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:
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.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The View From Here: "Help ... "

Hello my Friends,


I’ll be sending out the latest edition of “The View From Here” in a very short while, but first, I wanted to alert you to a rather important request. (To make sure it doesn’t get buried in my lengthy chat.)

Help! My computer equipment all got stolen in Winnipeg! (They broke into my car.)

Fortunately, I have such a great group of supporters out there. Over 400 people reading “The View From Here.”

Unfortunately, I’ve lost about half of their e-mail addresses. Any address added or changed since July 2004.

Apparently, yours, I still have.

If you are reading this note on one of my websites, and are wondering what happened to the View … I need to get your e-mail address again. Please forward it my way.

So, here are my requests:

If you know of anyone who has belonged to the “View From Here” list, who’s information may have changed, or who may have joined in the last two years, please forward me their info. If you’ve retained any e-mail I’ve sent to a group of people, please forward that e-mail back to me so I can check those addresses.

Or, if you’re just aware of someone who OUGHT to be on this list, let me know. (Weeding through my rolodex, I’ve added back some of you who I think were, or I think ought to be on this list, so again, let me know if you’d rather not receive these.)

Also, there are some key documents that I’ve made new drafts of in the past two years, which I’m trying to recapture. If you have any of the following, please forward me a copy:

THE VIEW FROM HERE (edited copy; i.e., less than 400 pages)

Thank you for your support in this challenging time! You guys are the best.

Yours truly,

The View From Here #114: Chicago, IL; Winnipeg, MB

I take it as a great sign of my own personal evolution that I am still upbeat these days.

As my previous message has indicated, I lost quite a bit in a car break-in the other day. Data that I have been assembling, generating and accumulating for 10 years was lost. I have started over from zero, and am currently caught up to somewhere around the fall of 2004.

Either I have lost my mind, or there is something refreshing about actually being able to start over from zero. Perhaps for once I don’t feel responsible for stuff I’ve been carrying around with me for years.

And all around me, people are rallying to my aid: Donations, equipment loans, a beer here and there. An article in the newspaper. If you never fall, you never give the universe the opportunity to catch you.

I will be recovering from this loss for at least the next three months. Probably the next year. But for the moment, the slate is clean, and I can choose my priorities.

But back to where we left off … a month or so ago … (cue flashback music here)

I got a 30-day trial download of Adobe Illustrator, and went to work on all of my promotional stuff. I re-did flyers, advertisements, brochures. I updated my 3-show brochure, and put together a new poster featuring all three shows. My former roommate, Deb, took over getting them all copied, and two big boxes arrived just before I left town. (Word on the street in Winnipeg is that my “Criteria” poster is quite arresting.)

My last weeks in Chicago featured mailings, especially to French Teachers, organizing and reorganizing my tour schedule. Working my way through my acting textbook. And setting up and performing six shows in two nights in Chicago.

Attendance was fairly light at the performances, but there were some good friends who hadn’t seen all of my shows before, who came and were very responsive. I was generally pretty exhausted by the end of each evening. But again, it was good to know that it could be done. One question that came up for me, though, was whether it devalued the worth of any individual play by doing all three of them in a single night. Was I making it look “too easy?”

Saying goodbyes to family and friends, I set out onto the road, with plans to be gone for as much as four months this time around. I drove to Minneapolis, where I unloaded the props/costumes/equipment that I would not need in Winnipeg into Amy Salloway’s apartment, thus making room for Amy and her stuff in my car, and the two of us rode up together. We made the border crossing smoothly, and arrived in Winnipeg mid-afternoon on Monday.

I hit the ground running, getting a few posters up around the ticket sales area, and checking in with my billet before racing on to the media event at my venue (“Ragpickers”). They were about a half-hour into the event, and apparently two of the University radio stations had come out especially to interview me. Either my “comic sci-fi thriller” genre appeals to the University crowd, or it appeals to the techno-philes who work at radio stations.

The next day was more postering, and I set out in a fairly systematic way, grabbing what I felt were the most effective spots for posters that I could find, and working my way from one side of the fringe to another. “You’re everywhere!” is the response that I’ve been hearing from some of my fellow fringers.

Tuesday, I was to have my tech rehearsal, except that it turned out that I had no technician. While the fringe usually supplies the single technician that I need, this year I’m in a BYOV (bring your own venue), and some miscommunication left the venue host with the assumption that I wouldn’t need anyone. I still managed to set up my stuff, and figure out where the projector and the screen would “live” through the course of my show.

That night, I reunited with my buddy, Robin, at the King’s Head Pub, and we caught up on old times. Robin has done a nice tribute page to me at, and has been looking forward to seeing the “final” version of “Criteria” as he’d only seen a workshop of the show three years ago.

Wednesday was the fringe “free-for-all”, and I prepared two minutes of “Criteria”. They ran way behind, though, and it seemed that all of the media people were gone by the time I got onto the big outdoor stage.

Halfway into my free-for-all routine (the encounter with the waitress), a fire truck went by, getting louder and louder. At first I tried to top it, but eventually I simply had to pause, as it passed within about 50 feet of the stage, before continuing. By this time, however, I was distracted, and couldn’t remember exactly which lines came when, and where I’d planned to make a cut, and what I was going to leave intact. I pushed my way through to some semblance of an end with the punch-line I’d been saving (“The sleazy waitress was the love play-thing to every passer-by who came through her stop!”) and got off the stage.

In spite of the confusion, people said they enjoyed it, and at least one couple reported that it was seeing that preview that got them interested in attending.

Later that day, I finally held my tech rehearsal, with a stage manager who had been recruited from another show. She was efficient, and very logical, and I ended up getting the benefit of two tech rehearsal slots: one Tuesday, setting up my stuff, and another one Wednesday, figuring out the cues, and running the show.

Thursday, I opened the show, to an audience of perhaps 22. Great response from the audience, so I felt things might go well. I then took in a couple of friends’ shows, and relaxed at the beer tent, visiting old friends Melanie and David. I had been telling a new acquaintance about my promotional campaigns, and wanted to show her my latest brochure. I made a run out to my car to grab a brochure from out of the passenger seat.

And there I noticed that the laptop computers weren’t where I’d left them … on the floor of the passenger side.

I looked across at the other side of the car, and saw it: the driver’s side window had been smashed in. The impact hit me all at once. Everything was gone. Everything. Inside the cases holding the laptops, were discs that I’d backed up all of my works onto, including a large independent hard drive.

Actually, the thieves hadn’t stolen my projector or my digital camera.

I stumbled around the fringe grounds for a bit, getting a call in to the police (a fringe volunteer gave me a beer), and eventually driving back to my billet. The next morning, I put in calls to the insurance company, stopped at a glass repair shop, and tried to figure out how I would do the show without a computer.

Eventually, Kristen, from Ragpickers, loaned me the use of her computer, and I downloaded the key maps onto her hard drive. I explained to the audience of twenty that the usual Power Point slides would not be transitioning so smoothly, and I began the show. The audience was extremely responsive, and things were going great. And then about 40 minutes into the show, a circuit went out in the theatre. The slides went black, the air conditioner went silent, and two lighting instruments remained on. I paused for about a half-second, and continued. I could see the audience smiling as they realized that nothing was going to stop me from finishing the show. Suddenly, there was greater depth and excitement to every moment. With the air conditioning off, I could include quiet moments as well as loud in my range of expression, and it was extremely effective.

I looked forward to Saturday. My BYOV had simplified the scheduling by putting all of the shows at the same time every day, and my slot was 4:30. This meant that a lot of people who work during the day would have to come on the weekend. A review had already showed up on the Free Press blog (later printed in the paper), and it was mostly very positive:
“It's a sci-fi action flick, a thriller, a mystery and a road movie all boiled into a riveting one-man show. The setting is bleak 24th-century America. Oil and gas have been depleted, the United States is divided into three warring unions, and the social insurance number tattooed on your hand determines all aspects of your existence. Seasoned Illinois actor and playwright Timothy Mooney convincingly -- and with great range and depth -- plays an identity-less terrorist who is taken from his mother at birth and raised in seclusion to be a killing machine. Now he's traveling across America to fulfill what he believes is his heroic destiny. This hour-long show is dense and a bit dry at first, and at times Mooney gets bogged down in details about the social security system, politics and racism. But if you stick with it, you'll be well rewarded. The intrigue culminates in an edge-of-your-seat finale in which the terrorist quite literally holds the fate of America in his hands.” -- Cheryl Binning
The odd thing was that she finished off by assigning the show “3 1/2 stars”, which on the 5-star Canadian scale is pretty close to average. Odd, I guess, because words like “riveting,” “great range and depth” and “edge-of-your-seat finale” seem to lead one to a different conclusion. (Fortunately this was not my own observation. Keir Cutler of “Teaching Shakespeare” pointed it out, asking “Do they even read their own reviews?”) The problem is that a lot of theatre-goers here look first for the number of stars, and then, maybe, read the reviews.

But certainly, there are some good pull-quotes there, and some increased attendance. Saturday’s show, however, did not show much improvement. A Fringe employee had come to my rescue, putting together a computer for me to use in my show through the remainder of the festival, and I began rebuilding the slide show once again. There were about 30 in attendance, including four reviewers, and at least one reviewer sat off to the back, away from everybody else. I took this as a bad sign, as he wouldn’t feel the impact of the communal laughter. And, probably wanted to maintain an intellectual “distance,” which is death.

It turned out that there wasn’t much communal laughter in this performance anyway. One of the college radio station guys showed up with a microphone, to record the performance (I’d given him permission), and I think that when an audience sees this, they try to remain politely quiet, so as not to ruin the recording.

During the day, I’d been reading a book, perhaps my first bit of recreational reading in a year or so. The lack of a laptop computer was keeping me from doing some of the busy work I’d need to do with the upcoming bookings (I’m going shopping mid-week), and it felt good to indulge myself, reading Isaac Asimov’s “The Robots of Dawn.”

Sunday things took a turn for the better. The audience was up around fifty, and they were responding heartily again. A couple more good reviews were starting to appear. My friends Melanie and David wrote:
“An unusual thriller based 300 years in the future, this one man show will both make you laugh and puzzle over the future of the united states. Actor Tim Mooney (still single... hee hee) cleverly examines how numbers define cultural identity. A must see!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
(The “still single” part was their idea.) Melanie and David brought their Asian friend, Gio, with them to the show, and afterwards they were joking around at the beer tent. I assume that somebody had made a racially tinged joke, and Gio held up his hand, where the “tattoo” from the performance of “Criteria” still remained, and exclaimed “Did this mean NOTHING to you, man?!”

And a woman attending the power-failure performance wrote:
“Despite production woes (2 stolen laptops needed to project his supporting backdrop, an overloaded electrical circuit which blew halfway through the show, knocking out his replacement laptop and the air conditioning), Tim Mooney did a very professional job of performing his new play, Criteria.

”It's set in a dystopian future somewhat reminiscent of Orwell's 1984, with its warring superstates. These superstates are 3 new nations carved out of the existing USA, based (rather cleverly, I thought), on US Social Security Numbers, which start with the numbers 0 through to 5 and which are based on where you're born (e.g., if born in the western states, your SSN starts with a "5"). Mooney plays a terrorist from the "3" state (Middle America, from Texas to Minnesota, an straightlaced militaristic country) who has snuck into the "decadent 5" state to blow up a train carrying nuclear waste. He's trying to pass as a "5" but keeps giving himself away, particularly in a hilarious interchange with a friendly waitress at a dinner in Kansas.
“Don't worry about the laptop glitches - this is a solid "4 star" performance well worth coming from out of town to see.”
There were more reactions, positive and negative, and to me, at least, they seem to correspond with which performance the viewer happened to see. Sunday’s performance was one of my best, but when I found myself at the end of the play, I lost my way through some of the final wrapping up of plot threads, and kind of worked my way into the end, somehow. Monday’s performance was much more exact, but the audience was subdued, probably from the oppressive heat that was in the room that day.

My friend April had been planning a vacation to Winnipeg to finally see what fringe festivals are all about, and as she also happens to be my computer guru, I got her stop at my folks house to pick up some discs and some paperwork to help with the rebuilding process. I met her at the airport just before Wednesday’s show, and she helped pass out some flyers. It turned out to be a well-attended show, perhaps partially because it was my “volunteer appreciation show” and a bunch of them got in for free.

This was followed by an evening at the beer tent, mostly, with a couple of really good shows. Really good shows so far have included: “Burden of Poof,” “Britchick,” “Switchback,” “Kind Hearts and Coronets,” “Josie With The Toes” and “dancingmonkeyboy.” There are other great ones, but I haven’t had much time for viewing, with all of the mishaps.

I’ve been in an odd suspended state these past few days. Dealing with the break-in, while trying to perform a show every day, and riding the roller coaster of good and … less-good audiences from one day to the next. It’s almost an existential quandary: with no record of the last ten years of work, do they still exist? Am I my writings? Is lost work reworkable? Would I want to rework it if it were? Do I want to begin from scratch in rebuilding my contacts amid the theatre/French faculties? Or is this the perfect chance to chuck it all, move to L.A., and start auditioning for movies? Is fate / karma sending me a message about where I really can begin to focus my energies?

I don’t know the answers to any of these, and my answers seem to change on an hourly basis. I figure it will be at least three months to a year before I’m back up to the speed that I’ve been at. But do I want to be on the road while I’ve got that kind of a project now pending? But if I go off the road, can I afford to do the things I want? For once, I just don’t know the answers to this. And perhaps the hardest part is to live in the state of not knowing.



I wrote these thoughts mid-week, and couldn’t send any of them, since I didn’t have my computer back, and my contact list restored.

Since that time, I’ve bought a new computer. It seems I always end up spending the same amount for a computer every time I replace my laptop (usually about $1500), but as the technology continues to improve, I get much more value with each successive purchase.

On Thursday, the “Jenny Revue” newspaper came out, with the following reviews:

“When was the last time you attended a Fringe show where, all around you, audience members were literally leaning forward in their seats, virtually mesmerized and determined not to miss a single word? It happened the other afternoon with “Criteria”, a very clever cautionary science fiction tale.
“Mooney starts his show with a timeline of American history from the Civil War to the 24th century “present”, paying special attention to the era known as “The Terror”, which began in 2001 (wet it?). During this time, the United States Department of Homeland Security began classifying, and then segregating, all Americans according to their Social Security Number.
“Like all good sci-fi premises, it’s just plausible enough to be creepy. And in Mooney’s universe, it leads to the breakup of the country into three parts, each ignorant and suspicious of the other two.
“Mooney plays a spy sent to destroy “California”, as the Western half of the nation is now called, with a nuclear device. His sure-footed and often intense delivery as he acted out his character’s mood swings from self-doubt to bouts of hyper patriotism to pangs of conscience, won the audience over within minutes. And when he reached the climax of the story on the almost bare stage, straddling a bridge preparing to drop his nuclear device onto a train moving beneath him, the entire audience was up on that bridge with him.
“One of the best and most original things in Fringe 2006. Welcome back, Mr. Mooney”
(Janice Sawka)

“Written and performed by Tim Mooney, Criteria is a futuristic, sci-fi conspiracy thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat.
“Set in the 24th century, we follow the story of a special agent as he sets out on a secret mission to tip the balance of power in the fractured American political landscape.
“After taking us through the events that have led to the current situation in United States of the 2300s, Mr. Mooney embarks on an adventure that will satisfy the most ardent fans of the sci-fi genre.”
(Ken Gordon)

It seems “edge of your seat” is a favorite phrase describing the end of my show. That, along with “riveting” or “gripping” have popped up more than once.

Attendance was back down on Thursday, with just about a dozen in the audience. And then, also on Thursday, the Uptown review came out.

"A" (Rating)
“In the future, an energy-starved United States will be torn apart by divisions based on people's social-security numbers. Silly what inconsequential things discrimination is based on, isn't it? Timothy Mooney's one-man show is provocative, funny, thoughtful, shocking and compelling. Stuff like this is what the fringe is all about. See it.”
(Quentin Mills-Fenn ,Winnipeg "Uptown")

And so, Friday’s attendance started to creep up again (about 50 in the audience), with lots of fellow actors in the house, and, I suspect, a reviewer from Edmonton. April was in the audience again, and the audience seemed to pick up her infectious laugh. Saturday’s audience was up to 60, with more great laughers, and Sunday’s fell off slightly, to 40.

Sunday was a blizzard of activity, with closing night get-togethers and parties. The wrap-up “Jenny Revue” party was at the King’s Head, and I found myself going from one conversation to the next almost non-stop. They wind it all up with an awards event, of sorts. They divide the plays into a series of categories, usually based on some theme, such as “Time,” which was where my play, set 300 years in the future, was placed. And then they announce each contestant and judge them based on applause. They announced my play and a healthy roar went up from the crowd, myself included. And I won! It is, of course, simply a popularity contest, but when was the last time I won a popularity contest? I proceeded to drink and schmooze for another two hours.

Next performance: Minneapolis, MN: The Minnesota Fringe
Attendance: 369
Miles on the Vibe: 192,000 (with a broken window)
Discoveries: There is something refreshing about being able to start over from zero. * If you never fall, you never give people the opportunity to catch you. * The hardest part is to live in the state of not knowing. … It’s probably also the only state in which we are open to learning anything.

PS: I have begun my own personal boycott of Diebold ATM’s. I don’t believe in letting them extort two dollars from me every time I need some money, particularly as they simply take those two dollars and use them to rig elections.