The View From Here #97: Winnipeg, MB
A note to Fringe Festivals everywhere: Enough with the cute pre-show announcements. This seems to be the year that the fringe saw the need to tell people to turn off their cell phones (a five-second conversation, at best), as an opportunity to engineer big audio production numbers that are sponsored by everything from local realtors to the CBC. Some of them are way over a minute long.
Some of them are hilariously funny … the first time we hear them.
Some of them are funnier than the shows we are about to see.
And some are longer than the shows we are about to see.
No, not really, but they do extract a minute from the available performance time, or the subsequent changeover time.
And lately, the venue techs, assumedly in agreement with the performers, have stopped playing them.
And what happens as a result? Watches and cell phones were ringing and beeping in TJ Dawe’s show last night.
Actually, the Fringe that handled this the best was Cincinnati, where a member of the Fringe’s board of directors would give a personal welcome / thank you / sponsorship note and cell phone reminder. Personal speaks of caring. Pre-recorded smacks of contractual obligation.
While I’m off the topic, what is up with Canadians and donuts, anyway? There’s a Tim Horton’s or a Robin’s Donuts on every other street corner (no Dunkin Donuts to be found anywhere), and they eat donuts at any time of day. In Thunder Bay, they brought in a huge box of them as snacks at the opening night wine and cheese party. (“Yes, I’ll have a glass of red, and can I get a cruller with that?”)
Actually, here more often than not, they refer to their mini donuts as “Tim-Bits,” which can be more than a little disturbing for me at times.
The other big menu item is French fries with gravy. I tried it. It’s really good.
One would think that with such dietary staples, that Canada would be a country of overweight people, and while, yes, there are a few, no, there aren’t a lot.
One last shout out to Canada: Could you all please just get a single index going, so that the Canadian dollar is, say, 66% of the American Dollar, and the Kilometer is 66% of a Mile, and Centigrade is 66% of Fahrenheit? It would make the math sooo much easier.
Back to my life …
So, where I left you last, I was still waiting for the arrival of the latest DVD, getting shipped from Thunder Bay. Whereas they thought it would be there for a Noon arrival, the Purolator folks refuse to guarantee that on a Saturday.
I had a 5:45 show, and they were pretty sure that it would get to me by “4 or 5.”
At about 2:15 they said it would arrive at the Fringe headquarters “within an hour.”
At 3:45, I called them back. The driver had marked the package as undeliverable and had returned to the station with it, and had gone home for the day.
I pretty much went through the roof. I insisted that the guy on the phone find out exactly where the package was, so that I could go and get it myself.
Anne Marie went with me to help me find my way to the Purolator building, which was, of course, way out by the airport. Also to keep my emotions in check. I played soothing Brian Eno music, and said things like, “I am feeling peace and joy and happiness … or at least I will just as soon as I DEAL WITH THOSE MOTHERF######S!
They saw me coming. They knew who I was by the rate at which I was moving. They gave me the package and I continued on my way back. I arrived at the theatre at 5:00, with a new disc in hand. I scrolled through the songs just to make sure that there would be no big surprises in sound levels, and I proceeded to perform the thing with no rehearsal to an audience of about 40.
This was going to be my potential sell-out show. Well, that didn’t happen.
Fortunately, the DVD worked, the sound levels were good, I anticipated the newly added song, and the reordered numbers; the show was tighter and pretty good all in all. As far as I could tell, it worked … at least for everybody but the guy with a dour expression about four rows back. With my luck, he’s a reviewer.
Sunday morning, I slept in, and went hunting for a car wash.
Not just any car wash. Two years ago, Niki McCretton had bought me tokens to the Krystal Klean car wash as part of our deal in which she borrowed my car for the week. In our rush to get out of town, we didn’t stop to use the car wash as we’d intended.
Those tokens have sat in the handle of my passenger-side car door for two years.
Every time somebody uses the passenger door, which is pretty rare in my packed-to-the-gills car, I would hear them clinking against each other. And there was no way I was going to just throw them away.
I looked up the Krystal Klean car wash in the phone book. There was only one of them, and it was at 3009 Pembina. Winnipeggers will know that that’s a fair drive … longer if you don’t really know where you’re going. (I stopped for donuts and coffee along the way.)
I drove right past the place, and stopped at a gas station/car wash to recheck the phone book. The attendant pointed me to the address, but didn’t think it was a “Krystal Klean” car wash, but a “Husky” gas station/car wash.
But there it was: “Krystal Klean.” I pulled up to the automatic car wash door.
And saw that it was operated by a keypad. Tokens would not work in this box.
I was just about to drive off, when I asked the attendant if there was still any value to these tokens. He pointed me to the self-service bays, where the tokens work.
I emerged with a very clean car. Unfortunately I am parked under trees that are dripping sap, so it’s dirty already.
I’ve been seeing more shows. I highly recommend “Torched” by Teri Lyn Storey, “Chasing Bliss” by Jolene Bailey, “A Canadian Bartender at Butlins” by TJ Dawe and “Sing Your Way to Better Sex.” Other good ones have included “Teaching Witchcraft” by Keir Cutler, “Grow-Op” by Rhe Kavangh, “Three Brides for Kasos” by Elias Kulukundis and “Ballad of Monish” by Marty Green. There are more must-sees on my list that I’m hoping to get to, mostly because I’ve enjoyed the company of the people who are doing them: “Self Storage,” “Freak Out Under The Apple Tree,” “A Brief History of Warfare,” “Gags 4 the Masses,” “Maudlin Dementia,” “Gloomology,” “Girls Guide,” “The Jewish Princess Diaries,” “Moving in Reverse” and “Driving Back to Vegas in a ’64 Skylark.” As I type these, I realize that with three days left, I am not going to see them all. I also realize that some of these plays have been falling through the cracks because when I look at the fringe schedule, they often trim the titles down to a single word or two, so that “Karaoke Knights; a One-Man Rock Opera” reads as “Karaoke Knigh…”
That’s easy enough to figure out, but when they shorten “Moving in Reverse” to “Moving In”, or “Driving Back to Vegas in a ’64 Skylark” to “Driving Back” then I fail to connect the title of the show that I want to see to the one that’s being indexed.
Lesson learned: the first word of your title is more important than all the rest.
And so, on Monday morning, I was up at 6 a.m. and off to the “A Channel” to perform a bit on the “Big Breakfast Show.” It went very well, the host interviewed me for a few minutes, wore my “I’m Looking for a Groupie” sticker, and I performed “Looking for a Groupie” on the set of the show.
Heading back to the house, I stopped for a paper, and the review of my show was in the Free Press.
“There’s a karaoke machine and actor-writer/song-and-prance man Tim Mooney sings a lot, but audiences should anticipate the sinking sensation of a bait-and-switch. The songs Mooney ends up crooning – 16 allegedly, but the number feels closer to 600 – are all original and all precious, clever and a bit dreadful, like the lesser songbook components of a lesser musical, Off-off-Broadway.
“Compounding the sin, the Chicago native gamely creates five characters who are supposedly competing against each other on this karaoke night, but they’re merely flimsy human hooks on which to hang the songs. Since karaoke is mainly designed to gratify the performer, at least one person in the theatre will be happy every performance.” (Randall King)
So … this one was decidedly unpleasant.
Hanging around the house the rest of the day, I let myself get into a funk about it. I lay in bed mostly thinking and re-thinking the play. Three bad reviews and one good one. Yes, people seemed to be enjoying it, but unless they were seeing it with a large house of people, the endorsements seemed to be less than ringing. And the only way to get that large house of audience, was to get the small houses of people worked up about what a fun show it was. I was stuck in that moment of trying to get the engine to turn over.
Again, this reviewer’s criteria was suspect. He was taking cheap shots rather than describing what was going on in the show, so he was not exactly contributing to any aesthetic discussion. I have to think that he was predisposed not to like the show at the outset.
And yet, there is a window to some growth. If he was so predisposed to be rude in his critique, then he could not have made any connection with me as a human being through the course of the show. And if I was not a human being to him, he could blather with impunity.
Which made me think about the Karaoke Jockey narration. Maybe I should be doing it live, rather than on tape? It would mean kind-of tossing the idea of this being a “rock opera” since I would be speaking live, but did anybody but me actually care? It would also mean speaking while trying to catch my breath from the previous song. I spent some time tinkering with the show, writing in new narration that would change the action into an elimination-karaoke contest, where one character would get eliminated after each round, enabling the audience to identify more deeply with the characters who remained, with a final face off between two contestants … which two?
Larry was the character closest to me. I could lose him most easily and take his songs on in my character as “Tim”. Brian, is likewise, kind of close to myself. He could go in the second round. That leaves Charles and Sergio. People like Charles, but they RESPOND to Sergio. And Sergio is kind of the uber-Tim, the guy Tim might be like, if he dared. I sketched through the reassignment and reordering of songs. It could probably be executed with a minimum of changes to the DVD. How soon could I pull it off?
Monday night I did my show at 9:00, with about 30 in the audience. That night, many of the fringe performers went to sing karaoke at “The Chocolate Shop”. Very much a dive, but we pretty much took the place over. I sang “Black Dog” and “I Think I Love You,” and some people said they could see why I was doing a show about karaoke.
Tuesday, I was barely clear-headed in time to do my 12:15 show, with a disappointing 9 people in the audience. Even Sergio’s tying-up number wasn’t working; the audience member was giving me the evil eye when I went to wrap the cord around her, and so I backed off.
I saw more shows, and somewhere in the middle of Jolene Bailey’s “Chasing Bliss” I got another idea for my show. What if I dropped the karaoke contest entirely and treated it more as a concert? What if I introduced the songs directly and talked about the real-life events that inspired them? People could connect more directly to me that way, and might identify with the song as a bit of reality, rather than a showpiece. I went home and started writing that version of the show, finishing it the next morning. I tried it out that afternoon, before going in to the theatre for my 4:00 performance.
I got a call mid-way through this rehearsal with the news about Aunt Marie. I strategized about attending her funeral between fringes, but that would mean three days of driving, or a thousand dollars in airfare. I had to sleep on this one. It’s one of those real-life events that interrupts and puts life on the road into perspective. And there’s always that twinge of guilt about what I should be doing.
Suddenly, more people than expected were there in the audience. At 4:00 in the afternoon, some 40 or 50 people came to my show. And responded heartily. What I had been expecting to be a long, slow decline had adjusted itself. Perhaps I had a better time, better word-on-the street, who knows? But Winnipeg was not a total bust, and the show that I was doing now was working.
I contemplated this, as I proceeded to see more shows, drink more beer and meet more people. Along the way, I heard from other people who I won’t name, because they have to live in this town, that the guy writing for the Free Press was a … a number of names (that the CBC probably won’t appreciate me putting on my blog). Besides which, if I just turn around and call him a snob in response, doesn’t that mean that I have de-humanized him just as much as he has me? But, to quote a friend:
“There's no way in Hades that he would choose himself to go and review a Fringe show about karaoke. So he was either assigned or it was luck of the draw. And very bad luck for you. That would be like sending an animal-rights activist to review a show about bullfighting. A mis-match made in hell. The outcome was inevitable.”
Interestingly, I have become aware that at least a couple of the folks writing reviews have been reading my blog via the CBC website. So while they’re commenting on me, I’m commenting on their comments and they’re reading those comments, too. Hopefully that kind of circular feedback may elevate the conversation. Or not.
Well, I’ve been writing this on Thursday afternoon, looking to cap off this installment with the much-anticipated “Uptown” magazine review. I’ve been chatting with the author here and there, which has led me to expect a review that is at least better informed than some of the others.
So I ran up to the Fringe district and picked up a copy of Uptown. The reviews were in alphabetical order. The review for “Jolly Roger” was followed by a review for “Lenny Brau.”
In other words, no “Karaoke Knights” review.
In fact, “Uptown” only reviewed 30 shows this year, out of 137 shows being performed at the fringe.
Worse, they wasted ink on about a half-dozen shows that they really really hated, rather than cover stuff that they might want to encourage their readers to see. I just don’t get that.
Well, whatever’s out there now is what will be out there for the remainder of the fringe, and if people decide they want to see my show, it’ll probably be based on word of mouth, which is not insubstantial at this fringe. One woman told me last night, “I told all my friends about your show!”
Temperature: 50s at night, 60s during the day; people are wearing jackets in July!
Miles on the Vibe: 144,600
In the CD Player: Karaoke Knights backing tracks
Discoveries: The first word of the title is the most important. * Audiences are either smaller or larger than anticipated; reviews anticipated are never what I expect … the important thing is to let go of Anticipation. * I suspect that it’s the lack of human connection in the show seems to lead the reviewers to less charitable stances about my work. * Real life has a way of reasserting itself, and reminding you that there are other things more important. * There is not to be any redemption in the press for this fringe, so all that is left is for me to redeem myself, which is probably more important anyway.
What I’m reading: The Winnipeg Fringe program, lots of flyers, passwords, and re-writes
Attendance: 30 + 30 + 9 + 45 = 114
Next performances: 10:30 tonight, 7:30 on Friday.