Monday, September 25, 2006

The View From Here #117: Grande Prairie, AB; Seattle, WA; Missoula, MT; Caldwell, ID

All of a sudden, Summer Fringing is over, and the school tour is underway. Not a lot of performances for the last few weeks, but I’ve had so much work to do that I haven’t really had time to put these thoughts together.

Where you last left me, I was heading from Edmonton to Grande Prairie, about six hours northwest. They actually have road signs that say “ALASKA” with an arrow pointing off to the northwest. I assumed that meant that Alaska is fairly close, and maybe it is as the crow flies, but Mapquest tells me that Juneau is another 26 hours away by automobile.

Grande Prairie is what you’d have to call a “boom town.” The increase in oil prices have made oil shale mining more lucrative, and the small city is bursting with trucks and construction. “Help Wanted” signs are up everywhere. If anybody out there ever wants to work in a Tim Hortons, jobs there START at over $10 an hour. Of course, apartments are at a premium.

My host, Thomas, who has previously directed my version of “Tartuffe,” and who has slated my “Miser” for the coming year, took me out to a wonderful dinner my first night in town, and any inclinations toward vegetarianism disappeared when I had to try the “bison” on the menu.

I would be performing in the Army/Navy Hall … an open room with a temporary stage, a dozen lights, and folding chairs. I was doing all three shows over the course of three nights, and I learned my lesson from the last “One-Man, One-Man Play Festival,” and did not attempt to tech all three shows at once. We did tech rehearsals the night of the shows for each performance. The local paper had carried one of the better-written feature stories that I’d received. (Unfortunately, it's already been deleted from the websites archives.) However, word on the street was that ticket sales were lagging. Of course, in this kind of a booking, it doesn’t literally matter to me whether I perform for 10 people or a hundred, and yet, I like to think that my hosts are getting their investment back.

“Criteria” (Promo Video from Winnipeg) may have had 10 or so in the audience, and they seemed very interested, though not very vocal. (I have come to accept that “Criteria” fares better with the American crowd which is intimately familiar with the machinations of the social security number, and as a result, will watch “Criteria” as an enactment of their own potential future.)

During the day I was jogging and working on bookings. Unfortunately, the Earthlink dial-up connection from Grande Prairie was the worst that I’ve ever encountered, and I was losing my connection every five minutes or so.

“Moliere Than Thou” on Friday night was better attended, with 30 or so. There was an odd laugh toward the end of the final speech, from “Precious Young Maidens,’ and I couldn’t remember how I was to get into the final phase of the “Stop Thief” sequence. I stumbled around a bit and jumped ahead to what I could remember.

Finally, “Karaoke Knights” had been my biggest concern, but turned out to be my biggest success. I hadn’t performed this show since Chattanooga, and wasn’t sure of some of the lyrics. I ran the show twice during the day, hoping that I wasn’t killing my voice in the process. But finally, a nice-sized audience showed up. There were 40 or so in the house, surprisingly, for a show no one had ever heard of before. Thomas’ daughter came to this show, somewhat perturbed that her father hadn’t mentioned to her that there were two other shows, now past, scheduled for previous nights.

The karaoke warm-up went well, and I got most of the audience singing along. There were, however, four somewhat older characters, sitting off to the right, who were largely unmoved by the whole “singing along” suggestion. In fact, just as I was about to start, they sent a request up to me, via another of my hosts (Heather) asking whether I would turn the volume down. Since I had just spent two hours adjusting and re-adjusting the volume so that the backing track would be balanced against my voice, I couldn’t turn anything down without having to re-work all of the levels. I had to say no. (Of course, looking back, I should have just said “yes” and left everything the way it was, since I had simply turned up the volume on the warm-up music, since the karaoke tracks were so weakly produced.)

When they got word that I would NOT turn down the music, these four picked up their folding chairs and moved about ten yards back from their previous position, a vast gap from anybody else in the audience. They were, in fact, cutting off their noses to spite their face, since, from 20 yards away, they wouldn’t be able to read all of the lyrics on the projection screen, and their enjoyment of the play would be diminished significantly.

I decided that worrying about them would be counterproductive. They were more interested in complaining than enjoying themselves. And so, I played to the house that was sitting closer in, and they were responding to everything. I picked two out of three of the volunteers for the show perfectly. I’d noticed that Heather was steering a particular woman to sit in the chair that she’d observed me using in the tech rehearsal for the “bondage parody,” and I took that as a cue that this would be an effective victim, and yes, the laughs were huge for that. Only the “tango” volunteer was a bit shaky, but the audience continued to respond throughout, and stood with an ovation at the end.

After the show, I sold a couple of CD’s and a few of my scripts, and my hosts and I rendezvoused at the hotel bar to celebrate. The run of the shows had been, at least, an artistic success, and perhaps word would get around the community, and there would be a better attendance should we ever decide to do it again.

In the meantime, I was still trying to decide what to do next. I continued to send out e-mails until check-out time, but eventually loaded up the car and headed south.

I drove only for a few hours, stopping again in Grande Casche. It was Labor Day Weekend, and hotels were still expensive. I had more than two weeks until my next performance, and more hotel bills like this would wipe out any monies I had made from Edmonton and Grande Prairie. Even so, the privacy of the hotels allowed me to get lots of work done, including the update of my Acting textbook.

Labor Day found me driving further south, along the “spine” of the Canadian Rockies, the “Glacier Parkway,” leading from Jasper to Banff. The warnings along the highway advertised Moose, but of course none were to be seen. The scenery was breathtaking, though, and I stopped again and again for photos.

I stopped that second night in Golden, British Columbia, and decided to risk a long westward trek the following day. I headed for Vancouver, but had unfortunately been confusing Miles and Kilometers all day long. The Canadian maps were in kilometers, so I’d assumed that my American Atlas was, as well. No such luck. An assumed 500 kilometer trip was actually 500 miles, which meant at least three more hours on the road than I’d intended.

I arrived in Vancouver, having attempted several times to reach the fellow who’d billeted me last year during the fringe. I’d assumed he’d be billeting somebody new this year, but just on a lark I went by his apartment building. Tapping on his door, I found him in, and with a couch available for me to sleep on. I spent two days enjoying beautiful Vancouver, continuing to work on my bookings, but still finding time to visit the beach. And just as I was getting ready to head south, my friend, David, in Seattle, called affirming that he did, indeed have his basement apartment available for my use while I was passing through town.

Such luck. I could hole up and get work done, without losing all of my recent earnings to the hotel barons. I went jogging almost every day, and spent about two hours a day working on lines for “The Precious Young Maidens,” which I’ll be appearing in at the University of Oklahoma this winter. I also traded a couple of e-mails with Susan, the director of the show, and we decided to trade out a planned production of “The School for Husbands,” with “The Doctor in Spite of Himself,” which had received such a great production in Scotland, and which I’d memorized once already (back in 2001)!

While I was in Seattle, David hosted a terrific party, drafting me to perform a half-hour or so from my Moliere show, before segueing into karaoke. What he didn’t mention was that he had invited a couple of avid arts supporters, and by the end of the night we were making plans to set up an event in Seattle on my next pass through, in April.

Amid my mailings, I sent a bunch of e-mails out to Florida teachers, and one of them apparently passed my info on to a student that I’d performed for last year. He wrote to me:

“You came to Florida last year. Lakeland Florida to be exact. I never got the chance to meet you or tell you how amazed I was, and tell you how amazing you were. I am now a huge Moliere fan, and you inticed my interest in him. You did a spectacular job that day...”

[These kinds of unsolicited testimonials always make my day. I have no way of measuring what kind of impact my work may have, months after I’ve picked up and headed along on my way. I’d remembered that particular performance: over 600 in the audience, which inspired me to fly pretty high.]

Around the same time, I received two verses, from the folks in Grande Prairie. Both the theatre manager and Thomas were writing to encourage me to cut my royalty price for "The Miser," and requesting it in the style with which I was so familiar:

A hundred bucks for opening night
Is far too much, it just ain’t right
And seventy five for t’ other eight
Without a doubt would seal our fate

Seventy five for opening would be best
And fifty each for all the rest
Surely this would be much wiser
Cause after all, the play’s The Miser.


A break is what Grande Prairie Live Theatre needs
So I ask you Tim, please do take heed
We plan to perform your version of The Miser
However, we’d like to barter the royalties you require

The one hundred dollars for the first performance you petition
Is a little bit elevated and therefore my mission
To have you permit us the ability to strive
The first night we would pay you seventy five

The other performances we offer you fifty
For you to agree, would be really nifty
The total amount would be four hundred seventy five
For this we would perform your play “Live”

To these I replied:

Two verses; by both a man and lady, in,
But neither cites American or Canadian.
While I may grant petitions with my vote
I see another motive for this note:
Such tactics others may eschew; it's clear,
They angle to get in "The View from Here."

With a week of memorizing and booking under my belt, I headed south, for a night in Portland, staying at my favorite hotel (the one with the wine bar in the basement), and checking out Portland theatre spaces in anticipation of an attempted run of performances, perhaps in the spring. I caught up with a few friends while I was there, including several friends from the fringe circuit (Chris and Eleanor) and my friend Tina, the French Teacher.

Once again I was on my way, this time heading east. I’d been heading west for so long, that I was starting to lose track of exactly which direction I wanted to take any given highway. I had to stare at the road sign for upwards of 10 seconds, almost as if I was learning the meaning of the word from scratch: “East … east … east … which one was east?” I took a short hop, to southeast Washington, chasing down more e-mailing from the hotel when I arrived, and allowing myself the luxury of renting a DVD (Albert Brooks’ “Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World”, which is very funny).

The next day, I was going to stop in Coeur d’Alane, but hadn’t heard back from my friend Joe for a couple of weeks, and so I continued to push through to Missoula, where my former theatre professor (coincidentally, also named Joe), Joe Proctor, teaches. Joe hadn’t seen me act in perhaps 25 years!

Since I’d gotten into town early, I offered to stop in on one of Joe’s classes, and the conversation was going so well, he invited me to come back after lunch to meet with another class that had almost all of the same students in it. This also went well, and the following day, I visited a third class, where the topic was solo performance, and gave them the tale of my three one-man shows, performing scenes from each.

Unfortunately, aside from Joe, the Missoula theatre faculty really weren’t incorporating plans to see “Moliere” into their students’ schedules, and they’d scheduled at least three rehearsals in conflict with my performance. I was beginning to wonder if we’d have more than a couple dozen people in the auditorium.

Fortunately the local Alliance Francaise HAD done quite a bit of work to get the word out, and there were well over a hundred people in the audience. It had already been two weeks since the Grande Prairie performance, so I was a little worried, but the show went incredibly well. The audience was laughing at everything, and I was riding the wave of their laughter to newly improvised interpretations, with a standing ovation at the end.

The French folks threw a reception after the show, and they were absolutely effusive. They appreciated the work, not just for my acting, but also the writing which they felt captured the spirit of Moliere. They started asking about getting me to come back and appear in a full production of one of these plays, and they didn’t blink when I mentioned what the price tag for such an event would be.

Which reminds me: the Alliance Francaise was a co-sponsor of this event, and while the Theatre department had already paid me, I hadn’t received the AF check quite yet. I waited for the room to clear a little bit before mentioning it quietly to my host, but the word circulated quickly to the Executive Director, who called the Treasurer (it was now 11:30 at night) who rushed back to the party to write me a check then and there.

In the morning, I was shaking off the cobwebs from the wine at the reception the night before, and got one more visit in with Joe, who reaffirmed his enjoyment of the show (particularly the expression of the language), as I loaded up the car and hit the road.

Later, I received an e-mail from a friend of a friend (who I’d never met) relaying the satisfied review of two friends who’d come to my show in Missoula:

“We are just home from Tim Mooney's wonderful performance! It was just so good and we're very glad we went. I would guess there were 75-80 people there. Annette decided not to go, but she would have enjoyed it too. He did near 2 hrs with no intermission...amazing energy. All were done so very well, with him changing pieces of his costume and wigs with each new piece. The pace increased as he went from play to play, doing just a short bit from each...the last one was a climax of hilarity and we both laughed until tears rolled down our cheeks. John hinted as we drove home that I may have laughed somewhat harder (louder??) than others, so I'm just a tad mortified. It was great and I hope you get a chance to see him perform. Thanks for your e-mail about it.”

In the past, I’ve only crossed Idaho at either the north or the south end. This time, I was following the Lewis & Clark trail across Lolo pass, seeing signs that alerted, “Winding Road, Next 77 Miles.” It was a slow slog across the mountains, but the scenery was lush, with evergreens everywhere, and a beautiful river that was riding to my left and right all the way down the mountains. Only the general cloudiness kept me from having to stop to take photos every five minutes.

Entering Idaho, the time zone had switched to Pacific Time, and so I relaxed, with an extra hour to spare. However, once my road turned south, running the length of Idaho’s upward stem, I passed another sign that said, “Now Entering Mountain Time,” and I had to push forward again, pulling into Caldwell, Idaho (which is just west of Boise) at about 6:30, dropping my stuff off at a home where they were putting me up, before rushing on to the tech rehearsal.

The next morning, I was performing in the high school, and I’d been warned about just how “conservative” this community was, suggesting even that it was the most conservative county in the United States. (Funny thing was that I didn’t actually meet a conservative in my entire time there. Everyone I met used every opportunity to tell me what an idiot the president is, and what a dangerous, ridiculous game we have been playing in Iraq … which leads me to believe that the American Conservative is a mythical figure perpetuated by the media as a bogeyman to the left wing.)

There were, perhaps 300 kids in attendance at the show, including a large group from the “Alternative School,” which seemed to have my hosts a bit nervous. Later they were to tell me how astounded they were that the Alternative kids paid attention throughout. In fact the only one who was actually disruptive was the president of the school’s thespian club, who had apparently had enough of watching a show where he wasn’t the center of attention, and got up to leave about two thirds of the way through. I did a double take on him (to the satisfaction of his teacher) and continued.

Later that morning, I was to give a workshop at the University, but through some lack of communication, the session had been scheduled at a time when only three students could attend. I engaged them in a conversation about performance, and did a couple of my exercises, but ultimately we were left with just one student and two of my hosts, so we wrapped up early. I got to visit with one of the hosts, who does a lot of work with the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, where I’d love to get one of my shows performed one of these days. I left him with a couple scripts.

That night I had one more show, this time at the college, and while my host had fretted about the lack of attendance, there still seemed to be about 200 people out there, and they were laughing almost as much as the Missoula audience was.

The two volunteers were both theatre majors, and everyone assumed that they were “plants” in the audience, because they were so good. The female volunteer was a young Asian actor who met Moliere’s frisky introduction with a purring playfulness, and the man shifted, in the middle of the scene, from his normal tone, into a caricature of a voice, which gave me the opportunity to do several exaggerated takes to the audience.

After the play we did a “talkback,” and perhaps 30 or 40 stuck around afterwards to chat about Moliere and my work. I packed up the trunk and the fellow from the Shakespeare Fest took me out for a couple beers, before I headed back to the home where I was staying.

It is now 7 am Mountain time and time for me to hit the road again. I’ve been on the road, now, since mid-July, and I finally get to turn my car back towards Chicago, even if it’s only for a couple of days’ visit.

Finally, I have a tendency to come back from a late night of celebrating at the bar to write angry on-line retorts to some of the news media. This time around, I noticed that when they cannot legitimately justify the actions of George Bush, they elevate their descriptions of his intent with florid language, in this case suggesting that Bush "stopped just short of calling the United Nations 'feckless'." And so I dashed this item off to CNN the other day:

"Under what right wing fantasy is George Bush somehow on the verge of calling the United Nations 'feckless?' The man doesn't have words like this in his lexicon ... if he knew what a 'lexicon' was. I read the report on his press conference yesterday which suggested that he was complaining about the 'moral relativism' of suggestions that other countries might torture American forces. BUSH DOESN'T KNOW THE MEANING OF THE PHRASE 'MORAL RELATIVISM!'

"Why do reporters dignify his screeching, incoherent, blithering, whining, egomaniacal, tyrannical, posturing rants, by assigning words that are outside of the man's vocabulary to describe his supposed intent?

"It is irresponsible reportage, justifying the excesses and the incoherent violence of this administration, by cloaking it with the intellectual pretense of language that attempts to define and justify above and beyond this man's simple knee-jerk, pouty, manipulative, pandering, evasive attempts aimed at dodging culpability for the violence they have inflicted upon the world, en masse.

"Quite simply: He has endorsed torture, and the UN has the gall to suggest that this is a bad thing. Someone out there noticed that if other countries adopt the 'Bush Doctrine' that torture will come back to visit us in a bad way. A question to which Bush had no coherent answer. ('I can't answer ... hypotheticals...' he whined.) PERIOD. END OF STORY. Stop dressing it up as though he had a rational point!"


Miles on the Vibe: 196,500
Attendance: 12 + 35 + 45 + 10 + 150 + 300 + 200 = 752
Temperature: 60s and dropping quickly (snow in Wyoming!)
Next performance: Monmouth, IL, Sept 27, 2006
Discoveries: “Criteria” fares better with a crowd who will see it as an enactment of their own potential future. * Allow the audience the illusion that you are accommodating all of their needs, even when that is impossible, so that they don’t spend the entire show with a chip on their shoulder. * Check whether that particular map is in Miles or Kilometers. * The bulk of the impact that my work has will ultimately remain invisible to me.