Thursday, January 27, 2005

The View From Here #85: San Antonio, Brownwood & Dallas, TX

I bid goodbye to my host in West Virginia (Bess Park-Reynolds, wife of Lang Reynolds, for those of you who attended SIU), and got onto the highway. The temperature was zero Fahrenheit, and I watched it gradually climb as I proceeded south. I was amazed to see it jump from fourteen to nineteen as I passed through Charleston, and then drop back to fourteen as soon as I had passed. I realized that there was all sorts of ambient heat from the cars and buildings that was being lost in the city, and found myself wondering how long we could afford to heat the planet.

I was making good time heading south, aiming for Birmingham, Alabama for the night, but just outside Chattanooga, Tennessee, the traffic stopped, nearly dead. Eventually, it was re-routed, through a side road, before returning to the highway, twenty miles south and three hours later. I needed to go to the bathroom for practically that entire time. Chattanooga is now the site of the two worst traffic jams I’ve encountered in my 30 months of travel.

I stopped just inside the Alabama border and continued south the next morning. I arrived in New Orleans early in the afternoon, and, using the coupon books that they have at the “Information” rest stops just inside the state borders, I found an inexpensive hotel room that had high-speed internet service as well as a free shuttle to the French Quarter.

I have noticed, over these past few months, that more and more hotels (and not just the expensive ones) have high-speed internet, which really saves me time when I’m downloading messages or tracking down websites. I expect that within a year, perhaps 90% of the hotels will be “wired.”

I took two days in New Orleans, enjoying somewhat warmer weather, and surfing the internet for French and Theatre teachers in Oregon. I’ve lined up Oregon bookings for Feb 16 & 20, and am now trying to fill in dates in-between. (I’ve promised myself that if I can get a single date added, I’ll buy myself a backup laptop, so that I can afford to lose this one long enough to get it fixed, or replaced.)

Of course, at night I visited Bourbon Street and the “Cat’s Meow,” the karaoke bar in New Orleans, where I rocked the house.

Early Friday morning I got onto the road for San Antonio. In the past, my late wake-up from Bourbon Street partying has meant passing through Houston at rush hour, and a two-three hour slowdown. This time I got in early, got on the road early, did NOT hit Louisiana construction traffic, and found myself passing through Houston at around 1 p.m. Even so, that city is about an hour’s drive from east to west.

I got into San Antonio, checked into my hotel and met my host for dinner. The next day I did an acting workshop for about six students and three teachers. (Saturday workshop attendance never seems to be as much as the faculty thinks it will be.) The material went over well, though, and a couple of teachers expressed great interest in getting my book, whenever I get it published.

That night’s show went about as well as I can recall it going. The evening was an annual benefit on behalf of an actor who had died several years ago, and the audience of about 250 was in a generous mood. They began the evening with a round of applause for their departed friend, and continued to respond throughout the evening. Some of the response was so good that I was thrown off my lines on a couple of occasions, starting the introduction for the wrong play once, and having to rewrite the “bridge” on the fly.

The “Tartuffe” volunteer was a rather stout young woman who was only slightly taller than I was when I knelt at her side. I could only kind-of get my arms around her in the several embraces, and the audience found it even more amusing than ever. The volunteer stuck around, later, for an autograph.

The show got an immediate standing ovation at the end, and cousins Kathy and Larry (along with their daughter, Janet) stayed to visit. (I was glad that they caught this show, because the performance they’d seen about two years ago was much more sparsely attended.) Likewise, some high school French students stuck around to get some photos with me and tell me how much they enjoyed it.

The next day I visited briefly with Kathy, Larry and Janet, before heading north to Brownwood, Texas. Howard Payne University had scheduled me for two performances (Moliere and “Criteria”), but when the teacher, Nancy Jo, heard about a preview I was planning of “Karaoke Knights,” she requested that I do that one for them, as well.

On Monday, I did my Life-of-Moliere lecture for a couple of French classes, followed by my Acting Workshop for the acting students (and a couple high school groups also in attendance). That night I did the show, followed by a reception at Nancy Jo’s house. (Nancy Jo made sure that I was always well-fed through the course of my stay, fixing me a sandwich after the guests had gone.)

I spent Tuesday morning pulling together what I could for “Karaoke Knights” (and dropping in on another French class). About 12 of the 17 songs were performance-ready, and I edited down the “interludes” to approximately 20-40 seconds each. The “interludes” are popular rock songs that people will (hopefully) sing along with between the original numbers, getting a taste of the actual karaoke experience, while I change costumes. I’ve spent the last several weeks listening for those pop tunes that are unavoidably sing-alongable; ones where you find your mouth moving to the words before you even realize it.

There were about six people in attendance for this “dress rehearsal”, and it seemed to go fairly well. There are volunteer sequences in this show as well, and the audience members didn’t hesitate to jump up to join me when requested.

The acoustics of the room didn’t seem that great, and it was hard to read the expressions of the audience, even though they were all sitting in the front row, or even to hear whether I was exactly on the note or not. Afterwards, though, they were enthusiastic, and it felt good to have it on its feet.

I then had to turn around and get “Criteria” ready to perform that evening. I requested that we actually do a full run-through of the show before the performance that night. I hadn’t performed “Criteria” full-out since the performances in Orlando last May, and though I’d been running the lines more lately, I was feeling fairly uncertain.

I had a couple of screw-ups in the rehearsal, and had to remind myself to edit out the “F-word” for the sake of this performance (as per special request from Nancy Jo). My voice wasn’t resonating quite the way I wanted, and so in the brief half-hour between rehearsal and performance, I chewed on a Halls cough drop. I could feel the vapor clearing some of the gunk out of my sinuses and my throat, and when I got on to perform, I suddenly found that my voice had much more power and clarity. Of course, the “gunk” in my throat had also been protecting it from other kinds of damage, and so I was playing a bit of an endgame with my throat, which took a long time to recover the next day.

Regardless, “Criteria” went extremely well, and buoyed by the rehearsal, I could really let go in the emotional climaxes of the show. It was apparently the talk of the acting classes the next day (not the least of which being the topic of my trousers being down around my ankles in one scene).

I’ll be particularly interested in any feedback I get from this school. This is the first group that has seen all three shows in short order, and that will be my big promotional push in the next year. My sense is that seeing all three shows teaches more about acting and the limitless possibility of performance than a semester’s-worth of lecturing. If I say so myself. (If I don’t, who will?)

The next morning I continued north, stopping briefly at the Dr. Pepper museum in Dublin, TX, on my way to Dallas. The Texas Educational Theatre Association is meeting at the Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport, and I’d managed to line up a workshop I’ll be giving. I was also putting together a preview performance of “Karaoke Knights,” and I spent a few hours re-ordering the songs on the CD, to fix some issues that I’d sensed when running through it in Brownwood. I also pulled together a program, so that people could follow, and a few handbills that I could give out, once I knew where I was performing.

I arrived at the hotel hosting the conference and immediately recognized two students I’d known from a performance in Kingsville two years ago. They were coming to the preview I was giving, and helped me scope out an open banquet room for the show. It was a huge hall, with a huge stage, but the acoustics were perfect. I passed out some flyers, and with the assistance of my friend Cheryl from Galveston, who’d requested the preview in the first place, and Nancy Jo, who I had met at this same conference a year ago, we actually had a dozen or so people in the audience. (I’d only made up programs for ten.)

This time the show worked like magic. They were a great audience, and were laughing at every bit of wordplay, and every gesture or dance move. The volunteers were a blast. The audience sang along between numbers, and more people came in as the show proceeded. The characters were more defined and, on the wide-open stage, I could “spread out” my choreography, which I can’t do when practicing in a hotel room or the basement. It wasn’t perfect, and there’s still plenty of stuff I’ll need to work on as I get five more songs added to the repertoire, but suddenly my upcoming summer tour, performing this show throughout the fringe circuit, was looking like it was going to be a real blast.

Speaking of which, I just got official word that I’m “in” at Winnipeg for this summer! Also, Nebraska Wesleyan University is performing my “Tartuffe” this February.

So, it’s Thursday, today, and I’ll do my workshop this afternoon, before slowly (and reluctantly) continuing my progress north. Keep in mind, CHICAGO PEOPLE, that I’ve got a performance this Sunday at Chiesa Nuova (230 S. Laflin) at 3:00 p.m. You asked for it, and it is my pleasure to give it to you.

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Miles on the Vibe: 120,500
Temperature: 0-to-80
Currently reading: “Crossing the Rubicon”
On the CD Player: “Maroon 5”
Discoveries: Saturday workshop attendance is never as much as the teachers seem to think it will be. * The “gunk” in your throat may be hurting the tone of your sound, but it’s also protecting your throat at the same time. * If I don’t say so myself, who will?
Next performance: Sunday, January 30, 3 p.m.: “Criteria”