Visual Arts — June 24, 2014 9:52 — 0 Comments

Those Moments That Happen, An Improv Conversation

Four nights a week for four years of my life I climbed up the cobblestones of Post Alley past aproned smokers and Gum Wall gawkers. Below Pike Place, below a neon sign that made no noise, I would split the jutting line at the Unexpected Productions box-office and bow into the Dionysian temple that is the Market Theater.

It was there that I first saw Tim Tracey swagger onstage and make clear that no one – himself included –   could predict what was coming out of his mouth. It was also there that I first heard Randy Dixon, UP’s Artistic Director and a close friend and pupil of the late Del Close, dissect storytelling and theorize that improvisation is a phenomenon of the “group mind.” I didn’t know during either of those firsts that improv would get inside of me. It was still just a fun thing to watch and try, not something that would push out against my boundaries of experience and thinking.

A year removed from improv, and Seattle itself for that matter, I sat down with Randy and Tim to re-enact the ritual that usually takes place after a show in the empty rows facing a blank stage – one of philosophizing and confessing as the imperfect instruments improvisation repeatedly reveals us to be. Below is a sample of that conversation:


Ahsan Butt: So why do you keep doing it?

Tim Tracey: Generally, in life, I am obsessive about things. I find something I like and I do it until I burn out. Improv hit me in a big way during the 300 level classes. Jay Hitt was my teacher. We did a format called “Topsyturvy.”

AB: What is Topsyturvy?

Randy Dixon: It deals with “topsyturvydom” – the idea of everything being the opposite. Opposite universe, kinda thing. You see a scene and the idea is how many things can you make the opposite in the next scene.

TT: So we did this piece, me and three other guys, I still remember bits of it. It lasted 20 minutes, but felt like five. It was so fast and crazy. When it was done, I was high off that energy for three days. That was my first pure improv experience and I’ve been chasing that dragon ever since. So I know what’s out there – just gotta keep doing it until I get there again.

AB: Randy, what made you start improv and what was the scene like back then?

RD: I started when I was 15 because a friend didn’t want to take a class alone. I was too young to really think about why I was getting involved. It was something to do. A few years into it, I found I was drawn to the work, the immediacy, and the story.

When I started, you were taught the basics from a teacher and then failed over and over again in front of a very small, but vocal audience. It was not for the thin-skinned. The scene was very different in that there was almost no infrastructure in place. No schools, few teachers, and only a handful of groups. Fortunately, you had access to really great teachers who loved improv. It also meant that very quickly you were exposed to some of these first generation American improvisers, which was amazing.

AB: This was the early 80s, right? Was this an underground thing? Who was coming to shows?

RD: I started on and off in late ‘79 or ‘80 and didn’t really get consistent until ’82. The audiences were very, very small. I remember doing a show as late as about ’92 in a coffeehouse in Ballard, where the only audience member was Del Close!

AB: Dear God. Beyond being known as mentor to an incredible list of comedians – John Belushi, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, Tina Fey – Del Close is often depicted as this Hunter S. Thompson father of improv. What was he like as an audience of one? What was your relationship with him?

RD: He was a great audience! Had a great knowing laugh. Del and I were good friends. He was certainly a mentor for my development. We would talk about all kinds of things beyond improv like science fiction, Wicca, death, the theater.

I would see him every time I was in Chicago. We’d hang out in his apartment or around town hitting bookstores, restaurants, and seeing movies. We’d do the same when he was in Seattle. We had a contest to see who could find the hottest hot sauce. We’d mail them to each other. Of course, he eventually won. My favorite one he gave me was called “Woman Scorned.”

We would also bounce ideas back and forth about improv. I would always watch him teach. He was really great at pushing me out there to do more, think bigger, bring in outside concepts, etcetra. Why me? I have no idea. I don’t know exactly when and why he took a liking to me, but it was a great time. I miss him.

TT: Were you ever nervous or did you play it differently because he was there?

RD: No, I played the way I play. He would say that an audience smells bullshit, and I think he was like that. He could see through things. Del was great at giving detailed feedback and he would laugh quite a bit.

AB: Tim, when did you start?

TT: I started improv about 10 years ago, 2003. I was 35 or 36 years old. I couldn’t really tell you what the scene was like then. My only exposure to that point was Robin Williams’ stand-up, which was supposedly improvised – though he repeats himself a lot so not sure how much is actually improvised –  and Jonathon Winters who I’d seen on TV as a kid, though I didn’t really get it. I had seen one improv show prior to taking classes, maybe seven years earlier. I was pretty drunk at that show and hardly remember it.

I took classes because a friend suggested I might like it. My thought was that I would become Robin Williams or my own version of that. I was excited about the idea of being totally free to do whatever I wanted to do in a particular moment. I could dance, I could sing, I could say funny things or I could say heavy and serious things. I could be whatever I wanted to be.

While taking classes at UP, I attended as many of the shows there that I could. Eventually I started my own group called “Improv Faction” with some other students and was exposed more to a scene which, from what I could tell, consisted of two houses and a handful of groups that performed somewhat consistently. The biggest group then was “The Sisters of Sal.” We did shows with the Sisters fairly regularly. By shows, I mean, performing for three or four people in the basement of ArtsWest or a late night slot at the Bathhouse Theatre.

It was raw and nerve-wracking and exciting as shit. In those early days, it was all about ME and what I was discovering. I was doing performance arty stuff and base humour. Other than that, the scene was up to me. I wanted to be in UP.

AB: I’m imagining you sweating and spitting on everyone in the room. Was raw Tim Tracey a cuss animal?

TT: I mean ‘raw’ more in the sense of how I felt all the time – exposed, maybe. I lived more in a fight or flight mode. I’m in a scene and all eyes are on me and it’s going nowhere and I want out and I’m in full panic mode and the eyes are getting bigger and I’m not deer in the headlights – I’m deer at impact and it’s so hot up there and I’m just doing or saying anything to get the audience laughing and on my side. That’s what I mean by raw – no buffers, no filters. Everything was good or bad. Nothing in the middle.

AB: Do you remember the moment you got into UP?

TT: I got a phone call from Jill Farris around 10:15 or so on a Wednesday night after Playground on my way to my car on Western. It was a short call to the effect of “Hi Tim, this is Jill Farris.”Of course I knew that was the call – either you’re in or you’re out. Jill had been my 100- and 400-level teacher. She is one of the best improvisers I’ve ever known and – this is tough, but here it goes – the best teacher ever. Jill was humble, but never self-deprecating and always confident. She listened and understood because she’d been there – wherever you were – at some point. She was nurturing and motherly and maybe because of the motherly part I wanted to please her. So it meant a lot to me that she was the one on the other end of the line.

To this day, I have a feeling most of the time of being on the outside looking in. Making people laugh has been a temporary cure to this feeling. When the laughter subsides, maybe I’m still in, maybe I’m back out. The phone call was an invitation to be inside. To be me and inside. To not have to make people laugh in order to be inside.

AB: Randy, how did you decide to start UP and what was the initial vision?

RD: Vision? There really was no vision. It started as essentially bowling night for actors and improvisers. We only had space to play Theatresports and nothing else really. Once we were somewhat established, we did a show at Swannie’s Comedy Underground on Monday for a handful of people. We’d divide the money amongst the players then promptly drink twice as much as we were paid.

Early on, someone proposed that we save the money rather than divide it. The intention was to eventually get a theatre which seemed so impossible at the time. The business was run out of Velveeta boxes. I mean almost two years of business fit in one of those boxes!

Going from a student to being a member was pretty easy. You just had to be asked to be on a TheatreSports team.

AB: How’d you coax those initial audience members into watching? Here we are 30 years later and UP’s Theatresports is the longest running live show in Seattle. Can you single out a turning point where you felt this Velveeta-prov take off?

RD: Coax? There was no coaxing. They just came or did not come. We performed everywhere, which helped regarding exposure I suppose. Swannie’s audience built and doing shows at Pioneer Square Theatre helped. We had our first lines outside and players became popular, etcetra. There was a building audience, but the talent onstage was so committed and amazing and there for each other.

AB: When you say the talent onstage was amazing, what does that mean in the context of improv?

RD: The overall top of the class improvisers were much more theatrically and comedically experienced walking through the door than improvisers now. Most of them had extensive theatrical training to really use the stage and performance as a tool to access comedy. Outside influences of news, philosophy, politics made their way on to the stage in a very easy and everyday way with not so much cultural reference. Probably the changes since are cultural and not specific to improv.

AB: Both of you are comfortable improvising dramatic scenes. I think people find it intuitive that two people can get up on stage and create humour spontaneously, but people seem to think that good drama can only be achieved by one person alone, writing it, plotting it…

TT: I don’t agree with that first part. Why would people think you can’t get drama out of spontaneity? What I love about doing improv in general, is finding – I don’t want to say finding the truth of the scene because I think that’s thrown around a lot – is finding my own truth in the character that is there. So if the scene is happening and I’m having a scene with this woman and we’re flirting or something like that, I can find the reality from my own life and put myself in there pretty easily, much more easily than when I do scripted stuff. There’s something about it, being in that moment, maybe I’m more vulnerable or something.

RD: I think a lot of people don’t improvise drama because comedy to a certain extent is easier to get to in improvisation. For instance, you can play with juxtaposition and get laughs, whereas in drama you have to be in touch with emotion, be in touch with real things, and I think that improvisers often times shy away from that. I don’t approach any of them differently. I just improvise and play the scene the way the scene wants to go. I just taught a “serious improv” workshop and the first part of it is talking about comedy and how there is humour no matter how bad a situation gets, there’s still some sort of ironic laugh. That, to me, is what you’re looking for. You have to honor the comedy and humor even in a dramatic scene. When you don’t, you end up with what we tend to see in dramatic improv, this maudlin, overwrought overacted…being serious.

AB: I think the melodrama and unearned emotion is a major pitfall, especially if you have people who aren’t trained in theatre like you said. That’s where this sad-prov comes from.

RD: And then you do the sad-prov thing, you force it, and then you blame the audience. “Oh the audience wants comedy!” No – the audience wants something

AB: Good…

RD: Yeah, good.

AB:  So that brings up a question of context. With Theatresports, which is a series of games, often short and fast-paced, I know you’ve always pushed us that if something is going heavy, let it go heavy. Do you think that the audience expectations of a bachelorette party-type show don’t matter if what they’re seeing is compelling?

RD: Well, you don’t want it all to be one thing. You don’t want an evening of sad-prov with your bachelorette party. But they’ll watch a scene. It’s not like they don’t have drama in their lives, sadness in their lives. So if you play it as that’s what occurs, if you subscribe to the group mind like I do, then the audience has also provided you with that moment. Everyone in the room has said, “Hey this could be serious and we’ll all like it.” Or “most of us will like it.” You’re not going to get everybody. When we talk about this in class, I always say we call it “improvisational comedy.” If “improvisational” means “comedy,” then it’s redundant. It’s “comedy comedy.”

AB: We talk about “tapping into the energy in the room.” It sounds almost like a mystical thing – this idea that you can feel other people’s emotions even though they’re not communicating to you verbally and you can’t even see them.  I think we’ve all experienced that to some extent. What do you think is happening there? And I know Del had some ideas about this.

RD: Well yeah, Del was big on the group mind aspect, and I think he would probably agree that what we’re doing in improvisation is a highly active interconnected network. So you’re dealing with a lot of things in the way that – say, your body is connected. Your body contains a lot of things. In fact, I just went to a lecture a few weeks ago about the notion that a lot of your DNA by percentage is actually non-human DNA. You’ve got all sorts of fungus going on, so when you move your arm all that stuff has to communicate, let alone the billions of atoms, like a giant flock of birds they’re all moving together. How do they know to move together when I move my arm like this? And so I think what happens when you’re doing improvisation, and this is really a simplification of it, if you’re improvising well and collaborating with everyone in the room, you drop the ego state off and join the collective state, and when you have the collective state, a lot of stuff can happen. One of Carl Jung’s arguments was that this explains UFO sightings. You have these collective hallucinations. That sort of thing.

AB: Tim?

TT: Yeah…that’s good. I was going to say it’s because everyone is drunk.

But no, I think…the size of the room matters. The physical space matters. You feel it a lot here because it’s full and there’s nowhere for the energy to go. I don’t know if it’s the Jung stuff.

RD: Think of a huge event. It’s what happens at rock concerts or sporting events.

AB: Any time I say to someone, “I’m going to improv rehearsal,” the obvious joke I get is “Rehearsal? I thought you said it was improv!” For the most part, the person is joking, but I think there’s something honest in there where people think either you’re born a good improviser or you’re not and it’s not something you learn. Do you think that’s a common perception and if so, why do you think that’s there?

TT: I think that some people are born funnier than others and because improv is connected to comedy, you can have that idea. And there are a lot of people you work with in classes, they don’t have that… they’re not relaxed, they don’t have that charisma. I don’t know where you get that charisma. I don’t think you can teach that.

AB: I used to think charisma was something you are born with or you’re not, but I’ve seen performers who didn’t have it slowly start to grow into it until I’m like, “Damn, they’re cool now and I want to be like them.” So I still haven’t figured out exactly what charisma is. Do you have to convince 100 level students that they can learn improv?

RD: Yes, I think you are convincing them that they can do it because they think they can’t do it, even though they’re improvising all the time. What happens – what ignites what we’re calling charisma is confidence as they get more skilled. And that’s the thing. In rehearsal, you’re not rehearsing improv. You’re rehearsing skills and techniques you’re going to use when you’re improvising. You can’t teach somebody to be funny. You can teach somebody to hone their skills. But you can’t take someone who isn’t funny and make them funny.

AB: Do you think someone who isn’t funny has a place in a major ensemble?

RD: Yes, yep. I always talk about looking for that straight person. And it’s not really straight. It’s not that they’re boring or not funny. It just means they know when to play things for real. If you have someone who is being cartoony and you have them countered by someone playing real, that’s incredibly useful. I say this in class all the time, funny people are easy to find. Very easy to find. What you really want to find is the people who can walk that balance. Del used to joke: “Fat guy walks into the room – give me the fat guy!” He’s going to be the naturally funny guy, but what you’re looking to do is find those people who can work either way.

AB: It’s interesting to watch how student groups go about picking their members.

TT: I love student groups. You see a lot of them in 300 or 400, because they tend to be more dedicated by that point, someone says they want to start a group and everyone wants to be in that group. It’s hard. You have to tell people, for whatever reason, “We don’t want you in it.” You can see it. It can become clique-ish. You end up having this inner-circle in the class. I love trying as a teacher to get students to form groups. I’m jealous a lot of times because it’s just brand new. And at that point you’ll do anything. You’re putting no barriers in front of yourself and I love that feeling.

AB: There’s desperation too.

TT: There is, there is. And you’re scared to go out and you’re doing a show and no one is laughing and that’s the only way you know how to gauge that you’re successful and you’re thinking, “I’m not going out on that stage”…

AB: And you get weird and awkward…

TT: Yeah, weird and awkward. And you finish your show and one guy is saying, “That was amazing!” And you’re like, “That was the worst thing I’ve ever done.” But that’s great though, after you’ve been doing it for 10 years, all that stuff evens itself out. You don’t feel the highs or the lows. It’s a rarity that you do something now where…

RD: I challenge that a little bit.

TT: Do you?

RD: Yeah, because I think the hard part after you’ve been doing this for so many years is to challenge yourself to do new things, and when you do that, you can get that high again.

TT: No, I agree. I mean we do stuff here in shows that blows me away. I’m just saying I don’t feel as high as I did 10 years ago as a student nor do I feel anywhere near as low. You do have bad shows. “Oh god, that sucked…those were bad choices…I wish I hadn’t done that.” But it’s not at all like a student where you beat yourself up for a week.

AB: As a student, you feel like you suck as a human being when you can’t do a scene right.

TT: Right.

AB: After thirty years of Theatresports for you Randy – and ten for you, Tim – how do you keep it fresh for yourself, as well as the audience?

TT: My thing is getting back to basic listening. I’ve been working with students on narrative stuff for so long that I’m so focused on narrative stuff and I find myself just driving over things. Just not listening. So now my thing is to just take the time to listen and that’s challenging. And finding those games that I don’t enjoy playing and finding out why I don’t like to play them. It’s not the game, it’s you.

AB: Randy, you talk about that in class. You went through a period of relearning the purpose of all the games.

RD: That’s something I often return to in Theatresports. How can I play this game to make me a better improviser? For me, I find myself in Theatresports called upon to fill the role that needs filling. So in a musical, people say, “Oh Randy hates singing” – and I don’t care to sing, I don’t like subjecting the audience to my singing – but I end up playing a supporting character that makes some plot offer. Why? Because everyone wants to sing a song.

So trying to find those sorts of challenges, depending on whom I’m playing with. Sometimes you’re playing with experienced players and you’re bumping up against their bad habits that they have encrusted themselves in. So it’s like, how do I trick them? It becomes more playful. Then with new players, you’re the better tennis player trying to raise their game.

TT: I think what’s interesting for me as well is that we’re just scratching the surface and I don’t know what’s underneath the surface. I just feel like there is something. I feel like we can do so much better. I’m still so inspired by the possibilities and those moments where you’re totally connected to somebody onstage, even if it’s only for a few moments doing a dance number or something like that. Or where you make an offer that’s metaphorical or physical, not a literal offer, and the other player gets it. That’s still mind-blowing. That’s why I still do it today as much as I did it 10 years ago. Four nights a week.

AB: I remember this one night sitting in the bar talking to Greg Stackhouse about a scene I had just done in which I had said a lot of vague important-sounding dialogue, but nobody knew what was happening and even I got offstage and was like, “What just happened?”  I was panicked that I was regressing and Greg said to me, “All the things that we learn – CROW [Character Relationship Objective Where], stakes, everything – they’re all tools to help us make something onstage important. So just do that – make something important.” Is that an accurate summation of what the training is about?

RD: I think the skills – identifying CROW and the promise of the scene and all that stuff – isn’t so much about making something important , it’s about finding what’s already important in the scene and using the tools to identify that.

When I’m teaching people narrative, I’m not teaching people anything. I’m just pointing out things they already know about stories. So if you can identify those parts and put a label on it, it’s much easier for you to see it in your own work or somebody else’s work.

AB: It’s creating a language so you can short-hand it.

RD: Right.

AB: We’ve talked about improv being exposing and revealing. One night Tony Beeman said that if he were to look at my body of work and do a retrospective on what my art is about, like you do with film directors, the theme would be “disappointed father.” I think that’s dead-on given the choices I tended to make in scene-work and some personal stuff I was working through. Have you had revealing moments that you wouldn’t have wanted to get out?

TT: I like this idea of a retrospective, we should have that. I’d love to know what people thought my theme was. I don’t think I’ve ever revealed anything I didn’t want out. It’s not that I’m holding stuff back.

I think what’s interesting about improv is that it’s characters talking, but it’s actors talking through the characters. If someone were to say to me, “You play a lot of racist characters.” Okay. There’s a part of me that I deal with all the time that is judgemental or somewhat racist or somewhat sexist as a person and I’m not afraid of saying that’s who I am to the audience or my cast-mates. It’s not something that I’m necessarily proud of and I’m working on it, but if that comes through my work then that comes through my work. They know that about me and that’s who I am and hopefully they recognize there’s a lot of good things about me that balances out.

RD: I don’t think I’ve ever revealed something about myself that I didn’t want to reveal. I don’t think improv can do that, because of the internal editor. It’s hard enough to get someone to be spontaneous let alone reveal something – “Oh did I say that out loud?” That’s never going to happen. There are elements of myself that I know I’m revealing and the audience most of the time thinks it’s not real anyway.

Years ago, I was dating a woman who was in the company and part of the charm of our relationship was that we would fight all the time. And so when we would do scenes, we’d just start fighting. We’d literally have actual arguments onstage and after the show, everyone would be like, “That was funny.” “Yeah it was, wasn’t it?” I mean we were revealing the nature of our relationship and people still didn’t think it was real.

TT: There are those weird moments too where I’ll learn something about myself. Oh ok, my character was saying all these things to my wife, but that was me. And I like that element of it and the fact that nobody knows.

AB: Randy, you love film noir. How long has UP been doing “Black Eyed Blonde”?

RD: I think we did it for the first time in ‘94.

AB: Film noir, to me, showcases improv really well because you have this mystery that the audience is trying to solve and once the hero begins putting it together, it’s a magical “Oh yes, of course!” moment that looks planned, but has arisen spontaneously. I always hear these legends about you playing the detective and piecing together these incredibly intricate mysteries. When I played that role last year, I found it really daunting. How do you approach playing the detective?

RD: Well, I mean one thing about film noir that I like is that film noir is psychological states expressed through metaphor, which was what I think we’re trying to do in improv most of the time.

In terms of approaching the story, one thing is to keep a clear head. I don’t think ahead at all. It’s about actively listening and taking it all in. And then thinking – what’s left hanging, what’s not been explained? So at the end, when I say, “I’ve figured it out,” often times, I’m figuring it out as I’m saying that. And I just start. I justify the beats. As a narrator – whether in typewriter or film noir or anything that has narration in it – the narrator’s only job is to justify what’s happened in the scene under the illusion that they’re actually creating the narrative. And then from there, you plug the things in. Weird, odd choices get used and if you listen carefully, offers can come in not just from the narrator, but from the supporting characters.

Someone comes in and says there’s a package for you. It’s a book. It’s Shakespeare. Now the detective acts like he’s remembering something and says, “He’s sending me a clue because blah blah blah…” – layers of expansion and justification to make it important.

Now we have that card to play. And as the detective, you have a lot more cards to play, and that’s the hard part. How many of these can I play? Well, you just pick the ones you know how to play.

AB: In my experience, being faced with that hand, the difficult part was getting that first card to come into focus to play. Some nights, the clarity in my head wasn’t there, so I’m looking at this hand and it’s all blurry. Meanwhile, everyone is waiting for me to say something brilliant…

TT: Why was it so daunting? Why didn’t you have that clarity some nights?

AB: Part of it was being onstage the entire night, starting every scene onstage. I was trying really hard to be present, but didn’t take the time to really process what had happened or organize information in a way that I could easily retrieve it later.

RD: The illusion from the audience’s perspective of being the lead in a film noir is that you’re doing the things. The detective does things. While in reality, the performer playing the detective, is the one having things done to them. So you’re job is to stay in there and have things done to you so that later you can say, these are the things that were done to me and here’s why. That’s where the other cast is super important because if everyone isn’t working towards the same goal, you’re in big trouble. All of a sudden, you have competing offers and the story is pulled in different directions.

AB: And that’s the slight of hand. The audience sees the characters in the story working towards different goals without realizing that the actors themselves are working towards the same goal – a coherent story.

So, I should ask, what were your favourite moments over the years?

RD: Wow. Don’t know if I can pick one. There’s a lot of them and for different reasons actually. I guess the thing I find interesting and it’s not because they were great scenes, is what I remember and what I don’t remember. So there are scenes from 20 years ago that are clear as day and no scenes from last week – so why does something stay and why does something leave? Often times, my favorite memories are moments like when everyone knows it’s a perfect ending, everyone knows, the audience knows. Those kinds of moments…the scene itself may be ehhh.

AB: Randy, I remember a scene I saw you do in a Theatresports back when I was a beginning student. You and Leona Partridge retold “Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater” in the style of Tennessee Williams. The acting was fully committed and the audience was reeling after every line because there was so much innuendo and multiple levels of meaning. A month later I worked up the courage to tell you that the scene was amazing and you had this vague look on your face. You were like “Oh yeah…yeah, yep.”  I was like, I don’t think he knows what I’m talking about. But to ME – that was one of the best things I had seen.

TT: Uh, I have twelve favorite moments.

One of my favorite ones is this duo you and I did. We did this two-person scene where the setup was one of us is dead. Not one of us will die. One of us is dead. We don’t know which one it is. So it’s sort of like a memory that one of them is having. And I loved it because I didn’t know until the very end that I was the one that was dead. I didn’t know I was dead until I stood where I was on part of the stage, on the edge of darkness. I was in the light but the light stopped right there. And there was this moment of – of course you’re dead because you’re about to step into this darkness and you’re going to be gone from the scene. And I was feeling very emotional, you were leaving Seattle in real life and it was the last scene we were going to do together. It was a funny scene, but it was a very dramatic scene as well and so I was just very emotional and when I took that step into darkness realizing I was dead, I started to cry a little bit. I was just moved by that thing, but it was something where there was no way I could have planned even 30 seconds ahead that that was going to happen. It was really one of those moments – oh here you are, you’re in the darkness and you’re dead and that’s the end of it.

AB: Yeah I remember that, and because the relationship onstage was real, there was a deep feeling of loss. The door shut and I realized – Tim is dead. That was a real thing that had happened.


Ahsan Butt is a Canadian of Pakistani heritage. He's a regular contributor to The Monarch Review and an improv actor with impeccable timing.

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The answer isn't poetry, but rather language

- Richard Kenney