Monday, July 11, 2005

The View From Here #94: Chicago, IL & Quebec, QC

Oh, how the time rips past!

Back at home, I spent about a week working on “Tartuffe” and “Imaginary Invalid”: Watching videotapes of the shows, listening for words that went “clunk,” and rewriting things that have been niggling at me for several years. I signed off on my contract with Playscripts, Inc. (which already has a Tim Mooney page at, and pulled together bio information, photos and reviews.

Speaking of websites, if you haven’t checked out lately, please go take a look at it. It’s really cool.

No really, go ahead. I’ll wait.

I performed “Karaoke Knights” three times. Once in Chicago at Jan Graves’ theatre (Actors Workshop Theatre), once at the “Purple Hotel” in Skokie, and again at Deb Pekin’s house. Response was great in Chicago. In Skokie, a few friends-of-friends showed up, and I was performing in an open bar area, with people walking through the whole time. Some of the audience was more interested in chatting among themselves, so I decided to take it all as an object lesson in keeping my focus and not caring what the rude people were doing. Eventually, people tossed money into the hat, so things went fairly well after all.

At Deb’s house, Deb and Kate were the only audience, and Deb, as my creative consultant, hadn’t seen the show for about 6 months. It had gone through many changes, and added a lot of technical bells and whistles. As is often the case, the stuff that I was concerned about was not the stuff that bothered her at all. It was more the stuff that I had improvised off-the-cuff that had stimulated questions and new ideas for development. These are things that I assume people don’t care about, and so I don’t follow through all the way on them. But it was the little bits of pantomime and character consistency that drew her attention. As such I’m pushing myself back to work on emphasizing clear character objectives to each song, and am finding that the expressiveness of each song is much more active and vivid. (It’s also a lot more work, and as one performance leads to another, it’s easy for me to take short cuts.)

I had more work to do, reordering the numbers and reassigning some of them to characters who had never sung them before. I’m also capitalizing on the character traits that one character or another has come to dominate. As such, all sequences of interacting with volunteers are now Sergio’s. All major dance numbers now belong to Larry. I then had to bundle up all the details of these changes and ship them off to my engineer in Cleveland, who is still trying to get them done before the next leg of the trip. (It’s looking down-to-the wire at best.)

I also had to re-record the voiceovers, and found myself experimenting with the character of the K.J. For a couple of versions, he became a black guy (I figured, hey, you can’t see him; why not let him be black?), but then decided I do a really lousy black accent. I experimented with cockney and Mississippi, and eventually went with Mississippi, which becomes kind of endearing, in a way. (It was my Barnette Lloyd accent in “Crimes of the Heart.”)

And then, for about a week, Isaac was in town for a visit. We had lots of fun, and probably would have had more fun if I hadn’t developed a toothache around then. Suddenly I had to spend time in the dentist’s office when I’d rather be out playing.

Also during this time, I worked on the cover of the cd, which I had to proof about three times before the colors came out quite the right way. The printer finished it while I was out of town, and now I am just waiting for the cover to get placed in the jewel box by the replicator.

Isaac and I saw “War of the Worlds,” played lots of ping-pong, visited with Uncle Kevin and Aunt Sue, and with Uncle Mike and Aunt Bonnie, and the cousins, and went to watch some fireworks before getting on the road back to Detroit. Isaac took a liking to my copy of the soundtrack of “Spamalot,” and we probably listened to it about 25 times in the car. I packed for the drive, and took advantage of the brief respite to integrate all the CD’s that I had bought in the last year into my CD wallets, and to add a bunch of the business cards that I had collected into my palm desktop.

I packed the car with Moliere gear and videos and brochures, and away we went. I dropped Isaac off in Detroit and continued across the border the following morning. I was surprised how easily the guard let me across, only asking about the value of the videotapes I was giving away at the conference I was attending in Quebec (AATF, American Association of Teachers of French). I pushed through, trying to get to Montreal before rush hour, but found myself caught up in traffic at around 4:15. I decided to pull over for a while, and found myself driving towards the neighborhood of the Montreal Fringe.

I’d passed up the Montreal Fringe in favor of the Cincinnati Fringe this year, but the fringe Artistic Director remembered me from my previous application, and had been aware of my Moliere production two years before (even though he wasn’t the Artistic Director then). We chatted about the success of this year’s festival (with numbers that set a record over the previous year’s numbers, but come to think of it, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a fringe that didn’t announce that they had beaten the previous year’s record-setting numbers). I got a copy of the fringe program, recognizing some familiar faces on the tour this year, and enjoyed dinner at one of the fringe hang-outs.

Back on the road, traffic was still bad, and I got a hotel room about an hour north of Montreal. I finally pulled in to Quebec City around noon the next day, and met my good friend, Tina, who had committed to helping me out this year in exchange for getting her in to the conference on one of the free passes that came with my exhibit. Tina sat with my luggage and booth equipment while I unloaded and hauled it up to the exhibit hall. I checked into the very expensive hotel (The theory was that it would be easier to schmooze with teachers at the hotel bar, but I never saw anybody with the conference hanging out at the hotel bar; the local night life was too much fun.), and set up my booth. The AATF had crammed everybody into much smaller booths this time around, as they discovered they could squeeze more 8-foot booths into a hall than 10-foot booths (and thus make more money off of us). I was lucky to be on a corner, though, which enabled me to drape another banner from the curtain railing to my left. I also filled up several “Moliere Than Thou” balloons, and got into costume in time for the late-afternoon soiree.

From two previous years of experience, I knew that the opening wine party in the exhibit hall was the busiest exhibit hall event of the entire conference, so I was ready for it. This time around, I was running a raffle, with special discounts on the booking of the show to go to the winners. While very few people want to sign a list in a booth (who needs to get more e-mail?), almost everybody wants a discount. As such I collected about 100 addresses, and gave away about as many tapes through the course of three days. While I haven’t quite kept up on nailing down bookings for the coming year, for the moment, at least, things are looking up.

The great part about doing my third conference, is that there were about two dozen people present who have booked me into their school by now. Time after time, I would be trying to explain my show to someone I had never met before, and someone who had seen my show would stop by the booth and say “You HAVE to book this show! It’s incredible!” … or some variation on that. This was good for my confidence, especially considering that I hadn’t performed the thing in over three months.

Tina and Melanie (who had met each other in front of my booth in Atlanta the year before; we all had experience in Milledgeville, Georgia in common) were present as my assistants this time around, which meant that they would pass out my stickers from time to time, or watch the booth while I made quick dashes to the bathroom. The three of us would go for dinner after the events were over, and we added another southern girl (Jenni is from West Memphis) to our club. (We’ve decided that it’s a club, now, and that we get to add somebody new every year.) We each started out attending these conferences knowing nobody, and figuring that we’d probably have a really lousy time while getting snubbed by the snooty French teachers. Of course, there really is no such thing as a snooty French teacher. That’s just a myth.

Okay, there are a few French teachers who, when they hear that I am doing Moliere in English, of all languages, may smile patronizingly and extricate themselves from the conversation at the earliest possible moment.

But that isn’t an example of snootiness … just ignorance.

Anyway, the four of us made our way to an evening reception on the 31st floor of the tallest building in Quebec, with an amazing view in four directions, and where the wine flowed freely. Here I found myself connecting with a lot of people who hadn’t even been visiting the exhibit hall, and the more wine we had, the more confident I was that these folks were thrilled about the opportunity to book the show.

As this party broke up, the bunch of us found an Irish pub in town to visit, and though my memory is vague at this point, I remember seeing an amazing puppet/shadow show on the ramparts of the ancient wall that encircles the older part of Quebec City. It was being performed to the tune of Ravel’s Bolero with sheets of fabric illuminated by colorful lights. It’s almost as if it happened in some surreal dream.

The next day, the exhibit hall closed at noon, and I took bets on what time the first company would start to break down their exhibit. My money was on 11:00, but the first “straaack” of packing tape was heard as of 10:45. I hung in there, talking up my show until noon, convinced that breaking down early would simply be giving in to despair, and even as I was heading for my car, I ran into a woman from the Philadelphia chapter of the Alliance Francaise (Philadelphia was big this year), who wanted details on the ten or so contacts I’d made in her area so she could help coordinate them.

Finally, amid a sad goodbye to Tina and Melanie, I loaded up the car and got back onto the road by 1:15. It was pouring rain, and as I was having trouble with my moon roof, the rain was dripping into the car. As I passed Montreal (no traffic on Saturday), the rain let up and I pushed forward towards Toronto. I realized that the Toronto Fringe was just getting into the swing of their first weekend, and decided to drop in.

I’ve never been able to do the Toronto fringe because it almost always overlaps with AATF, and since I’ve never done it before, I’ve always felt a little bit of an outsider where they are concerned. I figured the best way to correct that would be to swing by their beer tent.

It took about an hour of searching, but eventually I found the tent. I felt like an outsider at first, as if I was attending somebody else’s fringe under cover, but soon recognized actors from “Boygroove”, as well as Jem Rolls, his girlfriend, Kate, and Benjamin Crellin. I allowed myself to visit only until midnight before getting back on the road and pulling over at the first rest stop to sleep. Four hours later, I continued on, with a stop in Detroit to give Isaac back a book he’d left in the car, and then onward to Chicago.

At home, I spent the first evening writing to the people who’d filled out my raffle cards. I had about 48 hours at home before having to get onto the road for Thunder Bay once more, and I had a long list of to-dos, including writing this episode of the View from Here.

This morning, I got to work on the printed materials that I need for Thunder Bay, and while I normally settle for a black and white photocopy for my flyers, this time I decided I would put together a full-color postcard. I spent the morning assembling all the photos, fringe logos and schedule information onto a single postcard, and then found a printer in Thunder Bay who could turn it around while I would be driving up to the city.

And while the 4-megabyte document was working its way out through the hookup here at my folks house, I started writing these lines once again.

It was a good break from the tour … about a month if you don’t count Quebec as part of it. But not as productive as I’d allowed myself to imagine it would be. Somehow, I never got to writing either of the two one-person shows I was envisioning, or writing new drafts to my acting textbook or my personal development tome. Nor have I done anything on my collection of Moliere monologues. I have, however, managed to push that ball just a little farther up that hill. And I kind of enjoyed myself in the process.


Miles on the Vibe: 143,000
Temperature 16 C to 98 F
In the CD Player: “Spamalot”, and Brian Eno’s latest “Another Day On Earth”
Attendance: 12 + 11 + 2 = 25
Reading: Back issues of “The Nation” and “Premiere”
Next performance: Thunder Bay, Ontario
Discoveries: I assume that people don’t care about the details I’m putting in, and eventually drop them from the performance, until I’m reminded there are people who pay attention to all the stuff I’m doing, who are waiting for the payoff. * Having an objective for each song in the show gives the whole thing life and meaning. * Eventually, certain characteristics rise to the top, and an audience will be thrown by anything that contradicts those characteristics. * I have learned to ask myself “Am I giving up on this because I despair of being successful?” If the answer is yes, I can then change my choices, with the knowledge that success is still possible, even if it isn’t probable. * Everyone feels like an outsider, from inside their own heads.


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