Saturday, March 11, 2006

The View From Here #108: Orlando, FL

“Karaoke Knights” rocks!

From Connecticut, I dropped down to Baltimore. Looking at the map, I saw that driving west of Manhattan, through Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island, was more direct, as the crow flies, but traffic seemed much worse, even though I was passing through mid-day. And going from any one borough to another seems to demand the crossing of a bridge for which they will charge tolls as high as nine dollars!

I visited with my sister, Maureen, who had to watch the final episode of “The Bachelor” on one television, while I watched “24” on another. Thank god “The Bachelor” chose the right woman or it might have been a dark evening indeed.

From Baltimore, I raced south toward Savannah, but angled off slightly to get a hotel room in Hilton Head. (I figured it unlikely that I’ll get a booking in Hilton Head, and this might be my only chance to see that island.) Of course, I arrived after dark, and was in a hurry to leave the next morning, so I never even saw the ocean. I did, however, stumble upon a nice New Orleans-style restaurant decked out in Mardi Gras beads for this fat-Tuesday.

I hit Orlando around 5 p.m. the next day, and proceeded immediately to the Staples and the Kinkos, getting flyers and programs copied for my show. I dropped off my stuff at Al’s house (a.k.a., Carl F. Gauze), and headed for the conference center. I checked in moments before the registration desk closed for the night, snagging a program just in time to study it overnight.

The first thing I discovered was that “Karaoke Knights” was scheduled, not for FRIDAY night at midnight, but for THURSDAY night at midnight. The whole midnight thing was throwing me off, but the upshot was that I now had 24 hours less to prepare than previously anticipated. I called Kinkos, which had thankfully not yet printed up my flyers, and got them to make the change, and proceeded to return to Al’s house to step up my preparation.

I called my friend, April, and was noting that this was shaping up as a very “stressful” 24 hours … but there, I caught myself, and said instead: “I am going to have an AMAZING 24 hours.”

I am discovering that what you speak, you create … and did I really want to create any more stress for myself than was actually there?

Thursday morning, I picked up my corrected flyers and loaded the show in to the performance space. There was another show about to start, but the technician, who’d also run my shows the year before, was extremely attentive to my needs, and roped off a special area for my equipment.

I passed out a few flyers among the masses of people who were gathering at the conference (there were upwards of 4000), and found myself in a conversation with a man who looked familiar. He had run the session last year on the always-contentious topic of “making changes in the script,” and representatives of all of the major play publishing companies had attended. He was doing a variation of that same session in another 20 minutes, and I decided to attend.

Considering that he’d already met me, and knew my publisher, and also knew that the Playscripts Inc. guy was in attendance, he found himself using me as an example several times. “Can I pick on you?” he would ask. “Sure, bring it on.”

It turned out to be very nice exposure for me, particularly as there were reps for at least five different publishers in the audience (all of whom have rejected my work, variously, over the years). Between this session, and another session on Friday, they all now know who I am, have connected me as “that Moliere guy” in their minds, perhaps noted that I have okay hygiene, and have seen me be cordial and articulate under pressure. All of which means they have since felt comfortable chatting with me in the exhibit hall, and may give a little more consideration the next time a play of mine crosses their desk.

Afterwards I did a brief tech rehearsal. There was already a DVD/Projector set up in the room, with a projection screen that was as tall as myself. Whereas, I’d begun performing this show nine months before (also in Orlando) with the “karaoke interludes” on a TV screen, this time the screen would reveal lyrics to all of my songs, as well as an “omnipresent narrator” commenting on the songs during the introductions. All of this, on an enormous screen, forced the audience’s attention to dance between stage and screen, always engaged in SOMETHING. As I rehearsed the opening number (“Looking for a Groupie”) a technician, carrying stuff in and out of the hall, paused to laugh several times at the lyrics, and I gained a terrific lift in confidence.

I ran some final errands in preparation for the midnight performance, getting a haircut, picking up a copy of the game, “Twister” (I needed the spinner as a prop), and finally buying a coat tree to hold my costumes during the course of the show (something I should have done 9 months ago). It seems that coat trees are few and far between in Orlando … and it dawned on me that they don’t wear coats down here as much as we do in northern climes.

I returned to Al’s house for one last run-through, and everything was falling into place. I was in good voice and, now that I had a sense of the layout of the stage, the “blocking,” would hold no surprises. The KJ narration was still a little uncertain in the flurry of performance, and so I decided to bring the script on stage with me, propping it on a music stand, to my left, while the microphone stood to my right, and the coat tree behind me.

Back at the conference center, I attended a “brainstorming session” for the Acting/Directing specialists, mostly about what kind of workshop sessions they might want to include for next year’s conference. Everybody went around introducing themselves, and again, this was a good opportunity to establish my face alongside my name for the other attendees, most of whom had been receiving my e-mails for years. I was also surprised to see Frankie Day in attendance … who I hadn’t seen since my days as an undergrad (let’s just say, prior to the current century). And while other people were brainstorming about panels they might want to present, Frankie and I dredged up familiar names from years gone by.

It was getting uncomfortably close to curtain time, and my internal motor was starting to rev up. I left to load in the remaining props and promotional materials for my show. The conference allowed me a single table outside the hall to display brochures and videos and sell CDs, and I’d gotten my friend Patty to come out to the hotel late on a Thursday night to catch people who were coming out of the show, give them (or sell them) stuff, and have them sign my guest book.

Back in the auditorium, the critique of the 10-minute play festival was wrapping up, and I was a little dismayed to see that the packed house for the festival had greatly diminished for the critique. In all, perhaps a hundred people had stuck around to see “Karaoke Knights,” and in an audacious nod to the “one-person” show, I went around handing out programs, myself.

As soon as the critique finished, I loaded in my microphones and coat tree and music stand, carefully placing the cords where I needed them while Chad, the tech guy, set up the projector and screen. For the most part the entire audience had remained in their seats as this was going on, and I had to test the sound levels while they were already in the room. The opening strains of the first song started to play, full blast, through the speakers. The audience quieted, thinking that I was starting, and I had to direct them to pay no attention: “Don’t enjoy this!”

Finally all was in place, and I took the stage with a leap and a big bold “Welcome to the FRINGE FESTIVAL!” Everyone cheered, and I explained the need for their involvement with the show. I led them all, instead, in an a cappella version of “Why Don’t We Get Drunk” and encouraged them to get out their cell phones and wave them in the air (which many of them did!), and I could see that the rowdy crowd was sufficiently warmed up. This, I saw, was a group that appreciated the theatrical gesture strictly for the sake of something being a theatrical gesture, and they were ready to “get” the show on that level.

As the show opened, I could hear a bit of reverb in the “KJ” microphone (now entirely out of my control), and I knew it would be a clarity problem, particularly as I talk pretty fast. I redoubled my efforts toward articulation, and was glad to have the script on stage to keep me on track.

“Looking for a Groupie” started the show off with good laughs, as did the volunteer bit in “Too Real.” “Left To Say” got the crowd singing, and “Tempted to be Tempted” won them over with its mock-ballet. During “Forward Thinking,” I picked out a shy looking girl for the bondage parody, and the phrase “submit to more restriction,” amid the tangle of microphone cord, got big laughs. “Next,” got a whooping response at the end of the first rapid-fire chorus, and “Half a World Away,” a difficult song in the past, now seems to win them over, largely on account of a series of comic “footnotes” inserted into the video. The somewhat serious “Gravity’s Pull” and “Dreaming Tax” ratcheted the laughs back, while “Bite My Tongue,” “Say Goodnight” and “Taking Turns Leading” hammered home the comedy. I finished on a bittersweet note (“Say Goodnight”) and returned for an encore/finale, with a reprise of “Groupie.” Almost immediately, however, most of the audience was standing for an ovation, and the dance break of “Groupie” seemed to strain against their need to acknowledge the play (something to fix in later versions).

All in all, I came away immensely satisfied. The new video commentary gets laughs that I, amid my internal narrative, am not expecting at all (besides which, I’ve largely forgotten what is appearing on the screen). After the show, audience signed the guest book with: “Great.” “Yay!” “Whee! I (heart) it.” “Wonderful!” “Awsome!” and “Absolutely fabulous!” I was walkin’ on air, as they say, finally feeling like I had that elusive third show, which I could push, alongside my other two one-man shows, for full bookings.

The next morning, I gave my acting workshop. They’d placed me in a room perhaps suited for 30 people. Sixty or so showed up.

Actually, there were even more who simply could not have squeezed into the room. The air conditioner could not cool the room enough to make the experience comfortable, but the group was attentive and very responsive, as I went through my several exercises of “Misanthrope”, “Hamlet” and “Tartuffe.”

This workshop is getting great reviews of late. Several remembered it from last year’s conference. And a woman who’d just seen it in Williamsburg reported, “The students performed their Moliere scenes a few days after your show, and you could tell which ones had been to see your workshop, because their scenes were through the roof.”

With my contribution to the conference complete, I proceeded to drop in on other people’s events: “How to become a writer for ‘Southern Theatre’,” “Play Publishers Q & A,” “History/Theory/Criticism Board Meeting,” and the very funny “Who dressed you? Or don’t you have a mirror?” (a workshop about proper audition dress). Again, while my participation at these events was minimal, at each I seemed to find myself in yet another conversation about booking my work with someone who’d spotted my name.

Friday night I had dinner with Tania, who runs the “Poor Yorick” Shakespeare catalogue (www.PoorYorick.com). We’ve found ourselves attending six of these conferences together in the past, but had never had the chance to sit and visit (She’s always been running her booth, and I’m always shmoozing the crowd). She turns out to be an entrepreneur in much the same way that I am, but from the Shakespeare side of things, building up her business from scratch, and taking full advantage of the internet.

Afterwards, under the encouragement of one of the students who had loved my show, I crashed the UNC-Greensboro party, to say hello to the professor (who the kids are trying to get to book me).

The next day, the conference’s keynote speaker was Anne Bogart, whose work is increasingly celebrated in the theatre world. Eloquent and passionate, she told several terrific stories, with one, especially, about the movie “The Red Violin:”

She’d met the director of “The Red Violin” at a dinner party, and he spontaneously asked if she’d like to hear the story of his movie (this was before he’d shot any of it, and while he was still fundraising). The movie, of course, was later made, very successfully, and Anne noted that, “I don’t think it mattered to him who I was, when he offered to tell me the story of his movie. I think if anyone else had been sitting there next to him, he still would have turned to them and offered to tell them the story of his movie. I believe that the process of telling people about his movie enabled him to articulate that movie into existence.”

The conference continued, and I found myself just hanging out at the bar, with one conversation leading to another, and connections made between a series of people from whom I seemed to be just a single degree removed.

Late breaking news: Driving north, through Atlanta (stopping for a visit at Linda’s), and continuing through Chattanooga (checking in with a high school teacher who saw the show in Orlando), and into Sparta, Tennessee, I stop to check e-mails once more, and receive this notice from a producer in Scotland doing my “Doctor in Spite of Himself”:

“Hi Tim
“Thought you'd like to know the premier was a phenomenal success. We won the district festival and now progress to the regional festival which takes place in Edinburgh 6-8th April. It will be much tougher as we meet other district winners but we're up for it.
“The adjudicator, a theatre professional, was fulsome in his praise. He loved your script (it works well with the Scottish brogue) and thought it was an extremely bold choice of play, he thought the staging and creativity was superb and that the actors were positively sadistic, bawdy and un-inhibited!
“We should now receive some local press coverage and I'd be happy to send it if it is of interest.
“I'll keep you posted on any other developments.
“Best wishes
“Martin”

Temperature: 40s-80s
In the CD Player: Scissor Sisters
Attendance: 100 + 60 = 160
Miles on the Vibe: 173,300
Discoveries: Karaoke Knights rocks! * What you speak, you create, and you need to choose whether you want to be creating more stress or more success. * My name has become as effective as my costume in getting attention for my work. * Just being present at some of the workshops enables potential bookers or publishers to get comfortable with me as a collaborator. * People talk about me behind my back, and I’ve reached the tipping point, where third party conversations confirm the nature of my work with people who need to know whether they ought to book me or not. * Played with the proper amount of exuberance, an audience will appreciate the theatrical gesture for the sake of the gesture itself.
Next performance: Norman, OK (U of Oklahoma) March 19-20.

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The View From Here #171: Summer, 2017

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