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This past weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting Chicago and taking in its history, beauty, and humidity. I also got the chance to take in one of their best exports…comedy.

The Second City is a 50 year old improv and sketch comedy troupe that has been graduating some of the funniest minds in the country. Their list of alumni include the likes of Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, and Steve Carell. It’s no surprise then that I was literally falling out of my seat laughing during the show.

“We’re All In This Together” is the 36th revue by The Second City e.t.c, which is the side stage troupe at the theatre. As the comedians even mention in the opening number of the show, it is what the audience chooses to go see when the main stage sells out (which seems to be quite often). However, the quality of these comedians are still top notch and I didn’t even realize there was a main stage until after it was mentioned in the show.

I came in expecting a pure improv show, but it turns out their shows are mostly scripted except for a few parts which are improvised. However, even the scripted portions are based in improv. Part of their process in developing a show is to improvise scenes and put what works into the actual show. This provides a higher quality production as it avoids many of the dead scenes that can occur in a pure improv show.

The layout of the theatre just adds to the ambience of being “in this room together”. It is a small black box theatre reminiscent of small college productions. There are small tables every few seats to give it a cabaret feel and waiters to get you drunk before the show starts.

It’s difficult to give a full review to a show that incorporates improv as some of the best moments will change from night to night. What I can say is that the comedians were skillful enough to make me question when some scenes were improv and when they were scripted. They hit all the right notes in keeping me laughing and there was only one scene that I considered dead (mostly because I didn’t get the reference). I highly recommend checking out The Second City if you are ever in Chicago as it is an affordable way to experience Chicago theatre and have a good time.

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Last night, I had the pleasure of watching an interesting Victorian style dance show performed by Danse Libre and Swing Cats. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into it because, frankly, I’ve never heard of Victorian dance before. I was definitely in for a treat though.

Most dance shows are just dance number after dance number and nothing really ties the numbers together. No over-arching plot or story to follow. This show was quite the opposite, though, as there was a full murder mystery plot going on in a 1930s nightclub where these types of dances took place. The dances complemented the storyline somewhat and delivered a very entertaining piece of theatre. The costume pieces were quite elegant and colorful and I’m still surprised those dancers could move in skirts that big! The detail and research that went into these dances definitely showed as I felt like I was witnessing a scene taken straight out of the era. Did I mention that the script was entirely written by the dance company themselves?

Anyway, they have one more showing tonight at 8 PM at the Cubberley Community Center in Palo Alto. Their website has more details. I highly suggest experiencing it if you’ve never experienced Victorian dance before. You’re in for a treat!

Jury Duty. You all get the summons in your mail and then cringe. The excuses start flying through your head as you try to find a way out. Why is that?

Source: Making It

I’ve always wondered why people hated jury duty so much. It’s a chance to give back to the community you’ve lived in. This is the same community that’s been doing its best to protect you and support your way of life. Unfortunately, this week I found out where a lot of this hatred is coming from. I’m still not done with jury selection so I can’t talk about the case or anything like that, but what I can talk about is why I think people hate jury duty so much. At least based on my first impressions.

My hypothesis is that most people are fine with the idea of jury duty and serving the community, but the hatred stems from the process itself. Almost all potential jurors are hard-working citizens with paying jobs. I would venture to say that most paying jobs are with companies and businesses that need efficiency to stay in operation. What that means is employees should come to work on time, finish projects by the deadline, and stay in constant communication with their upper management in order to be productive employees. Time is money.

It seems, though, that the jury selection process ignores this concept of efficiency in favor of something that theoretically works 100% of the time. Let’s start with the saying above, “Time is money.” As mentioned before, jurors are hard-working citizens who get paid salaries or wages based on the work they carry out every day. Jury duty (past the time your employer decides to pay you) pays only $15 a day. That is less than minimum wage! For trials that take multiple weeks, it boggles my mind how the justice system expects these hardworking citizens to live off of $15 a day. Yes, there is that exemption for “financial hardship,” but you need to have a very convincing case to fall under that category. So, I would say for the average juror, they can get by on $15 a day, but have to cut into their savings to do so. That has to build up frustration and anger.

Let’s look at this “time” aspect again. As I mentioned above, the potential jurors come from environments that value punctuality. We were all taught in school to be on time and were punished when we weren’t. However, in my experience in the jury selection process so far, the justice system has no concept of punctuality. In a day where I spent about 7 hours at the courthouse, almost 5 of those hours were either on break (union rules) or due to the court not starting on time. That’s a lot of wasted time a potential juror could have spent contributing to society in a productive way. That also has to build up frustration and anger.

As a scientist and engineer, I see this problem as something that should have a more efficient solution than the one now in place. Perhaps running jury duty like auditions for a high school or college theatre organization may be a better solution. The way those work is that every person auditioning (read: potential juror) has a specific 15-20 minute time slot in which they meet with the directing staff (read: judge and counsels) and audition (read: get questioned). If you come late to your time slot then you get punished with a fine and/or jail. Once the questioning of the jurors has finished, the judge and counsel can discuss and begin making cuts. They can then post a “callback list” of jurors they want to see again. After this second round, they can make their decision about who to “cast” in the role of trial juror. As anyone who has auditioned for student theatrical performances knows, the auditioning process always falls behind schedule. However, instead of wasting days of a juror’s time, they would only be wasting hours. Not a perfect solution, but a potentially better one.