Thursday, July 28, 2005

The View From Here #97: Winnipeg, MB

So this “View From Here” goes out to my Aunt Marie, who died this week, following a long bout with Alzheimer’s disease. I miss you, Aunt Marie, and think of you often.

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.

Love,
Tim

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 http://www.winnipegfringe.com/.) 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),
Tim

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The View From Here #95: Thunder Bay, ON

The folks in Thunder Bay had been telling me how excited they were about me coming to town. At one point they were planning to have my show open the festival. Some rearrangement of the venues had nixed that plan, but they were also planning on putting me in to perform at a local restaurant, where my show would be scheduled for a dinner-theatre performance, as well as a “lunchbag” event. They were certain I would get at least a hundred people for each.

And so, in anticipation of that income, I bit the bullet to finally get some full-color posters and flyers. I was dealing with a Thunder Bay printer, and asking them to put it together last minute, and working from “power point” which is notoriously bad with “color separation,” but at last I would have full color promotional materials. In fact, I laid out my entire fringe summer schedule on the postcard, so that wherever I went, I would already have the info handy.

Not only that, I now have CD’s available, and my “I’m Looking For A Groupie” stickers, so there is plenty of Tim Mooney Repertory Theatre Swag in the car these days.

I didn’t get on the road until 8 p.m. on Tuesday night. I drove about four hours and napped at a rest stop. After the Quebec trip, this was the second instance of napping at a rest stop (rather than treating myself to a hotel) in less than a week, and my back was not pleased with me.

My memories of the previous trip to Thunder Bay, two years before were very present, especially after taking the turn into that Northeastern “wing” of Minnesota, just north of Wisconsin. You always assume that at that point it’s just a short hop into Canada, but it’s another two hours to the border.

I got through Canadian customs with just a few uncomfortable questions about my “swag,” and continued in to Thunder Bay in a much relieved mood. I headed straight for Fringe HQ, and found my technician in the multiplex theatre that we were taking over for the fringe. (Actually it was an abandoned multiplex theatre, and the mall we were in was a partial sponsor of the Fringe, hoping to increase the evening traffic, for a mall that pretty much shut down around 5:00.)

I quickly discovered that the venue rearrangement to which I previously alluded was in fact MY venue, and that I would not be performing in the restaurant, but the cineplex. Already, the information on the back of my postcards was wrong. And, I started to seriously question the previous estimates of a hundred people in the audience.

I headed for the printer to pick up my stuff, and they hadn’t quite completed work on the flyers. I got them to make a change on the flyers they hadn’t done yet, and sat down to rework the poster they were printing, in order to minimize some of the “pixilating” that the main image was doing when blown up to page size.

I went back and put up postcards around the mall, and got hooked up with my billet for the fringe (a local director and dentist with a guest room who seems to almost never be around).

That evening I performed my tech rehearsal, and we worked without the benefit of the DVD I was planning to use. My engineer in Cleveland had just completed work on the disc the day before, and would be overnighting it to me for arrival before tomorrow’s show. And so, we rehearsed with an audio CD instead, that would at least have everything in the right order. (Just as a precaution, I had put the script for the former version of the play into the binder, and warned my tech guy that all of this would change if the DVD did not come through.)

So, the postal service doesn’t overnight things to Thunder Bay. Two days at best. I didn’t find this out until a couple of hours before the show. I hadn’t been rehearsing the “old” version of the show. In fact, several songs had been reassigned to different characters, so I had to re-envision them back the way they were, which just feels wrong to me now.

There was only time to work through the show once in the new/old order, and I realized that, more than nailing each song perfectly, the virtue most in demand would be the ability to go with the flow and improvise my way through. In that light, there was a wine and cheese reception to open the festival, and I had a little something to loosen me up.

There were four people in the audience for my first show. Actually there were seven, but that includes the ushers and the bartender, each of whom had to get back to work about 15 minutes into my performance. But, the four that I had applauded heartily.

Friday was my noon performance, and while the fringe producer actually took some of my flyers attempting to promote the show to some of the neighboring office workers, there were only five people in the audience. But, an enthusiastic five.

I was feeling pretty down about this fringe. And, especially down about having three “down” fringes in a row: Orlando, Cincinnati and Thunder Bay. Yes, I’ve been planning on not “hitting it big” until Winnipeg, but as the saying goes, “if three people tell you that you’re dead, you’d better lie down.”

Later that day, the Fringe producer asked me if I wanted to promote my show in the mall’s food court at six p.m. that evening. I said yes, but when the time came, there was a busker playing music in the food court. We went outside to the open park space in front of the mall, and I tried performing a number there, but no one came by, and a restaurant manager came out to complain. Besides which, we didn’t have a microphone handy, and I was starting to do damage to my voice.

We went back to the theatres, and I set up in the theatre lobby, performing for the hour before the 7 p.m. shows were to get underway. This time I pulled out my sound system and relied heavily on the microphone. People seemed responsive and I passed out some flyers.

I was enjoying getting to know some of my fellow fringers. The casts of “The Big Funk”, “Peepshow,” “One Frigid Shining Knight” and “Timmy’s Sexual Adventures” (no, not about me), were starting to bond, and planning on giving continued moral support in Winnipeg and beyond. The bunch of us went out to a karaoke bar Thursday night, and had lots of fun.

I had a much better feeling about the Friday night performance … assuming I could get my voice back. I spent the day warming it up slowly, singing through the show twice. There had been some good attendance at some of the other shows the night before, and my 7:30 Friday Night slot seemed to be my best bet of the run. I set up my set, and heard rumor of people actually stopping at the box office to buy tickets for my show.

I started my karaoke warm-up, and there were already ten or twenty people in the audience. They continued to trickle in during the course of the warm-up, until the show got under way with a total of 56 people in the audience (which meant that there were perhaps only 10 empty seats at the most). I announced to them that this was the biggest audience my brand new show had performed to, and they applauded.

The opening number, “Dreams are Waiting” is one of the strangest in the show (a fact that is fixed in the rewrite, whenever I get it in the mail …), so there was little response to that one. I then bring a volunteer up on stage for “Too Real,” and I grabbed a woman who I knew to be a local actress. As I sing the song with my back to her, I could tell, from the audience’s reaction, that she was mugging for all she was worth. They probably only heard about half of my words, but they were enjoying the heck out of the performance.

From there it was on to my Beach Boy’s number, “Left To Say.” Big smiles, big applause. Then there is the ballet parody: “Tempted to be Tempted.” Again, big response. And then, the notorious “Forward Thinking,” in which I crawl along the stage, climb down into the audience and tie an audience member to her chair. They LOVED it.

In fact, each song was working just the way I had envisioned it working. Many of my “acting notes” to myself were going out the window, because at this point it was no longer about objectives and character, but a moment-to-moment playing of the wit of the lyrics, and feeling the audience rising to meet that vision. “Bite My Tongue,” the tango number, was another big one, as I pull a volunteer from the audience to tango with me. She usually protests that she can’t dance, but then proceeds to do a fairly serviceable job, and the audience is thrilled to see one of their own doing so well so spontaneously. (It turned out that this one was at least a head shorter than I was, so there were no problems with keeping my face open to the audience while someone was dancing downstage of me.)

The remaining songs: “Looking for a Groupie,” “Say Goodnight,” “Taking Turns Leading,” “Gravity’s Pull,” and “Simply Nothing” were, in turn, spectacular, scandalous, naughty, sad and profound, and I could feel them there with me throughout. The only problem was that they were applauding so loudly that you couldn’t hear the KJ voiceover bits (which I sometimes rely on to tell me what song I’ve got coming up next). At the end, when I returned for my bows, they stood up in their applause.

And so, after over a year of working on this material, I got a peek into just how it “plays” for a large, friendly audience. If I can generate that kind of spirit in future performances, the summer may just end up on the plus side.

That night, after “The Big Funk” (which was excellent), we headed out to an official Fringe Party at a local dance club. Aside from dancing at karaoke bars, I don’t think I’ve gone dancing in years. My legs and feet will be paying for it when I’m performing today.

In the CD Player: “Another Day On Earth” by Brian Eno
Attendance: 4 + 5 + 56 = 65
Mileage on the Vibe: 144,000
Discoveries: Sometimes the greatest virtue is opening yourself up to the flow of the moment, rather than executing the trick perfectly. * There comes a point when the electricity of the performance is such that it is no longer about objectives and character, but a direct channeling of the wit that conceived the thing in the first place.
Next Performance: 1:00 today, Thunder Bay, and Winnipeg, July 20.

Monday, July 11, 2005

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

Oh, how the time rips past!

Back at home, I spent about a week working on “Tartuffe” and “Imaginary Invalid”: Watching videotapes of the shows, listening for words that went “clunk,” and rewriting things that have been niggling at me for several years. I signed off on my contract with Playscripts, Inc. (which already has a Tim Mooney page at http://www.playscripts.com/author.php3?authorid=451), and pulled together bio information, photos and reviews.

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

No really, go ahead. I’ll wait.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,
Tim

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

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. ...