Friday, December 16, 2005

The View From Here #105: Gallatin & Nashville, TN; Hampden-Sydney, VA; New York, NY

Thanksgiving dinner in Daytona Beach consisted of hot dogs and mozzarella sticks at a bar. Which made for, if nothing else, an entirely stress-free Thanksgiving.

The next day, I drove back to Orlando, where my friend April had brought her foster kids for a visit to the Magic Kingdom. For a day, though, we hung out at the swimming pool and Nicholas battled a fever. I got a chance to visit with Sandra-the-Vegan again, dropping in on her birthday party, and by Sunday I was reluctantly on my way, driving into the rain and cooler weather of Atlanta, where I hung out with Linda once again, before pushing on to Nashville on Monday.

I settled into the Nashville hotel, and proceeded to write to the Tennessee French and theatre teachers on my list, to remind them of the performances I had coming up, and one pair of teachers from Middle Tennessee State University actually wrote back of their plans to come up and catch the show.

After completing my Texas marketing push, I moved on to the California schools, finally, and spent most of my free time through the week working on them.

The teacher at Volunteer State Community College had warned me about the upcoming show. She was a touring performer, herself (also an SIU graduate), and noted that, in light of a last minute venue change, and the anticipated tiny attendance, “This will be one of those shows where you just need to remind yourself, ‘At least I’m getting paid.’”

I set up in a meeting room within the library, which had perhaps 80 chairs set out. The most prominent feature of this room was the enormous television set dominating the up-left area of the stage. If only I was doing a multi-media style event (say, “Karaoke Knights”), it would have come in quite handy. I found that by pivoting the television so that it actually faced the Stage Right wall, it was less obtrusive, and wouldn’t draw the eye so much toward this strange box from The Future.

The technician brought in two lighting trees, and we played with the focus of these, and the manipulation of the several sets of incandescent and florescent lights which would serve as our “house lights.”

There were, perhaps, a dozen or so people in the audience to this show, and I have formulated a new motivation for occasions in which the audience is so tiny. I remind myself that, on a per-person basis, those individuals are paying more than they’d pay on Broadway shows. Rather than feeling defeated or disappointed by the lack of people, I feel honored by each individual, and a greater responsibility to give each one their money’s worth.

Also, my hostess was a great laugher, and her laugh caught on to most of the rest of the attendees, and the show went very well.

I packed up and drove about 30 minutes after the show to the south side of Nashville, where I had a performance with Lipscomb University the following night. This was a venue where they’d actually put a rider in the contract that insisted that there be nothing explicit or vulgar in the show. Whenever I get requests like this, I e-mail a copy of the script to the host, telling them that they can read through it and decide for themselves.

My sense is that nobody really minds the ribald humor of the show, but that people in the administration are looking for plausible deniability by shifting the responsibility for keeping-it-clean onto me. That way, they have a scapegoat if some student should report back to a parent about what they saw in school today. And so, I turn it back around on them. Of course, I have my doubts whether they even look at the script that I sent. Who has that kind of time? The audience for this event was around 35-40, which makes me wonder if the administration had been left a little uncertain if they should promote it far and wide.

This audience featured the faculty members from MTSU, and they also were a great bunch of laughers, so even some of my more subtle stuff was going over well, despite the low turnout.

As the tour has stretched on, really since last July with no break, I notice, on a subtle level, that my sense of satisfaction, pleasure, joy, seems to fade. I need some sort of renewal when out on the road for long periods of time. Things become a little dour and serious when it’s just me, holding conversations inside my own head. When there’s no conversation, there are very few surprises, and thus not a lot to laugh at. And so, from my to-do list, I lifted two items as part of an overall strategy for staying in a good mood:

1) Smile. I smile for at least 60 seconds a day, if only to keep those muscles from atrophying. What starts out as an entirely mechanical exercise results in making a smile feel more natural when it happens in “real life.”

2) Dance. I have a collection of favorite dance tunes downloaded on my computer, and I’ll dance along with 20 minutes or so of those as my exercise routine for the day. I enjoy it much more than the mechanical repetition of jogging, and again, it stimulates the muscles that respond to good feelings, anyway. On days that I perform, I find myself more physically engaged in the spontaneity of a given moment.

I had several days’ break, and I hadn’t entirely decided where I was going to spend it. I was planning on a trip down to Charlotte, NC, but my friend Cathy was away on a holiday, and so I started a gradual trek Eastward along Interstate 40. The first day I pulled off the highway in Knoxville for gas, and spotted a Karaoke bar just a block away from a good hotel. And so I stopped there, spending the remainder of the afternoon working on mailings, and showing up at the bar a little after 9 pm.

The bar was actually hosting a karaoke contest that night. As I perused the book, I could hear that this was mostly a country bar, and they were doing two-fers, with each singer drawling two songs in quick succession. I hauled out the heavy artillery (“Lion Sleeps Tonight”) for the contest but reverted to a countryish idiom with Conway Twitty’s “Only Make Believe.” I don’t suppose anyone in this bar had ever heard “Lion Sleeps” done as a karaoke number, and they looked rather startled at the voice coming from the guy who’d been sitting unobtrusively off to the side.

They held a final round of three singers, and I was one of the three selected. I chose Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog,” and the reaction was even stronger. Even the finalist who came after me said “How do you follow something like that?”

They decided the winner by audience applause, and I was surprised to receive the loudest ovation, even though I was a complete stranger, and the other two had been coming to this bar for quite some time. The “KJ,” awarding me thirty bucks, asked if I’d come back again, and I explained that I was from Chicago, and was just passing through town. Even this didn’t seem to dissuade the audience from liking me, and one group asked me to join them at their table, as we continued singing until the early hours of the morning.

The next day I continued to Asheville, North Carolina, and from there to Winston-Salem. I was working on bookings up until check-out time, driving for a couple of hours and checking into the new hotel and getting back to work. Following my success in Knoxville, I didn’t feel particularly driven to conquer any other karaoke bars at night.

You would probably not be surprised to learn that it seems to be legal to smoke wherever you like in Winston-Salem, as I noted when I went into a gas station only to find the attendant amid a thick cloud.

Sunday I continued on to the Raleigh area to visit with my friend Forsyth, and we enjoyed a movie night, watching “To Live and Die in LA,” “Million Dollar Baby” and “Wal-Mart; The High Cost of Low Prices,” a movie which I was surprised to find on sale at a “Best Buy”.

The next morning, I was back on the highway, this time driving north to Hampden Sydney College. I was racing against an incoming snowstorm, and it was only in the final ten miles that the snow caught up with me.

The show wasn’t until the next night, so I set up at a small pub in their student center, where the wi-fi connection was good, and got to work. As I was getting ready to go, I noticed that 40-50 students had gathered around a pool table at the other end of the room, where an older gentleman was demonstrating trick shots.

It turned out that he was staying in the same guest house where I’d been lodged, and when he and his wife returned to the house, we traded stories of life on the road. The two of them were particularly amazed at my ability to do the tour without a second person to handle the tour administration. (I continue to seek out that elusive second person.)

The next day I gave a 90-minute acting workshop. This turned out to be an all-male school, and I was very impressed with how cordial everyone was. I moved on to the theatre space, which was another improvised room-with-lighting-trees. There were about 30 people in the audience, including perhaps a half-dozen women, which was a bit of a relief, as I need a few female victims, including the “Tartuffe” volunteer, which turned out to be the theatre teacher.

The next morning, I was back on the road by 7 a.m. I had to push on to a matinee performance of “Tartuffe” that was being produced by Lehman College in New York. The snow of two nights before was now gone, and following a rush hour delay in Richmond, I had clear sailing the rest of the way north.

I pulled in to Lehman College a half-hour in advance of the show, and met up with the director, who took me on a quick backstage tour. He set me up with several reserved seats in the second row. My friend Yvonne came to catch the show, followed by Jose and Janice (both of whom arrived toward the middle of the first half).

While the talent level of the cast was fairly mixed, the play was very well received, and while I was hearing all of the problems with the cast’s delivery, Yvonne was quick to point out just how effectively the script was playing for this audience, as did Jose and Janice, which allowed me to relax and enjoy the second half much more, which is where the play really takes off.

Afterwards, the college held a wine and cheese reception on my behalf, presenting me with a framed copy of the show’s poster and I congratulated each actor individually, and as a group. Afterwards, Jose, Janice and I went out for dinner, and I continued on to get a hotel in New Jersey, before working my way back west the next morning.

Bad weather was predicted for Ohio, and I beat the weather to Cleveland, but Winter caught up with me about an hour out of Toledo, and I found myself slogging slowly through the snow before pulling over for the night. The next morning, the snow was eight inches deep, but the snowplows had cleared the highways, enabling me to make the final push home to Chicago by 3 p.m.

This last week, I’d found myself sitting up late at night watching the DVD of Season 3 of “24,” which can sometimes be compulsive for me. I repeatedly found myself watching “just one more episode,” generally until two in the morning. I wasn’t noticing how far I was getting behind on my sleep, until I woke up my first morning at home at 11 a.m. Ironically, I found myself getting sick that same night. I haven’t been sick in perhaps a year. Had the illness come upon me at any other time, it’s quite possible, I would have had to cancel a performance. But somehow, my body knows better than I do when it can take a break.

Miles on the Vibe: 164,000
In the CD Player: k.d. lang, “Hymns from the 49th Parallel”
Attendance: 15 + 35 + 8 + 25 = 83
Temperature: 70s down to teens
Discoveries: Rather than feeling defeated or disappointed by the lack of people, I feel honored by each individual, and a greater responsibility to give each one their money’s worth. * you want to feel a particular way, engage in activity that speaks to you of that feeling, and the feeling will show up of its own accord.
Next performance: 1/13-14: Bloomington, IL (ACTF)

Monday, November 28, 2005

The View From Here #104: Plymouth, NH; Brunswick, ME; Lynchburg, VA; Jacksonville & Lakeland, FL

Happy Thanksgiving Everybody!

Of course, you may not be reading this on Thanksgiving. Probably you have much better things to do, and perhaps you don’t even look at your e-mail on the weekends. (There’s a precipitous drop in replies when I release the “View” on the weekends.) If that’s the case, then “Happy Monday, Everybody!”

I seem to have found my way to Daytona Beach for Thanksgiving, enjoying the traditional Thanksgiving breakfast of the All Star Special at the Waffle House. I am grateful for so many wonderful friends, family and acquaintances, not to mention the audiences who give meaning to all it is that I do.

In expression of my gratitude, my one commitment this Thanksgiving is to send a donation to the victims of the Pakistani earthquake. Coming on the heels of the Tsunami and the American Hurricanes, and largely out of reach of the western media, the suffering in Pakistan received less attention, while it is a disaster playing out in slow motion, the full effect of which will be felt as the weather turns colder and the people have no homes left to shelter within.

But, back to the tour …

By the time I got to my venue in New Hampshire, the weather had turned cold and rainy. This was the same venue that had cancelled my performance last year on account of snow, so they have begun to think of me as a bad-weather friend. Unfortunately, most of the theatre students at the college (Plymouth State) were in rehearsal while I was performing, so attendance was down around 30 or so. The performance was still well received, and the woman who arranged the performance wants to get me back again, only sometime when it’s warmer. (The good news was the hotel that they had me at, a spa with a grotto-like whirlpool, with an actual waterfall.)

Checking e-mails, a response rolled in from the performance I’d given in Interlochen (You may recall, this was one of the schools that has given me the “rock star” treatment):

“The teachers with whom I’ve spoken unanimously said that they enjoyed your performance and the students talked about your energy, your gestures, your costumes, your memory, and they especially liked the scene with Margie. The Dean of Education told me how much he appreciated this chance to enrich our lives. The Ecology teacher wrote me that this was exactly the sort of Community Meeting we should try to have at Interlochen. And I felt like the most fortunate of all of us, because I was the lucky person who could spend the most time with you.
Tim, your performance was all I had hoped it would be: rich and varied, burlesque and profound, passionate and thought-provoking, and I left our auditorium feeling as though Molière must have been smiling also.
… We did our little scenes of Molière last night, and today one of the students’ comments about how we might have done better was that we might have tried to be more like Tim Mooney.
… Thank you for making my life fuller, more fresh. I don’t think I’ll ever see a more Molière than thou.”

I was slightly delayed setting off to Maine the next morning, and what looked to be a late arrival on my part got later and later as I got lost several times. At least one of the misdirections I can attribute to an outdated map that indicated Interstate 495 when it should have been I-95. After that it was entirely my fault.

It didn’t matter much, as apparently the technician didn’t plan on giving me anything but the most basic lighting support. It was a performance space that they used for their “World Literature” classes (where they dabbled lightly in plays and performance). The theatre department gave them no support, so the technical work was strictly amateur. Only about half of the lighting instruments were working, and the technician’s idea of focusing the lights was to reach up with a stick and bump the lighting instruments to the right or the left. This left me with perhaps five square feet of useable stage space, and while the technician shrugged his shoulders, the teacher found a ladder, which I climbed. Pulling out the shutters on the lights, I demonstrated how you could quadruple the amount of available light without replacing any of the bulbs in the other instruments. It was a revelation.

I went on to address a French drama class, which combined French studies with acting. As such I improvised a combination of my acting workshop with my Life-of-Moliere workshop, which was extremely well received. One teacher promised to e-mail a friend in an upcoming venue insisting that she book my workshop as part of the event.

That night’s show had about 150 people in an auditorium that held 200, and their reaction was electric. I made my way back to the bed & breakfast. This B&B had the least “personal touch” than any I’ve ever stayed at. I don’t believe I even met the owners the entire time I was there.

I headed south, working my way to Virginia with several stops to visit along the way: I dropped in on Mel Yoken in New Bedford, Massachusetts. (He was a bit under the weather, but took me to a Jewish holiday dinner, (Shabbat?) where I felt just a little out of place.)

Saturday I was on to New York City and I decided that I would not hate New York City this time around. People who have read these lines before may be reminded that bad things have happened to me in New York in the past: Blackouts, performance cancellations, theft, parking tickets, traffic jams and high expenses everywhere I turn. As I pulled into the city, and found that I was NOT slowed by the expected traffic jam, I decided to expect, instead, to have a wonderful time in New York.

Expectations generate results: I had a fine time in New York. I had lunch with my friend, Terry, followed by a walk through Central Park. I met up for a drink with Suzanne, my stage manager from the New York Fringe, and I caught a preview of my friend Yvonne’s latest show, “Inheritors,” followed by dinner and a lively conversation. I crashed on Yvonne’s air mattress, and was on my way first thing the next morning, heading for Baltimore, where my sister Maureen, her husband Tim and I enjoyed flipping between the Ravens and the Bears’ games. (Somewhere in there, I managed to go jogging and get a haircut, too.)

The next morning, I was off to Randolph Macon Woman’s College, where they put me up at the Student Center. The only thing I can remember about this show is the good natured argument I got into with a French woman after the show, who insisted that the character of Monsieur Jourdain in the “Bourgeois Gentleman” would not be as effeminate as I played him. I tried to point out that “effeminate” was simply a judgment she had jumped to, and that my only focus was on making him “affected,” but apparently the modern audience doesn’t quite grasp this.

The next morning I got up early and headed south, pulling up to get a hotel just three miles shy of the Florida border. I proceeded to drive in to Jacksonville the following morning for the first of a series of four performances with the several extensions of the Florida Community College in Jacksonville. These shows were the product of some elaborate negotiations last spring, in which I lowered my price significantly for the “block booking.”

They’d warned me about the technician I was getting with this first performance (at the downtown campus), as the fellow was a student, but he seemed very eager to get the show to work, and I actually had no problem with the tech. The audience, however, was another matter. There were perhaps 20-25 in the house, and they seemed entirely unenthused about Moliere. At best, these were Gen-Ed students, who were seeing this show to get extra credit for a class, while their interests were clearly elsewhere.

After the show, I got in the car and headed East, to find a hotel near the Jacksonville beaches (Part of the discount for this school included making my own hotel arrangements.) Since Jacksonville was on the east coast, however, the sun is actually best in the morning. The several restaurants that overlook the beach (where all I wanted was to sip a margarita while sitting in the sun) were already in the shade.

The next morning, I proceeded to the Southern Campus of FCCJ, where I was enthused to see a very modern, well-equipped building, with a huge mainstage theatre, and a terrific studio space. I soon discovered, however, that they were putting my performance into a conference room across the hall, where they had set out some fifty chairs. The conference room was surrounded by huge windows which looked out over a lake. They could pull the shades over these windows, but that would diminish the available light in the performance area. A quick study of the room demonstrated that the only space in the room where there was NOT any overhead lighting, was the space where I’d be performing.

I think the technician found my complaints about this fact to be generally annoying, as he would disappear for some twenty minutes at a time, and took no measures to actually learn any “cues” that the show might hold. During one of his long disappearances, and when it was finally time for me to go get into costume and make-up, I called up to my supposed “host” for the event (I had yet to meet him) to point out the inadequacy of the setting. With that off of my chest, I tried to focus on giving the best performance I had available to give.

I was shocked at how good the show actually went. In the conference room setting, the audience was very close to me, and I could make extreme eye contact with them, constantly working on any portions of the audience that might start to waver in their attentiveness. While I wasn’t well lit, the audience was. It all goes to show just how unpredictable these things are.

Afterwards a couple of the French teachers lingered to chat, and one of them happened to note, in an aside, that my name had come up in a job interview she’d had in Northern Texas. I mentioned that I didn’t believe I’d ever performed in Northern Texas, and she suggested that it was one of those references to “the foremost authorities on Moliere.”

From here it was a quick drive south to Lakeland, Florida (actually about four hours on the road). That evening I was to give a Moliere workshop at Florida Southern College. It was quickly pointed out that many of the buildings on this campus had been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, including the lecture hall where I gave my presentation, which had once been an oddly-shaped circular library that now functioned nicely as an arena for my presentation.

The next morning I performed in a beautiful old theatre in Lakeland. This was a restored touring house from the turn of the century, one of many such theatres across the country, which was probably once a stop along the way during the golden years of vaudeville. A vast orchestra pit separated me from the first row of seats, and escaping the stage to navigate the auditorium was a bit of a balancing act during the Scapin scene. There were platforms from the set of another play, which would be opening in two days, already set out on the stage, which left me perhaps six feet of playing area downstage. There might be the opportunity to use these platforms for a particularly dramatic moment, but I would have to improvise that on the fly, as the busses of kids were beginning to arrive before I had time to rehearse anything other than the tech cues.

(I’ve discovered I’m not big on rehearsing these days. I almost prefer to have things surprise me in performance, if only to keep fresh a show that I’ve now performed at least two hundred times.)

As such, I only used the platforms a couple of times during the bulk of the show. After making an entrance from the top of the platforms, I would take a single step up, when I wanted to do something particularly theatrical, such as the “Stop Thief” poem and song.

I could feel that I was playing this performance near the top of my game. Doing the show for 400 or more students tends to bring the best out of me, as my gestures sharpen, clarify and exaggerate. One student had, perhaps a month ago, criticized me for overmuch “indicating” with my gestures, a comment which would sometimes linger in the back of my head during some of my less inspired performances. It is, however, when I am entirely capable of losing that critical voice in the back of my head when I give my best performances, and I could feel that this one was going well.

With the curtain call, however, I felt a terrific wash of energy from the audience. I took a quick bow, and exited, returning a moment later for a more lingering series of bows, and this time I stood on the highest platform on stage, perhaps three feet higher than I’d performed the rest of the show, and the students rose in their ovation.

Following the show, I stopped out for lunch with a professor who’d hosted the show in Florida a year before. I headed back to the hotel, finally ready to enjoy some of that famous Florida Sun at the hotel’s pool. I did, after all, have the hotel room still for almos another 24 hours, but the moment I got out to the pool, the clouds moved in, and didn’t leave the remainder of my time at the hotel.

I decided, at last, to arrange my Thanksgiving travel plans. I’d been flirting with ideas about where to spend my Thanksgiving for some months, but it seemed like every time I decided on a spot, that location would proceed to get hit by a hurricane. The decision came down to Jamaica vs. Key West, and I finally settled on Key West, a major advantage being that I could drive there, which would mean that my stuff would remain available, in my car, through the weekend. I booked two nights at a hotel there, and proceeded to keep my eye on the weather. A hurricane was forming just south of Key West, lingering by the Yucatan Peninsula and Cuba. The storm was downgraded to a tropical depression, but that only meant that it would continue to linger, screwing up the weather for the next week or two. I cancelled the hotel, with a penalty of about a hundred dollars.

I headed back to Orlando for the weekend, visiting with some of my special Fringe Fest friends, Patty and Sandra, while staying at Al Pergande’s house. (Al has written some very generous reviews of my work under the nom de plume, “Carl F. Gauze.”) Patty and I found a lively karaoke bar on Saturday night, populated by some rather colorful characters. Sandra (better known in some circles as “Sandra the Vegan”) is in on the ground floor of a new herbal tea / vegetarian café / progressive living restaurant. Al, meanwhile, has taken to buying yard sale stuff and selling it at a profit on e-bay.

Monday I was up early and on my way to another show at FCCJ, this one on a campus just northwest of the city. This technician seemed a little more interested in actually making the show work, and when we had trouble finding lights that were covering the space I needed, I clambered up into the “Front-of-house” area to redirect lights onto the area that I wanted. I found that, given the opportunity, I’m much more willing to be my own technician, and with easy access, I can refocus a whole row of lights in less than five minutes.

It was another thin crowd, and again, a large percentage seemed to make an exodus about halfway through the show. In fact, at one point, a bunch of exiting students lingered over by their professor, sitting in the second row, getting some kind of a document from him … perhaps a test, or a series of questions on the show. I was a little dumbfounded by the action, and I stopped dead to watch, though they continued their murmuring conversation, paying me no mind.

I found another hotel, and dug in to work on bookings once again. It had been over a month since I had so furiously worked on surfing through the websites of the several states I’d thoroughly explored, and the vastness of doing such a job on a state like Texas had intimidated me away from even starting that process once more. I decided instead to pull out my old list of theatre faculty from Texas, at least getting my latest available dates into their hands.

Which meant that it was finally time to plot out the 06-07 tour! After months of delay, pondering which conferences I’d be attending: Sci-fi conferences, French teacher conferences, Theatre conferences … I plugged in the ones that I thought would do me some good, and then plotted out a schedule which would enable me to hop most effectively from one to another.

Of course, this process is entirely arbitrary. As soon as I accept a single booking that is outside the parameters of this schedule everything else goes up for grabs, and I proceed to schedule and reschedule the tour ad infinitum.

I finished off my Jacksonville tour with two performances on the same day. I had a 10:30 show for a high school group at the FCCJ “Kent Campus,” followed by a performance for the college students two hours later. I knew already which would be the better show.

The high school kids loved it. They were vocal in their response, and some had even taken to whistling to indicate their approval of a particularly provocative line. The scene with the Tartuffe volunteer caused something of a sensation, particularly when Tartuffe slips his hand around the volunteer’s waist to draw her closer. (This may have something to do with the belly-exposing shirts that are so much in fashion these days, which makes the gesture a bit more intimate than it might otherwise seem.)

Two hours later, it was a struggle even getting a volunteer to come up on stage.

Fortunately, though, I was wrong about how well the show would go. While I’d assumed the response would be as indifferent as it had been at two of the other three FCCJ shows, this one was a little more lively. In fact, I found myself improvising my way through the emotional content of the show. While all of the words and actions were the same as always, the process of performing the show twice in the course of a couple of hours left me somehow freer to try new things. I could hit certain emotional moments “at a run” as it were, and I could articulate the words fully while allowing myself to be hit by each new discovery more fully than on other occasions.

This is, of course, a paradox to me. I was feeling the show as freshly as ever, but this freshness was the product of having done the thing once already.

Perhaps a part of the “freshness” was the assumption that I would get nothing from this audience in the way of emotional reaction, which led me to simply lay everything out there, independent of their reaction, much in the same way I had to perform in the theatre with the huge orchestra pit.

After the show I loaded up and hit the road again. I’d cancelled the Key West hotel, but had decided to look for something on Daytona Beach. I made a few calls to hotels that had coupons in the books that are available at the various rest stops, but few had rooms available through Thanksgiving. One hotel that had internet access, and a pool, was only available for two nights. I headed for it, but when I arrived, I was drawn to the hotel next door. Their view of the ocean seemed much better than one that would demand a certain craning of the neck.

The proprietor, and seemingly most of the guests at this hotel, speak French. I have to assume that they book mostly through travel agencies in France. I got a room on the third floor, and have spent the last two days, when not out at the pool, pushing through more marketing of the show. With the new schedule redrawn, I have put out a mailing to my list of “maybe next years” as well as my list of “definite maybes” for later this year. A month without pushing the bookings has left me with very few performances lined up for the spring, and the realization of this has hit me pretty hard. Of course, I have a rather extended Christmas break to work on this, but for the moment, the spring is looking like a lot of driving with not too much to show for it.

… As opposed to this fall, which has turned out to be perhaps the best fall so far. I’m feeling much more secure than I was … was it just two months ago? I guess it was. The fall tour started on September 25 in Arizona. And I’ve done 19 performances and 11 workshops since then.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Miles on the Vibe: 161,000
On the CD Player: Fiona Apple: An Extraordinary Machine
Currently Reading: “The Truth … With Jokes” by Al Franken. -- Al is at his best at this one, and one of his funniest (and saddest) revelations may be the way that the Bush administration is not lying so much as they have no belief in objective reality. Al quotes Ron Suskind, in conversation with a “senior Bush advisor” as follows:

“The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality based community,’ which he defined as people who believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” [Al adds] “Doesn’t that sound like the kind of speech a Bond villain would make just before falling into his own shark tank? -- Of the other many funny parts of the book, one of my favorites is the many synonyms that Al finds for “credulous” to describe Tim Russert’s non-confrontational interviewing style.

Where was I? Discoveries: People who work me over to get me to discount my price probably undervalue the show in other ways, such as their commitment to technical precision or audience promotion. * And yet, this does not mean that the audience will necessarily adopt the host’s indifference. * Expectations generate results. * Doing the show for 400 or more students tends to bring the best out of me, as my gestures sharpen, clarify and exaggerate. * Sometimes freshness and renewed energy is the result of repetition.
Attendance: 30 + 40 + 150 + 75 + 25 + 40 + 450 + 40 + 200 + 50 = 1,100
Temperature: 40s to 80s, and getting ready to head full into the face of winter.
Next shows: Volunteer State Community College 11/29; Lipscomb University, 11/30.

Friday, November 11, 2005

The View From Here #103: Arlington Heights, IL; Hanover, IN; Interlochen, MI & Wilmington, DE

I enjoyed a week at home following my Tennessee/Alabama adventures, and while I’d wanted to push forward with the surfing project (e-mailing schools in Texas and California), my e-mail inbox had become clogged with inquiries about possible performances that needed to be indexed among my list of potential gigs. I spent much of the week doing just that (and now I wonder if my doing that only puts those potential shows out-of-sight-and-out-of-mind, rather like moving a stack of bills into a file that you never open).

At the end of the week, there was a family gathering for my parents’ anniversary, and I managed to capture a couple of good photos of the Gang of Five (the “kids”) and the Gang of Seven (with Mom & Dad). (Drop me a note if you’d like copies.)

Saturday night was my performance for the Illinois Mensa Convention. Four years ago, they’d hosted “Moliere Than Thou” as their keynote event at the banquet, and I’ve always remembered how fun it was. They tend to pick up on the innuendo that I hide a little more deeply inside the wordplay. The event’s coordinator has written in the past noting that the participants enjoyed Moliere so much that they insisted she would “never be able to top this.”

And so, she brought me back, this time to do my sci-fi thriller, “Criteria.”

Rather than in the banquet hall, I found she’d set me up with a small stage in a conference room that holds 2-300 people. Apparently the banquet attendees were promised priority seating for “Criteria,” and yet they wanted to open the show up to people who weren’t at the banquet, as well.

The first thing I ever check in any venue is the lighting, and this conference room was not designed as a theatre space. A chandelier suspended towards house-left threw the only useable light onto stage right. My Pathways training came in handy, as I spent a half-hour relocating the audience chairs about ten feet to the left, while narrowing the wide center aisle. This way, the most extreme house-right seats would not be so far from the place where I would be performing most of the show.

Good thing, too, as quite a few still found their way to sit all the way over by the far right aisle. There were about a hundred or so in attendance. The room had a slight echo to it, and I had to slow down, just a touch, to keep the words from being garbled. Usually I launch into this play at warp speed, as it were, but this time the pace was more deliberate.

In response, it seemed that the audience was attentive, but not bursting with laughs. Many were in suits, tuxes, or nice dresses, and my odd bit of guerrilla theatre seemed just a bit out of place. But the highs were still high, the funny scenes still funny, and the climax felt powerful. Afterwards, I thanked them and noted that I had (newly published) scripts available for sale, as well as CD’s from “Karaoke Knights,” and I actually sold about 10 items to people who had responded very strongly to the work.

At least one of them was a sci-fi fan, and he alluded to some of the upcoming sci-fi conventions in the Midwest. I made notes of their names and looked them up the next day.

There are DOZENS of sci-fi conventions out there! I found a “webring” of sites for these “cons”, and started indexing the cities and the dates. It was nearing time to plot out my 06-07 schedule, and here I had another factor to consider in scheduling. Now, in addition to schools, I’m looking at sci-fi conventions, foreign language conferences and performance festivals. While I’m looking to downshift a bit on my travel schedule, more performance possibilities keep presenting themselves.

Monday, I was back on the road. I was headed south once again, this time to Hanover, Indiana. The bottom end of Indiana slopes northward as you move from west to east, and even though this was not as far south as southern Indiana can get, it was still as far as I could go without falling into Kentucky. The school itself overlooks the Ohio River, which can be a rather dramatic view. (I sat there at one point, watching what must have been about a million birds migrating past me in an endless stream. I had never really contemplated just how outnumbered we are by the bird population … at least not since the last time I saw the Hitchcock movie.)

This show was to be performed in a recital hall, which meant that it would, at least have great acoustics, although it did not have the traditional theatrical accoutrements.

I hadn’t seen anything around campus promoting the show, and the French teacher was citing this or that 6-person class or 12-person class that was required to attend, and so I was assuming that this would be a tiny house and a constant struggle. I was very surprised to see about 85 people filter in to the theatre. As I peeked out from backstage to watch people come in, I was immediately struck by the looks of a girl sitting down by herself in the fourth row. I immediately thought that she would be the perfect volunteer for the Tartuffe scene.

Even better, they were an audience of laughers. There were at least two or three scattered about who had infectious laughs, and so I could feel that I “had them” from my opening speech. Even little things, that normally zip by the audience were landing. Moliere talks about the man’s fear of the “alternatives” that Arnolphe’s intended wife may discover, and everyone got exactly what Moliere was suggesting.

I played the first half of the “Tartuffe” scene to a girl in the third row, just a few feet from the one I’d observed coming in. When the volunteer scene arrived, the girl I’d noticed immediately stood up and walked to the stage. There was a tangible nervous tension between us from the outset. I engaged in my usual pre-scene flirtation, and she (“Julie”) was playful in return. I asked if she had any experience acting, and she assured me that she was “a theatre major.” Moliere didn’t quite understand that and asked if that was, perhaps one step over a “Theatre Sergeant” or a “Theatre Lieutenant?”

When it was time to start the scene, Julie started reading the first Elmire line of the script. I stopped her to note that I had a rather long line before it was her turn to speak, and she responded, “Sorry, I got excited …”

I replied, demurely, with the only line that came to mind. “I seem to have that effect.”

The scene played great, the crowd ate it up, and the nervous energy was palpable. I could see her lips trembling, as Julie had no idea what I was going to do next, though she was seemingly enjoying herself very much in the process.

After the show, as I packed up, the volunteer returned to say hello, and I thanked her for 'letting me seduce her.'

The next day I drove north.

The show was in Interlochen, Michigan, which is not quite as far north as the Upper Peninsula, but it sure seemed close.

Previously, I was supposed to have a show in Northern Indiana to perform along the way. The teacher had booked me in, but had never signed the contract. Several days before, I wrote to check up on details for scheduling, and he wrote back with a long apology indicating that the show had fallen through from an inability to coordinate the schedule with classes and facilities. At least twice, he insisted that he would “take responsibility for this falling through.”

It strikes me that the notion of “responsibility” is not what it used to be. Whatever he might say in this context, I’m still the one who’s out the money. Which kind of reminds me of the Bush administration. (Did anybody read those recently released memos to and from Mike “I am a fashion god” Brownie? Amid a national disaster of seemingly Biblical proportions, they were trading fashion advice and restaurant recommendations: “Make sure you’ve got your sleeves rolled up!”)

And so, I continued on to the Interlochen Arts Academy.

What a great campus! Set between two lakes, they put me in a cabin on-campus, and the French teacher was incredibly excited. “I can’t believe it’s here!” he said. We went to dinner the night I arrived, and met again for breakfast before going to my 8 a.m. lecture on “The Life of Moliere” for the French class. The lecture went very well, but when I squeeze it into a single hour, there are always more monologues and examples that I want to give in order to illustrate the several chapters from Moliere’s life. I always try to finish it off with a description of Moliere’s death scene, and a scene from “Imaginary Invalid,” which is very powerful in context.

We then went to set up for the performance, and I was thrilled at the facility. It was a beautiful stage with a plush auditorium. The blue velvet curtain was awash in green and blue light. The technicians knew exactly what I wanted and made it work perfectly. The girl volunteering for Tartuffe was a cute blond theatre student, with lots of pincurls in her hair. When Moliere asked where she was from, she responded with “Interlochen,” which Moliere obviously didn’t understand, and she tried “the United States” and eventually, “the wilderness.”

Moliere responded, “That must explain the hair.”

Again, the “Tartuffe” scene was a blast, and the volunteer for the “Scapin” scene introduced himself as “Parker,” but he said it with one of those Thurston Howell III voices. I couldn’t tell if he was pretending to be an uppity WASP, or if he really was, but I matched his droll drawl for a few lines of exchange before getting down to the scene.

Afterwards I packed up the show and headed on to one more class: a two-hour acting workshop. I tried a couple of new things with this group, doing the Misanthrope scene much earlier than I usually do in the process, but it seemed to fall flat (it’s a hard scene to do with cold-reading). I worked the energy back up and pushed through to the end, finishing up with fifteen minutes of questions. Or actually one question: “How did you end up doing what you’re doing now, touring with Moliere?” And a fifteen minute answer. Except for the final request of a rendition of “Lion Sleeps Tonight.”

That night, following a home-cooked dinner, the French teacher arranged a reception for me with the students, and some twenty or thirty students arrived (They had recruited them from the student center, spreading the word that there was free food). They brought out a cake, singing “Happy Birthday” to me. This was November 3, and my birthday was just a couple of hours away, on November 4.

(And thanks, all of you, for the various birthday greetings. It’s good to know that people are thinking of me while I’m on the road. I do celebrate my birthday through the course of the month of November, so there’s still plenty of time …)

Friday I was on the road by 6 a.m., heading for Detroit. It was parents’ day at Isaac’s new school. He’s at a private school these days, where they seem to be teaching him stuff that I never learned until high school. In fact, his science and math classes seem to be at the far edge of anything I’ve ever learned, so I’m hoping he never asks for help with any homework. For what it’s worth, he tends to spend 95% of each class with his hand in the air to answer questions, so the good news is that he knows everything already.

That night we went to see “Chicken Little,” which was all right, as far as recent Disney movies go, but Disney is not reclaiming the cutting edge with this one. It’s no “Toy Story.”

The next day, we checked out the latest Star Wars on DVD, and went out to eat. On Sunday, I was back on the road. I pushed through to Delaware that night, with a show the following morning at a high school.

I walked in to find the theatre was a huge auditorium, with perhaps 800 seats, and at least a twenty-foot throw from the edge of the stage to the first row of seats. I knew immediately that this would not be an intimate performance. Rather, it would be about me laying out the goods for an audience to witness. From twenty (and more) feet away, I cannot see what they might be responding to. And I can only barely hear them laughing. Even when they do laugh, there’s that whole laughing-with-me/laughing-at-me dichotomy that I can’t quite penetrate.

Every once in a while, I hear my own voice, and realize that it has been pitched rather high, in my most penetrating and strident tone for rather a long time. I rein myself back in and get quiet, in order to let them “come to me” for a while.

Fortunately, I was only doing the one-hour version of the show, and with a single hour to fill, I can simply put out all my best stuff, and let them absorb it “from a distance” as it were. Once I cross the one-hour barrier to seventy-five or ninety minutes, there’s a different sort of attentiveness that is demanded. In an hour, I can take them by shock or surprise. Any longer than that, and I need to engage them more personally. They need to care about me.

I had at least one fan, which was the girl that volunteered for “Tartuffe.” A black girl was quick and demonstrative about volunteering for the scene, and she was extremely playful on stage. Like many of the others, she was unsure about what her reaction should be: and swung between demonstrative affection and feigned offense.

Attention lagged during the “Don Juan” scene, but the audience participation of the “Scapin” scene woke them back up again. Even so, the connection dissipated once more during “Precious Young Maidens” and I couldn’t finish up the play fast enough. Even the infamous “Stop thief” couldn’t quite win them back.

And, still, after the show, the French teacher was very happy, and one of the sponsors of the show wished aloud that she’d invited the whole school to see the show. A bunch of the theatre students lingered, asking for autographs, and wanting advice about how to act in their upcoming show.

This was not an especially healthy theatre department. The middle-aged couple who ran my lights and sound were alumni of the school’s theatre. They also built and paid for all of the sets of the shows in the theatre. They were giving their sweat and blood over to the school, and the school had become dependent on them. And, perhaps as a result, they never hired a technical director. In the process of saving individual shows, they may have been enablers, winning the battles while losing the war.

From Delaware I drove north to Connecticut, visiting with my friend (and calligrapher) Debby (www.letteringdesign.com), and her new gentleman-friend, Chris (and his three kids). I caught up on the e-mails which seem to flood my inbox every time I get on the road for an eight-hour day, and by Tuesday afternoon (today, as I write this), I continued on up to New Hampshire, where I enjoy a very luxurious hotel, and type up my memories, while drinking beer and enjoying a brief respite before shows tomorrow and Friday.

Yesterday, in the inbox, came a thank-you from the teacher in Indiana: “Students and faculty had nothing but great things to say about your show—your energy, humor, and ability to convey characters with a simple change of wig and voice. Their favorite part seemed to be “Stop, thief!” One student who had never read Moliere was delighted with the satirical aspect of his works, and now wants to read them. I, too, was pleased with the turnout. I know that many came because they wanted to, not because they were required to by a professor. Good luck in your travels. I will certainly spread the word about you fabulous show.”

Oh, and now there’s a note from the theatre prof at the same school: “I really enjoyed your show--I was able to laugh as a 'civilian' patron while at the same time appreciating the skillful, committed performance and the clever writing in the 'frame' material. I was thinking of recommending you to the guy who coordinates our annual arts series. Do you have a packet, or should I point him to your web-site? Which of your shows would work best for a family audience?”

One more late-breaking bulletin! The US off-year elections reveal that (to coin a phrase): “The Emperor Has No Coattails.”

Mileage: 158,500
Reading: “The Truth … with Jokes” by Al Franken (laugh-out-loud funny)
In the CD Player: “Oh No” by “Ok Go”
Temperature: Unseasonably warm
Discoveries: My proclivity for indexing may well be an excuse to delay follow through. * The birds outnumber us. * “Responsibility” is not what it used to be. * Some performances are more about me laying out the goods for an audience to witness than any intimate connection. * And yet, even so, I need to rein myself back in and get quiet, in order to let them “come to me” for a while. * With a single hour to fill, I can simply put out all my best stuff, and let them absorb it “from a distance” as it were. * Once I cross the one-hour barrier to seventy-five or ninety minutes, there’s a different sort of attentiveness that is demanded. For an hour, I can take them by shock or surprise. Any longer than that, and I need to engage them more personally.
Next Performances: Plymouth, NH, 11/9, Bowdoin, ME, 11/10, Lynchburg, VA, 11/14

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The View From Here #102: Auburn, AL; Athens, Powell & Clarksville, TN

In short order: from Grand Junction to Denver, from Denver to Kearney, Nebraska, and then on to Chicago in record time, with a brief stop in Lincoln, Nebraska, for lunch with the new chair of the U-Nebraska theatre department (which is where I got my MFA). UNL was given a very generous grant from Johnny Carson shortly before he died. They seem to have run out of buildings that aren’t already named for somebody, so they have renamed the department “The Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film.”

Anyway, it should be quite a program in another couple of years, and the chair and I brainstormed about some Moliere projects we might want to explore. (This marks the third such conversation in recent months, following the Colorado Shakespeare Festival and the University of Arizona, and I expect that as I get tired of traveling, I may well find myself doing longer residencies around projects like this. I’ve begun posing the question to myself: “What do you really want to do?”)

Back at home, I threw myself back into the promotional campaign, writing to all of the Theatre teachers and French teachers I could find in Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida and, eventually, Georgia. I was surfing strategically. Rather than going through schools alphabetically, I was surfing the states where my current schedule left me with the most open dates to schedule performances. (Next up is Texas, and I’m doing all that I can to put off taking on that sizeable project.)

Following a long layoff (6-8 weeks?), during which I’ve actually been swimming quite a bit, I started jogging again. I was shocked at how creaky my knees were. My first time out, I could only run once around the block (probably about 3/4 of a mile). Either it’s age setting in, or sitting in the car for days at a time, or both.

Down in Tennessee, Austin Peay University was working on my version of “The Misanthrope.” At one point, I received an e-mail from the director asking if they could make cuts to “a couple of lines” from the script (for time, only). I said, okay, as long as they sent me a list of what they were cutting.

As I resumed my trip, Austin Peay was my first stop, catching a rehearsal of “Misanthrope,” which was due to open the following week. I had requested a copy of the script so that I could work on my own edits as I watched the show.

Flipping through the script, I could now see that they had cut, not a couple, but dozens of lines from the show. And some of the lines had been “cherry-picked,” slicing out individual words in a manner which would save no actual “time,” but which apparently didn’t feel comfortable for the director. Some of my absolute favorite lines had been extracted (usually the ones that made me burst out laughing as I was writing them), such as Alceste’s character-defining: “I treasure this oppression as my ticket / For telling the whole world where they can stick it!” Or, “When they act more like horse’s feces / I want to break away from my own species!”

So, somewhere in there, the director and I were going in two different directions. And that should have been evident from the tone of the rehearsal itself: languid, ponderous. After the rehearsal, I talked with the cast about period style, in general, and stayed away from character notes for the most part, which would have taken me several hours to explore.

The next day, the director and I met for lunch, and I went into my notes at great length. I indicated that she didn’t have to follow through on any of these; that it was her show and up to her what she did and did not do. I bracketed the lines in the script that I very much missed, noting that she did not HAVE to restore them, but that I thought it would be a better play with them back in.

I must note here, that I played the role of Alceste in the Stage Two production of the play, and so my insight into his character was pretty fixed. And perhaps because it was so fixed, I was compensating by taking a rather wide berth, noting, “You are welcome to disagree with me, here, but this is my interpretation …” (I eventually found that the director did, in fact, disagree, as she adopted almost none of my notes.)

I continued south to Alabama, with a show at Auburn University. I would be performing in a lecture hall, which is not usually the best setting for the show. The lighting is usually designed to be brighter in the audience than “on stage,” and there are usually computer boards built into industrial-sized desks with overhead projectors that can never actually be removed from the space. (Which doesn’t generaly fit with Moliere’s time period.) In this case, there was also a low table downstage center, which was actually bolted to the floor. The maintenance crew either couldn’t or wouldn’t remove the table prior to the show, which meant that there was a low-lying obstacle between myself and the front row throughout.

The only door that led to the “stage” led directly outdoors, so instead I squirreled away up in the “booth,” a small room behind the audience, with a window in it. Which meant that I watched people filtering into the auditorium. I was discouraged when I saw that about 75% of the audience were sitting in the back 25% of the rows, assumedly for an easy escape, when they needed to get away, or so that they could engage in discreet text-messaging without anybody noticing.

I think I am better off not knowing these things.

I put it mostly out of my head, and concentrated on performing for the 25% of the audience in the forward 75% of the seats, particularly as at least some of them seemed to be having a grand old time.

I was engaged in an ongoing dance with the low table in front of me, stationing myself far back from it, when possible, so that it would not cut me off at the knees, visually, or positioning myself stage right or stage left of it when I absolutely had to approach a member of the audience. Occasionally, I would even do a pass downstage of the table, which put me just a couple of feet away from the front row of seats. It was too close for the style that I was playing in, but it probably woke people up a little.

When it came to the Tartuffe volunteer scene, I placed the imaginary “Orgon” underneath the table, which is where he would usually be positioned in a typical performance of the show. I then backed my volunteer into a backbend over the table during the seduction, and she picked up the cue, waving and trying to signal Orgon, below, from her position, above.

Somewhere around the midpoint of the show, there was an exodous of about eight to ten students, who apparently had other commitments, or had perhaps decided that they had been there long enough to write a report, or to pass a quiz on the material. For the most part, the rest remained throughout.

At the end of the play, several students and teachers came forward to thank me, as I folded up what costumes I could, and when the auditorium had emptied, I went up to finish changing, before reloading the car and getting on the road.

And while I was conscious of all of the obstacles in pulling off the lecture-hall version of the show, I apparently got through to a number of people. The next day I got an e-mail from someone who’d tracked me via the Moliere website:

“Mille mercies! Your performance in Auburn was delicious. I’m the brunette in green who never stopped laughing. … Moliere has long been my favorite playwright and the publicity blurb of “Moliere lives” is no lie. … Everything that I ever imagined Moliere to be, you gave me in your performance. … I roared with laughter, came home feeling SO good from all that laughing that I can’t thank you sufficiently. GREAT JOB! I can only think that Moliere would be proud and pleased. I’m still smiling.”

And, a theatre professor wrote to say:

“Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed what I saw of your performance yesterday and apologize for having to leave early with some of my students. We are in the midst of a monstrous tech week of a show that opens this evening and we had to be back at the theatre for a 6:00 p.m. final dress. …One of my students said, ‘Now I really understand what Tartuffe’s character is all about.’ High praise indeed.”

I drove north, to Athens, Tennessee, where I arrived just after midnight. Along the way, I occasionally timed myself on the performance I’d be giving the following day at 11 a.m. The school had requested a 30-minute version of my show, and the various monologue combinations that I was exploring usually clocked in at 33 minutes or more.

When I arrived at the school, I found that they weren’t going to hold me to a 30-minute deadline. “Just as long as they get out in time to get lunch before noon.” And so, I did the 33-minute version of the show, which stretched to about 40 minutes with audience laughter and “acting”. This version included “Bourgeois Gentleman,” the “Tartuffe” monologue, the “Tartuffe” volunteer scene, the “Scapin” volunteer scene and the “Precious Young Maidens.” In other words, the stuff that gets the best response. And, I could feel that the hundred or so students, were getting it. After the show, the teachers speculated about bringing the full performance in for an evening show next year, and the theatre teacher asked if I would come in to talk to her 1:00 class.

The school hadn’t paid the extra that I normally charge for a class visit, but I hate to disappoint anybody, or to pass up the opportunity to connect with the kids, so I offered to “pop in” for about twenty minutes, before getting on the road.

That afternoon, I had just about an hour’s drive north to Powell, Tennessee, a suburb of Knoxville.

This was my third appearance at Powell, and they have made an annual event of my visit. I had met the teacher at the conference in Martinique three summers before, and her enthusiasm about the show has never waned. While most other schools insist that they need to have a four-year gap before bringing me in again (when there will be an entirely new group of students present), Saralee just automatically schedules a performance while I’m in Tennessee.

I notice that the audience has grown in the three years that I’ve been doing the show. While last year’s audience may have been around 150 students, this year there are closer to 250 in the seats. It seems that a network of local teachers have learned about the performance, and new schools join the list every year, bussing their kids in to Powell from up to an hour’s drive away.

Likewise, the rumor of the show seems to have spread among the students themselves, and their attentiveness seems better than any of the other high schools that I perform for. Some of the students have seen me in past years, but seemingly most of them are new to the show, but have heard rumor of what to watch for. When I request volunteers for “Tartuffe” or “Scapin,” there are students who are jumping out of their chairs, absolutely determined to be the one selected this year.

I found myself wondering, even as I was reciting my lines, whether there might be an Eastern Tennessee renaissance in Moliere studies in the next ten years or so. Perhaps, the University of Tennessee (just about 10 miles away, in Knoxville) would find a sudden influx of French or Theatre students in the coming years. And I think about how some franchise restaurants do exceptionally well in some certain regions, while they never quite get a toe-hold in other cities. Who knows why the Cincinnati area is so big on Chili, or why Chicago loves Chicago-style hot dogs? If my experience is any indicator, it is probably because somewhere along the line, there was one influential advocate (such as Saralee) for the work, whose enthusiasm caught on among the people within her sphere.

Somehow, performing the show the third time in as many days, I was feeling a bit looser about the performance, and found myself exploring. One girl in the front row had a persistent cough, and I could feel it taking away from particular moments of the “Doctor in Spite of Himself” scene, and so, when a moment arrived between scenes, I excused myself, picked up the glass of water I have onstage with me (which I rarely drink from, anyway), walked out into the audience and offered it to her, slapping her on the back. Many of the audience seemed bewildered by this pause, but I think it at least communicated that noise from the audience was in fact heard upon the stage, and her cough seemed to quiet for the remainder of the play.

During the Scapin volunteer scene, I was in a playful mood, and when I jumped out into the audience, I found myself facing a student who was sleeping (which happens more often than I’d care to admit). In this scene, I always refer to individuals in the audience as members of the long list of characters that I am describing, and so I slapped this student on the leg a few times, which stirred him from his sleep. I proceeded to grasp his head and weave it side to side as I projected loudly, directly into his face. He gaped back at me with a terrified look, and I continued on through the audience. The audience cheered with approval.

When I finished the play several minutes later, the entire audience stood to applaud. Again, I was struck by their enthusiasm, and felt fairly certain that the good buzz that my show received from them year-round, puts them in a position where they are ready to appreciate the show, and thereby respond.

This group likes to do photos with “Moliere,” and the several schools always pose with me on the steps in front of the stage, as one group after another heads off to their bus.

After this, Saralee wanted to take more pictures, getting one of me in each of my costumes, so that she could do a slide show presentation in a conference of French teachers that was coming up. I was, of course, happy to comply. I did my usual acting workshop. This year there was a deaf student present for my workshop, and it took two sign language interpreters, trading off a couple of times, to keep up with my lecture.

At last, I hustled off, trying to beat the school traffic, and driving back to Clarksville for opening night of “The Misanthrope.”

In performance, I could sense a better feel for the style of the play among the actors. They were delivering their lines forward more comfortably, physically staying open to the audience better. And yet, the tone was still dark and brooding. At intermission, I noticed a school newspaper in the lobby, and opened it to find a publicity photo from the show. The caption described “The Misanthrope” as a “Comic Tragedy.” Suddenly, I could see just where things had gone off in a different direction.

After the show, there was a reception, and I thanked the actors individually, telling them “Great job.” I didn’t want to lay my responses on the director immediately after opening night. (I suspected that she wouldn’t “hear” them quite, and that for tonight at least, any negativity would be unwelcome.) I asked her to call me the next day.

She never called. Eventually, I called her to leave a message, and proceeded to type up and e-mail my notes to her.

I heard nothing back, and the show was no different the following night. While there were specific audibility notes that I could still take, it was pointless for me to sit through the show again, layering notes upon notes that had gone unread. And so, I did something that I almost never do. I left at intermission.

The director caught up with me as I was just on my way out. I explained in my nicest tone that there was no point to me being there if I was not contributing to the process in any way (the school was, after all, paying for my hotel, and I supposed that they wanted me to be doing something besides occupying a seat), and I left.

The next day, I had lunch with Leni (the department coordinator, and a friend dating back to the early 80s), and I caught her up on the interaction with this director. It was clear that Leni was supportive of my perspective, and she gave me a backstage peek of her observations, recalling her own discovery that cuts had been made to the script, whereupon she had insisted that the director get my approval.

That day I did my “The Life of Moliere” workshop with a French class (of about 5 people) and it went over great. The teacher was responsive and enthusiastic and wanted to recommend me to other schools in the area.

About fifteen minutes prior to an acting workshop that I was about to give, I saw the director and drew her aside. I asserted that I could see a seeming conflict between us, suggesting that perhaps my opinions about my show were in conflict with her faculty advisor’s opinions? No, she responded. It was she, herself, who saw the show in a different manner than I did.

I was a little bit shocked, if only because the previous week we’d had a two-hour lunch in which I’d expressed my opinions at great length, and she’d voiced no conflicting opinion. For me, it paralleled the way she pretended that the cuts she had made were for “length only.” She had been avoiding confrontation, and pretending there was no difference of opinion, while proceeding to go her own way. Now that the cat was out of the bag, she even started to suggest that perhaps I “didn’t understand Moliere the way she did…”

That night, the show was better. The director had at least taken one of my notes (that things were taking too long), and tightened it up. I saw her for a brief moment afterwards to say “good show,” before continuing home. I was not really surprised when she made no attempt to contact me that following day.

On my last day in town (continuing with my e-mail projects), I contemplated whether I should attend this final performance. Was my presence just making people uncomfortable, since I assumed word of my contrary view had circulated among the cast? Was it too painful for me to listen to this version?

I decided that my absence would make a bad statement which would seem petty in perspective, and regardless of my disagreements with the director, the cast was working very hard, and had no personal disagreements with my opinions. And, attending this performance, I was actually able to enjoy the work more, once again. It had continued to improve, and while there were moments that did not work for me, I could appreciate that, on the whole, this was a good show, and might well move on to further levels of competition with the American College Theatre Festival.

I reached one further conclusion. Following the performances for which the school had already contracted (which included a performance at the Tennessee Theatre Association in the coming week), they would need to enter into a new contract with me for future shows. And if they wanted to continue to use my material, they would need to restore the cut lines.

I contemplated whether I should specify exactly which cuts they should restore, and which they might leave in (since some of them bothered me more than others), but resolved that negotiating the matter would only weaken my position. And, perhaps the educational value for the students was in learning about the responsibility of the production to the playwright (since they seemed to assume none) … and something about copyright law. The best way to get the words back that had been “cherry-picked,” was simply to insist on a word-for-word adherence. Perhaps in that process, the actors would rediscover words that for now made no sense, details that I couldn’t begin to address if I didn’t have access to interact with them.

Late that night, I laid out all of these details in a note to Leni, and the next morning, I left town, heading home once again. When I arrived, there was a response from Leni in my e-mail. She acknowledged that they would restore the play the way I had written it.

In the process, I had to confront my own willingness to make such a demand on people. How much of my reaction was just a response to feeling “dissed”? Not being consulted? Not having my bio appear in the program? When it came down to it, however, I had to ask, “What if this play does, in fact, go all the way in competition?” Would people think that what was being performed was my original script? Without the full battery of the jokes I’d included, might they get a wrong impression about my script, and either dislike the material, or like it for the wrong reasons? Either way, I would certainly not take as much pride in the success of the play as it was currently being produced, and so I insisted on the change, if for no other reason than because, as the playwright, that was my option.

Miles on the Vibe: 154,000
Temperature: Upper 80s, dropping into the 40s
Attendance: 80 + 100 + 250 + 50 + 5 + 15 = 500
On the Disc Player: Fiona Apple, “An Extraordinary Machine”
Reading: Back issues of The Nation
Discoveries: As I get tired of traveling, I am starting to look at other options, and in the process I find that I have to repeatedly ask myself, “What do you want to do?” The answer that I usually give myself often responds to the question, “What do you think you CAN do?” And I have to continually reassert the original question. * One enthusiastic advocate may be all that it takes to stimulate a renaissance around a given subject matter. * When confronted with a dysfunctional situation, I tend to absorb the blame myself, before standing up for what I believe. * Sometimes it is okay to insist on the way you want something, if only because you can.
Next performance: The Illinois Mensa Convention, 10/29

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The View From Here #101: Vancouver, BC; Phoenix & Tempe, AZ & Las Vegas, NV

Sunday afternoon in Vancouver I finished packing the car, picked up farewell gifts for my technician and my billeter, and headed in. I had a few flyers left over, and I managed to give most of them away. I set up to perform one last time, and about thirty people shuffled in. They seemed to be in a slightly better mood than the group from Saturday. Notably, there was one, extremely attractive woman, attending with her precocious son (who seemed fascinated by the karaoke TV display). As I was starting the final warm-up song (Jimmy Buffet’s “Why Don’t We Get Drunk”), I apologized, noting that the song was a bit ‘PG-13”, and she responded, “Oh, I’m a single mom; he’s heard everything.”

I stopped, with a sudden interest “You’re a single mom?” Playing the oily, sleazy character (for which I am so famous), I stated to hit on her, before realizing, “Oh! I’m leaving town right after the show!”

This by-play, seemed to put the rest of the audience into a good mood, and as the show started, I was reminded of some of the original inspiration for songs like, “I’m Looking For A Groupie.”

Somehow I managed to resist using her as the volunteer for “Too Real” and as the microphone cord victim for “Forward Thinking,” holding out instead to bring her onstage to do the tango for “Bite My Tongue.” She was great, and she stuck around after the show to get me to autograph the CD. She continued to flirt outrageously, and I’m sure I gave back as good as I got, but ultimately it was time to go. She left me with her card, and with a sigh, I packed up, said goodbye to my technician, and was headed south within a half an hour. Speculating of course, on how these things always happen on my last day in town.

By 8 pm I was in Seattle, where I dropped in on former college roommate-juggler-pal, Thomas Arthur for a quick visit. And then on a little further south to visit with my friend and illustrator, Lee Howard. I met Lee at the Seattle Fringe three years ago, and he’s done illustrations for “Criteria” and “Karaoke Knights” since then. Lee and I traded some of our latest swag: I gave him a copy of the CD, and he gave me his latest, a book for kids/teens that he wrote and illustrated called “Sebastian Reckless.” (It’s very cool; I read it as soon as I got to Phoenix, and all of your kids will want copies. As soon as I find his website again, I’ll relay it to you.)

Back in the car, I continued south. I spent the night doing short hops; driving an hour or two and napping at rest stops. Out of curiosity, I noted that you can see Mount Shasta within about five miles of the California border, and you continue to see it for about 150 miles. It dominates the landscape along Interstate 5 to the point that every time I drive through California I think that “This must be a different mountain I’m looking at by now.”

I finally pulled over in Stockton, California, and resumed driving early the next morning. Just north of Los Angeles, I turned left, and pulled in to Phoenix just in time for their rush hour. I found my way to the timeshare place, which was very luxurious: king sized bed, oversized tub with Jacuzzi jets, and a huge pool. I settled in and got back to work … eventually.

I picked up where I had left off in the e-mail campaign. Along the drive, I’d had plenty of time to make plans, and I realized that there were some states where, due to my path, there would be a much greater earning potential. As such my initial focus would be on Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois. (Which is as far as I’ve gotten so far). Subsequent projects will focus on North Carolina, Virginia, Florida and Texas.

I found myself continually adding to the complexity of this mailing. I had started out by looking up the theatre professors in the Junior Colleges of a given state. I realized that, while I was at it, I might as well look up their counterparts in the French department. And then, before leaving the state, I went back to my previous list of University theatre professors, but, as it’s been over three years since I developed this list, I decided to surf back to those schools’ websites and check whether these e-mail addresses were still any good. And, of course, having looked up these schools once again, I would surf to the French department and mail to their list of faculty, too.

And so, while I’d initially envisioned that I’d be mailing to two or three states each day, I was lucky to be able to finish one, and by the time I came to Illinois, with over three hundred eligible French and theatre teachers, and the resumption of my performance schedule, it took me the rest of the week.

Part of the problem was that the more e-mails I sent out, the more responses I would get back. Which is, of course, a great thing. People were asking my prices, my availability, whether I worked in French or English, what grade level it was appropriate for … and each of these merited a personal response. Often I had information of people in their neighborhood who were also trying to arrange for the show, and I wanted to hook these people up with each other.

And while the bookings were slowly growing, I found myself wondering if there wasn’t a natural leveling off point, where an accelerated marketing program was arrested by the weight of its own success, as eight hours of “cold calls” were transformed into four hours of cold calls interrupted by four hours of follow-up.

And yet, I had put together another document, where I tracked the money coming in, and noted that the anticipated fall income was creeping slowly, and significantly upwards.

It was interesting to note that I was completely unsuccessful in arranging shows between Arizona and Chicago, during the span of my drive home, even though I was offering these schools an extraordinary discount. I made a note to myself: don’t offer huge discounts to schools as a last-ditch effort just before passing through. It’s hard for them to arrange that close to the date, and only ends up devaluing the “product.”

I’ve also come away renewed in my belief that fewer options lead to more bookings. Whereas previously, I would write to schools and attach my entire itinerary, in hopes that they would scan the dates to find one that would work for them, this time, while concentrating more intently on particular states, I picked out the exact dates that I wanted to schedule something, and would promote those dates only. When venues have a limited number of options, they are much more likely to check their calendars to see if those dates work for them.

I forced myself to push away from the desk a couple times a day, going for a swim in the hot Arizona sun.

It struck me that Arizona, or at least Phoenix, is the most energy inefficient place on the planet. Huge SUV’s and trucks litter the broad roadways. There is no sign of a recycling program anywhere. The entire state has to be air conditioned to make it livable (most days were over 100 degrees). They pump billions of gallons of water across the desert, just to create tiny patches of green lawns (which they then mow, almost daily). Swimming pools, and even restaurants spray constant mists of water out from under their awnings just to cool off the patrons. And there, at the timeshare (essentially a hotel/resort on a golf course) the maintenance staff struggles on a daily basis to blow the tiny leaves that fall from the trees, off of the sidewalks and parking lots, as if the patrons would be terribly inconvenienced to step on, or drive over a leaf, from time to time.

If global warming has a ground zero, it is Phoenix, Arizona.

Five days at the timeshare disappear quickly, with only a single expedition to a karaoke bar, and a dinner meeting with one of my hosts (Tamara, who has been working on getting me to Arizona State for several years). On Sunday, I packed up to move out of the resort, and in to the local Motel 6, where the school was putting me up. I found a local park, with a series of walking paths that encircled two large bluffs, and drilled my lines as I climbed and walked. I found a large natural amphitheatre, and ran two of my scenes in front of the stone steps. A family of four, climbing over the bluffs heard me, and came down to sit in the front row to observe. I hadn’t performed Moliere for a live audience for almost six months, so it was good to feel the characters in my body, as it were.

Word had it that there were already 200 tickets sold for this show (in an auditorium that seats 450), so I was feeling pretty good about the result. My host was a retired professor, who apparently had time to do the legwork to pull the show together, and had even gone out on speaking engagements to promote the show. He was somewhat disappointed with the result, wanting to fill the auditorium, but I reassured him that his work was quite successful. And, in fact, by the time the show began, there were more like 300 people in the seats.

With such a long lay-off, and such a long struggling summer, I’d managed to forget just how fun playing Moliere can be, but it all came back in the opening moments of the show, when people were laughing already, before I had even spoken a word.

The play was “fresh” in a way that it cannot be when I’m performing it on a daily basis. While I was relatively sure about my lines, I wasn’t entirely conscious of what was coming next, and so the many moments of discovery played out on my face in greater detail, and the audience followed the stories much more clearly.

It was in the between-monologue sections that I found myself on shaky ground, occasionally having to figure out new words to get me from point A to point B. As I approached the end of the play, I realized that I had skipped one monologue entirely, and doubled back again to pick it up. (The monologue was listed in the program, so the audience would know that they had missed something unless I performed it.) It was the “Imaginary Invalid” piece, and I was startled at how enthusiastically they applauded afterwards. (I wondered if I oughtn’t relocate that one permanently.) And finally, I did the “Precious Young Maidens” piece. This time, in addition to the laughter that runs through the “Stop Thief” part, they broke into applause at the end of the sung sequence. And rather than pushing forward, as I often do, I allowed Moliere to enjoy the moment of acknowledgement.

It had been a youngish crowd, probably 75% students (including Michelle, an old karaoke friend from Chicago), and a dozen or so had walked out of the show, about fifteen minutes before the end (I assume to catch the season premiere of “Desperate Housewives”), but those who remained gave me a standing ovation at the end, and I felt rejuvenated.

Afterwards there were thanks and congrats all around. I went to dinner with Tamara and her family, and gradually felt my energy ebbing away.

The next day I headed south to Tuscon, where a swank hotel awaited. I didn’t have much time to take advantage of it before I was on to a tech rehearsal at U of Arizona. The student-technicians were well-managed and responsive, and apparently I was their object-lesson in how to mount a show that techs and performs all on the same day.

While this auditorium was slightly smaller than the one in Tempe, ultimately all 350 seats were sold out. (There were empty seats, but those were no-shows that had already paid.) The theatre department had used the show to promote their season, and subscribers got first crack at tickets for my show. I had previously assumed that my show was a giveaway of sorts to anybody who had purchased the season subscription, but was amazed to discover that they were charging $25 a ticket! And had still sold out the show!

I remember, I’d been concerned whether the school could afford to bring me in at my full, undiscounted rate, but when I did the math, I realized that they had made back perhaps five times their initial investment.

Sometimes it’s just good to know that you’re paying your way, and not just living off of grant money.

This show was not as “fresh” as the one I’d performed the night before, but it was every bit as successful. The audience was older. In fact, just about all of the theatre students were in rehearsal, so this performance was almost exclusively for the general public. The girl who volunteered for “Tartuffe” was very good (people thought she was a “ringer”, and I later found out that she was a high school acting teacher with whom I’d previously corresponded), and when no men volunteered for the Scapin scene, a young girl volunteered and did exceptionally well.

Again, the sung version of the “Stop thief” recital got applause, and I began to think that somewhere in the last several months of festival going, I’d gotten a better sense for the theatricality of it all.

I finished off the show, packed up, and went to get my car from the parking garage to load out. And there, in line to pay for their parking, stood thirty or so of the audience I had just performed for, gradually recognizing me and telling me how much they’d enjoyed it. It was a bit awkward, standing in line, at that point, if only because I could feel it breaking their image of Moliere, who was now just this guy who stands in line to have his parking ticket validated just like everybody else.

I loaded up the car, and drove back to the hotel, where I caught a quick dinner with my host, Al Tucci. Al had been the chair of the theatre department at Northern Illinois University, where I’d taught for a couple of years in the mid-80s, and he brought along a member of the theatre’s board of directors to join us. They were both very glad about the success of the show, and hinted that they’d like to do it again sometime, or perhaps to involve me in a production of another play (“Tartuffe”?) somewhere down the line.

The next morning I was off to Las Vegas. The drive was a bit longer than expected, but I pulled into town around 3 p.m., in sufficient time to meet up with my host, and get a quick tour of the school and its facilities. This was the “Las Vegas Academy of International Studies and Performing Arts,” a venue that seemed ready-made for my show. I unloaded the trunk, and headed for my hotel.

In this case, my hotel was the Golden Nugget. (So much for the Motel 6 and the Holiday Inn Express.)

Actually, the Golden Nugget has probably seen better days. There was a long line at the check-in counter, and by the time I’d checked in, and then doubled back to the check-in to get a credit card onto my account so that I could use the internet, the pool had closed. (They close the pool at 5 p.m., assumedly to encourage people to go back inside and gamble.) I went back to the room and resumed the e-mail campaign. I made an early night of it, considering that I had a 7 a.m. class to teach the next morning.

The wake-up call was prompt, but it was only then that I discovered that there was no in-room coffee maker. Again, we assume, to encourage people to get out of their rooms, go down to the casino and gamble.

I led the early-morning acting class without benefit of coffee or breakfast. I had a break afterwards, and ran out to eat, before returning for my tech rehearsal and a 12:30 performance.

For some reason, the technical needs of my show had not gotten communicated to Rebekah, the theatre manager, and we had to negotiate to get more rehearsal time than the 15 minutes they’d scheduled around an ongoing dance rehearsal. They were accommodating, but I was also rather insistent, particularly when I could see that the lighting was not focused to my advantage. (There is nothing worse than starting the show and realizing that you are going to be performing this bright peppy comedy in a dull amber glow for the next 90 minutes. I think of it as performing Moliere in Willy Loman lighting.)

Eventually all was righted, and I put on my makeup (chasing a cello rehearsal out of the dressing room), waiting for the show to begin. We seemed to get off to a late start, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. There seemed to be well over 500 students in attendance (in this 1200-seat house), and I could feel my performance rising to the size of the space. Occasionally, I would have to pause to let the titters of the audience dissipate, and sometimes I had to “stare down” the students to get them to shut up.

The “Tartuffe” scene was particularly sensational, and I chose a volunteer who I had seen before the show, excitedly grabbing a seat in the front row before anyone else had arrived. She was a lot of fun, really playing up the coughing sequence, in which Elmire is trying to signal her husband to come out and interrupt Tartuffe. When Moliere calls after the volunteer “If you’d care to stop backstage after the play …” she responded “Oh, yeah!”

I keep forgetting that the high school audience gets too worked up from “Tartuffe” to be able to pay good attention to what follows. While they’re with me for the next two or three monologues, by the time I get to “The Imaginary Cuckold”, their energy is sapped, and I could hear a couple of girls in the front row chatting amongst themselves, and even staring them down has little effect).

The “Scapin” volunteer was much more sober, emoting almost not at all. I’ve discovered that people often assume my trip through the audience during Scapin is entirely improvised, as a response to perceived bad behavior in the audience. By the time I get back to the stage, they are, once again, more or less “with me.”

Again, “Precious Young Maidens” went well, and received a huge round of applause at the end of “Stop Thief.” Unfortunately, the bell was ringing at the same time. And perhaps 20% of the audience got up to leave. I still had a couple minutes of “Precious Young Maidens” left to perform, as well as Moliere’s final two-minute monologue. I raced through the rest of “PYM”, and cut the play there. I took my final bows, and got out. Afterwards, I visited briefly with the foreign language teachers, who were all enthusiastic, as well as with Rebekah, who reported that other schools had been asking her about how to book me. I left her with brochures and loaded up the car and returned to the hotel.

The next day, I had four ninety-minute workshops to lead: two for the theatre classes, and two for the French classes. The theatre students were particularly amazed that I had not been “miked” at all. In an auditorium of that size, giving the performer a microphone is automatic, and they were surprised that they could hear me perfectly through the course of the show. Of course, that made for a good launching point for my workshop about “being seen and being heard.”

By the end of the day, I had been speaking almost non-stop for six hours. Several students and teachers had purchased copies of my scripts, which I was now carrying with me, to autograph and sell. I only make a few dollars on each sale, but you never know when somebody is going to be looking to produce “Tartuffe” or “Imaginary Invalid.”

That evening, I joined the theater students in a trip to see “Blue Man Group” playing at the Venetian Hotel. It was a lot of fun, but I remember very little of it, probably due to the fact that I’d settled my nerves from the day at school with a couple of beers, poolside.

I wasn’t quite ready to leave Las Vegas. I had been staying at the Golden Nugget, which was a part of what they call “old Las Vegas.” The hotels at the south end of town were much glitzier, and I got a room at the Hilton for a night, mostly to enjoy one last day of sun at the poolside before heading north. The Hilton was unfortunately awash in Barry Manilow promotion (apparently he is their ongoing headliner), but they also have the “Star Trek Experience” there. I went looking for a karaoke bar that night to no avail.

And so the next morning, I packed up and headed east once more. I wanted to visit a friend in Durango, but found that even though, as the crow flies, it was on the way from Vegas to Chicago, getting there would add about three to four hours of driving, as I had to steer north or south of the Grand Canyon. I chose to steer north, driving through beautiful, breath-taking southern Utah to Grand Junction, Colorado, where I’ve holed up in a hotel to tap out these lines. Another three days and I’ll be home at last, following three months on the road. I’m tired … but at least now, it’s a good tired.

Miles on the Vibe: 153,000
Attendance: 300 + 350 + 500 = 1150 (in three performances I’ve performed for more people than saw me all summer long)
In the CD player: “Bremner Sings Weil”
Reading: “Sebastian Reckless” by Lee Rushton
Discoveries: An accelerated marketing campaign can be arrested by the weight of its own success. * Don’t offer huge discounts to schools as a last-ditch effort just before passing through. It’s hard for them to arrange that close to the date, and only ends up devaluing the “product.” * Fewer options lead to more bookings. * If global warming has a ground zero, it is Phoenix, Arizona. * Long layoffs actually improve the quality of the show. * I can allow Moliere to indulge himself in enjoying the applause. My sense of theatricality improves as a result of a summer filled with attending plays. * Sometimes it’s just good to know that you’re paying your way, and not just living off of grant money. * People assume the trip through the audience in “Scapin” is entirely improvised. *
Next performance: Auburn University (Auburn, AL), 10/17

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The View From Here #100: Vancouver, BC

Wow, it’s the centenary edition of “The View From Here!”

According to the word document that I keep these things in, I am now on page 459, (single spaced), with 237,689 words.

There’s a book in here somewhere.

Perhaps as fascinating as the fact that I have written that much, is the fact that some of you have actually READ that much!

I certainly had no idea, when I wrote my first entry back in September of 2002, that I would still be writing, or touring, or that people would still be reading. Go figure. (The readership of this thing has gradually climbed to over 300 people.)

So, from San Francisco, I drove north. I failed to arrange meet-ups in Northern California, or Southern Oregon, so I plowed on ahead to Portland. Yes, I know, by taking I-5 I missed all of that beautiful coastline along the way.

Sometimes the scenery is just too damn beautiful. Especially when there’s no one to share it with, but my camera. You go to say, “Oh, honey, look at that!” And then realize that there’s no “honey” to report this to, and, well, let me not get maudlin. But if you want to see a photo of scenery, I’ve put a new one of Flaming Gorge up on the front page of my listserv website: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/viewfromhere/ .

So I stopped in Portland, visited with my good friend, Tina, and pushed on to Seattle. There, my good friend, and fellow UNL grad, Beth Amsbary, had arranged a barbeque party at David Yeaworth’s place. I had given Beth and David a preview of “Karaoke Knights” about a year ago, on my way to the San Francisco Fringe. This time around, David and Beth made a barbeque event out of it, and hosted a dozen friends on Labor Day, with me as the featured entertainment. I STILL didn’t have the latest DVD in hand, so I performed the first 25 minutes of the version I’d been performing in Boulder.

They were a fantastic audience. Packed in tightly to David’s living room, the laughter was contagious, and there were some great laughers. I did seven numbers, and felt reinvigorated for the shows approaching in Vancouver.

I stayed an extra day in Seattle, so that the discs could catch up with me (caught up on e-mail), and hit the road running. Traffic was backed up at the border, so they waved me through after about two questions, and without even looking at my passport (“What is your quest!?”). I continued in, with just enough time to check in at my billet (Scott, a really nice musical comedy producer who has a ninth-floor apartment with a fantastic view of the ocean … or whatever bay or inlet that is that leads out to the ocean), and head over to the performance space where I would be doing a preview of the show for the sponsor party.

(Scott, by the way, has been reading my blog on-line, and every now and again, I bump into people who already know things about me because they’re reading me on-line. Scott was nervous that I would say nasty things about him in these pages. Scott, you’re a fantastic host and an all-around great guy, and I say that without a trace of irony. And I say that I say that without a trace of irony, without a trace of irony.) (Once you even mention that irony might be possible, it unfortunately begs the question.)

I was up first, and did “Tempted to be Tempted.” It went well, but there were only about 50 people present at the time. (“Tempted” has turned into my new preview song. It somehow seems to stick in people’s heads long after they’ve seen it.)

Thursday was a day of catching up on e-mail, with a “parade” and opening night party that evening at the fringe. The parade was about as lame as you can imagine a parade to be. There may have been 60 of us marching, complete with a terrific New Orleans style band (I was in front holding one end of the Fringe banner), but there were maybe 20 people present along the parade route, and none of them seemed to be there because they had heard that there would be a parade. The media, however, was present with video and photographers, so we assume they got some good shots, albeit tightly cropped.

Friday I had my tech rehearsal and my show at 3:30. I gave away a lot of tickets, or passwords, to get people into the theatre, and there were maybe thirty people there at showtime. In an auditorium that holds 450.

Fortunately, they roped off the further rows, and everybody stayed close and seemed to have a good time. I could eye one woman off to the side with a notebook in hand. Clearly a reviewer.

As planned, I pretended that there had been a “meltdown” with the DVD, and that for some reason the machine wasn’t “reading” the voiceover files, which meant that I would have to do those live.

I was surprised at how smoothly I was able to pull off this lie. Somehow, everyone seemed to accept the notion that my DVD was indeed spontaneously not working, and apparently they couldn’t hear the voice in the back of my head saying, “Ooh, what a stinking LIAR you are!”

Afterwards, at least two people came up to me to say that they really liked the show with me doing the narration live, and that I should think about keeping it that way. (I immediately explained the hoax.)

From then on, I couldn’t bring myself to perpetuate the lie. Instead, I explained that the DVD HAD melted down, back in Saskatoon, and that the audience liked it so much I had decided to keep it in. The audience still appreciated the adventure story, if from a distance, and joined in just as heartily in the sing-along bits, knowing that this new way of performing the show would leave me a bit too out of breath to carry the full load.

On Friday night, I bumped into Jane, my former "Vancouver girlfriend" (from two years ago) at the Fringe Club. She was on the way to a show; I was on the way from a show, so it was just a brief, warm hello, but it was good to get that out of the way and ease some of the tension around being in Vancouver. (I haven't seen her since, and I'm down to one last show.)

On Saturday, I stopped out at the beach for a bit of sun before continuing in to do the show. (The weather has since turned mostly cloudy and cold, though the sun is back out again today.) The second audience was another smallish one, with perhaps 25-30, but the Sunday show, which I thought would be a good slot, was a precipitous drop, down to maybe ten.

I started counting on the review to save the attendance. Nothing was in the papers by Tuesday, so I figured it would be downhill from Sunday’s show. The house manager had affixed the ribbon blocking off the higher rows a row or two higher than the last show, and I had fears that the five people in attendance would gravitate to the periphery. As they came in I encouraged them to sit closer.

Only one person stayed in the back row, unwilling to sit closer. I’m sure he was a reviewer.

And people kept coming in. Until there were maybe forty in attendance. It was a surprise spontaneous outpouring of presence. I responded by giving one of my better performances.

I had pretty much run out of flyers. There are maybe a half-dozen left that I’m kind of saving as souvenirs, but I’m not planning to print any more up. At least not now that the reviews are out.

On Thursday, both the Georgia Straight and the Vancouver Sun came out with reviews of my show. Both hated it.

Okay, maybe they didn’t hate it, but they clearly liked it a lot less than other shows.

I won’t bother quoting them. There’s nothing salvageable, and they’re indifferently written. And they put me in a bad light, and HEY, this is MY blog!

I can barely call the reviews here “reviews.” Most of them are about a paragraph long. They’re more like “retorts,” and I can’t imagine that the writers spend more than five minutes on the process. Which makes me wonder why they need the notebook.

I look back at the shows that they attended, and am very conscious of the fun that the audience was having. Fun which failed to penetrate the crania of the retorters.

I have decided that if there is any one person in a bad mood at my show, they will be the reviewer.

And, I don’t say that in an angry way. It’s just that somehow the need to write something about my show seems to remove the vulnerable attitude of playfulness, and replace it with the sober sense of responsibility and distaste. And in a way I kind of feel sorry for them for that. But only in a way.

There are two performances left, after which I go back to performing Moliere. The Fringes have left me largely broke, and in more critical need of bookings for the coming season. I’ve responded to that need by blowing off the promotional campaign for “Karaoke Knights” and spending about 8 hours a day at the computer e-mailing with schools. I decided that I needed to save my salesmanship for the big-ticket bookings, rather than chasing down every ten-dollar ticket I might manage to sell.

I organized the three years of notes that I’ve been keeping about schools that are or aren’t able to afford my show in any given year, sorting them by state. Now, when I’m headed to a given area, I can see at a glance (without having to scan 50 pages of notes) other schools in the same area that may be interested.

I also started writing to a new set of teachers. While the last three years I’ve been working from the list of colleges and universities that I’d surfed through (back in the summer of 2002), this year I have opened my surfing up to the list of 2-year and junior college institutions. It’s a long process that took me well over a month in 2002, and I’ll probably be pursuing this up until January sometime.

But I’ve formulated a thesis. Postulated a thesis? Or is it a theory?

For every eight-hour day that I spend working the bookings, I tend to get a couple of bookings coming in. Let’s arbitrarily call it $2000 worth of business. We don’t know if much of that business would have come in anyway, but certainly things are flowing in a better way now than they were a week or two before.

So, what if I set my goals in reverse? Rather than trying to spend time in an arbitrary fashion, running down bookings when I can spare the time, what if I said, taking an entirely outrageous stance: that I wanted to earn a hundred thousand dollars this year (impossible, certainly). BUT, if it were true that eight hours of work brings in $2K of business, then one might be able to suppose that fifty such days of work would result in $100K of business.

It seems impossible, but also, not.

Of course, the only way to prove that it’s impossible would be to spend fifty days on this.

But, hey, for what it’s worth, I put five days in this week, and next week I should have five days in Arizona before my show comes up. Five days here and five days there … ten times …

And, even if I’ve set my ambitions way too high ... what do I lose by playing it out? Much better to articulate a vision and to play within the parameters of that game. Either I will win or … not win as much.

And, somehow, this is becoming more important to me than “fringing.” I love the people on the fringe, and the inspiration from seeing people doing really creative stuff … but what if I actually spent a summer at home one of these years? Or working for a Shakespeare festival somewhere? Or doing voiceovers? Or writing new plays … Of course, give me a month of performing for high schools, and I’ll be dying to get back on the fringe.

So, anyway, that’s what’s been driving me this week. It’s Saturday afternoon now, and I’ve got a show tonight at 8:45. Should be a good time for a show. There aren’t a lot of the mega-popular shows performing at the same time, so perhaps I’ll have a few more than previously. If I don’t, I promise not to kick myself about it. There are other things.

Okay, so now it’s Sunday morning. Not many in the audience last night, and the temperature in the room seemed to have shifted. Colder, more distant. People sitting way off to the side, almost as if they wanted to be able to slip off quickly. (I suspect they read the review.) And yet, several people toward the center were clearly into the show.

One performance left, at 3:00 today. And then I load up the car and drive. Three days down to Arizona, where my fantastic friend April is letting me use her timeshare, which will enable me to relax, get that final suntan of the season, and nibble away at my fifty days of work.

Miles on the Vibe: 149,200 (now: 151,000 in two days)
Music in the player: Eno (yes, still)
Temperature: 15 C
Reading: The Truthout website (www.truthout.com)
Attendance: 12 + 30 + 20 + 10 + 40 + 20 = 132
Discoveries: The bookings are not the result of luck but the result of time invested. If I put in more time, I’ll earn more money. * I’m a much better liar than I imagined. * What do I lose? I can either win or not win as much. Better to articulate a vision and play within the parameters of that game.
Next performance: September 25 Tempe, AZ (Arizona State)

The View From Here #171: Summer, 2017

I began my summer heading south, with the last performance of the year’s “school tour” at the Christel House Academy in Indianapolis. ...