Storybox – Unscripted Theatre

Squire and I have had the pleasure these last couple days and through this week to study a different type of improv that is strongly narrative focused.

There are two things that I really like about this process that I feel should be addressed right off the bat.

1) It has a literary focus, in language and in structure, with narration playing a large part in how the show is created and developed.

2) It focuses less on following up on your own initiations but handing off those impulses to other players because entrances and the characters within it are called to life versus self-initiated. For instance if I feel like a scene needs another players or a new scene should start, I can’t just take it upon myself to make that happen by starting the new scene or entering as a new character. I must announce that a scene or character is about to appear and those around me, support the initiation by creating the environment or becoming the characters that I narrate.

Fun and using many parts of my brain at once makes for steam coming out of my ears.

Laughtrack Theater

Laughtrack Theater had to close its doors at the end of July 2011 at the Bethel location for a bit. Turns out the space next door to them are looking to expand and the timing of the end of the lease wasn’t in Laughtrack’s best interest.
Although it’s sad, it’s also not forever. They are on the look out for an ideal space for improv classes and improv shows so expect to see them in the near future somewhere close by. Keep your eyes open and be ready for a good laugh coming your way.

A tour with Jeff (and Jeannie.)

Today, Squire and I had the opportunity to take a tour of the Norwegian Cruise Line with our very knowledgeable tour guides, Jeff Griggs and Jeannie Cahill, and some of our friends, Jen, John, Kim, Larissa, Scott, and Aaron.

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We all met up at the Restaurant Row Bar to make our way across the street to the pier where the guests and the crew embark.

We first went through a check-in desk, then through security, and once we were all securely inside the first check thru, Jeff began the tour.

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We did not enter through the same area that the rest of the guests had to because we came in as visitors of the crew and weren’t going to be boarding to stay the week. Here we are off to the side of the main check-in watching the tourists go through check-in.

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The crew doesn’t have to go through that way because they don’t enter through the main ship entry way. They enter a different way and here we go.

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Once on board there is another place for us to stop. At this point we give up our driver’s licenses and get these nifty visitor passes for “inside access.”

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Once through all the security Jeff took us upstairs to see the main entry that the guests arrive through.

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It looked like a very patriotic hotel. But one of my favorite places on the tour was the next stop we made, here is Jeff showing us where the Japanese food on the ship could be found.

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The next stop we made was to the Hollywood Theater, this is where Jeannie, Jeff and the rest of the cast perform weekly. The house holds up to 800 and it’s a great space to play. This is where they do their sketch shows.

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Next stop we went to the Mardi Gras Room, it’s where they do improv and where they judge Dancing with the Stars – America.

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Although it was really dark, my flash did the trick and we were able to see behind the curtain. We entered through the side door and were able to exit right on to the dance floor.

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Our next stop was the cabins and we were able to go through the crew entrance to boot.

Home sweet home, when Jeff and Jeannie are at sea.

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All the rooms have a great little device/room number sign. It lets those around you know whether or not you don’t want to be disturbed and welcome among other things.

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After that, we tried to get outdoors and that turned out to be harder than we thought.

Once on the other side (see lever) we learned that the wheel on the door was used to seal the inside of the cabin to be water tight.

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The next safety feature we learned about on the boat were the lifeboats. There were two types of lifeboats. The first ones we saw were the inflatable lifeboats, I recognize those from most movies I’ve seen. The rafts are lowered into the water by these hooks on the side of each row of canisters.

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The main lifeboats were ready to go and they were huge.

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Next stop of the tour we get to see the game room. Many games are played there and many friendships torn asunder, or so I’ve heard.

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Then it’s to the library, I was excited to see this place because I’m glad they had one and it looked very clean and neat.

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Also, Jeff showed us his favorite spot on the ship.

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The next stop was one of the restaurants on the ship that you needed to pay to eat at (the buffet was part of the cost of the package – free). It had two floors and was very patriotic.

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John got to meet George Washington.

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Scott got to dance and hi-five Abe Lincoln.

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Scott also got to lay with the stars.

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Then it was time to take the walk down the stairs.

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Which Squire did in style (and thankfully without getting us into trouble).

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The next stop we made, was a well kept secret off of the elevators on the 11th floor. It was the conservatory. A small area behind the pool bar.

This pool should look familiar if you’ve seen the videos that Jeannie and Jeff post.

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Squire even had the opportunity to play chess, which Jeff said he’ll check to see if someone makes a move after him.

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Next, it was time to get some exercise in so we took the walk to the gym.

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We also saw the small version of the pool and the area to golf and play basketball. Yep, they seem to have it all.

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And the last two pictures I have are of the buffet area. It has a great selection and a lot of choices (for free).

We were able to see the whole boat in about two hours and eat. It was a nice day, a wonderful tour with the best guide and great company. Thank you Jeff for making this happen and we can’t wait to see you and Jeannie the next time you’re in port.

Monica~

Note to Improvisers–Intro’s

When you are doing a form and the coach is putting an intro on you, don’t look at him untrustingly and talk about the problems that you have with intro’s that you have seen in the specific space that you’ll be performing in. A) You don’t know what the coach is going to suggest yet. B) You’re not the only one in the group. C) It kind of makes you look like you don’t have any trust in the process and your coach.

My suggestion: At least wait until the coach gives the intro before you talk about what you don’t like because who knows, the coach may do the thing that you would prefer to do and you might not even have to express any displeasure. Or better yet, just don’t say anything at all and look like a good performer who respects and trusts the people that are in charge and the people around him in general.

BTW, this is not meant as a diss. The situation is pretty open-ended and low-key, and this performer does this for fun, is refreshingly excited about improv, and not interested in any commercial gain. He means well and thinks of this as more of a hobby for himself and treats it as a democracy, which is why, although slightly annoying, I do write this with a chuckle.

End Note: It quickly turned out that his misgivings were unfounded as soon as the coach told them what the intro was.

Big Group Scenes

I’ve been sitting in and helping direct a group of improvisers in a form that involves a five-person scene. We’re trying to make it a form where all the improvisers have their “moment”.

I have to admit that I’m into thoughtful scenework. I think there’s a very tenuous balance to making a large group scene work. The dynamic in the group that we’re working with right now is very interesting. They’re primarily BIG players. They all think outside of the box and play big and loud. It’s a lot of fun to watch but can be especially dangerous in a large group scene.

We broke it down like this though – it’s all about F-O-C-U-S, every one of the players has a reason for being there, and each one deserves focus, so when it’s their “turn” give them the focus because what they say is important and when you start fighting for that focus, it’s chaotic and self-serving. Besides the fact that you can’t hear each other and neither can the audience.

Another relationship post with Improv translations

I follow a couple of feel-good feeds on twitter. Tiny Buddha is one of them, I love the posts that deal with relationships because sometimes I feel that they are the applicable to good scenework on stage as well. Here is my translation in, I hope, understandable improv catch-phrases for you. But for the original article, please click on the title.

7 Vital Choices for Happy Relationships

1. Practice self love first.
(Improv translation – Take care of yourself first, you can make choices right from the top that will help your scene partner and you have a great scene, so take the time to do your things, they will help you support the other person you’re with.)

It seems like you can only have happy relationships if you can be happy with or without them. ~Erika Gonzalez

Know that it is not the other person’s job to make you happy. The only person who can do that is you! ~Christi Emmons

The ultimate kicker: be honest with yourself about who you are. ~Kelly Bell

Know that you can be yourself and still be accepted. The best relationship is when you bring out the best in each other, and you are purely content when neither has anything to say. ~Stephanie Schwenning

Take it off the page:

* Make a list or mental note of all the things to appreciate about you. Realize everyone has flaws, and there’s a lot more right with you than wrong with you.
* Work on forgiving yourself. The past is the past and you deserve to put it behind you, but no one else can let it go for you.
* Be good to yourself today. Practice yoga, meditate, or take a walk.

2. Focus on compatibility.
(Improv translation – Reach an agreement of sorts, everyone relates to everyone else differently, figure that out and agree that, that is the reality that you have established. You don’t have to keep inventing your reality, establish one and reap the benefits of being able to explore that reality to the fullest.)

Be best friends first. ~Wendy Nicholson

Have an incredible “like” for each other. ~Diane Bateman

Have shared (or at least compatible) values and communication. Everything else can be forgiven, accepted, or put aside, however values are the root of how we relate to all beings. ~Frank Ra

Find the person who inspires you to be a better you, and always encourage them to become the best them. ~Corinne Morrill

Take it off the page:

* If you’re single, do something social that you love. You’re more likely to meet compatible people if you get out there and foster your interests.
* If you’re in a relationship, spend some time sharing something you both enjoy. My boyfriend and I met at karaoke, so singing together is a great way to connect.
* If you’re in a relationship with someone and it always feels like hard work, ask yourself: are you trying to jam a square peg into a round hole? It can be scary to walk away from the wrong person, but it’s the only possibility of meeting someone who will feel right.

3. Practice acceptance.
(Improv translation – Improv is about accepting the imperfections of life and building on them. When we say, “Yes, And” we are accepting the way things are and making the most of it. It is how everyone wins.)

Accept that not everyone or everything is perfect. We are all perfectly flawed. ~Simon Kirk

Be non-demanding of your partner—partners don’t tell each other what to do. ~John Bigl

Mutual adoration and acceptance of the differences that make each of you individuals are keys to a phenomenal relationship. ~Casey Kimes

Happiness is a choice, as are all things in life. I choose to see and feel grateful for all of the best qualities in my partner, rather than focusing on shortcomings. ~Emily Roberts

Take it off the page:

* If you feel yourself focusing on everything someone appears to be doing wrong, ask yourself if there’s something else upsetting you. It’s easier to blame other people than it is to look in ourselves, but oftentimes that’s where the problem is.
* If you feel like changing something about someone else today, ask yourself what change you can make in yourself instead. If you feel unappreciated, show appreciation. It’s more empowering and productive to show people how to treat us than to complain about what’s lacking.
* If there’s something you just can’t accept, ask yourself if you’re willing to walk away because of it. We can’t change other people, but we can change our relationship to them.

4. Have realistic expectations.
(Improv translation – Dare to be boring. In life, interesting things happens every day when we open ourselves up to them, don’t feel the need to make it or force it to happen, just let it.)

Don’t expect it to be happy all the time. ~Stephanie Goddard

Don’t sweat the small things and speak up when it really is important to you. ~Elizabeth Sadhu

Remember that it isn’t always happy, but get through those not so happy moments together or apart, whichever is needed. ~Jessica Duff

Keep realistic standards for each other. ~Ashna Singh

Take it off the page:

* Eliminate the word should today—how a relationship should work, how people should act if they love you.
* Notice when you’re projecting something onto the other person that has nothing to do with them, like a fear from a past relationship. Then make an effort to let it go.
* Recognize when you’re looking for that person to do something for you that you need to do for yourself, like make you feel lovable or take care of your needs. Then release those expectations and do it for yourself.

5. Be kind in words and deeds.
(Improv translation – Listen. What you say and what you do matters in the scene. What your partner says and does matters in the scene.)

Think about the person’s feelings before you speak or criticize them. ~Dana Brewer Covey

Have a fast ear and a slow tongue. ~Mark Ward

Have compassion and grow together, not apart, as the years go on. ~Krista Tverdak

Love must be bigger and stronger than anything else. Never keep any record of your partner’s mistakes and faults and be ready to forgive. ~Mel Escobar

Take it off the page:

* Make an effort to really listen—not just wait to talk.
* See the other person as if for the first time. It’s all too easy to take someone for granted. Really notice all the wonderful things they do, and let them know what you see.
* If you get frustrated with each other, ask yourself, “Will this really matter after I’ve cooled down?”

6. Be honest.
(Improv translation – Vulnerability. One of the biggest things that you can do for yourself and your partner on stage is be vulnerable. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and react honestly to what is happening in the reality we’ve established, what we do is always interesting.)

Talk about things that leave you vulnerable from the heart. ~Cheryl Floyed

Compromise and dream together. ~ Becca Stinson

From my grandparents, who have been happily married for 60 years: the three C’s: caring, communication, and compromise. ~Emily Larsen

Don’t sweat the small stuff, and if something really is bothering you talk about it in a calm controlled manner. Leave drama in the theaters and movies. ~Ben Reyna

Take it off the page:

* Open up about something that you’ve been keeping to yourself. It doesn’t have to be big and dramatic. People can only be there for us if we let them.
* If something’s on your mind, express it without implying the other person is responsible for your feelings.

7. Remember to act.
(Improv translation – Don’t just stand there, do something. Do something physical, do something emotional, do something big, do something small, do something loud, do something quiet. But most of all, do something you wouldn’t normally do. You may just surprise yourself.)

When you’re bored, do something about it. ~Ernie Somers

Adjust to change. Adjust to moods, lifestyle changes, and new additions, and always remember to love. ~Elysia Cordero

The rest comes and goes as we change and grow and struggle, but being able to laugh together brings you back together. ~Kerry Kokkinogenis

Have rich individual pursuits and pursue things together. ~Laura Texera

Take it off the page:

* If you haven’t in a while, take time to do your own thing today—completely on your own or with friends.
* Take time to laugh together, whether it’s watching funny YouTube videos or trying something new together.
* If you feel dissatisfied with your life, don’t assume it’s your relationship. What other adjustments could you make to feel happier with your place in the world? Maybe you need to take a small step toward a hobby or more fulfilling job.

And lastly…

Start over again and again. ~Miguel Angel Carrillo Infante

It’s a new day–a new chance to practice giving and receiving love.

Fun with Dicks & Jane (and friends) at Ward’s Rafters – Friday, January 14, 2011

Fun with Dicks & Jane (and friends)
A Secret New Year’s Show Just for You!

Dicks & Jane "Karma"

Dicks & Jane (Ds&J), Hawai’i’s newest independent improv troupe and special guest, R. Kevin Garcia Doyle, perform an improvised evening of entertainment to officially welcome in the New Year on Friday, January 14, 2011 at 7:30 p.m. at a “secret location” (now disclosed! Ward’s Rafters! 3810 Maunaloa Avenue, Honolulu, HI 96816 – in case you need to call 808-735-8012).

“Fun with Dicks & Jane’s (and Friends)” will be a two-hour performance spontaneously created by the performers based on audience suggestions. With original and classic short-form games (improvised games, like those seen on Whose Line is it Anyway?) and long-form pieces (improvised vignettes that tell stories), there’s sure to be something for everyone.

The two long-forms for the evening will be, a two-person long-form called Ajar, starring Jennifer Waihe’e and R. Kevin Garcia Doyle, and Ds&J’s signature form Karma. Karma is a conglomeration of ideas and concepts imparted by many acclaimed improv teachers, such as Jonathan Pitts, Jeff Griggs, and R. Kevin Garcia Doyle. Meant to be a source of entertainment for all audiences, Karma is a long-form that explores causal links between relationships. The actions and inactions of each scene’s characters affect the characters that follow. This long-form is guaranteed to be unique, thoughtful and not-to-be missed.

Ds&J is a troupe made up of six improvisers regularly inspired by audiences at Laughtrack Theater Company in downtown Honolulu: Squire Coldwell, Monica Coldwell, and Jennifer Waihe’e, and three different varieties of John hailing from; Hawai’i (John Waihe’e), Seattle (John “Jay” Polk), and New York (John Schemitsch). Together, they make up Ds&J, a rare improv group that enjoys performing forms that are both visceral and cerebral. Special guest appearance will be by R. Kevin Garcia Doyle, Hawaii’s own improvisational guru and father of improv, responsible for most things improv in Hawaii.

For “secret show” information; email, tweet, facebook, find, and friend. No cover charge at the door or tickets needed, tips are appreciated and will go to allow the performers to perform their original form, Karma at national festivals in 2011.

For more information about Dicks & Jane, please e-mail Monica Coldwell at improvhobby@gmail.com.

Finding Strength in Vulnerability with Jonathan Pitts

Saturday, October 30, 2010 at Laughtrack Theater

Class Description: Improv vulnerability scares everyone. That’s why it’s easier to fake awkwardness in a cute, clumsy way than it is to be actually vulnerable on-stage with your scene partners. The key to improv vulnerability is to focus on first being open as an improviser and then let everything said or done onstage, by your scene partners or even yourself, have an effect on you. Then what appears as vulnerability becomes a super-sized strength, as the audience’s eyes follow your every move, as your characters become grounded and as your relationships become real. Through that reality of improv vulnerability, laughter always follows. The workshop process’ focus will be explored through the process of two and three person engaged in open ended scenes.

Instructor bio: Jonathan Pitts is the Executive Director of the Chicago Improv Festival Productions. He is also the Co-Founder of the prestigious Chicago Improv Festival. This is his 14th year producing the festival. He’s been involved in improvisational theatre for over 30 years.

He is also the creator/producer of the CIF’s All-State Improv Team; College Improv Tournament; Ridge Park Summer Theatre Camp; and Teen Comedy Fest, as well as CIF Production’s touring educational outreach programs, The Make ‘Em Ups; Storybox For Kids; Viola Spolin – Visionary Woman of Play; and World Tales.

He has improvised in over 1,100 shows with numerous ensembles in Chicago and across America, in everything from games to long-forms, and from scenes to experimental work. He was a member of Improv Olympic’s first ever house team, Stone Soup. As an actor, he’s appeared in over 30 plays and performance pieces with several Chicago area theatre companies. He’s also a former company member of The Blue Rider Theater.

Additionally, he’s also the creator/director of several theatre productions, as well as the improvisation theatre forms: The Oracle; The Silent Movie; and Storybox Theatre; as well as The Marty, a teaching exercise that he utilizes in his Whole Body Listening workshop.

As an improv teacher, for the past 13 years he’s been a guest artist at The Second City Training Center and he’s also a 3 year faculty member at Piven Theatre Workshop. Nationally, he’s taught in Albuquerque, Atlanta, Champaign, Chapel Hill, Honolulu, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and San Francisco. Internationally, he’s taught in London for The Spontaneity Shop; and in Norway for Norsk Sceneskrekk.

For 7 years, he was the theatre/performance art curator of the Around the Coyote. For 3 years he produced the Director’s Festival for Bailiwick Theatre. While there, he also produced Naked I, a Chicago visual performance arts fest, and Art Attack, an arts festival in Michigan. Currently, he’s an Advisory Board Member of Director’s Lab Chicago and the Windy City Burlesque Festival. He’s also currently an Artistic Associate of Philadelphia’s Duo Fest and Austin’s Out of Bounds Comedy Festival. He’s a former Artistic Associate of Bailiwick Theatre and WNEP Theater.

He’s interviewed in three documentary films about improvisation: The Compass – America’s First Improv Theatre; The Delmonic Interviews; and Improv Legends. He’s a contributing writer to Anne Libera’s book, The Second City’s Almanac of Improvisation. He also wrote the forward to Asaf Ronan’s book On Directing Improv, and he was profiled in Tom Salinsky’s & Deborah Frances-White’s book The Improv Handbook, which was published in England and Europe. For 3 consecutive years he was selected by New City magazine as one of “Chicago’s Top 50 Theatre Players”.

Notes for Posterity:

First, let me start by saying that this class had me wiped out for the rest of the weekend. I’m serious. The class was centered around the idea of being open to the energy around you and the energy of the people around you, too. It was very holistic and the energy of the whole is integral to the group dynamic.

Pitts began with talking about Del Close and that Pitt’s always thought of him as his “improv father” but his “improv mother” was Martin deMaat. He cared about connections between people and the relationships and that was the center of how and what he taught.

This class was very different than most. We started off by warming up the parts of our bodies that we felt we needed to work on. Then we dove into exercises. We did three of them. All of them involved keeping your eyes closed and we did them in this order.

1) Two people at opposite sides, facing each other. When we were told to start we would walk toward each other with our eyes closed. At the point we felt the other person’s energy we then stopped.

2) Three  people in a line would walk towards the wall. They must start and stop as a group.

3) Two person scenes with your eyes closed. Both people remain seated and must do the scene while their eyes remain closed.

In general, I think Pitts left a lot of us with quotable nuggets. Here are my favorites:

  • Vulnerability is a product of being open.
  • Being open is a choice by you and it’s not something someone else can do for you.
  • Give a gift, not an entire Christmas.

Side note:
I did want to add one thing about the idea of group mind. I come from a theatre background, so I’m used to coming into a show and working on it as a group. There are no misconceptions about what we’re doing and I think that (out of all the things about theatre and improv) this is the most translatable. When you come into a group, I don’t think you should worry about having “group mind” with those around you but having a group purpose that you are all working toward. As a coach, creating a common language can help that, but as a player, just understanding why everyone is there in the first place, with this group of people, working on this form, may help lessen the drama (if you have any). We’re here to have fun and enjoy the process of creating something from nothing, right?

Windows has a new (?) blogging tool

I just checked this out on my Windows 7 laptop, it’s called Windows Live Writer. I don’t know how user-friendly it is yet, but I think it’s interesting in concept and so far I’m impressed. I can post to different blogging sites like WordPress and Blogger (among others). So far the test has been fun and interesting. Here is the screen print out of what I’m looking at right now. (I just did a shortcut to print screen and pressed ctrl+v (paste) to add it to the page.) Awesome! I was even able to change the size in the document itself.

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Happy 2011 Everyone.

To start the new year off right, I just want to make sure I post at least once in January 2011. I don’t quite know what I’d like to talk about yet, but I would like to share some of the interesting things that I liked of 2010.

Streaming online football games and tv series that I missed or cannot watch on regular tv. Without the worry of DVR setting and space limits, the world of on-line watching has become an amazing landscape. This past year I was able to watch a football game I couldn’t get on tv, streamed in spanish and later in italian. (The world of cross-cultures collide in very interesting and educational ways sometimes.)

A zombie tv series. Things you’d never expect, only happen in a world that’s constantly evolving, or like in the series, devolving.

Reconnecting with family. I am not someone that has a close relationship with any of my relatives but I do think it’s amazing what happens when you reconnect with family members that you haven’t seen for years (I do mean YEARS.). You remember the small little children that you had to babysit or the elders that you wouldn’t dream of speaking to because it never even crossed your mind to have a conversation with them and you were too busy running around without any supervision because the kids watch over each other. Then you don’t see them for years and all of a sudden no one is a baby anymore, they have jobs, lives, significant others, and too many things going on, just like you. But they’re still family and you are in the unique circumstance of getting to know people that you’ve known your whole life for the first time. How exciting and terrifying is that?