Saturday, August 11, 2007

The View From Here #125: Minneapolis, MN

The last issue of TVFH was perhaps the first time that I forgot to attach “Discoveries” to the bottom of the issue, perhaps due to the long layoff of about two months since the previous edition. But if I were to attach a discovery to it, it would suggest that repetition is the key to marketing. Your message needs to get in front of your audience perhaps six or seven times before they “see” it.

Also forgotten in the rush to pull together a new issue of the blog was a really nice review that had come in from one of the faculty with whom I’d shared the latest draft of my acting book. David Deacon, formerly of Texas A&M, Kingsville, wrote me with the following remarks:

“I have been reading your text of Acting at the Speed of Life with unmatched enthusiasm. Thank you for sharing. I see the distillation of your vast workshop experiences in its pages. This future book unquestionably fills a niche in the lexicon of acting texts now on the market—one that needs filling. As a product of "the 1950’s era Method" I feel that this easily read text redresses some of the excesses of that Brando dominated era. I recall one of the "darlings" of the Boston University stage at that time in an acting class exercise mumbling with interminable pauses his way through "To be or not to be." How little attention was paid in those years to the art of playing as so deftly defined by you in this book. Looking back, I think that I was obliged in my acting career to instinctively grope my way toward an understanding of those twin objectives—those of being seen and heard. Such stumbling was mightily influenced by the Actor’s Studio et al which put such a premium on "inner truth" at the expense of communication on a more immediate level. Although I shall always remain an enthusiastic proponent of Stanislavski’s teachings I believe that you are right on in your analysis here. I think what you say is applicable to all manner of plays—modern as well as those from the classic past. I certainly found truth in what you say as I tackled the role of Norman Thayer in Pond at the Springer. Perhaps a "Forward" could outline some of your well reasoned prejudices toward the art of acting and alert the reader that they should expect some fresh perspectives on the subject. Bravo my friend!”

(If anybody out there wants a preview of the text, please drop me a line!)

Reviews seem to be the theme of the day, and I expect this report will be mostly a collection of these – in fact, I’ll just interlace them through the text – but first, let’s look at a few intervening events.

I had four days at home to surf the schools of Pennsylania before actually driving to Pennsylvania, itself, for the memorial service/building dedication to Cousin Mary. Mom and Dad also made the trip, along with siblings Kevin and Maureen, and the Clarion University people took a picture of us looking at the replica of the plaque which will dedicate the building to Cousin Mary. Everyone who spoke at the memorial told a joke of some sort, which was a fitting tribute to a woman who seemed to laugh at everything.

Later, we headed back to Mary’s and went through the attic to see if Dad’s baseball cards had, indeed, ended up back there. (No sign of baseball cards, but she had left some lovely artifacts behind for us.)

(Five Stars)"See.This.Show." by Clint Weathers:This show is what is best about the Fringe: Taking art that has been fluffed up to be "Art" and bringing it back down where it belongs -- to the people. I'd never seen or read any Moliere before this show, but after seeing Moliere Than Thou, I'll read through all of it. The show was wonderfully performed, paced and executed.

I drove hurriedly back to Chicago where I pulled together my final preparations for the Minnesota Fringe Festival (drew up new flyers incorporating the new photos) and headed north.

I arrived in Minneapolis about ten minutes before the bridge collapse. I was about five miles south of it at the time, unloading my car.

That night I performed in the out-of-towners showcase, with five minutes from “The Precious Young Maidens”. It went well (the boyfriend of one of the fringe bloggers called my performance “The second greatest performance ever in the history of the theatre, ever”), but they ended up finishing the showcase about a half hour earlier than planned, because some of the performers had apparently gotten caught in traffic on the wrong side of the bridge. And thus we segued into the nightly Fringe Nightcap, which was the ongoing opportunity to catch up with folks met at the 06 Fringe, as well as to make new friends.
(Five Stars) "Simply a Pleasure..." by David Lind: hear an actor who understands how to handle verse. Mooney's translations are clean and crisp and contemporary. If you like Moliere's works - Go! If you don't like Moliere's works - Go! If you don't know who Moliere is - Go! Go! Go!

Most of Minneapolis was in a state of shock the next night and attendance for the opening day of the festival was way down. My own venue was perhaps six blocks from the site of the bridge collapse, and few people wanted to get caught up in the traffic tangles. Of course, we assume they were glued to their television set for most of that time.

Fortunately, I only had to concern myself with a tech rehearsal for most of that time, and my own biggest problem was figuring out how to keep myself well-lit while navigating closer to the audience whenever possible.

(Five Stars) "Language heaven..." by Jason D:
I've referred to myself on occasion as a wordsmith, a lover of weaving them together in unique ways that bend the ear and tickle the mind. Tim Mooney is a MASTER, translating Moliere lyrically and evocatively with incredible delivery. Two lessons I learned: More Moliere in my diet and never make direct eye contact with the performer asking for volunteers in a one-man show.

The next morning I woke up with an idea. We would leave the house lights on all of the time, which enabled me to bring certain scenes: “The School for Wives,” “Tartuffe” and “The Doctor In Spite of Himself” into the large semicircle between the performance platform and the first row of seats, and keep the audience off-balance. In fact, I realized that, this being the Fringe, there was an opportunity to add even more “danger” to the show, by bringing a volunteer onstage for my “Doctor in Spite of Himself” scene. For years I’ve been performing that scene with an imagined “patient,” but what if that was a live human being?
(Five Stars) "Educational and Entertaining" by William Weiler:We learned more about Moliere's plays in an hour than in a lifetime of going to the Guthrie and at the same time were entertained. Mr. Mooney is a good actor and brings the audience (literally) into the act.

It’s not the sort of thing that I could spring on an audience member out of nowhere, so I floated the idea past the woman whose house I was billeting at. She was planning on coming to opening night. Would she be willing to be my first victim? She said yes, and I ran off to pick up the copies of my program, across town. There was a flaw with the programs, so they gave me a coupon for a cup of coffee across the way while they redid them, and having a cup of coffee that late in the day, three hours before my opening night, hyped up my energy to an incredible level. By the time of the show I was practically climbing the walls and dancing on the ceiling.
(Four 1/2 Stars) "I Am Not Scarred" by Julie Blaha:
I was one of the volunteers at Tuesday's show. Oh yes, THAT volunteer. I won't give anything away, but I was really surprised at the level of concern some members had in the audience about my treatment. Again, to avoid spoiling anything, I had no problem with it, but found it fascinating how many people did. I enjoyed the show, and that the actor was able to cause that much consternation over a very dead writer's work is the kind of thing you can only get at the Fringe.

There was a very generous audience of about 25 in the house that night, and with my extra energy, and my particular mantras (“I am going to f*** with their heads.”), I found myself adding extra impish fun on a moment-by-moment basis. What this seems to translate to is a series of facial tics, which, judging by the on-line reviews, some people find more amusing than others. Moving the series of scenes from the stage to the “pit” and back seemed to be very effective, and Nancy Donoval, a highly-respected local storyteller, spoke enthusiastically about my “command of the space,” a comment that was picked up several times, particularly in describing my Scapin scene, which climbs over the laps of the audience.
(Five Stars) "A sumptuous repast of Moliere" by Mark Roemer:Until I saw this show, I was completely unfamiliar with the works of Moliere, although I am an aficionado of works of that period. Tim Mooney’s translations and performance of Moliere has thoroughly ignited my interest in experiencing more of Moliere’s work. This I consider to be some of the highest praise I can give. Tim’s energy, enthusiasm and love for the material are very contagious, and he brings the characters to life with an amazingly expressive face and voice. I found the format the theatrical equivalent of dining at a tapas bar—not a single, overly heavy entrée, but a fine selection of delicious morsels of Moliere, whetting my appetite for more. This is truly one of the most entertaining shows I’ve seen at Fringe this year.

This version of the show was also the product of some renewed work over the summer, in which I added a new “Don Juan” monologue, in the middle of two pieces in the character of Sganarelle, also from “Don Juan.” It gives the impact of a back and forth dialogue between the two characters, and lends, I think, some greater gravity to the work, as we see Moliere confronting head-on, the single issue which is probably the most memorable theme of his work: Hypocrisy. I’ve been reading this monologue in some of my Moliere workshops for the last few years, as well as my living-room performances, but the recent days on the road have enabled me to finally commit the thing sufficiently to memory to take it on in public without a script. I had also written a new aside in Moliere’s closing curtain speech, which, I think, lend a greater understanding to the piece and the character of Moliere:

“Beyond any personal satisfaction, however, I take it as a great victory over vice to be able to transform wickedness into the object of your laughter, for a man may well be willing to be the subject of your scorn, but not your mirth. He may consent to be evil, but never ridiculous.” (This is very close to being a quote from the introduction to “Tartuffe” which Moliere spent years trying to get permission to produce, and in the process of justifying the moral value of the script, he ended up making a great case for the ethical impact of comedy, which has often been considered the unfortunate stepchild of “Serious Theatre.”)

(Four 1/2 Stars) "stands the test of time" by Dave Stagner:How many Fringe show scripts will still be in print CENTURIES from now? Moliere has stayed around for centuries, and Tim Mooney cherry-picks from his best work. I had a passing familiarity with his plays, but the show brings the best moments to life, showing WHY this material has stood the test of time. And the in-character acting as Moliere himself ties the show together thematically, and covers ground not in the plays themselves. It's all held together by Mooney's fine comic acting. His tics, dramatic gestures, and verbal asides had me in stitches, along with the hilarious source material. A great, lighthearted show by a very talented actor - the sort of thing that makes stage comedy worth watching!

(Four 1/2 Stars) "Future 5's to French favorite" by natalie ballinger:Timothy Mooney is such an enjoyable performer. Great energy, comic timing, and involvement of the audience. Quite a different subject and style than last year's, showcasing this performer's flexibility and talent.

(Four Stars) "Does The Original French Rhyme?" by Dave Romm:Tim Mooney is having an enormously fun time playing Moliere and assorted Moliere characters. He never stops moving, and he plays off the audience well. You don't have to know the original plays, though it helps. The dialog from the 1700s sounds a bit archaic but the subject matter remains bawdy and funny. A Shockwave Radio Theater review.

(Five Stars) "Excellent" by Susan HEIL:One of the best of this years Fringe. It was entertaining and the actor was in full command of his material. BRAVO! A must see.

And so, I had a lot of stuff bubbling around in my head that night, including a frisky volunteer scene. I had no idea how it was going to go over, but I felt pretty sure it would grab people’s attention.

And while I was thinking about all of that stuff, I blanked on one of my lines in the “Tartuffe” scene (which I have performed THOUSANDS of times). I was quickly remided of yet another of my mantras: “Even when I f*** up, I will enjoy myself in the process.

(Four Stars) "funny, frenetic and entertaining" by vickijoan keck:Timothy Mooney has an incredible amount of energy and comic talent, bringing a variety of characters (as well as a few audience members) to the stage. Classial theater lovers will find themselves thoroughly entertained as Mooney sweats out his hour onstage through a variety of characters and quick costume changes. Even when he drops a line he manages to remain in character and recover quickly. His facial expression is wonderful, especially when saying "stop thief". Fun stuff! vjk

I finished the show, took my bows, headed out for drinks and waited for the reviews to come in. (Performing this show on the road, in town one day and off on my way the next, the newspapers don’t tend to cover the shows, and critical feedback is rare. This fringe represents a rare opportunity to receive the exact opposite, and I enjoy seeing new perspectives framing and reframing my work, which ends up giving context to the value of what I present.)

(Four 1/2 Stars) "wordier than thou!" by evelyn blum:How many words can one man recite within an hour? You find out in this hysterical, energetic, classical show taking puns at the Classics. I loved the reminder of the relevance of the classics and how they are never outdated. From Don Juan to Tartuffe, the words came flying out in perfect poetic form, in great visual flair. The costumes and physical comedy add brilliantly to the energy of the show. All this and you can have a beer in this venue! So have an ale and be prepared to be entertained by this bard.

Mostly, the reviews were very positive, as the audience submitted their responses on-line. Those first few were all between four and five stars in the Fringe’s rating system (which tends to skew upwards from a traditional rating system, since many people go on line to write about their friends, or simply write to promote stuff that they already like), but eventually a couple of negative reviews came in to skew my average downwards, and as of this writing, at least, my play is averaging four stars with 21 audience reviews submitted.

(4 1/2 Stars) "Moliere is delightful, frothy fun" by Hazen Markoe:Timothy Mooney presents a wonderful display of puckish wit and "ham" acting in this hilarious one-man show that presents the great French playwright Moliere attempting to entertain an audience when his cast is indisposed due to food poisoning. Mooney never misses a beat in presenting what could be called the "best of Moliere's comic gems." A published translator of Moliere, Mooney clearly knows his material and succeeds in both entertaining and educating his audience. Definitely a show worth seeing.

It seems that the negative reviews all came in after my Thursday night show, and the respondents drew attention to a sameness in my voice or in my vocal pattern. It was also a night that “Stop, thief!” seemed to get almost no laughs, and I wasn’t sure how to take that. My feeling is that I may have simply drilled some of these scenes too much, and so, while it feels a bit risky, I’ve decided to “fly blind” in the last two performances, doing the play with no rehearsal at all.

(5 Stars) "Tim Mooney touched my ...!" by Chani Ninneman:This was lots of fun! One man shows can so easily loose the audience's love and attention but I was engaged the whole time. Mooney was active to the point of me wishing I had brought along some Dramamine... I do wish I had more familiarity with Moliere's work but even though I know I missed some jokes, his delivery made up for it all. He was very charming and put the audience at ease with his "in your face" delivery. And this actor made me love him even more when at the end he let all the Fringe artists in the crowd stand up and plug our shows! (Snow White Ate the Apple or Peter Piper Picked A Who? - go see it!) So yes, two thumbs up!

The audiences have gone from 25 the first night, to about 50 the second and 75 the third. I fully expect that this trend will continue, as my final two shows are in terrific Saturday and Sunday afternoon slots, and I look forward to feeling the audience’s energy feeding my performance.

(4 1/2 Stars) "A definite treat" by Tim Wick:Postcards do work, artists. Never forget that. Tim Mooney was working the sidewalks on opening night and as a result, I found myself at his show on Tuesday. He is a Moliere geek in the way some people are Star Trek geeks. He knows how to take his love of Moliere and make the playwright's works accessible to a broad audience. I was frequently laughing, always entertained and never bored.

Meanwhile, of course, I have been seeing shows – perhaps 15 or more, already, and every time I see one, I am reminded of who my audience is: what they come in knowing or not knowing, what gestures they respond to, ,the level of theatricality that they long to experience. It helps to get me out of myself and recharge my own batteries. The “bad” stuff reminds me of the quality of my own work, and the “good” stuff challenges me to reach higher.

This has been a festival for which the fringe website fuels the word of mouth, and one of the central facets of that website is the constant effort of the bloggers, who write their own reviews and comment on the entire fringe experience. Each blogger has his or her own preferences, and while most of them have not come to see my show, a couple of them have, and Phillip Low, in particular, who championed “Criteria” last year, came out with a strong response this year.

"I'll admit it right up front -- I have no critical faculty for this show. I love the material so much, I was sitting there the whole time with a big smile plastered across my face, happy to just sit and hear some of my favorite comedy monologues again.

Hopefully for more than just Moliere geeks, too -- good material never dates, and there was plenty of laughter from the audience throughout. He's chosen to eschew some of the author's darker material to focus on Moliere the comedian, Moliere the farceur.

That said, it's impossible to avoid those satiric touches -- Don Juan speaks like every seedy politician I've ever heard. Scapin's speech detailing how going to court is hell on earth is every bit as relevant as it ever was -- you couldn't alter a syllable. And Tartuffe -- Tartuffe is the same terrifying, monstrous figure that he's always been.

It strikes me that one of the reasons that Moliere's work has survived is that, sadly, his enemies have outlived him -- we still have a class of politicians and lawyers who profit from our losses -- and we may not be using leeches anymore, but thanks to organizations like the AMA, the medical profession wields more devastating power now than it ever did in his lifetime -- and, of course, his greatest foe of all, the Church, still looms above us all.

But what he left us were his vast quantity of words, cries of impotent rage from a bitter old man cursing his own uselessness, articulate, brilliant, hilarious, disgusting, despairing. There's a reason he was my hero growing up, enough so that I devoted many years to trying to emulate him.

Because we need his voice. And he's funny as hell."
—Phillip Low

I wrote all this on Saturday morning, before going in to see shows and to perform. The Satuday performance continued the trend, with an increase in attendance of perhaps another 25, and I looked forward to yet another such increase for Sunday’s 5:30 performance, bringing the attendance up to at least 125, and a total of 375 for the run. I was on my way to the Fringe “nightcap” where I’d fallen in with group of fun friends in a nightly ritual of celebration, when an unexpected call came in: Apparently my attendance numbers were higher than anyone else in my venue, and my show had been chosen for the “Fringe Encore” performance.

Which means that I’ll be doing TWO shows today (Sunday). I don’t anticipate that the final performance will actually come anywhere near the attendance that I’ve been getting, particularly as I haven’t been able to publicize this show, and the Fringe Website seems to be the only way for the audience to find out about which shows are doing the “encore.” (Not to mention the fact that my competition for that time slot are all very popular shows.) But I still count it as an honor and a breakthrough.


(Show photos by Dave Stagner; Pennsylvania photos by Maureen McHugh.)

Discoveries: Repetition is the key to marketing: Your message needs to get out in front of people six or seven times before they “see” it. * Three bad reviews can drain all of the joy out of fifteen fabulous reviews … if I let them. * There is very little that is more important than navigating my way into the closest relationship that I can create with the audience. (Eventually I ditched all of the lighting cues in favor of having the technician work the house lights, which enabled me to get down directly in front of them.) * I have finally found a way to capture the real sense of Moliere’s crusade against hypocrisy, and the way in which he justified the ethical value of comedy. * A series of reviews places one frame after another around my material, enabling me to appreciate the perspective separate individuals have on this work. * Seeing other peoples’ material reminds me of exactly what the audiences walk in looking to see and to hear.

Miles on the vibe: 234,000
Temperature: 70s-90s
Reading: Blog post on the fringe website:
On the I-Pod: “Faulty Intelligence” by Roy Zimmerman (the Tom Lehrer of our generation)

1 comment:

Susan said...

Tim -- "Moliere than Thou" was spectacular. Energizing and true to his wonderful spirit...and I thank you for making my "instant" performance with you at Sat's 4 p.m. show so grand (Susan from St. Paul). Will look forward to what you bring north next year...and please add me to your listing for the next time you're near by and another performance can be enjoyed. -- Susan E. Thurston Hamerski