Monday, June 13, 2005

The View From Here #93: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Cincinnati, OH

With three days off between performances, I could catch up on a backlog of e-mailing. I was less driven to promote my show at this fringe, though during the evenings I was still seeing other shows and passing out flyers whenever possible. The fringe staff was great about wearing my “I’m Looking For A Groupie” stickers, and mentioning my show in pre-show announcements, but my feeling was that I was fighting the inertia of an audience that was particularly uneager to visit my venue (site of my car getting sideswiped, and at least one audience member’s car getting broken into through the course of the run). My show was not one of the three chosen for “pick of the fringe,” and that was a disappointment, although I couldn’t argue with the three shows that were chosen.

Even so, I saw improved attendance through the course of the run (about 20 and 30 in the final performances), and the “buzz” was very good. People that I was “flyering” were saying, “Oh, yeah, I hear that’s a great show.” This gives me great hope for a fringe such as in Winnipeg, where “buzz” is a tangible commodity. Shows really do get good “word of mouth” in Winnipeg, and see a legitimate difference in attendance as a result.

One reviewer in Cincinnati dropped what I felt was a self-serving mention about how the well-attended shows in Cincinnati somehow worked out to be the ones that deserved “good buzz,” but she ignored her own tendency to champion the two or three shows that fit her idiosyncratic interests.

Thursday afternoon, I met up with a cousin of my father’s (my second cousin, I guess), who I’d not seen in perhaps 35 years. He and his wife took me to a nice dinner at his country club, and they were extremely gracious, although not particularly interested in coming to see my show, being performed in the particular neighborhood where it was located.

Thursday night’s show went very well, and I came back to the billet late at night (or early in the morning), checking my e-mail before dropping off to bed. And there was an e-mail from a publisher, to whom I’d submitted copies of “Tartuffe” and “Imaginary Invalid,” as well as my collection of Moliere monologues. I’ve read so many rejection letters in the past ten years, I found myself bracing for what I was certain would be yet another one. And I actually thought it was another one, until I had reread the opening paragraph a couple of times. This is what I read (editing out any publisher’s info, for now):

“Dear Tim:
“Thank you again for your submission of "Tartuffe," and "The Imaginary Invalid" to ______________, and for your patience during the evaluation process. We have completed our review of these plays, which we very much enjoyed reading. On behalf of _______________, I wish to extend an offer to publish both "Tartuffe" and "The Imaginary Invalid." (We will be responding to you about the Moliere monologue collection as soon as possible.)
“_______________ provides a unique suite of benefits to its associated playwrights, including significant exposure to production organizations worldwide. A detailed summary of our goals and services is available at the following website: …
“Beyond these details, allow me to introduce a more personal sentiment: In soliciting "Tartuffe" and "The Imaginary Invalid" for publication, we are expressing our earnest desire to market and promote your plays with every tool at our disposal. We would be proud to represent your plays, and wish to bring them to production groups through a process more innovative, efficient, and far-reaching than has yet been possible.
“We hope that you are as excited as we are by this opportunity, and we look forward to hearing from you soon. …
“We would love to expedite publication of these two plays so that they can appear in our next print catalogue, which will ship out this August ... We're certainly interested in publishing the plays as soon as possible, even if they can't make it into this particular catalogue!”

And so suddenly I’m looking at a new mark on my resume: “published playwright.” I’ve heard a share of horror stories from playwrights working with publishers (you know who you are!) – enough to keep me from going way over the top in my celebration – but I also recognize this as a significant foot in the door for other possibilities with my work.

So, yea. Good for me.

On Friday, I drove north to Cleveland. My production of “Imaginary Invalid” was entering its final weekend of performances. (It feels like months since I left it behind in Cleveland, but it’s been just over three weeks.) I’ve read some good reviews, and heard from the actors that the show was improving, and was eager to see how it had developed. And now, with intriguing timing, I had some news for them. While this show has been produced about 8 times in the past, they’ve all been at educational institutions. This, however was the first professional production of the play, which would mean that this cast would be listed in the published script (with a photo from this production as well).

I arrived in Cleveland, checked back into the hotel I’d been at through the six-week rehearsal process, and headed over to the theatre. I flipped through the several gorgeous publicity shots from the show, and met with the cast, announcing my news, to some ensuing enthusiasm.

The show went on. There had been numerous improvements in my absence. The volume and articulation level was much more consistent. There was greater flow in building up to and paying off particular jokes. And yet, I couldn’t watch without a certain tension level. I keep waiting for the bottom to drop out. I keep seeing things that I’d want to fix, or give a note about, and with two performances to go, my best option is to just go with what’s there already, and be grateful for that.

Several of us went out for a drink after the show, and the presence of a half-dozen of the men, with none of the women, underlined a tension that had seemed to develop between the two dressing rooms as the show had progressed. It was a curious division that I assumed had developed in the final rehearsals, particularly as the costume issues between the men and the women in Moliere’s time were so different. The women would hole up in their dressing room working with corsets and wigs and make-up, while the men would lounge comfortably around the green room, seemingly ready to go on at the drop of a hat.

The next morning, I was back on the road, making my way to Cincinnati once more, with the latest DVD version of “Karaoke Knights” in hand. I would be introducing an entirely new voiceover, with a new order of songs, and two songs restored to the play, just for a single final Cincinnati performance. Doug, my technician, was a very affable fellow, who seemed pretty fearless about the changes, and so he was willing to roll with this new variation.

As is inevitable, on the drive to and from Cleveland, I’d already begun to envision the next stage of the play’s evolution, with a new song order, and songs assigned to different characters. (It seems I’m always performing the version of the show that is one generation behind the show that I envision.)

Before my show, though, I swung back into town to see “Dr. Pain on Main”, a show featuring Embrya deShango, who’d written such a good response to my show on the fringe blog, and who’d quickly become a good friend.

Her show was great, and I also managed to sit with the woman who’d written such an enthusiastic review of my own show in the Enquirer. She continued to say nice things about my work, and was planning on coming back to see my show for a second time, this time as a paying customer.

And so, there I was with a new version of the play, and a large, enthusiastic audience for the final Cincinnati show. There were a number of familiar faces in the audience, people I’d met through the course of the week who were finally getting around to seeing the show, and even some of the recorded voiceover bits were getting laughs.

As the show is now in the format of a “contest,” the audience is asked to vote with their applause for their favorite character, and while I wasn’t surprised that Sergio won this contest, I was a little surprised at just how not close it was. At the end, the voiceover lists all of the contestants, and people applaud to their favorites while I switch quickly between costume pieces. Sergio is the last on the list, and a loud roar went up from the crowd when he was named. [In future “views” I’ll work from the presumption that Sergio will win these contests, and only report if he should not. I don’t want to give Sergio an the unfair advantage of heightened expectations.] My suspicion is that people really respond to Sergio’s bad-boy image, and it really doesn’t matter how clever or how textured the other characters may be, Sergio’s striking theatricality puts him over the top. My next rewrite will probably consider this quality to Sergio, and concentrate on finding ways to save Sergio’s most effective bits towards the very end.

I bid a bittersweet goodbye to my new Cincinnati friends that night, and my departure was delayed by new friends buying me beers up until closing time. The next morning, I packed and repacked my car, trying to fit all of the new stuff in along with the tech equipment. By 11 a.m. I was on the road, stopping once at the Skyline Chili, for one last taste of Cincinnati, before continuing home.

I got home Sunday at 4:00, Central time, glad to finally unpack the car from 2 ½ months on the road.


Miles on the Vibe: 140,500
In the CD Player: “Karaoke Knights, a One-Man Rock Opera”
Temperature: 80s, mostly
Reading: Who has time for reading?
Discoveries: “Yea. Good for me.” I will be a “published playwright.” * With two performances to go, just go with what’s there already, and be grateful for that. * A difference in chemistry between the two dressing rooms seems to have driven a wedge through the cast. * I will probably always be performing the version of the show that is one generation removed from the version that I envision. * Theatricality trumps cleverness and character detail. *
Next Performance: June 17, 8:00 p.m. (7:30 Karaoke start) at the Actors Workshop Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr in Chicago (I’ll send out a separate notice with this as the headline, for those who may miss it buried at the end of the e-mail.)


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