Saturday, March 26, 2005

The View From Here #88: Morganton, NC; Ferrum, Ashland, Roanoke, & Blacksburg, VA; Marietta & Milledgeville, GA; Ada, OH; Bradford, PA

It’s the busiest month of my tour! All things being equal, this one month could pay for a six-month vacation! (… assuming that I didn’t have, oh, bills to pay.)

“Making hay while the sun shines” is taking on a whole new meaning for me. This is no time to get caught up in self-doubt, or moodiness or exhaustion. Every once in a while something happens that makes me question, “How can this possibly work?” But as long as I tackle the task directly before me, and keep moving forward, I knock them down one after the next.

By the way, those of you who enjoy these tales of life on the road would probably enjoy Marcus Fernando’s “Canada Chronicles.” Parallel to my own reports, Marcus has released 75 of these hilarious chronicles, detailing his travels and travails around the world. To subscribe to his stuff, simply write to him at: Marcus_Fernando@hotmail.com. My favorite gem of wisdom from Marcus: “The best things in life aren’t things.”

I performed in Burke County, in North Carolina, at “Freedom School.” Ironically, “Freedom School” was completely surrounded by 8-foot wire fences, with a guard booth at the gate.

They were all very nice people though.

Their stage was a combination thrust/proscenium, with a little curved thrust, forming an arc. To the left and to the right of the arc, the lighting was terrific. In the center, it was terrible. In the rehearsal I asked the technicians to do what they could to adjust the lights in towards the center before the start of the show. I then put on my makeup and costume, and, upon entering, realized that they had never found the ladder to follow through on that request. The doors had been opened almost immediately after we’d finished, and 160 kids filled the chairs.

I spent the entire play sidling from one lit area to another. They’d requested the entire 85-minute play, and they were really responsive, early on. When “Tartuffe” is the 4th monologue of the show, (out of 10) the last six suffer by comparison, and in the dim light, somewhere around “The Imaginary Cuckold” I could feel that the air had been let out of the balloon. While “Precious Young Maidens” is usually a highlight, I could feel that the thrill had gone.

But up through “Tartuffe”, I was a hit. Having an adorable doe-eyed girl volunteer for the role of Elmire didn’t hurt. After that it was a long slow decline, but I was the only one to seem to notice, at least in the discussions afterwards. In fact the woman who hosted the event sent a terrific response: “The performance was stunning! … It really was an experience beyond what is available to most of the students here.”

From North Carolina it was up to Ferrum, Virginia, and I seem to have turned a three-hour drive into a six hour drive by not sticking to the interstate. For the last few years, I’ve been driving past the Blue Ridge Parkway without driving on it, and, with a little extra time, I found my way up to it, where the ride was smooth and the views were gorgeous. I pulled into Ferrum a little after sundown, found my host and got checked into the school’s guest apartment. I then went looking for some dinner.

I passed the Dairy Queen. … and quickly found myself out of town.

I drove back, drove up and down a few streets.

The only restaurant in town … at least the only one open after 7 p.m. … was the Dairy Queen.

Dairy Queen it was.

Unfortunately, the theatre director had scheduled my visit at the same time as he was in technical rehearsals for a show due to open that weekend.

Which meant that the guy who hired me wasn’t even going to see the show. And neither were the people who could supposedly benefit from the event, as they would all be in rehearsal.

There were about 25 people at the show.

But I got several free meals in the cafeteria that day, and had plenty of time to catch up on e-mails. I finally doubled back to e-mails that I’d left in my inbox from about 1999, and started deleting and writing to the senders. I got the inbox down to under 200 messages for the first time in years.

Anyway, the few who saw the show had big smiles on their faces throughout, especially one woman who turned out to be a local actress or acting teacher, and who volunteered for the Tartuffe scene.

The next morning I was on the road again, heading north to Connecticut, in anticipation of a show in New Hampshire on Saturday. It was a good 12 hour drive, with a stop to visit Kathy Conery at James Madison University, and I pulled in to Connecticut that evening, staying at Debby Reelitz’ house.

Friday, I continued to work on e-mails, and began drawing up the next phase of the e-mail campaign that I had been putting off: writing to the French Teacher mailing list.

Late on Friday, I received a call. New Hampshire was expecting 9-12 inches of snow and Plymouth College had closed the school for the following day. I had driven 638 miles for a show that was now off. My next show? Was back in Ashland, Virginia.

Now, this was the low point of the passage. I had just barely started making “real money” for the month, and was back at the “break even point”, but the first of the scheduled dates that was going to put me back on top was cancelled. For a moment, I found myself visualizing all of the other ways that the remaining dates could be screwed up: illness, bad weather, car problems, food poisoning … I was suddenly conscious of the very tenuous nature of my situation. There was a lot riding on making it through the next two weeks. I started doubling my intake of my usual nutrition drink (“Re-liv”). And I realized that the visualization was as much a problem as what might potentially happen. The anticipation of negative results (“Things never work out”) creates those negative results.

I also had to question what it is within my thinking that made me suppose I didn’t actually deserve to have things work out … for once?

In order to make lemonade out of these lemons, I dropped a note to one of the profs I’d performed for last fall, who’d given me wonderful feedback and encouragement, and mentioned that I’d be driving by on Saturday, and would he like to meet for breakfast? His response was that he’d love to have me over for breakfast, and also to bring me in to speak to his Saturday-morning French class for a bit.

I readily agreed, pending the ability to get through the anticipated snow, and showed up on his doorstep the following morning. He was extremely pleased. His mother had died some ten days before, and he hadn’t held his class the previous weekend, and was still down in the dumps, so Moliere lightened his mood considerably. Later he wrote all kinds of good things that I’m already using in the e-mail campaign, ("I've been organizing and hosting cultural programs for well over three decades, and can't recall one which has engendered more positive discussion and genuine enthusiasm.") and promised to plug my show at the next AATF conference, where he is to be a featured speaker. All in all, the reworked itinerary was probably worth more to me than the previous plan.

That night I stopped in Baltimore and visited my sister Maureen and her husband, Tim. I got in a bit of jogging, and a bit of laundry the next morning, and zipped south to Ashland, for my show at Randolph-Macon College.

Again, I was in a guest house, and with time on my hands, I attacked more e-mails. I met my hostess for coffee, and headed to the theatre. Once again, the lighting was lousy. It was a movie theatre with a tiny stage in front of the screen, and all the lighting pointed directly down. Fortunately, this time my technicians knew what they were doing, and they quickly got ladders and started climbing, creating some angles to the lighting.

The show was fun. The “Tartuffe” volunteer was a somewhat buxom girl who was playful. During the “Scapin” scene, climbing through the audience, I found my way toward a young boy, and where I normally would grab for a program, pretending it was the court “transcription,” I grabbed the papers that he had sitting by him.

“What, you got a game of hangman going here?” I asked.

“Yes,” he responded, even before the audience had realized that we were now ad-libbing. The subsequent laughter threw me off of my lines for a while, but I eventually got myself back on track and finished off.

Overall the show went well, and quickly I was on the road again, this time driving late into the night to Roanoke, Virginia, arriving after midnight.

The next morning, I was up at 7:00, and found my way to the school. It was a huge auditorium, and eventually, more than 500 kids filled the space. The only sound equipment that they could get to work was a boom box, and the place was so full you couldn’t hear anything.

My contact for this gig had been the Foreign Language director for the entire county, and she had brought in French and theatre students from nine different high schools and middle schools.

A side note: She had written me a few weeks back, noting that a teacher had actually read my study guide and noted that “On page 38 of the script, Tartuffe brings a volunteer on stage, to play the role of a married woman whom he attempts to seduce.” Well, I was pleased that someone, at least, was reading the materials that I was sending out there, but to complain that Moliere’s plays have infidelities in them is like complaining that Shakespeare’s plays have murder. … Of course, I suppose they would prefer that.

I was … careful in playing the Tartuffe scene in Roanoke. The girl was nervous enough, and kept moving away from me, and for once, at least, I let her.

Actually, the Roanoke audience was terrific. To get 500 plus kids to pay attention to a 90-minute one-man show is no easy task, but I was feeling the power. If I felt them start to get out of hand, I would modulate my voice, get quiet, or pause, and come back at them with stronger stuff. The sound of 500 kids being silent is an awesome thing.

The next day I was on to Blacksburg for shows at Virginia Tech. It was less than an hour away, and I still had a day before any performances. I settled into the hotel early and got more work done. I met with my host, Patty Raun, who some of you Nebraska grads may remember. Patty gave me the special rock star treatment, giving me a gift bag of goodies and taking me to lunch. Back at the hotel I saw a car pull into the parking lot, pulling a trailer that advertised a karaoke company. I asked the driver and he noted that they were hosting karaoke at Buffalo Wild Wings that night.

I went on to give my acting workshop, and to do a tech rehearsal for Moliere. The show went extremely well, and the volunteer was very playful. Afterwards, the volunteer stuck around to say hello, and I discovered she was a high school student. “Whoops, I’m sorry, if I’d known that I wouldn’t have molested you so much.”

Patty and I and a couple of the technicians then went out to the karaoke bar. It was her first karaoke experience, and her students seemed to feel extremely privileged to see that side of her.

I had most of the next day off, and I set the e-mail campaign into motion. That evening, following another tech rehearsal, I performed “Criteria.” While Patty had to bow out afterwards to pick up her son, some of the students were throwing a party, and invited me to join them. One student demonstrated that, while the rest of the audience were getting their hands stamped as they came in to “Criteria,” she’d had the usher apply the stamp to her chest. Somewhere, in the middle of the party, one student noted that she had been unable to attend my acting workshop, and with some encouragement, I performed the “Tartuffe” scene using her as “Elmire.” Around me, I could hear the party getting very quiet for about five minutes, before finishing to a burst of applause. (The fellow who had been the house manager for both my shows, and who’d invited me to come along, suggested that “I hope I’m half as cool as you when I’m your age.” Hmmmm …)

The next morning, I was heading south. It was almost seven hours down to Marietta, Georgia, where my friend, Linda, had arranged a small, living-room performance for ten people, including my good friend, Cathy Maday. It had been a while since I’d done the show in that intimate of a setting, and it felt very tense and immediate. I could see a fixed smile on their faces through most of the performance, and I fed on my awareness of their interest. (Linda’s daughter was in the audience, and she turned bright red in the scene where my underwear is exposed.) They all stood up to applaud afterwards, and Linda’s son seemed especially appreciative. Cathy then proceeded to upstage me with a dazzling demonstration of belly dancing technique. Now it was my turn to sit there with a fixed smile on my face!

Farther south, I had more “Criteria” performances at Georgia College & State University. I’d performed Moliere for them two years before, and now I got back to town to see that the promotional marquee announced “Tim Mooney’s Criteria,” once again elevating me to name-above-the-title status. The weather, by the way, had turned wonderful. Trees in Georgia are already in bloom, and you can smell the flowers everywhere.

When I got to the theatre, I discovered that I would be performing in an auditorium that holds upwards of 700 people! I’d never performed this show for more than 100. And, in fact, the placards that were the extent of my scenery, probably couldn’t be read from any farther than the fifth row.

The ushers, after stamping the hands appropriately, encouraged the audience to sit up front.

There were only 42 in the audience for the first performance, which was actually more than anticipated, since this was the last day of their spring break, and many of the students weren’t back in town quite yet. The show itself went great. In the different environment, I had a couple of stumbles, getting my tongue twisted around a couple of passages, but with the larger space, I could feel the “lid” come off of the show a bit, as I could expand my gestures in a much broader range. And the response was terrific. Several of the audience, including students and much of the theatre faculty stuck around to share their congratulations.

After the show, I noted that I was now all wound up from the performance, and that you couldn’t buy beer on Sunday night in Georgia! (How could I have forgotten? I’ll have to add this to the list of discoveries.) One of the students, overhearing this, called a friend from next door, who brought over an extra bottle of Guinness from her fridge.

The next day, I gave my usual workshop to an acting class, and since it was a class which was almost entirely women, I didn’t do the usual “Tartuffe” exercise, but instead worked with a “Misanthrope” exercise that I’d done only once before. This time, it seems, I explained it better than before, because it worked incredibly well, demonstrating the power of using the audience in an argument. (It’s an exercise that I refer to as “The Jerry Springer Show.”)

That night I performed the show again (and I seemed to have a couple of ‘groupies’ returning for a second showing), but while I was more confident than the night before, the impact of the show seemed lessened. Perhaps, with another rehearsal under my belt, my recital had become a bit rote. Or, just as likely, this was more of a student crowd than the night before, and they were there because they had to be for a class. There were persistent coughs through much of the show, and it was really starting to annoy me. I felt like “staring down” the coughers, but it was of no use. In fact, I had been tempted to cough, myself. The air was particularly dry, and I could feel some particle of some sort had found its way to the back of my throat. There is, of course no way of stopping to swab the back of your throat during the course of a one-man show, so I pressed on ahead, wondering what kind of a bug I was in the process of swallowing.

And yet, there’s that scene with my pants around my ankles, and suddenly they were all healed of their conditions. I heard almost no coughing through the remainder of the show.

Afterwards, I said a fond goodbye to several of the students who were very enthusiastic about my show, many of whom remembered me from my performance two years before. While I live quite an itinerant life on the roads, there are a variety of programs where I really feel like they’ve adopted me as one of their own, like an occasional fixture on the faculty.

I went out for a drink with my friend, Melanie, who I’d met at the American Assn of Teachers of French conference in Atlanta last summer. She and Tina (from Portland) and I had spent a good deal of time hanging out together at the conference when we all discovered that we seemed to have Milledgeville in common.

I drove the long haul north to Ada, Ohio the next day, about 12 hours on the road, and while everyone was very helpful, it was rough getting my internet hookup reestablished, and my e-mail campaign was stalled halfway through. And so, eventually, I started writing these long-delayed observations instead.

The next day was full: I taught an acting workshop in the morning, focusing back on “Tartuffe” again (they’d studied the play recently), followed by a French class in the afternoon. (It was the school’s French teacher who’d lobbied to bring my show in.) And then “Moliere Than Thou” that night.

There were at least ten technicians on hand to run “Moliere Than Thou!” They spent most of the rehearsal (and, I assume, the performance) sitting around waiting for something to happen that might require them actually doing something.

I assume that most of the shows that come in for this arts series are big events with big sets and large casts, but I just didn’t have enough “needs” to give them a sense of purpose, and I couldn’t bring myself to sending them off to fetch me coffee, or the like. (Of course, most of the crew was there to earn credit for their Intro to Theatre class, but I couldn’t think of a better way of turning students off to theatre for life than to force them to hang around doing nothing through the course of a tech rehearsal and a performance.)

I was amused by the sign on the green room door that indicated that the green room was “for the use of the cast of “Moliere Than Thou” only.” Once I’d gotten into my make-up, I felt like I had to at least go and sit in the green room for thirty seconds or so, just to put it to some use.

The show itself went very well, with about a hundred scattered around the large auditorium. I did an interview immediately beforehand with a local journalist, and when it came time to get a volunteer for “Scapin,” the French professor had his arm twisted to join me. It turns out he was a bit of a ham, and was satisfying his own sense of humor on a meta-theatrical level such as occasionally speaking a line in French, and sitting down on the stage after I’d left to climb through the audience. It wasn’t helping the audience follow the humor as I had written it, but at least the fellow’s wife was a good laugher, and she’d kept the rest of the audience responsive through the course of the show.

I finished the show, packed up (had all the assistance I might ever need in loading the trunk back into the car), and was on the road early the next morning, heading for the last show of this leg of the tour (at last), in Bradford, Pennsylvania.

Of course, what I wanted was to turn west at that point, but found myself instead going six hours east, where I had another workshop to teach at three o’clock that afternoon. Once again, the kids were really responsive, and this time I worked through both the “Tartuffe” and the “Misanthrope” exercise. When I performed the “Tartuffe” monologue for the students, I found myself reminded of my hypnotist analogy: the volunteer Elmire was extremely resistant in that scene, finding Tartuffe himself extremely offensive to her religious sentiment. She would stiffen up like a board when I would come close to her. And yet, three feet away, one of the students was falling under the hypnotic spell of the power of Tartuffe’s persuasion.

I was in a new theatre space: a brand new theatre space. Mine was the first performance that would happen in their thrust studio space. (The kids, who are opening their show in two weeks, envied me that fact.) It was also the first place that had hired me to perform “Criteria” exclusively, and not as a follow-up to “Moliere Than Thou,” and it was good to know that the show stands on its own. (It was the sixth performance of “Criteria” in this month, and it really seems to have come into its own in this time.) It took the lighting designer a while to get the bugs out of the system, but eventually the light plot he’d set up worked like a charm.

Before the show, I stopped to check my voice mail. There was a message from my brother, Kevin, that my father had experienced what they were calling a “mini stroke” (also known as TIA). He was all right now, and would be staying in the hospital overnight, but it was startling to have real life intervene. Fortunately, I am now ready to head home, and I will in fact be home before I get the chance to send this out, but for the moment, I still had a show to do.

I threw myself into it, knowing that I could not stop to think about what might be going on back home. Every time I did, I pushed myself farther into the character, feeding off of the emotional life of the moment. The performance went extremely well, though that hardly seems relevant right now. Please send thoughts and prayers for Dad.

(I am now back home, and Dad is doing fine.)

Love,
Tim

Miles on the Vibe 133,500
In the CD Player: Eagles: The Finest Hits of
Attendance: 160 + 25 + 50 + 500 + 10 + 20 + 60 + 50 + 42 + 15 + 60 + 8 + 120 + 60 = 1,180
Temperature: 20s-80s
Discoveries: I am making hay while the sun shines. I tackle the task immediately in front of me, and refuse to get caught up in moods or self-doubt. * The anticipation of negative results, such as “Things never work out,” creates those negative results. * You can’t buy beer on Sundays in Georgia. * Coughing is optional. * There are some programs where I really feel like the faculty has adopted me as one of their own. * “Criteria” can stand on its own.
Next shows: Luther College, Decorah, IA; Illinois Wesleyan University, Bloomington, IL

Monday, March 07, 2005

The View From Here # 87: Gresham, OR, Palos Verdes & Long Beach, CA, Houston, TX, Greensboro, NC

I sometimes despair of the fact that I will not ever be able to capture all the details passing by as weeks pass between “Views.” I then realize that some of you probably despair that I will.

I am about 5,000 miles along the road since the last time I checked in. From Pocatello, Idaho, I raced on to Portland, Oregon, and a beautiful hotel/bed & breakfast/brewery/winery where I was being housed for two nights. Early on I was actually frustrated by the fact that there were no TV’s in the room, or phone connections. As time passed, I grew to appreciate the fact that this led me out of the room itself, and down to the winery, where cordial fraternity ensued. (There was a party of 8 lesbians celebrating a birthday.)

The hotel (McMenamin’s) was painted all over, with a different painting on every door, and even paintings on the hot water pipes, or any odd surface.

I arrived at Mount Hood Community College on a beautiful blue-skied day (the weather had been kind to me already, crossing the mountains in February). Mount Hood and Mount Saint Helens stood out vividly in the distance.

I met my host, who actually had first met me on the trip to Martinique two summers ago, and he led me to the performance space, which was a lecture hall next to an art gallery. What nobody had told me was that they were re-flooring the space, and the bare cement floor was interrupted by three power outlets elevated three inches above the surface. By some heightened sense of awareness that I don’t understand, I never came tripped over these during the show.

The 200-seat hall was eventually filled with 170 audience members (a good rear-end-to-seat ratio), and their response was great. It was a noon show, and the school had recruited some high schools to attend. Remembering the last noon show that I’d done had been interrupted by a 1 pm exodus of students going to their next class, I had suggested that we do my 1-hour version of the show, followed by a 1-hour lecture on Moliere’s life. My webmaster, Bruce (who’s been promoting the show for years, but only managed to see it for the first time now), noted that the lecture was as successful as the performance. A teacher, who’d seen a teaser that I put into the program, requested hearing my rendition of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” and I sang a verse of it to big cheers. I think the French professor wanted to get in a final word of thanks, but he was drowned out. (I noted sardonically the fact that 8 years of scholarly work on Moliere was upstaged by twenty seconds of singing.)

The professor is already suggesting that he’d like to get me back again for next year. One of the high school teachers e-mailed immediately afterwards with the perfect endorsement: “We really enjoyed the show. The students asked today if they could memorize some of these dialogues in French and act them out for the class. Thanks for offering the opportunity to inspire them.”

I continued into Portland proper, visiting with my friend, Tina. (I met her at the conference in Atlanta, where she failed in her efforts to set me up with her sister-in-law.) Tina brought me in to speak to a class of middle-school acting students the next day, which is quite a task. Getting their attention is like herding kittens. Afterwards we went to the famous Powell’s Books, where I bought three or four Moliere biographies and a book or two by Isaac Asimov.

I stopped in Salem the next day, visiting brother Pat (and Kathy and Ryan and Michael), before heading along again, this time to San Francisco. While I’d been receiving reports about the terrible rain that California had been getting, my visit was more sunny than not. I stayed, once again, with Stephen and Kajsa, and we hit the karaoke bar that night. Before racing on ahead, I had a really nice dinner with Mia, who’d had a one-woman show at the SF Fringe last fall.

And again, I was on my way south, pausing in Porterville to meet with a French teacher/theatre enthusiast (Alfonso) for lunch and a tour of the local community theatre. An enormous rainbow appeared over the mountains nearby.

I pulled in to L.A., staying with my friends Thessaly and Casper (also from the San Francisco Fringe). The next morning I actually went jogging again (my exercise program has fallen off miserably) around the lake at Echo Park, and noticed the impact that the rains had on L.A. There were sidewalks that had been overrun with turf, as the sod on the neighboring hill had slid completely off of the mud. Some homeowners had taken to covering the hills bordering their property with plastic sheeting, so that the rain could not soak into the ground any more.

From there, I went on to Redondo Beach, where my hotel overlooked the Ocean. The weather was bad, but the next day it cleared and the view was terrific. The hotel had a pool, so my exercise routine was gradually resuming. The show was in a private school in Palos Verdes, on a high hill overlooking Los Angeles. Again, the response was terrific. “Tartuffe” was a little “too good,” as the cute volunteer brought a boisterous reaction from the crowd, and it was not easy getting their attention back.

They’d wanted me to perform a 40-minute show. The start was delayed, as the kids took their time coming in, and the French students recited an introduction to their fellow students. By the time I finished the show and got back offstage, it was an hour after the scheduled starting time. I apologized at some length, but both the French teacher and the principal insisted that it was okay. The teacher later e-mailed the following:

“I got feedback from my students today. They were a little surprised by the ‘Tartuffe’ scene, but enjoyed the presentation as a show. They said that it was the best performance they've seen at school during our assembly period this year. That's a compliment! A colleague also called me to thank me for bringing you to campus, saying that she really enjoyed your show. My department chair also said that she was pleased, and wouldn't it be great if we could have you come every four years.”

I grabbed a quick lunch with the charming French teacher, before heading off to a same-day performance for California State University-Long Beach (CSULB). I was performing in a library gallery space on the fifth floor, and there were about fifty chairs set up in front of me. There were about twenty-five students in the chairs, and people continued to arrive as the show proceeded. As they arrived, they sat off to one side or another, where there were tables on one side and easy chairs at the other. By the end of the show, there may have been some sixty people watching.

The men were slow to volunteer, so I “volunteered” the professor who’d hired me for the “Scapin” scene. I could sense he had a bit of showmanship about him, and I’d also noticed that his four-year old daughter was a bit restless watching the show (lots of people had brought their kids to this show). I figured if I got her dad up on stage, she’d pay better attention, which she did.

Again, the show went great. My “tip basket” had $24 in it. And the host is already thinking about bringing it back in next year.

I worked my way down to San Diego, where I’d intended to meet some old friends for karaoke, but both were no-shows, and I ended up singing with a friend of a friend. When I realized that neither Lisa nor Jeff were going to make it, I decided to head off early, to get east of San Diego and avoid the next morning’s rush hour. I worked my way to El Centrino, where there was no hotel room to be found. Apparently there was either a new mall being built, or a film being shot or both. There were likewise, no hotels in Yuma, and I decided to nap my way to Tucson, pulling into town much earlier than expected.

I met with the chair of my former department at NIU (now chair of U of Arizona) who, in spite of my unkempt air, offered to book me for the coming year. I’d already booked Arizona State for September 25, and it turned out that Sept 26 worked for UA, which means that I’ll sweep through Arizona in the course of two days next fall.

I pushed on to Las Cruces, New Mexico before finally finding a hotel. The next day, I worked my way back to Brownwood Texas, where I’d performed in January, and where the professor, Nancy Jo, has been talking up my show to all the schools in her neighborhood (if you can call the entire state of Texas a “neighborhood”). I offered to perform my musical for her and her students once again. It had gone through numerous changes in the interim, and another dozen of her kids who hadn’t seen it the first time came to watch.

I’ve decided that my juggling metaphor (keeping three shows performance-ready) isn’t quite accurate. It’s more like spinning plates. The Moliere plate only needs an occasional spin, and the “Criteria” plate needs somewhat more management, while “Karaoke Knights” is one of those wobbly plates that threatens to fall off the moment you look away. Knowing that I’d be doing a show in Brownwood, I sang my way through the show three times as I drove, and recited “Criteria” twice.

While I’m on the subject of metaphors, I’ve decided that developing a one-man show is like rearranging the furniture in your living room. Every time you move something, it means that something else has to adjust, which leads to more and more changes. The sofa may be right where you want it, but the end-tables no longer fit where you wanted them, and the lamps no longer illuminate the important areas… and who can see the TV from there? But hey, once you get it all just the way you want, then it’s just a matter of running the vacuum over it now and then.

Sunday night Nancy Jo and I relaxed and watched the Oscars.

Monday I was off to Houston. My friend Cheryl (who, like Nancy Jo, I’d also met at the ‘04 TETA Conference, a very productive event for me) had set up another performance, inviting many of her theatre-teacher friends. The turnout was very small, and while there were some really enthusiastic observers, there was at least one guy who obviously didn’t want to be there. (I suspect that the invitation to the play made him think he was coming to a party, and he was disappointed to find the attention on somebody else.) When I asked for a volunteer for the Scapin scene, he noted very loudly that he had to leave for a poker game “in a couple of minutes.” (Meanwhile, the gentleman whose home I was performing in made an exit of his own to take care of the dogs, I think.)

On the good side, the volunteers that I eventually got for Tartuffe and Scapin were a lot of fun. (I always enjoy when the “Tartuffe” volunteer forgets that her objective is supposed to be to run away.) Later that night, Cheryl’s boyfriend (who just happens to be a rocket scientist with NASA) and I sat up drinking beer, arguing the efficacy of sending nuclear waste into the sun.

I was working my way east again. I made it to Montgomery that night, and dropped in on the Alabama Shakespeare Festival the next morning, before continuing on to Charlotte Wednesday night. I enjoyed a dinner with the darling Cathy Maday, who I hadn’t seen in more than two years. I shared a couple of the songs from “Karaoke Knights” with her.

I finally pulled in to Greensboro, where SETC (Southeast Theatre Conference) was happening. I’ve heard about SETC for more than twenty years, but never attended. I learned my lesson from the Texas conference in January and stocked up on loads of brochures and videotapes before going in. There were a series of booths set up for a couple dozen Universities, and I worked my way through, introducing myself to the faculty, some of whom knew of me already from the e-mail campaign I’d been running for three years. There were also some faculty I knew from my alma mater SIU, including Bill Lewis (one of several who said he wants to bring my show in), who wrote the first play I ever directed back in 1980!

Friday night I performed “Moliere Than Thou” as part of the conference’s “Fringe Festival”, and the attendance was disappointing. Apparently, the conference had design awards as well as audition callbacks scheduled for the same time, so there were only about 25 people in attendance. I recruited my North Carolina friend, Forsyth, and her boyfriend, Wayne, to help, running the house lights, and distributing brochures and videotapes afterwards.

There was a publisher in the audience, and knowing she was watching kept me redoubling my efforts throughout the show. The small audience was theatrically savvy, and everything was getting big laughs. In fact, the only parts that didn’t seem to work so well were the volunteer scenes, as the actors who volunteered did not have that wide-eyed bewilderment that usually makes the volunteer scene so funny. At the end, the show got a standing ovation, and the feedback was great.

The next day, I ran the lines of “Criteria” twice. Again, Forsyth and Wayne came in to help out for the performance, and this time the audience was about double that of the night before.

It turned out to be the best “Criteria” yet. The audience was laughing at the opening music. I could feel a new level of control, where I could take that extra instant before moving on to leave the space for the audience to respond. There were about five seconds where I spaced out the next scene, and started to grab for my script, but as soon as I relaxed, the words came back, and I continued.

The “diner scene” got great laughs, and just about every line from the “waitress” drew more laughter. I found myself wondering whether I’d lost the audience in the last twenty minutes, as they went largely quiet on me. There were still a few big responses, so I had a sense that they were responding more deeply. And when I finished off the show and came back onstage for my bow, I received one of the more gratifying ovations I can remember. The audience seemed to realize, individually, that the show was over, and the applause grew as they stood up spontaneously. (That is to say, it wasn’t a couple of people in the front row standing up, with others standing in response to their cue.)

In retrospect, I was especially glad that Forsyth was at this performance. I’d read “Criteria” aloud to her, back in the fall of 2002, and it was her laughs that encouraged me to turn the story into a show. And more than two years later, the humor this audience was picking up on matched what she’d laughed at the first time around. On some pathological level, I’m glad that my reports of the success of the show can be validated by a witness.

I disassembled the show quickly and some forty students showed up at the workshop I was delivering a half-hour later, about fifteen of whom had attended one of my shows or the other. The workshop was actually my most successful event in terms of giving out brochures and videos, and even the students were talking about passing word on to their teachers to bring me in. Which makes me think that, as well as the shows go over, it’s the workshop that communicates in my “voice,” and people respond to me as a human being rather than as a character.

Finally, with the shows packed into my car, I could spend the rest of the evening partying. The hotel had about three bars in it, and I drifted from one to the other, checking in with familiar faculty. I ended up hanging out with my friend Leni, who’d been the first to encourage me to come to SETC. She’d helped me build backup costumes for Moliere, and she’s starting to talk about bringing my shows back to Austin Peay University.

It’s Sunday now, and I’m hanging out at Forsyth’s house, before getting caught up in the whirlwind of March performances. I’m staring down about 20 performances over the next thirty days! I’ll send this out as soon as I get my new computer up to speed with the group mailing address list (Don’t forget to sign up for the listserv! http://groups.yahoo.com/group/viewfromhere) Unless you’d rather not get these messages in the future.

Temperature: 60s
Miles on the Vibe: 129,400
Attendance: 170 + 400 + 60 + 12 + 12 + 25 + 50 = 729
Discoveries: Eight years of scholarly work can be upstaged by twenty seconds of singing. Likewise, the workshop, in which I speak (rather than Moliere or “Albert”) touches the students more directly. * Doing three plays at once is like spinning plates. * Developing a one-man show is like arranging the furniture in your living room. * Always have plenty of “product” ready to hand out, because you never know when it’ll be in demand. *
In the CD Player: A Martha Wainwright CD I can’t name without getting “blocked” by many of your servers.
Next Performances: Morganton, NC (3/8), Ferrum, VA (3/9), Belmont, NH (3/12)

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. ...