Friday, March 24, 2006

The View From Here #109: Norman, OK

I was coming down with my first cold in about 3 years. My luck on the road has been terrific, but there are two factors to which I attribute this latest ill fortune.

1) My body knows better than I how to take care of itself, and as long as I have a show coming up, I stay healthy. In thirty years of performing, I’ve never had to cancel a show.

2) I’ve been taking a nutritional drink, “Re-Liv” for the past three years, and I ran out about two weeks before coming down with the cold. I had been holding out to get more of the “stuff” (as Barry Bonds might call it) for when I got back in town, but I think the nonstop performing/workshopping/schmoozing/drinking of SETC had finally caught up with me.

I paused on my way back from Orlando, visiting with Sabra, a new friend I’d made at the last Mensa conference (where I’d performed “Criteria”). She went off to work during the day, while I hooked up to the internet and made great progress on the e-mailings. We had planned to hit a karaoke bar at some point, but with my throat the way it was I was even having trouble swallowing, so for the most part, in the evenings we just relaxed in front of the TV.

My friend Tanya, (from the Poor Yorick Shakespeare Catalogue) had given me the idea to hire some help to track down new venues, and within 90 minutes of putting out the e-mail, I had an actual employee, trained and ready to go. (Applications continued to come in, and I think I’ve heard from 25 or so since then.)

I continued, e-mailing the Texas schools, and while I was at it, I happened to hear back from Tennessee Tech University (which is in Cookeville), and met up with the director there, who was very interested in hosting Moliere for next fall.

Next fall, by the way, is looking very good, with a couple of bookings kicking off the tour within two days of the close of “Fringe Season” in Idaho and Montana. (Idaho and Montana are tough nuts for me to crack, and lining up shows there this far in advance is a great sign… assuming I haven’t maxed out the credit cards by then.)

After four days in Tennessee, with the cold finally starting to fade, I hit the road again, getting back to Chicago, and replenishing the “stuff.”

Back at home, I got back to work on my writing: I was editing my acting text, while also beginning a new project: I was tracking back through these editions of “The View From Here,” (reliving those heady early days on the road), looking to edit my 500-plus pages down to a hundred pages of my best stuff.

I had a hard time actually cutting anything. By the time I’d worked my way through the first fifty pages, I hadn’t even managed to cut five pages of material. The problem was that, on this pass through, I had no idea what key episodes of action and excitement I was working towards, or away from. And then an idea struck me. What if I changed my focuse to INcluding the really fun material, rather than working to EXclude the really crappy stuff? That way, when I came across a passage that I absolutely knew I wanted to keep, I would change the font color on the screen to red. Now when I’m done, all I’ll need to do is to figure out what portions absolutely need to be left in place in order to make sense of this “best stuff.”

I found myself in a sudden whirl of writing in the day and going out in the evenings: meeting up with people I’d meant to catch up with for some time. I went to my first Children’s Book Writers meeting in about three years (I get their e-mails, but I’m always out of town when they’re meeting.) Impulsively, I brought my musical adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s “All Summer In A Day” to the meeting, and it was extremely well received by the group, which reminded me that I need to get that one back out in circulation.

I hit the karaoke joints a couple of times, went out to see “Pajama Men” and “Oleanna”, and the visit home was over already. I packed on Friday, and Saturday morning, I was back on the road.

It was a full day of driving, with a lunch stop in Springfield to visit my old college sweetheart, Abbe (and her daughter, Charlotte), and then on through the long haul to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where I visited once again, with Dave and Helga. I ran lines for both “Criteria” and “Moliere Than Thou” twice, as I drove, as I had performances of both coming up in Oklahoma, and I hadn’t performed Moliere since mid-February, or “Criteria” since mid-January. The lines seemed surprisingly secure, but that feeling can be deceptive.

Following a Sunday breakfast excursion with Dave and Helga, I was on the road again, this time taking a short hop to Norman. I stopped, first, in Oklahoma City, for a look at the memorial to the victims of the bombing, and found it to be quite touching and surprisingly un-politicized: a loving tribute and a sincere stand against violence, with a beautiful reflecting pool between two impressive portals. Just outside was perhaps 50 feet of the original chain link fence that had surrounded the area, which had become a spontaneous repository of teddy bears, t-shirts, I.D. cards, caps and messages, still hanging on through all kinds of weather, more than ten years after the bombing.

In Norman, I met Matthew, my very helpful host for this visit, who brought me to a reception at one of the faculty homes. The reception was on behalf of myself and another guest artist who was visiting this week, but it seems that his plane was delayed because of the rainy Oklahoma weather (a desperately needed rain that put an end to a series of brush fires), and so I was the only guest of honor. Surprisingly, about 90% of the theatre faculty was present (most theatre faculties I know of could barely get 10% together for such an event, and can barely get 90% for the official faculty meetings). And the department chair, Tom, hinted at an interest in a longer visit next year, in which I might act in and co-direct one of my Moliere works, such as “Bourgeois Gentleman.”

On Monday, I sat in on Susan’s Shakespeare class (Susan was my host the last time I stopped at OU, two years ago), and I observed and responded to the student’s monologues. It was great to get a peek at their work, as it reminded me of my own feelings about Shakespearean performance, showed me where students tend to be in relation to my vision, which in turn has helped me articulate a new chapter for my acting text.

Later that day, I returned to lead my usual “Acting in the Classical Theatre” workshop, and though there were only ten or so in attendance, they seemed very responsive. The first student to raise her hand actually answered my “What are the two foremost responsibilities of the actor?” question perfectly, and it turns out that Susan has been teaching that perspective ever since my visit to OU two years ago.

I took a pass on observing a play rehearsal that night, so that I could go back to the hotel (and watch “24”) and get ready for the next day’s extremely full schedule.

I drilled my lines for “Criteria” and re-edited the material for my newest workshop: “Writing, Producing and Touring the One-Person Show” (kind of like a highly-edited version of these pages). I’ve delivered it twice before, but have never made it through the entire presentation, as each time I’ve had to jump ahead into my performance of “Criteria” before I had quite finished. This time, however, we’d planned for two-and-a-half hours, and I managed to cover all the material, and still preview two of the songs in “Karaoke Knights” for the group. I then shifted to perform “Criteria,” where I had a single line glitch early on … checked the script, and continued.

I think the cause of the glitch was the fact that they were such a responsive audience. There were about 30 of them, laughing at just about every ironic comment, and their laughter led me to point up the funnier stuff with some of my more exaggerated attitudes.

This play stands up to that kind of exaggeration better than I thought it would. While I think of this as being much more subtle than “Moliere,” when I allow the series of discoveries and transitions play freely across my face, the audience responds, seemingly grateful for knowing more clearly where they have the go-ahead to laugh.

As soon as “Criteria” concluded, we hustled down to the theatre space, where we conducted a quick tech rehearsal for “Moliere Than Thou.” And while I wanted to give my voice a needed rest, I just had to run the lines yet one more time before the evening show.

It was a small audience of big laughers, and when I know that each new take that I add to the mix is going to get a laugh, it stimulates a lot more mugging and posing. I noticed quickly that Tom was in the audience, and immediately realized that this would be my “audition” for “Bourgeois Gentleman” (or whatever Moliere project they wanted to do next year). Early on, amid the first monologue (from “Misanthrope”), I again had a memory glitch, but I “backed up” a half of a line, and this second time through, the words formed on my lips in just the moment I needed to remember them.

When it came time to get a female volunteer from the audience, one of Susan’s two daughters had her hand up. I was a little surprised, especially knowing that Susan had seen this play before, and had some sense of what I do to the volunteers! While “Miranda” seemed shy and quiet at first, she got louder as we got into it, but still seemed to panic, variously, about what I might be doing to her. Not only is this the best type of volunteer to get, as the audience identifies with her fears, but at least half of the audience had to be aware that this was Susan’s daughter, which seemed to double the outrageousness quotient.

After that, the rest of the show went great, with a surprisingly good undergrad volunteering and playing along for “Scapin” and big laughs throughout the “Precious Young Maidens” scene (aka “Stop Thief”).

Afterwards Matt and Tom and I stopped out for a couple of beers, further discussing a potential project for next year, and calling it a night. It had been a day filled with two line-throughs, one workshop and two shows, and my voice was pretty shot.

The next morning, I pulled my stuff together and met Susan for coffee. I think I nearly choked on my coffee when Susan answered that her daughter was only 14.

I headed south, meeting my old Nebraska friend, Kevin (formerly, “Ken”) Page in Dallas for lunch. Kevin has had some success in the movies, with parts in “Robocop,” “Seinfeld,” “Friday Night Lights” and “The Alamo,” and he told me the story of what a great movie “The Alamo” was (the only big question was whether it would win 11 or 13 Oscars) until Michael Eisner cut an hour or so of the best stuff out of it. Kevin’s stuff survived the cutting, but by this time it was no longer the ensemble film they thought they were working on. Given how famously that movie bombed, he made just as much for his three days of work on “Friday Night Lights” as he did for five months on the set of “The Alamo.”

And from Dallas, I headed along to Brownwood, Texas, home of Howard Payne University, and my good friend, Nancy Jo Humfeld. I made a quick appearance in Nancy Jo’s voice and diction class (performing a couple monologues, and discovering that my voice had not quite returned to me since my big day in Oklahoma). Nancy Jo has actually headed up to Commerce, Texas to do a little business, and has left me with the run of her place to get caught up on work. I’ve got almost a week now, before my next gig in California, so the plan is to work the bookings, drive west, work the bookings, drive west, work the bookings, drive west. Do a show, drive north.

Miles on the Vibe: 175,700
Attendance: 15, 10, 30, 50
Discoveries: I don’t have to do it all by myself. Isolating and distributing discrete parts of the work enables me to focus on the things that earn me the “big money.” * What seems to me to be exaggeration in the context of a realistic performance, usually plays to the audience as a helpful guide through the transitions and discoveries of the scene. * Focus on including the fun stuff rather than on excluding the crappy stuff. * Sitting in on a class really helps me to continue to define and articulate what I know for the developing textbook.
Temperature: Upper 30s
In the CD Player: “Karaoke Knights”
Next Performance: CSU-Long Beach, Long Beach, CA

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The View From Here #108: Orlando, FL

“Karaoke Knights” rocks!

From Connecticut, I dropped down to Baltimore. Looking at the map, I saw that driving west of Manhattan, through Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island, was more direct, as the crow flies, but traffic seemed much worse, even though I was passing through mid-day. And going from any one borough to another seems to demand the crossing of a bridge for which they will charge tolls as high as nine dollars!

I visited with my sister, Maureen, who had to watch the final episode of “The Bachelor” on one television, while I watched “24” on another. Thank god “The Bachelor” chose the right woman or it might have been a dark evening indeed.

From Baltimore, I raced south toward Savannah, but angled off slightly to get a hotel room in Hilton Head. (I figured it unlikely that I’ll get a booking in Hilton Head, and this might be my only chance to see that island.) Of course, I arrived after dark, and was in a hurry to leave the next morning, so I never even saw the ocean. I did, however, stumble upon a nice New Orleans-style restaurant decked out in Mardi Gras beads for this fat-Tuesday.

I hit Orlando around 5 p.m. the next day, and proceeded immediately to the Staples and the Kinkos, getting flyers and programs copied for my show. I dropped off my stuff at Al’s house (a.k.a., Carl F. Gauze), and headed for the conference center. I checked in moments before the registration desk closed for the night, snagging a program just in time to study it overnight.

The first thing I discovered was that “Karaoke Knights” was scheduled, not for FRIDAY night at midnight, but for THURSDAY night at midnight. The whole midnight thing was throwing me off, but the upshot was that I now had 24 hours less to prepare than previously anticipated. I called Kinkos, which had thankfully not yet printed up my flyers, and got them to make the change, and proceeded to return to Al’s house to step up my preparation.

I called my friend, April, and was noting that this was shaping up as a very “stressful” 24 hours … but there, I caught myself, and said instead: “I am going to have an AMAZING 24 hours.”

I am discovering that what you speak, you create … and did I really want to create any more stress for myself than was actually there?

Thursday morning, I picked up my corrected flyers and loaded the show in to the performance space. There was another show about to start, but the technician, who’d also run my shows the year before, was extremely attentive to my needs, and roped off a special area for my equipment.

I passed out a few flyers among the masses of people who were gathering at the conference (there were upwards of 4000), and found myself in a conversation with a man who looked familiar. He had run the session last year on the always-contentious topic of “making changes in the script,” and representatives of all of the major play publishing companies had attended. He was doing a variation of that same session in another 20 minutes, and I decided to attend.

Considering that he’d already met me, and knew my publisher, and also knew that the Playscripts Inc. guy was in attendance, he found himself using me as an example several times. “Can I pick on you?” he would ask. “Sure, bring it on.”

It turned out to be very nice exposure for me, particularly as there were reps for at least five different publishers in the audience (all of whom have rejected my work, variously, over the years). Between this session, and another session on Friday, they all now know who I am, have connected me as “that Moliere guy” in their minds, perhaps noted that I have okay hygiene, and have seen me be cordial and articulate under pressure. All of which means they have since felt comfortable chatting with me in the exhibit hall, and may give a little more consideration the next time a play of mine crosses their desk.

Afterwards I did a brief tech rehearsal. There was already a DVD/Projector set up in the room, with a projection screen that was as tall as myself. Whereas, I’d begun performing this show nine months before (also in Orlando) with the “karaoke interludes” on a TV screen, this time the screen would reveal lyrics to all of my songs, as well as an “omnipresent narrator” commenting on the songs during the introductions. All of this, on an enormous screen, forced the audience’s attention to dance between stage and screen, always engaged in SOMETHING. As I rehearsed the opening number (“Looking for a Groupie”) a technician, carrying stuff in and out of the hall, paused to laugh several times at the lyrics, and I gained a terrific lift in confidence.

I ran some final errands in preparation for the midnight performance, getting a haircut, picking up a copy of the game, “Twister” (I needed the spinner as a prop), and finally buying a coat tree to hold my costumes during the course of the show (something I should have done 9 months ago). It seems that coat trees are few and far between in Orlando … and it dawned on me that they don’t wear coats down here as much as we do in northern climes.

I returned to Al’s house for one last run-through, and everything was falling into place. I was in good voice and, now that I had a sense of the layout of the stage, the “blocking,” would hold no surprises. The KJ narration was still a little uncertain in the flurry of performance, and so I decided to bring the script on stage with me, propping it on a music stand, to my left, while the microphone stood to my right, and the coat tree behind me.

Back at the conference center, I attended a “brainstorming session” for the Acting/Directing specialists, mostly about what kind of workshop sessions they might want to include for next year’s conference. Everybody went around introducing themselves, and again, this was a good opportunity to establish my face alongside my name for the other attendees, most of whom had been receiving my e-mails for years. I was also surprised to see Frankie Day in attendance … who I hadn’t seen since my days as an undergrad (let’s just say, prior to the current century). And while other people were brainstorming about panels they might want to present, Frankie and I dredged up familiar names from years gone by.

It was getting uncomfortably close to curtain time, and my internal motor was starting to rev up. I left to load in the remaining props and promotional materials for my show. The conference allowed me a single table outside the hall to display brochures and videos and sell CDs, and I’d gotten my friend Patty to come out to the hotel late on a Thursday night to catch people who were coming out of the show, give them (or sell them) stuff, and have them sign my guest book.

Back in the auditorium, the critique of the 10-minute play festival was wrapping up, and I was a little dismayed to see that the packed house for the festival had greatly diminished for the critique. In all, perhaps a hundred people had stuck around to see “Karaoke Knights,” and in an audacious nod to the “one-person” show, I went around handing out programs, myself.

As soon as the critique finished, I loaded in my microphones and coat tree and music stand, carefully placing the cords where I needed them while Chad, the tech guy, set up the projector and screen. For the most part the entire audience had remained in their seats as this was going on, and I had to test the sound levels while they were already in the room. The opening strains of the first song started to play, full blast, through the speakers. The audience quieted, thinking that I was starting, and I had to direct them to pay no attention: “Don’t enjoy this!”

Finally all was in place, and I took the stage with a leap and a big bold “Welcome to the FRINGE FESTIVAL!” Everyone cheered, and I explained the need for their involvement with the show. I led them all, instead, in an a cappella version of “Why Don’t We Get Drunk” and encouraged them to get out their cell phones and wave them in the air (which many of them did!), and I could see that the rowdy crowd was sufficiently warmed up. This, I saw, was a group that appreciated the theatrical gesture strictly for the sake of something being a theatrical gesture, and they were ready to “get” the show on that level.

As the show opened, I could hear a bit of reverb in the “KJ” microphone (now entirely out of my control), and I knew it would be a clarity problem, particularly as I talk pretty fast. I redoubled my efforts toward articulation, and was glad to have the script on stage to keep me on track.

“Looking for a Groupie” started the show off with good laughs, as did the volunteer bit in “Too Real.” “Left To Say” got the crowd singing, and “Tempted to be Tempted” won them over with its mock-ballet. During “Forward Thinking,” I picked out a shy looking girl for the bondage parody, and the phrase “submit to more restriction,” amid the tangle of microphone cord, got big laughs. “Next,” got a whooping response at the end of the first rapid-fire chorus, and “Half a World Away,” a difficult song in the past, now seems to win them over, largely on account of a series of comic “footnotes” inserted into the video. The somewhat serious “Gravity’s Pull” and “Dreaming Tax” ratcheted the laughs back, while “Bite My Tongue,” “Say Goodnight” and “Taking Turns Leading” hammered home the comedy. I finished on a bittersweet note (“Say Goodnight”) and returned for an encore/finale, with a reprise of “Groupie.” Almost immediately, however, most of the audience was standing for an ovation, and the dance break of “Groupie” seemed to strain against their need to acknowledge the play (something to fix in later versions).

All in all, I came away immensely satisfied. The new video commentary gets laughs that I, amid my internal narrative, am not expecting at all (besides which, I’ve largely forgotten what is appearing on the screen). After the show, audience signed the guest book with: “Great.” “Yay!” “Whee! I (heart) it.” “Wonderful!” “Awsome!” and “Absolutely fabulous!” I was walkin’ on air, as they say, finally feeling like I had that elusive third show, which I could push, alongside my other two one-man shows, for full bookings.

The next morning, I gave my acting workshop. They’d placed me in a room perhaps suited for 30 people. Sixty or so showed up.

Actually, there were even more who simply could not have squeezed into the room. The air conditioner could not cool the room enough to make the experience comfortable, but the group was attentive and very responsive, as I went through my several exercises of “Misanthrope”, “Hamlet” and “Tartuffe.”

This workshop is getting great reviews of late. Several remembered it from last year’s conference. And a woman who’d just seen it in Williamsburg reported, “The students performed their Moliere scenes a few days after your show, and you could tell which ones had been to see your workshop, because their scenes were through the roof.”

With my contribution to the conference complete, I proceeded to drop in on other people’s events: “How to become a writer for ‘Southern Theatre’,” “Play Publishers Q & A,” “History/Theory/Criticism Board Meeting,” and the very funny “Who dressed you? Or don’t you have a mirror?” (a workshop about proper audition dress). Again, while my participation at these events was minimal, at each I seemed to find myself in yet another conversation about booking my work with someone who’d spotted my name.

Friday night I had dinner with Tania, who runs the “Poor Yorick” Shakespeare catalogue (www.PoorYorick.com). We’ve found ourselves attending six of these conferences together in the past, but had never had the chance to sit and visit (She’s always been running her booth, and I’m always shmoozing the crowd). She turns out to be an entrepreneur in much the same way that I am, but from the Shakespeare side of things, building up her business from scratch, and taking full advantage of the internet.

Afterwards, under the encouragement of one of the students who had loved my show, I crashed the UNC-Greensboro party, to say hello to the professor (who the kids are trying to get to book me).

The next day, the conference’s keynote speaker was Anne Bogart, whose work is increasingly celebrated in the theatre world. Eloquent and passionate, she told several terrific stories, with one, especially, about the movie “The Red Violin:”

She’d met the director of “The Red Violin” at a dinner party, and he spontaneously asked if she’d like to hear the story of his movie (this was before he’d shot any of it, and while he was still fundraising). The movie, of course, was later made, very successfully, and Anne noted that, “I don’t think it mattered to him who I was, when he offered to tell me the story of his movie. I think if anyone else had been sitting there next to him, he still would have turned to them and offered to tell them the story of his movie. I believe that the process of telling people about his movie enabled him to articulate that movie into existence.”

The conference continued, and I found myself just hanging out at the bar, with one conversation leading to another, and connections made between a series of people from whom I seemed to be just a single degree removed.

Late breaking news: Driving north, through Atlanta (stopping for a visit at Linda’s), and continuing through Chattanooga (checking in with a high school teacher who saw the show in Orlando), and into Sparta, Tennessee, I stop to check e-mails once more, and receive this notice from a producer in Scotland doing my “Doctor in Spite of Himself”:

“Hi Tim
“Thought you'd like to know the premier was a phenomenal success. We won the district festival and now progress to the regional festival which takes place in Edinburgh 6-8th April. It will be much tougher as we meet other district winners but we're up for it.
“The adjudicator, a theatre professional, was fulsome in his praise. He loved your script (it works well with the Scottish brogue) and thought it was an extremely bold choice of play, he thought the staging and creativity was superb and that the actors were positively sadistic, bawdy and un-inhibited!
“We should now receive some local press coverage and I'd be happy to send it if it is of interest.
“I'll keep you posted on any other developments.
“Best wishes
“Martin”

Temperature: 40s-80s
In the CD Player: Scissor Sisters
Attendance: 100 + 60 = 160
Miles on the Vibe: 173,300
Discoveries: Karaoke Knights rocks! * What you speak, you create, and you need to choose whether you want to be creating more stress or more success. * My name has become as effective as my costume in getting attention for my work. * Just being present at some of the workshops enables potential bookers or publishers to get comfortable with me as a collaborator. * People talk about me behind my back, and I’ve reached the tipping point, where third party conversations confirm the nature of my work with people who need to know whether they ought to book me or not. * Played with the proper amount of exuberance, an audience will appreciate the theatrical gesture for the sake of the gesture itself.
Next performance: Norman, OK (U of Oklahoma) March 19-20.

The View From Here #107: Chicago, IL; Williamsburg, VA & Orlando, FL

Well, the bookings have been few, but the business has been good, in its own way.

Home from New Orleans, I dove back into “Karaoke Knights.” While I had been trying to draw some video engineers into the project, one of them was tied up with a theatre project, and others worked in a Mac format, and were having difficulty opening the files that I had put together.

I had found myself taking over bits of the project as elements of the technology had come within my grasp. I’d already gotten a bit of mastery around the audio end of things, timing out the interlude music with some exactitude, which would then give way to the karaoke numbers and the original music (the downbeat for the new song, for instance, coming in on the downbeat from the previous number). While, previously, I had turned the music over to the audio engineer, with elaborate notes, at this point I had timed out a new karaoke video to synchronize exactly with the music as I had edited it, and probably no amount of explanation could get the engineer to recreate this.

Which meant pushing the project along as far as I could, mixing the music into an “mp3”, turning that into a “wav”, using the “wav” to make a “cdg”, turning the “cdg” into an “avi” file.

The key moment of this process lay in the discovery of how to edit the vocals mostly out of an existing piece of music, which meant that I could “karaokeize” the music that I had so carefully timed out, without having to re-integrate karaoke cdgs into the process. This meant going back to the start, more or less, dropping the new “karaokeized” music into the soundtrack, but it also meant that all future transitions would be under my control.

And while I’d hoped to pass the “avi” on to the engineer to “render” the video onto the dvd, in the end, I bought my own rendering program, and eventually I invested, with my friend April, on a dvd burner, and we burned the dvd ourselves.

And while it may have been a pain to take the project all this way all by myself (each stage of the project seemed to demand that I go back to the beginning on some of the songs, and start over), at least by now, when I want to rework elements of the show, it is all within my grasp, and the turnaround time, whenever I reconceptualized the work, (which I seem to do just about every time I get the new version of the show in hand) would be greatly diminished.

In the meantime, I was resuming work on “Currency,” my “personal growth” book. While I’d reconnected with my friend in Texas (who’d suggested a literary agent to me two years before), and gotten her to promise to send me his contact info, I hadn’t yet received it, and decided to press forward in refining the text, so that I would have something ready to share when the opportunity presented itself.

I did at least an hour a day on “Currency,” even to the point of creating an index (which I’d never done before). I then refocused my attention on “Acting at the Speed of Life.” It had been over a year since I’d done any work on this one (I’d gotten a couple of gentle rejections from publishers), and while previously, I couldn’t envision any improvements, a year of delivering and evolving the message through my acting workshops helped me see new insights and exercises and smoother transitions, which made it a slower process than my work on “Currency,” although the changes were getting me excited about the book again.

The deadline for getting back onto the road was bearing down relentlessly. I knew that I would have a new version of “Karaoke Knights” ready to test out, so I arranged with my friend, Freddy Weaver, to use the “Tantra Nova” space in the city to host a performance, and I dove back into rehearsals. I hadn’t memorized the new narration that carried me from one musical number to the next, and I hadn’t gotten a sense of how the counterpoint narration (on the video) would play. I was relatively confident in the songs themselves (I’d re-edited several of them to cut off key seconds in which I had nothing to actually do onstage) but they still needed fresh rehearsal as I hadn’t actually performed them since September.

There were perhaps 10 or 12 people in the (very friendly) audience for this performance, and the bits that may have worried me played very well. There were some audio balance issues, with interludes that played louder than the songs themselves, confusing moments around when I was the narrator and when I was being a character, but overall the show went as well as I might expect. (Two weeks later, I am continuing to memorize the narrative bridges, and testing the show out on anybody I can find on the road, in anticipation of a big audience at the Southeast Theatre Conference on March 3.)

With the completion of this performance, I sprinted through the last items of my to-do list en route to packing the car and getting back onto the road.

The first stop was Detroit, with an early celebration of Isaac’s 12th birthday. We managed to catch two movies (“Pink Panther” and “Zathura” … I preferred the latter), eat out a couple of times and hang out watching a bit of the Olympics.

Weather reports spoke of a winter storm that had marched along the east coast, and so I replotted the trip that was intended to carry me through Washington D.C., to stop instead in Harrisonburg, Virginia, visiting with my grad school friend, Kathy Conery, and her now-fiancée, Jeff. Kathy was working on a production of “How to Succeed in Business” which was in its final rehearsal, and I watched about 45 minutes of Act I, before sneaking out to watch “24” in the Student Union, and returning for the last half hour of “How to Succeed.”

The next morning, I was on my way to Williamsburg (or “Colonial Willamsburg” as they call it), where the weather had turned warm and sunny. I met my host, Elizabeth Wiley, who had apparently gone to great lengths to publicize both my performance and my workshop, as I saw flyers for both throughout the theatre building.

The theatre building, by the way, was commemorated by two plaques that designated it as the site of a presidential debate between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, as well as the democratic primary debate from the 1988 election. Williamsburg is, of course, the site of the College of William and Mary, one of the first colleges established in “the colonies,” and the main street of Williamsburg is actually open only to foot traffic, running from the university to the former state capital. It’s rather like a very large version of Salem, Illinois, with blacksmith shops, and costumed historical characters festooning the streets.

The theatre for my show was along this street, and they were a busy facility, with historical reenactments and storytellers performing in the space 3-4 times a day. They’d put an enormous poster about my performance in their showcase, and had me listed on two or three more brochures. They clearly had the publicity side of the event down … the only question was how much of a “draw” Moliere might be in this town.

Sign spotted at the side entrance to the hotel: “FOR YOUR SECURITY, PLEASE USE YOUR ROOM KEY TO ENTER THE BUILDING.” (I suppose that’s a lot more secure than putting your fist through the window.)

Notation on a University website: “Theatre major, Heidi, has been a regular working actress since graduating from St. Mary’s.” (And what her digestion has to do with her schooling, I don’t imagine I can guess.)

In the news: “Rioting over cartoon;” Every time I hear this, I have to remind myself that this time the news ISN’T referring to the city in Africa.

The next day, following a quick technical rehearsal, I went to deliver my acting workshop, and found that, with attendees from neighboring schools, there were about 65 students in attendance. (This may have been a record.) I continue to improvise my way through the order of this workshop, putting the “Misanthrope” exercise (now known as “The Jerry Springer Show”) earlier in the process, which seems to go better with the “being seen” theme of my lecture.

The “Tartuffe” exercise (occasionally known as “Elimidate”) went very well, and when it came time for me to do a demonstration of this monologue, I picked out a flirty female volunteer, and pulled her onstage as victim. The monologue worked to terrific response and afterwards the girl was flustered: “I … I didn’t know what to expect … I didn’t know if you were going to touch me … or … I mean, I know I WANTED it, but …”

Of course, the only possible reply to that is always, “Stop by to see me after the workshop.”

Several days later, I was trading e-mails with the student’s teacher, from Virginia Commonwealth University. They were, in fact, hoping to book me for a full week at some point, and the teacher concluded with “Samantha Bishop [not her real name] is still blushing as your Elmire!” I wrote back, “Samantha Bishop SHOULD be blushing, that little hussy!”

That night, the start of my show was delayed several minutes, as I was informed there was still a line up at the box office. By the time I got out on stage, I saw that there were a good 200 or so people in the audience, which meant that the theatre might actually MAKE money off of my performance, which might portend well for getting invited back some day.

There was at least one great “laugher” out in the audience, and the show was really rocking throughout. I found myself working through the final (“Precious Young Maidens”) monologue, making eye contact with two of the women in the audience, as I always do. Somewhere in the process of connecting with them, a thought flitted through my head, wondering how well they were responding, or not, and then suddenly wondering whether I knew what my next line was. That is, of course, a question that I never want to be asking, as the answer can only be “no.”

And so, I blanked. In a very noticeable way. A few phrases from the latter portions of the monologue were popping into my head, but I had no idea how to get myself back on track. Fortunately, the technicians in the booth had the script handy, and were following along more or less. So, I called for “line.” It was perhaps the first time in about five years that I’ve actually had to call for line in the course of the show. A fragment of a line came floating down to me, but I was still lost. I asked for more.

This time, enough of the line came back to kick-start me into the speech. Fortunately, the screw-up had come early enough in the speech that I knew I had enough time to win the audience back over, with the series of “stop thiefs” that continues to build in absurdity as the scene progresses. One audience member was later kind enough to point out, my screw up actually reminded the audience of the level of difficulty involved in performing the show, making the previous monologues, in retrospect, all the more impressive.

After the show, a few friends from the afternoon’s workshop joined me for a couple of beers, and one of my new friends rumored that there was a leading role open with the local Shakespeare festival. I went back to the hotel to look up the festival on-line, and found that the show didn’t conflict with any of this year’s Fringe festivals.

It did, however, conflict with the annual French teachers’ conference I attended, and so I spent the next day’s drive to Orlando weighing my readiness to begin acting in full productions again, against my need to get more bookings in the coming year. (I have also been thinking about ditching the tour schedule entirely in the 07-08 season, and committing exclusively to directing and acting in full productions, but the jury is still out on that one.)

In Orlando, I caught up with Sandra-the-Vegan, who, ironically, was flying to Chicago the following day. Early the next afternoon, I proceeded to the hotel where the conference was being held, to be reminded that I’d paid $25 for a ticket to the awards luncheon that had started at noon.

I also discovered that this conference was due to end the following afternoon. Amid my flurry of activities leading me down to Orlando, I’d assumed that the conference would end on the Sunday. My performance of “Moliere Than Thou” was scheduled for 2:45 on Saturday, the final workshop session of the conference.

It struck me rather heavily, in that moment, to know that I was performing on the “get-away day,” after the exhibit hall was already closed and torn down, and after most of the attendees would have already moved on, catching flights.

I made a few passes through the exhibit hall and, with my promotional work cut out for me, I headed to town, staying with my friend Patty, who was, herself, house-sitting in a very plush home. I knuckled down to work on a new flyer, in the style of the flyers I’d done for Fringe Festivals past, which would announce the time and location of the preview performance I was giving the next afternoon. Early the next morning, I got copies printed up and I returned to the conference hall. In a shameless act of self-promotion, I put my wig and Moliere coat on and “flyered” conference-goers emerging from other workshops.

The flyering was executed to ever thinning groups of potential attendees, and by 2:45, it seemed like everyone had disappeared. About a dozen still showed up. It seemed that half of the attendees were there out of idle curiosity, a couple more because they were Moliere fans, and perhaps three or four because they were actually considering booking the show. Mostly, I could see them all grinning, although, once I hit the “Tartuffe” section, the conversation that I imagined in the backs of their heads was “Can we get away with this in our school?”

A couple of the attendees left in the middle of the show (evidently to catch a flight), but the rest stayed throughout, with several staying behind to thank me or to grab a video. One teacher in western Georgia (who was not at the conference) has since reported that the teacher who DID attend my performance is now talking about booking me. And several days later, I received the following e-mail from eastern Georgia …

“Wow! Let me add my praises to your list of accolades. I was in the audience at SCOLT Saturday last. I apologize for leaving early but I had to catch a plane. I wish that the performance had not been so sparsely attended. I am the prof de français at the … School of Fine Arts in Augusta GA. … I hope that I will be able to book you to perform here before long. I know it would help energize my French program also. Merci for a fantastic performance last Saturday; it was the highlight of the SCOLT conference in Orlando.”

Given that I’d thought the conference was running on into Sunday, I’d planned for another day in Orlando, and so I took the day on Sunday to finally resume the e-mail campaign that I’d left off more than a month ago. (I’d started this campaign back in August!) I finished the e-mails I was sending to Kansas schools, and moved on to Missouri and Mississippi. There are still a handful of states left, but I can’t seem to get to them as long as I keep picking up and driving almost every day.

And on Monday, I picked up and drove. I pushed northward to Raleigh, NC, where Forsyth and I caught the latest episode of “24”, and then on to Washington DC, (where I caught up with my friend Wendy Taylor), and Baltimore, where I took two days at my sister Maureen’s house, before pushing on to New York City, visiting Yvonne and catching a show by playwright Sherman Yellen (the one who’d quoted me on the Huffington Post website a couple months back).

By this time it was Friday, and I was aiming for Granby, Connecticut, where my friend Debby Reelitz was due to get married on Saturday. But first, I’d arranged a lunch appointment with a literary agent in Stamford, Connecticut. This was the fellow I’d heard about two years ago at the Texas Theatre festival. He and I had finally made e-mail contact and arranged a meet-up for Friday. I dug out the works that I thought were my most saleable (“Currency” and “Acting at the Speed of Life”), along with a few other goodies to give him a flavor of what I do (my already-published “Tartuffe” and “Imaginary Invalid” texts, and my “Karaoke Knights” CD). I kept waiting for him to seem overburdened (“Oh, not another manuscript!”), but he never seemed to give that signal, so I gave him my Moliere promotional video, as well as one of my children’s stories (“Isaac and the Dinosaurs”). We had a really charming conversation, even noting a couple of mutual acquaintances, and I left in a fabulous mood, singing my way through “Karaoke Knights” as I drove.

I drove to Debby’s house, discovering that one of my all-time favorite people, Cathy Maday, was already there, helping Debby get set up. I was in such a good mood, that I actually helped, bringing in firewood for the stove.

I think, though the course of the weekend, I must have explained the concept of “Currency” to about four or five people (their enthusiastic reactions stoked my confidence), and Cathy Maday even downloaded a copy onto her laptop and started reading it then and there.

That night was a small pizza party, and three or four of us seemed to get into a crossword puzzle groove, going through some five or six puzzles, with each of us bringing a separate-but-equal background of knowledge to the game, which meant we actually were able to finish each puzzle before moving on into the next one in the book.

The wedding was the next day, with about 40 chairs set up in the living room. The bride was gorgeous and the groom was surprisingly unflappable. (Of course, both had been through this process before.) My role in the ceremony was to actually hold the declaration of the vows for the couple to sign (I was “a table” … it was a supporting role), and later, to cause as much mischief as I could … enticing Cathy Maday to perform an impromptu dance during the party as the musician who’d played piano post-ceremony hauled out a drum for the occasion.

(Side note: I’d heard them talking abstractly about “Oh, we’ll have to get together to perform one of these days.” Knowing that Cathy was from North Carolina and the musician was from Connecticut, and that “one of these days” was code for “probably never,” I spoke up, “This is bullsh*t; just bang a rhythm on the table while Cathy dances.” Eventually, he went out to his car to get his drum, and I dragged Cathy out of the kitchen long enough to dance. After a moment, Debby joined in and the two of them gave the party crowd a performance that they’re not likely to forget for a while.)

And so, the party continued, and I tired earlier than usual. I crashed before midnight, getting up on Sunday to work on these notes. Family returned to Debby & Chris’ house for brunch, and I downloaded photos from four different cameras onto my computer, sending the couple off on their honeymoon with a disc full of wedding pictures already in hand.

I lingered, amid some fond farewells, and proceeded only about an hour south, where I met up once again with my ex-roommate, (another) Deb, and her partner Sara. I shared my “Karaoke Knights” CD with them, but decided to pull the costumes out of the car and do a full living-room performance for them, before they had a chance to hear the CD itself. Deb is actually cross-referenced in one of the songs, and I wanted to see her surprise when I performed it for her. I was a little nervous through that sequence, but Sara hooted her approval and the impromptu show went very well, giving me renewed hope about the performance I’ll be giving in Orlando at the end of this week.

Yes, I have driven from Orlando to Connecticut, only to turn around and head south to Orlando once again. And while the gas may be expensive, I’ve found friendly accommodations at every step along the way, and made a couple of connections that I look to portend terrific things for the future.

Temperature: Teens to 80s, to teens again.
In the CD Player: Red Hot & Blue, the Cole Porter Tribute
Reading: All my own stuff …
Attendance: 65 + 200 + 12 = 277
Miles on the Vibe: 171,000
Discoveries: I now know how to “karaokeize” music. * Move the ball forward in anticipation of other people stepping up. Don’t wait for them to step up to set things in motion. * Rather than freak out about a very limited schedule of bookings, I’ve renewed work on my writing, which may mean a short-term deficit, but longer-term success. In fact, the time off from performing may, in fact, be a great opportunity to make headway I wouldn’t otherwise be challenged to make. * I find myself contemplating taking a year off from the tour, to do longer residencies with full stagings of my plays … my next thought is whether I would ever get back to the tour, after having taken a year off. * I seem to worry overmuch about overburdening others.
Next Performance: Orlando, FL (3/3/06)

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. ...