The View From Here #112: Lexington, KY, Richardson, Brownwood & Houston, TX
It’s now been four years on the road. Four years smacks of the academic calendar, and I hereby declare my graduation with a Masters in Touring. (Technically, I began all of this in September of 2002, but I’ve progressed through four “school years” in the process.) I have spent the last week re-reading the entirety of the “View From Here,” struck, repeatedly, by how often I have managed to make the same, banal, observations, over and over again. But I’ll get to that, soon.
My final day in Scotland featured a visit to Edinburgh, getting info from the Fringe Headquarters (Edinburgh hosts the granddaddy of all fringes), and scoping out possible venues. It was a cloudy day, so the photos may not be spectacular, but I managed to pick up a few souvenirs, including a tartan scarf for mother’s day, in the plaid pattern of the MacKays, which I’m told are close relations to the McGees, which is Mom’s side of the family.
After one more dinner out, in Stirling, Martin, Liz and I called it a night early. Driving back to Kippen, I am reminded of another dialect quirk: People who cut you off in traffic are “Cheeky!” Usually “Cheeky” is followed by some sort of a noun.
Back at Martin and Liz’ house, a thank you card awaited me from the cast, along with a bottle of “Aberlour” a single-malt Scotch whiskey.
The next morning, Martin and I were up at 3 a.m., on our way to the airport. He sent me off with one final Scottish figure of speech: “Haste ye back.”
Following a short hop to Amsterdam, I boarded the flight to Chicago. The sun was up already, and would remain up throughout, so I put on my sleep mask and tried to catch a few winks. There was an Indian couple sitting next to me, but as I wanted to get all the sleep I could, I didn’t strike up any conversation. As I started to doze, I noted a scent in the air. The woman next to me was applying some sort of “Vapor-Rub,” which I could feel burning the back of my throat.
(I’ve heard of people getting upset about peanuts being served on a flight, but I can imagine little worse than Vapo-Rub amid the recirculated air of a plane cabin.)
In my half-asleep state, I didn’t want to wake myself further with the commotion of trying to relocate, so I simply tried breathing less. Upon reflection, probably not the best idea.
I arrived in Chicago, released quickly through customs, but there was no sign of my dad, who was to pick me up. I checked the baggage claim at another terminal, and then doubled back to find Dad and Mom, watching the passengers emerging. Apparently they were unable to get short-term parking at O’Hare, so it was another tram ride, followed by a bus to the parking lot, and a protracted search for the car in the long-term lot. It was about an hour after landing, that we were on the road again, heading home. I spent about 10 minutes throwing luggage into the car, and raced off on my way, stopping only at April’s house, to send off the most recent edition of the View From Here.
I was slowed for about an hour in traffic on the Dan Ryan not-so-expressway, making my way into southern Indiana, where I slept, finally, before continuing on to Lexington the next morning.
In Lexington, I was performing in what was essentially the lobby/foyer of a private school. I was suddenly anxious upon seeing the hustle of between-class foot traffic, swarming through the space where I would soon be performing. They assured me that, since all the kids in the school would be attending (with 100 or so chairs to be set up in the lobby), there wouldn’t be any such traffic during my show.
Meanwhile, they were concerned that my show, which cannot possibly be done in less than 55 minutes, would run over the time scheduled, particularly as the students each had to return to their home room to cast a student council vote before proceeding to the performance.
While I’d brought my projector, the school already had a projector and a screen set up in the foyer, which would dominate the background, casting images ten feet tall and fifteen feet wide behind me. It took me most of the hour leading up to my show to figure out how I would stage the thing without getting caught in the glare of the projector. I had to stand a good 7 feet downstage of the screen, which put me very close to the students, forcing them to adjust their chairs backwards.
When the students came in to sit down, they didn’t all sit in the chairs, but on the staircase, up on the second floor, looking down at me over, or through a railing, and wrapping around to my sides, upstage left and right of my position. I was essentially performing the show in about 270 degrees, to an audience that was both on my own level, and one floor above me. It was disorienting.
Also, once I began the show, I could feel just how much vocal strength it would take to “fill” this particular space. Even though the students were all within about 50 feet, the space was not confined, and the voice would trail off down adjacent corridors. Anything delivered under my breath would be lost on most of the students.
And so, it was a long improvisation, creating a style of delivery to fit this odd environment.
The kids took it very seriously. Which isn’t to say that they took me very seriously (a couple in the first row seemed to be having a laugh early on at my running pantomime), but they took the plot seriously. I saw a couple of teachers who appreciated the fact that the dialogue was “winking” beneath the stern attitude of the character, but the students didn’t “get” any of it until the diner scene was well underway, about 25 minutes into the show.
I kept the prop script very close this time, allowing my character to turn pages in the early scenes, as insurance against getting lost. (The setting was so unusual that I thought it would be worth the slight distraction of turning pages in order to make sure I didn’t have to stop dead.) I gathered confidence as I went, and by the time the diner scene came up, I didn’t look back, even though I may have ad-libbed my way out of a couple of jams. The final scene demanded an intensity and vocal output that was extreme, and I sensed that I “had them.”
I finished, walked off, returning for a quick bow. I exited to the classroom from which I’d entered, and the applause kept coming. I flirted with the idea of returning, but felt that the applause would die the moment I committed to another bow, and so I stayed offstage.
I packed up my props and went to lunch with my host, all the while being congratulated by students who anointed the show as “awesome.”
I continued south, into Tennessee, catching up once more on e-mails, and hitting a karaoke bar with Sabra. We returned to a place where the response had been lukewarm on my last pass through, but this time we were the only ones singing, and eventually the crowd was chanting “Ti-im! Ti-im! Ti-im!” As much as I enjoyed the attention, the smoke was killing my already tired voice, and we continued on to a much quieter joint, where the bartender and the only three patrons remembered us from the last visit. They had no “KJ” in place, but I figured out how to start up the machine, and we had a real game of “karaoke roulette,” as three of us would jump up to sing along, every time we recognized a song. In this fashion I sang “American Pie” for the first, and hopefully only time ever. I also sang the Olivia Newton John song, “I Honestly Love You,” in the style of Tom Waits, or, as he’s known in my play, “Charles.” When I announce that I’m doing the Tom Waits version of the song, everyone assumes that Tom Waits must have done some obscure cover version on one of his many albums. It’s pretty hilarious.
Saturday I worked, once again on the “Karaoke Knights” DVD. I had a performance coming up in Texas in a few days, and I wanted to readjust some volume levels, as well as put “chapter headings” into the disc. This way, if I should screw up a number somehow, I would be able to skip back or forward just to the beginning of this particular song, without starting the whole disc over. The process demanded that I go all the way back to the start, fixing the mp3, making that into a “wav” file, which I then apply to the “cdg,” which I make into an “avi”. I then “render” the avi’s into a DVD, and “burn” the DVD. It took all day on Saturday, but I finally came up with a finished product at around midnight, and just to be sure, I burned 5 more copies of “Version 6.2” of the disc, as backups. (I’ve been walking a tightrope with a single copy for too dangerously long!)
Meanwhile, I was negotiating a schedule via e-mail. My Monday gig in Richardson, Texas had written to say that my show would start at 12:30, and that I could do the tech rehearsal any time that morning. It gradually dawned on me that if I were rehearsing in the morning, and performing from 12:30-2 pm, then when, exactly, would I do the workshop we’d arranged?
Apparently they wanted a 2-hour acting workshop AFTER the show, during a time that I’d planned to make the 3-hour-20-minute trip to Brownwood for a 7:30 performance of “Karaoke Knights.” (I’d never had a high school gig go this late, and had felt somewhat secure in arranging the Brownwood performance, which by now had been plastered on posters and into the newspaper.)
Eventually, I got Richardson to settle for a 1-hour workshop (with a significant discount), and Brownwood agreed to start as late as 8 pm, if necessary.
They put me up in a terrific hotel in Richardson. Monday morning I rehearsed “Karaoke Knights” with the new disc, and headed in to the school, performing Moliere to about 70 kids, as well as my old friend, Kevin Page. (Given the interaction that I have with High School girls, Kevin writes that he wants to be me when he grows up … of course, he didn’t use those exact words.)
Changing costumes quickly, I repacked my trunk and addressed the theatre students. I took them through the first half of my workshop, with the “Hamlet” exercise, and though the hour had expired (with me doing further damage to my throat), I stayed just a little longer for a brief Q&A with the students.
I loaded back up and jumped on the road, racing out of the Dallas/Fort Worth area as quickly as I could, with only the slightest of slowdowns as rush hour approached. From then on it was clear sailing, and I raced west and then south, sucking on cough drops all the way.
With the help of Nancy Jo’s best tech student, James, I unloaded the car and set everything up in record time. We were actually able to open the house by 7:30, but only after making the unfortunate discovery that my separate Karaoke DVD, featuring 15 songs for the audience to sing along with, had warped in the car in recent months.
This meant that any Karaoke Warm-Up Event, which had been advertised in the newspaper already, would need to be a cappella. I did the two songs I knew by heart, “Lion Sleeps Tonight,” and “Why Don’t We Get Drunk,” and launched into the play. (Nancy Jo later got hassled by her administration when a student apparently complained about the song “Why Don’t We Get Drunk.”)
The rest of the show went well, and I somehow managed to sing through the entire show, with James improvising on the lights as we proceeded.
The next day, I did an acting workshop, which again taxed my voice to the limit, and returned for a final performance of “Karaoke Knights” that night, after building a few karaoke videos that I could actually play through my computer for the advertised “warm up,” keeping us away from the scandalous, “Why Don’t We Get Drunk.”
From there, it was south to Houston, where high school teacher Nancy Varga had arranged a living room party performance of Moliere as a preview for local high school teachers. Unfortunately no local high school teachers were available, so she populated the living room with her friends, her kids, and their friends, all of whom contributed a few bucks into the basket for gas money.
With the spring semester hereby complete, I drove east to New Orleans once more. I gave myself two days to relax and enjoy the sights. Sabra had likewise come down on a break, and Playwright Gil Martin was in town, too, working on the relief effort. We hung out at the Cat’s Meow, drinking hurricanes, singing and collecting beads. My voice had begun the recovery process, but I now had weeks before the next scheduled performance. For the moment, it was hard to imagine ever being able to pull off the “One-Man One-Man Theatre Festival” in a single night, but perhaps by late June, I’ll be there.
Word comes in from the University of Oklahoma: They want to hire me to perform in “Precious Young Maidens” and “School for Husbands” next January/February.
Sign seen in Arkansas: “CRETIN HOMES.”
Word from Grande Prairie, Alberta: They spotted an open weekend on my schedule between the Edmonton Fringe and the Vancouver Fringe, and have requested that I come to them to perform “The One-Man Fringe Festival” with all three of my plays in a single weekend.
Meanwhile, I’ve committed to group leading for the Pathways weekend coming up June 8-11, and as a part of my objective-setting exercise, I’m committing to having my four books complete by that time. I’ve spent the last week at home rereading this entire collection of “letters home,” getting 530 pages of “The View From Here” down to 323 pages. I am shocked at how many times, through the course of the last four years, I have repeated the same damn thing over and over again, and am especially impressed at the tolerance you all seem to have for me doing so.
I realize that you may not need to be reminded after every performance that the audience “enjoyed” “Moliere Than Thou”, and perhaps that continuous reassertion is mostly about me assuring myself. Certainly you’ve read more than enough about how the various “volunteer scenes” play, and of course you know that I spend a lot of my time e-mailing, if only to make all of these bookings possible, and a lot of time driving, elsewise, how would I be earning this living? (I’m working on extracting some percentage of these tired references from the book.) And while, by now you all know that Isaac is in Detroit, Maureen is in Baltimore, Pat is in Salem, and Forsyth is in North Carolina, I may take some of these names and episodes “as read.”
For what it’s worth, I’m declaring this the end of the book. Of course the process never ends, and any beginning or ending is pretty arbitrary, and sequels are always possible but four years of school performances seems to make a punctuation mark of some sorts. With the recent addition of European travel, pending publications, and longer-term performance bookings, as well as a very busy Fall on the horizon, the nature of the thing seems to be making a sea change, of sorts. And since there is really no one to insist otherwise, I hereby assert that I have graduated, and wherever it is that I go next will be the “next level.”
Time to declare victory and go home.
Haste ye back.
Attendance: 90 + 70 + 60 + 30 + 25 + 18 = 293
In the CD Player: Le Grande Debacle
Discoveries: I have managed to make the same, banal, observations, over and over again. * I have graduated, and am moving up to the next level.
Miles on the Vibe: 187,000
Next Performance: June 30, Chattanooga (The One-Man One-Man Play Festival)