The View From Here #111: Carbondale & Chicago, IL; Pitlochry, Scotland
I did, in fact, go to Scotland.
The Fintry Amateur Dramatic Society production of “The Doctor In Spite of Himself” did, in fact, win Third Place in the Scottish Community Theatre Association Finals.
Getting home from the quick westward swing, on April 9, I dove back into the usual self-promotional program, continuing work on editing a version of “The View From Here,” a version of “Moliere Monologues,” my acting book, “Acting at the Speed of Life” and my self-help book, “Currency.” Mostly, though, it was bookings for the show, focusing on Florida and Georgia, with several inquiries coming in for next fall and winter.
I also investigated flight schedules to and from Scotland, and found that, as my April 27 performance at DePaul was set for 6:00, I would be done by 7:30, which arguably left me with enough time to catch a 9:50 flight to Scotland.
My general sense is that if Fate has arranged events in such a way that they CAN be done, then really they MUST be done, even if I don’t fully understand the reason, or even if the action is not self-evidently the most sound financial move.
Amid this break, I paused, of course, to sing karaoke, and celebrate April’s 50th birthday party. (April has been invaluable the last few years, helping me with mail pick-ups, and faxes and bank deposits when I’m not around to attend to such matters.) (Not to mention that she has recorded almost every installment of “24” that I have missed!)
April 17, I headed down to Carbondale, where the Southern Illinois Theatre Department had just celebrated their 40th anniversary. I was unable to attend the party, but they saved me a goodie bag, and brought me in to do a workshop and a performance of “Criteria.” I, of course, graduated from SIU, way back in 1981, but, as they’d hosted “Moliere Than Thou” three years ago, most of them still remembered me, and we all seemed to feel like the last visit had been much more recent than all that.
Their coordination of my visit, was as effective as the last time, and I was readily checked into the hotel, set up with a parking pass, and shifted into the performance and workshop space. They had an enormous poster up, featuring my face in the “Criteria” publicity photo, and smaller flyers scattered throughout the theater building. The Tuesday workshop was well received. (My “Writing, Producing and Touring the One-Man Show” workshop has stretched to two hours, and now integrates bits of all three of my shows (with very little on “Criteria,” as I would be performing it the following night). The benefit of including teasers from all of the shows is that it gives the host venue ideas about hosting another one of the shows on a subsequent edition of the tour.
I had the night and the next day mostly to myself to attend to more e-mails and rehearse, and I returned the next afternoon to run a tech rehearsal for “Criteria” and perform the next night.
I never know how many people to expect, and the SIU studio theatre holds about 100 people in a three-quarters arrangement. My show is designed for a proscenium setting, but just in case some audience should choose to sit in the farthest upstage arms of house-right and house-left, I pushed the projection screen, and my main acting area upstage as far as I could. This turned out to be a good thing, as the house was entirely full.
I changed the opening of the show, slightly, making an entrance to start the “Power Point Show” which now runs parallel to my performance. Whereas previously, I had flipped through placards that the audience could read, I now integrated the projection unit to show the images from those same placards, but in a much larger version, which can be read from much farther away. I had spent the afternoon timing out the changing of the slides, but knowing that performing in front of an audience always adds time to the process. I was hitting the spots within 15 to 30 seconds of the intended changeover, which was close enough for all practical purposes, though the hardest change to time out, the final one, which brought the audience back to the initial screen, was always switching over during some climactic moment, when I most wanted the audience to remain focused.
For the opening, though, I walked out, pressed the button on the computer which started the process of the slides changing. This cued the stage manager to play the opening song, “What Will The Martians Think?” I gave the audience a stern stare, which got a laugh, and returned backstage, coming back on as the song had faded out.
They were a terrific house, laughing in odd places, which threw me off once early on, forcing me to check my script, but hanging in there through the rest, and responding vigorously at the curtain call. The faculty lingered afterwards for a visit, and I was surprised to see Dawn, my host from a Tennessee Moliere performance last fall, was in attendance. She had also seen “Karaoke Knights” at SETC in Orlando, which means that not only is she one of the very few people who has seen all three of my one-person shows (She reports “Criteria” is her favorite), but has seen each show in an entirely different venue. And state!
The next morning, I headed on to Tennessee. In Cookeville, Tennessee, I visited, once again, with Sabra, my Mensa friend, who has been helping me arrange for an event in Chattanooga, Tennessee (the “One-Man One-Man Play Festival”). We relaxed for a couple of days, hit the karaoke bar, which I was unable to do on my last pass through, as I was suffering from a sore throat at the time, and went down to Chattanooga to look over the theatre space and plot out our plans.
Sunday morning, I raced north, dropping in on Cousin George, who has finally moved into his beautiful new Kentucky home on a hill overlooking Georgetown, who insisted that I had to drop in on our Irish cousins while I was overseas, supplying me with their phone and address information. [Info that I neglected to pack when traveling overseas.] And from there, it was on to Detroit, where Isaac and I went out to dinner, and watched television. The next day I drove him to school, got more work done, and picked him up again, grabbing dinner and picking up a video. We watched “Brassed Off,” which is an old favorite of mine, reminding me of the upcoming competition in Scotland.
Tuesday I headed home, stopping at April’s to try to figure out how to rework the “Karaoke Knights” video, with no luck. On Wednesday morning, the article about me appeared on line, and I distributed the address for that one (http://www.beepcentral.com/story.aspx?story=2699) far and wide. I had a workshop and a performance of Moliere at North Park University. I was being hosted by the French teacher, and the deal had almost fallen apart at the last minute because their auditorium was in use that night, but they’d found available space in a very large chapel, and the show worked very well there. While there were only about 40 or 50 in attendance (the small audience probably due to the uncertainty of the venue), this performance was attended by the president of the American Association of Teachers of French, who teaches out of Northwestern, and who I see every summer at the conferences, though she’s always too busy to attend the events that I perform there.
Also in attendance was Patty Lahey, one of my students from when I used to teach at NIU (She’s now an event coordinator at U of Chicago), Ted Banks, from Kraft Foods, who’d edited the Law Textbook which was actually my very first publication credit (“The Use of the Dramatization in Teaching Legal Compliance,” which I’m told is the funniest chapter in that particular book) and Bill Nicholson, a friend and former roommate from SIU, back in 1981, who’d just recently found me on-line. Finally, there was the author of the Daily Herald/Beep article, who’d seen me do Karaoke Knights before, but had not seen “Moliere Than Thou.” She came with a friend, and the three of us went out to sing karaoke afterwards.
I headed home, early, for me, as an enormously big day was ahead of me.
I struggled to work my way through business early in the day, and only barely got a start on laundry and packing before discovering that I was running late for my workshop at DePaul. The traffic was terrible, and the parking was worse, but I managed to make it to the classroom just two minutes late. The students were not especially responsive to the “Life of Moliere” workshop, and I later discovered that they were largely a general-education class. I headed back home (after taking a quick peek at the performance venue, a lecture hall), and resumed packing. I was packing, essentially, for two trips, one to Scotland, and another two-week driving tour that I would set off on, almost immediately after my return. (I’m due in Lexington the following day.)
While I’d hoped to check my luggage and get my boarding pass before the DePaul performance, I found that traffic was once again clogged, and I could barely get into the venue an hour in advance of the show.
In attendance at this one was Claudia Anderson, my fellow teacher from the days at NIU (she now teaches at DePaul), my friend Rita McConville, and another friend, Deb, who I managed to coax up on-stage to play out the “Tartuffe” scene with me.
The show went very well, though there were, again, only about 40 people in attendance. I think my motor was really running, both from having such good friends in the crowd, and knowing that immediately afterwards, I’d be racing to the airport.
The show was done and packed up in near-record time. The host was very gracious about helping me on my way, and I was very concerned that I not short-change his event, even though I was concentrating so much on getting to Scotland. I visited briefly with my friends, as I repacked the trunk, and then ran off to get my car from the parking garage. By the time I got back, my Dad, and brother Kevin were waiting and the three of us caravanned out to the airport. By this time, the traffic had cleared and we made the trip in record time. Dad switched out to drive my car back to the house, and I went through the airline check in (with no line) and the security check (with virtually no line), and was at the gate ninety minutes in advance of the flight.
It was almost as if I’d been struggling against the tide for the past two days, trying to get a million things done, with the constant fear that I would miss the flight, but when the moment arrived, to mix my metaphor, the clouds parted and I passed right through with no struggle.
Someone had alerted me to the effectiveness of Dramamine, in enabling one to sleep on a long flight, so I took a couple of those as the boarding time neared, and another one, with my on-flight meal, and I could feel myself getting drowsy. I had, however, brought my lap-top bag on board with me, storing it under the seat in front of me, which made it very difficult to stretch out and relax. I watched the television embedded in the seat in front of me, and eyed the progression of the flight detailed on the big screen at the front of the cabin, as it traced its way northeast, over Ontario and Nova Scotia. Eventually, I nodded for perhaps an hour. Woke up again for a bit, as the sun rose outside the plane at what was, to me, still about 2 a.m., and dropped off for perhaps two hours after that. My blissful repose was interrupted by neighboring passengers who needed to get to the bathroom. I didn’t mind that so much, but they seemed to be hanging out in the back, chatting with the flight attendant for about an hour, and I couldn’t get back to sleep, knowing that I would likely be interrupted the moment that I dropped off again.
Eventually, we landed at Heathrow Airport, which is a confusing rabbits’ warren of hallways, staircases and tunnels, seeming to double back on themselves again and again, always uncertain if this was indeed the direction that I needed to be going. The name “Heathrow Airport” has always had a romantic air to it, if only because it is the gateway to arriving in London. I’d imagined it to be sleek and sophisticated, but in actuality, it’s pretty much a dump; dirty and grimy, with a carpet that smells of mold.
I passed through security once again, and headed to the ticket counter, which then directed me on to the customs agent. While this gentleman was polite to begin with, he stumped me with the question of what address I’d be staying at during my visit. I knew that the competition was in Pitlochry, and the theatre group was from Fintry, but I’d never actually obtained the specific address of my hosts. In fact, under pressure, I could barely recall the fellow’s name. I remembered “Martin” but hesitated on the surname. This enabled the agent to go into a well-rehearsed lecture of how one is supposed to know the address of the place one is going when entering a foreign country. (On at least three passes, he repeated the line “You’re going into a foreign country …”) I offered to crack open my laptop to call up the name and e-mails of my host, when I recalled the last name, “Turner.” This seemed to placate the agent, who continued to mutter about “You’re going into a foreign country …” and then remarked, offhand, what seemed to be the real issue, which was that apparently the US Customs agents are delaying British travelers at great length, and that they could, if they wanted, have tied me up for a couple of hours while checking on my story.
Off I went, with a brief flight to Edinburgh, and as I emerged into the luggage area, there stood Martin’s wife, Liz, holding a sign saying “Tim Mooney”. We got my luggage, changed over some money (which I’d failed to do in London, so I’d gone a bit hungry in the interim), and headed onto the road.
It took some time before I got accustomed to the car being on the left side of the road, particularly when the traffic was two-way, as I found that we were dependent upon the social contract that we will all drive on the left side at all times, which means that should someone, such as myself, forget that contract for the briefest moment, that would be the end of us.
Liz and I proceeded north to their beautiful home in the village of Kippen, surrounded by sheep farms and overlooking a valley stretching many miles into the distance. At the far edge of the valley is a tower known as the Wallace Monument (in the town of Stirling), but more on that later. After a quick shower, we pushed on north to Pitlochry, where the competition was being produced at the local theatre. My presence was being kept a secret from the cast, and we didn’t want word of my arrival to reach them backstage from a slip of the tongue, so I adopted the name “Angus” for the moment, when being introduced to friends of the director.
I settled into the lobby with a bottle of good Scottish beer, and we went inside to watch the first show in the series of three being performed that night. Performed in a heavy Scottish brogue, it was almost unintelligible to me, and the frustrating thing was always the fact that the audience was getting jokes that I was not. More than once have I heard the old saw about the British and Americans being “two peoples separated by a common language.”
Next up was “The Doctor in Spite of Himself,” and the cast dove into the action and the dialogue with relish. While the words were sometimes a little uncertain from my listening point, the Scottish brogue actually worked extremely well with my dialogue. Seven years ago, when I wrote this, I’d instinctively written certain characters with a touch of cockney or Scottish brogue, as they tossed in the occasional “Cor!” and “Aye …”.
More than this, though, the actors had penetrated through the formality of the verse dialogue to find the very ribald, lusty, boisterous action beneath. When we’d first produced this show, in 2001, the director that Stage Two (and I) had brought in, struggled throughout with the script, trying to keep it workable for a modern, politically correct world, filled with rules of behavior that probably would have confounded Moliere. This cast was having none of that, throwing themselves mightily into the action, with husband spanking wife, wife slapping husband, and woodcutter-turned-phony-doctor groping at, and nuzzling the nursemaid, again, and again, and again. No one in the audience could miss the implications of the action, and they all laughed boisterously.
Afterwards, I followed the director into the hallway, backstage at the theatre, leading me into the dressing room. As I awaited, just outside the door, I could hear him say, “You know how I told you that ‘Tim Mooney was here with us tonight?’ Well, I wasn’t just being metaphorical when I said that. In fact, he’s right here!” At which point the door was opened and I entered to see the surprised, delighted faces of the actors. I went around hugging and shaking hands and congratulating them all on a “terrific” “brilliant” job.
Martin, Liz and I ditched out on the last play of the series and went out for dinner, joined by the fellow who’d played Sganarelle, still in full costume. We went back to the theatre for the adjudication, and sat in the back row while a feisty Irish gentleman led the audience through a series of rhetorical questions as he talked of the various performances … “A fantastic set … was it not?” He seemed especially taken with “The Doctor in Spite of Himself,” and acknowledged the fact that “The Adaptor, Timothy Mooney (“Brilliant dialogue, was it not?”) had flown over from the United States, arriving this very day … let’s give him a big Scottish welcome, shall we not?” And the crowd of 500 responded dutifully with a big round of applause.
To give a taste of the response, the very first adjudicator’s response, from the District finals, was given to me and it noted: “Very assured direction. A cracking pace established and maintained throughout, with clear verse dialogue, good timing, excellent use of pause and emphasis. … Excellent teamwork, with unselfish playing and excellent reactions; unfailingly excellent facial and physical reactions … an exceptional production in every way. I’m sure Moliere would have loved it!” (Winner of the Munro Trophy.)
We stayed out at the theatre, toasting and drinking until perhaps 1 a.m., with Liz, who was our designated driver for the evening, driving us home as I dropped off sleepily in the car.
The next day, I slept in until 11:30, and following breakfast and lunch, we headed in to Stirling to visit the William Wallace Monument. William Wallace was the great Scottish hero depicted in “Braveheart” which led to the unfortunate by-product of a statue that had been added to the grounds carved with the image of Mel Gibson. Some of the gift shop chatchkis: key chains and fridge magnets also looked much more like Mel than the original Scottish hero, which struck me as rather a diminishment of the legend of a man that had inspired millions since the twelfth century.
We climbed to the top of the tower, probably the equivalent of a 15-story climb, where we could look out at the Scottish countryside, and see Stirling Castle in the distance. [Stirling Castle has recently been renovated leaving one cream-colored wing standing out like a sore thumb. It will take several hundred years for the weather to bring this wing of the castle into compliance with the overriding color scheme.] My fear-of-heights kicked in for a few minutes until I got somewhat accustomed to being at the top of the tower, and then climbed back down, continuing on to the final night of performances at the play competition.
The last set of three plays included a dull Hugh Leonard production (“Roman Fever”) and a very sharp 4-woman ensemble piece (“Shakers Re-Stirred”) which was disappointingly good. Disappointing because, as far as we knew, then, “Doctor” had been in the lead of the competition. The four women were choreographed with great detail, and there was no significant lapse in the production itself. While I may not have entirely understood every line, clearly the rest of the audience did, and it seemed likely that this group would take home the trophy. They were followed by a production of Brian Friel’s “Winners,” an Irish play of which I have seen at least two full productions, and which I have worked on, myself, in classroom projects. As such, it strikes me as a tired acting exercise, and however good the performance was, there are no surprises left in it for me.
After a break, the adjudicator got up and engaged the audience, once again, in his rhetorical by-play, “didn’t he?” He clearly enjoyed “Shakers” quite a bit, and the only question left, was “how much?” There was another break, and the award process eventually began, with everyone who had participated in any part of the process thanked and congratulated, and awards given for best original play, best stage décor, best “Scottish life and character” and highest production marks. “Doctor in Spite of Himself” was given honorable mentions in both the stage décor and production marks categories, so we knew that we were in the running, but when they turned to announce third place, we were a little disappointed to hear “The Doctor in Spite of Himself” read out so early. None of us had seen the third play in Friday night’s line up (we’d gone out to dinner then), and a Harold Pinter play (“Celebration”) had moved into the second spot. Meanwhile, of course, none of us could argue with the selection of “Shakers” as the eventual winner, though we might have wished for a different result.
Regardless, “Doctor” had placed third out of a field of one hundred sixty-nine total plays, nine of which had gone on to this week’s finals competition, and though spirits were somewhat dampened for the evening, it was clear that this was a success, especially considering that this was the only classical work that we’d seen in the finals, at least, and the nine performers were attempting something that they’d imagined to be well above their heads.
They closed up the theatre bar early that night, and we continued on home. The next day, Martin arranged for a flying tour of Scotland with a friend who belonged to the Glasgow flying club, and I was a little nervous about going up in a 4-seater. While the weather had been exquisite the first two days of my visit, the clouds had begun to move in and there was rain in the forecast for the next two days, so the best time for a flight was probably that afternoon.
The airplane was a tiny propeller-driven item, and the pilot, was a short, grinning fellow who was just as quick to joke about the condition of the craft as we were. He primed the pump with a device that seemed much like a device on my Dad’s lawnmower, and he suggested that was where he’d gotten it from. My biggest concern was that they’d put me up in the co-pilot’s seat, and if any tragedy should ensue to our pilot in the air, I would suddenly be responsible for getting us down. We queued up to take off in between the large 747-type craft that were flying in and out, and I found that we were airloft within seconds, perhaps after less than 30 yards of taxiing.
We climbed to perhaps 2500 feet, looking down over the Clyde River, and Loch Lomand (Scotland’s longest “loch”), but stopped short of the hoped-for trip up past the western islands, which are reportedly beautiful, as the clouds seemed lower and denser on the western shore. Instead, we turned east, toward Stirling, passing over Martin’s home, and continuing on to take more photos of the Wallace Monument and Stirling Castle, before turning back to Glasgow. They pointed out to me Lake of Menteith, Scotland’s only “lake”. I, of course, asked what the difference was between a “lock and a lake,” and both Martin and the pilot shrugged and admitted that they didn’t know.
That night was the cast party, for which Liz had spent the past two days cooking and preparing. Forty people were expected, and I’d offered to perform “Moliere Than Thou” for them. I wanted to give them a little more of the flavor of how I work with the words and the style of performance, but also I wanted to lay the groundwork for a future appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Previous to this I hadn’t imagined the possibility of doing Edinburgh, as it seemed to be quite a risk in a city where no one knew me, but if I could start some buzz circulating a year or two in advance, then perhaps I might have a core of support for an opening night.
It seemed that all forty people arrived between 7:30 and 8:30, and I held myself to a single beer, and resisted the buffet until after the performance. No one actually knew what I was going to do, so they looked at me a bit curiously when I didn’t fill a plate, but they accepted that I was probably up to something and left it at that.
Before long, they all gathered in the conservatory (a beautiful glassed-in area overlooking the valley), and some announcements and thanks and awards were given. John, the fellow who played Sganarelle, was given the award for best exemplifying the “woah factor” (all cheered “woooaaahhh”), with Rosellen, as the Nursemaid, Jacqueline, a close second.
Martin proceeded to get up to thank everyone who had contributed to the show, and following a brief bathroom break, introduced me, in my guise as Moliere. I anchored myself at one end of the room, along with a couple of costume pieces from their production, and worked my way through the show. It was an audience that “got” all of the backstage humor, as well as the ribald innuendo, though I occasionally wondered whether they might not prefer to be socializing with each other at this point of the evening.
The “Tartuffe” monologue woke things up a bit, and I was later told that the woman I chose to deliver it to was a well-known sportscaster in the area, and when I needed a volunteer, Rosellen was nominated by popular acclamation.
When it came to the monologue from “Doctor in Spite of Himself,” I could sense everyone listening in an entirely different way, as they were mostly hearing words that they already knew very well, and I wondered whether I was being a bit presumptive in performing a speech that a member of the company was already delivering as a part of the show. The last segment, however, was from a portion of the monologue that had been cut in the process of bringing their production in under an hour, and they laughed boisterously at Sganarelle’s “… as tested ‘gainst control group of castrati!”
I pushed forward towards the end, with the fellow who had played Geronte volunteering as Argante in the Scapin scene, and finishing it off with the “Precious Young Maidens” “Stop thief” monologue. Following Moliere’s thanks to the audience, I took a moment to thank my hosts and the entire company, especially for having given me their attention as I commandeered the party. John (Sganarelle) rose to commend me, suggesting that this was an hour of theatre that none of them would ever forget.
“Back to the beer!” I called, and we resumed the party. Guitar and violin were produced and many of the company engaged in singing for the remainder of the evening, mixing popular songs with traditional Scottish Folk Songs. I threw in “Lion Sleeps Tonight” and “I’m Looking for a Groupie” in the process, and the party continued on until perhaps 3 a.m.
Monday was a quiet day. I worked on my script for “Doctor” a bit, with an eye toward submitting it to the publisher as soon as I got back to the states, and I added into the prefatory notes the cast information for this latest production, knowing that it would tickle my new friends to be included in the published version. I typed up these notes of the last few weeks for a bit, before heading off to a local pub late in the evening.
A couple of Martin’s friends were there, and I made some notes to myself of their particular dialect. I note that the Scottish use “wee” in almost every possible context. You can have a “wee bit of beer,” drive a “wee car”, fly in a “wee airplane” or have a “wee bit of a lie down” (a nap). But when a fellow mentioned “the wee fat one”, I couldn’t help laughing out loud. As last call was announced, Martin went for one more round of beers, and offered to get this fellow a half-pint (as his pint was still relatively full), the fellow responded “Onyago, aye,” and Martin immediately understood this as a “yes.” I inquired, and the gentleman insisted that “On ya go” would have been sufficient to indicate the affirmative, but that he’d thrown in “aye” as a bit of a redundancy.
Other Scottish quirks: “Is this a queue?” is a question to be asked of anyone standing outside of a bathroom. It means, “Must I wait to go in until after you’ve gone?” They have “Roundabouts” everywhere! Traffic does not travel in neat north/south, east/west patterns. You proceed to a roundabout and then angle off in the general direction of the next roundabout which will send you heading toward your ultimate destination.
Traffic signs in construction zones apologize “Sorry for the delay,” rather than “Thanks for your patience,” which strikes me as much more apt, considering that the American sign assumes that I have, indeed, been patient. Finally, signs warn of “Contraflow” where what they really mean is “Two-way traffic.”
By the way, my Scottish accent is terrible. While I may be able to imitate individual voices and intonations, any time I try to ad-lib anything in Scottish, they immediately turn up their noses and indicate “That’s Irish.”
Back at home, Martin and I watched the final couple of games of the world-wide snooker tournament, with a Scotsman firmly in the lead. While I’d never understood snooker before, Martin quickly explained the rules, to the point that before the game tournament was over, I was criticizing the players for lousy shots and bonehead moves.
And today, it’s Tuesday. Martin, Liz and I are going in to Edinburgh to see the castle, do a bit of shopping and nose about at the Fringe headquarters, and check out a couple of venues. The weather, which has been thoroughly agreeable up until now, has turned rainy and windy, and my departure is pending tomorrow, demanding a 3 a.m. trip to the airport. As I’ve slept in until 11 or noon most days of this visit, I’m not sure what condition I’ll be in that early in the morning. Nor do I have any sense of what kind of sleep I might catch on the plane, but almost as soon as I land, I’ll be off for a performance in Lexington, Kentucky the next day. I’ll try to hook up to get this missive into the e-mail before then, and jet lag will probably necessitate a couple of naps at rest stops along the way.
Attendance: 8 + 50 + 12 + 40 + 40 (not including the 500 who saw “Doctor” in the festival) = 150
Discoveries: if Fate has arranged events in such a way that they CAN be done, then really they MUST be done, even if I don’t fully understand the reason, or even if the action is not self-evidently the most sound financial move. * While I may feel as if I am struggling against the tide, trying to get a million things done, as long as I continue to believe in my plan, when the moment arrives, the clouds part and the struggle relents. * Moliere works best unburdened by any of the politically correct assumptions of the modern age, and “The Doctor in Spite of Himself” is a lot funnier than I recall. *
Next Performance: May 4, Lexington, Kentucky, (Criteria)