Saturday, July 23, 2005

The VIew From Here #96: Thunder Bay, ON & Winnipeg, MB

As well as the Saturday night performance in Thunder Bay had gone, the Sunday afternoon performance was back to only a dozen people in attendance. Most of them were actors and volunteers, which meant that only four people actually paid to get in. Still hurting from the night before (my voice hadn’t woken up quite yet), I decided to go easy, and not push things. Most of the audience was congregating toward the back, and I encouraged two familiar-looking teenage girls to sit closer, which they did.

In the first volunteer scene, I couldn’t get a volunteer onstage to save my life. The teenage girls at first refused, and then a couple of older women would not go for it, and eventually I had to return to the teenage girls and literally drag one of them onstage with me. She seemed extremely scared, so I kept a respectful distance throughout.

Several songs later, however, came the microphone chord scene, and I steered clear of the scared one and her friend seemed to enjoy the scene very much. I grabbed this one again when it came to the tango, and it went great. I later recognized one of the girls as the usher who’d sat in on the first half of the show on opening night, and her friend as a violinist/busker who was working the mall, so I suspected that it wasn’t volunteering that scared them away from the first number, so much as the possibility that they would not get to volunteer for the parts they wanted to do.

There was also a fellow in the audience who’d recalled “Moliere Than Thou” as his favorite show from two years ago. He and his wife had wanted to attend the night before, but she’d had to be taken to the hospital with an ailment, and now he was here on his own. (That’s right, his wife was in the hospital, and he’d come to my show anyway!)

Following the show, I picked up my money, packed up the car and headed for Winnipeg. I was assured that Winnipeg was a much shorter drive than the 8 hours, 45 minutes that Mapquest was predicting, and indeed, I made it in about 7 hours (6 if you count the fact that I gained an hour returning to Central Time.) Along the way, I was very much reminded of the adventurous drive two years before with Niki McCretton (who is not fringing these days, but doing more original material back in England). Entering Manitoba, I noticed that the “Welcome to Manitoba” sign had been sprinkled with stickers, mostly from rock bands. I added the “I’m Looking for a Groupie” sticker to the collection.

I arrived in Winnipeg at dusk, and got set up with my billet, a nice house about a mile and a half from the fringe.

The next day I hit the ground running. I went straight to the CBC where I had an appointment to shoot a bit of video for the CBC website. (You can get to it via the Fringe Website at They’d nixed the use of any background music, so I chose my wordiest song for the site, assuming that the piano background would be less missed in the torrent of words. I did one rehearsal and suggested some camera movement during the chorus, and then we taped.

Afterwards we all looked at each other, and everybody seemed satisfied with what we’d gotten, so we said, “good.” We did it in one take. They seemed surprised, but I noted that I only get one take on stage anyway. A few hours later I moved on to a media appointment on one of the fringe stages, and performed “Looking For a Groupie” while cameras from the CBC and the A-Channel recorded, and photographers from the Free Times and the Jenny Revue snapped. While I was nervous about how well this would go over, the handful of people in the auditorium seemed rather excited to be getting useable stuff.

I must say, the Winnipeg Fringe does publicity better than ANYBODY. In fact, I’ve run into some fellow performers and audience who have been reading these words via the CBC website, and commiserating with me about attendance in Thunder Bay, for instance. It’s impossible to grasp just how many people out there have come into contact with me in some oblique fashion, including people in Vancouver who are reading this from a link out there, who I won’t even see for another two months.

Speaking of publicity, as soon as I returned to Winnipeg “airspace,” my phone began to work again, and there was a message from “The Big Breakfast Show” wanting to get me onto the A-Channel morning TV show (which we eventually set up for this Monday, around 7:45 a.m.). It seems that the massive press release mailing was paying off.

Arriving earlier than most of the other fringers, I had good access to lots of empty wall space, and put up lots of posters. I checked in at Fringe Central, and was dismayed that they had still not received the DVD I was awaiting from my engineer in Cleveland.

And so, I went to my rehearsal, again rehearsing with the new script and an audio CD, with promises that we’d get the new DVD in time for the show. But just in case …

Fortunately, I prepared my technician for the “in case,” because the DVD did not arrive on Tuesday, nor in time for the opening on Wednesday.

I spent the evenings visiting, mostly at the “King’s Head”. (Much of that traffic is now rerouted to the beer tent where the prices are better.) I was seeing people I hadn’t seen for one or two years, and many still recognized me from “Moliere Than Thou.” I visited with my friend Robin (who I met through Niki) for several rounds of brews. He was looking to review my show for his website, and the Jenny Revue, and wanted some clarification around the characters and concept.

On Wednesday afternoon, distressed over the non-arrival of the DVD, a woman stopped me in the street asking if I recognized her. She had a familiar smile, but … “I wrote the review of your ‘Moliere’ show. You quote me in your press kit.” She was very excited about the performance of “Karaoke Knights,” and I looked uncomfortable when she indicated that she would be seeing the show tonight.

I kind of winced and groaned, and explained the situation about the DVD. She seemed understanding, but would still be attending tonight, which I absolutely encouraged her to do. “It’s still a good show,” I insisted; “You’ll just be seeing version 3.0, and I wish I had version 4.0 ready by now.”

I spent two mornings in there proofing the copy for my “Tartuffe” and “Imaginary Invalid” for Playscripts, Inc. They seem to be moving quickly on publishing them and I didn’t want to be the one holding things up.

That afternoon, I glanced at the entertainment section of the Free Press. The reviewer there, who’d only kind-of liked Moliere, had picked my show to be the best seller of my particular venue (which would mean an extra performance on the final Saturday of the run). Suddenly I was buoyed by the notion of the two major newspapers in town already anticipating that mine would be a high-quality show.

Somehow, when I see an anonymous audience and anonymous critics in my imagination, they tend to be rather skeptical and dour. But suddenly infused with the knowledge of their enthusiasm, I am able to envision a much more successful show.

That night, I opened my show at 10:45 p.m. Before the show I went to drop programs off at the box office, and Robin was there already, as was the Uptown reviewer. I introduced the two of them to each other, and Robin introduced me, in turn, to the reviewer from the CBC who would also be attending. I slipped inside and set up the equipment.

When the doors opened, perhaps thirty people spilled into the theatre, and I was reminded that I’d opened this up as a “Volunteer Night.” At most other fringes this might have translated into a dozen volunteers for such a late show. Here, quite different.

My three reviewers all sat together in a kind of a “murderer’s row” four rows back. I played to everyone else, and there were a good number of “karaoke junkies” who were willing and excited to get up and sing during the karaoke warm-up. They were a loose, friendly crowd already, and responded well to the show. When it came time for Sergio’s big number, I found three women sitting side-by-side a few rows back, tied them to each other and stretched across their laps, with a fantastic reaction from the crowd. (This is a hard number to top, and part of what “Version 4.0” will fix, it to put this number almost at the end.)

When it came to the last few songs, though, I could feel myself struggling to get my voice out over the music. I perform the final pieces without a microphone, and somehow I’d set my music too high through the course of the show, only noticing it now. It made for a somewhat flat ending, when I’d been riding pretty high up to that point.

From there it was time to cut loose with some beers at the beer tent, which was quickly closing, and then on to the King’s Head again. I had no show the next night, and two days for the new disc to arrive.

Thursday I saw shows: Alex Dallas doing “Gagging for a Shag” (she’s very funny, as always), and “Grow Op,” which was largely very good, but with an abrupt ending. I particularly like the venue that “Grow Op” is happening in (Ragpicker’s Annex), and the woman who runs it is great. (I bought my “Brian” shirt from their thrift store two years ago!) and if I don’t get in via the Winnipeg lottery next year, I’m probably going to contact them about doing a “BYOV” (Bring Your Own Venue), to perform “Criteria”. (A number of people here have asked me when they’d get to see “Criteria.”)

Friday morning I did an interview at the CBC. One of the reporters there is doing a show about shows about Karaoke. There are four of them in this year’s fringe, and as soon as she approached me, I knew what she was aiming for. “So you want to do the karaoke symposium?” Had I thought of it at the time, I would have called it the “Karaoke Colloquy,” but maybe next time. That show is due to air at 5:00 this afternoon (Saturday) on CBC 1 (AM 990), and Monday on CBC 2 (FM). Again, I can’t say enough about this fringe covering the bases publicity-wise.

On the downside of publicity, my review appeared on the CBC website. It said …
“Like the karaoke contestants he portrays, Tim Mooney works his heart out to get the audience on his side, but ultimately his one-man show falls flat. The problem doesn’t lie with the concept. Any number of audience members were willing to belt out “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” during the pre-show, evidence that karaoke at the Fringe is an idea whose time has come. The difficulty lies in the script, loosely plotted around a karaoke competition at a cheesy bar. The story of the five competitors is told through a series of musical soliloquys composed by Mooney’s collaborator Ray Lewis. These fail to hit a sharp enough note for each character, leaving Mooney the task of making each singer distinct. Sadly, his energetic performance and quick costume changes are not enough to give the characters the depth they lack. The result is much like that other, more obnoxious, karaoke competition known as Canadian Idol. When the contestants are indistinguishable from one another, no one really cares who wins at the end.” (Iris Yudai)

And yet, this was quickly counterbalanced by Robin’s review:
”If karaoke is a guilty pleasure, then Chicago actor Tim Mooney should be found guilty, convicted and sentenced to a sellout every night. Mooney, an avowed karaoke fanatic, has transformed his favourite pastime into a unique solo musical extravaganza which showcases not only his acting ability, but his singing, lyrical and dancing talents.The premise is this: Five male singers, each of differing personalities, are competing in the finals of a karaoke contest at a local bar (sort of a poor man's version of "American Idol"). As each contestant comes on stage, he begins to sing a popular tune which then morphs into a totally original song, co-written by Mooney (lyrics) and the incredible Ray Lewis (music). And through the lyrics and Mooney's vocal/physical performance, the audience receives an insight into each contestant's personality – his desires, his fears, his weaknesses and vulnerabilities.One of Mooney's many strengths is his ability to "engage" his audience on an individual level. Not only does he solicit volunteers to join him on stage, he does not hesitate to extend his stage into his audience, climbing over rows of seats to sing to a captivated young woman. One of his characters goes so far as to engage one or more female audience members in "musical bondage" - binding them to each other and to him with his microphone cord, while nary missing a beat nor a lyric. The entire audience laps it up.So which of Mooney's characters wins the karaoke contest? Quite frankly, the answer is irrelevant, because in this case, the audience is the winner.” (Robin Chase)
Of course, Robin is a friend, and that must be factored into the review, but other reviews will continue to emerge to sort this out. Interesting that both review cited the “Idol” shows, especially considering that I’ve never watched that show all the way through.

Friday the DVD had STILL not arrived!

BUT, I received word that the DVD which was supposed to reach me in Thunder Bay had, at last, arrived. I begged them to overnight it to Winnipeg.

One last time I performed “KKV.3.0” for a Winnipeg audience. About 40 people were attending at 1:30 on a Friday afternoon, which was a welcome surprise. Other shows at my venue were, in fact, doing better, but I had broken the “surface tension” surrounding my show. I look to my show later today (5:45 on a Saturday) as the test of whether I can sell out this thing.

Again the performance went very well, and, as usual, Sergio’s big number was a big hit. I found a giggler in the second row and went for her. I climbed over the chair in front of her and then kicked it, roguishly, out of the way while wrapping the cord around her. And again, that’s a difficult bit of theatre to live up to. It’ll be interesting to see how the whole show plays with that towards the end.

And while the show was well received, there was one dour expression in the fourth row that I’m certain had to be a reviewer. She sat alone and didn’t take any notes through the show, which would have been a giveaway, but she didn’t seem to be there for the sake of her own personal enjoyment, either. (I am hoping this was not the “Free Press” reviewer. Maybe it was a reviewer from the less-read “Winnipeg Sun.”) I tried to get her to come up for the tango scene, but that was no-go. I did get a young girl sitting behind her to come up, and she responded perfectly in step.

With the show done by the early afternoon, I managed to catch a few more that night: “Fat Tuesday” was surprisingly good (don’t be fooled by the provocative photo on the flyer); and “Knee Deep in Muck,” seen for the second time is a great tale of a personal struggle in the face of daunting obstacles.

Side note: Twice that day, I heard the line “You snooze, you lose,” as dialogue in a play. Remind me never to use it in one of mine.

Later, more hanging out at the beer tent, and visiting with my friend, Anne Marie, who was always very generous about wearing my stickers in eye-catching places for “Moliere Than Thou” a couple of years back.

And now, back from Fringe Central, where the DVD still hasn’t arrived (now promised for 5 p.m. arrival), I ran into Susan Jeremy who noted, “Great picture of you in the paper today!” I’d already seen the Free Press, so I knew that it had to be the Sun.

“Was there a review, too?” I asked.

“Yes, but I gotta warn you …”

“She hated it, I know.” I was relieved. The woman who hated the show Friday afternoon was from the Sun, and not the Free Press. I even felt a little defiant about having pegged the reviewer accurately.

“She just didn’t like the audience participation parts,” Susan noted.

“Hah!” I thought. “She didn’t like it because she’s angry at herself for not having the wherewithal to participate. After all, when she refused, I went on to someone else who’d done an incredible job.” So, I went and picked up the paper:

“A rock opera that doesn’t rock, “Karaoke Knights” stars a quintet of writer-actor Tim Mooney’s alter-egos, all vying for a karaoke crown, but singing original songs that don’t capture our attention until the third act – when sleazy Serge and beach-boy Brian get dirty and Tim performs the catchy “I’m Looking for a Groupie.” Heavy on the audience participation, it’s basically about the multitude of personalities – all losers – in one man’s body. But the characters are only fully realized on the pages of the program.”

Yeah, well, it’s a fair cop, but obviously I think there’s more there than she’s choosing to see. We’ll get ‘em next time.

Temperature: Low-to-mid 70s, which they probably call the low-20s.
On the CD Player: “Another Day on Earth” by Brian Eno
Reading: Reams of media coverage.
Miles on the Vibe: 144,500
Discoveries: The anticipation of a warm, enthusiastic reaction creates the possibility of that reaction, whereas the anticipation of negativity creates the space where negativity happens. The trick is to trick myself into only expecting enthusiasm, even in spite of evidence to the contrary.
Next performance: Today (Saturday) at 5:45

Peace, love and fringe (Winnipeg has a 60s theme this year),


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