Posts tagged: writer

Discovering Parenthood Through the Eyes of Mom Bloggers

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By , April 28, 2010 8:00 am
Bethany Hiitola

Decoding mommy blogs with Bethany Hiitola

Discover the world of mommy blogging, free things to do in Chicago with your kids, and motherhood with Bethany Hiitola.  Funsherpa sits down with the writer behind Mommy Writer Blog to understand what it is like to be a mom, blog with kids in the house, and find inspiration in creative writing projects.

F: What do you enjoy the most about Mommy blogging? What do your kids think about your blog?
B: I never really looked at it as mommy blogging or anything but an outlet for me to write what I know. I’ve always been a writer and had a few blogs that I sorta maintained off and on for a few years prior to ever being a mom. But, when I had a kid, found myself at home most of the time with no babysitter (and surrounded by mothers who appeared to know what they were doing), I decided to turn to the outlet I always turn to–writing. And thus my blog and website were born (concurrently I also decided to pursue my dreams of writing fiction and getting it published – so they both were jointly born along with the first child).

My kids are still very young– son is 7 and daughter 2 1/2. So their opinion of my online space is yet to be determined. Although my son now can read at a pretty high level, and has his own computer and unfettered access to the Internet–he’ll find me soon. Though, I am not worried. I always try to write from my point of view (not theirs) so I hope they find it fun and entertaining.

F: Can you talk about your experience when you first became a mom? What were some of the things you had to learn/unlearn from just being an adult with no kids?
B: Frazzled. When I had my son, labor was about 20 hours, I was up all night, and well, birth was an experience that once you go through it, you are changed (in more ways than you care to share). But I survived. And had this pink wiggly crinkled thing handed to me and then everyone left the room. There was no instructions, no one to sorta sit down and tell you what you might expect from the first few nights, how to really change a newborn’s diaper, how you are going to survive on so little sleep you won’t know how to hold a conversation. And it just stays that way. No instructions. And really, no schedules and constant change.

The biggest difference from life with no kids to having kids is just learning to be unselfish. Suddenly your life will revolve around this new little being. And you have to let it for a while until you and the baby adjust. Sure, this changes as the child grows older and becomes more independent, but overall, you give us things for your kid. Whether that is sleep, time, schedules. Pretty much everything changes. And you need to find ways to make yourself a priority too (babysitters, help from family and partners, time away, etc).

And really just BE FLEXIBLE. The flexible and laid back you are about the kid, and naps, and feedings, and all that stuff–the easier your life will be. And more relaxed you will be. And the easier time you will need/have to adjust to motherhood (or parenthood. Dad’s have to do all this too). It’s all good. And children bring a new outlook on life for anyone. But as a parent they change the way you look at the world. So take deep breaths and just enjoy the ride–no matter how it takes you on little side tracks.

F: You seem to write a lot. Can you share with us some of your creative writing projects? What serves as your inspiration?
B: Is it that obvious? Yes I do write a lot. I always have written but never dedicated so much time with it until after I had children. But, then again, my children are part of the reason why I have dedicated more time to writing. After my son was born I found myself working over 40 hours a week at all hours of the day (to adjust for working from home with a young baby) and I wasn’t happy. I needed an outlet just for me and one that might get me out of the rat race.

I haven’t quite gotten out of the (corporate) rat race yet, but I knew there was no chance I could do that without giving a real, true, honest-to-God effort at writing books for publication. So here I am.

I’m working on a bunch of projects right now. The first is the 2nd technical non-fiction book about open source software. My first book was about creating podcasts with Audacity (you can find it here) and it was fun to write. So I signed up for another that I am working on now! This one is about using Inkscape as a web designer. It is due out by the end of the year.

I write for a variety of places online that you can find from my website and they keep me sane during the week when my work schedule is driving me crazy. For fiction, I have a book that I’m shopping around now, another one in the works, and some small pieces that are being published in quarterly magazines. Just enough to keep me from not going to bed too early in the evenings. And to keep me writing, no matter what my day throws at me.

F: What are some of the things you’ve learned from other Mom bloggers? What have you taught other Mom bloggers?
B: To relax. Have fun. Vent if you need to. And ALWAYS respect your children–as they are a wealth of blogging fodder (both good and bad) and are the cutest things ever. With them at your side, they sorta define that mom blogger part of your life. But you are also you. And Mom bloggers stick together. We have that common bond of parenting and we often share stories, agree with one another, disagree with one another and then always want the best for our families.

I am not sure what I have taught others. Maybe just that you can blog, have a life, be a mom, a blogger and other dreams too. Funnily enough, I have always associated myself as a writer. Before a blogger, before a mom, before a mommy blogger. So, I just hope that maybe that is what people have taken away from reading my blog.

F: If you could change one thing about being a mother, what would it be?
B: The extra 15-20 lbs I still have of baby fat. A magic potion to get rid of the constant large dark circles under my eyes. And maybe an “obey your mom” card that I can pull out and use for nap times, cleaning rooms, brushing teeth and more…

Other than that, I just want to enjoy the ride as much as I can. My son is 7. And honestly, there are times I still think he might be about 3 years old and playing super heroes with capes in my living room.

F: Any advice to new parents in Chicago to ensure their kids get to appreciate the city they live in?
B: Go to museums, shows, concerts, outdoor events. EVERYTHING you want to drag yourself too. This city offers anything from free to very expensive activities. Don’t be afraid to drag your kids deep into the city or to the ‘burbs. They both offer unique experiences that can enrich your child’s lives. And expose them to just about everything from sports games, to concerts, to small events (like free comic drawing classes), culture, and more. Just pick a few items a year and make it happen!

F: If you could take your kids anywhere, where would you take them? Why?
B: Finland. We will take a trip there at some point, we just haven’t done it yet. But we have a strong Finnish Heritage and I’ve would love to see the country itself. And the small village by the same name as my surname.

But really–I would love to take them all over the world: England, India, Africa. I’d also love to go see the Grand Canyon, the Pacific Ocean. And well just as many new places as we can afford.

F: What have some of your best experiences on Mother’s Day been? What would make your perfect Mother’s Day holiday?
B: I don’t get caught up on the holiday too much. All I really like are hugs, kisses, and some special homemade things from the kids. If I get a few hours of “free time” after a family brunch that makes it all a bit better. Gives me kid-free time to just re-coup and then come home to more snuggles.

funsherpa goes Shopping! with Morris Bobrow

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By , September 2, 2009 1:05 am

After getting invited to see SF’s longest running original show “Shopping! the Musical”, funsherpa sits down with Morris Bobrow, the genius behind numerous musical comedies and revues, including Party of One, Are We Almost There?, and With Relish. Morris talks to us for the first funsherpa San Francisco interrogation and shares his thoughts about musicals, shopping, and the magic of Costco.

Shopping the Musical

F: What got you into Music/musicals?

M: In college, I was in a comedy folk-singing group, and we wrote a lot of our own material. I was also listening to the songs of the great satirist, Tom Lehrer.  I performed in satirical musical revues and became fond of the format.  After school, I started writing parody lyrics to existing melodies, and, then, I realized that since could compose, I should write original music for my lyrics.  The ’50s and ’60s were The Golden Age of Broadway, and I spent lots of time listening to cast albums.  I also discovered recordings of the revues which were hot in New York – Downstairs At The Upstairs, Plaza 9, New Faces, etc.  I loved the clever writing in those shows, and I started to emulate that style of show.

F: What are some of the musicals that you enjoyed watching while you were growing up?

M: The first musical I saw on Broadway was Promises, Promises, which starred a young Jerry Orbach.  Other early favorite shows included Stephen Sondheim shows (Company, A Little Night Music, Follies), A Chorus Line, Gypsy (with Ethel Merman), Fiddler On The Roof, My Fair Lady, Bye, Bye, Birdie and Hello, Dolly!

F: How did you know this was what you wanted to do for a living?

M: I loved writing songs, and I loved hearing the audiences laugh and enjoy them.  My favorite venues for my work theaters and cabarets.  But, I found that corporations and private events would hire me to write entertainment for meetings and parties, and that field is very lucrative, so, I was able to combine my passion with business.

F: How difficult is it to make music/song funny? Where do you typically draw inspiration from?

M: They say that comedy is serious business.  Indeed, it is difficult to get an audience to laugh at your ideas, without physical slapstick. In a drama, you can’t tell if the audience likes the play, because they don’t react audibly as it goes along, but, in a comedy, they’re either laughing or they’re not. (Though, audience often love a show they’ve sat silently through, appreciating its wit and craft.) I guess you have to think funny, in the first place.  My humor generally mocks current and social styles and trends.  I notice small things and hold a mirror up to the audience. The structure of lyrics is crucial and will determine whether a funny idea gets a laugh.  You have to have a sense of comic timing, rhythm, poetry, the audience’s sensibilities, the personality and context of the person delivering the song, and much more.

F: Can you tell us what your first play was like? If you could redo it again, what would you change?

M: My first commercial show was a musical revue, called Let Me Say This About That (an expression President Kennedy used).  It was advertised as a topical show, but, there was much that was not topical, but general humor, so, I guess I would put more topical material in – or advertise it differently.

F: I love lightbulb moments, when and How was Shopping the Musical born?

M: I decided to write Shopping! when I was standing in line at a store behind a woman taking forever to check out – fidgeting with her purse, getting the right change, writing a check, etc. The best humor often comes out of frustration.  I knew this would be fodder for a show. Then, I realized I had never heard of a musical about this subject – shopping – which we all can relate to.

F: You’ve won the Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award four times.  That’s an awesome achievement, what would you do if you win it again?

M: The great value of a show winning a critics’ award is that it gives the show instant credibility.  Most shows that win awards have already closed when the awards are given, so, they can’t use the honor in their advertising.  Fortunately, we are in a long run, so, we are able to capitalize on the award.  If I won again, I would be most proud.  It’s a nice recognition of one’s efforts.

F: There’s a segment about Costco in your play, Shopping! What do you love buying from Costco?

M: Costco is just a fun place to shop – you go in for a few packs of gum and wind up buying $200 worth of stuff you can’t live without.  There’s so much visual stimulation there.  Actually, the song was written when the store was named Price Club. Fortunately, Costco has the same number of syllables.

F: MY record for shoppaholism was 6 pairs of shoes in under 1 hour. Do you shop much? What was your worst shopping experience?

M: Besides the above-mentioned standing in line behind a take-forever shopper, there are other situations in the show that reflect my bad experiences – not getting help in a department store, not being able to buy if the computer goes down, experiencing pushy salespeople, being unable to get technical support after you’ve bought some product, being unable to open those impossible plastic packs, etc.

F: What are your favorite things to do for fun in SF?

M: I like the theater, of course.  There are also great free events I go to: Stern Grove concerts, Opera In The Park, San Francisco City Tours, for example.  Biking in Golden Gate Park and the Great Highway is fun.  And, just walking around this beautiful city is a pleasure.

F: Can you share some of your favorite restaurants with us?

M: I’m not a fancy restaurant devotee.  The Slanted Door, One Market and Farrallon are lovely and fun.  But, I’m happy at Westlake Joe’s (or any Joe’s, for that matter).  And, the many ethnic restaurants on West Portal are fun to try.

Tim Joyce weighs in on Improv Comedy

By , August 12, 2009 10:35 am

TimJoyceA few weeks ago, Funsherpa interviewed Tim Joyce, a comedian-in-training with Second City.  This week we talked to another Tim Joyce in the same line of work: a distinguished playwright/ actor/comedian and longtime resident of Chicago.  Tim has made a career out of stand-up comedy, writing, improv, acting, and teaching.  He has succeeded as a published author, speech-writer, and private comedy coach

You seem to have done it all! What aspect of your diverse career do you enjoy most: writing, performing, teaching, traveling…?

If you had asked that even three years ago, I would have quickly answered “performing.” But in the past few years I’ve been doing a lot more teaching, which provides inspiration and an outlet that I hadn’t expected. There’s a really sweet level of communication when teaching someone. So now I’d say it’s a tie: teaching and performing; with writing a close second.

Is comedy for the camera different than live comedy?

Live performing is actually very different that performing for a camera, whether it is comedy or drama. Cameras are intimate; they pick up tiny nuances that even the performer isn’t aware of, so you want to avoid being too broad. In a live stand-up situation, it’s almost impossible to be too broad.

What is it like to watch your plays performed? How much input/control does the playwright have?

I love watching my plays acted!!! It is a kick that cannot be described to see the levels actors and directors add to your work. They show you things you had no idea were there and make small choices that cause your work to shine.

I’ve been lucky to have a lot of input with my plays that have been produced. In every case, staged readings as well as workshops were necessary to get the working draft in shape. I’ve also worked with some really great directors who did a fine job shaping the material and the performances of the actors. A play – especially a new work – is a collaboration; I’ve been fortunate to have great collaborators.

We’ve recently interviewed another Tim Joyce who is taking classes at the Second City Training Center. How has Second City factored into your comedic career?

The Second City Training Center (which I attended in 1986/87) was a huge influence on me as an artist. It is not only a place that gave me a solid grounding in improv and more depth in performance, it is honestly the place where I believe I learned how to write.

You are also an experienced Shakespearean actor – what is your favorite Shakespearean character?

As a college freshman I got to play Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and it will always be my favorite role from any play. I also love the character and poetry of Richard II; in fact, I use a monologue from it for auditions.

What made you decide to pursue comedy over straight acting?

I wish I had a more sanguine answer…But it was money. Comedy pays better and there are more financial opportunities as a comedian and as a comic writer. It is an artistic challenge too, but it was a fiduciary choice.

How much research is involved in writing for someone else’s speech? Who have you written speeches for?

The speech writing I have done has been very corporate, it is largely a job of “punching up” executives’ existing speeches – making them less dry.

How did you go about writing a ‘spoof’ of self-help books, especially with a co-author?

Carl Kozlowski, my co-author, is a former student of mine and an amazingly talented writer who has worked for the Tribune, Esquire, LA Times, and numerous other media outlets as a reporter. He and I were tipped off that there was an opportunity to write a self-help spoof and we put together some spec chapters and pitched it. Voila! Book!

Can you give us an overview of your teaching methods for comedy?

People often ask me how you can “teach” comedy when so much humor is subjective. Truthfully you cannot teach someone to be talented, but you can help them learn to edit and to focus their voice as a writer. My emphasis is on editing material ruthlessly and constantly asking yourself if you are saying what you want to say – what you think you are saying. The best comedy has no wasted words, and every word should audition to get into your act.

How do you juggle touring with raising a family?

It is hard. I do not have my own biological kids; I have two wonderful young women who came into my life through Hurricane Katrina. One has gone off to Boston to get her MBA and the other graduates in 2010 from college. I’ve been married for 26 years and I still miss my wife on the long trips. Staying emotionally grounded on the road is the single biggest challenge I face as a comedian. The road is inherently lonely.

Why did you decide to settle in Chicago? What do you think of Chicago’s comedy scene?

Studying at Second City was the major factor in my moving here. The comedy scene is always changing, sometimes it is up and other times it is down. The talent tends to move to the coasts after developing here, so the scene doesn’t stay the same for long.

What is your favorite Chicago improv club to either perform in or to see a show?

I still love seeing shows at Second City, especially the improv sets there. IO is pretty cool too. For stand up I like the Comedy Upstairs show at Fizz Bar and Grill….

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