelf instead all but three spoonfuls ending in my garbage can.

Clearly this city is too rough on me. I work about 10-15 hours a week to pay for a 1 bedroom apartment next to a public transit system that lets me go to parties miles away, introduces me to friends who like sending me audition notices, and then feeds me two days later with, let me repeat this, lobster ravioli with saffron cream sauce. Just the sacrifices we make, I guess.