Saturday, March 26, 2005

The View From Here #88: Morganton, NC; Ferrum, Ashland, Roanoke, & Blacksburg, VA; Marietta & Milledgeville, GA; Ada, OH; Bradford, PA

It’s the busiest month of my tour! All things being equal, this one month could pay for a six-month vacation! (… assuming that I didn’t have, oh, bills to pay.)

“Making hay while the sun shines” is taking on a whole new meaning for me. This is no time to get caught up in self-doubt, or moodiness or exhaustion. Every once in a while something happens that makes me question, “How can this possibly work?” But as long as I tackle the task directly before me, and keep moving forward, I knock them down one after the next.

By the way, those of you who enjoy these tales of life on the road would probably enjoy Marcus Fernando’s “Canada Chronicles.” Parallel to my own reports, Marcus has released 75 of these hilarious chronicles, detailing his travels and travails around the world. To subscribe to his stuff, simply write to him at: My favorite gem of wisdom from Marcus: “The best things in life aren’t things.”

I performed in Burke County, in North Carolina, at “Freedom School.” Ironically, “Freedom School” was completely surrounded by 8-foot wire fences, with a guard booth at the gate.

They were all very nice people though.

Their stage was a combination thrust/proscenium, with a little curved thrust, forming an arc. To the left and to the right of the arc, the lighting was terrific. In the center, it was terrible. In the rehearsal I asked the technicians to do what they could to adjust the lights in towards the center before the start of the show. I then put on my makeup and costume, and, upon entering, realized that they had never found the ladder to follow through on that request. The doors had been opened almost immediately after we’d finished, and 160 kids filled the chairs.

I spent the entire play sidling from one lit area to another. They’d requested the entire 85-minute play, and they were really responsive, early on. When “Tartuffe” is the 4th monologue of the show, (out of 10) the last six suffer by comparison, and in the dim light, somewhere around “The Imaginary Cuckold” I could feel that the air had been let out of the balloon. While “Precious Young Maidens” is usually a highlight, I could feel that the thrill had gone.

But up through “Tartuffe”, I was a hit. Having an adorable doe-eyed girl volunteer for the role of Elmire didn’t hurt. After that it was a long slow decline, but I was the only one to seem to notice, at least in the discussions afterwards. In fact the woman who hosted the event sent a terrific response: “The performance was stunning! … It really was an experience beyond what is available to most of the students here.”

From North Carolina it was up to Ferrum, Virginia, and I seem to have turned a three-hour drive into a six hour drive by not sticking to the interstate. For the last few years, I’ve been driving past the Blue Ridge Parkway without driving on it, and, with a little extra time, I found my way up to it, where the ride was smooth and the views were gorgeous. I pulled into Ferrum a little after sundown, found my host and got checked into the school’s guest apartment. I then went looking for some dinner.

I passed the Dairy Queen. … and quickly found myself out of town.

I drove back, drove up and down a few streets.

The only restaurant in town … at least the only one open after 7 p.m. … was the Dairy Queen.

Dairy Queen it was.

Unfortunately, the theatre director had scheduled my visit at the same time as he was in technical rehearsals for a show due to open that weekend.

Which meant that the guy who hired me wasn’t even going to see the show. And neither were the people who could supposedly benefit from the event, as they would all be in rehearsal.

There were about 25 people at the show.

But I got several free meals in the cafeteria that day, and had plenty of time to catch up on e-mails. I finally doubled back to e-mails that I’d left in my inbox from about 1999, and started deleting and writing to the senders. I got the inbox down to under 200 messages for the first time in years.

Anyway, the few who saw the show had big smiles on their faces throughout, especially one woman who turned out to be a local actress or acting teacher, and who volunteered for the Tartuffe scene.

The next morning I was on the road again, heading north to Connecticut, in anticipation of a show in New Hampshire on Saturday. It was a good 12 hour drive, with a stop to visit Kathy Conery at James Madison University, and I pulled in to Connecticut that evening, staying at Debby Reelitz’ house.

Friday, I continued to work on e-mails, and began drawing up the next phase of the e-mail campaign that I had been putting off: writing to the French Teacher mailing list.

Late on Friday, I received a call. New Hampshire was expecting 9-12 inches of snow and Plymouth College had closed the school for the following day. I had driven 638 miles for a show that was now off. My next show? Was back in Ashland, Virginia.

Now, this was the low point of the passage. I had just barely started making “real money” for the month, and was back at the “break even point”, but the first of the scheduled dates that was going to put me back on top was cancelled. For a moment, I found myself visualizing all of the other ways that the remaining dates could be screwed up: illness, bad weather, car problems, food poisoning … I was suddenly conscious of the very tenuous nature of my situation. There was a lot riding on making it through the next two weeks. I started doubling my intake of my usual nutrition drink (“Re-liv”). And I realized that the visualization was as much a problem as what might potentially happen. The anticipation of negative results (“Things never work out”) creates those negative results.

I also had to question what it is within my thinking that made me suppose I didn’t actually deserve to have things work out … for once?

In order to make lemonade out of these lemons, I dropped a note to one of the profs I’d performed for last fall, who’d given me wonderful feedback and encouragement, and mentioned that I’d be driving by on Saturday, and would he like to meet for breakfast? His response was that he’d love to have me over for breakfast, and also to bring me in to speak to his Saturday-morning French class for a bit.

I readily agreed, pending the ability to get through the anticipated snow, and showed up on his doorstep the following morning. He was extremely pleased. His mother had died some ten days before, and he hadn’t held his class the previous weekend, and was still down in the dumps, so Moliere lightened his mood considerably. Later he wrote all kinds of good things that I’m already using in the e-mail campaign, ("I've been organizing and hosting cultural programs for well over three decades, and can't recall one which has engendered more positive discussion and genuine enthusiasm.") and promised to plug my show at the next AATF conference, where he is to be a featured speaker. All in all, the reworked itinerary was probably worth more to me than the previous plan.

That night I stopped in Baltimore and visited my sister Maureen and her husband, Tim. I got in a bit of jogging, and a bit of laundry the next morning, and zipped south to Ashland, for my show at Randolph-Macon College.

Again, I was in a guest house, and with time on my hands, I attacked more e-mails. I met my hostess for coffee, and headed to the theatre. Once again, the lighting was lousy. It was a movie theatre with a tiny stage in front of the screen, and all the lighting pointed directly down. Fortunately, this time my technicians knew what they were doing, and they quickly got ladders and started climbing, creating some angles to the lighting.

The show was fun. The “Tartuffe” volunteer was a somewhat buxom girl who was playful. During the “Scapin” scene, climbing through the audience, I found my way toward a young boy, and where I normally would grab for a program, pretending it was the court “transcription,” I grabbed the papers that he had sitting by him.

“What, you got a game of hangman going here?” I asked.

“Yes,” he responded, even before the audience had realized that we were now ad-libbing. The subsequent laughter threw me off of my lines for a while, but I eventually got myself back on track and finished off.

Overall the show went well, and quickly I was on the road again, this time driving late into the night to Roanoke, Virginia, arriving after midnight.

The next morning, I was up at 7:00, and found my way to the school. It was a huge auditorium, and eventually, more than 500 kids filled the space. The only sound equipment that they could get to work was a boom box, and the place was so full you couldn’t hear anything.

My contact for this gig had been the Foreign Language director for the entire county, and she had brought in French and theatre students from nine different high schools and middle schools.

A side note: She had written me a few weeks back, noting that a teacher had actually read my study guide and noted that “On page 38 of the script, Tartuffe brings a volunteer on stage, to play the role of a married woman whom he attempts to seduce.” Well, I was pleased that someone, at least, was reading the materials that I was sending out there, but to complain that Moliere’s plays have infidelities in them is like complaining that Shakespeare’s plays have murder. … Of course, I suppose they would prefer that.

I was … careful in playing the Tartuffe scene in Roanoke. The girl was nervous enough, and kept moving away from me, and for once, at least, I let her.

Actually, the Roanoke audience was terrific. To get 500 plus kids to pay attention to a 90-minute one-man show is no easy task, but I was feeling the power. If I felt them start to get out of hand, I would modulate my voice, get quiet, or pause, and come back at them with stronger stuff. The sound of 500 kids being silent is an awesome thing.

The next day I was on to Blacksburg for shows at Virginia Tech. It was less than an hour away, and I still had a day before any performances. I settled into the hotel early and got more work done. I met with my host, Patty Raun, who some of you Nebraska grads may remember. Patty gave me the special rock star treatment, giving me a gift bag of goodies and taking me to lunch. Back at the hotel I saw a car pull into the parking lot, pulling a trailer that advertised a karaoke company. I asked the driver and he noted that they were hosting karaoke at Buffalo Wild Wings that night.

I went on to give my acting workshop, and to do a tech rehearsal for Moliere. The show went extremely well, and the volunteer was very playful. Afterwards, the volunteer stuck around to say hello, and I discovered she was a high school student. “Whoops, I’m sorry, if I’d known that I wouldn’t have molested you so much.”

Patty and I and a couple of the technicians then went out to the karaoke bar. It was her first karaoke experience, and her students seemed to feel extremely privileged to see that side of her.

I had most of the next day off, and I set the e-mail campaign into motion. That evening, following another tech rehearsal, I performed “Criteria.” While Patty had to bow out afterwards to pick up her son, some of the students were throwing a party, and invited me to join them. One student demonstrated that, while the rest of the audience were getting their hands stamped as they came in to “Criteria,” she’d had the usher apply the stamp to her chest. Somewhere, in the middle of the party, one student noted that she had been unable to attend my acting workshop, and with some encouragement, I performed the “Tartuffe” scene using her as “Elmire.” Around me, I could hear the party getting very quiet for about five minutes, before finishing to a burst of applause. (The fellow who had been the house manager for both my shows, and who’d invited me to come along, suggested that “I hope I’m half as cool as you when I’m your age.” Hmmmm …)

The next morning, I was heading south. It was almost seven hours down to Marietta, Georgia, where my friend, Linda, had arranged a small, living-room performance for ten people, including my good friend, Cathy Maday. It had been a while since I’d done the show in that intimate of a setting, and it felt very tense and immediate. I could see a fixed smile on their faces through most of the performance, and I fed on my awareness of their interest. (Linda’s daughter was in the audience, and she turned bright red in the scene where my underwear is exposed.) They all stood up to applaud afterwards, and Linda’s son seemed especially appreciative. Cathy then proceeded to upstage me with a dazzling demonstration of belly dancing technique. Now it was my turn to sit there with a fixed smile on my face!

Farther south, I had more “Criteria” performances at Georgia College & State University. I’d performed Moliere for them two years before, and now I got back to town to see that the promotional marquee announced “Tim Mooney’s Criteria,” once again elevating me to name-above-the-title status. The weather, by the way, had turned wonderful. Trees in Georgia are already in bloom, and you can smell the flowers everywhere.

When I got to the theatre, I discovered that I would be performing in an auditorium that holds upwards of 700 people! I’d never performed this show for more than 100. And, in fact, the placards that were the extent of my scenery, probably couldn’t be read from any farther than the fifth row.

The ushers, after stamping the hands appropriately, encouraged the audience to sit up front.

There were only 42 in the audience for the first performance, which was actually more than anticipated, since this was the last day of their spring break, and many of the students weren’t back in town quite yet. The show itself went great. In the different environment, I had a couple of stumbles, getting my tongue twisted around a couple of passages, but with the larger space, I could feel the “lid” come off of the show a bit, as I could expand my gestures in a much broader range. And the response was terrific. Several of the audience, including students and much of the theatre faculty stuck around to share their congratulations.

After the show, I noted that I was now all wound up from the performance, and that you couldn’t buy beer on Sunday night in Georgia! (How could I have forgotten? I’ll have to add this to the list of discoveries.) One of the students, overhearing this, called a friend from next door, who brought over an extra bottle of Guinness from her fridge.

The next day, I gave my usual workshop to an acting class, and since it was a class which was almost entirely women, I didn’t do the usual “Tartuffe” exercise, but instead worked with a “Misanthrope” exercise that I’d done only once before. This time, it seems, I explained it better than before, because it worked incredibly well, demonstrating the power of using the audience in an argument. (It’s an exercise that I refer to as “The Jerry Springer Show.”)

That night I performed the show again (and I seemed to have a couple of ‘groupies’ returning for a second showing), but while I was more confident than the night before, the impact of the show seemed lessened. Perhaps, with another rehearsal under my belt, my recital had become a bit rote. Or, just as likely, this was more of a student crowd than the night before, and they were there because they had to be for a class. There were persistent coughs through much of the show, and it was really starting to annoy me. I felt like “staring down” the coughers, but it was of no use. In fact, I had been tempted to cough, myself. The air was particularly dry, and I could feel some particle of some sort had found its way to the back of my throat. There is, of course no way of stopping to swab the back of your throat during the course of a one-man show, so I pressed on ahead, wondering what kind of a bug I was in the process of swallowing.

And yet, there’s that scene with my pants around my ankles, and suddenly they were all healed of their conditions. I heard almost no coughing through the remainder of the show.

Afterwards, I said a fond goodbye to several of the students who were very enthusiastic about my show, many of whom remembered me from my performance two years before. While I live quite an itinerant life on the roads, there are a variety of programs where I really feel like they’ve adopted me as one of their own, like an occasional fixture on the faculty.

I went out for a drink with my friend, Melanie, who I’d met at the American Assn of Teachers of French conference in Atlanta last summer. She and Tina (from Portland) and I had spent a good deal of time hanging out together at the conference when we all discovered that we seemed to have Milledgeville in common.

I drove the long haul north to Ada, Ohio the next day, about 12 hours on the road, and while everyone was very helpful, it was rough getting my internet hookup reestablished, and my e-mail campaign was stalled halfway through. And so, eventually, I started writing these long-delayed observations instead.

The next day was full: I taught an acting workshop in the morning, focusing back on “Tartuffe” again (they’d studied the play recently), followed by a French class in the afternoon. (It was the school’s French teacher who’d lobbied to bring my show in.) And then “Moliere Than Thou” that night.

There were at least ten technicians on hand to run “Moliere Than Thou!” They spent most of the rehearsal (and, I assume, the performance) sitting around waiting for something to happen that might require them actually doing something.

I assume that most of the shows that come in for this arts series are big events with big sets and large casts, but I just didn’t have enough “needs” to give them a sense of purpose, and I couldn’t bring myself to sending them off to fetch me coffee, or the like. (Of course, most of the crew was there to earn credit for their Intro to Theatre class, but I couldn’t think of a better way of turning students off to theatre for life than to force them to hang around doing nothing through the course of a tech rehearsal and a performance.)

I was amused by the sign on the green room door that indicated that the green room was “for the use of the cast of “Moliere Than Thou” only.” Once I’d gotten into my make-up, I felt like I had to at least go and sit in the green room for thirty seconds or so, just to put it to some use.

The show itself went very well, with about a hundred scattered around the large auditorium. I did an interview immediately beforehand with a local journalist, and when it came time to get a volunteer for “Scapin,” the French professor had his arm twisted to join me. It turns out he was a bit of a ham, and was satisfying his own sense of humor on a meta-theatrical level such as occasionally speaking a line in French, and sitting down on the stage after I’d left to climb through the audience. It wasn’t helping the audience follow the humor as I had written it, but at least the fellow’s wife was a good laugher, and she’d kept the rest of the audience responsive through the course of the show.

I finished the show, packed up (had all the assistance I might ever need in loading the trunk back into the car), and was on the road early the next morning, heading for the last show of this leg of the tour (at last), in Bradford, Pennsylvania.

Of course, what I wanted was to turn west at that point, but found myself instead going six hours east, where I had another workshop to teach at three o’clock that afternoon. Once again, the kids were really responsive, and this time I worked through both the “Tartuffe” and the “Misanthrope” exercise. When I performed the “Tartuffe” monologue for the students, I found myself reminded of my hypnotist analogy: the volunteer Elmire was extremely resistant in that scene, finding Tartuffe himself extremely offensive to her religious sentiment. She would stiffen up like a board when I would come close to her. And yet, three feet away, one of the students was falling under the hypnotic spell of the power of Tartuffe’s persuasion.

I was in a new theatre space: a brand new theatre space. Mine was the first performance that would happen in their thrust studio space. (The kids, who are opening their show in two weeks, envied me that fact.) It was also the first place that had hired me to perform “Criteria” exclusively, and not as a follow-up to “Moliere Than Thou,” and it was good to know that the show stands on its own. (It was the sixth performance of “Criteria” in this month, and it really seems to have come into its own in this time.) It took the lighting designer a while to get the bugs out of the system, but eventually the light plot he’d set up worked like a charm.

Before the show, I stopped to check my voice mail. There was a message from my brother, Kevin, that my father had experienced what they were calling a “mini stroke” (also known as TIA). He was all right now, and would be staying in the hospital overnight, but it was startling to have real life intervene. Fortunately, I am now ready to head home, and I will in fact be home before I get the chance to send this out, but for the moment, I still had a show to do.

I threw myself into it, knowing that I could not stop to think about what might be going on back home. Every time I did, I pushed myself farther into the character, feeding off of the emotional life of the moment. The performance went extremely well, though that hardly seems relevant right now. Please send thoughts and prayers for Dad.

(I am now back home, and Dad is doing fine.)


Miles on the Vibe 133,500
In the CD Player: Eagles: The Finest Hits of
Attendance: 160 + 25 + 50 + 500 + 10 + 20 + 60 + 50 + 42 + 15 + 60 + 8 + 120 + 60 = 1,180
Temperature: 20s-80s
Discoveries: I am making hay while the sun shines. I tackle the task immediately in front of me, and refuse to get caught up in moods or self-doubt. * The anticipation of negative results, such as “Things never work out,” creates those negative results. * You can’t buy beer on Sundays in Georgia. * Coughing is optional. * There are some programs where I really feel like the faculty has adopted me as one of their own. * “Criteria” can stand on its own.
Next shows: Luther College, Decorah, IA; Illinois Wesleyan University, Bloomington, IL

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