Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The View From Here #106: Normal, IL & Austin, TX

Standing in line at the Walgreen’s, I got an idea for a Christmas present. They were advertising photo calendars, and with all of the family that I’d visited, and snapped photos of, on the road, I realized that I was in a unique position to assemble a calendar of my own. Rather than a single photo for each month, I thought about how great it might be to track birthdays, by inserting a photo of brothers-sister-nephews-cousins, etc., onto the individual calendar square that represented their birthday. (I don’t recall when the last time was that I’d actually remembered one of my nephew’s birthdays.) Of course, Walgreen’s service was nowhere near this detailed, so this meant assembling such an item from scratch using Power Point.

It was a much bigger project than anticipated. Every time I explained the nature of the project to a given cousin, it seemed, they would respond with the birth date of their spouse and their kids, or even their grandkids. By the time I was done, the calendar indexed the birth dates and the wedding dates of 98 people, living and dead, with over 50 photos of the ones that I’d captured at some point or another.

I also realized that I’d captured the information of people who would be entirely unknown to most of the people who were reading the calendar, and so I also included two family trees (one from Dad’s side, and the other from Mom’s side) that traced people back as far as the 1780s.

As Christmas approached, Isaac came out for a visit, and it turned out that he’d had some experience with Power Point, and was easily able to create some dazzling looking backgrounds to the layout of the project. Together, we went shopping for a color printer, which I’d always wanted to have, anyway for my own publicity purposes, and to be able to print some of the scenic photos that I’d been taking on the road.

The thing wasn’t quite ready in time for Christmas. Some of the very expensive photo paper that I’d ordered when I bought the printer hadn’t arrived, and the price of assembling the thing had continued to grow. I eventually settled on some slightly duller, and smaller-than-hoped-for paper stock, which I had coil-bound and distributed just in time for New Year’s Day.

As soon as I’d distributed the calendars, it was pointed out to me that the month of November has 30, and not 31 days. Which meant that December had to be re-done.

Parallel to this project, I was continuing my work on e-mailing all of the colleges in the United States with news of my show. I had worked my way through all of the big states, with just a few remote outposts (like Montana and Alabama) left, when I realized that I needed to get back to work on my writing projects. Just like last year, I woke up from a dream that reminded me of my publishing aspirations, and I renewed my commitment to write on a daily basis.

This commitment quickly found its realization (and tied up all of my time) in my reworking of “Karaoke Knights.” I’d scheduled a new performance of the show for the Southeast Theatre Conference coming up in March, and it was time to get back to reworking the material, which I’d purposely kept my distance from since the fringe concluded in September.

This time, I came up with a new level to the script. Since I was running karaoke videos that accompanied all of my original songs -- Did I mention that my other Christmas present to myself was a high-tech projection unit for the videos? – there was no reason that that video could not continue to run while I was doing the between-song narration. In fact, a text video could actually comment upon the action from an omniscient point of view, even contradicting the commentary that the live narrator was providing. This could be ironic, or it could be philosophical, but it would give another level for the audience to follow, song-by-song, as the play unraveled. I spent the next several weeks rewriting the script, re-engineering the soundtrack, and reworking the videos.

Somewhere in the midst of all of this writing, issues of publishing were surfacing on a regular basis. I was quoted by a writer for the Huffington Post (an on-line opinion journal), using some of my lines from “Tartuffe,” which can be found at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sherman-yellen/bush-as-bad-theatre_b_13187.html. This is, I think, my first publication crossover to the universe outside theatrical and French-related discussion. I dropped the author a note, and he wrote back to tell me how much he enjoyed my versions: “From what I've read your Moliere translation is the one for our
times.”

Meanwhile, a woman who’d reviewed my work in Cincinnati last summer had moved to Chicago and was working for a new on-line magazine for the Daily Herald. She wanted interview me, and I suggested that she join me at the karaoke bar to conduct the interview. She gladly agreed, and we had a blast, though our conversation was so far reaching, I have no idea what-all she’ll end up writing about. (I’ll send the link when the article gets published.)

Back in Cleveland, one of my actors from the production of “The Imaginary Invalid,” forwarded me the end-of-the-year round-up from one of the theatre critics, who wrote:

“Yes, no matter how sophisticated we pretend to be, we're all suckers for potty humor. And the past months served up plenty of those pleasures -- all, curiously enough, at Beck Center. The Imaginary Invalid, an enema-centered comedy by Molière, was given a rousing interpretation ... Director Timothy Mooney whipped the pace to a sitcom frenzy and kept the laughter pooting right along.” (Christine Howie “Cleveland Scene”)

Also, my friend Tina in Portland called to confirm that the article I’d written for the AATF newsletter had finally appeared (fingers crossed that it will lead to more bookings). Again, I’ll have to send the publication link if I can find where the article appears on-line.

Also, I visited with the folks who’d published “Tartuffe” and “Imaginary Invalid” while I was in Texas, and they’re expressing interest in “The Misanthrope.”

And finally, a school was compiling an anthology of Modern Literature, and asked if they could use two of my scenes from “Tartuffe” for their limited-run publication.

So … something seems to be happening for me in the area of publication. Any minute now, I fully anticipate being that hot new author that everybody wants to acquire. (Now that I’ve got a couple of weeks free, it’s about time I chased down some leads.)

The road was already beckoning, and I had two conferences quickly approaching. I’d planned a new session for events I had coming up in Illinois and Texas: “Writing, Producing and Touring the One-Man Play,” a session which would include a full performance of “Criteria.”

Of course, I’d given this session many times in informal conversations (and in the “View From Here”) but to guarantee that I managed to cover everything, I started writing down all of what I had to say.

Now that I had a projector in my possession, I realized that I could actually present this material with slides that would capture some of the essential points. And once I had decided to put together slides, I realized that these slides would need some sort of a background.

Suddenly, I knew that I would finally have a use for all of the photos that I’d been taking on the road. While giving my lecture about touring, the audience would see the pictures I’d been taking, and would get the feel that they were, in fact, on the road along with me (painting an all-too glamorous picture of life-on-the-road).

Very soon, it was time to drive again. Christmas and New Year’s had come and gone (I start working on my taxes every January 1), and the road was waiting. I had to shelve any notions of continuing my work on Alabama or Montana, or of following up with the many potential Spring bookings on my list, for the moment and pack up and drive.

First stop was Bloomington, Illinois where the American College Theatre Festival was having their Region III conference. The conference chair had booked me for his school perhaps three years ago, and we’d kept in touch since then. While I knew that this would be very good exposure for me, this was still a paying gig, and I got the royal treatment for a few days. One of my favorite events was the nightly “hospitality suite,” where I met up with a LOT of teachers who recognized me immediately from the e-mails I’d been sending out over the years.

I was also kept very busy. Friday morning I gave my “Acting in the Classical Theatre” workshop, which I could now practically do in my sleep. The room was packed (including my good friend and namesake, Tim Kane, who’d come up from Springfield just for the event), and it seemed to go over very well, especially with some of the Wisconsin faculty in attendance. Some people from Marquette, which is producing my “Tartuffe” this winter, asked if they could videotape the workshop for their actors back in Milwaukee, and I agreed, on condition that they provide me with a copy of the tape. (I don’t have any footage of myself doing these workshops.) That afternoon, I saw “Red Herring,” a terrific play by Michael Hollinger, whose “Incorruptible” I’d directed about 10 years ago. I was the “respondent” to “Red Herring,” and I returned to the hotel to assemble my response, eventually writing about 7 pages on the topic.

Saturday morning, I gave my response, alongside Richard Christensen, the former theatre critic for the Chicago Tribune. I’d been nervous about putting my opinion up against the voice of the Chicago theatre scene, which was probably the reason for my over-preparation. I quickly noticed that he was playing the game of “asking questions” rather than sharing opinions, which always makes for a good time-stall when you don’t have much to say. Since I did have a fair amount to say, I simply waited until the conversation drifted to one of the areas where I had a clear opinion, and launched into a variety of the riffs (ad-libbing after taking a brief glance at the pages I’d prepared). Richard and I didn’t agree on much, but then again, he didn’t venture many opinions whatsoever.

From there, it was on to a performance of “Urinetown,” which was not quite so brilliant as “Red Herring” had been. This time my challenge would be in finding ways to express my opinion while leaving the morale of the company intact. The biggest problem seemed to be that the cast’s microphones were mostly out of order, which left at least 50% of the lyrics unintelligible. But then there’s got to be a lesson in performing with the microphones not working, and still putting out a workable show.

That same afternoon, I gave my “Writing, Producing and Touring the One-Man Show” presentation, and I was a bit disappointed to see that this workshop was only thinly attended by perhaps a dozen people. One of the people, though, was an old friend from my days at SIU, who was now on the faculty with Illinois State. I hadn’t seen her for almost 25 years, but still recognized her immediately. Another participant had been a “Tartuffe” volunteer back in Southern Indiana last fall, and it was great to catch up with her.

It took a little longer than expected to assemble the computer/projector arrangement, and so I was already late in getting the workshop started. I only managed to get through about 75% of the material before I had to switch gears into performing the show, which left me a bit unfocussed when it came to performing the show itself, stumbling over my lines a few times. (I don’t believe I’d performed this one since October 29 at the Mensa conference.) Even so, the students and seemed very taken by the story.

From here, it was on to the faculty awards banquet, which thankfully, was also running late, and the next morning, I gave the response to “Urinetown” to a crowded room of students and faculty. Fortunately, no one seemed surprised at the less-than-enthusiastic response, particularly when they realized which performance I had seen. I addressed my comments in terms of how difficult a project producing this play clearly was, and how unfocussed and stylistically uneven the script was.

And then it was off to Texas.

Sunday afternoon I drove only a few hours, pulling into Rolla, Missouri to watch the Bears game (which they lost, miserably), and the season premiere episodes of “24.”

Monday, I continued on to Tulsa, enjoying pizza and watching more of “24” with my old friends Dave and Helga Hirsch. (By the way, if you take a drink every time they mention a time deadline in “24” you end up intoxicated by the end of the show.) I was quickly onto the road again on Tuesday, dropping straight south to Austin, arriving a day in advance of the conference. My early arrival enabled me to get back to work on the karaoke videos, which still needed some reworking.

The Texas Educational Theatre Festival was another rush of meeting and greeting people, though there were fewer familiar faces at this one than I’d seen at ACTF. Perhaps because this festival was just as much for high school students and teachers as it was for colleges. I did, however, catch up with several previous hosts of Moliere, including Nancy Jo Humfeld of Howard Payne University, and David Deacon of Texas A&M-Kingsville.

A printing error in the program made it look like my workshop was supposed to begin at 2 pm on Friday, and I gave the evil eye to the people who were occupying the room past my assumed starting time. They cleared out of the room, and the dozen or so who had gathered for my workshop were shifting into the room when someone pointed out to me that my workshop had actually been scheduled to begin at 3 pm.

And so, I started the session at 2:00 for the dozen people who’d read the program the same way that I had, and another 40 people arrived at 3:00, picking things up in the middle.

One of the people I was delighted to see at this session was Leone, who I’d met two years before. She’d enjoyed my work very much and we had chatted then about several publishing opportunities that she envisioned for me. I’d left that conference without getting any of her contact information, though, and just assumed that she was a figment of my imagination. This time we had the chance to sit down and talk at length.

My session on Saturday was the “Writing, Producing and Touring the One-Man Show” event featuring “Criteria,” and again it was thinly attended, but this time I was not to be rattled by the limited amount of time. I’d managed to squeeze in an early tech rehearsal with the stage manager, and all of my equipment was set up well in advance. The play went off with barely any dropped lines. Afterwards, several of the attendees stuck around and, on request, I performed one of the songs from “Karaoke Knights,” featuring the cool new video I’d just put together, projected through my cool new projector.

Finally, I could relax. I hung out that evening with Nancy Varga, who I’d met at the previous year’s TETA conference, where I’d performed a very early version of “Karaoke Knights.” By Sunday afternoon, I was back on the road, with no idea of which direction I wanted to drive. Eventually I headed directly east, towards New Orleans. I stopped just shy of Baton Rouge, noting that the hotel operators were jacking up their prices in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The Motel 6 had kind of a dormitory feel to it, with Christmas decorations strung in a couple of the hotel room windows, and stuff on the ledges and a welcome mat in front of one of the doors.

I drove into New Orleans and was both encouraged and disheartened. The French Quarter itself seemed to have sustained little damage, with people repairing shutters or carpeting variously. Less than a mile away, though, entire streets were blocked off. Trash was piled up waiting for pick-up: old sofas, furnishings. Hundreds of what were clearly un-drivable cars seemed to be parked under the freeway. I thought I would spend a night in New Orleans, and so I drove east to the hotel I’d stayed at a year before as I was passing through in the other direction. It was at least 10 miles from the downtown area, and it was a 7-story building, so I figured it must have come through unscathed.

It was closed down, being renovated. So were the other two large hotels within a couple of blocks of the place. The wreckage was greater here than it had been downtown. Whereas, driving in from the west, I would see the occasional blue-tarp roof, or a fence blown down, east of the city the houses were mostly turned into wreckage. Walls were blown in, roofs chewed up, trees bent in half. Doing the math on this, the overall amount of wreckage was unimaginable, as I tried to picture the damage, extending away from New Orleans over 360 degrees, to the north, south, east and west.

I continued driving, on to Jackson, Mississippi, where I compose these lines this morning. I head north, reluctantly, into the cold.

Miles on the Vibe: 166,000
In the CD Player: The Scissor Sisters
Temperature: Up to the 70s yesterday, but dropping
Discoveries: Something seems to be happening for me in the realm of publishing. Considering that I’ve been unable to line up a lot of bookings for this spring, this is probably my best opportunity to set this area of my work in motion.
Attendance: 60 + 12 + 40 + 20 = 132
Next performance: February 15, William & Mary College

The View From Here #171: Summer, 2017

I began my summer heading south, with the last performance of the year’s “school tour” at the Christel House Academy in Indianapolis. ...