Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The View From Here #131: Lake Travis, TX; Silver City, NM; Kenmore & Spokane, WA; Bristol, RI; Hempstead, NY; Paramus, NJ

I’m getting ready for the Pathways weekend, May 1-4! I did Pathways back in 2000, and proceeded to get beyond my day job, take my show on the road and enjoy the many adventures you’ve seen here. Come join me and “change your life in a weekend.”

I hung out in Lewisville, Texas for a couple of days, working on bringing the new computer up to speed, before dropping south to the Austin area, where I had an acting workshop at Lake Travis High School. The theatre was working on a production of “Tartuffe” (not mine, unfortunately), and I gave a two hour acting workshop, and then responded to a run-through of their performance.

The folks who put me up were great (their son wants to be an actor), and the girl playing Elmire wrote to say “I still can't believe we had the pleasure of getting your advice, probably the best we could hope for!”

And from the theatre teacher:
You were soooo helpful! We advanced yesterday with high praise from the judge, he loved us! AND, we won a ton of individual acting awards also!

(I have to include these unsolicited responses, just in case some producer reading this, is on the fence about hiring me … it’s not bragging; it’s marketing.)

From Lake Travis I drove west, with a night in El Paso, and continuing to Silver City, New Mexico, a good hour off of the beaten path of the interstate amid the mountains. The gig at Western New Mexico U had gotten cancelled in past semesters, but persistent follow up (Thanks April!) got the deal done.

The professor
had neoclassical scenery already in place from a recent production. The small theatre space held about 80 in the audience, and the performance was very well received, as was an acting workshop that I gave for a much smaller group the next day. People were even buying t-shirts!

I was just getting ready to leave town when I noticed that Diana Jones, who I’d met in Tennessee, was performing in this same out-of-the-the way town, this same night. I stuck around and caught her show. She was, once again, excellent, and I particularly enjoyed her not-yet-published song about mountaintop removal. (“Appalacia”)

It was a long drive to the next performance (in Seattle), and I went by way of Los Angeles, where I was promptly invited to Easter dinner by my new friend Edwina (where a friend of hers happened to know a friend of mine from High School (Kirsten Moomey) who I hadn't seen in 30 years!), visited with my old Nebraska friends, Mari Weiss and Crystal Carson (pictured), headed through Fresno, dropping in on Rogue Theatre Fest director, “Airplane Jayne”, up through Oregon, dropping in on my brother, Pat and his family, and staying at David Yeaworth’s house in Seattle, where we visited until late in the evening. I also got a chance to visit with my good friends, and fellow playwrights, Jorj Savage and Babs Lindsay (pictured).

Inglemoor High School was hosting me on a Saturday evening, which is pretty rare for a high school, so I was really surprised when a hundred or so students came out. The show was extremely well received, and the Tartuffe volunteer was a flirtatious minx, who, at one point, wrapped her leg around mine (out of sight of the camera, though you can hear the audience reacting (clip below)). The teacher sent a collection of student responses after the fact. Here’s a very small fraction of them:

Thank you for coming to Inglemoor. You really helped me understand Moliere, I didn’t understand it at all at first. You were really funny too. And I didn’t think Moliere could be that entertaining, so THANKS!
Amanda Hall

Thank you so much for coming to Inglemoor and presenting Moliere! It was amazing and really entertaining! I enjoyed it so much! I really loved how you took skits that were written in 1600 and adapted them to make people (mainly teenagers) love it! I really think you are amazing at changing characters and an amazing actor!
Jessica Eberhardt

Your show was amazing. The way you made the plays your own was amazing and I LOVED when you came into the crowd! Great job.
Kierra Adams

I’ve never been to such a great show such as this. Amazing performance. It’s crazy that you do a show like every night in places all over the states. You’re an amazing actor and your interpretation is hilarious. Thanks for the show!
Alex Cotige

We don’t normally get opportunities for events like this right at school, and it was a nice change. As for the performance, it was amazing! I was up front, and I don’t think I’ve laughed that hard in a long time.
Thomas Mooney-Meyers [No relation]

Thanks for coming to our high school and performing a great show. I can’t think of any other way I would rather spend a Saturday night. The show was fabulous.
Noah Eakman

Thank you so much for performing for us! It was a great show and I laughed so hard. My favorite part was the “Stop Thief” part at the end. The whole show was amazing...
Kelsey Jones

Whitworth University
in Spokane had hosted me six years ago, when this tour first got underway. That time, they’d put me in their hundred-seat downstairs venue. This time around, they graduated me to the big space, with over a thousand seats. There was a fifteen-foot throw, just to the first row of seats, and we worked out the lighting so that I could abandon the stage to approach the first row, and remain lit.

My friend, Joe Jacoby, who teaches theatre across the Idaho border, brought 13 of his students to see the show, many of whom had seen bits of my workshops in Joe’s classes in previous visits. Between them, and the Whitworth students who’d just performed “Tartuffe” there were great laughs throughout the show. One of the students from the previous show in Seattle, also happened to be a Whitworth student, and showed up to this show as well, asking me to autograph the t-shirt she’d bought, which in turn, gave a couple of Joe’s students the idea to pick up their own.

The theatre professor, who’d actually missed my show six years before, wrote me later to say:

I love the show – your translations, editings, segues – all work so well and do such a nice job of introducing and honoring Moliere, his works, his intentions.

I proceeded to drive from Spokane to Chicago in three days (with a brief stop in Minneapolis, to check the venue I’ll be performing at for the Minnesota Fringe) and visit with some Fringe friends, and then continued on to Rhode Island, where my next show was at Roger Williams University.

Meanwhile, a show got cancelled. Purchase College dropped me a note to indicate that they hadn’t gotten any high schools to sign on to a show they’d booked for the coming week. This made for the fourth cancellation since the beginning of the Spring semester, making it perhaps the worst semester of the tour in that regard. (This was the low point of this tour, and I started formulating incentives and disincentives to put into the contract to encourage faculty to perform the necessary follow through.)

Roger Williams had tried to host me before, but I was always across the country somewhere when they’d tried to book me. It wasn’t until after the Theatre Chair (who had wanted to book me previously) had retired, that they were actually able to work out a visit.

It turned out that only about twenty people showed up for the performance, which suggested to me that, though the retired Chair had put in a great word for the show, not everybody on the faculty was rallying behind the project. (Though my tech guy and one of the acting faculty were both enthusiastic.)

Volunteers were slow in coming, and eventually a somewhat older woman put her hand up, making for a much different scene than what we’ve seen in the past. (This pattern repeated in the very next show at Hofstra University.)

The next day, the retired chair wrote:

Terrific job last night! All those small nuances polished to perfection... and no nonsense, like hiding while doning wigs, surprising us with magical costume changes, etc. You were, in fact, just as fine and honest a performer as I supposed you'd be five or six years ago when I first hoped to employ you. ... But where were the 50 or so theatre majors? only Danya was there to represent them. I retired a year too early, I guess. BUT you didn't let that throw you; I was proud of your determination and cheered by your splendid performance.

With a couple days to spare, I dropped in on my friends, the Curtins, in New Jersey, and I introduced Dick Curtain to the Battlestar Gallactica dvd’s that I was working my way through. (BG has just begun it’s final season and I’m now caught up on episodes.)

I paused on my drive to Hofstra, to listen to a radio program, but when I went to start the car again, the battery was drained. I’ve had pretty good luck with my car over these six years of the tour, so I really don’t resent when it gives me trouble. In point of fact, it was a beautiful day, and I had plenty of time to wait for Triple-A to send a truck to give me a jump. (I suspected that, with over 200,000 miles on the car, that I might actually need that AAA membership.)

Hofstra was hosting a conference on Humor in Romance Language Literature, and I did two morning workshops on Moliere, Theatre History and Commedia. That night there were practically 200 people in the audience, and the show was fun again. Afterwards, I posted video from both the “Tartuffe” scene and the “Doctor” scene on-line, and was surprised to see the numbers of “hits” to the Doctor scene climbing sharply. Within two days, over 100 people had viewed the video, and while it was fun, it wasn’t particularly more salacious or hilarious than previous postings of the scene. Just to cover my tracks, I wrote to the host, asking him to get the volunteer’s okay. (Just in case the student was reluctant to have her image posted, I didn’t want the video to “go viral” until I had written confirmation.) She wrote me directly to say that she’d already noticed the video, and had pointed it out to a few of her friends (explaining the sudden rush of “hits”). (Yipes! It's already gotten over 1500 hits!)

This note from the workshop host to the fellow who’d coordinated the performance:

… His presentation had wit, wisdom, variety, and humor, and served the purposes of both my History of Drama class and my Intro to Theatre. His insights and comments on asides and soliloquies as well as his demonstration of commedia lazzi were very clear (and very funny), and both groups of students--when queried in Monday's classes—spoke positively of the experience.

I drove to Baltimore and hung out with my sister, Maureen, and her husband, Tim for a few days, and worked on editing new, shortened versions of my “The Misanthrope” and “Doctor in Spite of Himself,” getting both of them down to 40 minutes, which I’ll be sharing as an alternate publication with the folks at Playscripts, Inc, who are publishing my full-length versions of these plays.

Back north in New Jersey, I performed at Paramus Catholic High School. This one was arranged by the spouses of two good friends in the New York area, as the wife of playwright Michael T. Folie (whose plays I’ve produced twice in the past) teaches English, and the husband of my New York City stage manager, Suzanne DuCharme teaches Theatre, both at Parmaus. Everyone saw to it that I was well taken care of in my brief visit, but I found myself struggling through the course of the show. Among the four to five hundred or so students in attendance, there seemed to be only a handful of chaperones, and some students were chatting. (I was beginning to realize that rather than suggesting a certain ratio of chaperones in my “hosting hints,” I need to put that up front in the contract.)

I used just about every trick in my bag, including pausing, staring down the vociferous students, talking quietly to make them listen, and then talking loudly to wake them up, but by the time I got to the last monologue, there was little attention left to be paid. Later on I looked at the video of the show, shot from behind the students by Lynn Curtin (who’d come to see the show for her third or fourth time), and I had to wince at the fact that a girl in the back row turned to talk with her friend as often as she watched what was going on onstage.

The “Tartuffe” sequence was, however, a big hit with the kids, probably too big. Although the scene is thick with double-entendre, it seems they were only hearing the words’ secondary meanings. I did everything I could to pull the reins on this scene, even dropping out some of my favorite lines, just to prevent these Catholic students from turning the show into a riot of raging hormones.

That night I drove in to New York City, catching dinner with the hilarious Tom X. Chao, and enjoying the first preview of my friend Yvonne’s new show, “The Devil and Tom Walker.” (Somehow, it seems that every time I’m passing through New York, Yvonne has a show about to open.)

I headed southwest, where I look forward to wrapping up the spring tour at Centre College in Kentucky.

It will be good to get home again. And unpack the car.

Miles on the Vibe: 268,000
Temperature: Approaching mid-seventies
Discoveries: While I’ve tried to keep the performance contract as simple as possible in the past (I’ve prided myself in keeping it to a single page), it’s probably time for me to make the demands I need to guarantee the best experience I can to the hosts, as well as guaranteeing my on ability to survive from semester to semester. This is not “being a diva” but ensuring the necessary conditions for the best experience possible.
On the i-pod: Podcasts of the Rachel Maddow Show
Next performance: Centre College, Danville, IL, April 24.