Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The View From Here #119: Norman, OK; Joplin, MO; Highland Heights, KY; Millersville, PA; Worcester, MA; Signal Mountain, TN

I spent three days in Norman, Oklahoma, attending classes and observing actors.

My tour schedule wouldn’t allow me to be present during the actual auditions for Precious Young Maidens and Doctor in Spite of Himself, so I was watching the actors perform in classroom scenes. Susan, the director of the shows, even pulled together a reading of the two plays, with me performing the two roles that I’ll be playing this winter.

I went around getting pictures and names of all of the actors. It would help for me to have a visual image during casting conversations. Ultimately, I will arrive in Oklahoma sixteen days before opening night, so I want to hit my stride quickly in rehearsal.

The readings went well. About forty actors attended, and we set up music stands with scripts, while I recorded the reading. My intent was to get people excited about auditioning for the show, and to “raise the bar” a bit with my (almost memorized) reading, so that the level of commitment would be high. My third goal was to start enthusiastic rumors about the show so that by the time opening night arrived the house would be packed.

I had a weeklong break, so I drove to Chattanooga, to make camp at Sabra’s house while working on several projects. I started planning the 07-08 tour, while making a concerted effort to edit The View From Here back down to manageable size. (550 pages are currently down to 430.)

I doubled back west to Joplin, Missouri, with a workshop and a show at Missouri Southern State University. They have a special mandate around International studies, and this was a part of their “France Semester.” I was arriving a bit breathless and last minute.

[Side note: when my hotel room wasn’t ready, I stopped next door at a Bob Evans Restaurant. I’d always imagined that if nothing else, they’d have good sausage. I was way wrong. They were tiny, dry and chewy, like the ones that they sell for your microwave.]

As this was sponsored by “International Studies,” I walked in ready to do my Moliere Workshop, but discovered that the 25 students in attendance were all actors. I adjusted the workshop as I went, still covering Moliere’s biography, but involving the actors with exercises from the acting workshop. (The workshop had arranged before my computer had been stolen, and I never checked in to find that it was the acting workshop they wanted in the first place.) Regardless, the response was enthusiastic, and the work with the Tartuffe monologue seemed especially exciting.

The show was in a small auditorium, and the host seemed unfamiliar with the operation of the light board, so I simplified the plans, and went on.

I can’t remember having this much fun with the show before. The audience was laughing at everything. The response to Tartuffe was electric. (A couple days prior to the show, a preacher in Colorado had gotten caught amid a very public scandal over sex and drugs.) The audience roared and applauded a line that they must have assumed that I’d written for just this occasion: “It is interesting to consider that even though this play was produced more than seven years ago, in 1664! … our ongoing scandals of the present day have kept this work just as pertinent as it was the day that it was first produced!”

The girl who volunteered for the Tartuffe scene fluttered with excitement as I drew her in closer, and the audience ate it up. Likewise, every time I revisited “Stop, thief” they laughed harder and harder. The show ended with a spontaneous standing ovation, and I paused to thank them (out of character for once), noting “There’s nothing I’d rather be doing on my birthday than performing for you.” They returned the acknowledgement by singing me “Happy birthday” on the spot.

Some of the kids told me where the local karaoke bar was, and I packed up to head out. I said my goodbyes to my hosts, and just as I was getting in the car, one student, who had been lingering quietly on the periphery of the others, stopped to ask me if I “knew about Jesus …”

The next day was a slow start, as my birthday celebration seemed to have gotten the best of me. But I was on the road by 10:30, listening to news of the Bears finally losing a game as I drifted in and out of the range of various ESPN stations. About 12 hours later, I was driving through Louisville, finding a hotel.

I’d assumed it would be a quick hop to Highland Heights, Kentucky, but I’d forgotten exactly which interstate ran past Northern Kentucky University, and I got stopped for speeding. After 206,000 miles of touring, I had my first speeding ticket.

I’d been to Northern Kentucky University about twenty years before for a Society of American Fight Directors workshop, but I only recognized a tiny bit of the campus. Fortunately, the French teacher knew an expert technician who understood, with only a slight bit of direction, exactly what I wanted from the light settings.

This was more of a lecture hall than an auditorium, so there was no “offstage” access. I sat, assumedly unnoticed, behind a podium that’d been shoved to the side, with probably just my hair and my feet evident to the audience who cared to notice, and waited for the music to start the show.

The crowd was composed entirely of French teachers and students. The Theatre department had been informed of the event, but had responded with a blasé “Thanks for the information,” so nobody from the theatre was really expected.

Afterwards, several of the teachers stayed behind to thank me for my work, and the French teacher, who was hoping to make the show happen again at some point, helped me track down the theatre department, where I found that the assistant chair was extremely interested in my work. I left him with flyers and continued on my way.

I spent the rest of the day in Cincinnati, swinging by Xavier and Cincinnati Universities, and visiting with my friend Tamara, from the ’05 Cincinnati Fringe Festival.

The next day, I continued east to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It was election day. I camped out in a hotel in Harrisburg and parked in front of a television for the night, watching one race after another being declared for the democrats. By the end of the night, they had secured the House, had picked up every open Senate seat but one, and were leading by narrow margins in the remaining two: Montana and Virginia. Even if the votes were close enough for a recount, a look at the 2004 election suggested that if we were ahead before voting irregularities were unraveled, then the wafer-thin leads would only grow.

My theory on this year’s election: It’s pretty well understood that once people actually know someone who is gay, they become more tolerant in the realm of gay issues. Well, this year it seems that some of the Republican’s best friends, people they’d spent millions of dollars on getting us to care about (as well as people from the church itself), were gay. And for the first time we have begun to find that sticking a “defense of marriage” amendment onto the ballot is not the slam-dunk that Karl Rove seemed to think it was.

Meanwhile every exit poll reveals that voters were overwhelmingly intent on bringing an end to the war. Continuing the war will keep the electorate in a mood for more change two years from now, and they simply didn’t have the opportunity to pass judgment on the remaining 66% of the Senate this year.

I had bought a new pair of glasses back in Chattanooga, but I was having trouble with them. At first I assumed they felt strange because they were a new prescription, but I was bumping my knuckles on countertops and losing my footing on staircases. It wasn’t until after a couple of celebratory birthday drinks that I found that I could not focus my vision on the TV set in the hotel room. I could watch it through either eye, but looking through both eyes simultaneously gave it a double image.

I found a mall in Harrisburg and brought my new glasses to a Lens Crafters. The clerk seemed confused, and brought the glasses back to the technician who, after quick examination, discovered that the Chattanooga Lens Crafters had filled the prescription for the left lens with glass for my right eye, and vice versa.

This struck me as the ophthalmologic equivalent of operating on the wrong limb.

In Millersville, I was just a few miles away from Lancaster, and dropped in on the French teacher at Franklin & Marshall College. I surprised Lisa, who had hosted my show back in 2003, and wants to get it back this spring. We checked out some of the performance spaces that the show might work for.

The next day, I did a workshop for the local high school students, and the host was delighted that 120 kids showed up. Afterwards, I made another trip to Lancaster to visit with Playwright Sandra Fenichell Asher, who had written four or five plays that Stage Two had produced back in the 90’s. She showed me over to the Fulton Opera House, and the Fulton’s Playwright-in-Residence, Barry, led us on a tour through the historic facility.

Back at the theatre, we ran a quick rehearsal and set up for the play. The theatre was a big barn-of-a-space, with a huge gap between the front of the stage and the first row. Fortunately, there were already lights focused on this “pit” area, so I alerted the technician that I may go into the audience more often than planned.

I had to push my volume and slow down so that the cavernous quality of the room wouldn’t swallow up my words. And with Sandy and Barry in the audience, I did very much want to do well. I wasn’t hearing a lot of laughs, and spent the play walking the line of “Am I doing too much?/not enough?” I could see smiles on the faces out there, particularly when I pushed off into the audience, sitting briefly on Sandy’s lap during the Scapin sequence, but the audience response still seemed relatively quiet.

After the show, people were as enthusiastic as ever, and it was only then that it struck me that any “muted” quality to their response was the likely result of performing in such a large auditorium. Just as I had to pitch my voice louder, so would they, if I was to hear them. Their laughs may have been as loud as any, but those laughs were circulating up in the rafters, and never quite bouncing back to me.

The next day, I was off to New York. The air had turned crystal clear, and so I managed to snap a couple of pictures.

New York and I have a difficult relationship, and this started off no different, as I got a parking ticket my first night in town.

I went to see Yvonne’s new play, The Truth, at the Metropolitan Theatre (It’s just officially opened this weekend, and I highly recommend it.)

Somehow, I always seem to show up in New York on the night that Yvonne’s having previews for a show that’s just about to open (4 times now!). Our ritual has been to stop out at a bar afterwards and talk through what is or is not working.

Saturday, Yvonne was back to work on her show, and I met up with Tom X. Chao from the fringe circuit. We walked around Soho, finding a bar and “people watching” for a few hours. It had started out a beautiful, warm fall afternoon, but was starting to get chilly, so I ran out to buy a sweatshirt from a nearby Army/Navy surplus store. Tom congratulated me on finding a plain black sweatshirt without any of the “I Heart NY” tourist crap on it.

On Sunday, a bunch of New York-based Fringers got together for a brunch, and I spent the afternoon with a bunch of people I usually only see north of the border, and during the summer. Later, I caught up with my buddy, Jose, and we found a bar to watch the Bears/Giants game.

It turned out that the bar also had karaoke, and so I was set for the evening. Unfortunately, with the game secure in the fourth quarter, Jose and I left, missing the 108-yard missed-field-goal runback.

Monday, Yvonne and I drove north to Massachusetts, where she teaches part-time at Clark University. I did a stripped-down, one-hour version of my workshop for her two classes, and afterwards, Yvonne remarked to the class, “Have you ever seen anyone who had more of a sense of 'Ta-Da?'”

Yvonne and I met up with the theatre chair, who wants to bring me in to do my show next year. He also seems to have a couple of connections for publication and further performance/production, so it was an effective side trip.

I dropped Yvonne back off in New York, and continued on to Baltimore. My sister Maureen’s dog had died recently, and she was still pretty sad about it. She and Tim and I went out to dinner, and the next day I was on the road once again, heading back to Chattanooga.

While driving, I was working my lines for Precious Young Maidens and Doctor in Spite of Himself every possible way, and by the time I got to Tennessee, I could recite my lines for either show in less than a half-an-hour.

I was running much later than anticipated for a workshop at UT-Chattanooga, and pulled into the theatre’s loading dock about two minutes after I was to have started. Fortunately, I had alerted them, and several people were out on the loading dock to help me bring in my stuff, and my workshop was underway by 2:05.

I was squeezing content from both of my workshops into a single hour, so I proceeded at a breathless pace, jumping through scenes from Flying Doctor, School for Wives and Tartuffe, and improvising explanations of the impact of scenes that I didn’t have enough time to perform in this setting. (Some of my explanations seem to go over every bit as well as a performance of the full scene does.) Finishing up with Precious Young Maidens,” I was reminded again of Yvonne’s “Ta-Da” comment, and found myself confidently giving that little extra flourish to some of the lines, which the students found hilarious.

I drove to Signal Mountain, northeast of Chattanooga, where Sabra is the administrator for the Alexian Village health care facility. She’d arranged a performance for her residents, and perhaps seventy of them filled the small recital hall (with an unknown number watching the performance from their individual apartments on the Village’s closed-circuit television system).

It was quite different from performing for teenagers. They were a more subdued group, less inclined to guffaw loudly at the crude gestures. When it came time to ask for a volunteer, no hands went up. Eventually, one gentleman pointed over toward Sabra, saying “How about her?” And so, Sabra graciously got up to join me, uncertain of whether she should pretend that she had no idea what she was doing, or if she should play it up. Likewise, I proceeded carefully, knowing that she had to come back and “administrate” for these people the next day.

For the Scapin scene, I chose the fellow who’d “volunteered” Sabra, and he blanched a bit: “I don’t think they can hear me …” he said in a weak voice.

“You can all hear him, can’t you?” I spoke up.

“Yes,” they cheered.

He was hilarious. He’d never acted before, and was obviously enjoying it, but just as obviously had no idea what he should be doing. The crowd loved him for it.

Afterwards, this “subdued” crowd was vocal in their appreciation. There was a small punch-and-cookies reception, and they commended my memorization, as well as my articulation. “I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to understand what you were saying, but I heard every word!” was one typical response.

I took a day in Chattanooga to get caught up on stuff I’d been putting off: I submitted my applications for what I expect will be a much more limited Fringe tour this summer, focusing on Minnesota and Winnipeg. I sent off Coca-Cola souvenirs (from an antique shop I'd passed in Missouri) to Jill in Orlando (She’d billeted me two years back, and had coca cola stuff everywhere). And I figured out my bank balance. Now that I’m wrapping things up for the fall, I have no guaranteed income until January, so I need to be confident that I can make it through the gap. (A sudden cancellation of a performance in Knoxville had put things in doubt, but the successful performance and payment for other shows had me back on top again.)

I drove north to visit Isaac in Detroit. Susan, the director in Oklahoma has been casting Doctor in Spite and Precious and her stage manager has e-mailed photos of all 117 actors who auditioned. I’ve been matching those photos up with the characters that she’s casting them as, which reminds me of the people I met amid the flurry of activity in Norman. I have very high hopes for the show.

On Sunday, I broke down and finally bought an i-pod. At least two of my acquaintances from the road (Tom X. Chao and Dave Romm) are producing podcasts, and I felt like I was missing out. It seems that I have finally reached the age where I can turn to my progeny to understand new technology, and Isaac helped me shop, and showed me how to download stuff onto it. While I was at it, I bought an accessory that charges my i-pod from the car’s cigarette lighter while simultaneously “broadcasting” the signal onto an empty FM channel in my car. This means that rather than buying a multi-cd changer for my car, I can instead download my hundreds of CD’s onto my i-pod, and listen to weeks and weeks of music (and podcasts) as I travel.

So far, I have downloaded the A’s and B’s from my collection, and already have two days worth of material.

And finally, with the exception of three days in September in which I didn’t even unpack my car or my suitcase, I’m back home for the first time since mid-July, and the fall tour is history.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Miles on the Vibe: 209,500
Reading: Back issues of The View From Here
Temperature: Dropping to lower thirties, as I continue, reluctantly north.
Discoveries: A given audience may be laughing very hard, but their laughter may be fighting the acoustics of the room, just as much as I am. * Keeping “Ta-Da” in the back of my head, helps light up the scene. * The older you get, the less interest you have in “Audience Participation.”
Next Performance: January 17, 2007, Central Methodist University, Fayette, MO

Monday, October 23, 2006

The View From Here # 118: Lynchburg, VA; West Palm Beach & Melbourne, FL; Brunswick, GA; Hillsboro, Kingsville, TX

Well, suddenly we are in “prime time,” with shows coming fast and furious. One sequence of the past weeks has found me performing the show five times in four days! While I love doing the show, I can’t relax during periods like this. Any kind of illness could cost me big time, so it’s a constant roll of the dice.

Of course, I’ve never cancelled a show in my life, so that’s probably just my imagination working overtime.

From Idaho, I raced home in record time (two days from Boise to Chicago!), catching a Pathways celebration, and visiting with my "Tennessee girlfriend,” Sabra, who was in town for the Pathways Advanced course.

I made a quick side-trip up to Wisconsin, where I had been cast in a commercial. It was a three-hour drive to deliver a single line: Something like “Before it gets too cold, I’d better winterize my car.” And then, three hours back. (Passing by U-Wisconsin-Whitewater, I couldn’t resist dropping in on Charles Phillip Thomas, who translated Secret Obscenities, which I produced in the mid-nineties, and which I believe is the perfect two-man fringe play.)

From there it was on to Detroit, and a leisurely visit with Isaac. We caught a Detroit Tigers game (this was pre-post season, when they were really tanking), and I stuck around town to see Isaac play in a football game. Mostly we were just awed at how big he looked in his shoulder pads. He didn’t get into the game until the last five minutes or so.

Back on the highway, I drove from Detroit to Virginia (My odometer tripped over 200,000 miles somewhere in Ohio!), dropping in on my grad-school friend, Kathy, and continuing on to Lynchburg, where the Virginia Episcopal School was hosting me. There’s been a ton of rain these last couple of weeks, and I was noticing swollen rivers, particularly through the Virginia mountains, but subsequently through all of the south.

Lynchburg is the home of Jerry Fallwell’s academies, and I really hadn’t given it much thought until I was up on stage, performing the show. Not knowing quite how conservative this audience was, I found myself narrowing some of my more expressive gestures. (No matter where I perform, the words are always the same, but the gestures seem to get more or less expansive, depending on how comfortable I am in expressing the not-so-hidden secondary entendres of the speeches.)

The auditorium was packed. This boarding school holds Saturday classes on a regular basis, and the kids love the occasional break from studying. I was really “on”, too. In the “School for Wives,” Argante tends to get carried away and catch himself being overzealous. There were several moments when his mouth gets twisted in his self-righteous indignation, and I found my eyes actually looking down to my mouth in the process of “catching myself.” The teachers reported loving the show afterwards, and when I mentioned my concern about the play’s seamier side, they were fairly flip: “We’re Episcopalians,” they responded.

Still somewhat uncertain, I asked, “Is that good or bad?”

I headed south, getting a hotel in Columbia, South Carolina that night (where I was a big hit at a karaoke bar), and continuing to Orlando on Sunday.

I dropped in on my friend, Al, in Orlando, who was going to a theatre fundraiser that night. He brought me along, and I immediately wondered if anyone I knew might be present, considering that I’d done the Orlando Fringe three times in the past. Within five minutes I had bumped into Rene and Billy, two of my biggest Moliere fans, who gave me a delighted welcome. I found myself in a couple of conversations about bringing Moliere back to Orlando, and Rene jumped in repeatedly, raving about the show.

I headed for West Palm Beach, dropping in on my Aunt Evelyn (who lives in Port Saint Lucie) along the way. I hadn’t seen Aunt Evelyn in about thirty years, and was very glad to see that she’s in terrific health. I hadn’t seen her daughter (my cousin) Patty, in perhaps forty years, and she, too, was doing well. And I’d never met her granddaughter, Judy, who was now grown up with kids of her own. We had a great visit before I headed south again (losing my way, searching for the interstate for a half hour or so), settling into the hotel.

The next morning, I drove over to the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, which is a huge facility. I got a peek at their largest stage, which seemed to have about 8 levels of balconies! I was performing in a smaller auditorium (capacity of around 400), and there was a staff of four people there to see to all the technical needs. They had even catered the event, and the breakfast buffet laid out for this one-man show seemed to rival the continental breakfast of most hotels.

Word had it that the attendance for these two one-hour shows would be small, perhaps 100 or so for each. As I prepared to go on for the first show, I got news that one of the schools (about seventy students) were tied up in traffic, and would be late. “Don’t worry,” my hosts said, “we’ll just put them into the audience of the second show.” And just as I entered to begin the show, the missing crowd of seventy students started to filter in. Very slowly. And ongoingly. For about five minutes.

At several points during this process, I wanted to say, “Hey, welcome everybody: you guys get settled and I’ll come in again.” But I kept thinking they were almost done. And by the time they were done I was five minutes into the show … a show I only had an hour to do.

Did I mention that these late arrivers sat far back in the auditorium? I had one row of close-sitters, and five rows of distracted chatters at a distance.

After finishing my Tartuffe scene, I introduced Don Juan, and as I usually do, I selected a boy sitting in the first row as my confidante in the Don Juan scene. And the very moment that I started directing dialogue to him, he actually stood up and left.

Assuming that he had gotten up to go to the bathroom, I adjusted my focus to a student who was sitting right next to him, and continued.

And then this guy, and the guy who was sitting next to him stood up and left.

I did a take at them as they worked their way down the aisle. And then two more, and then two more also got up and left.

I did two subsequent takes, with looks on my face that one could only describe as “WTF?”

I pushed on through, eventually getting some good laughs out of Scapin and Precious Young Maidens, but the reception and the applause rang hollow, and I wished I hadn’t arranged for that second curtain call with the lighting technician.

Offstage, word had it that the kids who’d left were hard-core Christian home-schoolers, and they’d found Tartuffe to be offensive.

After a half-hour break, I came back and did it all again, this time with an audience that was settled in their seats, sitting close and extremely attentive. I was doing the same show I’d just finished thirty minutes before, but this time, I could feel everyone hanging on every word, getting the several levels of implication and waiting for the payoff. Once, I could even hear a woman in the audience gasping with astonishment over a double entendre for which she had apparently only heard the secondary meaning. I played off of that and continued. And while, I’m sure that their attentive response inspired me to heights I hadn’t reached in the first performance, it was their listening that created the space for excellence to occur.

A couple of the attendees had been overheard saying “I’m going to go on-line and see if he’s got a MySpace page!” (The answer is yes, but no sign of them signing up as my “friends” yet.) A bunch of the students hung around to talk with me, and we chatted for about fifteen minutes. They asked about life on the road and one of the students got my mailing address, so that she could send me a mixtape to listen to. Meanwhile, the crew had packed me up a doggie bag, and we loaded the car back up, and I headed off.

Later I received the following from the teacher who’d promoted me to the Kravis Center:

"It was such a pleasure to see you perform at the Kravis yesterday! I wasn’t able to come back afterwards because I had another appointment and because I am nursing a cough—and didn’t want to make you ill—especially while you are touring. I hear that some of the students I teach did get to speak with you and were thoroughly impressed!

"Your work was wonderful and dovetails nicely with the period acting class that I am currently teaching. We are just starting to look at Commedia and Restoration. I thought your liveliness, physicality and command of language were exceptional!"

The Melbourne, Florida show was at a Catholic high school, and I’d had my concerns when the teacher told me I’d be performing in the library to an audience of about sixty. I wondered if they could possibly get their money’s worth with so few in attendance. But the teacher had seen me perform the show in a conference room at one of the French Teacher conferences that I attend. She knew what they were getting, and assumed that the library would be very close to the conference room setting. (The teacher later explained to me that there had also been a benefactor among the parents who had sponsored the performance.)

Eventually, sixty or seventy students filed into the library and packed the place. With an audience packed in elbow-to-elbow, any individual laugh passes through the audience like a ripple on a pond. There were individual points of contact where chronic laughers were sending out wave after wave, and I did my best to direct my monologues to those spots. By the time I got to the end (and to conclude the metaphor), everything was making a big splash. They got up to give me a standing ovation at the end.

Later, the teacher sent me the following note:

"Thank you so much for coming! You were great! I got nothing but very positive comments all day. Everyone who attended thoroughly loved your performance. I was amazed at how still and attentive our ADD kids were/, too. I think they were spellbound. One of the boys from AP European history said he had never seen anything like it before. The benefactors loved it, too, and were most appreciative of this unique cultural experience for our students, which surely opened their minds to a whole new outlook on the history and literature- not to mention theater. Had I recalled the references to the church I would've tapped the religion dept., too. (But then we really would have had to move to the gym which is much less desirable for many reasons). I hope we can have you again and if it is either earlier or later in the school year we could probably go in on a theatre with other schools."

I pulled up stakes and headed on to Brunswick, stopping briefly outside of Orlando to catch lunch with my good friend Sandra-the-Vegan. (Sandra’s working on a campaign to stop mountaintop removal, and encourages everyone to visit: http://www.appvoices.org/, to help take action.) (From that point, you can also join in on their raffle for lots of cool prizes.)

I was in Brunswick, Georgia 24 hours in advance of my first performance (at Costal Georgia Community College), and was able to dig in to work, catching up with e-mails and editing my “travelogue” of The View From Here. (I’ve been putting off work on The View… ever since my laptop was stolen, largely because it’s such a huge project: 550 pages I need to edit down to 250 or less.) I took a modest bite out of the project.

CGCC has two campuses, separated by about 30 miles. They were hiring me to do the show at each campus on subsequent nights. The first was down towards the Florida border, and as soon as I saw the space, I realized that it would be difficult. It was a combination recital hall / lecture space, and the first three rows of the audience had long narrow tables in front of them, upon which we assume the students would set their laptop computers. Word had it that audiences never sat in these rows. Which meant that the closest audience members would be 25 feet away from me. I couldn’t help but feel this was deadly, and I kept trying to figure out how to overcome it.

I asked if anyone would object if, during the sequences in which I invade the audience, I might actually stand on those tables, and use them as a stage of sorts. No? Okay … (thinking, thinking, thinking …) I gave a heads-up to the host. “Tell the girl on the lights that I may go out into the audience on other occasions.” (This would cue her to bring up the houselights … which were actually brighter than the lights on the stage were.)

Four or five students sitting towards the back actually left after the opening monologue. (The Misanthrope) Of course there’s a reason that that monologue opens the show. It makes everything afterwards look good by contrast. But this was the first time anyone had walked out before the show was even ten minutes old.

I did two more monologues from the stage, and felt the audience start to warm to me, and when the Tartuffe monologue arrived, I climbed down from the stage and onto the table nearest to the audience. In other words I went from 25 feet away to 5 feet away, delivering the monologue directly to a woman in the second row. Suddenly, the audience sat stock straight in their chairs. I sometimes climbed down from the table, leaning in on the woman in the second row. It was no longer a play that the audience was looking at through a telescope, but one that had been placed in their laps.

I returned to the stage for the volunteer sequence of Tartuffe, and then made further forays onto the tables for Don Juan, and later The Imaginary Cuckold. I would even cross from one table to another, when I needed to have my character moving “upstage”. (The phrase “upstage” by the way, comes from the fact that the ancient Greeks had stages that were raked upwards, getting higher as they got farther away from the audience. In this case, for me, upstage was actually down, as the tables farther from the audience actually continued the downward progression of the audience rake, as the rows approached the stage.) From my point of view, it was like doing the show on a jungle gym.

My host was delighted, taking me out for dinner with a group of his students afterwards. I began to appreciate that this was not the usual Theatre department or French department booking, but a student government arrangement, in which all of the participants were part of an activities council. In fact, the host told me of a couple of booking conferences where he assured me I would do quite well, and I’m currently sorting out my schedule to see if I can make them work.

The next night I was at the main Brunswick campus, in a more traditional auditorium. There was no need for physical hyjinx, other than the wacky stuff I do as part of the usual show.

The next day I was on to Chattanooga. I dropped in on Sabra for a couple of days while working on “The View From Here; The Travelogue.” Even on a good day, the best I could do was to edit my way through perhaps 25 pages. This will be a long project.

I’m also working on lines for Precious Young Maidens and Doctor in Spite of Himself. I’ve arranged to do a reading with University of Oklahoma, so that the director and I can start looking at casting for shows that we’re performing in February. I’m hoping to arrive at the read-through with the lines already memorized, if only to set the bar of expectations high for the students who end up getting cast. (Having the memorization out of the way will also ease my workload for January/February, when I suppose I’ll be wanting to edit 500 pages of material.)

From Chattanooga it was a long day’s drive to Hillsboro, Texas and Hill College. I presented my workshop in the morning to a group of about fifty students. (The teachers loved it and asked if I had a DVD of the workshop. … I told them they could get the textbook when I finally find a publisher.) And then there was a show that night.

The host had alerted me that, while the show was free to the public, the first row had been reserved by a retirement community. Which I figured would make for some interesting contrasts as my onstage characters deliver some of the more salacious dialogue to women sitting in the front row.

Making my entrance, I could see there were a good 250 or so in the auditorium. Within seconds of my entrance, though, I could hear a cell phone go off, right in the first row. I ignored it as best I could, but this was a much greater struggle when the woman in the front row actually … answered it. I could only catch a few words, as I struggled to talk over this inconsiderate woman, but what I heard was, “I’m at the college now …”

I desperately put it out of my mind, as my anger could only take me off of the tracks of my memorized lines. And yet, she wasn’t done yet.

She proceeded to take out a camera, and snap pictures of me as I performed.

I ignored the first one.

With the second one, I did a “take” as if Moliere was wondering, “From whence did this strange lightening emerge?”

With the third one (and thereafter), all I could do was ignore it. She took photos all night long, every time I changed a costume. She even turned sideways, and took photos of the rest of the audience in the row with her, perhaps for the nursing home newsletter.

Her antics seemed to give someone else, in the back row, permission to follow suit. And more flashes lit up the stage.

I tried to look at the good side. Obviously I was important enough to them to want to preserve my image for their posterity. It was the only way I could restrain the resentment I had over the fact that she was placing herself and her camera between me and the rest of the audience’s ability to enjoy the show.

The scenes went well. I was cranking up my energy in an effort to distract the audience from the other distractions in the room. The volunteers were hilarious. The Tartuffe volunteer was a “cougher,” which has the unfortunate side-effect of inspiring coughs from the rest of the audience. The Scapin volunteer was a bit slow-on-the-uptake. And my takes to the audience punctuated the simplicity of his delivery.

Precious Young Maidens features a series of “Stop, thiefs” that I repeat, in five sets of three, with a pause before the third “thief” in each series. Someone in the first row, but well off to my left, repeatedly anticipated the final “thief”, speaking it before I actually said it. On the fourth pass through, when I sing the lines, that same person sang “thief” before I could sing it myself. Normally, I would ignore it and go on without breaking character. But as it had happened four times now …

I stopped dead, dropped my arms and stared in the direction from which the sound had come.

The audience roared with laughter.

I held this look for about ten seconds, before getting back into the position that I had previously paused in, and finished off right where I left off, singing the final “thief.” The audience roared again.

On the fifth and final series of “stop thiefs”, the audience singer chimed in yet again, and I was a little shocked that she had not learned her lesson. I simply raised a finger and arched an eyebrow to say, “Don’t make me come out there!” And finished the line myself.

Later on, someone explained the disposition of the singer in the audience, and I realized that there was a certain amount of impulsive helplessness, or perhaps dementia, in the woman who was singing, as she was twisting and laughing uncontrollably throughout the exchange. (People asked if she had been a “plant.”)

Following the show, the theatre had a small reception. Seemingly, the audience had actually been looking past all of "problems" facing this performance. Granted, most of them complimented that I had “an amazing memory,” but others were also conscious of the quality of the performance, too.

One attractive young woman was introduced to me as a student from Brazil, and she told me “I never laughed so hard in the theatre in my entire life.”

Okay, that made up for the woman with the camera.

I’d traveled to Kingsville four years ago, and a couple of the students were fans of my work, coming to see me every time I appeared, subsequently, at the Texas Educational Theatre Association conference. The previous Theatre professor had retired, but the French professor had met up with me at the AATF conference, and decided to bring me back. The day of the show, one of the Theatre students had asked if I would observe and respond to a rehearsal he was holding, and shared some notes with the cast. It’s been over a year since the last time I directed anything, so it felt good to coach actors again.

The Kingsville folks were worried about attendance, particularly as the school’s homecoming game was happening at the same time, as was a “salsa and margarita festival.” There were still about fifty in the audience, and it was another setting where the audience was set back at a significant distance. Again, I told the lighting guy to watch for me to move off of the stage, and I did the Tartuffe scene and the Imaginary Cuckold scene in front of the stage. The audience was scattered through the small theatre, and close to the front there were only men sitting, or else women with small children. I didn’t want the women to have to answer, “Why was that man looking at you funny?” so instead I shifted Tartuffe’s seduction focus up the aisle, to the French teacher who was sitting there with her husband. (As she had seen the show four years before, she, at least, knew what was coming.)

All the usual scenes went very well, and the show finished up with a standing ovation. There was a small reception in the lobby afterwards, and I visited with some of my theatre student friends late into the evening. The only disappointment of the evening was that the check wasn’t ready, and suddenly I was reminded that four years ago I had to chase down the Kingsville folks for about three months before getting paid.

On Sunday, I worked my way north (meeting friends for lunch in ouston and dinner in Dallas). I’m now in Norman, Oklahoma, getting ready for a reading of Precious Young Maidens and Doctor in Spite of Himself tomorrow.

By the way: God bless Keith Olberman. If you haven’t seen any of his recent Special Reports, it’s some of the best commentary I’ve seen in years.

Don’t forget to vote.

Miles on the Vibe: 203,500
Discoveries: Distractions at the top of the show stop the audience from appreciating the details that build upon the exposition, and they end up judging each bit on the intrinsic quality of the humor in that particular bit. Much more important to take the time and get the opening right, even if it means starting again. * The audience’s listening creates the space for excellence to occur.
In the CD Player: My lines for Doctor in Spite of Himself
Temperature: 80s but heading back down as I work slowly north
Next performance: Missouri Southern State University, November 4 (My Birthday!)

Monday, September 25, 2006

The View From Here #117: Grande Prairie, AB; Seattle, WA; Missoula, MT; Caldwell, ID

All of a sudden, Summer Fringing is over, and the school tour is underway. Not a lot of performances for the last few weeks, but I’ve had so much work to do that I haven’t really had time to put these thoughts together.

Where you last left me, I was heading from Edmonton to Grande Prairie, about six hours northwest. They actually have road signs that say “ALASKA” with an arrow pointing off to the northwest. I assumed that meant that Alaska is fairly close, and maybe it is as the crow flies, but Mapquest tells me that Juneau is another 26 hours away by automobile.

Grande Prairie is what you’d have to call a “boom town.” The increase in oil prices have made oil shale mining more lucrative, and the small city is bursting with trucks and construction. “Help Wanted” signs are up everywhere. If anybody out there ever wants to work in a Tim Hortons, jobs there START at over $10 an hour. Of course, apartments are at a premium.

My host, Thomas, who has previously directed my version of “Tartuffe,” and who has slated my “Miser” for the coming year, took me out to a wonderful dinner my first night in town, and any inclinations toward vegetarianism disappeared when I had to try the “bison” on the menu.

I would be performing in the Army/Navy Hall … an open room with a temporary stage, a dozen lights, and folding chairs. I was doing all three shows over the course of three nights, and I learned my lesson from the last “One-Man, One-Man Play Festival,” and did not attempt to tech all three shows at once. We did tech rehearsals the night of the shows for each performance. The local paper had carried one of the better-written feature stories that I’d received. (Unfortunately, it's already been deleted from the websites archives.) However, word on the street was that ticket sales were lagging. Of course, in this kind of a booking, it doesn’t literally matter to me whether I perform for 10 people or a hundred, and yet, I like to think that my hosts are getting their investment back.

“Criteria” (Promo Video from Winnipeg) may have had 10 or so in the audience, and they seemed very interested, though not very vocal. (I have come to accept that “Criteria” fares better with the American crowd which is intimately familiar with the machinations of the social security number, and as a result, will watch “Criteria” as an enactment of their own potential future.)

During the day I was jogging and working on bookings. Unfortunately, the Earthlink dial-up connection from Grande Prairie was the worst that I’ve ever encountered, and I was losing my connection every five minutes or so.

“Moliere Than Thou” on Friday night was better attended, with 30 or so. There was an odd laugh toward the end of the final speech, from “Precious Young Maidens,’ and I couldn’t remember how I was to get into the final phase of the “Stop Thief” sequence. I stumbled around a bit and jumped ahead to what I could remember.

Finally, “Karaoke Knights” had been my biggest concern, but turned out to be my biggest success. I hadn’t performed this show since Chattanooga, and wasn’t sure of some of the lyrics. I ran the show twice during the day, hoping that I wasn’t killing my voice in the process. But finally, a nice-sized audience showed up. There were 40 or so in the house, surprisingly, for a show no one had ever heard of before. Thomas’ daughter came to this show, somewhat perturbed that her father hadn’t mentioned to her that there were two other shows, now past, scheduled for previous nights.

The karaoke warm-up went well, and I got most of the audience singing along. There were, however, four somewhat older characters, sitting off to the right, who were largely unmoved by the whole “singing along” suggestion. In fact, just as I was about to start, they sent a request up to me, via another of my hosts (Heather) asking whether I would turn the volume down. Since I had just spent two hours adjusting and re-adjusting the volume so that the backing track would be balanced against my voice, I couldn’t turn anything down without having to re-work all of the levels. I had to say no. (Of course, looking back, I should have just said “yes” and left everything the way it was, since I had simply turned up the volume on the warm-up music, since the karaoke tracks were so weakly produced.)

When they got word that I would NOT turn down the music, these four picked up their folding chairs and moved about ten yards back from their previous position, a vast gap from anybody else in the audience. They were, in fact, cutting off their noses to spite their face, since, from 20 yards away, they wouldn’t be able to read all of the lyrics on the projection screen, and their enjoyment of the play would be diminished significantly.

I decided that worrying about them would be counterproductive. They were more interested in complaining than enjoying themselves. And so, I played to the house that was sitting closer in, and they were responding to everything. I picked two out of three of the volunteers for the show perfectly. I’d noticed that Heather was steering a particular woman to sit in the chair that she’d observed me using in the tech rehearsal for the “bondage parody,” and I took that as a cue that this would be an effective victim, and yes, the laughs were huge for that. Only the “tango” volunteer was a bit shaky, but the audience continued to respond throughout, and stood with an ovation at the end.

After the show, I sold a couple of CD’s and a few of my scripts, and my hosts and I rendezvoused at the hotel bar to celebrate. The run of the shows had been, at least, an artistic success, and perhaps word would get around the community, and there would be a better attendance should we ever decide to do it again.

In the meantime, I was still trying to decide what to do next. I continued to send out e-mails until check-out time, but eventually loaded up the car and headed south.

I drove only for a few hours, stopping again in Grande Casche. It was Labor Day Weekend, and hotels were still expensive. I had more than two weeks until my next performance, and more hotel bills like this would wipe out any monies I had made from Edmonton and Grande Prairie. Even so, the privacy of the hotels allowed me to get lots of work done, including the update of my Acting textbook.

Labor Day found me driving further south, along the “spine” of the Canadian Rockies, the “Glacier Parkway,” leading from Jasper to Banff. The warnings along the highway advertised Moose, but of course none were to be seen. The scenery was breathtaking, though, and I stopped again and again for photos.

I stopped that second night in Golden, British Columbia, and decided to risk a long westward trek the following day. I headed for Vancouver, but had unfortunately been confusing Miles and Kilometers all day long. The Canadian maps were in kilometers, so I’d assumed that my American Atlas was, as well. No such luck. An assumed 500 kilometer trip was actually 500 miles, which meant at least three more hours on the road than I’d intended.

I arrived in Vancouver, having attempted several times to reach the fellow who’d billeted me last year during the fringe. I’d assumed he’d be billeting somebody new this year, but just on a lark I went by his apartment building. Tapping on his door, I found him in, and with a couch available for me to sleep on. I spent two days enjoying beautiful Vancouver, continuing to work on my bookings, but still finding time to visit the beach. And just as I was getting ready to head south, my friend, David, in Seattle, called affirming that he did, indeed have his basement apartment available for my use while I was passing through town.

Such luck. I could hole up and get work done, without losing all of my recent earnings to the hotel barons. I went jogging almost every day, and spent about two hours a day working on lines for “The Precious Young Maidens,” which I’ll be appearing in at the University of Oklahoma this winter. I also traded a couple of e-mails with Susan, the director of the show, and we decided to trade out a planned production of “The School for Husbands,” with “The Doctor in Spite of Himself,” which had received such a great production in Scotland, and which I’d memorized once already (back in 2001)!

While I was in Seattle, David hosted a terrific party, drafting me to perform a half-hour or so from my Moliere show, before segueing into karaoke. What he didn’t mention was that he had invited a couple of avid arts supporters, and by the end of the night we were making plans to set up an event in Seattle on my next pass through, in April.

Amid my mailings, I sent a bunch of e-mails out to Florida teachers, and one of them apparently passed my info on to a student that I’d performed for last year. He wrote to me:

“You came to Florida last year. Lakeland Florida to be exact. I never got the chance to meet you or tell you how amazed I was, and tell you how amazing you were. I am now a huge Moliere fan, and you inticed my interest in him. You did a spectacular job that day...”

[These kinds of unsolicited testimonials always make my day. I have no way of measuring what kind of impact my work may have, months after I’ve picked up and headed along on my way. I’d remembered that particular performance: over 600 in the audience, which inspired me to fly pretty high.]

Around the same time, I received two verses, from the folks in Grande Prairie. Both the theatre manager and Thomas were writing to encourage me to cut my royalty price for "The Miser," and requesting it in the style with which I was so familiar:

A hundred bucks for opening night
Is far too much, it just ain’t right
And seventy five for t’ other eight
Without a doubt would seal our fate

Seventy five for opening would be best
And fifty each for all the rest
Surely this would be much wiser
Cause after all, the play’s The Miser.


A break is what Grande Prairie Live Theatre needs
So I ask you Tim, please do take heed
We plan to perform your version of The Miser
However, we’d like to barter the royalties you require

The one hundred dollars for the first performance you petition
Is a little bit elevated and therefore my mission
To have you permit us the ability to strive
The first night we would pay you seventy five

The other performances we offer you fifty
For you to agree, would be really nifty
The total amount would be four hundred seventy five
For this we would perform your play “Live”

To these I replied:

Two verses; by both a man and lady, in,
But neither cites American or Canadian.
While I may grant petitions with my vote
I see another motive for this note:
Such tactics others may eschew; it's clear,
They angle to get in "The View from Here."

With a week of memorizing and booking under my belt, I headed south, for a night in Portland, staying at my favorite hotel (the one with the wine bar in the basement), and checking out Portland theatre spaces in anticipation of an attempted run of performances, perhaps in the spring. I caught up with a few friends while I was there, including several friends from the fringe circuit (Chris and Eleanor) and my friend Tina, the French Teacher.

Once again I was on my way, this time heading east. I’d been heading west for so long, that I was starting to lose track of exactly which direction I wanted to take any given highway. I had to stare at the road sign for upwards of 10 seconds, almost as if I was learning the meaning of the word from scratch: “East … east … east … which one was east?” I took a short hop, to southeast Washington, chasing down more e-mailing from the hotel when I arrived, and allowing myself the luxury of renting a DVD (Albert Brooks’ “Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World”, which is very funny).

The next day, I was going to stop in Coeur d’Alane, but hadn’t heard back from my friend Joe for a couple of weeks, and so I continued to push through to Missoula, where my former theatre professor (coincidentally, also named Joe), Joe Proctor, teaches. Joe hadn’t seen me act in perhaps 25 years!

Since I’d gotten into town early, I offered to stop in on one of Joe’s classes, and the conversation was going so well, he invited me to come back after lunch to meet with another class that had almost all of the same students in it. This also went well, and the following day, I visited a third class, where the topic was solo performance, and gave them the tale of my three one-man shows, performing scenes from each.

Unfortunately, aside from Joe, the Missoula theatre faculty really weren’t incorporating plans to see “Moliere” into their students’ schedules, and they’d scheduled at least three rehearsals in conflict with my performance. I was beginning to wonder if we’d have more than a couple dozen people in the auditorium.

Fortunately the local Alliance Francaise HAD done quite a bit of work to get the word out, and there were well over a hundred people in the audience. It had already been two weeks since the Grande Prairie performance, so I was a little worried, but the show went incredibly well. The audience was laughing at everything, and I was riding the wave of their laughter to newly improvised interpretations, with a standing ovation at the end.

The French folks threw a reception after the show, and they were absolutely effusive. They appreciated the work, not just for my acting, but also the writing which they felt captured the spirit of Moliere. They started asking about getting me to come back and appear in a full production of one of these plays, and they didn’t blink when I mentioned what the price tag for such an event would be.

Which reminds me: the Alliance Francaise was a co-sponsor of this event, and while the Theatre department had already paid me, I hadn’t received the AF check quite yet. I waited for the room to clear a little bit before mentioning it quietly to my host, but the word circulated quickly to the Executive Director, who called the Treasurer (it was now 11:30 at night) who rushed back to the party to write me a check then and there.

In the morning, I was shaking off the cobwebs from the wine at the reception the night before, and got one more visit in with Joe, who reaffirmed his enjoyment of the show (particularly the expression of the language), as I loaded up the car and hit the road.

Later, I received an e-mail from a friend of a friend (who I’d never met) relaying the satisfied review of two friends who’d come to my show in Missoula:

“We are just home from Tim Mooney's wonderful performance! It was just so good and we're very glad we went. I would guess there were 75-80 people there. Annette decided not to go, but she would have enjoyed it too. He did near 2 hrs with no intermission...amazing energy. All were done so very well, with him changing pieces of his costume and wigs with each new piece. The pace increased as he went from play to play, doing just a short bit from each...the last one was a climax of hilarity and we both laughed until tears rolled down our cheeks. John hinted as we drove home that I may have laughed somewhat harder (louder??) than others, so I'm just a tad mortified. It was great and I hope you get a chance to see him perform. Thanks for your e-mail about it.”

In the past, I’ve only crossed Idaho at either the north or the south end. This time, I was following the Lewis & Clark trail across Lolo pass, seeing signs that alerted, “Winding Road, Next 77 Miles.” It was a slow slog across the mountains, but the scenery was lush, with evergreens everywhere, and a beautiful river that was riding to my left and right all the way down the mountains. Only the general cloudiness kept me from having to stop to take photos every five minutes.

Entering Idaho, the time zone had switched to Pacific Time, and so I relaxed, with an extra hour to spare. However, once my road turned south, running the length of Idaho’s upward stem, I passed another sign that said, “Now Entering Mountain Time,” and I had to push forward again, pulling into Caldwell, Idaho (which is just west of Boise) at about 6:30, dropping my stuff off at a home where they were putting me up, before rushing on to the tech rehearsal.

The next morning, I was performing in the high school, and I’d been warned about just how “conservative” this community was, suggesting even that it was the most conservative county in the United States. (Funny thing was that I didn’t actually meet a conservative in my entire time there. Everyone I met used every opportunity to tell me what an idiot the president is, and what a dangerous, ridiculous game we have been playing in Iraq … which leads me to believe that the American Conservative is a mythical figure perpetuated by the media as a bogeyman to the left wing.)

There were, perhaps 300 kids in attendance at the show, including a large group from the “Alternative School,” which seemed to have my hosts a bit nervous. Later they were to tell me how astounded they were that the Alternative kids paid attention throughout. In fact the only one who was actually disruptive was the president of the school’s thespian club, who had apparently had enough of watching a show where he wasn’t the center of attention, and got up to leave about two thirds of the way through. I did a double take on him (to the satisfaction of his teacher) and continued.

Later that morning, I was to give a workshop at the University, but through some lack of communication, the session had been scheduled at a time when only three students could attend. I engaged them in a conversation about performance, and did a couple of my exercises, but ultimately we were left with just one student and two of my hosts, so we wrapped up early. I got to visit with one of the hosts, who does a lot of work with the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, where I’d love to get one of my shows performed one of these days. I left him with a couple scripts.

That night I had one more show, this time at the college, and while my host had fretted about the lack of attendance, there still seemed to be about 200 people out there, and they were laughing almost as much as the Missoula audience was.

The two volunteers were both theatre majors, and everyone assumed that they were “plants” in the audience, because they were so good. The female volunteer was a young Asian actor who met Moliere’s frisky introduction with a purring playfulness, and the man shifted, in the middle of the scene, from his normal tone, into a caricature of a voice, which gave me the opportunity to do several exaggerated takes to the audience.

After the play we did a “talkback,” and perhaps 30 or 40 stuck around afterwards to chat about Moliere and my work. I packed up the trunk and the fellow from the Shakespeare Fest took me out for a couple beers, before I headed back to the home where I was staying.

It is now 7 am Mountain time and time for me to hit the road again. I’ve been on the road, now, since mid-July, and I finally get to turn my car back towards Chicago, even if it’s only for a couple of days’ visit.

Finally, I have a tendency to come back from a late night of celebrating at the bar to write angry on-line retorts to some of the news media. This time around, I noticed that when they cannot legitimately justify the actions of George Bush, they elevate their descriptions of his intent with florid language, in this case suggesting that Bush "stopped just short of calling the United Nations 'feckless'." And so I dashed this item off to CNN the other day:

"Under what right wing fantasy is George Bush somehow on the verge of calling the United Nations 'feckless?' The man doesn't have words like this in his lexicon ... if he knew what a 'lexicon' was. I read the report on his press conference yesterday which suggested that he was complaining about the 'moral relativism' of suggestions that other countries might torture American forces. BUSH DOESN'T KNOW THE MEANING OF THE PHRASE 'MORAL RELATIVISM!'

"Why do reporters dignify his screeching, incoherent, blithering, whining, egomaniacal, tyrannical, posturing rants, by assigning words that are outside of the man's vocabulary to describe his supposed intent?

"It is irresponsible reportage, justifying the excesses and the incoherent violence of this administration, by cloaking it with the intellectual pretense of language that attempts to define and justify above and beyond this man's simple knee-jerk, pouty, manipulative, pandering, evasive attempts aimed at dodging culpability for the violence they have inflicted upon the world, en masse.

"Quite simply: He has endorsed torture, and the UN has the gall to suggest that this is a bad thing. Someone out there noticed that if other countries adopt the 'Bush Doctrine' that torture will come back to visit us in a bad way. A question to which Bush had no coherent answer. ('I can't answer ... hypotheticals...' he whined.) PERIOD. END OF STORY. Stop dressing it up as though he had a rational point!"


Miles on the Vibe: 196,500
Attendance: 12 + 35 + 45 + 10 + 150 + 300 + 200 = 752
Temperature: 60s and dropping quickly (snow in Wyoming!)
Next performance: Monmouth, IL, Sept 27, 2006
Discoveries: “Criteria” fares better with a crowd who will see it as an enactment of their own potential future. * Allow the audience the illusion that you are accommodating all of their needs, even when that is impossible, so that they don’t spend the entire show with a chip on their shoulder. * Check whether that particular map is in Miles or Kilometers. * The bulk of the impact that my work has will ultimately remain invisible to me.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The View From Here #116: Edmonton, AB

Just when you think the whole “struggling” thing is behind you, there seems to be more struggling yet in front of you.

I had looked forward to Edmonton, as rather the Shangri La of Fringes, knowing that there was a huge audience out there to be gotten, and assuming that they were already mine.

I’d assumed that a couple of the Edmonton reviewers had found their way out to Winnipeg, catching my show already on a couple of my better performances there. I don’t know why … perhaps seeing men “of a certain age” sitting off to the side at my show, or towards the back, left me to assume that my Edmonton reviews were already mostly written. Those had been among my best performances, so I was feeling pretty confident.

But I had the small matter of an opening night show yet to perform, before any reviews were to come out. An annoyance, really, but there it was. I was on at 10:30 on the opening night of the fringe. I could have gone to more effort to recruit an audience, giving away free tickets and flyers, but why bother? People would see what shows they wanted to see, and if the show they wanted was mine, then, great.

I had, maybe, twenty people there for opening night.

And at least three reviewers.

And no laughs.

Okay, it had been a long day of putting up posters in the hot weather. I marched in the opening night parade, passed out flyers and finally succumbed to the desire for a beer at the beer tent, before going on to do my show. Yes, of course, Canadian beer was a little stronger than American beer, but I was totally in control of my show.

Except that there were no laughs. And all I could do was to push the emotional expression of the character. He got bigger and louder and more powerful … but perhaps without a bit of the nuance that he’s had on some other occasions.

And they totally didn’t get me. I’ve never seen so many reviews that didn’t seem to understand the intent of the play. One of the major papers devoted extended passages trying to recount the timeline leading to the action of the play, largely recapping the slide that is up during the preshow. The only salvageable quote was: “Amazing manic zeal… funny and frantic brilliance” (which looks pretty good standing alone).

Another dwelt with such concern with the scene that finds me down to my underwear that I found myself thinking, “This guy’s got some unresolved issues!” And one of the weekly papers took the intent of the play in the exact opposite manner than intended. After several comments that led one to believe that this was a positive review (“Mooney succeeds in making his one-man genuinely engaging…”), he finished off his review with: “If this is the intended interpretation, “Criteria’s” political moral will thrill the dogmatic and irritate the contemplative: the Middle East’s Islamic fundamentalists need only embrace what is great about America for peace to occur.”

Except that that is one-hundred-eighty degrees AWAY from the intended interpretation. Somehow, this guy had missed all of the clues. The point of most sci-fi dystopias, is usually to suggest that we are NOT heading in the right direction!

And so, this guy, along with the two Edmonton Dailies, could only conjure up two-and-a-half stars for my show.

I’ll own that. Whatever should have been happening between myself and the audience clearly was not happening in this performance, and I, myself, would have had a hard time giving me anything more than three stars on this particular night.

The only problem is that in Edmonton, once you are reviewed, you stay reviewed. Unlike Minnesota, where the bloggers and audience reviewers can redeem you up to a point, here, on a daily basis, they continue to reprint the show titles, sorted by the number of “stars” that each given show has earned, to the point that it feels like struggling against the tide to get anyone to attend your show.

But, backing up a bit …

My last performance in Minnesota went great, with several of my fellow actors in the audience. The show “came down” at around 6:30, and I was back on the road within the hour, sprinting west and north. I gave in somewhere around Fargo, getting a hotel for the night, before jumping back on the road the next morning.

Sunday I crossed the border without much hassle, skirted around the southeast end of Winnipeg, and continued on towards Saskatoon, taking the “scenic route,” known as the Yellowhead Highway. I pulled into Saskatoon at about 9 pm, just as the final shows of the Saskatoon Fringe were finishing up, and actors were heading toward the cast party.

Saskatoon had been a rough fringe this year, and most of the actors were grumbling about issues with the management of the festival. I was glad to have finally made the right choice for once, opting for the Minnesota Fringe instead.

One year ago, the Broadway Theatre in Saskatoon had hosted the closing night party, and I had run the karaoke event myself. This time around, they had no idea that I was coming, and the owner had arranged for another karaoke jockey for the night. In fact, I kept getting the “What are you doing here? I thought you were in Minnesota!” response most of the night.

I stuck around for a few hours, catching up, especially, with a few people who were Saskatoon locals, but headed back out shortly after midnight. I pushed on ahead, towards Edmonton, stopping for a nap every hour or so, and pulling into town at around 10 a.m.

I was quite conscious of the fact that the Saskatoon crowd were perhaps only now waking up, and I wanted to put my head start to good use. After checking in at the fringe, I went around postering throughout a quarter mile radius surrounding the fringe grounds.

Meanwhile, the fringe had lost my billet request, and so they were hunting for a place for me to stay, while I was postering. Ultimately, they found me a place north of town, a half hour from the fringe grounds. It was a great house, with a really nice family, with a guest room and bathroom all to myself. (They also had a hot tub out back, and wireless internet hookup. I was set.)

With three days to go before my first performance, I dove in to work on my personal development book (“Currency”). I hadn’t really lost any data on that book with the loss of my computers, but I had a new chapter to add, and formatting ideas that I worked through the text.

And then, Thursday night, I flyered, stopped at the beer tent, and performed, for the tiny, quiet audience.

I was trying something different for this performance. I shut off the projector halfway into the show, when I figured the audience didn’t really need it any more. I noticed that it made the rest of the show much darker, and it took away the occasional fun distraction of looking at the map for reference. I decided that this was probably a mistake, and have reinstated the projector throughout, ever since that performance. (I have also insisted that we leave the very dim houselights on, so I can make some kind of eye contact with the audience.)

Friday, my Pathways friend Stacey flew into Edmonton for a visit. I’ve known Stacey on and off for about five years, but we’ve been chatting over the couple of months since the latest Pathways event, and she’d taken an interest in coming to see what the fringe was all about. I picked her up at the airport, and took her around to see shows for several days, while she helped distributing flyers on occasion.

I’ve learned that it’s helpful to have a friend in town when I am promoting my show. Having someone else to talk to keeps me from “getting psychological”, and all wrapped up inside myself about whether or not people want to know or to hear about my show. I tend to stay much more on task, when I’m discussing it with someone other than myself, inside my own head.

And then, it was also good to have somebody there who knew better about the quality of my work when the stupid reviews came in.

My second show was on Saturday, and there were just over fifty people in the audience. This was an afternoon show, and people were wide awake and laughing this time. I had one big laugher in the front row who “got” everything, and she seemed to pass an infectious laugh around the rest of the crowd.

On performance days, I would go running, reciting my lines as I ran. On days off, I would catch shows, though I never quite geared up to seeing more than two on a single day. My friend, Stephen, from San Francisco (my billet at the San Francisco Fringe two years ago) was here with a new show, and was getting excellent reviews in the papers. I made the acquaintance of another Fringe performer, Tom X. Chao, who has a bizarre sense of humor, and a similar taste in music. His show joked about the band King Crimson at great length, and it tickled me to no end. I bought him a beer in the beer tent, and he responded by giving me a CD featuring four of his original songs. (Link to Tom's ongoing podcast.)

I had another show on Monday, this one at 8:30. In response to bad reviews coming in, I had given away a lot of free tickets to get some “buzz” going about my show, but there were still only about 30 people in the audience to this performance.

An audience review appeared on the Fringe website:

“Set against a backdrop of future terrorism, this story demonstrates the triumph of humanity. Politics, national boundaries and the “criteria” of worth may have changed, but it is that which has not changed that proves to make all the difference. After an initial, brief historical setup, Tim’s delivery pulls you in and holds you to the very end. Both funny and thought-provoking. 5 stars.”

Tuesday was Stacey’s last day in town, and we went to dinner before calling it a night, early. I drove her in to the airport early the next morning, before coming back to dive back into my work.

I was rebuilding my address book, and sending out a message to everyone in the book. These were addresses that were at least two years old (which is the last backup I’d had), and I was sending out the same e-mail to everyone, alerting them to my data loss. I would write to all of the addresses beginning with “A”, wait for the “bad” e-mail’s to bounce back to me, and then delete those addresses from my system. I may have started out with 3000 addresses in my book, but for the moment, at least, I’m down below 2000.

Gradually, I was finding inroads into my data, and my “View From Here” list is edging up close to 400 addresses again. (There were probably about 450 when the computer was stolen.) Of course, they’re not all the SAME addresses, but I have to accept that things will never be exactly the same.

I’ve also recaptured about 80% of my tour schedule information, and after consolidating various drafts of the schedule, I’ll be sending out another mailing in the next weeks, reintroducing myself to all the people who have expressed interest in booking my show over the years. Who knows? The loss of data may have reenergized my commitment to the work in a way which would not have happened otherwise. One way or another, bookings continue to come in.

Wednesday at 12:30, I had another show, this one with barely 10 people in the audience.

And Wednesday night a new review finally showed up in the papers. The Vue Weekly published a collection of Fringe reviews, and seemingly this one did not attend on the terrible Thursday:

“Timothy Mooney's (writer/director/actor) “Criteria” is an imaginative science-fiction play set in the 24th century United States -- a time when racism has been replaced by regional prejudice and identification numbers reign supreme. The play opens with a history lesson of the future: Americans have gotten bored of conquering the world and are now attacking each other within their own borders. This one-man show features Albert Gardiner, born in Two land but tasked to go undercover in Five land in a deadly mission to destroy. But his exposure to this new and fascinating world leaves him struggling to complete the mission. The story is initially hard to follow, but overcoming the challenge of the dense setting is well worth it, in an engaging and brilliant performance that sustains itself throughout. (4 stars)”.

At last.

Of course, not that many people read the Vue Weekly, and Thursday’s 4:30 show had just about 20 in the house, but they were a friendly group, with at least four of my peer actors in the audience, including Tom X. Chao and Paul Thorne (of “Dancingmonkeyboy”).

I had a better house on Friday, which was a 6:30 slot. This time 57 people were in the audience, and I was flying pretty high. (In fact I have a new mantra that I repeat before the show: “I am dancing on air.”) Halfway into the show, my computer decided that it wanted to do a virus scan on itself, which I didn’t notice was screwing with the image on the screen until I happened to turn around and look at the screen. I leaned over, closed out of the virus scan, and resumed my monologue.

My timing with the slide show has gotten really good lately, and even though the show is an hour long, the slides tend to shift almost exactly when I want them to, or within about five seconds of when they should. Of course people just assume that the stage manager is somehow controlling it from the booth. When I explain to them that it’s all timed out, their jaws drop.

And now I await the final show of the fringe. I have a midnight Saturday show, and there are at least four shows that have been selling out their performances, pitted against me in this same slot. I somehow can’t bring myself to passing out flyers any more. I just can’t get into the spirit of promoting a show that the audience will have to stay up until midnight to see. I’m sure my numbers will suffer as a result, but I’ve decided that there are plenty of other productive directions to expend my energy. If I get more than five people in this audience, I’ll be plenty happy.

I’ll have a few days off, here in Edmonton, before moving on to Grande Prairie for performances of all three of my shows over the course of three nights. And then I’ve got about two weeks off before starting the school tour, with a show in Missoula, Montana. I was going to be doing the Vancouver Fringe during that time, but some mixup in paperwork and payment took me out of the queue of that one, and left me with time to work, instead, which seems to be just as well.

At the moment, I have no idea where I am going to spend that time. I could stay up in Canada, swing down to Vancouver and Seattle and Portland, or … I don’t know. All I want is a cheap hotel, preferably with some kind of a nice view, and internet hookup.

[It turns out that 12 people came to the Midnight show on Saturday, and while I had been telling people that “I’d be happy with five people in the audience,” when pressed, I said I’d probably have twelve. When I noted this, people responded: “You need to set your expectations higher.”]

On Sunday, I just went to see shows, most notably "The Centering" by a Portland performer, Chris Harder, who I've just recently started hanging out with. Really a harrowing performance, which is pretty rare for a one-person show. I also went to see Tom X. Chao's show a second time, as well as "Drawn Abroad," and "Teaching Shakespeare III", which is also terrific.

Oh, and one final thing ...

Over the past week or so I've been preparing to go back to work on my acting textbook, and I printed out a copy of Draft #4, which seemed to be the most recent one I had, until somebody sent me a copy of Draft #5 via e-mail. Sheepishly, I printed out a copy of Draft #5 to work on, onto the backsides of Draft #4. I even started to edit a couple of these pages last night. However, today, while digging around in my car for more lost e-mail addresses, I noticed a binder. Cracking it open, I discovered that inside was the elusive Draft #6 of "Acting at the Speed of Life," which had, in fact, all of my diacritical markings for the update to Draft #7, the draft which I was in the middle of completing when my computers were stolen. So, it looks like I've caught a break. Usually, I throw out old drafts as I rewrite so that I don't get buried under a mountain of paper, but this throws me right back into the project.

All of this reminds me of the fact that I've been looking long and hard at the whole fringing experience, and wondering if my time wouldn't be better spent next summer working on my writing, instead. Somehow, I got myself onto this roller coaster in an attempt to get more exposure for my Moliere work, but the tail now seems to be wagging the dog, as the whole fringe process (and all of the ego issues that get caught up in making sure I've got a successful show) takes away any time that I might possibly be able to devote to my writing, which is, in the long run, what I'm hoping will make a difference in the world. And so, the next few months will find me reassessing that whole process.

Temperature: 25 C
Miles on the Vibe: 193,500
Reading: Isaac Asimov’s Robot Novels
In the CD Player: Lisa Olafson’s website: http://www.lisaolafson.com/
Discoveries: Just when you think the whole “struggling” thing is behind you, there seems to be more struggling yet in front of you. * Never take the first performance of any given fringe for granted. * Things will never be exactly the same. * In fact, they may be, ultimately better, as the loss of data may have reenergized my commitment to the work in a way which would not have happened otherwise. * Expectations are self-fulfilling. Set them higher. * Perhaps fringing is starting to work at cross-purposes with my intended results.
Next performance: Grande Prairie, AB, September 1-3.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The View From Here #115: Minneapolis, MN

First, just a quick heads-up to anyone who might have missed the last two issues: My computers were stolen in Winnipeg, and I am slowly rebuilding the reader list (now up to about 338 of what had been 425). If you think you missed an issue, please jump down to the previous issues, below on this blog. In fact, you can revisit anything dating back as far as 2004 at this site. (By the way, as you can probably see as you’re reading this, I’ve just now learned how to add photos to my blog [... or perhaps just one photo to my blog ... I'm still trying to add incriminating shots from some of the recent parties...] so this should be a much more fun way to read the View From Here.)

After a week of waiting, and yet another break in to my car (stealing my passport this time), the glass finally arrived in Winnipeg on Monday morning, just as I was about to leave town. I stopped and had it replaced, before hitting the road with Amy Salloway, heading back to Minneapolis, arriving at around 11 pm that night.

While normally I hit the road running when arriving in a new town, I was making headway with the new computer, and couldn’t bring myself to pull away to spend several hours flyering the town. They set me up with a billet that didn’t quite work out. (They set two fringe performers up in essentially the same room, and we both kind of needed our own space.) And so, as the last one arriving in town, they reassigned me to another billet: essentially a fold-out couch, but in a place with some really nice folks and a wi-fi signal that I could pick up and get my work done with.

Wednesday morning was my tech rehearsal, and I loved the space I was working in (Intermedia Arts). My technicians were efficient but a little inflexible, at least at first. They seemed to come around when they could see that I knew what I was doing. More or less.

Wednesday night was the Out-of-towner showcase at the bowling alley (the bowling alley has a nice little stage in a neighboring room). I performed a bit of the “Diner scene” from the show. I did the latter half of the diner scene which is a little racier, and I think that people had difficulty picking it up in the middle like that. I may have left them more confused than anything, but they could at least see that the piece was executed with some precision.

Thursday was my opening day, and there were perhaps 25 people in the audience. Not bad for an out-of-towner. The only person there that I knew, was my old friend Bruce Heskett, who used to play all of the father roles in the Stage Two presentations of my Moliere plays. Bruce had transferred in his job up to Minnesota some time back and this was the first time I’d seen him in about 6 years. He laughed all the way through the show, as did the rest of the audience, and I felt like I was off to a great start.

Except that, when I got up the next morning, the following review was already posted by the Pioneer Press. It was posted under the heading “Avoid Like The Plague.”

"Imagine a world where everyone's just a number and uptight Midwesterners love to loathe the Californians, who seem to be having too much fun. Add the imminent threat of nuclear annihilation and you've got [my name here]'s one-man science fiction fantasy flop. [My name] starts with a stale storyline and then sucks what's left of the smile off your face with a timeline, an overhead projector and a laser pointer. In [My name]'s 24th century reality, everyone has their Social Security numbers tattooed to their palms, the country is divided into factions and he's a nameless secret agent with a bomb on his belt. But there's no suspense about where [my name]'s bomb is going." — Shannon Prather

[I've gone back and re-edited the above review, removing every instance of my name. I recently "googled myself" and among the top 10 entries was a reference to this negative review, posted on my own website. While I don't mind providing my readers with the entire panorama of critical response to my work, it's really not in my best interest to PROMOTE negative response that suddenly finds its way to the top of the search engines!]

Strangely enough, I wasn’t taking this review personally. At least, I wasn’t letting it diminish my view of the quality of my show. This person had obviously missed the point, or chose not to notice the point, and was going out of her way to score insult points where there was no need. Terms such as “flop,” “stale,” “sucks,” and “bomb” may give her some smug satisfaction to toss around, but she really wasn’t describing my work. And certainly, the audience response last night had been anything but hostile. No, this review was more about her than about me. (Someone later noted that, with the overwhelming number of plays to cover for the fringe, they’d brought in someone from the Crime Beat to write reviews.)

Sure enough, other reviews started to collect on the Fringe website, and over the course of the last several days, here are the responses that have come in:

(5 Stars) "Meets All Criteria for Great Fringe" by Kale Ganann: We rearranged our schedules to catch a showing of Criteria last night, and it was well worth doing. Timothy Mooney's epic one-man journey into a possible future carries with it wonderful humor, dark speculation, and a damn great time. The piece dwells on such topics as discrimination, security, arrogance, and identity, and it will leave you thinking about the themes for a long time. (Posted on Aug. 7)

(5 Stars) "Funny & Riveting" by April Peterson: Simultaneously kept me laughing and engaged in the plot. Amazing balance of suspense and humor, delivered with an energy and style that let me see the countryside and feel the saboteur's internal journey. Futuristic and yet relevant to today's world. Loved it, I'd see it more than once! (Posted on Aug. 6)

(5 Stars) "Thoroughly Engaging" by Peter Fleck: We ended up at Criteria because Kevin Kling's show at Theater Garage sold out. What luck for us! If you like near-future science fiction that links back to the current war on terror, then you'll like this. Tim makes you think but he keeps a humorous touch going throughout. He does an excellent job constructing the historical background to anchor the tale, beginning with displaying a timeline on a screen before the show starts. Read the timeline! It will help in following the rest of the story. One show left; see it if you can. (Posted on Aug. 9)

(4 1/2 Stars) "Makes you think" by Sandra Mason: We rearranged our schedule to see this and glad we did. It makes you think that we may not be too far off from this idea. Tim Mooney did an excellent job of blending humor and suspense. Amazing how he can run and continue to tell his story without seeming to be out of breath or break a sweat!!! Add to your list!! (Posted on Aug. 7)

(4 1/2 Stars) "Bright and Engaging" by Leigha Horton: What a great surprise! I went to this show after being chided for wanting to stay home and clean my apartment, and decided at 8:20 pm (show started at 8:30) that this was the closest venue with the most enticing show description. Plus, the out-of-towners need the extra love. It turns out that Minnesota Guilt actually did far more good than harm this time – Criteria is a gem, and should definitely be at the top of your To-Consider List. Tim Mooney is bright and engaging, and his tale is fantastical yet so incredibly, and poignantly, timely. Skilled storytelling and clever, intricate physicality. Recommended. Horton's (and Netflix's) rating system: 5 – Loved It; 4 – Really Liked It; 3 – Liked It; 2 – Didn’t Like It; 1 – Hated It. (Posted on Aug. 6)

(4 1/2 Stars) "Fun, thoughtful comic thriller! Don't miss it!" by Cuppa Coffee: Criteria is a very fun hour of theater! Tim Mooney is spot on with his energetic performance, by turns benign, threatening, suspenseful, satiric, yet never losing a human focus. Like William H. Macy he projects an everyman likeability and also a chameleon-like mystery. As with the best speculative fiction the show presents an entertaining story, then sending you home with new perspectives. A show not to be missed! (Posted on Aug. 7)

(4 Stars) "Five and Prejudice" by Dave Romm: Tim Mooney's one man show starts off slow by explaining the sorry state of the country in the 24th Century, but the exposition is necessary to set up his character and the situation his character is put in. Tim effortlessly switches between several secondary characters and himself as the tension builds. An examination of the roots of irrational hatred, and how one person can make a difference. A Shockwave Radio review. (Posted on Aug. 9)

(4 Stars) "Imaginative and Thought-provoking" by August Berkshire: This one-man show by an out-of-towner should not be overlooked. Imagine the Balkanization of America begun by the Republicans taken to an imaginative extreme, with redeption at the end. Though advertised as "science fiction," it's really more "speculative fiction." Check it out. (Posted on Aug. 3)

(3 1/2 Stars) "A bit of a "history lesson" but otherwise good." by MICHAEL HEISE: Criteria is a great show, but the beginning is slow. This is because the actor must describe (or "teach") the audience about the world as it exists for the purposes of this one-man show rather than get into the story. So the result is that the first portion of the show is a bit like a history lesson of this fictional world we are about to experience. But then the play "starts" and the actor begins telling his story. It's a great story and I was taken into his world. This show is worth watching. (Posted on Aug. 9)

(3 1/2 Stars) "NRG" by Jason Hilde: This was my 1st of 6 shows this year. I found it VERY intense and it kind of wore me out a bit. I found it funny and engaging (maybe too engaging?). This guy has a lot of energy and maybe that wore me out. (Posted on Aug. 7)

I found the last one actually quite a compliment. He didn’t like it as much because it “wore him out.”

Meanwhile, the fringe has its “official bloggers” who see as many shows as they can catch throughout the festival. Some of them had responded to the preview on-line, but one of them actually came out to the show, and wrote the following:

"Now here's an actor's show! Very well done. Well written. The actor, Timothy Mooney, knows his body and knows how to use it. I was sucked in right away and intrigued by the alternative history thrown at me. Lots of back story given and the whole point is who are we and why do we want to live. A very sweet tale, very well done. Thank god I'm a 5. Don't worry - you will be too if you go. And please do go. You will enjoy this one!" —Sara Cura

This fringe does a nightly pub-crawl … a different bar every night, and I found myself getting better acquainted with performers, fringe staff and friends as the week progressed. I got into a conversation with one of the bloggers, who had apparently extended a challenge to the performers. He would give them exposure and cover their shows, IF they would promote their show in the form of a sonnet. He indicated that there was still time for me to get one in, if I wanted, and I started to explain that rhymed iambic pentameter is kind of my thing. “You see, I kind of specialize in writing new versions of the plays of Moliere …”

Suddenly he realized where he had recognized my name from, and insisted that Moliere was his favorite playwright of all time. … After that, we hit it off quite nicely. I wrote a sonnet that night, which I didn’t like very much (probably because I was writing at the bar), but I got up the next morning and slapped something else together, based mostly on the bad review I’d gotten in the Pioneer Press. I e-mailed it off to him, and then noticed that the topic on the Pioneer Press blog had actually shifted to the subject of plays that were labeled “Avoid like the plague,” and whether that designation was not a bit harsh. And so, I submitted my sonnet as a comment under one of the replies.

Well, this morning, Phillip had posted my sonnet on his blog as follows:

"I've been talking to Tim Mooney lately at the various nightcaps, and let drop the fact that I was still accepting sonnets. This meant that I actually got the chance to witness the process of composition for the first time, albeit over beer and burgers. Here are the results:

“Avoid it like the plague,” says Pi’neer Press,
While missing every message that it bears,
There’s reasons life is later in such mess,
It seems something to do with just who cares.
Three hundred years from now we see the fallout
Of actions we are only starting now,
But with an idle warning or a callout,
We may get clues of when or why or how.
The arrogance of bloated, bastard fives,
The reckless tyranny behind the fours,
The thoughtless rearrangement of our lives,
The elephant who’s here, which each ignores.
It’s just a play, a few thoughts out on loan;
The plague you miss, though, may well be your own."

"I speak from experience when I say that only really awesome shows end up on the Pioneer Press' AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE section.

"I saw a preview for the show at the first Out-of-Towner Showcase which didn't leave a very strong impression on me, but I find the description 'A One-man Comic Sci-fi Thriller!' to be intriguing.

"In conversation with him, I finally recalled where I'd heard his name before: he's written several adaptations of Moliere plays, in addition to creating the one-man show Moliere Than Thou. I find this worthy of note because Moliere is one of my heroes, in my opinion nothing less than the greatest playwright who ever lived.
In any case, science fiction is notoriously difficult to pull off onstage without looking silly, and I'm curious to see how he approaches it (in a one-man show, no less)! I'm not aware of anything else quite like it in the Fringe, and I'm looking forward to it." —Phillip Low

Parallel to this, on the Pioneer Press blog, the main reviewer (not the one who’d written the review), noticed my sonnet comment, and lifted the entry up to the main page of the blog (where it’s remained for two days now), with the following note:

A Bard of the Fringe
"In case people aren't reading the comments appended to the various postings here, I wanted to pull up Tim Mooney's literary-minded thoughts on our reviews, as well as the "star" system of reviews on the Fringe website. [followed by the full sonnet]
Thanks, Tim!"

He had kind of missed the point about the sonnet, and I didn’t want to be the one to point it out to him, so I just wrote another “comment” to the effect of:

"Thanks for the notice, Dominic! FYI, coded within the sonnet are references which will only make sense by seeing my show, so if anybody actually wants to understand it, they will need to attend 'Criteria' which has two performances left, Wednesday night at 7:00 and Saturday night at 5:30."

It was another fringer, who has a pretty great show herself (“Dancing Rats and Vampire Moms”) who replied to note:

"Having seen "Criteria" I want to clarify something for those who haven't. The "fives" and "fours" in the sonnet refer to segmented groups of people in the America of 300 years hence imagined in the Tim Mooney's show. Fives, fours (and threes) anchor one's sense of identity in 'Criteria.'

"Layers of meaning are always to be treasured but I suspect that Tim was not making direct reference to the star system of reviews on the fringe website."

Anyway, it all gets to be quite a bit of infighting after a while, with comments leading to comments leading to comments which eventually lead to articles in the paper, and then another dwindling round of comments until somebody stirs up the pot again.

The good news is that it’s all publicity, and I’m waiting to see just what impact it will have on my attendance tonight. I had three performances in pretty quick order, with 25, 40 and 40 people in attendance (not bad for an out-of-towner at an “American Fringe,” but not a sellout yet by any means. It seems that people pay a lot more attention to the blogs here than they do elsewhere, and it all becomes rather addictive as you check back and check back to see if anybody new has had anything to say about you lately. All in all, it seems to be a good fringe for me. I’d skipped Saskatoon in order to do this one, and certainly my attendance has been better here than last year in Saskatoon. And if there’s a blogger who’s a fan of Moliere in town … I may just come back to this one next year.

Parallel to all of this, I’ve been working the internet, trying to get into communication with faculty members I’d been trading e-mails with about possible shows. I realized that I actually DID have a way of getting through to people whose information had been lost.

About a month ago, immediately following the AATF conference, I sent e-mails to everyone who’d filled out a raffle ticket form with me (raffling off a discount on the show). But this time, I’d gone an extra mile, in sending them information about other schools in their area who’d also been trying to line up a show. In other words, I had scattered all of my tour schedule information (or at least the contact names) to about fifty different people. And so, I wrote to them all again, explaining the situation, and asking them to send my original e-mail to them, back to me. And so, in this fashion, I’ve re-collected about a hundred more contact names, and I expect there are about a hundred yet to go. In the process, I’ve given those teachers yet another reason to think about booking my show, and a reason to step up and participate.

I also sent out press releases for the Edmonton performances which are coming up quickly. I pushed on that at great length yesterday, and only pulled away from the table at about 8 pm, ready to go out and see some shows.

Only my car wasn’t where I’d left it.

I had parked in a new spot, late the night before, when I’d come back to find the usual block that I park on entirely full.

I now noticed that this new spot was “no parking” from 4-6 pm.

My car had obviously been towed, while I typed.

I started to head back into the apartment. Walked two steps. Stopped. Thought.

What could I accomplish tonight that I couldn’t accomplish tomorrow morning? I still wanted to catch a show, but stopping to find out what happened to my car would only make me miss it.

And so, I jogged the couple of miles to the theatre, arriving about 10 minutes before the show was to start. Discovering that it was sold out.

Looking up across the lobby, I saw a familiar face. A face that didn’t quite belong in these surroundings.

It was Kelly, the friend from Milwaukee who, two years before, had traveled to Orlando to watch the Orlando Fringe.

With the show sold out, she and I, instead, headed on to the fringe “Nightcap” spot (aka the pub crawl), and caught up on conversations dating back two years.

And then this morning, I got up early and walked to the city impound lot. $156 later, I had my car, and was back at work.


Since writing this, I’ve done another performance, to about 45 people, this time with blogger, Phillip Low in the audience. He indicated that he thought the show was “awesome,” and his review on his blog, today, confirmed that:

"Something I remember about September eleventh. A reporter, talking on the news, being handed a sheet of paper, and reading that an airplane had just crashed into the world trade center. She paused, read it again, furrowed her brow, and said: 'Is that right?'

"A lot of reporters seemed to be shell-shocked for weeks after that, having to turn from manipulative human-interest stories to actually start coming to terms with geopolitics. I remember one woman, interviewing an "expert" on Arab culture, saying: "I don't understand. I mean, they lived among us for weeks. And -- how could they still hate us?" As though we were so charming, so inherently lovable, that it would be impossible to hate us after having been exposed to our culture. ---

"That's just one of the memories that was drifting through my head as I watched this play. There were countless more.

"At its core, the show is a simple sci-fi story, that hits all of the expected notes and follows a fairly predictable formula. The reason it works is this: the world that Tim Mooney creates is so richly detailed that those kinds of parallels are impossible not to draw.

"For my part, this show spoke to me most profoundly as a libertarian: the protagonist's realization of the self as a thing of value was an almost Damascene revelation that would have made John Locke stand up and cheer. I doubt that's what the author intended, but it doesn't really matter. He could claim to be a Maoist for all I care, but he's written a deeply libertarian play.

"Or maybe not. See, again, those kinds of parallels are almost superficial -- yeah, it can be connected to the war in Iraq. Or the war on terror. Or the fucking French Revolution, for Christ's sake. Because the world the play creates is one that any society can be reflected in.

"I'm mad at myself for having glossed over his preview; I'm mad at the fact that it took him writing a fucking sonnet to catch my attention. It approaches the arena of politics more successfully than any other show I've seen in this Fringe, because it does it through metaphor rather than through preaching. It's smart, it's nuanced, I loved it -- and everybody needs to see it. It's got exactly one performance left in Minneapolis. Don't let it slip away." —Phillip Low

And so; one performance left, and some nice critical recognition. Phillip’s is one of the very few think-pieces that has emerged about my show, judging it on more levels than whether the sci-fi/comedy/thriller work in their own right. I’m going to spend much of this morning figuring out how to work this blog to do photographs and then get it out to you. My feeling is that if this works, I may actually be inspired to post more often, but with less lengthy essays, as I’ll just be sending links to material that will probably be easier on the eyes, and not long tales clogging up your inbox.

In fact, I may even find ways to do hyperlinks! [Yipes! I have!]


Miles on the Vibe: Somewhere around 194,000
Temperature: 80s and humid
Reading: The Robot Novels by Isaac Asimov
In the CD Player: Maroon by Bare Naked Ladies
Attendance: 25, 40, 40, 45 = 150
Discoveries: People “get” my show. * A crappy review doesn’t have to “touch” me personally, and may in fact inspire other people to rally to my support. * The whole blog-thing seems to be a major force to be reckoned with (perhaps as demonstrated in the ousting of Joe Lieberman), and working the blog more effectively may be give me a head start on “the future.” * Giving people a reason to step up and support you engages them on a much more friendly, familiar level. They rise to the occasion in amazing ways.