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.