Monday, May 16, 2005

The View From Here #90: Cleveland, OH & Orlando, FL

Sorry about the long drop-off in installments … or did anybody notice? With two shows getting ready to open, there’s a constant struggle to keep on top of issues, and either show has a tendency to suck up what once looked like a free morning, or day.

Let me see if I can capture the intervening weeks with a once-over-lightly treatment, rather than the usual play-by-play.

Early on, I did another major e-mailing project. I sent off my semi-annual e-mail to College/University Theatre departments. I’ve also done a major once-over on my “maybe next year list,” sorting out possible stops in potential venues and getting much more specific about just where I am available to perform just when. With each booking that comes in I tighten the schedule tighter, and am able to get more clear with the potential venues about exactly which dates I am available. As noted before, the FEWER dates I have available, the greater the likelihood of booking the show. This seems contradictory, but when I write somebody to say that I’ll be passing through Little Rock, Arkansas on October 12 only, they are much more likely to go and check their calendar than if I were to write and say that I’m available to come through Arkansas sometime in October.

This is a process that I tend to get into in June or July, when fringe festival season has me holed up in a given city for ten days at a time. The fact that I’m not picking up and driving someplace new every day means that I’ve been able to nail a lot of these details down before people have left for the summer. If bookings continue to fall into place like they normally do in the summer, then this fall will be the busiest on record.

So, I’ve been in rehearsal for “Imaginary Invalid” six days a week, and find that directing is quite a challenge for me following four years of directing nobody but myself. On one level, there is the issue of getting used to the fact that people I’m working with are not actually reading my mind, and realizing that I have to explain to a group of collaborators what my idea was in the first place.

Then there is another level in which I realize that I’m working with some extremely talented people, and that the solution to certain issues often has to do with listening to what they have to say, and coming to a collective decision that works for everybody, rather than bullying them into seeing that my way was right all along.

The biggest challenge in this area has been with the interludes and the finale. I’ve been working with my musical collaborator, Ray, on creating new music for a series of songs I have written that re-envision a series of pastoral interludes that Moliere wrote (which usually get skipped in performance). With Ray being as busy as he is, the music has arrived in piecemeal fashion, and the actors’ concerns about pulling it off with time running short has left me caught between them and the composer, who is out of town and not privy to our conversations. As such we end up cutting and including variously, and I face a series of hard decisions about how to pull it all together to work, doing justice to Ray’s work, without undermining the actors’ confidence in themselves. This has led me to blocking and reblocking the finale about eight times, until we wind up with something that works. Just today, for instance, with five days to go before opening night, I reluctantly cut a series of dance moves from the finale, knowing that the actors were singing some very elaborate words at the same time, and their thundering footfalls were drowning out verses such as:

“Oh may he live forever, never dying!
Our doctor who expostulates at will!
A thousand years may he this trade be plying,
To eat and drink and flush and bleed and kill!”

Or, shortly thereafter:

“Oh may his days be full of fine infections,
And may his calendar be ever filled,
Of poxes, plagues, intestinal corrections,
Of people to be flushed and bled and killed!”

Funny stuff, n’est pas? The show is, in fact, extremely funny, and while certain moments have yet to “gel,” on the whole it’s one of those shows that I wish I could have a videotape of, just to demonstrate how hilarious Moliere is capable of being. I laugh my butt off every night in rehearsal.

I managed to squeeze one long weekend into the schedule, and flew off to Orlando (leaving behind a Cleveland snowstorm) to participate in the Fringe Festival’s preview event, performed for the press and interested “fringers” who are deciding which shows they’ll want to attend this year. Considering that a musical has stand-alone pieces that I can perform for events like this, I decided to take part, performing “Looking for a Groupie” for the Preview. I had to trim the song down to under three minutes, so I cut the dance break and the repeat of the last two verses.

Even so, I found myself very nervous this time around. With about 30 performance troupes waiting backstage to do their thing, it felt more like an audition than a performance to me, and just as I was going on, my mouth felt suddenly dry. I introduced the piece with a bit of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” (I’m including actual karaoke numbers as bridges in the show), and I missed the first note. I started again and nailed it, and then segued into “Groupie.” It seemed to be well received by the 200 or so in the auditorium, but now and then I found myself questioning myself. Is this camp? Or is this just silly? Are they getting this? Should I be doing more? All those million little questions that come up the first time you perform something for a public that are not a collection of your good friends.

I returned home with a renewed determination to rehearse the thing over and over and over, so that none of those nagging questions could sweep over me when I went to perform the show in its entirety when I return to Orlando. For a while, I was rehearsing two times a day. (Often in addition to a physical workout, and dieting so that I’ll look good in the t-shirt that I’ll be performing in.) And then a series of projects would overwhelm me, and rehearsal would fall by the wayside for a couple of days, and I would resume with one-a-days. And now, with the Orlando performance five days away, I’m back to two-a-days once more.

One of the projects that consumed me for a while was the recording of “Karaoke Knights, the Disc.” Wanting to have a disc available to sell at the performances, I went into overdrive, recording the seventeen songs in two days with a sound designer who works with the theatre here in Cleveland. I have a love/hate relationship with hearing my own voice, and I kept trying to get him to turn my voice down in the “mix” of the CD, until I listened to it on my laptop, with considerably weaker speakers and realized that it sounded terrible that way. I had the sound engineer rework it at his original levels and shipped the disc off for replication. (It’ll still be a race to see if I can have any discs available in time for the Orlando shows.)

The other projects that have consumed my time is getting a backing CD/DVD recorded, with the show’s music, as well as the karaoke interludes, which will appear on the new flat screen TV I bought. (Hey, it had to be a flat screen in order for it to fit in the car with everything else I’m packing.) I’ll also be getting new sound equipment, and more props, so that the car will be full to bursting on this trip.

The trip itself will be an adventure, as “Imaginary Invalid” opens this Friday night at 8 pm. I’ll stick around for about two hours of celebration before getting onto the road and driving. With naps along the way, I expect to arrive in Orlando at around 7 p.m. My first performance of “Karaoke Knights” will be at 11:45 that night!

Meanwhile, I have new stickers to give out as promotions: They read “I’m Looking For a Groupie” with the title of the show and the website address. Hopefully they’ll be popular conversation starters this summer.

And, here in Cleveland, the work continues on “Imaginary Invalid.” We just held our tech rehearsal yesterday, and the show was in good enough shape to get through it twice. My to-do list is actually becoming more trivial in nature, as for once I seem to be tackling the big things first. Re-reading Louise Hay’s book is helping me to let go of the whole procrastination thing. Probably the biggest challenge this week will be packing. After spending six weeks in one hotel, I’m fairly well “moved in” to this particular room. Other items on my list include registering for conferences that are in January, getting out the publicity for the Cincinnati Fringe Festival, and printing up my Orlando flyers and programs. Of course, I never actually run out of things to do; it’s just that the time available begins to dictate just what is necessary and just what it a luxury. … like reading through my stack of old magazines.

Oh, and shows continue to happen elsewhere. The following comments were in a review of a “Tartuffe” in Kuala Lumpur. I’ll just include the sections that reference the script:

For the local show, Chris Jacobs’ Tartuffe, jointly produced by his company Stage Sense, and Cempaka Performing Arts Co, used a very playful version of the translated script by American Timothy Mooney where he has turned all the dialogue into rhyming couplets. … With so much brisk action and physical comedy in Tarftuffe, the audience could then just concentrate on the well-carved Moliere characters and the tight script that had been imbued with a lovely iambic pentameter rhythm to the ear. … These three experienced performers got round the rather tricky speeches that had a particular rhythm, compounded by rhyming couplets. There was a sense that the three understood the beautiful words that came out from them. In return, their big movements and gestures were well-supported and the emotions were clearly communicated. Other younger cast members were not as lucky as a lot of work await them in terms of diction and pronunciation. The audience had an uphill task understanding what other characters were trying to say. The iambic pentameter — prevalent in Shakespeare’s dialogues — has a way of either hemming the inexperienced performer into a monotonous mode or freeing him to soar in his emotions.

Attendance: About 250 at the Fringe Preview
Temperature: 50s-60s
In the CD player: The Swingle Singers performing Bach and Mozart
Reading: “You Can Heal Your Life” by Louise Hay
Discoveries: Some people are not actually reading my mind. * It’s not the end of the world if I don’t get the answer right every time. It’s all right to listen and respond to what other people are offering the show. They have just as much interest in making it work as I do. * I am not obligated to make this or that answer work for the show. The proof of what works is in the performance. * A million little questions are waiting to work you over the very first time you perform something for a group of people who are not your very good friends.
Miles on the Vibe: 136,000
Next performance: 5/20, “Imaginary Invalid,” Cleveland, OH; 5/21, “Karaoke Knights, a One-Man Rock Opera” in Orlando, FL

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