The VIew From Here #92: Orlando, FL & Cincinnati, OH
Imagine my surprise when the attendance for this show nearly doubled my previous high. I watched with some surprise as 28 people filed in.
And they were great. They laughed at everything. They cheered at the “tango scene.” They sang along with the karaoke sequences. I was beginning to feel the reaction of the audience starting to match up with what I had expected it to be at the outset. The stage manager was handling the “KJ Narration” from the booth, but he was speaking through a lot of distortion, and I think the audience could only kind of make out what he was saying. I had re-recorded the narration (twice), but it was in-process with my audio/video engineer (Richard) in Cleveland, and I wouldn’t hear the results until Cincinnati.
The show ended in Orlando on a high, and my friend Sandra bought a CD. She and her husband Greg and I have spent the last two fringes hanging out together at the closing night party, and this one made it three years in a row. Once again, I was celebrating until late at night, and getting onto the road the following morning. I departed the 95-degree Orlando at 10:30 a.m. and headed for 60-degree Atlanta, pulling in around 6:00 to stay at Linda’s house once again. After dinner, we watched the DVD of “The Aviator,” which was very good, except for the fact that I was a bit distracted, spending the first half of the movie working on getting my script together for Cincinnati. With all of the changes I had made, I needed to give my technician something to follow along with.
The next morning I printed up the script and got back on the road. The timing was very tight to get through to Cincinnati in time for a 5:00 tech rehearsal. (It was actually a 5:30 tech rehearsal, but I didn’t know that at the time.) I managed to get through the usually-congested Chattanooga in quick order, and I assumed that all was well, until I hit Knoxville, where the traffic slowed to a standstill. Eventually, it loosened up, and I was racing ahead, pulling into Cincinnati at about 4:50 p.m. When I couldn’t find anyone at my venue, I checked my schedule and realized that I had an extra half hour to waste. I found a “Gold Star Chili” restaurant – this is a phenomenon unique to Cincinnati, by the way; where chili is as prevalent as Pizza might be in Chicago – and grabbed a quick bite, before going back to the theatre.
Inside the theatre I was setting up my equipment when I heard a “crunching” noise from outside, followed by some squealing tires. It sounded like an accident, and I went out to see if there was something that happened in the intersection. I couldn’t see any damaged vehicles, nor anyone looking around, and so I headed for my car to grab a CD I needed for the show. I opened it up and reached inside. As I came out, I could see a half-dozen or so people on the opposite side of the street looking my way. One of them was calling to me, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying. It seemed to be important. Eventually, I crossed the five lanes of traffic to see what it was about.
“Look at your car!”
I turned around to notice that the door that I’d just opened to retrieve my CD had been banged in.
It was a hit-and-run. A westbound car had swerved across several lanes to the eastbound side, hitting my parked car on the far side. Several witnesses had seen it happen, and described it variously as a beige Lincoln Town Car and a white Cadillac. Someone suggested that the car had blown a tire in the process, and pulled into the Shell station two blocks away. A guy offered to drive me over there, but there was no sign of a car with a flat tire. I called the police, and informed my technician that our rehearsal would be delayed somewhat. A couple of witnesses offered their names, and the police arrived, getting my information. Within about ten minutes, though, there was a report of a Lincoln Town Car changing a tire several blocks away, and the officer left to investigate. A woman drove by to tell me that she had witnessed the accident and gotten the license plate of the car. He had a vanity license plate: “MR JUDAS.”
Of course, I, too, have a vanity plate: “MOLIERE.”
Somehow this seemed to be some sort of odd, automotive, celebrity death match.
In the end, Moliere won out over Mr. Judas, and I returned to rehearse my show, with now only about an hour left to do so.
We were a bit rushed, but things felt pretty good. We rehearsed with the audio CD version of the show, as I was still waiting on the arrival of the DVD of the new 1-hour version.
The Fringe assistant producer, whose somewhat provocative photo is on all of the Fringe publicity, led me to the very nice home where I am being billeted, and I have to note that one of the things that I’m appreciating the most about this fringe festival is the care that is being given to all of the out of town performers. They respond to all of my telephone inquiries readily. They saw to it that I knew where I was going, and they continually mention our shows, and how much that they enjoy them in their pre-show speeches to the audiences. That care is not yet reflected in attendance, but that’s another story.
The next day, I assembled a new version of my press packet, this time emphasizing the lyrical content of the shows. While I was bent on exploiting the “rock opera” framework, two out of three reviewers so far have responded to the lyrics. I realized that I should be playing to my strengths in preparing the media for the show, and I started reworking the press release. It now opens with the question: “If Moliere were a rock star, what might he sound like?” I don’t propose to answer that question, but it should get them thinking. I then go on to cite all of the great parallels that the reviewers have already drawn to Tom Waits, Talking Heads, Tom Lehrer and Sparks.
I spent Wednesday circulating press packets, and running off posters, programs and flyers.
I reworked the program, taking out a large section of my “process” information (i.e., how the play ended up the way it is), and putting more content inside. Since people were so attracted to the characters themselves, I decided to put little mock-bios in the program, inventing fictitious backgrounds to each individual. It seems to connect some of the “dots” that were missing for people.
Wednesday night I set up for the show. I had the new DVD’s in hand, including a DVD of pure karaoke music with which I could create a karaoke pre-show event to warm up the audience. When it was time to open the house, I started up the karaoke DVD and sang along to whichever song came up. After about 10 minutes of this, the first audience member came in. It was the reviewer. Eventually one and two more arrived. I skipped through songs, uncertain about what to sing, or which of the songs might be in my range. My excellent technician, Doug, was signaling me to stretch this out. There was a second reviewer expected for tonight, and he was, so far, a no-show. I kept singing, and eventually got the Fringe Communications Director, Liz, to come up and join me for a duet. I was worried that my voice would be shot before the play ever began. Before she left the stage, I told Liz to “please come back and watch the show.” I was assessing just how the show might go over if I had only three people to draw on for volunteers, and none of them seemed particularly eager. She promised to return after closing up the box office.
The show went on, with lots of energy (and sweat) pouring out of me, with very little response from the audience. (A photographer showed up, though, and did get some really good pics, which can be seen at: http://jamesczar.com/modules/gallery/2005_Fringe_Czar ) About halfway through the show, Liz showed up with Fringe Development Director, Jeff, to add some laughter to the response. Liz was just in time to join me for the “tango” sequence, which went well. The rest of the show, which is not dependent upon volunteers thereafter, went well.
This Fringe runs a bar series, with a new bar being used as a performer’s haunt every night. The beer and the conversation flows freely, and it makes for a good ongoing conversation about the Fringe experience. You get to meet actors whose shows you’ve seen, or discover people whose shows you want to see, and vice versa.
The next morning, my billeter told me that a Cincinnati Enquirer review of my show had already appeared on-line, and that it was very good. I was surprised that they’d posted it so quickly. I’m used to waiting for about five days to see any kind of reaction to my work. Here it is:
'Karaoke' uses song to tell stories Theater review
By C.E. HanifinEnquirer staff writer
“Karaoke, with its enticement of three minutes of faux fame for everyone, seems like the most shallow of entertainments. When Tim Mooney mines that apparent wasteland of canned pop tunes and bottle-fueled performances, however, in his solo show, "Karaoke Knights, a One-Man Rock Opera!," he strikes upon a universal chord.
“The show's five characters step into the spotlight one by one to belt out their dreams and disillusionments. Mooney, an Illinois-based actor and founder of the Timothy Mooney Repertory Theatre, does a remarkable job of sketching each character's personality with just a prop or two, a distinct singing voice, telling gestures and apt facial expressions.
“Charles sports the low-slung hat and ravaged voice of a Tom Waits wannabe; Brian's puppy dog eagerness is as loud as his Hawaiian shirt; a vaguely Eastern European accent and a black leather jacket denote Sergio's manufactured aura of mystery; Larry's XXL sweatshirt and balletic movements reveal an intriguing dichotomy; and everyman Tim's white T-shirt and quotidian longings present a neutral canvas onto which the audience may project its empathy.
“Mooney tells each character's story through the lyrics of the production's original songs, which are at turns witty (Tim's "Looking For a Groupie"), unctuous (Sergio's "Bite My Tongue") and poignant (Charles' "The Dreaming Tax.").
”The finale finds Charles, Brian, Larry, Sergio and Tim taking turns singing the verses of "Simply Nothing," a number about ending up alone after last call. All five tales meld into one story about the often-futile desire to find another person with whom to sing in harmony, even if the duet only lasts as long as the "la la la la" chorus of a synth-drenched '80s hit. The theme resonates long after the show's last tinny note fades, because just about everyone knows the words to that song.”
Okay, so, I, for one, had to look up “unctuous” and “quotidian”.
It was not bad. The reviewer, and the audience, seemed already to be picking up on character details that I had planted in the program. (I have heard audiences getting into protracted active arguments about whether Sergio was a Eurotrash bad boy or just a wannabe.) And my choice to share the finale number had been extremely last minute, based on my single run-through with the new DVD.
Meanwhile, I had discovered that this festival actually had reserved a 75-minute slot for me. For some reason, I’d got it in my head that I had to fit the show into 60 minutes, and was pushing the boundaries already by coming in with a disc that was 61:30. Instead, I had 75 minutes to use, and could begin working material back into the show.
The first thing that I wanted was to get a “Tim” song back into the lead-off position. I had led off with Charles this first time around, which necessitated getting a volunteer well before I had set any example of the process for how the songs would work. This time around, I would look to rebuild the DVD with “Dreams Are Waiting” in the lead-off spot, and with “A Half-a-World Away” back in the rotation.
With every advance or improvement of the play, more changes become evident. It’s like climbing a mountain upon which you can’t see the path that awaits you beyond the current ridge, but you know you have to get to the top of this ridge. And then you realize the next task that you face. While I might like to see my way to the top of the mountain all at once, it’s more important that I be willing to recognize that there is more space available to climb.
My webmaster, Bruce, had been reading the latest script, and he sent me another idea that has grown on me. What if this was not just “Karaoke night at Korbell’s,” but was instead a karaoke contest? At first it seemed like it would be impossible to do, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I could make it work with alterations to the KJ narration. It would give the “characters” motivation to sing, and it would give the thinnest thread of a “plot line” for the audience to hang onto: A reason to follow the show from beginning to end, besides the fact that, on an individual basis, the songs were entertaining. It would give them even more reason to identify with one character over another, and to cheer loudly for the character that they wanted to win. (Also, if one of the fifteen songs of the show doesn’t appeal to a given audience, I won’t lose them for the course of the show.) By Friday morning, I had rewritten the voiceovers, and by that afternoon they’d been recorded and e-mailed.
One of the things that hadn’t worked for me in the previous recording, was the fact I was working so hard to make my voice sound good. It had a studio-created sound rather than a live bar-sound. I decided I wanted to be a KJ with a fun sense of humor, who could bring out the cheers and applause in the audience. I remembered Bill Murray in “Ghostbusters” and his very funny line: “Dogs and cats! Living together!” and I wanted to infuse this fictional KJ with that kind of sense of humor. And so, before every take in the recording process, I would shout out “Dogs and cats! Living together!”
I think the people who are billeting me must have thought this rather strange.
Saturday was another performance day, and it would be at least mid-week before I might see a new DVD from Richard, and so I had to get back to rehearsing the show as we’d re-done it this time around. I was excited about the new ideas for the show, but I had to continue performing the old ideas until the new ones were incorporated into the new disc. I ran the show three times that day (which is remarkably easier for a 60 minute show than it is for a 75 minute show) and went in to perform.
I’d seen some really well-attended shows the past couple nights, including Amy Salloway’s fun “Does This Monologue Make Me Look Fat?” and with a good review of my own in the Cincinnati Enquirer, I had high hopes. But no, there were only about 20 people in the audience. (Amy, by the way, is a fringe regular from Minnesota, and, independent of each other, we’d both been reading each other’s blogs on-line. When I introduced myself after the show, she immediately knew who I was, even though we’d never met. Such is the odd circle of the Fringe universe.)
My audience of 20 was terrific, though. They joined in on the pre-show karaoke warm up, particularly with “Lola” and Jimmy Buffet’s “Why Don’t We Get Drunk.” Note to self: If you can get an audience singing “Why Don’t We Get Drunk” at full voice before the show has even started, then they are yours for the evening. They started laughing with the volunteer sequence of “Too Real”, and laughed at all the jokes of “Left To Say.” Interestingly, they didn’t respond as much as other audiences did to the mock-ballet of “Tempted to be Tempted.” Perhaps they were just a verbal crowd.
For “Forward Thinking,” I found a giggling member of the audience to wind the microphone cord around. Since these chairs didn’t have arms, I found myself tying her wrist to that of her boyfriend on one side, and that of a girlfriend on the other. It got better laughs than it ever has. The rest of the songs continued with pretty good reaction. In the final number, “Simply Nothing,” I sing about bars that I imagine, out in outer space somewhere, that they don’t close down late at night. Usually, at that point, I’m actually out in the audience, and in the back row, I spotted three actors whom I’d been sitting with at the bar the night before when it came closing time. I delivered this line directly to them, and they found it hilarious.
That night at the bar, anytime I asked anybody what their favorite song was, they would always respond: “Sergio’s first number.” (“Forward Thinking”)
I’ve been waiting a couple of days to post this, as I knew there was a reporter from “Citybeat,” the alternative weekly paper in Cincinnati at my Saturday performance. In the meantime, I’ve continued working on the show (still waiting on the arrival of the new DVD) and rehearsing as many as three times a day. I had another performance last night (Monday), and it was well received by another smallish audience. Funny thing is that this time they did NOT respond with laughs for “Left To Say,” but DID respond to “Tempted to be Tempted.” These songs are back-to-back in the show, and I’m wondering if audiences will like either one or the other, but not both (“Left To Say” has the verbal laughs, while “Tempted” has the physical humor). This latest audience, however, even laughed at “Gravity’s Pull,” the one serious number in the show.
The Citybeat reviewer took a while to post his review, and it wasn’t quite all I was hoping for, but it certainly has its share of notable comments and mixed messages:
KARAOKE KNIGHTS: A ONE-MAN ROCK OPERAGabriel’s Corner
”It’s easier to overlook mid-level talent when the performer throws himself so fully into his work. And while Karaoke Knights creator and performer Tim Mooney isn’t the most talented singer you’ll see in the Fringe Festival and he isn’t the most effective character actor in town right now, he just might be the most committed.
“Billed as a one-man Rock opera about karaoke, it’s more of an ode to the much maligned bar sport. Mooney, through five oddball personalities, hopes to answer or at least speculate why people are drawn to the practice.
“A slight toothpick of a man with an expressive face and pleasant voice, Mooney starts the act long before show time by — what else? — engaging in a little karaoke warm-up. He beckons the audience to help him pick the next tune from his list of karaoke staples and to sing along. It’s the perfect table setter for the night. When the show actually starts, Mooney quickly dives into the first character, Charles, by pulling a female audience member to the stage and singing a song about — what else? — an attractive female karaoke singer. It’s a device he uses frequently to break the fourth wall and engage the audience. In one song he intentionally goes too far to engage the audience — literally tying a front row spectator up with his mic cord. It’s one of the funnier bits in the show.
“While there are a handful of songs, all originals written by Mooney and composer Ray Lewis, that are catchy and fun, there are more than a few that fail to connect or are just explicitly forgettable. They make the entire piece feel a little longer than it should.
“But it’s Mooney’s shamelessness and bravado that sell Karaoke Knights. His performance exudes such a freaky weird confidence that, by show’s end, you are simply forced to be entertained.” (Rodger Pille)
It strikes me that this might be a fun review to deconstruct. Let’s see:
I throw myself fully into my work.
I might just be the most committed singer or character actor at the Fringe.
I have an expressive face and a pleasant voice.
My karaoke warm-up is the “perfect table setter for the night.”
I intentionally go too far to engage the audience (a positive, we assume, because it’s “intentional”)
Tying a spectator up with a mic cord is one of the funnier bits in the show.
A handful of songs are catchy and fun.
My shamelessness and bravado sell the show.
I have a freaky weird confidence.
I force the audience to be entertained by the show’s end.
Half-Positives:I am a mid-level talent.
I hope to answer or at least speculate why people are drawn to the practice of karaoke.
I am a slight toothpick of a man.
I break the fourth wall frequently through devices.
I force the audience to be entertained. (Against their preference of being bored?)
I go too far to engage the audience. (Negative because it is “too far.”)
Tying a spectator up with a mic cord is one of the funnier bits in the show. (a negative, we assume, because there aren’t bits that are especially funnier?)
More than a few of the songs fail to connect, or are explicitly forgettable.
The piece feels longer than it should.
My performance exudes a freaky weird confidence. (Perhaps what’s freaky is that I’m confident in spite of being a mid-level talent.)
Okay, here’s my take: The guy really enjoyed the show very much. (His wife had actually come up to me after the show saying how much she’d enjoyed it.) But he’s a little freaked out by enjoying a show about karaoke. Admitting that you like karaoke is like admitting that you enjoy paintings of dogs playing poker, or velvet Elvises. And so, for every positive thing that he said, he had to couch it in some form of uncertainty. After all, he has to protect his reviewer’s cred. This makes for plausible deniability. And yes, he liked some songs better than others, and every audience member has had their own individual preferences. I think if I stay the course with the plans to turn it into a karaoke contest, this will bridge some of the issues that may arise.
And, when it all comes down to it, there are enough good things here for me to use in quotes about the show that will help me sell the thing two and three fringes down the line.
Meanwhile, the following bit appeared on the Cincinnati Fringe blogsite today:
“I just want to plug a grossly overlooked show, Karaoke Nights. I saw it last night, and I really had a good time. It is fun and inventive and the lyrics of Tim Mooney's original songs are really clever. I've heard he's not been getting very good houses over at Gabriel's Corner, so let's all show him that Cincinnati really is a karaoke town. I know you are out there- the Front Porch in Florence does not do karaoke seven nights a week for nothing. I think he has a couple more shows- Thursday and Saturday, if I'm not wrong. If I am wrong, somebody on staff for Fringe correct me before I make an ass of myself.
“Anyway, the message is simple. Go see Karaoke Nights. And sing a little. You'll feel better.
And so it goes. Yes, attendance is light, and there are plenty of reasons I could choose to be discouraged. But I think I’ll choose not to be discouraged, and go with the very positive feeling that I get on those nights when the audience is having a blast.
Miles on the Vibe: 139,000
In the CD Player: “Karaoke Knights, a One Man Rock Opera
Discoveries: Don’t give up on the possibilities that any performance may hold. However few I may imagine may show up, it ain’t over till it’s over and my biggest challenge is to be here now. * My work is good enough that I can afford to play to my strengths in my press releases, as opposed to what I suspect may be more effective hype. * People just need the slightest connecting of the dots to engage themselves fully in the characters of the show. * Each improvement opens new areas to improve, and I could choose to feel bad about the fact that I haven’t created something perfect on the first go, or I could continue to take each subsequent step as they arrive. * Discouragement is a choice. So is feeling encouraged. Which one will be more productive?
Attendance: 28 + 5 + 20 + 18 = 79
Next Performance: Possibly setting up a June 17 performance of Karaoke Knights in Chicago. After that: July 14-18 in Thunder Bay, Ontario.