Friday, December 07, 2007

The View From Here #128: Highland Heights, KY; Spartanburg & Charleston, SC; Charlotte, NC; Steubenville & Delaware, OH; LaGrange, IL & Green Bay, WI

The semester closes in a rush, with lots of shows, lots of driving and little time to think in-between.

From Memphis I drove to Northern Kentucky, spending my birthday weekend with a book and a karaoke bar (all the while trying to upload the last edition of “The View Fro Here”). [Most scenic pics from this posting are from Charlotte, SC (with the exception of the two River Pictures taken across from Cincinnati, and the tall buildings in Charlotte).]

Meanwhile, even more reviews from Arkansas: For the French among us:

C'etait absolument magnifique ! Merci encore - infiniment! … Mes étudiants étaient enchantés avec la pièce, si on peut l'appeler une pièce. Tim a joué ses rôles variées avec facilité, et d'une façon amusante. Et quel triomphe d'avoir jouer deux scenes avec les jeunes gens. Bravo, Tim! Ça valait la peine, bien sûr! (Jane McGregor RHS)

I saw your show in Conway this week — fantastic. I love how well you use the entire body in your performance — something our students have difficulty doing. At first I was saying to myself (very American): "He's clowning, he's not really becoming some of these characters." Then I realized: "Wait a minute; these are Moliere's farce plays, and they came right from Commedia — it's brazenly theatrical! Plus, when he's Moliere, he's extremely genuine." I love it when my biases are exposed like that! Anyway, it was extremely entertaining, and to captivate ninth-graders with material from the 17th Century — hooray! I hope you are able to come back. (Kevin T. Browne, U of Central Arkansas)

And, while I’m at it, responses were following me from the workshop in Phoenix a week before.

The kids are showing so much improvement since your visit. They are so motivated to put on a show that will really live up to standards!! … I was in awe of how well, yet delicately you pushed the envelope. The students have really made a 360 degree turn around since your visit. Much more dedication, enthusiasm, and investment in their roles/characters. What they need now is an audience to feed off of. It is getting harder and harder for them to stay motivated with the same audience feedback night after night that they received from me, stage managers and techies. Teenagers are so instant gratification, it’s harder everyday to keep going. (JinHee Rhodes, Bourgade High School)

“I also need to extend my sincerest gratitudes all to you. Without your workshop, I don't think I would have done any better. I took into consideration of making Argan as ugly, boisterous, and... "spitful?" as possible. My mother couldn't stop laughing! PLus, another thank you I owe to you, Is for without this show, I would never have gotten an audition at …” (Eric Johnson, Bourgade High School)

I had an afternoon show at Northern Kentucky University, which drew audience from the greater Cincinnati area. It was the second NKU show in two years, this one somewhat better attended than the first. The show was followed by my Moliere lecture, to which an old friend arrived thinking that it was the performance that had been scheduled for 1 pm, and not the lecture. (I squeezed as much performing as I could into that lecture.)

Dropping south I popped in on my cousin George (the other actor of the family), catching him amid “tech week” for the big musical, having been up building the set into the wee hours the night before. I continued south through Knoxville (where a teacher at UTK had forgotten our 3pm appointment), and on down to Cleveland, TN, where I crashed at Sabra’s house. (In preparation for her recent wedding, Sabra was actually away when I arrived, but let me have the run of the place while she was gone.)

From there, I continued on to Marietta, GA, where Linda and her husband David were starting to consider escape routes, should the drought in the southeast continue on much longer, and then on to Spartansburg, where the South Carolina Theatre Association was meeting.

There I caught up with Bess Park (and her friend, David), who are planning to bring me down to South Carolina to direct/perform in “The Misanthrope” in the Spring of 09... We strategized about publicizing the event, and my availability for tour during that visit, and hit the karaoke contest in the hotel (I won a couple of gift certificates; Bess and David seem to be good luck for me). I set up a booth in the conference’s display area, sharing stickers and flyers with students and faculty, and tracking down a sexy-looking “volunteer” for my Sunday morning show.

The Sunday performance was actually after most of the conference attendees had gone, and perhaps 50 people showed up for the performance, mostly sitting far away from the stage, in the second tier of the auditorium seating. As such, the performance felt rather lackluster to me (visiting the “hospitality suite” the night before might have had something to do with it), though the response after the show was good, with a couple of the students seeming quite star-struck afterwards.

I grabbed lunch with Bess and David, and headed yet further south, to Charleston, South Carolina. The College of Charleston put me up in a nice guest house, and my host took me to dinner the night before. They supplied me with lots of assistance when it came time for the show, and I employed a couple of the extra girls who’d been assigned to my show, to run on an errand to pick up a couple of fresh pairs of tights at the drug store (I always feel weird buying these for myself), and to videotape the performance. There were a couple of burned out lightbulbs which threatened to severely darken the performance, until such time as the technician discovered a follow-spot up in the booth, and managed to integrate its use into the show.

The daytime performance was very well attended, and I searched the audience for any of the girls I’d met at the conference the previous weekend, who’d promised to be my volunteer for the “Doctor” scene. None were evident.

The show was, however, going extremely well (with the exception of the moment in which the French Department Chair’s cell phone went off; he proceeded to take the call, and carry on a conversation while the show proceeded.) Just as I was introducing the “Doctor” scene, one student let out a hysterical laugh, and I decided to take a chance on bringing her up to volunteer. She was a terrific “victim” and the laughs continued to escalate. Making my pass through the audience during the “Scapin” scene, when I normally swipe a program out of someone’s hands, I instead grabbed a notebook off of the lap of a girl in the audience. As I looked down at the notebook in my hand, I realized that it was covered with notes about my performance. I read the first one aloud: “He is so in character!” before the girl grabbed it back out of my hands, while the audience burst into laughter.

The show ended with a good rendition of the “Precious Young Maidens” scene, and I was glad to have captured that performance on video, but even as I changed out of my costume backstage, I could hear the voices of the audience walking by on the opposite side of the wall, raving about the show. In that moment, I realized: THAT’s the sort of reaction that I ought to be capturing on video. While the comments from faculty are all supportive after the fact, I need to get people in the midst of their enthusiasm in order to convey the actual impact of the show. (Some of these reactions, captured from the last three shows of the season, are up on YouTube now, as well.)

[In fact; ruh-roh! "Blogger" will take direct links from "YouTube" and post them. Which means that I can include the YouTube pieces inside this blog! And when the scene has completed, YouTube will immediately offer you more options of videos of mine, that you can watch without even leaving this site! Better settle in for the duration!]

The next day, I was off, north, to Charlotte, stopping for a brief tour of the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, before continuing to the Charlotte Latin School.

This was a very rich school on a huge K-12 campus, and I would be performing to a group of 80 students in a conference room adjacent to the library. While I had just done a show for 800 high school kids in Arkansas, these 80 were a much tougher crowd. I could feel them resisting me at every step, and several times I would “stare down” a disruptive student in the midst of a monologue. Of course, the troublemakers were probably no more than 10% of the audience, while there may well have been another 10% in the room who were entirely captivated at the other end of the spectrum. That’s one of those things I’ll never know.

After the show, I’d been hired to do a brief after-school workshop for theatre students. Three students came out. Regardless, the theatre teacher was very enthused, and reinforced some of the issues I’ve been ranting about for years, particularly with regard to students wearing microphones. (The richer the school, the more they inhibit the good speech of their students by putting a microphone in front of their mouths any time they’re on stage.)

Heading north, I spun through Knoxville again, this time catching up with the teacher I’d planned to meet with previously, and sharing perhaps a half-dozen of my scenes with him. I continued on to Wheeling, West Virginia. I had a weekend to waste, while awaiting a performance in Steubenville, so I got a cheap hotel room and read books for a couple of days, all the while thinning out my e-mail inbox and editing my Acting Textbook.

In Steubenville, I noted that they were performing “Mary Stuart” the Sunday afternoon that I arrived in town, and I nosed in to watch the first act, continuing to be reminded of some of the stage movement theories I was building upon in my book.

I did not capture a video of this particular performance, though I wished that I might have. The laughs were terrific, and one gentleman, off to the side had a terrific laugh. When I went to approach a woman in the second row during the initial “Tartuffe” monologue, she practically JUMPED up out of her seat (picking herself up at least a foot off of the seat itself!) when Tartuffe climbed over the front row of seats to perform in front of her.

The gentleman with the infectious laugh volunteered for the Scapin scene, and I later found out he was a local critic. About a week later, I received an e-mail from him, commending me on my “sharp and fast-paced production,” even as he took a couple of sideways shots at the performances that he usually sees at the school. Of course, I assumed that this would imply that his review of my show was entirely enthusiastic. However, out of a three paragraph review, one entire paragraph was as follows:

“The show’s only weakness is the same as any Moliere translation that insists on retaining the playwright’s annoying end-rhymed couplets in English. While the device might have worked in the original French (I don’t know because I don’t speak French), in English it’s an unremitting irritation, reminiscent of bad greeting card verse or Edward Guest’s doggerel. Can’t someone translate Moliere into unrhymed iambic pentameter or, better yet, prose?”

The word “curmudgeon” comes to mind.

At least one of the students who was in attendance (at both the show and my acting workshop) has written me since then, insisting:

"You’re this week’s most quoted person in our theatre department, thought you’d like to know!” Later she explained “Your ‘stop thief’ is extremely popular,” and that “Imitating your facial expressions is becoming a requirement for all drama majors here."

Interestingly, one of the students from the big show in Arkansas (In fact, it was the "Tartuffe" volunteer) also wrote, indicating:

"I would like to take a moment to thank you so much on behalf of my entire troupe for your splendid performance on Oct 31 in Conway. All of my friends enjoyed it, and are still to this day saying "STOP THIEF" in class. It serves as our own private joke outside the drama room. (Excluding all of the non thespians is almost a hobby for us.) As a serious student of theater, I was thoroughly impressed with your high energy, and even more so with your ability to captivate a packed theater of ADD high school students."

I continued on to spend Thanksgiving in Detroit with Isaac and Jo, before doubling back to Ohio with a show at Ohio Wesleyan University. While the show played fairly well, my new experiment with trying to capture audience reaction after the show was limited by the voice of the camera operator who, in addition to asking “What did you think of the show” would also ask “Wasn’t that a great show?” In addition to being too “leading” of a question, it doesn’t leave much room for the audience to respond, and when their response to this question was an indifferent shrug, I felt more than slightly embarrassed.

At last, I could drive home to Chicago, spending all of one night at the old homestead, before zipping down to a performance at Lyons Township High School, in the western suburb of La Grange.

This time the show came off extremely well, and the open space in front of the stage enabled me to get down, close to the audience of 650 students several times. Again, I managed to capture videotape, and this time the operator allowed the audience the space to respond however they liked. Of course this also meant seeing some responses that were coolly indifferent, as well as the ones who were eager and enthusiastic. The teachers actually provided some of the best responses, as they talked about how effective the show was in supporting their curricular needs.

The next day, I was off to Green Bay, Wisconsin, with a mid-day Moliere lecture with the French Department. The temperature had plummeted since those warm days in Charleston, South Carolina (I was still carrying around clothes originally packed in August!), and I tried catching a nap in the hotel prior to that night’s show.

At the theatre, no one was expecting a big turnout, as the Green Bay Packers had a Thursday night game. Even my technician, dressed in a #4 Green Bay Jersey, was planning to TiVo the game and go home to watch it right after the show. (I couldn’t help but wonder whether there was some resentment among the Theatre faculty who’d accommodated the French Department by hosting this show.) Having learned my lesson from the South Carolina conference, I encouraged them to push all the audience to the front tier of seating, where the laughs were infectious.

I managed to hire a student to run the video camera, and the technicians did a terrific job setting up and running the lights. There was a row of mostly girls in the second row, and again, there was an easy climb over the first row to perform much of the Tartuffe monologue in their laps, which set off a great chain reaction of laughs. When it came time for the volunteer scene, the student that I’d delivered the “School for Wives” monologue to got up to participate, which I can’t recall ever happening before. She was not an actress, but seemed rather smolderingly attracted to Tartuffe as the scene proceeded.

A young boy who’d attempted to volunteer for the “Tartuffe” scene, this time around was right for the “Scapin” scene. He was hilarious (the scene is up on YouTube), getting applause from the audience with his very first line. The video operator captured him afterwards saying it was “the best show ever” with his mom (the French teacher) bubbling with enthusiasm. We also captured the Tartuffe volunteer’s friends teasing her about now being “in love with the theatre.”

I spent the next morning editing video, and got on the road to Minneapolis in time to catch a Fringe Festival fundraising event, along with Erika and Julie (two friends from last summer). I spent four more days in Minneapolis scouting out karaoke bars with Erika’s assistance, as well as my billeting hosts, Klee and Dave, looking for a venue where I might perform “Karaoke Knights” if I should end up in the Minneapolis Fringe next summer.

Over those four days, Minneapolis was socked in with a snow emergency, and I spent my days editing on the acting textbook, and writing to the several theatres I’d auditioned for this past fall. I wanted to get them on board in the coming month, before distributing my schedule to the 10,000 or so teachers I’d e-mailed in the past summer. I wouldn’t have to look up all of their e-mail addresses this year, though the process of sending out that many e-mails would probably take me a month, all by itself. I wanted to have the available dates very clear before disseminating my stuff far and wide.

I headed southwest into Iowa. My performance season was over, but there was a student at Northwest College (where my friends Jeff and Karen teach) who was directing my version of “Sganarelle” for her directing class project, so I drove down to see the eight or so directors’ presentations over the course of an evening.

I was slated to drop in on Jeff’s directing class the next morning, and so I took notes through the course of the shows, just in case they might be looking for some feedback. The shows were mostly a lot of fun, and I enjoyed being reminded of the “Sganarelle” script. I’d been performing a cutting from this play for the past seven years, but had largely forgotten the context of the script. It played well, though I doubted, in several instances, whether all of the words were actually making sense to the audience.

Jeff had reminded me of a directing textbook he’d been encouraging me to write. (He’d remembered a directing lecture that I’d given over twenty years ago!) It brought back a particular point of view I’d had about this craft, which was significantly distinct from my acting textbook. Given the several notes I’d now accumulated about a variety of individual directors’ efforts, I realized that I was beginning to accumulate a substantive collection of ideas about what young directors needed to learn in becoming more effective. And meanwhile, I’d been wondering just what I’d be doing for my “December project” this year, now that the Fall tour was done. And so, I sat down the next morning and examined the notes I’d taken, beginning to identify important chapters for the new book I would work on in the coming month.

Sitting in on the directing class that afternoon, Jeff had no particular agenda for my contribution to the class, and when I suggested I could share my feedback from the night before, their eyebrows raised with interest, and I did a quick once-over of my several reactions.

After about 45 minutes of this, Jeff needed to get back to wrapping up the class, and I needed to get back onto the road. The snow had been flurrying through most of the morning, and it was a long slog across southern Minnesota, through Wisconsin, and back into Illinois.

Where I now type these words, and look forward to diving into the latest creative endeavor.


Miles on the Vibe: 252,500

In the I-Pod: Evanescence, Joe Cocker and Donovan

Temperature: 80s (South Carolina) to single digits (Minneapolis)

Reading: The “Bean Series” of books from Ender Scott Card

Discoveries: When the audience sits far away, the students who don’t really want to get involved, don’t, but those who do, enjoy the show on an intellectual level … which doesn’t manifest itself in any response that I might be conscious of until after the performance. * It’s the reaction immediately AFTER the performance which will most effectively convey the audience’s enthusiasm and the actual impact of the show. * The richer the school, the more they inhibit the good speech of their students by putting a microphone in front of their mouths any time they’re on stage. * I have a whole distinct set of opinions to share with directors about the challenges that face directors, early in their careers.

Attendance: 60 + 40 + 35 + 60 + 80 + 4 + 60 + 50 + 650 + 40 + 70 = 1,439

Political commentary: If Obama or Edwards wins a significant victory over the other in Iowa, watch for the Anyone-But-Hillary vote to shift strongly onto one or the other.

Next performances: Texas Educational Theatre Festival, Dallas, TX, 1/25-26.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The View From Here #127: Phoenix, AZ; Siloam Springs, Little Rock & Conway, AR

In the few weeks since I started the Moliere YouTube channel: it’s gotten lots of hits, with over 650 videos watched! Please check them out and rate them highly! (Somebody went through early on and rated a bunch of them at 1-star, so I could use all the help I can get to bring up my GPA!)

Hey! Happy birthday to me (3rd from left)!

It’s not my birthday as I write this episode, but I’m hoping I’ll get this issue out by then! By the time you read this I will be 48 years old! Every once in a while I pause to note “I’m getting too old for this sh*t!”

But then I have a fantastic performance, or twist of good karma and I dive right back in.

In this case, what’s working for me is the little extras that I’ve added to the tour: auditions and meet-ups with theatre professionals and faculty when I happen to be “in the neighborhood.” I’ve had a couple of great auditions lately: San Diego, Little Rock and Memphis, and one (Dallas) which seemed to fall flat.

But as the quote from Thomas Watson goes: “Defeat is not failure unless you quit. If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.”

I spent a weekend in San Diego, with a quick trip across the border to see Tijuana while I was there, just as the California fires were stoked into high gear. I smelled like I’d been standing next to a bonfire for a long time, and I’m still trying to get rid of the cough.

I’ve now passed through cities in advance of most of the major disasters of the last six years. I was in Florida before the hurricanes swept through (2003 & 2004), in New Orleans prior to Katrina, arriving in Minneapolis just before the bridge collapsed, and escaping San Diego amid the forest fires. I’m thinking of re-titling my blog, “One Step Ahead of the Apocolypse.”

The audition at the San Diego Rep went very well, and the guy there suggested that they try to book a one-person show into a fall spot annually, and were looking at the possibility of bringing me in for a 3 1/2 -week run of “Moliere Than Thou.”

In Phoenix, Bourgade High School was working on my version of “Imaginary Invalid,” and the students were really, really excited to have me visit. They gave me an ovation just for walking in the door!

I proceeded to do my 2-hour acting workshop with them, culminating in one of the squirmiest performances of the “Tartuffe” monologue ever! The girl who volunteered as my “victim” couldn’t look me in the eyes, laughed hysterically, and looked around to her fellow students to bail her out.

At the end of the session, a half-dozen actors lingered to ask questions about their particular characters, and I gave them what answers I could before rushing off to put some miles under my tires before calling it a night in Tucson. One of the students later wrote:

“Just wanted to say thanks so much for coming to our school! Things like that never happen for our theatre program, and I think it really helped give us some attention that was well deserved. I learned alot from your instructions, and hope to utilize them all in our show tomarrow night!”

From Tucson, I continued through Roswell, New Mexico (where the aliens landed) to Lubbock, Texas (where Bobby Knight landed). I met up with a member of the Texas Tech theatre faculty and continued to Brownwood, where I caught up with Nancy Jo Humfeld once again. Pushing on to Dallas, I did an audition with [a theatre in Dallas]. The two auditors showed up about twenty minutes late, and I did “School for Wives” and “Tartuffe” for them. For the latter, I used the woman who’d arranged the audition as my point of focus, and immediately felt it was a mistake. In the close quarters of this conference room, with her sitting less than ten feet away, I was overlarge and imposing. At the end of the audition, their overly-sincere “THANK you so MUCH for COMING OUT!” clued me in that we were done.

I dropped down to Waco, visiting with a couple of the theatre faculty there who were undecided about which version of “Tartuffe” they would be presenting this spring, but seemed to be very much persuaded when I did my monologue for them. The department chair is a dramaturg, who seemed to “get” the several levels of allusions that float through that monologue. A day or two later, I discovered that she had recommended me to perform at the Texas Educational Theatre Association this January, and they are now talking about having me do the “keynote address” for the students at the festival. And so, you never know what opportunities might arise from an extra little bit of reaching out.

Simultaneous to these arrangements, I’ve also been pulling together last second arrangements to appear at the South Carolina Theatre Association, where I’ll be performing as the “closing event” to their conference on November 11. As my friend Bess Park is looking to bring me in for an extended stay in South Carolina in Spring, 2009, we’ll be working together to solicit more performances with South Carolina schools during this period to make the event manageable.

I visited with Katie Crandall, a friend I’d met in Norman, OK who lives in Waco. Katie helped me redesign my MySpace page while I was there, and I continued north to Norman, Oklahoma, catching breakfast with Susan, who had directed the Moliere plays back in January. With a quick stop in Tulsa to catch lunch with Dave and Helga Hirsch, I was finally on to Siloam Springs, Arkansas, for my first performance of the show in twenty days! (The last one being way back in McMinnville, Oregon!)

I did my usual workshop with these folks, which went very well, and after a quick dinner break, came back for the show. This time, no one sat in the front row of the theatre, and the whole audience seemed to band into rows two through five. There was a little two-foot wall delineating the stage from the audience, and occasionally I would climb out onto it as I approached the audience, variously.

The show played great, finishing to a standing ovation, and the host was already eyeing my other two shows, aiming to bring me back to perform again in subsequent years. I had to pack up and drive off rather quickly, for a performance the next morning, but within perhaps 30 minutes, I noticed my phone flashing with a text message: “You are an incredibly gifted performer. Thanks for taking time for our tiny little campus.”
The adrenaline from the performance kept me driving all the way to Little Rock, three hours down the road. I checked in to the hotel after midnight and asked for a 7 a.m. wakeup call to get up for an 8 a.m. tech and a 9:30 show.

Before getting to sleep, I checked my bank balance on-line, and noticed that the deposits from some recent shows had finally showed up in my account. Checking this against my credit card statement, I realized that I finally had enough to pay off my credit card, once and for all! Boom. With a couple of keystrokes, my balance was down to zero, and while this sent my checking balance way down, I was gearing up to perform three shows in three days, with a corresponding three checks due to arrive.

And so, for the first time since, perhaps, the mid-80s, I have no debt. Suddenly, I was struck by the awareness that I was now working, exclusively, for myself.

The technician didn’t show up until after 8:30, and rather than try to teach him any internal cues (other than bringing up the houselights when I leave the stage), we refocused some lights so that I could use the wide expanse of area between the stage and the first row of seats. There was no dressing room, so I had to have Jennifer, my host, hold the audience out in the lobby while I snuck in and out of one of the bathrooms, got makeup and costume on, and slipped backstage. Almost 300 students piled in, packing the mid-sized community room, with no empty seats left over. Again, the show went extremely well.

I was eyeing a woman in the audience who was sitting next to a much older woman, wondering if she might be disapproving of some of the show’s friskier moments, but later I met the younger of the two at dinner: she was a French teacher who had brought her 82 year-old mother, Mary Francis, and her mother’s quote was “I’ve never seen an actor say more with his eyes and his fingers.”

Meanwhile, there was some controversy coming from a teacher from an extremely conservative school who noted that some of her students were “creeped out” by my “licking of the lips type thing.” Jennifer circulated this to the other teachers and it quickly turned into a forum, with responses such as:

“For Moliere, Tim’s performance was TONED DOWN” and “The ‘lip licking’ character was SUPPOSED to creep you out, that was the point, that character and others like him are sleezeballs that Moliere is holding up to ridicule because of their sleezyness!!! We thought ALL of it was hilarious …”

"I'm sorry that the students from the [conservative school] could not quite grasp and appreciate your beautiful interpretation of Moliere's characters. My students and I found your interpretation to be great and very entertaining. Bravo!!!!!”

“My students enjoyed him very much. Even though they were prepared, the language/prose was still above most of their heads. It was the experience of watching something like this that I wanted them to appreciate. And, they did. Tim is amazing! He so captured the essence of what I envisioned Moliere to have been like!”

My host went on to assert that her older kids, especially, enjoyed the show, as did the literature teacher (who wanted to see the “non-toned-down version sometime”).

My own response to this was to suggest: “I’m speaking 10,000 words in ninety minutes! I’ve got to lick my lips sometime!”

After packing up from the show, I made a quick stop back at the hotel, getting back into my suit for my audition with the Arkansas Rep. This time it was the Producing Artistic Director I was meeting up with, and while he was running late, the Literary Manager showed me around the facility in the meantime (a great theatre space inside a deceptively worn façade).

Once again I performed “School for Wives” and “Tartuffe,” this time being sure not to deliver the monologues AT either of the auditors. I could feel their attention to the language and the performance, and repeatedly forced myself to let go of whatever judgement I might be making about whatever judgement they might be making, and to reinvigorate the performance with my own internal impulses. This time, when I was done, the Literary Manager had to bow out to head to another meeting, but the Director remained to chat at some length.

He seemed impressed, and much of our discussion seemed to center around how much I might make myself available for: was I only interested in performing in Moliere plays, or would I be available for Shakespeare? He noted my facility for complex language, and suggested the possibility of casting me in any number of shows that had that kind of a challenge. And … hmm was it perhaps, time for them to produce some Moliere?

I walked out of that audition on a high that lasted the rest of the day.

The next morning, I drove to Conway, Arkansas, where I was performing in the Reynolds Performing Hall, a major (1200 seat) venue on the campus of the University of Central Arkansas (Scottie Pippen’s alma mater). I had had virtually NO correspondence about a technical rehearsal for the show, and couldn’t find any of my e-mails that might have clarified this. I made a couple of calls, but couldn’t get hold of anyone who knew about the plans, and so I just showed up at the venue. Most of the doors were locked, but when I went around to the loading dock, I found an open door, and on the stage there were two technicians awaiting my arrival.

They proceeded to refocus lights and set levels and I sat back to let them work, while trying to spare my voice (which was worn down from two shows and a workshop in the past 36 hours). Eventually, I went back to the dressing room to get into makeup and costume, and rumor came to me of a rather large audience arriving.

It seemed that no one knew what the actual total attendance would be (or they were keeping the figure from me so that I wouldn’t freak out). But by show time there were about 800 students in the house.

I started out playing broadly, projecting both vocally and physically to the far reaches of the auditorium. It was an immense group of people with a diverse character that manifested in pockets of individual groups, as broken down by schools, or by race, or simply by distance from the stage. It was impossible to “commune” with each attendee in the way that I often do when the audience total is less than 50. Generally, with a small audience I feel like I have “connected” with each one by the end of the show. In this setting that would be impossible.

When it came to monologues that I delivered to specific individuals, I focused mostly on the first row, with students who would respond to the immediacy of my proximity. Their response would at least “read” to the students around them, and the amusement of those students would communicate to the auditorium at large.

When it came time to request a volunteer for “Tartuffe,” there were quickly many hands up in the air, but before I had even finished my request, one pretty young student had gotten up out of her seat (towards the back) and was assertively making her way toward the stage.

She was very self-possessed and a really responsive scene partner. I wish that I’d had a camera running for this show, simply to capture her reactions. The one that I specifically remember was when I had her in under my arm, as I said “This talk of your affection lends me strength / But only going to a greater … length …” she slowly shifted in her stance to pull her hips back away from mine, as the audience laughed once at the twist of words, and a loud, long second time at her twist of her posture.

The Scapin volunteer was less adept, but we got lots of laughs anyway. There was one occasion where the young actor turned to face me as he delivered his line (clearly upstaging himself), and I took him by the shoulders to reposition him facing the audience. After seeing me playing presentationally through the past hour of the performance, everyone “got” that this actor had violated the “rules” of the world he had entered, and laughed loudly.

As I shifted into “Precious Young Maidens,” I could feel the audience’s energy fading. I no longer had any interactive tricks to pull back out of my bag, and had to sell the scene on its own merits. By this time, though, I had been playing the show “at 10” for over an hour, simply to be seen and heard in the far reaches of the auditorium, and there was little in the way of subtlety that could hold their attention. I could hear the rumblings of a bit of chatter in some of the pockets of individual groups.

Once again, I was conscious of the size of the crowd. While I had distracted myself by focusing on a few individuals, the immensity of the group was daunting … not in a “stage fright” sort of way, but in the challenge of getting through to each individual. Fortunately, the series of “Stop, thief”s managed to bring a lot of them back into the “muse” of the scene, and when I took my final bows, all 800 of them stood up to applaud.

I escaped through the curtain, and didn’t want to risk another bow, with the likelihood that I might return to find that the standing audience had turned into a standing-to-leave audience, but a student had quickly run up on stage, poking her head through the curtain, asking me to return. A cheer went up from the kids as the girl presented me with a special gift. I gave her a hug, waved and went back to change before coming back for photos.

Backstage, I found that the gift was a t-shirt from their high school, and I changed into that, and slipped my Moliere coat over the shirt, and went back onto the stage, where a hundred or so kids remained for photos and autographs.

Two days later, a review appeared in the Conway paper (edited, here, for length):

The many Mooney Moliere faces at UCA
By Jessica Bauer, Log Cabin Staff Writer

One man managed to single-handedly, not to mention successfully, perform several 17th-century plays in front of a crowd of high school students on the University of Central Arkansas campus Wednesday morning. French, English, drama and oral communications students from across Arkansas, including Conway High School and St. Joseph High School, attended Timothy Mooney's one-man play, "Molire Than Thou." … Mooney acted as several different characters who starred in comedies ranging from "Tartuffe" to "Don Juan" and had the high school crowd erupting with laughter the entire time.

According to Melinda Francis, an English teacher at St. Joseph High School, her students were very impressed with Mooney's interpretations of Molire. She added the students she brought to the performance just finished their senior play and said they felt a connection to Mooney. "They just finished learning all their lines and they realized how hard that is and were really impressed that this guy does it all on his own," Francis said. "And we just had juniors and seniors there, and they were able to really get the humor of the performance."

One of Francis' senior students, Caleb Seiter, was one of the two contributing actors Mooney, as Molire, chose from the audience to assist him with his act. "I was so proud of him to get up there," Francis said. "And after he was finished, he said he wasn't nervous until he got up on stage and looked out to see the audience staring back at him, but we think he did a great job." … "When kids think of the Renaissance period, they automatically think of Shakespeare and not any of the other playwrights at that time," Francis said. "So the other English teachers and I just wanted the kids to see that it is not just Shakespeare out there." Francis added several of the students who attended the play are interested in studying drama and she felt it was a good opportunity for the students who were curious about one-man acts see one brought to life.

A.J. Spiridigliozzi, an oral communications teacher on the east campus of Conway High School, brought a group of drama students to the performance Wednesday, and he said they loved every minute of it. "I knew a lot of the kids didn't know Molire, but they still got something out of it and because he had a lot of gusto, the show was very attractive to them," Spiridigliozzi said.

Another group from both campuses of Conway High School were the French students who were excited to see the works of the French playwright they had been studying in their classes. "The students really enjoyed it and they are all hoping he will come again next year," Stephanie Lamar, French teacher at Conway High School East, said. "They thought he was hilarious and were telling their friends about it all day long." …

And just as this issue was going "to press," another article appeared in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette:

Performance brings Molière to life
Cabot High School Students experience French playwright

By Jeremy Peppas STAFF WRITER

LITTLE ROCK — Cabot French teacher Kristie Robinson was impressed by the crowd.

“I was keeping an eye on them,” Robinson said, “and they laughed when they were supposed to laugh. It wasn’t that they were laughing at his gestures. They were laughing at what he was saying. I also saw that they jumped out of their seats to give him a standing ovation.”

All the laughter was for Tim Mooney’s performance Oct. 25 of a selection of plays by French playwright Jean Baptiste Poquelin Molière at Reynolds Performance Hall on the campus of the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.

Robinson estimated the crowd to be between 800 and 850 students from high school campuses around the state.

The students who were there were impressed by what they saw.

“It was really interesting to see how he brought it to life,” Cabot senior Whitney Dodson said. “It was funny on paper, but the way he interpreted it, it was so weird. With the script you can adapt it anyway you want, it’s so open-ended. The way he did it though, I never would have thought of it that way.”...

Brittany Cliff is another senior at Cabot and has also been studying French for three years. Her plan is to be a French teacher.

“It was interesting,” she said. “Most people wouldn’t have made it as risqué as he did, but he made it humorous for high school students and it kept them interested. I think everyone really enjoyed it.”

Robinson agreed.

“I think my students would want to come again,” she said....”

Packing up, I caught a quick lunch with Kristie and her husband before popping the checks into the mail, and hurrying off to Memphis.

I’d traded e-mails with the head of Memphis’ Playhouse on the Square, and I wanted to get there before he left for the evening. I managed to pull into town at about 4:30, finding my way to the theatre and his office. He was extremely generous with his time, giving me an overview of the 35+ year history of the company (which I’m sure he’s given a million times over the years), and explaining the various seasons and theatre spaces that the company runs.

He led me over to see a smaller, studio space, explaining that, as they were preparing to move into a brand new space in another year, they were looking at programming some one-person shows, probably in January and July of ’09, to lighten their load. He seemed very interested in “Moliere Than Thou” for that event, and perhaps even one of my other two shows, but didn’t feel any need to see an audition piece from me. (Apparently he sees quite enough of those, given that they run the “Unified Professional Theatre Auditions.”)

That night I met up with Sarah Brown, the professor who’d brought me in to perform at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette last winter, who had landed with the University of Memphis this year, and proceeded to continue on to Nashville and Cincinnati over two days of driving.

Lots of wheels were now turning. My series of auditions had left me with the impression that I could end up with as many as five longer-term guest artist gigs in the coming year, which means entirely re-drawing the schedule that I’d just established for 08-09. (Even though none of these new dates were confirmed, I had to create the space where they could happen so that I wouldn’t be booking and signing contracts that would prevent them from happening.) I plotted out new dates as I drove. Likewise, my new featured positions in theatre conferences would throw me back in promotional mode, as I attempt to capitalize on the increased popularity, even as I have FEWER dates to offer interested venues. Whereas in the past I’ve tried to offer up my services at least twice a year to each of the contiguous 48 states (driving two “laps” of the country each year), it may well be that most of them will only have one shot at booking me.

I am reminded of the principle that once made Beanie Babies so valuable: Scarcity.

I’ll be available less, which will actually make the show more valuable.

Looks like it’s just about time for another price increase.

Tim (Bottom row, left)

Miles on the Vibe: 247,500

Temperature: 60 degrees

Reading: “Ender’s Shadow” by Orson Scott Card

Attendance: 20 + 45 + 300 + 800 = 1165

Discoveries: “Defeat is not failure unless you quit. If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.” * Allow directors to have the aesthetic distance of observing the monologue, without placing them in the scene with you. * You never know what opportunities might arise from an extra little bit of reaching out. * I might well have gotten down about my lack of bookings through the latter half of October, but it was that very lack of bookings that set me in motion to line up an entirely new direction to the tour, and meet people who could make a huge difference for my career. * It feels good to be working for yourself, rather than the bank. * Moliere is still stirring people up more than 300 years later, and some people are getting stirred up simply by seeing me licking my lips! * I need to let go of whatever judgement I might be making about whatever judgement they might be making. * When I play the show at “10” throughout, by the last monologue, there is little left that I can do to hold the audience’s attention. * I now face the leap of faith of creating openings on my schedule for long-term guest artist stays, even before those events are confirmed.

Political Commentary: Waterboarding has been used as torture since the Spanish Inquisition. The current administration is desparate not to acknowledge that fact largely because such an admission would make war criminals of our highest officers of state.

Next Performance: November 5, Northern Kentucky University

Friday, October 19, 2007

The View From Here #126: Colorado Springs & Denver, CO; Coeur d'Alene, ID & McMinnville, OR

Forsyth’s daughters Mary and Anna are recovering well! Thanks for all your generous thoughts and concerns! (Anna has needed further back surgery, but she is effectively out of the danger zone!)

QUICK HEADS UP! I am caught up to the 21st Century and am now up on YouTube! Check out ! There, you’ll find several clips from recent shows! Go take a look! (I'll wait.) Rate them as generously as your conscience will allow! Add me as a “Favorite”! Or “Subscribe!”
A new game seems to be afoot.

While I’m every bit as busy as I’ve ever been (the exception being the 20 days I seem to have off between my last performance and my next one), I’ve added a new mission to the mix. Performances are now mixed with audtions, and I’m doing more advance work in setting up meetings and get-togethers with old friends along the way. Somewhere, a lightbulb went off over my head, and I realized that I would be wasting the time and promotional effort I had exerted in getting to the neighborhoods of some highly regarded theatres if I went through without reaching out to make contact with the directors working there.

For instance, I’ve had some contact with the leadership of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, and they know of my work, but have never seen, nor (of course) booked my show. Stopping in to share a couple of monologues with them might drive home the value of my particular adaptations of these plays. Whether or not they cast me in a play, Shakespeare, Moliere or otherwise, was less relevant in light of the exposure that I and my work would be getting. If, however, someone wanted to produce a Moliere play, AND wanted me to come in and perform the show as well, then so much the better.

It’s interesting that when it comes to taking such a proactive step in my acting career, the fear of rejection leads me to hesitate. When the process of pushing my personality on people also gets my text out in front of people, I’m much more aggressive. Perhaps it’s a matter of being able to objectify the value of my words, which live outside of myself, on the page, much better than I can objectify the value of my performances which live in-the-moment and are then gone. Rejection of my acting work is less daunting when my real goal is to promote my scripts.

In Lincoln, I met with the University of Nebraska department chair, and the Artistic Director, as well as Bob Hall, who wrote “The Passion of Dracula,” my first show at UNL as a grad student back in 1982. Paul, the department chair was getting ready for the grand opening of the refurbished theatre space, complete with fancy new lobby, the result of a last-minute grant from Johnny Carson (before his death in 2005).

On to Kearney, Nebraska, I visited with Janice Fronczak, who has settled further into her role with the University of Nebraska-Kearney, and moved into a terrific house out in the country with her artist-husband, Jeff. Janice is ALSO talking about bringing me in for a guest artist gig, perhaps in the coming year, so I’m trying to strategize how I might stack a pair of guest artist visits in Nebraska, should both schools want to bring me in. (I was also hearing from Bess in South Carolina about a similar gig!)

I pulled in to Boulder for my audition with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. I did my “School for Wives” and my “Tartuffe” for them, and they seemed nicely impressed. I continued down to Colorado Springs, where Colorado College had me in a terrific hotel. The French teacher had brought me in for this performance, and I showed up for a French class, where, as this was an informal gathering, I did not tease them with a sample of the show as I usually do. (All were promising to show up for the evening’s event, so I didn’t want to give anything away.)

After the class, I noticed a running store, where I broke down and bought some “real” running shoes, significantly lighter than the ones I’d been running in. I took them back to the hotel and ran on the treadmill in the fitness center, which faced the impressive “front range” of the Rocky Mountains just across the way. Before the show, I spotted a theatre professor, who was coming to watch the performance, but it turned out that he was a visiting prof, on loan from a school in Pittsburgh, and was amazed that I was still dawdling about in the lobby a half-hour in advance of the show.

The performance had me up on a stage, elevated over the audience, and so I took what opportunities I could to get down into the space in front of the first row. The audience, which filled only, perhaps, fifteen percent of the seats, were slow starters, particularly in the first monologue, which cued me once more to skip the “Misanthrope” scene and go straight to “School for Wives,” performed virtually in the lap of the audience, drawing lots of titters. Likewise, “Tartuffe” and “Doctor” and “Scapin” won increasingly squealing approval and cheers, and by the end, the audience belonged to me. The theatre professor stuck around afterwards, enthused about the possibility of bringing me to his school in Pittsburgh.

The University of Denver had been in constant contact to be sure that I had everything I needed for the next day’s show: parking pass, directions, hotel reservations. I did my rarely-performed workshop on Commedia (“Lots of Lazzi”), which was significantly better than the one I’d given at the Texas Theatre conference a year ago.

This show was the most expensive “Moliere Than Thou” ticket to date. While the Theatre students got in free, the public was paying $100 a pop. And while the audience was very thin, they were indeed committed, and the laughs were thick and hearty. I had, once again, set up my video camera to capture this particular performance, and the theatre found a volunteer to work the camera, which gave me one of the clearer captures of a performance than I’d acquired yet. [Clips now up on YouTube!]

Perhaps the funniest part was during the “Doctor” scene, when a group of the students who were sitting off to the side could see what my chararacter was doing with the volunteer from behind his back, laughing hilariously while the rest of the audience wondered what it was they were missing.
Afterwards, the theatre threw a reception for the $100 per ticket guests, and in anticipation of the special attention they were giving me, I changed into the suit that I had packed for the occasion.

I was receiving inquiries from my old buddy Joe Jacoby about bringing me in for class appearances at North Idaho College the following Monday. I set off early the next day, driving north from Colorado into Wyoming and Montana, pausing in Livingston, Montana for the night (there was a karoke bar right next to a hotel). By Sunday night I was in Coeur d’Alene, visiting with Joe, and crashing early for a full day of classes and driving on Monday.

At Joe’s 7 am intro to theatre class, I assembled a quick variation of my classical acting workshop, which I repeated again for the 9 am class and as usual they responded enthusiastically to the material, particularly the “Tartuffe” monologue. I was also exploring a performance of a “Hamlet” monologue, which I’d been working up for my upcoming auditions.

It was the 1 pm acting class, however, which really rocked. Word had spread beyond the class itself, and several students from previous classes returned to sit in on this class, with some (knowing what was coming in the “Tartuffe” demonstration) camping out in the front row. (One girl said, “I could watch that scene a dozen times!”)

Joe later wrote:
“Several of the students have enthusiastically thanked me for having you here. When I met with my Intermediate Acting students today and asked about what sorts of things they learned from watching you, the first response had to do with working the consonants to connect to the character, and the student clearly was surprised at its effectiveness (I've been touting that to them, but seeing it in such evident action is so terrific). He also was impressed with your idea of consonants as obstacles to the vowel's objectives. It was a wonderful visit all around. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to visit and loved watching you interact and share with the students. Thanks so much for taking the time and going so far out of your way.”

On to Oregon: I drove to McMinnville in about five hours. Fortunately the sky was overcast, so I didn’t have the challenge of having the sun setting in the same direction I was driving. I was having trouble with my neck, which has been bothering me for more than a month now. Between sitting at the computer, driving for hours and sleeping with unfamiliar pillows, my neck has gotten out of whack. I picked up a special pillow at Sharper Image to support my cervical vertebrae. Little by little, my neck was stretching out and recovering, but I made the mistake of working some Ben Gay into the muscles, which seemed to be loosening it up … However, the vapors that come with that particular product were also drying out my sinuses and the back of my throat, and I was feeling the early signs of a cold. (An early morning run through McMinnville, trying out my new shoes outside, probably didn’t help.)

I was performing in the Linfield College black box theatre, positioned on the stage floor, with about 75 seats set up, also on the floor. The faculty (two of whom I knew from SIU back in the early 80s) were uncertain about how many people might show up for an event like this, and in such a case, I usually assume that I’ll see a dozen or so in the audience, but I was surprised to see ushers grabbing more chairs and setting up more rows at the back. By the time the show got underway there may have been about 120 people in the audience. Including my brother Pat, who hadn’t seen me perform in about seven years! Between his presence, the packed house and the videotaping, I was really charged to give one of my best shows.

It’s sometimes funny to look at videotape from early performances of “Moliere Than Thou” versus the latest shows. There are moments that I’ve learned to milk, longer and longer, such as the pauses before “Stop, thief!” which I have filled with more and more mugging, as my lips purse and rearrange variously … a quirk that several people were imitating and laughing about after the show.

The staff of the theatre were extremely supportive, and the costume designer even offered to launder some of my costumes overnight, while the hosts were already thinking about bringing me back for future performances, and perhaps even a guest artist visit. The next day, I did my workshop for the acting students. They had put us in an art gallery (they were building a set in the theatre), and I’d inquired if our level of noise might bother anyone around us. The answer was, of course, “no,” but when we reached the heights of our “Hamlet” exercise, someone peeked their head in, asking if we might finish up the workshop outside. This did break our stride a bit, but we got back into it outside, and later came back in to finish up our conversation.

The next day I was on the road, heading south. The cold was starting to catch up to me, which seems to be a recurring byproduct of me having time off. With twenty days before my next shows, in Arkansas, my body apparently felt that it could shut down, and I worked to counter the cold with extra doses of Re-Liv.

I got a hotel about a hundred miles north of Sacramento, and rather than continuing in to San Francisco the next day, I lingered for 24 hours to let the cold work its way out of my system (and to do laundry and get an oil change). By the time I was driving in to San Francisco the next day, the cold was well on its way out, and I got to visit with my old friends Steven and Kajsa, and their cute toddler, Anya (which was the reason I waited for my cold to pass). Steven and I caught up on his plans to take his show (“Adventures of a Substitute Teacher”) to an educators’ convention, and I gave him some input on my experiences in conference-world.

That night, Steven and Kajsa brought me along to a 50th birthday party for a friend (where I met another friend of theirs, coincidentally named Pat Mooney), and I later caught a bus downtown to join Todd Pickering’s masquerade birthday party (Todd also went to University of Nebraska).

The next day, Steven’s friend Edwina arranged for an extra ticket for me to join them at a concert fundraiser for San Francisco’s “Pets Unlimited,” where her amazing daughter was singing, and I crashed in Todd’s apartment (while Todd was off celebrating his birthday in a fancy hotel).

Unfortunately, the only downtown parking space I could find Sunday night demanded that I move my car by 7 a.m. the next morning, so I was up early on Monday, and off to Fresno, meeting up with Jayne, one of the organizers of the Rogue Performance Festival.

Tuesday found me heading in to Los Angeles, where I couldn’t resist taking a photo of the Hollywood Video store. Somehow, I would have thought that the “Hollywood” brand would be much less impressive to people who lived in the shadow of the famous “Hollywood” sign year round. I caught dinner with Tony and Donna, two friends from the ‘06 Minnesota Fringe, and headed over to visit Michael Hofacre, who had saved me a spot on his couch. Michael was another old Nebraska friend, who now works as editor of indy films and assistant editor of some major titles (currently working on the latest Will Ferrell vehicle). With all of this time off, I was chipping away at a few projects. I was working the e-mails in my inbox down to a manageable level (struggling to hold it under 400 messages at the moment), and committing an hour a day to writing original material. I’ve had a bunch of short story ideas that usually die on the vine from a lack of follow-through, but looking lengthwise at a long time off, I realized that there was the opportunity to add some substance to my body of work, if I chained myself to the computer through the layoff period.

On Wednesday I drove out to Claremont College, where they were rehearsing a musical version of “The Miser” which used my verses for the songs. The sound was lush, and I was amazed that the composer had retained the original iambic pentameter for the most part, and still made it work musically. It was wild to hear words that I’d written in the middle of the night over ten years ago being sung in 6-part harmony by about 15 voices! Later that night, I met up with more fellow Nebraska Alums, Todd Nelson (now working for CBS) and the adorable Crystal Carson (now teaching Acting). Today I catch up with Todd and Mari Weiss (who’s doing great with voiceover these days) before heading for an audition at the San Diego Rep on Monday, and a last-minute-arranged workshop in Phoenix on Tuesday.

Miles on the car: 244,000

Discoveries: I would be wasting the time and promotional effort I had exerted in getting to the neighborhoods of some highly regarded theatres if I went through without reaching out to make contact with the directors working there. * Rejection of my acting work is less daunting when my real goal is to promote my scripts. * A “committed” audience is much more vocal, intent on getting their money’s worth. * Go easy on products that come with their own “vapor action.” * A significant body of “time off”, gives me the perfect opportunity to make headway on writing projects.

Attendance: 70 + 40 + 15 + 20 + 35 + 125 + 15 = 320

On the I-Pod: Best of Bread (New songs for “Charles” to sing) and “Seder on Sundays” (Air America Radio)

Next Performance: Siloam Springs, AR (10/29), Little Rock, AR (10/30) and Conway, AR (10/31).

Political Commentary: George Bush’s approval rating has now dropped to the level of Richard Nixon, the day he was driven from office.