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