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Comedy sketch writing isn’t all that funny

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia Mug Shot-ColorChasing a dream to earn a sustainable income as a writer is proving to be a hard-knock life for me. Failure is trying to suppress my writing aspirations.
Recently, I cranked open my Toshiba laptop to find an e-mail from the writing program coordinator at Second City. “Thank you for your interest in Writing 5. Unfortunately, your submitted scene didn’t qualify for you to continue at this time.”
For the previous eight months, my cheeks have been in Second City’s seats learning to write sketch comedy. There are six, eight-week terms in the program.
I completed four.
To gain entry to Writing 5, a sketch scene audition is a prerequisite to ensure ones work is worthy of such an advancement. Of 12 classmates, I’m one of three that didn’t make it through.
“What?!” I thought. “I’m a professional writer! How does that happen?”
The e-mail continued: “This doesn’t mean you aren’t a great writer.”
Crossing my arms I mumbledpage-12-with-Claudia-colClaudia Parker, front row, right, poses with a group of comedy sketch writing hopefuls at Second City. Most of her peers will move up a level while Parker was rejected but said that rejection will sharpen her determination to get better. Submitted photo.

submitted   “You’re darn Skippy it doesn’t.”
I read further. 
  “...just that you may need more work on the principles of scenic sketch.” said the program coordinator.
My emotions dipped back to a time when my husband Don and I took our daughters Donae (7) and Rhonda-Rene (4) to Grand Geneva’s Timber Ridge Lodge and Waterpark up in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
At the time, Rhonda-Rene was only two and just getting acclimated to exploring water independently. Forcing the natural progression of her comfort level, I placed her at the top of the toddler slide and scurried over to the bottom to catch her.
Most enthused, I petitioned her to slide down.
“Come to Mommy! Rhonda-Rene! Come?” I suspect, from her vantage point, plummeting into cold water didn’t look appealing.
Ignoring my lure, she abruptly scooched backward and tumbled headfirst down the stairs of the slide.
The stairs were softly padded, as was the toddler surface where she landed.
Nonetheless, a concerned lifeguard escorted us into a warm, towel-filled back room.
He proceeded to examine Rhonda-Rene and completed an incident report. She hadn’t sustained any injuries and didn’t cry but a minute. Yet, I stalled to leave that room. I wear the badge of stay-at-home mom with honor. I take great pride in caring for my family. I didn’t want to face the people who saw me fail to protect my child.
Likewise, I’m a passionate writer. I exercise at this craft like a fitness guru does their body.
Failing to advance to Writing 5 was not only disappointing but embarrassing. I wanted to go find that warm, towel-filled room and not come out. But, there’s a danger in that line of thinking.
When entertained long enough, feelings of failure morph into fear. I don’t believe we fail because we’re supposed to quit. I believe we fail when we need to grow. Those who quit shut off their creative energy stunting their expression of joy that only shines through when it’s shared with the world.
When we stop operating in the purpose of which we were created out of fear, we can become unfulfilled, miserable people.
Failure is not an option for me, I will press forward elsewhere!
But, first, I felt I needed the specifics from the folks at Second City. I wrote a small note to the head of their writing program asking for a detailed explanation for why my scene failed. For peace of mind, I needed to know how far I was off the mark. Turns out, it wasn’t a near miss -- it was more like a WIDE gap.
I responded as such, “I appreciate the raw feedback. I’m going to be honest, I never desired to write comedy. I just wanted to learn how to write for the stage and ultimately film. I came to Second City because of its reputation as being one of the best training centers in the business. Thank you for giving me a playwright foundation. However, for what I need to fulfill my personal endeavors, I think its best I seek my training in an institution not comedy specific.”
As a writer, this experience will sharpen my determination. As a mom, it will become a priceless teaching tool for my little girls down the road. Our kids only listen to us for so long.
After that, they model us. It’s easy to show our children how to celebrate success, but don’t forget to show them how to celebrate opportunities to grow.
In failure, there is growth, for the plants that thirst for watering. And that, I do!

I Claudia: Photo finish -- The highs and lows of covering AGT auditions

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia Mug Shot-Color

Working the auditions for “America's Got Talent” elevated my credibility, but only for a spell.

Are you confused?

I was!

The auditions were held Jan. 24-25 at McCormick Place.

I was there for the second day. As I followed the signs leading to registration, I was obstructed by an AGT crew member. “Are you auditioning?” she inquired. I wasn't looking at her. I was testing the operations of my new Nikon D5200 camera lassoed around my neck. I glanced up.

 “I'm a reporter.” I replied. “I'm here to write a story about someone who is.” I pointed toward 14- year-old Kennedy Bordeaux who was standing nearby with her family.

This crew member directed me to a waiting area and then spoke into a walkie-talkie, “Lindsey? Someone get Lindsey. A lady from the press is here!”

Have you heard the saying? “Follow your passion and you'll never work a day in your life.”

Or “Choose a job you love so much, you'd do it for free.”

I believe the unknown author of these statements desire us to find the vehicle that brings our lives fulfillment so we can drive that baby til' the wheels fall off.

For me, one of those vehicles is writing. I've authored a couple of books and have an open relationship with various newspapers and magazines as a freelancer.

But, my main squeeze is The Reporter, where I enjoy being a correspondent reporter and columnist. I'm fortunate to have a boss like Jeff Vorva, who exclusively assigns me inspirational stories to write. However, there's one benefit I'm missing as a correspondent -- a press pass!

Presenting a press pass eradicates the need for individual verification and qualifications.

Unofficial journalists, like me, require separate letters of confirmation from the editorial office to prove legitimacy when covering large venues, which is what was required of me to gain press access to the “America's Got Talent” auditions. Nevertheless, when I got on the premises, I felt like 'special correspondent' Jenna Bush, from “The Today Show.”

AGT gave me my very first PRESS PASS!

It read, “America's Got Talent. The Reporter. Claudia Parker 1/25. PRESS”

Then, I got the rules.

“You can interview and take photographs of anyone except our crew,’’ they said. “Those in blue shirts are our support team, black shirts- are producers. If you need anything, let one of them know and they'll find me.” said Lindsey, an AGT press coordinator.

I went there exclusively to write about Kennedy Bordeaux's audition experience. But since I had my PRESS PASS I figured I'd interview Cris Judd, their official season 10 dance scout.

Judd is a Hollywood Choreographer and former New Zealand's Got Talent judge. In my opinion, he's most known for having been married to Jennifer Lopez.

My request was denied. They said Judd left after Saturday's auditions.

 “But, speak to our publicist about using statements from our press release.” said Lindsey.

I wanted a live interview, not clipped statements from a press release.

“Alright, I'll contact the publicist.” I said disappointingly.

I spoke to two warm and professional publicists on site. I felt we had a connection. I got the impression they were interested in my photography skills. Somewhere within our conversation it was insinuated if I e-mailed them the photos I took from the auditions, they'd be published to the AGT website. I even thought I heard them say, with photo credit!

AGT is one of NBC's top rated realty shows. It has over three million likes on its Facebook page and 357,000 thousand twitter followers. It was a no-brainer. I suddenly christened myself the official, 'unofficial' AGT event photographer.

I worked that room!

I started off asking, “Would you like to be photographed for 'our' AGT website?” Then I'd give a little tap to my press pass.

My reputation began to precede me, at one point, I had a small wait.

Time escaped me.  I intended to be at the auditions two hours but stayed nearly eight. When I got home, sleep was imminent, but not before I downloaded my photos and e-mailed them to the AGT publicist. After all, they'd be expecting my work.

Ha!

For several days following the auditions, I checked their website looking for the fruits of my labor and nothing!

Upon my inquiry, the counterpart of the publicists' I'd met said, “Uh, yeeeah, there's been a miscommunication. We post articles from journalists to our social media but it's not our usual practice to post their pictures to our official website.”

This is the part where I looked around in confusion with the phone attached to my ear.

“Oh wow!” I responded. “But, I told all those people they could view their photo's on the AGT website!”

I took those pictures for the prospective contestants in the spirit of supporting the event. In doing so, I felt like a part of the AGT team. However, without their platform, the intended audience was lost therefore making the pictures, useless.

What do you do when your time, energy and talent isn't displayed on the stage you expected?

Personally, I analyze my heart’s true intention with the aforementioned statements above. Did I love what I was doing? Did the passion behind my effort bring me a sense of fulfillment? Did I learn something new during the process?

Yes, I did.

Perspicacious-ness is acquired more often through our disappointments than when things go perfectly as planned. For those who've been toiling to share a gift with the world that isn't being recognized, here's my advice, stand and wait. Be immovable! Eventually, someone has to come out of the door you're trying to enter.

Pitchers and catchers have reported and shorts and tulips are on the way

  • Written by Bob Rakow

We’ve endured freezing cold temperatures for several days and continue to look at the snow that fell on Super Bowl Sunday. Face it; winter is getting old real fast. But four magical words help me cope and realize that the frozen tundra won’t last forever: “pitchers and catchers report.”

 

Cubs and White Sox pitchers and catchers reported last Thursday and Friday, respectively. The rest of the players arrived in camp on Tuesday.

 

Warm, sunny days in Mesa, Ariz. Plenty of people make vacation plans to attend spring training, but just watching the games on television can take your mind off winter.

 

If you’re not a big baseball fan, the fact that pitchers and catchers reported to spring training might not mean much. It should, however, because spring training is about much more than just baseball.

 

The start of spring training signals a new beginning. Spring is around the corner. The temperature may not have reached double digits for a week, but don’t worry, that first warm day will be here soon enough. The snow will melt, there will be long lines at the car wash and you’re bound to see someone wearing shorts.

 

Sooner or later a tulip will pop out of the ground. If you have young children, it won’t be long before they have their first baseball or softball practice. Have fun with that. It won’t be winter any longer, but standing outside for an hour or two watching kids play baseball takes endurance. Dress like it’s still winter.

 

I am not a big spring training guy. Wake me up when the regular season begins and the games count.

 

My dad, on the other hand, loved spring training. He’d watch the televised games not for the outcome, he’d say, but to keep an eye on player development and find out which players were coming north as part of the part of the 25-man roster.

 

It’s fitting, I suppose, that the Cubs first spring training game will be played on his birthday. He’d be 90 years old. I know he’d be excited about this season more so than most. And with good reason. All Cubs fans are excited.

 

Still, opening day is not until April 5—38 days away. We can talk spring training story lines all we want, the nationally televised, Sunday night game against the rival St. Louis Cardinals is still a ways off.

 

So what to do in the meantime?

 

If you’re a sports fan, there’s plenty on your plate. For instance, there are only 24 games left in the Blackhawks schedule. Half of those contests are on home ice, including tilts with the defending champion L.A. Kings, the surprisingly hot N.Y. Islanders and the rival Vancouver Canucks and St. Louis Blues. The Hawks will make the playoffs, but there’s still a lot to play for. Plus, I love watching all the NHL teams jockey for playoff spots as the season comes to a close.

 

I’m not a huge Bulls fan, but I follow the team. The storyline for them is much the same as the Blackhawks. They’re all but in the playoffs in a very weak conference, but where they finish will determine whether or not they have home-court advantage in the first round. Again, I love the NBA storylines as teams battle for playoff spots.

 

Of course, the mega sports event each spring is March Madness—the NCAA college basketball tournament. The tourney is sports at its best because it has all of the elements sports fan love: endless games, drama, upsets and a Cinderella team. Oh how we love the upsets.

 

Selection Sunday is March 15. Is there anything cooler than watching players from a team that’s on the bubble leap from their chairs in delight when they learn they’ve been selected for the Big Dance? Of course, the selections are immediately followed by debate about which teams got screwed.

 

Sixty-eight teams make the tournament—there are four play-in games before we arrive at the 64 teams that have been norm since 1985. I remember the tournament having only 32 teams when I started high school and slowly expanding over the years as the networks and the NCAA realized that it was money machine.

 

Still, it’s widely popular, everyone fills out a bracket and there are often stories about man hours lost at companies as employees spend more time paying attention to scores than doing their jobs.

 

The Masters begins April 6. I’ll admit there’s real drama on the final day when two or three golfers are battling for the Green Jacket. As far watching the rest of the tournament—or any golf tournament—not interested. But golf fan or not, Augusta National is one of the most beautiful venues in sports with stunning Azaleas blooming everywhere.

 

You may never get your own backyard to look so good, but you’ll get a chance real soon because spring is on its way.

 

 

 

It rained autographs – and swear words — at Cubs Convention

  • Written by Ray Hanania

Hanania-GrapevineMost people who read my columns regularly know I am not much on sports. The only real sport for me is politics, but lately politics has become mean and it’s just not fun to cover any more.
I always thought I’d make a better sports writer. Writing about athletes would definitely attract less anger.
 Last week, I took my son Aaron to the 30th Annual Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Hotel downtown. At first, I was disappointed.
 The Cubs bring in old and new players who sit on stages and sign autographs for fans who wait in long lines. My first autograph line ended just as I was about to get an autograph from some Cubs player I didn’t really know. He decided he had enough and left the stage.
I was left wondering if I just wasted a whole lotta money.
But the next day, it rained autographs. My son collected more than 60 on baseballs from current players like Starlin Castro to former players like Fergie Jenkins and Lee Smith.
The lines were horrific. Standing there for up to an hour to get a quick autograph and a photo with the player was difficult and boring. It was a mess. The conventions had been held in the past at the Hilton, where I was told the lines were better organized, and more fun.
Have you ever seen the autograph of a player, or anyone, who has been writing his name over and over again 200 times in one hour? Sometimes, the signatures just don’t make sense. To ensure we didn’t forget who signed what, I created an iPhone App to take pictures of each autograph and then enter the name. It also let me add a photo of my son (and myself a few times) with the players. (You can see a lot of the pictures on my Facebook page at facebook.com/rghanania.)
Despite all the convention rah-rah about the Cubs going to the World Series, there was a touch of reality. Most players were courteous. Some were just downright mean.
And the fans?
Well, the Sheraton was filled with drunks. “Drunks” and “Cubs Fans” are synonyms. Fans literally brought cases of warm beer to the hotel, opening them as they dropped off their cars, packing the bottles into backpacks. The f-words flew everywhere. Loud and annoying.
Foul balls I can handle. Foul language, though is one of the reasons I hate going to Cubs games, although White Sox games are not much better.
 I got to see friends, like Wayne Messmer, who sang the Star Spangled Banner at the convention opening. He posed with my son and gave him an autograph too.
The only thing that made three days of standing in line less gruesome was Shula’s Steak House, which has the best steak and lobster in Chicagoland.
 But Aaron got most of his autographs outside the lines, waiting for the Cubs players as I sat in the lobby nearby. Some of the players only signed in clout lines where you had to know someone or have a lottery ticket. That sucked. Most of his signers were in the lobby. It was good to see him having fun.
Next time, though, I’ll buy all the baseballs and plastic cube cases from Oak Lawn’s Baseball Card King, where I know I would have saved a lot of money. The convention was way too expensive.

Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall reporter. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . 

You know my bucket list will be heavy on the Civil War

  • Written by Don C. White

History-Don-White-logoI don’t think it is too late to begin working on my bucket list.
I believe it is a very appropriate time, especially after my open heart surgery at age 76 late last year. How many of you saw the movie, “The Bucket List”? It stars Jack Nicholson, a very rich guy, and Morgan Freeman, an average guy, who share a hospital room; in a hospital owned by Jack Nicholson.
Needless to say he wasn’t too happy about sharing a room with anyone, but that was the hospital policy.
And he set the policy.
In the movie, the Nicholson character was so rich he could afford to go anywhere and do anything. So after he and the Morgan Freeman character bonded somewhat, they decided to go to work on their bucket lists.
Well, my bucket list does not include anything near what they did in the movie; such as sky diving, traveling to the Great Pyramid of Khufu or racing cars. Needless to say I don’t have the money to try any of those adventures.
That doesn’t make me mad or jealous of those who do.
It does make me understand that what I have on my bucket list still may not be 100 percent attainable, but again, that’s okay with me. Throughout my life, I have never given much thought to a bucket list. My wife, Helen and my sons, D.J. and David and now my grandchildren, Athena,
Nikola and Samuel have just done things as the opportunity came along. And for the most part,
I think we have had some good times and made some good memories. I hope they feel the same way.
As for my list, I don’t even really have to leave the good old U.S. of A. to accomplish it.
Of course many items on my list will include things related to Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War.
That should be no surprise.
The list is not necessarily in order of how I want to accomplish them. Beggars cant’ be choosers and, as with many of you, it would require the winning lottery numbers for one of the really big jackpots. Oh! The other thing is I have been told you have to buy tickets on a somewhat regular basis to have a chance to win.
The following is my list and it will be subject to change as I grow older and may be less able to complete it.
•Spend many more years with my wife.
•Be here to watch my grandchildren grow into adults.
•Take a trip to Disney World with my wife, sons and their families – my treat.
•Take another trip to Washington, D.C. – including a visit to the White House and talk with a president, visit Ford’s Theatre and as many of the other sites as I have time for.
•Visit a few Civil War battlefields with my grandchildren.
•Write a book of historical fiction about my great-great-grandfather who served in the Civil War.
•Take a cruise down the Mississippi River on a paddle-wheeler and see as many Civil War cities and sites as possible.
•Attend my 60th reunion at Limestone Community High School bear Peoria in 2016.
•Have time to check my family history to see if any other grandparents fought in the Civil War.
•Take a trip to Salzburg, Austria. (I know – I said that I would not have to leave the country to fulfill my list – but this is the one exception.)
I have been given more time on this earth for whatever reason. Many of us don’t know for sure what our purpose in life really is. After my heart surgery last year, I truly believe that there is a reason I was given more time and I want to use it to fulfill that purpose. (Of course, being there to watch Samuel grow up is one.) No, I am not waiting for a sign from above or to be struck by lightning – I will just take it one day at a time and try to do my very best for humankind and see where it leads me.
As an aside, besides all of the cards, calls and well-wishes I received during my heart adventure, I want to thank all of the customers at Ace Hardware who said they read the article in the Reporter. It was wonderful to talk with you and especially those who shared their stories of heart surgeries.

Don C. White is a local historian from Palos Hills who has written a book on the Civil War.