Monday, November 28, 2005

The View From Here #104: Plymouth, NH; Brunswick, ME; Lynchburg, VA; Jacksonville & Lakeland, FL

Happy Thanksgiving Everybody!

Of course, you may not be reading this on Thanksgiving. Probably you have much better things to do, and perhaps you don’t even look at your e-mail on the weekends. (There’s a precipitous drop in replies when I release the “View” on the weekends.) If that’s the case, then “Happy Monday, Everybody!”

I seem to have found my way to Daytona Beach for Thanksgiving, enjoying the traditional Thanksgiving breakfast of the All Star Special at the Waffle House. I am grateful for so many wonderful friends, family and acquaintances, not to mention the audiences who give meaning to all it is that I do.

In expression of my gratitude, my one commitment this Thanksgiving is to send a donation to the victims of the Pakistani earthquake. Coming on the heels of the Tsunami and the American Hurricanes, and largely out of reach of the western media, the suffering in Pakistan received less attention, while it is a disaster playing out in slow motion, the full effect of which will be felt as the weather turns colder and the people have no homes left to shelter within.

But, back to the tour …

By the time I got to my venue in New Hampshire, the weather had turned cold and rainy. This was the same venue that had cancelled my performance last year on account of snow, so they have begun to think of me as a bad-weather friend. Unfortunately, most of the theatre students at the college (Plymouth State) were in rehearsal while I was performing, so attendance was down around 30 or so. The performance was still well received, and the woman who arranged the performance wants to get me back again, only sometime when it’s warmer. (The good news was the hotel that they had me at, a spa with a grotto-like whirlpool, with an actual waterfall.)

Checking e-mails, a response rolled in from the performance I’d given in Interlochen (You may recall, this was one of the schools that has given me the “rock star” treatment):

“The teachers with whom I’ve spoken unanimously said that they enjoyed your performance and the students talked about your energy, your gestures, your costumes, your memory, and they especially liked the scene with Margie. The Dean of Education told me how much he appreciated this chance to enrich our lives. The Ecology teacher wrote me that this was exactly the sort of Community Meeting we should try to have at Interlochen. And I felt like the most fortunate of all of us, because I was the lucky person who could spend the most time with you.
Tim, your performance was all I had hoped it would be: rich and varied, burlesque and profound, passionate and thought-provoking, and I left our auditorium feeling as though Molière must have been smiling also.
… We did our little scenes of Molière last night, and today one of the students’ comments about how we might have done better was that we might have tried to be more like Tim Mooney.
… Thank you for making my life fuller, more fresh. I don’t think I’ll ever see a more Molière than thou.”

I was slightly delayed setting off to Maine the next morning, and what looked to be a late arrival on my part got later and later as I got lost several times. At least one of the misdirections I can attribute to an outdated map that indicated Interstate 495 when it should have been I-95. After that it was entirely my fault.

It didn’t matter much, as apparently the technician didn’t plan on giving me anything but the most basic lighting support. It was a performance space that they used for their “World Literature” classes (where they dabbled lightly in plays and performance). The theatre department gave them no support, so the technical work was strictly amateur. Only about half of the lighting instruments were working, and the technician’s idea of focusing the lights was to reach up with a stick and bump the lighting instruments to the right or the left. This left me with perhaps five square feet of useable stage space, and while the technician shrugged his shoulders, the teacher found a ladder, which I climbed. Pulling out the shutters on the lights, I demonstrated how you could quadruple the amount of available light without replacing any of the bulbs in the other instruments. It was a revelation.

I went on to address a French drama class, which combined French studies with acting. As such I improvised a combination of my acting workshop with my Life-of-Moliere workshop, which was extremely well received. One teacher promised to e-mail a friend in an upcoming venue insisting that she book my workshop as part of the event.

That night’s show had about 150 people in an auditorium that held 200, and their reaction was electric. I made my way back to the bed & breakfast. This B&B had the least “personal touch” than any I’ve ever stayed at. I don’t believe I even met the owners the entire time I was there.

I headed south, working my way to Virginia with several stops to visit along the way: I dropped in on Mel Yoken in New Bedford, Massachusetts. (He was a bit under the weather, but took me to a Jewish holiday dinner, (Shabbat?) where I felt just a little out of place.)

Saturday I was on to New York City and I decided that I would not hate New York City this time around. People who have read these lines before may be reminded that bad things have happened to me in New York in the past: Blackouts, performance cancellations, theft, parking tickets, traffic jams and high expenses everywhere I turn. As I pulled into the city, and found that I was NOT slowed by the expected traffic jam, I decided to expect, instead, to have a wonderful time in New York.

Expectations generate results: I had a fine time in New York. I had lunch with my friend, Terry, followed by a walk through Central Park. I met up for a drink with Suzanne, my stage manager from the New York Fringe, and I caught a preview of my friend Yvonne’s latest show, “Inheritors,” followed by dinner and a lively conversation. I crashed on Yvonne’s air mattress, and was on my way first thing the next morning, heading for Baltimore, where my sister Maureen, her husband Tim and I enjoyed flipping between the Ravens and the Bears’ games. (Somewhere in there, I managed to go jogging and get a haircut, too.)

The next morning, I was off to Randolph Macon Woman’s College, where they put me up at the Student Center. The only thing I can remember about this show is the good natured argument I got into with a French woman after the show, who insisted that the character of Monsieur Jourdain in the “Bourgeois Gentleman” would not be as effeminate as I played him. I tried to point out that “effeminate” was simply a judgment she had jumped to, and that my only focus was on making him “affected,” but apparently the modern audience doesn’t quite grasp this.

The next morning I got up early and headed south, pulling up to get a hotel just three miles shy of the Florida border. I proceeded to drive in to Jacksonville the following morning for the first of a series of four performances with the several extensions of the Florida Community College in Jacksonville. These shows were the product of some elaborate negotiations last spring, in which I lowered my price significantly for the “block booking.”

They’d warned me about the technician I was getting with this first performance (at the downtown campus), as the fellow was a student, but he seemed very eager to get the show to work, and I actually had no problem with the tech. The audience, however, was another matter. There were perhaps 20-25 in the house, and they seemed entirely unenthused about Moliere. At best, these were Gen-Ed students, who were seeing this show to get extra credit for a class, while their interests were clearly elsewhere.

After the show, I got in the car and headed East, to find a hotel near the Jacksonville beaches (Part of the discount for this school included making my own hotel arrangements.) Since Jacksonville was on the east coast, however, the sun is actually best in the morning. The several restaurants that overlook the beach (where all I wanted was to sip a margarita while sitting in the sun) were already in the shade.

The next morning, I proceeded to the Southern Campus of FCCJ, where I was enthused to see a very modern, well-equipped building, with a huge mainstage theatre, and a terrific studio space. I soon discovered, however, that they were putting my performance into a conference room across the hall, where they had set out some fifty chairs. The conference room was surrounded by huge windows which looked out over a lake. They could pull the shades over these windows, but that would diminish the available light in the performance area. A quick study of the room demonstrated that the only space in the room where there was NOT any overhead lighting, was the space where I’d be performing.

I think the technician found my complaints about this fact to be generally annoying, as he would disappear for some twenty minutes at a time, and took no measures to actually learn any “cues” that the show might hold. During one of his long disappearances, and when it was finally time for me to go get into costume and make-up, I called up to my supposed “host” for the event (I had yet to meet him) to point out the inadequacy of the setting. With that off of my chest, I tried to focus on giving the best performance I had available to give.

I was shocked at how good the show actually went. In the conference room setting, the audience was very close to me, and I could make extreme eye contact with them, constantly working on any portions of the audience that might start to waver in their attentiveness. While I wasn’t well lit, the audience was. It all goes to show just how unpredictable these things are.

Afterwards a couple of the French teachers lingered to chat, and one of them happened to note, in an aside, that my name had come up in a job interview she’d had in Northern Texas. I mentioned that I didn’t believe I’d ever performed in Northern Texas, and she suggested that it was one of those references to “the foremost authorities on Moliere.”

From here it was a quick drive south to Lakeland, Florida (actually about four hours on the road). That evening I was to give a Moliere workshop at Florida Southern College. It was quickly pointed out that many of the buildings on this campus had been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, including the lecture hall where I gave my presentation, which had once been an oddly-shaped circular library that now functioned nicely as an arena for my presentation.

The next morning I performed in a beautiful old theatre in Lakeland. This was a restored touring house from the turn of the century, one of many such theatres across the country, which was probably once a stop along the way during the golden years of vaudeville. A vast orchestra pit separated me from the first row of seats, and escaping the stage to navigate the auditorium was a bit of a balancing act during the Scapin scene. There were platforms from the set of another play, which would be opening in two days, already set out on the stage, which left me perhaps six feet of playing area downstage. There might be the opportunity to use these platforms for a particularly dramatic moment, but I would have to improvise that on the fly, as the busses of kids were beginning to arrive before I had time to rehearse anything other than the tech cues.

(I’ve discovered I’m not big on rehearsing these days. I almost prefer to have things surprise me in performance, if only to keep fresh a show that I’ve now performed at least two hundred times.)

As such, I only used the platforms a couple of times during the bulk of the show. After making an entrance from the top of the platforms, I would take a single step up, when I wanted to do something particularly theatrical, such as the “Stop Thief” poem and song.

I could feel that I was playing this performance near the top of my game. Doing the show for 400 or more students tends to bring the best out of me, as my gestures sharpen, clarify and exaggerate. One student had, perhaps a month ago, criticized me for overmuch “indicating” with my gestures, a comment which would sometimes linger in the back of my head during some of my less inspired performances. It is, however, when I am entirely capable of losing that critical voice in the back of my head when I give my best performances, and I could feel that this one was going well.

With the curtain call, however, I felt a terrific wash of energy from the audience. I took a quick bow, and exited, returning a moment later for a more lingering series of bows, and this time I stood on the highest platform on stage, perhaps three feet higher than I’d performed the rest of the show, and the students rose in their ovation.

Following the show, I stopped out for lunch with a professor who’d hosted the show in Florida a year before. I headed back to the hotel, finally ready to enjoy some of that famous Florida Sun at the hotel’s pool. I did, after all, have the hotel room still for almos another 24 hours, but the moment I got out to the pool, the clouds moved in, and didn’t leave the remainder of my time at the hotel.

I decided, at last, to arrange my Thanksgiving travel plans. I’d been flirting with ideas about where to spend my Thanksgiving for some months, but it seemed like every time I decided on a spot, that location would proceed to get hit by a hurricane. The decision came down to Jamaica vs. Key West, and I finally settled on Key West, a major advantage being that I could drive there, which would mean that my stuff would remain available, in my car, through the weekend. I booked two nights at a hotel there, and proceeded to keep my eye on the weather. A hurricane was forming just south of Key West, lingering by the Yucatan Peninsula and Cuba. The storm was downgraded to a tropical depression, but that only meant that it would continue to linger, screwing up the weather for the next week or two. I cancelled the hotel, with a penalty of about a hundred dollars.

I headed back to Orlando for the weekend, visiting with some of my special Fringe Fest friends, Patty and Sandra, while staying at Al Pergande’s house. (Al has written some very generous reviews of my work under the nom de plume, “Carl F. Gauze.”) Patty and I found a lively karaoke bar on Saturday night, populated by some rather colorful characters. Sandra (better known in some circles as “Sandra the Vegan”) is in on the ground floor of a new herbal tea / vegetarian café / progressive living restaurant. Al, meanwhile, has taken to buying yard sale stuff and selling it at a profit on e-bay.

Monday I was up early and on my way to another show at FCCJ, this one on a campus just northwest of the city. This technician seemed a little more interested in actually making the show work, and when we had trouble finding lights that were covering the space I needed, I clambered up into the “Front-of-house” area to redirect lights onto the area that I wanted. I found that, given the opportunity, I’m much more willing to be my own technician, and with easy access, I can refocus a whole row of lights in less than five minutes.

It was another thin crowd, and again, a large percentage seemed to make an exodus about halfway through the show. In fact, at one point, a bunch of exiting students lingered over by their professor, sitting in the second row, getting some kind of a document from him … perhaps a test, or a series of questions on the show. I was a little dumbfounded by the action, and I stopped dead to watch, though they continued their murmuring conversation, paying me no mind.

I found another hotel, and dug in to work on bookings once again. It had been over a month since I had so furiously worked on surfing through the websites of the several states I’d thoroughly explored, and the vastness of doing such a job on a state like Texas had intimidated me away from even starting that process once more. I decided instead to pull out my old list of theatre faculty from Texas, at least getting my latest available dates into their hands.

Which meant that it was finally time to plot out the 06-07 tour! After months of delay, pondering which conferences I’d be attending: Sci-fi conferences, French teacher conferences, Theatre conferences … I plugged in the ones that I thought would do me some good, and then plotted out a schedule which would enable me to hop most effectively from one to another.

Of course, this process is entirely arbitrary. As soon as I accept a single booking that is outside the parameters of this schedule everything else goes up for grabs, and I proceed to schedule and reschedule the tour ad infinitum.

I finished off my Jacksonville tour with two performances on the same day. I had a 10:30 show for a high school group at the FCCJ “Kent Campus,” followed by a performance for the college students two hours later. I knew already which would be the better show.

The high school kids loved it. They were vocal in their response, and some had even taken to whistling to indicate their approval of a particularly provocative line. The scene with the Tartuffe volunteer caused something of a sensation, particularly when Tartuffe slips his hand around the volunteer’s waist to draw her closer. (This may have something to do with the belly-exposing shirts that are so much in fashion these days, which makes the gesture a bit more intimate than it might otherwise seem.)

Two hours later, it was a struggle even getting a volunteer to come up on stage.

Fortunately, though, I was wrong about how well the show would go. While I’d assumed the response would be as indifferent as it had been at two of the other three FCCJ shows, this one was a little more lively. In fact, I found myself improvising my way through the emotional content of the show. While all of the words and actions were the same as always, the process of performing the show twice in the course of a couple of hours left me somehow freer to try new things. I could hit certain emotional moments “at a run” as it were, and I could articulate the words fully while allowing myself to be hit by each new discovery more fully than on other occasions.

This is, of course, a paradox to me. I was feeling the show as freshly as ever, but this freshness was the product of having done the thing once already.

Perhaps a part of the “freshness” was the assumption that I would get nothing from this audience in the way of emotional reaction, which led me to simply lay everything out there, independent of their reaction, much in the same way I had to perform in the theatre with the huge orchestra pit.

After the show I loaded up and hit the road again. I’d cancelled the Key West hotel, but had decided to look for something on Daytona Beach. I made a few calls to hotels that had coupons in the books that are available at the various rest stops, but few had rooms available through Thanksgiving. One hotel that had internet access, and a pool, was only available for two nights. I headed for it, but when I arrived, I was drawn to the hotel next door. Their view of the ocean seemed much better than one that would demand a certain craning of the neck.

The proprietor, and seemingly most of the guests at this hotel, speak French. I have to assume that they book mostly through travel agencies in France. I got a room on the third floor, and have spent the last two days, when not out at the pool, pushing through more marketing of the show. With the new schedule redrawn, I have put out a mailing to my list of “maybe next years” as well as my list of “definite maybes” for later this year. A month without pushing the bookings has left me with very few performances lined up for the spring, and the realization of this has hit me pretty hard. Of course, I have a rather extended Christmas break to work on this, but for the moment, the spring is looking like a lot of driving with not too much to show for it.

… As opposed to this fall, which has turned out to be perhaps the best fall so far. I’m feeling much more secure than I was … was it just two months ago? I guess it was. The fall tour started on September 25 in Arizona. And I’ve done 19 performances and 11 workshops since then.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Miles on the Vibe: 161,000
On the CD Player: Fiona Apple: An Extraordinary Machine
Currently Reading: “The Truth … With Jokes” by Al Franken. -- Al is at his best at this one, and one of his funniest (and saddest) revelations may be the way that the Bush administration is not lying so much as they have no belief in objective reality. Al quotes Ron Suskind, in conversation with a “senior Bush advisor” as follows:

“The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality based community,’ which he defined as people who believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” [Al adds] “Doesn’t that sound like the kind of speech a Bond villain would make just before falling into his own shark tank? -- Of the other many funny parts of the book, one of my favorites is the many synonyms that Al finds for “credulous” to describe Tim Russert’s non-confrontational interviewing style.

Where was I? Discoveries: People who work me over to get me to discount my price probably undervalue the show in other ways, such as their commitment to technical precision or audience promotion. * And yet, this does not mean that the audience will necessarily adopt the host’s indifference. * Expectations generate results. * Doing the show for 400 or more students tends to bring the best out of me, as my gestures sharpen, clarify and exaggerate. * Sometimes freshness and renewed energy is the result of repetition.
Attendance: 30 + 40 + 150 + 75 + 25 + 40 + 450 + 40 + 200 + 50 = 1,100
Temperature: 40s to 80s, and getting ready to head full into the face of winter.
Next shows: Volunteer State Community College 11/29; Lipscomb University, 11/30.

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The View From Here #171: Summer, 2017

I began my summer heading south, with the last performance of the year’s “school tour” at the Christel House Academy in Indianapolis. ...