defrancisCO : a zero moment

Last night, the last defrancisCO of 2012 was completed. It was one of the greatest nights out there. I promised I’d write something, and I feel moved to do so still.

A few years back, we had an idea to start a show where a student and an older performer/teacher played a long set together. It sounded risky – there were formats that honored a mixed bag of people together, or multiple vets with multiple green players – but nothing in Chicago that just had a 30 minute 2-person set of varied levels of experience.

Back in January 2012, Charna Halpern finally let me test this format. A show slot was open in the Del Close Theatre, a one-off, and even though she doubted the sustainability, she said I could attempt this lottery once.

The word spread quickly amongst friends and students alike, and that Sunday night, this happened.

My first guest was incredibly good, a level 1 student named Dan. He was not only good, but engaged, and his demeanor onstage was exactly what I had hoped for in my wildest dreams. Adrenaline, love, gratitude. Instant connection.

Charna watched that show and gave me a run when I could swing it. At first, it was 4 weeks, then 6, then 8, then 11. Last night was the last of the year, as I elected to take a break with the holidays upcoming.

2012 has been a pretty shitty year – legitimately so, not hyperbolically. Many of you know my family has been through the ringer, and I’ve had a lot of upheaval in general all year long. Many of you who know me a bit know that I tend to be voraciously positive to almost a stupid degree when possible, even through incredibly tough times in my past – but this year, looking at the world through that lens has been extremely difficult to do.

For anyone present last night, you’ve heard this, but it’s worth repeating. One good thing I set my sights on this year is the idea of a Zero Moment, the moments when things have never been attempted before. High risk, high reward. The idea of a zero moment was in my head from a program I heard regarding Bobby Fischer, the chess champion. If you are extremely good at chess, and want to learn what all the pros do, you can study a database that tells you how many times certain moves have been made, what you can do to capture, etc. Bobby Fischer’s famous move – Bxh2 – had never been attempted at a tournament. It was a zero moment. No moves like it, none to look to for reference, just a wild move. He won in what is considered to be the most dramatic and exciting chess match, all time.

After hearing that story, I felt it was time to shake up my performance career. I have been very lucky (and yes, worked a ton – students, don’t expect everything overnight – Nothing is overnight) to be a freelance performer in Chicago now for 10 years. It’s wild. The income has been not great but enough, the opportunities to play the most intimate and giant audiences amazing, and the friendships I’ve made irreplaceable. Because of all that work and those friendships, it’s nice to finally get comfortable. You play with sets of eyes you know, that you had dinner with the night before and went out for beers with for many moons. You have history. That history, comfort level, and trust is the biggest blessing – and quite honestly, leads to great improv, especially if those improvisers care equally about the work. I toured in vans all over the country, everywhere, with SC. I play with a family with a technical business name of ComedySportz. I get to sing with dear friends in front of raucous, appreciative audiences every Saturday in the DelTones, containing some of my dearest friends like Jet, Rance, Lyndsay. I play with 7 boys that I comfortably call my brothers – Joey, Ross, Todd, Rance, Rich, Kevin, Nnamdi – in Chaos Theory. And I knew since I had been blessed, I needed to do something else – like feel uncomfortable.

defrancisCO was born out of that ache for risk.
It couldn’t have been anything without the people I drew out of that bucket each night. And quite honestly, it couldn’t have been what I dreamed it would had the culture of the room been anything different. We somehow found a way to make that room the most supportive, fun, exciting, playful, encouraging room in town every week on Thursday. Every week! It was joy to come out to you. It was a blessing. It was a zero moment, turned into a thing that honestly fueled me through this year – in a horrible time, I knew that improv and this art and people are much bigger than me and that reminded me the world was good.

So thank you to you all – Dan, Lauren, Shantira, Teri Jo, Michael, Mason, Daniel, Elise, Mary, Andrew, Meghan, and the 12th last night – Grant, you made this show beautiful. You made me want to do it forever, and I got addicted to the rush of someone new that felt immediately old. Our language together transgresses strangerdom. It’s like a Rosetta Stone to connection, improvisation. Everyone understands one another, we dance, there is magic. Thanks for you.

So, we take a break now.
As it stands, the show should be back – on Mondays – in 2013.
For now, though, I’m going to hold on to this feeling through the holidays, and appreciate what you have made with me.

Go out there and have your zero moments, too.

Thanks, y’all.