Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The View From Here #86: Chicago, IL & Lincoln, NE

People were complaining about the Texas Educational Theatre Association conference being at a hotel that was actually in the airport. I’d stayed at a cheaper hotel a couple miles away, but just parking the car I had to pass through a labyrinth, which eventually let me out two miles from the conference, and it took two shuttle buses to get back to the hotel.

Getting out of the car, I grabbed about 15 brochures, not wanting to lug too much around through the conference, but soon discovered that I was running into lots of people who wanted them. There was an exhibit hall, including a couple of publishers who were considering my work. One, in particular, seemed particularly interested in my collection of “Moliere Monologues,” and they’d remembered me from a conference in New York about 18 months ago.

I went off to give my workshop, now with about 5 brochures left, and another 5 business cards, and I had to double check that I was in the right room, when I saw that my workshop room was already full of people. My workshop had been a last minute addition to the program, so I had figured on no more than a dozen attendees. There were at least forty there.

My new friend Nancy Jo, from Brownwood, had recruited some friends to come to the workshop, and early on one of the publishers (who was also a friend of Nancy’s), who I’d also been trying to get interested in my work, showed up.

It was a brief workshop, and I had to fit two hours of material into about 75 minutes, which kept me from worrying about making sure that I covered everything. If the “next thing” wasn’t coming to me as I spoke, I just jumped to the next thing that came to mind.

At the end, a couple dozen lined up at my table to pick up a brochure and a card, and eventually I just had to shout out how to find me on the internet. My friend Cheryl, from Galveston, was there, and we chatted over setting up an invitation-only performance in the Houston area for theatre or French teachers who might want to book me in coming years. I finally had to hurry off, but even as I waited for the shuttle bus, I found myself chatting up a woman who runs an arts event series in Texarkana, who gave me HER card so that I could send her a brochure.

On my way north, I caught dinner with Susan, from the U of Oklahoma (which had brought my show in almost exactly a year before). Susan invited me to check out the renovated art gallery on campus, so I stuck around until the next morning, where I saw what I think is the largest private collection ever donated to a University gallery.

Snow had fallen on Oklahoma overnight, and Oklahomans are not so great with driving in snow. There was one harrowing moment with a bus splashing slush on my windshield which left me driving blind for several seconds. (“Bus splashing slush.” Try saying that aloud.)

In Tulsa I caught lunch with my old high school buddy, Dave Hirsch, and we made sure to catch a picture of the rare Oklahoma snow before I moved on. In a past issue of “The View From Here” I dubbed Missouri as “The Tourist-Trap State,” and for kicks, I started jotting down the names of the travel hot spots as I passed.

Precious Moments Park
Walnut Farm Museum
Fantastic Caverns
Exotic Animal Paradise
Roy Rogers & Dale Evans Happy Trails Museum
Truckers Calico Country
Scrapbook World
Historic Downtown Branson
Hillbilly Hotrods
Fast Food Heaven
World’s Largest Coca Cola Collectible Store
Route 66 Rail Haven
Missouri Sports Hall of Fame
World’s Largest Barrel Maker
Jesse James Wax Museum
Jesse James Hideout
Meramec Caverns

Don’t these just make you want to pull off the highway and stay awhile?

I pulled off in Rolla, Missouri, and stopped at a school (UM-R) where I’d performed almost three years ago. The faculty guy I’d worked with was on sabbatical, but I ran into his replacement while asking for directions, and spent about 20 minutes chatting with him about my tour.

Saturday morning I got on the road early and drove straight through to Chicago.

Sunday, I had another performance, this one at Chiesa Nuova, in Chicago. My friend, Bob Hutmacher is a Franciscan Priest who hosts art events in his living room on Sunday afternoons. They’d seen me do Moliere last May, so this time around I was performing “Criteria.” Bob had “sold” the audience on “Criteria” based on how well Moliere had gone over, so it seemed that many of the audience of 25 were expecting something a little more comic than the dark, dystopian world of “Criteria.”

Immediately as I began, I could see that this full house was having trouble seeing what I was doing from the back row, when I was sitting down (which I do for about half the play). I found myself reworking as much as I could on the fly, so that whenever possible I would stand to deliver my lines, rather than sit. It made for a bit of a distracted performance, especially as their very close proximity found me making constant eye contact with the people observing. At one point I remembered that there was a woman that I’d met on-line, with whom I’d intended to set up a date, and to whom I’d mentioned this performance. It struck me about halfway into the show, that she might actually be attending this performance, and that that woman in the third row, sitting next to a girl who was probably her daughter, might actually be her!

My brain was sent into a spiral of replaying what I had already done in the show, and whether it was the sort of thing that you’d want your daughter to observe being performed by a guy that you might actually spend any time with. You might guess that this was even more distracting, and while I made it through the show with only a few flubs, I did find myself wondering whether I’d given my best performance.

The audience stuck around after the show was finished, asking about the script and the concept, and I fielded questions for about a half an hour, and even shared a quick preview of the opening number of “Karaoke Knights,” which, frankly, seemed more like the kind of thing that they were interested in seeing. I promised to set up another performance with Bob, as soon as “Karaoke Knights” was up and running.

Some of my Pathways friends (Bob’s relatives), the Hutmachers, had come to see the show and we went out to dinner afterwards, and had a great visit.

Unfortunately, my computer chose this week to slow down to a crawl. Some virus or DSL problem had limited my access to the internet. Instead, I dove into retyping a script from a show I’d directed years ago (“Secret Obscenities,” winner at the 1994 Bailiwick Directors Festival). Several recent conversations about possible collaborative projects had reminded me of just how effective “Secret Obscenities” was, and the process of typing it back up made me realize just how relevant the events of recent years had made it.

I also started work on new songs for the interludes of “Imaginary Invalid.”

When I could access the web, I wrote e-mails to the contacts I’d made at the recent conferences in New York and Texas. I wrote a bunch of e-mails to schools on Oregon, tracking down teachers in French and Theatre departments. Since circumstances found me spending several days in Oregon, I was offering special discounts to schools in the area.

Meanwhile I was rereading “Currency,” and was rather surprised with how good it was, having written it in 30 days, never re-reading the chapters as they passed.

Over the weekend, I traveled out to Detroit, spending two days with Isaac, celebrating his 11th birthday two weeks in advance. (It’s the 19th, for those who haven’t sent a card yet.) We went swimming, picked up the “Return of the King” DVD, watched the deleted scenes, and watched the Super Bowl. On Monday morning I raced back to Chicago and got back to work.

This time I attacked the “Tour Schedule” list of venues that had expressed interest in performances, but never followed through. I initiated new contacts with each of them, suggesting dates that I still had open in my spring schedule, and offering further discounts to schools that could schedule the event on days that were convenient to me. One long day of writing to the tour schedule left me with several new opportunities to perform, and a clean look at the performances that had actually booked by this point.

With only two days left before getting back on the road, I declared a “paperwork day,” addressing all the forms there were to fill out for upcoming fringe festivals, as well as the AATF (Am Assn of Teachers of French) conference in Quebec City. I finally decided, by the way, to take a pass on the Montreal Fringe Festival, so that I wouldn’t have to make two trips to Quebec in the course of a single month.

The day before getting back on the road, I finally went out and bought a new laptop. With the new bookings that were coming in from the last marketing push, I decided that I could afford to take the plunge. With April helping me to pick something out, we found that improvements to computers over the past three years meant that for the same amount that I spent on my current laptop, I could afford one with more memory, a bigger screen, faster processing time, and a DVD player that works.

Unfortunately, against the deadline of getting the hell out of Dodge, there was no time to get the new laptop to match the system as I had it set on the old laptop, so I found myself eventually packing two computers to travel with me on the road.

And there I was, back on the road, driving from Chicago to Nebraska. I made arrangements to meet up with two old friends from Nebraska on Saturday morning after my arrival on Friday night. Actually one old friend was a fellow I’d never met (Bob Hall), though I’d performed in a show he’d written some twenty years before. He told me that my “Tartuffe” had actually gotten a great review in the Lincoln paper, and I decided that I would sneak in to catch the show that night. (I wasn’t due to see it until Saturday.)

A half hour after arriving in Lincoln, there I was, sitting in the audience. And the show was really funny. They had gone very slapstick with it; even more slapstick than I tend to go, myself. But the director had captured the tone of the humor, and gotten her actors to give full weight to some of the phrasings of my adaptation that were suspect, at best. There were laughs in places I’d never heard them before.

At the end of the play, Bob Hall introduced me to the director, who responded “You weren’t supposed to be here until tomorrow night.”

Of course, the fact that I was here already, and had seen the show, meant that no one had any reason to get unduly nervous about me coming tomorrow. I sat in on the feedback session from the ACTF respondent who’d come to see the show, and who turned out to be a former U-Nebraska student from one of my incarnations there. (He’d enjoyed the show very much.)

I headed back to the hotel, brimming with ideas about what I would talk about in the coming day, and didn’t get much sleep.

The next day I met Bob Hall (who’d written “The Passion of Dracula”, that I’d appeared in about 20 years ago) and my old friend (state senator and actor) David Landis. The three of us had breakfast, while trading stories of Dr. Morgan, our favorite UNL professor from the “old days.” In several cases, there were stories that had grown into legends, while the person who had set the story circulating in the first place (usually Bob) had a somewhat more prosaic version to relate.

That afternoon, I did my acting workshop for an audience of about twenty, most of whom were in “Tartuffe.” This is the first time I’ve done the workshop, which features an exercise of performing a Tartuffe monologue, with someone who has played the role of Tartuffe participating. The workshop was well received, though I was a little bit thrown when the fellow introducing me suggested “I hope you’ll give us a little bit of your background, and how you got to where you are now with Moliere, in the course of your talk,” as he was making the introduction. It is, of course, a long story, and I improvised my way through about 15 minutes of explanation before coming to the actual beginning of my workshop.

My introducer, Jay, took me to dinner before the show, and I discovered that much of the work on this particular play had been inspired by attendance at a performance of “Moliere Than Thou” at the ACTF Regional conference in Denver in January of last year. In fact, the professor who directed the show had taught a period styles class last fall, and they had actually begun work on the play in August! I was becoming more and more struck by what a labor of love this was.

That evening, I saw the show again, continuing to take notes, and eventually, gathered with the cast in a separate auditorium (they were striking the set next door) to give them my feedback. I was not bound by the severe restrictions of the American College Theatre Fest, which seems to prevent the “respondent” (formerly “adjudicator”) from saying anything substantial, probably because these things end up getting tangled in issues of tenure, and because any actual criticism becomes ammunition for a cast which may or may not have seen eye-to-eye with their director.

And so, being independent of the process entirely, I was simply able to tell them what I thought. For the most part it was good news, but there were areas where each could make some improvement, and in a couple of instances, I had to strongly encourage more specific work. That was the hard part, especially as I could see in their faces just how much they wanted to please me.

After about an hour, the actors’ presence was requested for “strike,” and I hung out chatting with teachers and actors as they got their individual work done. I read the review that had appeared in the paper, and noticed that the reviewer, Larry Kubert, who never seemed to have much good to say about my work in my past Nebraska incarnations (“Beyond Therapy” review excepted), couldn’t let this go:

“Now admittedly, this Timothy Mooney-scribed adaptation resorts to the use of some pretty contemporary expressions – a fact that is occasionally a bit too blatant – but on the whole the finished product is a worthy one.” He does, however, eventually say: “Don’t let French farce frighten you – this is one you’ll love.”

And, in fact, few were frightened off. The play performed to 85% of capacity, and made a lot of money for the department.

Eventually, I said a bittersweet goodbye to the director who had done so much work on my script, and headed back to the hotel.

The next morning, after working on compiling most of the thoughts that you are reading, I was back on the road, heading toward Cheyenne, WY. As I drive, I am working and reworking “Karaoke Knights.” Now that I have the songs in the order that I think they’re going to work, I continue to work and rework the “interludes,” getting snatches from pop songs leading into the original songs of the musical. I’m trying to smooth the transition from one style of music to another, while getting the introductory music to “comment” on the song coming up. It will never be a specific linear narrative, but I’ve discovered that all the audience wants is enough of a hint of a narrative whereby they can make their own sense of things. People will create their own associations with a costume piece, or a series in progression, to rationalize their own reasons about why the play is the way it is. I just have to make sure that the input that I’m giving them does not contradict the through line of what narrative seems to be there. (For instance, there are some songs that are late-at-night songs, which I’m pushing toward the end, rather than the middle, so that the audience will assume that the action happens in the course of a single evening.)

The real trick these days is in keeping “three balls in the air.” I have to work on “Karaoke Knights” a couple of times a day to make improvements in it. Meanwhile, when I’ve got a Moliere performance coming up, I have to recite those lines at least once a day for three days in advance of a show (especially when there’s been a long layoff). And a performance of “Criteria” demands about a week of reciting in order to get it securely in my head. It seems that just as I’m about to be ready to make some finishing touches to “Karaoke Knights,” I have to abandon it for several days at a time, just to get another show ready.

Anyway, that’s what’s occupied my mind as I drive from Lincoln to Cheyenne, and from Cheyenne to Pocatello, Idaho. (I met with the folks in Pocatello, at Idaho State, yesterday, and their new facility is gargantuan! It’s a palace sitting on top of a hill with mountains surrounding in the distance. I am dying to perform here!)

By the way, I’ve been looking over some critiques that I received; a professor recently shared with me the comments that his students had about my Moliere lecture and play last fall. I’ll be adding some of the nice things they said to the promotional package I’m sending out, but I thought some of you might enjoy some of those kids-say-the-darndest-things moments. (Each of these quotes is from a different paper. I’ve reassembled them into chronological order.)

“He later changed his name to Moliere in 1644, not to shame his family for in those times it was not socially expectable to have an actor in one’s family.”

“During the 1600’s actors were thought to be equal to prostitutes. Which is placing a harsh view on the actors of that time.”

“That astonished me. I cannot believe that acting could be something so horrible that you must repent to the lord before death for doing it.”

“In 1653 Moliere’s troop found a patron named Prince Contee (I couldn’t get the exact spelling because it was a lecture).”

“This lasted four years until the patron found God and abandoned Moliere.”

“He made crud jokes that were way ahead of his time and caused all sorts of controversy with his work.”

“In his final play “Imaginary Involate” where he died after the fourth production of the show. No doctor or priest ever came to tend to him or read him his last rights.”

“Mooney is simply brilliant because of him I now know, love and understand Moliere’s comedy.”

“I really appreciate Moliere now, and because of this I am now looking forward to Thanksgiving break.”

Miles on the Vibe: 124,000
Attendance: 40 + 25 + 20 = 85
Temperature: 25 Degrees (In Pocatello, Idaho now)
In the CD Player: “Karaoke Knights” (with a different order to the songs every day)
Discoveries: People will create their own associations with a costume piece, or a series in progression, to rationalize their own reasons about why the play is the way it is. I just have to make sure that the input that I’m giving them does not contradict the through line of what narrative seems to be there.
Next performances: Gresham, OR (Mount Hood Community College), Palos Verdes Penninsula, CA (Chadwick School), Long Beach, California (CSU-LB)