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1/27/2010

Bernie's Proposal

The following is a letter to Off-Off Campus, the improv troupe I have been a part of for almost three years now, which was founded in 1986 by the founder of the Second City, Bernie Sahlins.

Ladies & Gentlemen of Off-Off Campus,

The first time I spoke to Bernie Sahlins over the phone, I called him "Mister Sahlins" and spoke with total trepidation. I asked him what his "program idea" was for Off-Off Campus. Was it going to be a break up letter? ("Nuts to you kids, 24 years is enough. This is your last season.") Was he going to offer to direct the next Off Off revue? ("Alright, no more improv.") Was he going to ask what happened to Kit? ("You're much less attractive and competent than she was.") I didn't know then on the phone, and he told me that the only way he could tell me the idea was in person. He told me to name the time and place, and I did.

It was Ben's idea, really. Manny's Coffee Shop & Deli. Three Jews eating big corned beef sandwiches, talking about what comedy is, and discussing the merits of this mysterious "program idea." I was in love with the image, and Bernie himself said "it sounds like a song."

The last time I spoke to Bernie Sahlins over the phone, I called him "Bernie," but it must have sounded more like "Baerhnee" because he called me at six thirty in the morning. He couldn't do Manny's because he didn't have the car that day. He asked if I could give him a ride. I was then uncertain if Bernie was an octogenarian or a teenager. We rescheduled for today in the Reynold's Club, at three.

Bernie was fifteen minutes early, of course. Knowing he would attempt this double-fake, I was half an hour early. He was carrying only a plain manila envelope (The Breakup Letter, Director's Statement, or Glossy 8x10 of Kit Novotny) and shook my hand. "Now I can put a face to a name."

We got some coffee at the C-shop (his treat, what a date) and made some idle chit-chat while we waited for Ben to get out of class before we got down to the business of The Envelope. We talked about the iPad, at great length and technical detail (esp. re: 10 hour battery life, his own personal preference for the Kindle, and how he put a personal booklight on top of it so it does not bother his very English wife) for the fifteen minutes before Ben's arrival.

I am now certain that Bernie Sahlins is a teenager. He was hip to something that was hours old at the time. In fact, I am sure he was on Gizmodo watching the live updates.

Ben arrives and we get down to the brass of The Envelope. Inside are three identical two-page documents. The header:

Shakespeare Revue

All scenes should be available and funny to someone with no knowledge of Shakespeare.


Oh thank God it's not a breakup letter. It's...a pitch. It's a fucking show proposal form from Bernie Sahlins, the dude who invented OOC and The Second City. I am freaking out internally. While I'll spare you the full extent of his scene ideas, here are some highlights, with formatting preserved:

Romeo and Juliet Runner: In a fancy French Restaurant, At Wrigley Field, with Mayor Daley (video), etc.
Romeo and Juliet ten years into their marriage
Hamlet and Superman
discuss the need for action.
Any of the Bards Plays as Rewritten by David Mamet and the other way around
Shopping for cod pieces
Kabuki Macbeth
*
The odd couplet: Simon and Shakespeare


* (He described his thought process behind this scene as an earlier idea for Kabuki A Streetcar Named Desire: STERRRA)

Ben and I attempt to praise the good ideas without seeming sycophantic, and criticize the weaker ideas without seeming ungrateful to one of the men who, uh, wrote the book on Comedy. He didn't have kind words for some of his former cast members (Stavid Deinberg, Roan Jivers, and more) and we did not want to get on his shit list. In the end, we were left with the following totally incredible notes of big business:
  • Bernie has friends in high places at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater who would love to come see this Program if we produce it, with the eventual goal being to mount it at the CST.
  • He's totally interested in coming back to see a show this quarter (!) and being involved with our 25th anniversary celebrations Spring/Fall 2011 (!!!)
  • He really, really wants us to like his program and to see it realized on stage.
That last one really got at my heartstrings. I knew Bernie could be a sonuvabitch when talking about people he doesn't like, I knew Bernie has incredibly negative views about improv as art (with the exception of his Favorite Improviser in the World, Dave Pasquesi), but I didn't know he wanted to be approved like this. See, everyone, Bernie loves us in a way I could never understand. We are his children, or rather Grandchildren, and this is the sweetest proposal for a program I have ever seen in my life, with due respect to Kit Novotny's "Sex and the City: Babies!"

He loves you, and don't you forget it, OOC. I know Ben and I won't.

The conversation dried up, we shared our last few laughs, but before final parting handshakes, I asked Bernie if I could take a picture of us together.

"Of course."

Snap. Ben and I trade places.

"You know, I feel like a pony at a birthday party."
"And we feel like kids in a candy store, Bernie."

Snap.

Fondly,

G. Meyer Rosby

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