What is Interactive, Really?

by Benjamin Nathan-Serio
The speed of human technological innovation is to me, unfathomable. It is a world unto itself. This state of affairs is thanks to, in no small part, the human imagination; our capacity to connect and learn from one another and conceive some ultimate supercomputer which, in theory, will surpass all human ability. Advancements in the tech sector lunge us closer and closer to artificial intelligence which may one day be capable of human-like thought.
These computers, like ourselves, will become entire worlds unto themselves. Ironically, as we make our way down the information super-highway toward more human-like AI, we are increasingly attached to interactive screens and devices which, one could argue, make us less human. Apparatus which unlock to your fingerprint, your face, your voice, correct your typos and read your body language; all of this technology is called “interactive.” These are interactions between human and machine.
There is another way to think if the word interactive. On the other side of the coin are our interactions with other people; between human and human. One of the largest forums for such interaction is live performance. In the world of live performance, Improv is exploding worldwide thanks to books such as “Impro” by Keith Johnstone, and “Truth in Comedy” by Charna Helpern & Del Close, as well as groups like IO, UCB and the TV show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”.  Today, improvised theater has a presence in every major city in the US and most major cities in Latin America, Europe and beyond. Since the early 90’s the popularization of this form of impromptu storytelling has been steadily increasing. In ’14 the Barcelona Improv Group launched Spain’s first international English Improv festival. By 2017 it was Europe’s largest improv festival, with 200 improvisors representing 22 countries performing to an audience of around 700 people. On Broadway, shows which incorporate improv and immersive elements such as “Tony and Tina’s Wedding”, The Barrow Street Theater’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”, “Sleep No More”, and Live in Theater Production’s numerous show-offers are all testament to the growing popularity of improvised, semi-improvised and immersive story experiences.
In a world where the tech industry is growing and advancing at an exponential rate, and where live theater is arguably in decline or, at least directly in competition with these technological advances, what is it that has caused this growth in live entertainment? There is something that keeps improv audiences coming back. Something that keeps the experience on the tip of their tongues as they proselytize this spontaneous, co-created story experience to their peers. Many audience members will even take the bold step of signing up for improv classes so that they can try their hand at this increasingly prevalent community storytelling. Those last two words are likely the cause of this fascination with Improv; “community storytelling”.
The very thing that those digital ‘interactive screens’ cannot offer us as audience members, at least at the moment, is a sense of living a story together, in symphony. In the audiovisual realm, cinema, t.v., streaming, etc.  are finished products; sculptures frozen in time which can't change. In classic theater, this is true to a lesser degree. The audience, after all, is partaking in a show that technically will never be perfectly duplicated. In improvised theater there is no doubt; this is a story experience which is exclusive to this night, this moment, and these people in the room. No one knows what story will be told and everyone knows that this story will never be told again. The audiences reactions, their laughter, shrieks, silence- in some instances, audiences will even offer suggestions to the actors; these variables will very much guide the trained improviser in their spinning of the story threads. 
There’s no doubt that we are social creatures, we live to connect. And there’s nothing that compares to connecting with a theater full of people during a communal creation and discovery of a plot twist, a character's fall from grace, or their eventual triumph.  The star on the stage is discovering this very moment with you, the audience. Few mediums offer audiences and players such a connection to instantaneous co-created storytelling. Studies have found that the [heartbeats][1] of audiences experiencing riveting story become synced, that[ brain-patterns][2] of people experiencing stories become identical.
There is another medium which invites audiences to participate in the telling of story to an even larger degree. A medium wherein the spectators can do more than laugh or gasp, applause or remain silent to affect the story’s fate. It’s called “interactive” theater. 
I’ve been involved in a numerous stagings of this interactive theater. These have been initiatives of my own and most recently thanks to a nine-month think tank in which I’ve joined 9 other performers called the “Interactive Deep Dive”. The results for our spectactors (whom we call “spects”, short for spect-actor) has been consistent and potent.
There are two basic types of interactive experiences. The first is “blue sky narrative”, meaning that nothing is prepared. The story emerges thanks to the training of the 4 to 7 interactors in story creation and decisions made by a non-performer as the protagonist. The spect is a witting participant. They can be any person from any profession with any experience. We’ve done this ‘blue sky’ experience with dramaturges, dancers, writers, computer programmers, entrepreneurs, producers, traditionally abled and alter-abled, old and young. We explain that we’re about to co-create a story with them. We tell our spect they can do no wrong, then away we go. For those familiar with the Improvisers TJ & Dave, the story begins in a similar way. There is no suggestion, no bearing on anything conscious. The spect steps “into” the story and literally anything can happen. The next period of time, normally around 15 minutes, is driven principally by the spect’s choices and their body language. The spect is in the spotlight for the duration of the story and when it’s done and the lights go down a story has been performed with our spect in the leading role.
The second type of interactive experience is scripted. Naturally, our spect in this experience will not know any lines. We supply them with the necessary information to jump-start their experience; who they are and what world they’ll inhabit for the duration of the experience. These experiences can last for a few minutes, or several days.    
I've learned a lot from creating interactive theater. You don't have a script. You don’t get to plan. You just have to find your own experiences, your own emotions, and create something awesome. At its core, this interactive art doesn’t depend on you reading about it. It depends on you continuing to hunger for real human connection. The kind of connection the value of which is truly invaluable. Every individual is a world unto themselves, and when people come together for the sake of creativity, new worlds are built and the results are unfathomable.

Summer Memories in Paradise

by Benjamin Nathan-Serio

Fantasy comes from ghosts. Fantasy is the people of the North. We are concrete. The ideal is from the Mediterranean. Orestes knows where he is going, while Hamlet wanders lost in doubt.” “La fantasia ve dels fantasmes. La fantasia és de la gent del Nord. Nosaltres som concrets. La imatge és de la Mediterrània. Orestes sap on va, mentre que Hamlet divaga perdut entre dubtes.” – Antonio Gaudí

I’m not an urban planner or an architect or even a philosopher. I can’t claim to know exactly why one city feels like an overwhelming mess and the next is as well-balanced as BARCELONA. But after 10 years here (living in 7 of her neighborhoods) I recognise that there are a few elements which I believe make her as close to perfection as a city could hope to be. Here they are in a 24 hour experience on any given Summer’s day in BARCELONA.

Dawn: On one of the beaches below Poblenou, far south from the guiri-tainted Barceloneta; the dark Mediterranean sky casts shrouds of darkness over the previous nights’ indulgences. In a time-lapse shot the sky leaps into royal blue with fiery yellow-red dashes and hot-pink explosions over the head of two bathing lovers warmed by their embrace and the pristine first rays of the new day’s sun.

Their group of companions still deep in intoxicated banter, back on the sand look up from their circled schmooze and fixate on the image of the climbing ball of fire over the silhouette of their two friends. The couple kiss as the sun clears the horizon and their group of colegas break into a chorus of hoots and hollers sending the sun even higher.

Breakfast: After a ten minute walk across the ivory sand beach (ivory, only because of the light at this time of the morning), an inspired climb to the top of one of the beaches red-rope pyramids, a naked salute to the dawn. The group moves past the McDonalds, the first reminder of the tragic reality of the new day, they march past the tweaking homeless bodies on the bridge over the litoral highway speckled with the early morning commuters, the group begins it’s morning crawl up the Rambla del Poblenou. Their numbers dwindle as some head back to their beds or the couches they surf. Others of the group set out to their jobs in schools, offices, meetings, rehearsals. The remaining few chance upon an early morning outdoor café in the sun. And by the sheer fortune of the day the café makes it’s own bolleria. They’ve arrived before the Catalan baker has had time to paint over her butter croissants with the signature Catalan sugary film. Still hot from the oven, the buttery confections are washed down with the first coffee swallows of the day.

Morning: After breakfast our pandilla continues its amble up the Rambla del Poblenou and then veers off to the left picking up a bottle or three of Vichy Catalan from the friendly Pakistani shop outside the Llacuna Metro stop, to take off the edge from last night’s indulgences. Vichy is the hangover panacea, second only to coffee and Marmite. One of the group picks up a fresh home-made samosa in case there was any question about breakfast being entirely too light.

It’s early yet and the sun is still hard at work burning away the misty vapour that sets-in nightly over this perfect Mediterranean jewel. The group of international hedonists has fully adopted this new day and now are ready for movement, action, creativity. They mount their modes of transport; bikes, Bicing, skateboards, roller skates and a scooter and they head south via Carrer Pujades, destination Ciutadella.

The dew has just begun to dissipate from the grass of Parc de la Ciutadella, once a fortress from which the Aragonese collected Catalan Tax and executed detractors of the monarchy. This morning the Catalans walk their dogs and finish their morning runs with impudence toward this historic shadow. Our group of friends enter the park via the Meridiana-Pujades entrance and pass a guiri and her sculpted instructor busy with her High Intensity Trainee readying her body for the season of sunny English-Lloret. They smell the zoo off to their left, pass the band of stray cats and approach the clearing in front of the Ciutadella fountain.

Ticky-ticky-TAC-tac-TOC, Ticky-ticky-TAC-tac-TOC, Ticky-ticky-ticky-ticky-TAC-tac-TAC-tac-TOC! The rapid rhythm of metal hitting wood in musical time reaches their ears. They round the bend and approach the park’s gazebo, just beyond the fountain where a well attended tap circle is under way. As they approach the beat enters their bones and their joints get to work moving more and more as they approach the gazebo. They are a spontaneous morning dance party, orbiting the practicing tap-dancers within the gazebo. They fuel each others energy; the tap-dancers providing the tempo. More and more people begin to gather as the sun continues to assume it’s position overhead. Newcomers join the dance whose rhythmic energy has become tribal.

After a tremendous crescendo and a 360 degree ovation, the sweaty, foot-loose celebrities are spent and they step down from the gazebo to finally formally great their new fans. The group of internationals is almost doubled now. Turns out they almost all have mutual friends, activities in common. Barcelona is a pañuelo.

There’s a thirst for more movement. An open contact dance taller at a young woman’s home is the next destination. She is known only as the Emperatriz. The twelve-odd unlikely colleagues and strangers find themselves just beyond the last homes on the outskirts of the Poble Sec barrio, nestled into Montjuïc Parc. A dazzling Catalan Bohemian dancer/sculptor/artist whose home has been designed around her creative passions. The 200+ square meters of her house are completely open and floored with sprung parquet. In one quadrant hang a pair of telas, elongated sheets on which dancer-acrobats intertwine their bodies and perform remarkable challenges to gravity incorporating their appendages into knots. Around the perimeter of the room are paintings and sculptures, some beautiful some grotesque, most a combination of the two.

An impeccably dressed Chilean friend produces a violin. The magical hostess sends one of her lovers to the piano and a raucous second round of dance ensues. As the commune of improvised dancers take turns sweeping one another across the floor, just outside the broad sliding glass doors others are gathered in a multi-lingual conversation circle. The light yellow mist of morning is replaced by a humid solar breeze. A trio in the garden begin to call attention to themselves as their disagreement becomes heated. A phone rings.

“Hay una calçotada por la casa de Ismar. Por la Carretera de les Aigües”, the bohemian empress exclaims, “és mes el gos cal passejarli”. And with a flourish the last porros are rolled, her shelter of art is boarded-up and secured and the group sets out toward Tibidabo for the hour of the comida.

Lunch: The disagreement in the garden has divided the group. Or perhaps it was that Jaume had a rehearsal in Vall D’Hebron? Or was it that Dermot, he had a show that afternoon in L’Hospitalet, no? What ever the case, menos mal, Ismar wasn’t going to feed all of BARCELONA. The remaining crew, led by a curiously zen, grey, alsacian-wolf cross-breed, nicknamed the Paraguayan jungle mutt, hike from Plaza Espanya up Calle Tarragona, Josep Taradelles and across Travessera de Gràcia, onto the FGC to Peu del Funicular, onto the Funicular and half-way up the counterweight mountain-face elevator to the Carretera de les Aigües, a cloud of isolated nature floating only 10 minutes over the biggest tourist destination in the Mediterranean.

Some 350 meters on this ‘highway of water’ and down onto a hidden staircase built into the mountainside the group diverts its course from the camino and follows the smoke coming from an oddly designed house quite literally carved into the mountain backdrop of Barcelona, Tibidabo.

The carbon is already lit and the parillas have been set over the dancing flames. The hand blender is heard finishing chopping the almonds. The Jungle Mutt lets himself into the open house.

“Isé!”, the cook identifies the panting buddha canine. The dog walkers follow their guide into the home and pass their host fresh calçots from the Mercado de San Antoni and vino del grifo poured into one and a half litre water bottle from an old musty vinateria. Ismar, El Manchego is a character preserved from the Franco era of Spain. This Albaceteño greets his guests with a flurry of salutations, introductions and exclamations about the heat, the tourists, the state of the world and finally the hunger. ¡Hay Hambre! The almonds are mixed into the romesco and the spring onions are placed on the grill.

After the gastronomic gozada passes, the last café’s are served and the conversations have less and less chispa. The culo of the second or third 1.5l bottle of vino is consumed – only because it would be silly to leave such a small amount. The pack of lunchers are spent and oppressed by their comida al-fresco bajo el sol. They take their cue from a wise curled-up canine whose already heard that ‘call of the wild’ that echoes out on Summer afternoon’s across the peninsula clear from Cadiz to San Sebastian. Siesta.

Afternoon: It’s five-thirty. Quitting time… In New York. Here on this mirador over La Ciutat Condal it’s time to emerge from an afternoon escape. The cool mountain afternoon air crosses Tibidabo carrying with it notes from a neighbor’s flamenco guitar. The guests despiden Ismar and follow the wind Northwest toward the terminus of the Carretera de les Aigües. The city unfurls to their right and passes below, at their feet. The cypreses, pinos, the green drop-off of the mountain before them are scenes from Fantasia. At Mirador Blau they begin their decent into town again, past the Chinese embassy, the stop for the Tramvia Blau, Plaza de Kennedy into Sant Gervasi, down Balmes and then across Via Augusta and finally into Gràcia.

La Vila de Gràcia, the autonomous barri of middle class Catalan families, artists, actors, writers, poets, musicians who make-up a community of genuine contemporary Catalan cosmopolitan gent del barri. Gràcia is something of a safe-haven from the tourists crawling like ants over one another in the neighboring Eixample, Passeig de Gràcia, Rambla de Catalunya, Gòtic and Raval. Here they are at least safe from the guiris de paseo, in town for 24 hours of stag-do stupidity.

But, excepcionalmente, this week a local version of jaleo is set to kick-off as well. The streets are blocked off and decorated with recycled plastic, carved styrofoam and wood, papier-mâché, balloons and literally anything else. The decorations are based on themes from books, movies or some undefinable hallucinogenic inspired universe onto itself. Only Antoni Gaudí’s designs can rival these street adornments. Our group of friends has landed here for the Festes de Gràcia.

Neighborhood bars are set up on every street with toasts and tapas for sale. Bands and singers of all genres and languages cycle through the stages set up every four or five blocks. Tallers of art and readings and theater abound. The empress followed by her trusty Isé lead the groggy friends through the labyrinth of streets and their autonomous recycled universes. The afternoon wanes on.

Dusk: Amidst the growing throngs of people the wild, wired empress and her trusty wolf are lost. The group decide to make their way toward the evening’s final destination. Following Paseo de Sant Joan all the way down past Plaza Tetuan and under Arc de Triomf and over the mall, hanging a left on Calle Buenaventura Muñoz which becomes Pallars just after Meridiana. They pass the Letona Factory and there’s a building with many stripped-out small factory units. Some of these old open spaces have been transformed into inhabitable apartments. Indeed, in a few cases, the results are worthy of architectural design magazines. One of our group calls this unassuming edifice his home. He leads them up to his flat where the evening’s drinks are mixed, is it their first? Their third? Who can keep track? They take the freight elevator to the 8th floor, climb a steel staircase so steep it may actually be a ladder, up onto the roof and step out. On the large open empty platform of a rooftop they take in their surroundings just in time to look to the east where a huge ball of fire on the horizon is just beginning to tuck-in behind the recently conquered Tibidabo. The spires of the Sagrada Família are silhouetted in the blinding light of the setting center of our universe. Behind, the streaks of clouds below a deep blue sky reflect an aura on the red scale. It’s the last warmth of the day. And below the red-yellow swirl of colors are the two towers, the MAPFRE and the Hotel Arts. Then the sea and the olympic born beaches of our dearly intimate ‘Barna’.

Night: In Poblenou, just over the rambla, there is a plaza not more then four blocks from the sea. In one of the smaller more unassuming buildings on the edge of that plaza on the top floor lives an ageless, pirate-magician from Bristol. Though he’s lived in Barcelona for almost ten years, he speaks no Spanish. All the same, he’s known across the land and in fact communicates with every living thing in it. Be it a mite-sized bicho or an overweight Javali, he’s spoken to them. It goes without saying that he regularly checks in with his Catalan, Spanish, Pakistani, Gypsy and all the rest of his neighbors. He rules his world from a faux leopard-fur lined throne in a heavily foliated “Jungle Room”. Lord Wilton as we shall call him, intersperses his hours of counsel with his subjects with visits to his roof-top garden which boasts all manners of plant life.

This magician’s foreign embassy in his homey plaza palace is the nocturnal destination for our group of hedonists. It will be their last stop before they complete their diurnal cycle. Lord Wilton has invited all the good people of the town for traditional English Roast featuring Jacket Chicken, boiled veg and his highness’s signature slow-roast potatoes, to be complemented before, during and after by green goodies directly from the good Lord Wilton’s garden. The only requisite for assistance is to have goodness in your heart and a bottle of red in your hand.

The good folk and food are washed back with goblets of wine and peels of laughter which echo across the plaza. The hours fall away easily and soon most of Lord Wilton’s subjects have retired. As the hands of the clock pass us all into a new day. The remaining merry-makers spiral down to the street to once again feel the cool breeze and familiar mystery of the vast Mediterranean upon them.

Dawn: A shroud of the Mediterranean swathes and cradles this tribe who are so mad to live. They fall into step, back toward the scene which started this perfect day in Barcelona.

Illustrators in Music

by Benjamin Nathan-Serio

Up there with the theater and to some extent movies, illustrators have an exceptional capacity to bend reality and create new deminsions. These abstract music videos have achieved that. Watching them always takes me to another plane. My reactions are visceral. There is a sort of logic in this rapid onslaught of symbols, objects, colors. The feelings provoked are palpable. Go on, take the trip. Click...

APE SCHOOL - Wail to God


New London Rep!

by Benjamin Nathan-Serio

As of September of 2013 I'll be working with Henrietta Mitchell over at Connor Management in London. I'm especially exited about this collaboration because of the energy, enthusiasm and dedication which Henrietta has shown! This is the beginning of a collaboration that I know will bear many a fine fruit!

Gregory Hervelín is Making a Movie in Barcelona

by Benjamin Nathan-Serio

I first published this post about a year ago in early 2014.

Gregory's first foray into taking Barcelona as his visual canvas, in 2010 was codirecting and editing the series "Tessabelle" whose story featured high class business dealings, character manipulation and intellectual property theft. It's detail and neuance covers the equivilent of a master course on International Business Law.

Like so many others artists before him who share in their need to communicate to the masses through the audio/visual medium, Gregory was smitten and relocated his family here from Paris

MAD Improv and SHM

by Benjamin Nathan-Serio

What's all this "Serious Honorable Men" business all about?

"An actor from New York and a comedian from Orlando walk onto a stage in Madrid." Nope, it's not the beginning of a joke, but the result will make you soil your pants with laughter. This teaser/trailer is a compilation of a some of Kirk Bonacci and Benjamin Nathna-Serio's first shows in Madrid where they developed their two-man-improv show SERIOUSLY HONORABLE MEN. For more information, to reserve tickets or just to harass them with your love, contact Benjamin


by Benjamin Nathan-Serio

A Form Is Born

Last night, Thursday December 12th, after six weeks of daily rehearsals, runs, development and feedback from a select few confidants and aficionados, myself and Kirk Bonacci (a comedian and actor) debuted a completely unscripted, unchoreographed, hour-long piece of Improvised theater on a stage here in Madrid for an audience of over twenty. When the theater lights were restored after the closing black-out, the proof that our expectations had been surpassed was standing before our eyes. We'd received a standing ovation.

Improv as a Mirror

Theater is commonly seen as a reflection of our world. "A mirror held up to society" Improvised theater (or Improv) is a form capable of generating this reflection in perhaps its most pure, organic state.

In improv, the player mounts the stage and for all intensive purposes launches into a public stream-of consciousness diatribe. 

Often it is manifested in the form of a conversation with another player, sometimes it is a monologue. Frequently the result is funny, sometimes dramatic. Many are the times which the content provokes debate and sometime the result has very little entertainment value at all.

In spite of all of this, what inevitably results is an ephemeral "script" incubated by the players' life experiences up to that moment, together with the energy of the people (audience especially included) in that space. The idea here is that improv is always a reflection (or an intentional distorted reflection) of that player/group of players experience in our world.


The Road to Release

When Kirk and I first worked together (we met on the set of youth situation comedy The Avatars, here in Madrid) we had a scene in one of the earlier episodes in which I was his "Karaoke Sensei". In that, our first scene with extensive dialogue together, we went completely "Jimmy Falon a la SNL." We corpsed (corpsing is when an actor breaks character by laughing). We corpsed until the entire crew had had enough of our uncontrollable laughter. That's when I knew I wanted to work more with Kirk.

After the series ended, Kirk, remained in Madrid (initially he'd come expressly to work on the series). I wasn't going to miss an opportunity with this young (23 year old) energetic, and remarkable focused talent. The two of us searched for a troop. We knew we wanted to do something within the world of Improv. I myself was "improv-starved." I'd moved to Madrid from Barcelona after helping found the Barcelona Improv Group (BIG) two years earlier. In our search in Madrid asked any and all English speaking actors that we could find,  but there was never any time on their busy, already established schedules. We joined "Freshly Comedy" (Dáire McGill, Dan Feist, Just Shaun, Toni Rodriguez) to develop "Freshly Baked" a branch of the group solely dedicated to Improv. We found an awesome, dedicated and loyal following attached to these guys  plus they are loads of fun to work with.

But Kirk and my style was based more in theater and they're more stand-up and gag based. We'd made a great connection but we knew our strength was in playing off of each other in a strictly free-format improvisation. When we'd exhausted our resources and found that everyone already had their "thing", we looked at each other and said why the F not?! 

And so necessity was once again the mother of invention.  

We began rehearsing our two-man show in late October. It wasn't easy-going at first. We overcomplicated the show and the result was a choppy, jarring and forced runs.

Then in late November we were invited by Will Luera of Improv Boston to an informal workshop here in Madrid run by Omar Argentino (That's really his name. He is from Argentina, but it's also his last name). There we rediscovered the liberty which simplicity brings to a scene. Less is more.  After the workshop we had the honor of grabbing a drink with Christine Cuddy, Dave Sawyer, Robert Woo and later in that evening Paul Dome all of Improv Boston. They made some great suggestions on how we might simplify our act and referenced other two-man acts from which we might gather inspiration.

From that day forward rehearsals for Kirk and I were increasingly productive and enjoyable.  Often rehearsing can be an agonizing process. You're performing essentially for no one.  Your partner(s) is there, but they're mostly concentrating on their own performance. So your motivation in the rehearsal has to come from an imagined projection of how you want the show to be. One must imagine how an audience would receive this and react at a given moment. This is next to impossible to predict as every single audience is different. But these rehearsals were different. We were having fun. We just played and created the most absurd, outlandish, fun stories. Kirk and I knew we had something special going.

One of my favorite aspects of improvised theater is sitting down after a performance and talking about the show that you just witnessed/created (recent conversation I had with the top English Language Director in Barcelona, Joshua Zamrycki ). Observations like; "When you jumped out of the bestiality ringleader's window, I thought you were going to shoot him first" or "... and after you got your head chopped off and you to become a statue in the museum..." or even the occasional "I loved when you beat Darth-Xylaphone in the Xylophone competition" are all within the norm. A reality which had never before occurred to you, is created.

In spite of our great rehearsal run and an optimistic expectations, we were both humbled by the audience's reaction last night. 

Where's This Going

Bertold Brecht tells us "Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it."

Bertold, if you're reading this from wherever it is that thespianic eccentrics go after they've crossed their last stage, we're still here and our hammers are banging away!

Look for SERIOUSLY HONORABLE MEN on Facebook for show dates and venues. If you'll be in the Barcelona area on the 27th of December, reserve your spot at their next show right now

****Special thanks to Scott Cleverdon and Asumpta Serna at Fundación First Team as well as Kelsey Caine, Chus De Castro and Rusty Birdwell for their support in the rehearsal process and to Summer McClanahan for her superior poster design.


Something Is Happening In Barcelona

by Benjamin Nathan-Serio

On the sunny shores of the Mediterranean, something momentous and historic is in the air. 

It's a reservoir of energy and resources that have been rising for years now, but the waters are about to crest and the international flood-gates are opening this November.

It's the theater. Specifically the English language theater scene.  This city's subculture of artists, thespians, bohemians and creatives of all walks of life have always had a firm presence. But over the past five years the English language theater scene has exploded. Just this past year, two new companies debuted their first shows and yet another company resurfaced. That, on top of the handful of regularly performing groups.

Globally, the tides are shifting. In times of societal challenge and change, people innovate, invent and re-invent. Communities return to self expression. Creativity, spectacle and ceremony are therapeutic and often free (or at least cheaper than the cinema).

From this new prevailing tide of creativity, a buried treasure is exposed. One of the crowning Jewels and indeed a catalyst behind this Barcelona creative renaissance is the Barcelona Improv Group (BIG).

BIG was cured in the basements of bars in the gothic quarter and in members' apartments (to the chagrin of many a roommate) and in any number of other makeshift, back-room, rehearsal spaces more then three yeas ago. It is the conglomeration of comedians, actors, aficionados and finally, in the Fall of 2011, the anchor, task-master and some might say guru of BIG, Noah Levin, a professional improviser and comedian, fresh off his flight from New York.

For the first time in Barcelona, a consistent, adult, bimonthly, English Language theater show had come to port. And as the water flowed under the bridge the audiences came and grew!

Two years later BIG is harboring Spain's very first International Improv Festival. 8 teams from 6 different countries and around 100 participants representing almost 15 different countries.

 The prevailing winds tell it all. This festival is an event that is worth you scribbling into your diary/calendar/ship's log. If you're an actor/comedian/performer/naval admiral, if you're in the entertainment/production/nautical business, or if you just want to take life by its veritable bollocks, laugh (a lot) and generally be entertained, you need to not miss this opportunity. 

Even if you're reading this in New Jersey or Shanghai, I urge you to set a course.  I'll be performing on Friday night the 8th at 22hrs.

The creative juices are flowing in Barcelona and from the 6th thru the 10th of November you can rely on some serious (but mostly funny) white water.

INFO: http://www.barcelonaimprovfestival.com/


Chapter Next: MADRID, here's to globalization

by Benjamin Nathan-Serio

The saga that is my career continues. My breakneck thrust into international television (see The Avatars) has me relocated, at least semi-perminently to Madrid. As the Spanish say it, "Madrith-capitál".

The smoke cleared over a month ago. The last shot of the series, ceremoniously ended with- "CORTA, Lo tenemos! (CUT- We have it)" on the 27th of August. Swept-up in the departure of my co-stars, back to their respective United States, I too flew back to the homeland to visit family and friends. This was a wise move, as the stillness which followed here in Madrid was potent enough to bring tears to a kid at Christmas.

My whirlwind tour of the US: Queens, Manhattan, Long Island, Albany, Stephentown, Brooklyn, San Francisco, Manhattan, JFK and... Madrid, was just the destraction I needed to decompress. The anchor that are my family and friends strenthened my core and prepared me for the stillness that somewhat remained back here in Madrid.

But the momentum here seems to be picking up. The "nibbles" come in daily in the form of inquisitive phone calls. It's the typical: "Are you free next Tuesday? Okay we'll get back to you if the client likes your voice" or "Hey we've got this project for this hotel. We really, really like your work, can you come to the middle of no-where for €75/day" Welcome back to Spain. Welcome back to the actor's life.

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Still, there's no other occupation I'd rather be in.  When the work does come in and I situate myself at that creative helm, enter the zone of the audio-visual interpreter and make believe so that my audience will believe with me, there's no other place I'd rather be. And when I say place, I mean mentally.

Let's see how this place panders out, geographically.

Here's to globalization: Madrith

I'm confident.



by Benjamin Nathan-Serio

If we were to seasonally classify the memories of our youth, we'd likely find the most fond, fun, carefree of those memories under the summer category.

Of all those epic summers, and they were epic, my mandatory, inoeffesively rebelious, middleclass liberal summer backpacking of Europe went down as one of the top summer memories of my youth. The year was 2002, the countries were Portugal, Spain, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Switzerland and Italy. On trains, buses and even hitch-hiking I conquered Western Europe and left an elipses in my adolesence that wouldn't be concluded until after college.

Whatever magic occured on the road those 10 years ago, convinced me to relocate perminantly to this ancient cradle of western civilization and nest of monarchs, four years later.

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As an "American (the US ethnocentric reference for ourselves despite the presence of 34 other countries on said continent)" Europe, feels like; going to my grandparents house.  

Europeans have a seasoned, composed, at times old-fashioned understanding of human existence. They've lived it, their previous generations essential scripted it with their own quills.  And as with many an ancient, there is a sage-like understanding regarding the rawness and earthiness of human life.  People eat, defecate, have sex. We're naked under our clothes. Every one of us has our particular deviation and vice. In general folk seem to appreciate this here. After seven years living in Spain I sum up their philosophy on coexistence with the adage "live and let live".

In the US, we're in a hurry to reach our goals, to accumulate our fortune, to make our family, to build our ideal home and to realize the American Dream.  We've been instilled with a feeling of deserving as long as we work hard (or in spite of not doing that).

In Contrast, Europeans are more in touch with the day to day.  Sure they have goals. I've met many whom idolize the American way of life, but on the whole, they know better how to live. For me the proof is in the bar/café life.  According to the website donquijote.org, Spain has the second most bars per person, in the world.  They spend it doing exactly what they love; eating, drinking and being with their community.

The way to live this life, is to do it in both places. I'm going down to my local café right now to raise a glass to bi-continental living and my decision in the summer of 2013.

A Career Landmark

by Benjamin Nathan-Serio

This past week of the 10th of March, was my first of shooting in a project that will undoubtedly be a landmark in my career.

The project is a television series for young English language audiences around the world. The production is an Italian/Spanish collaboration and will be shot entirely in Madrid, principally with American actors. My part assumes a great deal of protagonism, making appearances in every single episode of the two seasons which we are shooting from now, through the summer.

Beyond this, I am bound by contract against publishing much more information. I will certainly share updates here as they develop and as I am permitted.

In these past few weeks of pre-production, rehearsals and shooting, I am excited to see that the entire team is extremely professional, talented, focused and dedicated to the project. We're working hard and having fun.

If this keeps up, we're geared-up for a successful product. stay tuned for more...

I've stopped drinking my coffee with milk

by Benjamin Nathan-Serio

This is a true story:


I usually drink my coffee with a fair amount of milk and sugar. I know that I'm not the most lactose tolerant person, but the milk gives your coffee that wholesome, comfortable touch. Sure, it added was just another addition to all the other non soluble breakfast items (seeds, fiber flakes, fruit, etc) and made for a terrific source of all sorts of gas. But it was cozy, and so I drank it.

The trouble is, so do my flat-mates. They drink LOTS of milk and most frequently my** milk!

A medical piece of information here, pertinent to this narrative, is that whenever I get a blood test, the results always have a red-flag next to me calcium levels. Evidently this can potentially be a thyroid problem, though further explorations always leave the docs appeased. This over-production of calcium is apparently genetic as my mom and uncle also have high Calcium levels.

PART II: WHEN LIFE HANDS YOU LEMONS MAKE LEMON-AID (without milk as milk and citrus are a tough mix).

Recently I had an epiphany: Stop drinking milk in my coffee.

And this is where I'm at to date. It's going well.

-My reduction in insolubles has made for much less "disruptive" mornings.

-I'm saving the pennies on not supplying my roommates café con leche.

-I imagine/hope my calcium levels are at least approaching normal levels.


COFFEE is possible without milk. Sure, it took a good 7 days to adjust and slowly wean myself off the creamy liquid. And yea, I put sugar in my coffee, (a teaspoon and a half). I'm not saying that others should choose this path. I have nothing against the Milk board association or whoever funded that wonderfully successful "Got Milk" campaign back in the lat 90's. I'm not against milk in any way. I still consume cheese and yogurt with a vengeance. It's just that life without it in my coffee has become a lot easier.

One addendum here: I live in Spain where the coffee is made with either an Italian espresso maker, an at-home coffee press or a proper, mother-of-a-coffee-machine which costs more then all the junk in your garage. This as opposed to the traditional North American small bucket of dirty water. In short, one doesn't need to conceal the flavor of the caffeinated liquid in order to consume it.

The Apple doesn't fall far from the tree

by Benjamin Nathan-Serio

In Spain, a country where more than half of young people of working age are unemployed and more then a quarter of the workforce overall is in the same category, the government with the aid of the media has effectively poisoned the quotidian lexicon of it's people.

On the street, in commercial centers, in households, the financial crisis is on the tongues of everyone you meet. Things like "...well, we're lucky to have work at all" and "... the way things are going we can't hope for better..." are essentially a mantra repeated day after day.

As a result or perhaps more accurately, exploiting the opportunity, the government has begun to enforce and create new laws. They're putting sanctions against businesses (mostly medium sized and small) for the smallest violations. This, with the excuse of generating money for the state.

But what about the behaviour of the state?

This Wall Street Journal article talks a little about allegations against the head of the ruling party Mariano Rajoy regarding unlawful handling of funds. And the situation seems to make a lot more sense. Everyone is taking the piss. No one wants to pay the system. And the very, very few who take it upon themselves to follow the letter of the law, find themselves supporting the weight of a majority of "free-loaders" and quickly find themselves wrapped up in an agonizingly confusing exercise in futility. Joseph Heller could write three more sequels to Catch 22 based on the Spanish legal system.

In Summary:

In Spain a chorizo, aside from being a very flavorful type of cured sausage, is another way of saying thief. The saying goes: "There is not enough bread for so much Chorizo"

Indeed, in Spain what there is plenty of, is bread (See Marie Antoinette's PR disaster regarding cake circa French Revolution). And this abundance on Bread in Spain makes me wonder: Perhaps the abundance of "Chorizo" is in fact due to this omnipresent Bread...