...People are reluctant to sit through an entire Shakespeare play; the material is long, the grammar is complicated, and the jokes are out of date. But more than anything else, they dislike the pauses. People HATE pauses; but you need them to allow them to process the words even at the expense of baby sitter overtime. But here you are saved. Mr. Mooney completely removes ALL the pauses from Hamlet. Zero. Nada. A complete purge. He gets rid of a few words here and there as well; those are the words that slow down the always desirable soliloquies. He then can focus on "To be or not to be"; "Oh, that this too too solid flesh" and "O, my offense is rank!" He expands and explains the material between the soliloquies as concepts, not endless, pause filled lines; thus we know what Hamlet is thinking in modern expression: "Is suicide an option?" "Damn, I wish I were dead." and "God, I am a douchebag." It's breathless, breathtaking, and exciting; it's as close tothe experience a groundling would have had 400 years ago. Take this crash course, and you can bluff your way through an entire Orlando Shakespeare season. (Carl F. Gauze, Ink 19)Other folks kept coming through the 10-day festival and posted more opinions to Facebook and the Twitterverse:
Just saw Tim Mooney in Breakneck Hamlet... Stupendous! (Ashleigh Ann Gardner)
..."After seeing your show, I finally "get" Hamlet. I get the play and I get the man. You turned a dry reading assignment into a story and gave it life. Thank you for that gift. (Christopher Leavy)Apparently, there are big fans of the "alas poor Yorick" speech out there. One night as I approached the skull, out of the corner of my eye, I could see a woman quivering with anticipation, and heard her whisper, "Say it! Say it!"
I headed north, noticing this billboard, along the way.
|Hey, Georgia! I think you tried this once before!|
(Or were you trying to spell "succeed"?
I had three days to make it to London, with overnight stops in Georgia and Ohil along the way. I'm always a little apprehensive crossing borders, and given that I would be earning money along the way, I would have to visit the customs/immigration office. The wait this time around was only about 30 minutes, but the Canadian Immigration office was extremely polite, gracious, and wished me good luck with the show.
I got in to London in time for the big preview event, where I performed the opening two minutes of Hamlet, handing out a couple hundred postcards to the big crowd, and catching up with John Huston, who I hadn't seen since my last Canadian Fringe, some nine or ten years ago!
Every so often someone would ask me where I was staying while in town, and given that I was new to most of these towns, I would usually explain that I was staying "Out by the Tim Horton's?"
(Most Canadian cities have about a dozen or so Tim Horton's.)
The London Fuse was the local website for arts-stuff, and Jocelyn Graham had written with interview questions... which you can find here.
This is the one big downside of the internet. Given that everyone i son line and wired these days, rather than doing old fashioned telephone interviews where the writer types madly while talking to me on the phone; they now just send me a list of questions, and I do their typing for them. And since, I tend to have loooong answers, "getting interviewed" means spending an hour or more pounding away on the keyboard. For this interview, at least, I was able to do my own cutting and pasting, for a portion, anyway. The question of "What inspired you to create Breakneck Hamlet?" was essentially the introduction to my book, The Breakneck Hamlet Companion, and cut-and-pasted that to serve double duty.
My venue in London was "Procunier Hall," a small theatre inside "The Palace" in London... The theatre, which held about 80 seats, was half-full for most of the run, with perhaps one particularly small late-afternoon show.
After the first night's, very responsive, audience, somebody at the book office suggested that the reviewer from the London Free Press had been at my show, and I (relentlessly) kept checking the paper for a review, to no avail. Apparently that reviewer spent much of the Fringe up at Stratford (about two hours away), which was opening their festival right about then.
And yet, a couple of awesome reviews DID show up on line!
"Tim Mooney's hypercharged Hamlet is a perfect gem... and he does it well, with power and grace and humor and entertaining asides..." (Laurie Bursch, theatrelondon.ca)
"...Clever, smart and understandable, Breakneck Hamlet will appeal just as much to those who hated Shakespeare in high school as to scholars of the Bard of Avon." (Peter Janes)
I saw the show tonight. It was fantastic!" (Cora Linden)
But maybe my favorite comment ever:
Patron in the lobby: "Your show [Breakneck Hamlet] was my favorite play." Me: "Aww, your favorite play of the fringe?"Patron: "No, my favorite play... ever."
|First ever trip to Stratford! Hanging out at the |
Boar's Head with the brilliant John Houston...!
As the fringe wound down, it became clear that either my review would never appear in the Free Press, or it would appear too late to do me any good. I happened to notice John Huston talking with the reviewer at Fringe Central, and drifted over to join them for a beer. John introduced us, and the reviewer remarked, "I'm so disappointed that I haven't had a chance to catch your show. I've heard so much good stuff about it!" (Not half as disappointed as me...)
|Cast AND Crew of five different fringe shows in one pic!|
Closing night, we gathered at Fringe Central for a final party, and five of the six "Procunier Hall" casts gathered around one table (with our technician). We'd become rather close over the week, seeing each other's shows and giving moral support. And I was reminded that a Fringe festival is the only place where you can gather the casts of five entirely different plays around a single table!
I was facing a three week gap before the next fringe festival, and, as I mentioned in my last issue, I'd decided to FLY TO EUROPE! My good friend, Nicola, had offered me a place to stay if I ever came to Ireland, which led me to realize that plane-fare to Ireland was cheaper from Toronto than Chicago, and the Toronto airport was just two hours away from London.
And so, the next morning, I packed up my things, squeezing my costume into my Big Suitcase, parked my car in long-term parking in Toronto, and flew away!
There was a long layover in New Jersey, but by that evening, I was winging my way towards my very first visit to Ireland! It was morning by the time that I arrived, and I felt a surge of good feeling sweep through me as I saw the wash of pure green out of the window of my flight.
|First glimpse of the "home country" as we land!|
I was landing in Belfast, where my friend, Chelley, a poet I'd met at the Minnesota Fringe, had arranged an event as part of the "Belfast Book Festival." In fact I was appearing there that very night! And while Chelley had offered to put me up at her place, word got to me that they'd secured a hotel room for me at the Hotel Europa. (It's famous for being the "most bombed" hotel in Europe!) It was a lovely place, but I must mention: The electrical adapter that I'd picked up at Walgreen's back in the U.S. was a cheap piece of crap which would not charge my phone. I had to go out the following morning to find a real piece of equipment that would translate European power into American.
|I can see the Shire from my hotel window!|
|Chelley & I in post-show |
I pushed my way through the rest of the show, and increasingly, it seemed, the Irish crowd acclimatized themselves to my American vowels, and I could feel the tension and the humor build through the climax and the conclusion.
At curtain call, I thanked them for their enthusiasm, and announced that this was my "First ever performance in Ireland!" And a huge cheer went up. I then explained that while this was a free performance, any of their contributions would be most welcome, and, given that I'd forgotten to acquire a "hat" to pass, I would set out one of my character's "boots," in case they felt like tossing in a pound or so.
I hadn't been able to pack enough books to sell, but had one or two to at least show the audience as they exited, and got to shake hands and hug a great bunch of the audience on their way out. Chelley assured me that I "killed Belfast!"
I gathered my stuff and my tips, and we walked down the block to grab a Guinness (of course), before continuing back to the Hotel Europa, where I allowed myself to dump out the loot from the evening's contributions, and was delighted that my boot was about a hundred fifty pounds heavier.
Somewhere in there, I learned of the horrible shooting in Orlando. While I didn't know any of those killed in the incident, many of my Orlando friends did. Once I could catch a breath from the condolences, I posted my thoughts on no longer publishing the names of the perpetrators of terror and hate. Rather than long investigative profiles attempting to get inside the head of the terrorist, the only name that we know this shooter by should be 'misguided ignorant jackass,' which might perhaps dissuade the copycat jackasses out there who emulate his body of work and aspire to share his place in history."
There is a brilliant and hilarious sketch from Peter Cook and Dudley Moore (on this particular topic) which can be found on their "Good Evening" album (which you can see, performed live, here.)
The Town Hall Theatre in Galway was a traditional proscenium theatre space, and while the technician expressed early skepticism about his ability to keep up with the 70 light cues in the show, when I tried to cut them back, he ket indicating that: No, he'd be able to make that one work... and that one was okay... Ultimately, he gave me great looks for the entire show. (No self-respecting technician actually wants to "dumb the show down" while there's lighting cues that they can find a way to make work.) ((That's true at just about every fringe festival and 75% of the university venues.))
While the head of the theatre had predicted an audience of about 100, there were perhaps 60 who actually showed up, and they scattered themselves all over the theatre, so there was little "collective" response of laughter. For a while, I assumed I was moving too fast in an unfamiliar accent for them to keep up, and couldn't notice the difference between impassioned delivery and snarky commentary. (And yet the applause was pretty big at the end.)
I took an intermission and came back for a round of Shakespeare on Demand, and it looked like 20% of the audience may not have hung around for the second go (which I write off at least partially to the lack of publicity around anything other than the Hamlet part of the presentation).
This part of the program, however, went extremely well. Given that I introduce each piece in my own persona, I think that they were able to keep up with my intended tone and laugh (or cry) along with me as each monologue came up. (I was a little shocked at how few memory glitches I had, given that I'd not performed this for over a month.) While the audience remained scattered, I refused to do the "Titus Andronicus scene without two men and a woman in the front row to interact with, and was surprised that three people quickly volunteered, including Tom Durand, an old grade school chum, who just happened to be vacationing in Galway!
I got to do just about all of my best pieces: Julius Caesar, Henry V, Richard, Mercutio, Iago, Lear... and by the end, felt that they'd been very much won over. When I mentioned thatthere were two hats on either side of the stage for the "neediest actor's fund (i.e., Tim's beer money)," they surprisingly outdid their Belfast nieghbors in generosity... this time with Euros, rather than Pounds.
I was now traveling with FOUR denominations that I was trying to keep track of: Dollars, Canadian Dollars, Pounds and Euros. Given that two of those four seem to have the queen's profile on them, I keep looking for more pockets, to keep clear on what currency goes with what country! (Which is, of course, a great problem to have...)
Also on the Ireland leg of the tour, I learned that my best friend from grad school, Charlie Bachmann, had passed away... apparently struck by a sudden heart seizure while filling his gas tank. Charlie and I had been through a lot together, as he worked on his Acting MFA while I worked on my Directing MFA, both on assistantships, both teaching acting, sharing notes and experiences, throwing parties and doing projects together, such as The Zoo Story, and a truly insane script called Let's Eat Hair. We were in at least two shows together, and, later, we both landed internships at the Milwaukee Rep, where we roomed together for almost five months. Charlie was bigger than life, and loved by all of his students. I hadn't seen him for about 10 years, but his anarchic spirit has stayed with me all this time. I think he, along with Lindsay Reading Korth, kept me sane through the whole grad school process. Thanks, Charlie. I'll be missing you.
As my time in Ireland drew to an end, Nicola and I took a spin down to Kilkenny, my "ancestral home," some eight generations back. I kept hoping to find a "Mooney's Pub" while we were there, but we stumbled across something almost as good!
|This looks like a job for...|
|Nicola Wall (almost in disguise)|
|St. Patrick's Cathedral... |
The helmets over the pews were unnerving...
|See you later, Chum...!|
For the moment, however, Marcus was out of town, and I hung out with Tina and the kids (Pascale and Sebastian) for a few days. A couple of shows that I'd been hoping for had fallen through, and I had a little extra time on my hands before the planned Birmingham performance. Mostly, I worked on editing a couple of manuscripts: Breakneck Julius Caesar, and the fourth draft of my next book, How Do You Remember All Those Lines?
At some point, I decided that I would hate myself if I came to England and didn't do any sight-seeing, and so, mass-transiting once more, I hopped on a bus, to the train... this time for Bath, which was really special. The city, itself, dated back to Roman times, and the architecture was awe-inspiring. Not knowing what to expect, I set out on a walk, and found my mouth dropping at just about every corner I turned.
|"I can call spirits from the vasty deep"|
"Well, so can I, but will they come
when you call for them?"
In retrospect, I wish I'd gotten a little more time at Cardiff Castle, as I later discovered that that castle had been the home of Mary Sidney, after marrying Henry Herbert, the Earl of Pembroke. In case you haven't heard my lecture on the topic, Mary Sidney is my candidate as the most likely answer to "the authorship question." (Google "authorship question," and you'll see what I'm talking about...!)
|Gemini Anderson has this train ticket|
issue totally worked out!
|It's Brexit vote day!|
Marcus was now back in Birmingham, working on two shows that he's be bringing to the Edmonton Fringe in less than two months. The "Brexit" vote had happened, and the glazed faces reminded me of the state of shock when it turned out that George Bush had been named president! (Hopefully we won't repeat that particular dance this November.) Marcus had set me up with a venue, the Blue Orange Theatre, and that next day, I bussed downtown, met the staff, ran a rehearsal and performed.
|Running lines in the park|
across from Marcus' place!
There had been extremely limited publicity for this performance (mostly a posting on the theatre's website), and the audience was tiny, with Marcus, Pascale, Gemini, and perhaps a dozen others in attendance. I was performing both Breakneck Hamlet and Shakespeare in Demand this time, both of which went over quite well. After the show, we caught a couple of drinks at the theatre bar, and one of the patrons in attendance, a British fellow, told me that he'd decided, following a recent (unfortunate) performance of "King Lear," that he was "done with Shakespeare." He added, having seen my show, that perhaps he's not quite "done with Shakespeare."
I had a quick turn-around to make, with my next show, the following night, in Copenhagen! I was up early, cabbing to the airport, catching the plane to Copenhagen. This time, I was trading in my Pounds and Euros for "Kroner."
I'd gotten used to thinking of Canadian Dollars, Pounds and Euros as roughly equivalent to the American Dollar. There are, of course, significant differences, but I didn't want to do elaborate equations every time I spent any money. If the bottle of wine is worth 10 Euros, I'm going to assume that it's roughly the expense and quality of a 10 dollar bottle (not always a reliable metric, but you get the idea).
I was significantly thrown off when I turned in 110 Euros, and received some 950 Kroner in return! Thomas, my host for the Danish leg of the tour was not available for my first night in country, as he was performing with his big band, back in Ribe (on the western edge of Denmark). Instead, I met up with Jeremy, an American ExPat, who had taken up residence in Copenhagen, where he now ran an English-language theatre. In Copenhagen, Thomas had set me up with a hotel room that was... to put it delicately, the height of Danish efficiency. Every inch of space in the hotel room served a purpose... and there were no extra inches!
After dropping off my suitcase (maneuvering my suitcase and myself in the same room was an adventure), Jeremy and I headed off to theatre.
The performance space was a small garden-level basement downstairs from a boutique. We plotted out the easiest arrangement to perform in, and they arranged some thirty chairs and window-cushions for the audience. We followed up with a quick tech rehearsal, and Jeremy operated certain tiny lighting instruments to suggest "moonlight" or "blood" at specific points. As the audience began to gather on the street outside, I went up the back stairs to get into costume.
|Celebrating in Copenhagen|
Perhaps the best description of what happened after that was captured in my Facebook posting the next day:
"HAMLET in DENMARK! The only question is whether last night's show was my favorite performance in a long time, or just flat out my favorite performance. Thirty people crammed into the small basement below a vintage clothing store while I worked myself into a torrential sweat. I could feel them riding the roller coaster along with me, from the bits in which I turn audience into unwilling "volunteers" as Ophelia and Gertrude (whose reactions where perfect) to the grand sewep of the soliloquies, to the closing moments in which Hamlet's (now, extremely) sweaty death has left burning tears in the eyes of Horatio on "Good night, sweet prince!" It's enough to make me wish for a tiny room with thirty seats every time I perform this.
There was a small family group in the audience this time, with adult brothers and sisters-in-law in the front row. When I chose one of the women to treat as "Gertrude" through the course of the scene, Hamlet's scorn had the perfect reaction, as the several relatives laughed heartily at Hamlet's "at YOUR age, the heyday in the blood is tame" ... and "if thou canst mutine in a MATRON'S bones..."
The next morning, Thomas, my host, drove me north to Helsingor.
"Helsingor" is, in fact, the modern, or Danish term for the city and castle we all know as Elsinore, where Hamlet actually took place. That night, I would be performing Breakneck Hamlet in a courtyard about a half-mile from the castle!
This time, there were a variety of posters and flyers scattered through town, but little in-person "buzz" to get people out to the venue. And given the number of Hamlet-related events that took place in and around the castle, my impression was that the general population was a bit "Hamleted-out." I believe we had about five people in attendance.
|Some jokes just write themselves...|
|Elevator buttons in Denmark.|
|Down to Elsinore's catacombs|
That night we caught dinner across from the hotel, and we noticed the patrons around us taking a growing interest in their smartphones and i-pads. Apparently there was a big upset underway as a tiny little Iceland was defeating Britain in an important football (soccer) match. (Apparently the British were much more disturbed at this than they were in the actual Brexit vote!)
|Holger the Dane will awake |
when Denmark is in danger...!
|Revisiting Holmer Dansk, this time as art...|
The visit would not be complete without a stop in the Elsinore chapel, where Thomas had been christened nearly seventy years before. (This was his first top back in some 40 years!)
|Thomas shows off his significant |
We traveled west, across Denmark almost to its eastern coast. Thomas lived and worked int he city of Ribe, a quaint, cobble-stoned fishing village. We had a night to relax, and Thomas cooked outside while I worked on loads of laundry. While my street clothes were mostly tolerable, every single performance of Hamlet always left me soaked with sweat.
|Show details in the |
|What could possibly go wrong?|
All summer long, by the way, I have been noticing effective publicity: posters and banners that really catch my eye, and have made a big shift away from the text-heavy flyers that I used to do, blasting out brief 3-4 word soundbites.
With the European tour now in the books, early the following morning, Thomas drove me to the airport (passing "Legoland" along the way), and I was back in the air, flying Ribe to Copenhagen, and Copenhagen to Toronto.
I picked up my car (thrilled to have my own wheels, and control, back) and pushed my way west, crossing back into the U.S. by way of Michigan, and on to Chicago the next day.
|Wascana River runs right |
between my billet & venue!
I was racing off again the next day, this time heading through Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota, before crossing over into Saskatchewan, in time for the Regina Fringe Festival. Once again, John D. Huston would be performing, but this time he was presenting Shakespeare's Histories; Ten Epic Plays at a Breakneck Pace! That's right, for the first time, someone other than Tim Mooney would be performing a Tim Mooney one-man play. I had little idea of what John was going to be doing with the material, but it was a matter of some curiosity to me... a curiosity that would have to go unsatisfied, at least for a while, given that John and I had identical performance times through the extent of the Regina run.
|Awesome Coverage on pages |
1 & 4 of the Leader Post!
This time around, I was performing inside the Royal Saskatchewan Museum... a large proscenium space with some 250 seats in perhaps 20-25 rows. Again, I had some nice pre-festival publicity, with prominent photos in the Regina Leader-Post, a radio interview and a morning TV appearance. None of which quite translated into ticket sales.
This show is what would happen if the Coles notes for Hamlet came to life. See all the famous soliloquies without having to sit through the scenes in between. While the program description calls it "an inspiring and hilarious one-hour romp," this show is not a comedy. There are a few chuckles but no hilarity. However, if you're a Shakespeare fan, you will likely enjoy it. (Sabrina Cataldo, Regina Fringe Review Coordinator)
|A Double Rainbow over the Regina Fringe!|
|The Break-Shakes Boys head for Winnipeg!|
I got more early coverage (I had hired a publicity assistant, Afton Benson, to circulate press releases, and that advance work really seemed to pay off, as just about every fringe had something in the papers before the festival even got underway.) This time, a university paper, "The Manitoban," listed me among its "top ten festival performances," right at the top of the Winnipeg Fringe shows. Unfortunately, summer issues of a university paper don't get much circulation, nor do a lot of theatre patrons turn to them for their ticket-buying decisions. Though they did say, "Expect to leave this show amazed and well-entertained."
While Winnipeg is a much larger festival, my great venue (with its talented technician, was over a mile away from "Fringe Central" (the beer tent), inside a labyrinthine building (it takes about five visits to get your bearings), and up on the third floor. All of the excellent shows I was sharing the stage with were struggling for attendance.
The first performance felt pretty good (at least for a 3:30 pm show). That night an early review appeared on the CBC website. Highlights: "Charisma, skill and remarkable speed" and "obvious chops." Lowlights, the reviewer couldn't leave good enough alone, and wrote one paragraph too many. (I'll paste the "good enough" part, and you can click the link above for the full review.)
Chicago's Timothy Mooney wants to take Hamlet's legacy away from its historic titles (Shakespeare's longest play, greatest play, most produced play, etc.) and give it back to the story. And he almost succeeds. This is not a truncated Hamlet. The plot's all there, though many scenes are narrated rather than performed (27 speaking parts get reduced to a dozen) and only the most famous soliloquies and exchanges are left unedited. When Mooney says "breakneck," he means it. We get the whole shebang in 60 minutes flat, performed with charisma, skill and remarkable speed... (Kelly Stifora, CBC)
|Waiting for "Shakespeare's Histories"|
Meanwhile the Free Press review of Shakespeare's Histories showed up on the web, which described...
|John Huston, as Tim Mooney...|
...Equal parts British history lesson and whirlwind guided tour... While you don't need to be well-versed in Shakespeare, it doesn't hurt, and at times the rapid-paced show teeters toward linear didacticism. But there's no denying Huston's a king among actors, able to whip off rapid-fire Shakespeare monologues with a royal passion that only whets the appetite for more. (Holly Harris, Winnipeg Free Press)
Point: John Huston.
I looked forward to Breakneck Hamlet "basking in the glow" of Shakespeare's Histories' success.
My second performance in Winnipeg had MAYBE nine people in the audience (if you include the ushers), with one of those nine being another reviewer. It still felt fresh, and as the show concluded, I glanced back at the timer to see that the lights were going down at PRECISELY 59 minutes, 59 seconds.
Ever since going overlong in my first Orlando performance, I'd set up the timer on my smart phone in a position where the audience can see it. Not only does it keep me honest, it builds an amazing tension in the audience, as they find themselves increasingly focused on whether I can possibly finish the play in time. Their curtain call reaction always reflects how close I get to 60 minutes (without going over). Anything between 59:50 and 59:59, they go wild.
Another rave review went up for John Huston. There were perhaps six Shakespeare-themed shows in the festival, and this reviewer, who had already seen mine, seemed to be taking a sideways jab at me (though I will take full credit for "helpfully illustrated" and "meticulous distillation").
"Sir John D. Huston is not a man of common talent. He's also not a knight as far as I know, but he carries himself like one, and is easily the best Shakespearean actor I've seen on the Fringe circuit, so I'm going with it. Aided by an ingeniously simple wardrobe, a sometimes uncooperative, but helpfully illustrated, slideshow and Timothy Mooney's (Breakneck Hamlet) meticulous distillation of the sources, Huston does so much more than lecture and recite. He takes bloody, dusty history and turns it into a witty celebration of performance itself. (Kelly Stifora, CBC News)
|Winnipeg Fringe may have its issues;|
One of them is not the beer tent.
This one-man, one-hour-on-the-dot abridgment of Shakespeare's Hamlet feels like what would happen if you let an auctioneer loose in the Globe Theatre. It's fast and furious, but surprisingly, you actually understand every word. Timothy Mooney, who's from Chicago, adapts and performs all the relevant parts of the bard's greatest hit, reducing the length by 75 percent while retaining 100 percent of the intensity... (Wendy King, Winnipeg Free Press)
|Tim, April, Karen & Deb|
The festival continued with a visit from my very good friends, Deb, April and Karen, who decided to take their vacation in Winnipeg this summer, seeing shows and visiting tourist attractions. They came back to my show a couple of times, and Deb's laugh is always infectious.
Even with the generally good reviews, getting a crowd to that venue remained an ongoing struggle. Also, the balance between lottery-drawn shows and BYOV ("bring your own venue") shows seemed very much askew. When there were popular shows going on in the Portage Place spaces, there was a clear decline in attendance, and it felt like "pulling teeth" to get people out to the show. Even John Huston, who was better-reviewed than myself, and whose venue was much better located, didn't seem to be selling more tickets.
|Heading for Calgary!|
Back on the road, I was heading west once more, back in the direction I'd just come, through Regina, and continuing on to Calgary.
Somewhere in this, I finished the first draft of Breakneck Julius Caesar, cutting the original (21,000 words) down to 14,329. I've got similar first drafts done for Breakneck Romeo & Juliet and Breakneck Macbeth, but this feels like the one that I'll be chasing down that rabbit hole for a while. It'll probably take another 7 drafts (and months of memorization), but for the time being, I turned my attention to Breakneck Antony & Cleopatra (a near-impenetrable 26,800 words) while the situation and characters are still clear in my head!
Calgary Fringe is the "hugging fringe," as the warm welcome that Michele extends to seemingly everyone is passed on among the staff and volunteers, which can be a valuable compensation on those days when the show, itself, may or may not be going over well.
I went in with little to no hope of getting much in the way of media coverage, and, indeed, it seemed that there was just a single reviewer for the local paper, Louis B. Hobson, trying to cover as many shows as he might. There was an opening night party/promotional event, at which Louis camped out at a table, and interviewed, seemingly, as many performers as he might. I was uncertain whether these interviews had been pre-arranged in some way, but decided to actually nudge my way in, lining up behind one of the actors who was waiting for their interview and introducing myself. Louis immediately flipped a page in his notebook and started peppering me with questions.
There was also a blogger who was actively tweeting about the Fringe. Apparently James Hutchison had been getting the Fringe press releases, and released a list of the top ten shows he intended to catch, with the caveat that these were listed in "no particular order." (He listed Hamlet first.)
James was there for my opening night performance, in a hot, sweaty, basement auditorium with a small stage at the far end which featured an odd pillar breaking the stage picture about four feet from the edge of stage right (on a stage, perhaps, 22 feet wide). Almost immediately, James was putting out a Twitterstorm...!
Highly Recommended: A passionate tale of intrigue, murder & revenge - Breakneck Hamlet
Must see show: Breakneck Hamlet today at 11:00 am - highly recommended!
Breakneck Hamlet - revenge, ambition and bloodshed - the original Game of Thrones!
Saw 3 great shows @calgaryfringe on Friday: Breakneck Hamlet, Icarus and Supernatural. Wow!
Before long, James uploaded a new blog post, describing his favorite shows from the Fringe.
Five Fringe Festival Favorites Breakneck Hamlet ...breathes fresh life and excitement into the epic tale. If you love Game of Thrones or House of Cards, the political intrigue, thirst for power and ever rising body count in Hamlet make this your show. Filled with Shakespeare’s insights about mortality and death and the nature of life, Mooney has compressed all the action into a single hour. A single hour that flies by powered by the energetic and riveting performance of Mooney as he plays narrator and leaps between the various players in a single breath all the time rushing towards the final and bloody end. Breakneck Hamlet is must see theatre."
Reviewers usually only dream of the double header I enjoyed at Day 4 of the Calgary Fringe Festival, when I caught back-to-back performances of Breakneck Hamlet and P.S. 69, A Teachers Grows in Brooklyn.
I have to admit, I was reluctant to see Breakneck Hamlet [but] the buzz on Mooney's show was so enthusiastic I headed down to the Lantern Church Basement to see what all the talk was about. I'd also seen people wandering about wearing the Breakneck Hamlet T-shirts, and one festival goer proudly showed me her coffee mug, but it was all those stickers people were wearing on their jackets that told me Mooney had hit some kind of nerve.
When I talked to Tim earlier in the week, he told me he'd taught acting and stage movement at a university, and boy is that evident both in his performance his editing of Shakespeare's master work... His running commentary, introducing scenes and explaining important references are hilarious... When he does slide into those famous soliloquies, he really nails them, and even though he's delivering them at breakneck speed, he still gets the subtleties in Shakespeare's language... His pouncing on poor unsuspecting Ophelia is funny, but when he laces into the disbelieving gertrude, Tim had the audience in stitches, and the woman he'd chosen was still dumbfounded as she walked away from the theatre.
I really liked what Tim did with Hamlet's advice to the players... as he gets more and more excited, Tim begins sawing the air... even as he is admonishing actors for such excesses. He completely won me over at that point... (Louis B. Hobson, Calgary Journal)
|John, Marcus, Tina & Tim|
The votes have been tallied and those vacant slots on the Calgary Fringe website have now been filled. Each year, the fringe reserves a performance spot at each of the venues which is awarded to the show from that venue that receives the most enthusiastic feedback. "We take feedback from people who have seen three or more shows at a particular venue or are particularly enthusiastic about one of the shows they've seen anywhere on the fringe and we get so many people coming up to us to tell us which show they feel is the best of the festival. Those comments and votes online are coupled with press reviews, word-on-the-street and input from the technicians serving the venues," explains festival director Michele Gallant. ... "First up on Saturday at 11 a.m. is Tim Mooney's Breakneck Hamlet in the basement of the Lantern Church. In 59 minutes, Mooney takes his audiences through the entire plott of Shakespeare's epic play, Hamlet: Quite a feat considering some productions of Hamlet can run almost five hours. Mooney doesn't just explain what is happening in each scene of the play, but becomes the characters involved. He may speed through all of Hamlet's famed soliloquies but he still gets the sense and poetry of Shakespeare's verse. The play is also hilarious because Mooney has a few sly comments about the absurdities in the play and because he uses a couple of unsuspecting audience members...
I immediately drew up a "Best of Fest-Venue" sticker to add to the Edmonton flyers and posters.
The extra morning performance would be paired with my already-scheduled afternoon performance, meaning that I would be performing Hamlet twice in a single day! (I was more concerned for the sweaty costume than my own survival.)
Unfortunately, there were only about 20 people who made it to the 11 am show. And, while I might have wanted to blame that on the early morning start time, through the course of the day I heard rumor that each of the winning shows had enjoyed a similar house of about 20 people. (And yet, that's 20 tickets that I would not have sold otherwise...)
For my last show of the fringe, I went to see "Bella Culpa" and was delighted to see how the stage manager had jazzed up his laptop...!
That night was the Calgary Fringe closing night party, and I was surprised to learn that I had won a "Westey," a "spirit of the fringe award named after a special Fringe volunteer. Michele Gallant announced that this was in honor of "bone crushing hugs and spreading happiness."
The next day, I caught breakfast with my billets, David and Lisa (a very fun couple, who took me out to see "Ghostbusters" on my first night in town), before heading back to Edmonton.
I enjoyed the trip, this time with Tara Travis in the passenger seat. Tara had performed the brilliant Till Death; The Six Wives of Henry VIII, which had been getting great reviews and selling out shows in Winnipeg. I finally got to catch it in Calgary and it blew me away. We cot into a fascinating conversation about "The Authorship Question on our travels north... which reinvigorated my intent to, perhaps, write a play on that very issue.
Arriving in Edmonton, there was already some great advance coverage for Breakneck Hamlet with an interview from "After the Houselights," as well as Liz Nichols' advance peek at the Shakespeare shows in the Fringe.
While Breakneck Hamlet had gotten encouraging and even great response all summer long, I had reason to believe that it might do especially well in Edmonton, which is the grand-daddy of Canadian Fringes. While I would be performing in a tiny theatre which only held 74 people, that tiny theatre was located in the main fringe building, perhaps a hundred feet from the main box office windows. In addition to that, my venue was a "kids show" venue during the day, so all of my performance times were locked into the "prime time" schedule, with no performance earlier than 5:30 and no show later than 9:30. Thus were my two biggest complaints: time and location, eliminated for this fringe. The only challenge I faced was that my performances were mostly "front-loaded." I performed Friday-Saturday-Sunday-Monday-Tuesday all in a row, with little opportunity for the buzz to circulate through the course of a day off. I'd need to do some legwork!
For my first two shows, I gave out free tickets to volunteers, and offered up single tickets to interested couples. On top of that, I sold just enough tickets for my first two performances to register as "SOLD OUT" on the posted Fringe schedule, which is, itself, a nice selling point in Winnipeg.
Back to Facebook:
"Packed house for my first Edmonton Fringe show! They were responsive, but not overtly boisterous, so I wasn't entirely sure how it was going over, but I pushed it to the edge every chance I got. As I turned to deliver the final speech, I could see that the clock was at 59:45, and though I couldn't see the clock on the final word, I knew that it was just turning 60:00 by the spontaneous cheer that went up just as the lights were coming down. And, afterwards, they went wild for t-shirts, books, and coffee mugs! (I think I've got beer money covered for the remainder of the fringe!) 6 more performances to go over the next 8 days!"
The next day, a review appeared on-line. I MAY have received five-star reviews before, but, given that it's been 9 years since doing Canadian Fringes (where "stars" are the common currency), I can't recall. Here's what appeared on the website of "The Vue"...
Five Stars. One man, one dozen characters, one hour. Breakneck Hamlet, performed by self-proclaimed "adaptor, editor, explainer, actor," Timothy Mooney is just that -- the classic Shakespearean work condensed from 32,000-plus words and mounted at an impressive speed where neither Mooney nor the audience can catch their breath. A timer is visible on stage throughout the performance, contributing to the "I can't believe he's really going to do this" feel of the show and you're taken along for the ride. If you're a fan of Shakespeare, it's a must see. And even if you aren't, Breakneck Hamlet is a highly entertaining experience that's worth the price of admission. (David Martin Botwick-Ries, Edmonton Vue)
Point: Me. I started celebrating early, doing my happy dance.
I eventually wore out the giddy energy of the awesome review, and found myself crawling into bed, but, just for the heck of it, I checked the Edmonton Journal. (I hadn't seen Liz Nichols in my audience, so I assumed that it would be a long time before I saw any coverage from the Journal.) I didn't realize that they'd sent a different reviewer!
Boom! Two awesome reviews in one night! Just as I'm getting ready for bed, the Edmonton Journal checks in with FOUR 1/2 STARS!
...Chicago's Timothy Mooney has done every time-stressed fan of the doubting Dane a great service with his pared-down version of this lengthy masterpiece that keeps all the key elements while cutting out great swaths of verbiage. Clocking in at precisely one hour (as the digital timer on the stage attests), Mooney's show provides liberal narration that moves us along quickly from one highlight to the next, proving that brevity is the soul of wit. This isn't a joke adaptation of the bard's great work, although Mooney does throw in the occasional ironic reference to Hamlet as a man of action and compares the booze-ups held by his uncle King Claudius to frat parties. It is instead a Cole's Notes Hamlet, put together by someone who obviously feels passionately about the work and presents it well... Hamlet Lite obviously doesn't plumb the depths of this magnificent play, but for someone trying to decide whether to be or not to be a fan, this is a great introduction. (Gordon Kent, Edmonton Journal)
Point: Me. It took a while to get to sleep that night.
|More stickers for the flyers...!|
|The Edmonton Schedule board|
The neat thing about Edmonton is that they give the performers a link to the box office figures, so that I know, up to the minute, how many tickets remain to be sold at a given performance... and how many flyers I need to keep giving out.
By the time we hit show #4, I was selling out shows again (without padding the house with comps), even though shows 4, 5 and 6 didn't actually sell out until the final minutes. Even the last performance had one lone ticket still available for sale up until the day of the show. For these final five days, I gave myself the time off from flyering.
|Attending "Mustache Party" from "Box of Clowns" |
at the Edmonton Fringe!
The last two Breakneck Hamlet houses were a blast. One woman in the second row informed me that she'd written her Masters thesis on Shakespeare's Histories, and her dissertation on Hamlet (which meant that she got all the jokes, and led the audience in laughter throughout).
An Audience member tweeted...
"Totally blown away by Breakneck Hamlet. Incredible performance by an incredible actor!!!" (exclamation points, hers.) The final performance was followed by a party, fond goodbyes, packing and racing off again.
|Back on the south side of the 49th parallel|
With just over a week to spare in Chicago, I dove full-time into finishing the Not-for-Profit application paperwork, which was now organized well enough that we were able to hold our first official "Timothy Mooney Repertory Theatre Board Meeting," where we officially adopted the Articles of Incorporation, the Bylaws, and the (very long) government application for the status. Thanks very much to new board members, Terry Hall, April Peterson, Jayne Day and Ted Banks! (Word from the IRS suggests that we should have our status resolved no later than December 28!)
Also on this brief break, I raced through another draft of Julius Caesar, and laid out my touring schedule through May of 2018!
With the new schedule established, I weeded my way back through the "Maybe List," reminding the folks who have expressed interest in bookings. From there, I traced my way back through the "Past Performances" list, and took a couple of days off to pack up and hit the road once more!
This time I was driving to Kansas City, not just for a quick layover, but for a full month!
I lit into the huge, mega-campaign, the twice-annual mailing to Theatre, French, English and History teachers, a list of some 15,000 folks that I tackle one state at a time (continually adjusting the dates to reflect the various times that I'm planning to drive through their particular states).
In recent years, I've gotten better, or perhaps more determined to push my way through this campaign in less than a month, and this time around I finished up in just over three weeks.
I took two major pauses in the process: the first, to head up to Northwest Missouri State University, where they were planning for a presentation of The Learned Ladies in the spring. They wanted a performance of Moliere than Thou, along with two workshops and a classroom appearance (essentially answering "How did you end up doing what you do?" -- like this blog, only much shorter!)
|So... Four SIU Grads walk into a bar...|
|The Awesome students at NWMSU!|
|Hamlet, as art...|
An on-line review appeared for Moliere than Thou at NWMSU, written by a student reviewer. I was amused to see myself quoted as having "invested those words with as much double autonomy and layers of meaning as I possibly could."
A week later, I headed out for my very first appearance at U of Central Missouri. The theatre professor there had seen me perform at the KC Fringe a few years back, and was eager to get me out to do Breakneck Hamlet. This time, it was just a single day's event, with an especially long acting workshop (no one was in a hurry to go, so I threw in a fourth exercise, where I usually only have time for three), a quick lunch, an elaborate tech rehearsal, followed by Breakneck Hamlet for an audience of 40, including the Dean of Arts & Humanities, who (rumor has it) enjoyed the show very much, as did my host. (It was an especially large auditorium, so I was taxing my voice for the first time since the summer fringe tour!)
That following week, as I closed in on the final states of my e-mail campaign, I finally managed to shorten Breakneck Antony & Cleopatra's 27,000 near impenetrable words to about 15,500. It will probably take another six drafts to get it down under the tight 10,000 word limit (as much as I can possibly speak in a single hour), but the plan is to take the long view with A&C, perhaps to test it out on its own two or three years down the line, and eventually to make it part of a two-act event, serving as an "Act II" to Breakneck Julius Caesar. It can be the breakneck menage a trois of Breakneck Julius Caesar, Antony & Cleopatra. (Auditions for the role of Cleopatra set for sometime in 2018.)
I officially finished the e-mail campaign on October 24, nine days in advance of my anticipated departure from Kansas City. That left me nine days to turn to EIGHT projects that had been waiting for me to actually have a "free moment!"
Over each of the next several days, I put about an hour apiece into...
1) Working through the "maybe list" again 2) Reworking my "Shakespeare Spaghetti" workshop, in anticipation of a presentation at the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association (where I expect that they'll be a little sharper than many of the college kids who have seen this workshop before), 3) Working Lot o' Shakespeare back into performance condition, as I'll be performing that as part of "Bard Fest," just north of Indianapolis, this October 13 (info on this and Breakneck Hamlet at this link), 4) Finishing the fifth draft of Breakneck Julius Caesar and starting to memorize, 5) Designing a full "Timothy Mooney Repertory Theatre" brochure, in anticipation of a "relaunch" of sorts, once the Not for Profit status in approved, 6) Getting my e-mail inbox back down to 150 messages once more (fighting weight), 7) Exploring a new one-person play on "The Authorship Question," tentatively titled, And This Gives Life to Thee, and... 8) Finishing the latest edition of "The View from Here."Check.
POST SCRIPT: That was going to be my final word of this blog, but when I hit "publish," I noticed that a lot of my cutting-and-pasting from reviews had given the blog a terrible white background over about 3/4 of the text. So, I typed all that stuff over from scratch. And, given that I didn't plan on spending so much typing, it took me an extra week, during which I drove to Colorado Springs (dropped in on Amber and the baby), and on to Utah, where I performed Breakneck Hamlet at Utah Valley University (which was awesome), and again the following day at the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association in Salt Lake City (even awesomer). I finished reworking my "Shakespeare Spaghetti" workshop just in time for the workshop that I gave, which may have been as well received as Breakneck Hamlet. I have decided that the Modern Language Association folks are as much "my people" when it comes to my Shakespeare work, as the American Assn of Teachers of French are for my Moliere work. I am definitely going to try to get this work in front of more of these groups. With the conclusion of that conference, I am now racing back east, stopped in Rawlins, Wyoming tonight, on my way to giving a class in Nebraska Monday, and then a single day's visit back to Chicago before the Lewis University show on October 12!
On the I-Tunes: Caravan Palace, an awesome electronic swing band.
On Netflix: Binge-Watching "House"
Discoveries: I am, at heart, a total control freak, entirely dependent on myself and my own car to get me around. Giving my fate over to planes, busses, cabs or trains freaks me out. * No self respecting technician actually wants to "dumb the show down" while there's lighting cues that they can find a way to make work. * The more effective publicity is not so text-heavy, but can probably be fit onto a bumper sticker. * The "hugging fringe" can be a valuable compensation on those days when the show, itself, may or may not be selling out. * The classical theatre demographic still tends to read their news in hard copy. * It's the uncertainty (and the fear) of not knowing exactly what is going to happen next that forces me to live through every moment as if it had never happened before, and suddenly lines that haven't gotten laughs in over a year, are spontaneous and surprising and startlingly funny. * Sometimes, I let the paperwork for major changes in administration daunt me, but my challenge is to push through my apprehension, over the seemingly endless process... a process which kind of demands that I stand up for the work I do, and say, "Yes, this is worth your while."
Next Performances: Oct 6: Utah Valley University (BH; Oct 7-8 Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association (BH); Oct 12: Lewis University, Joliet, IL (BH); Oct 13-14: Bard Fest, Carmel, IN (BH & LoS); Oct 16: McGarvey's Bar, Altoona, PA (MTT)
Timothy Mooney Repertory Theatre Tour Schedule
|DOOR knobs! DOOR knockers!|
(I can't take you people anywhere...!)
|If she looks happy,|
it's because she's been
liberated from her phone...!