Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The View From Here #110: San Diego & Long Beach, CA; Gresham, OR

Three days in Brownwood enabled me to get about a thousand e-mails to a half-dozen or so states out into circulation, with lots of responses flowing in from faculty. I jumped on the road to El Paso, where I stayed with Jennifer, a friend formerly from British Columbia (who fortunately is also a "24" fan), before getting back on the road on Tuesday morning, racing through New Mexico and Arizona. I got a hotel in Yuma, Arizona, in order to let my e-mails flow in, and there were LOTS. I spent the rest of that
evening, and much of the next morning sorting through them and plotting out when I might be able to perform at which locations.

The next day it was on to San Diego, where my friends Betty and Pete live. I'd been out to visit them nearly two years before, shortly after they'd moved into this house, but this time around all the boxes were put away and everything was looking great. We rearranged their living room somewhat, and I did a performance of "Karaoke Knights" for about ten invited guests. It was a great chance to keep up my work on that show, given the fact that I hadn't performed it since the show at SETC in early March.

It was an odd arrangement of the living room, which had the video actually being projected behind me at the empty wall. Since I didn't want to block the video, that forced my performance forwards, and everyone was within about 10 feet of where I was standing. Since the show was created with a large auditorium in mind, it felt a little over-the-top but everyone said, afterwards, that they loved, it. A couple actually bought the CD, and others left a generous tip in the donation jar.

The next morning, I made a brief appearance in two of Betty's middle-school performance classes, doing a quickie introduction to Moliere and my work. The kids were responsive, but my voice was fading on me, so I was struggling with my natural impulse to give everything I've got, and my conscious understanding that I needed to conserve for a show later that afternoon.

I am reminded that at one of the workshops I attended at SETC, there was a strong smell of bleach in the room, and I find myself wondering if breathing that in for an hour had a greater impact on my throat than the cold that I came down with shortly thereafter.

I was off to Long Beach, where I'd performed a year before, and where the French teacher was a bit of a Moliere academic. He'd shared with me one of the papers he'd presented on Moliere, which even I (Moliere expert that I am) found a bit impenetrable.

Steve's professorial style, however, doesn't seem to keep him from enjoying Moliere. This time around, he ushered me to a room he'd booked in the Student Union. It was a small room, with perhaps 45 chairs set up, and I proceeded to clear space for my show. The furthest point in the room may have been no more than 18 feet from where I'd be performing. There was no way to make an "entrance" into this space, as even the wall facing out to the hallway was made of glass, so I got into costume and stood, in full view, to the side until Steve introduced me.

When I started the show, there may have been 3 or 4 seats empty, but people continued to enter as I worked, and most of them were left standing at the entrance. I encouraged them, between monologues, to come in and take the remaining seats, which some did, but there were at least ten people standing or sitting at the door-end of the room throughout the show.

Given this kind of a standing-room-only audience, the show played brilliantly, and everyone in the first row ended up being characters in my scenes, as I played to them throughout. There was a cute girl in the front row who I'd addressed in the Tartuffe monologue, who also got up to play the scene with me. Given that this was Long Beach, and people aren't bundled up quite the way that they are in the north, the woman, in a very light blouse, seemed more defenseless and vulnerable (and, therefore, funnier) than usual.

There'd been some confusion over the program, and while I'd intended to do the 75-minute version, we only had programs for the 60-minute show available, so I did a short Q&A with the students afterwards, and just for fun, threw in the "Doctor in Spite of Himself" monologue. Afterwards, Steve insisted that he wanted to host the show again next year, and help me line up some other west coast bookings as well.

I continued north, into Hollywood, where I stayed the night at the home of a former U-Nebraska friend, now film editor, Michael Hofacre. We got together with Charlie Bachmann (another U-Nebraska MFA), and went out for a bite to eat. I was feeling strangely tired, and eventually realized that I'd crossed through two time zones in two days (with two performances), and 11:00 was feeling like 1 a.m. to me.

The next day, I played catch-up with e-mails for a bit, before getting on the road to Fresno, where I met up with Michael Swanson. Michael has now booked my shows on two occasions, including my appearances at the Midwest ACTF Festival last January. We had a nice relaxed evening, going out for beer and pizza.

I made a stop in Sacramento, to meet with a French teacher from Sacramento State, and continue on my way north to Redding, California, before pushing ahead to Salem, Oregon, the next day. I took two days in Salem to relax and visit with my brother Pat and his family. His son, Michael had just had a birthday, and I got him a copy of the new "King Kong" movie. We hooked it up to the projector that I use in my show, so that we could watch it on the "big screen."

In Portland, I met up with my webmaster, Bruce, and his wife, for a brief evening of karaoke, in a very tacky tiki bar, and I settled in at my favorite hotel, McMenamin's Edgefield, where they have their own on-site brewery and winery. (I'd stayed there a year before, when I'd also been booked by Mount Hood Community College, and had been looking forward to this stop ever since.)

The next day, I met up with my host, Eric, and we took the trunk over to the performance space. The space, which was essentially a lecture hall, had improved since last year, and the pipe that had been jutting out of the floor was now gone. Unfortunately, the lighting of a lecture hall is always bad, and there were only a handful of lights that were illuminating the stage area. We struggled with the settings for about twenty minutes, but eventually I had to set up the show and get into costume and make-up. I took note of where the light was best, and I headed off.

Apparently, the audience took a long time to fill in, and we seemed to be about 15 minutes late in getting started, by which point I was getting much more pumped up than usual. When it was finally time to start, I noticed two things: The audience was much smaller than anticipated, with perhaps 70 people. And the lights that I'd planned on using were now turned off.

I was standing in a moody half-light, and there was actually a flood of light at my back ... unfortunately pointed at the upstage wall, for occasions when this space was used as an art gallery. This left me mostly in silhouette, with a dim, late-evening feel to the rest of the stage. Two lights illuminated the far right and far left areas of the stage.

For perhaps the second time in history, I actually paused my monologue to call back to my host, asking if perhaps some of these "candles" might be brought up to where they were when we rehearsed previously. The host scrambled around for a few minutes, flicking switches while I soldiered on, and some of the house lights went on and off, but no further result. Somewhere, the tech guy, who'd helped us get set up at the outset, had

I realize that I need to impress upon the hosts, even when I am playing without tech, in a lecture hall, the technical supervisor needs to stay available as the performance is beginning. Because there's absolutely nothing I can do otherwise. Moliere isn't supposed to know how to work a light board, and even if he did, he really can't leave the stage to work all that out.

I ended up playing the show all over the stage ... mostly working from the far stage right and the far stage left pools of light. By this time, I was so obsessed over the lighting, that I had no sense of what words were coming out of my mouth. And I was even more surprised that the audience was laughing along, hysterically, throughout the play. My friend Tina (who I'd met in Atlanta two summers ago) was in the audience leading the laughs, as was my playwright friend, Gil Martin.

I'd met Gil about fifteen years ago, when I produced his play, "The Last Rehearsal" with my old theatre, Stage Two. Around that time, I'd taken a trip out west with Jo (later known as "Isaac's Mom") and we dropped in on Gil and his wife and daughter at their Bed & Breakfast in Trout Lake, Washington. When I got to Portland, I remembered to call Gil (who I'd failed to hook up with almost four years before, as he was out fighting forest fires when I arrived at his B&B). Gil no longer runs the Bed & Breakfast, but he just happened to be there when I called, and he made it out to the show.

After the play, I changed quickly and returned to deliver a short version of my "The Life of Moliere" lecture to the twenty or so who remained, and then Gil and Tina and I headed off for lunch. (Tina seemed to be attending the show in the company of a young fellow, who I invited to join us for lunch, but it wasn't until later that I discovered that she'd just met him in the lobby before the show.) (Apparently, she makes friends quite readily.)

Over lunch, Gil noted that his adorable little four-year-old was now 18 and headed for college, and that he and his wife were separated. (The latter was not a particular surprise, I must say, since the female characters in Gil's plays always seemed to get short shrift in the midst of some dialogue that seems to vy with "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" for antagonism.)

In the midst of all of this, I got a call from a reporter with the Mount Hood school paper, wanting to know my perspective on how the show had gone. I couldn't stop myself from sighing my complaint about the lights not working, and then realized that my reaction would end up in print, and that my response would undermine the perceived value of the show. While the lighting was certainly the big "issue" in the forefront of my mind, throughout the play, for the audience that may have been just 1 percent of the perceived experience. My complaint would only undermine their appreciation of what they had seen.

I enjoyed one more evening in the hotel, and their terrific wine bar, before heading reluctantly eastward. The first day I headed for Cour d'Alene, and a visit with Joe Jacoby, fellow theatre teacher and Loudon Wainwright fan. I offered to pop in on Joe's Theatre History classes the following morning, and Joe offered to put me up for the night.

The next night I continued on to Livingston, Montana (after dropping in on a former prof, Joe Proctor, in Missoula, where I'm negotiating to perform next fall). I had a date lined up with a painter in Livingston, and the two of us found a karaoke bar in Bozeman. It was the Lion's Club of Bozeman, and it was a pretty lively, if country-music-oriented, crowd. The Karaoke Jockey realized that I was a newbie at their bar, and when I got up to sing, I admitted that I was from Chicago, just passing through town, a fact she repeated each time I got back up to sing.

The crowd was extremely responsive, with much high-fiving on the way back to the table. And while my date was cheering and having fun, she also seemed to observe much of this with the clinical eye of the artist, intent on studying the people around us, perhaps much as she might observe the bears and coyotes that she photographs and paints in nearby Yellowstone Park.

From there it was on to Bismark, North Dakota, and I realized that I was retracing some of the steps that I had first taken, almost four years ago, when I first started this trip, driving from Chicago to Seattle. I passed performance venues in Dickinson, and Valley City, North Dakota, dropping a flyer off in Valley City, before continuing on to Minneapolis.

Minneapolis is on my agenda for the coming summer, with the Minnesota Fringe Festival in August, and Amy Salloway, who I'd met at the Cincinnati Fringe last year, and who, it turns out, seems to know just about everybody that I happen know, put me up for the night. When I arrived, I checked my e-mail and was delighted to receive this note from Scotland, where my version of "The Doctor in Spite of Himself" had progressed to the Regional Finals of the Scottish Community Drama Association competition.

"Hi Tim
"Well, I guess you want to now how we got on.........we won! Not only were we the festival winner but we won two other trophies, Best Comedy and Highest Points for Production (there's a convoluted scoring system where specifically production/direction is scored out of 35).
"What a night we had. The cast were superb, a flawless performance, they had the full house audience in raptures and in eager anticipation of the next twist. The adjudicator was fulsome in his praise and constructive in any criticism, although it was very little. . He recognized the challenge we had set ourselves in choosing this play, particularly the demands on actors of delivering dialogue in rhyme. I'll have his written report in about a
"In winning we also eliminated two teams who are consistently prominent at the national finals, indeed both these teams have recent history of winning the whole thing.
"So, we now progress to the Scottish National Finals in Pitlochry 27-29th April, we perform on Friday 28th. Pitlochry is a beautifully scenic small town in the heart of Scotland and has a fantastic theatre. It's a much bigger venue with a vast stage so I'm planning some additional business.
"We will now get further press coverage which I'll copy and send to you.
"Thanks for providing us with such wonderful material. Hope all is well with you?
"... PS If you fancy a trip over I can guarantee you'll be very very well looked after!"

And so, now I'm home, trying to figure out how to get to Scotland on April 28.

By the way, I've now got two performances lined up in Chicago on April 26 (North Park College at 7:30) and 27 (DePaul University at 6 p.m.) (Thus the difficulty with the April 28 event in Scotland.) I'll send a separate posting on this around for the benefit of my Chicago friends, who probably aren't still reading, this long into the e-mail.

Also, I have been inspired to create yet another event.

Now that I have three one-man shows, all of which are fully performance ready, I am putting all three together into what I call "The One-Man, One-Man Theatre Festival," which will feature three performances in a single night ("Criteria" at 6, "Moliere" at 8, and "Karaoke Knights" at 10 p.m.)! Lately, I haven't had a lot of takers for the "three shows in three nights" promotion, as described in my brochure, but if I have the stamina to do all three in a single night, my feeling is that it will strike very high on the "outrageousness or level-of-difficulty quotient", while only tying a given theatre space up for a single day.

I'm currently negotiating with a theatre space in Tennessee to make this happen, perhaps as early as this June. But, hey, it's available to tour to your town! (Schedule below.)

Temperature: 70s
Miles on the Vibe: 181,000 (time for new tires)
In the CD Player: "Karaoke Knights"
Attendance: 12 + 30 + 20 + 60 + 60 = 182
Discoveries: Lighting in lecture halls is always bad. * Do not let the person who knows how to adjust the lights get away until after the show is safely up and running. * My seemingly huge complaints, may only represent a single percent of the perceived experience of my show from the audience's point of view. Expressing these complaints only undermines the perceived value of what an audience has observed.
Next Performance: April 19, Carbondale, IL