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.

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