While I was in grad school for acting I had a class called Games.  I don’t know exactly how to describe it, except to say that its similar to a jungle gym for your imagination.  Through innumerable exercises (and I hesitate to say: games) you exhaust your ability to control your imagination and begin to learn how to let impulse drive your creativity.  A fair amount of the work is grounded in improvisation, which basically forces you to confront your fears and your habits and find a simple, truthful way of being.  Mark Wing-Davey, if you ever read this, those are the reasons not cut the Games Project; that, and it made me realize that I could be a writer.  But enough theoretical drama school mumbo jumbo.

We are cornfields, Jesus Christ and apple pie (L: Karl Kenzler, R: you know who)

Karl Kenzler taught Games when I was at NYU, and he led us through this very simple exercise.  You had to stand in front of your class, and Karl would tell you to imagine a large box in front of you, and a door to your right.  He then asked you a series of simple questions that repeated: “Who’s at the door?” and “What’s in the box?”  Every actor will initially have smart ideas or funny ideas, but eventually you exhaust your imagination.  When that happens, what your mind comes up with will tell you something fairly basic and true about yourself.  Now I grew up on a dusty dirt road in the rural Midwest, wholesome as the Waltons.  Since then, however, I had tried to create a more hip, cosmopolitan version of myself.  As this was the first year of grad school, I also desperately wanted to impress my classmates (everyone does).  When my brain ran out of smart and witty ideas though, what I was left with was JFK, Jesus, and pie.  Karl would ask who was at the door and I would say Jesus.  He’d say, “What’s in the box?” and I would say pie.  Karl would ask “Who’s at the door?”  And I’d say JFK and Jesus holding an apple pie.

(Main Street in downtown St. Johns, MI where I grew up, © Dave Pizzo, 2008)

I reference this story rather obliquely in the lyrics to the portrait of Dave Beck (“I Can Breathe Underwater”).  Dave and I both grew up in the Midwest, in Ohio and Michigan respectively, and we met and became friends while working on the staff of a Lutheran summer camp between years of college.  But I was reminded of this story again today while watching the interview that my high school friends Chad and Kari Rehmann (“Right Foot to Red Circle”) sent to me by mail from L.A.  I haven’t seen them in almost ten years now, and then suddenly somehow, miraculously, they were in my living room with me.  I remembered how much I liked each of them, and I realized again how much the people in your life become a part of you.  No matter how far away you move or how many years separate you, you take them with you.  That night at NYU I couldn’t believe how Midwestern I was, how at the end of that exercise what I was left with was Jesus and pie. Stacey Linnartz (“It’s Okay to Break) even mentioned that story in her interview as one of her clearest memories of me.  Your past shapes your present, no matter you hard you try to move forward.  And sometimes its good to take a look back.