Saturday, November 01, 2008

The View From Here #135: Coeur d’Alene, ID; Overland Park, KS; Northbrook, IL; Washington, PA; Rochester, NY; Manchester, NH; Glenville, WV

... The Fall Colors Edition ...
Get out and vote, everybody! Take no state, nor district for granted! And then crack open a cold one to celebrate my birthday!

Twenty eight years ago my twenty-first birthday celebration was dampened. I look for the success of this year’s election to redeem those “lost years.”

Since the last computer crash … almost 8 months ago now, I never have gotten the chance to rebuild the document that captured my “Commedia del Arte” workshop. I have a hard copy of the material, but haven’t re-entered the stuff into a Microsoft Word or Power Point document. And since this is relatively new material, I continue to rearrange and reorder the lecture and exercises to improve the natural progression of the content.

Which means that I’m generally working by notes, by memory and by the seat of my pants. … Which actually helps, sometimes, since I’m not attached to a specific lecture, or a series of slides flashed up on a screen.

I gave this lecture in Coeur d’Alene, working and re-working the order, which seems to be settling into some sort of logical progression, and finding myself focusing more elaborately on the “What to do with the Dead Body?” lazzi, to which students seem to respond particularly well. (I do this one, along with the “Hiding the fingerprints” lazzi, and scenes from “The Misanthrope,” “The Flying Doctor” and “The Doctor in Spite of Himself” which are all fairly tried-and-true.

I said goodbye to Joe, my friend and host, as well as a couple of the students who I’ve now encountered over several visits to North Idaho College (where they’re producing my “Doctor in Spite of Himself” this winter), and raced off into Montana.

Stopping in Livingston, Montana, I awoke to find that an early Winter Storm had swept in during the night, with about five inches already on the ground and a total of twelve inches predicted.

I raced out as quickly as the conditions might allow, fighting snow and later rain most of the way through Wyoming, and pulling into Denver late that night.

In Denver, I camped out for about four days, visiting with my new friend, Trish, as well as Kelli, before pushing on to Overland Park, Kansas, where they had booked me for two workshops, a performance and a rehearsal of “The Comedy of Errors.”

While I’d done the usual preparation for the “Classical Acting” and the “Commedia/Lazzi” workshops (“what to do with the dead body” was way popular again), it was the “Comedy of Errors” rehearsal that I spent the most time getting ready for. I had no way of anticipating what kind of shape their show might be in, just how the director’s concept might impact my ability to contribute to the event, nor how far I might be able to get in boiling down my approach to the script in the context of my anticipated exploration.

I’d presented the idea for this rehearsal in the context of my projected “Shakespeare Monologues Project,” and pushed forward on the memorization of my Malvolio monologue as the assumed climax of the event.

But when I arrived, I found that Malvolio had only just been recast a couple of days before, and the actor now playing Malvolio wasn’t even going to be in attendance that night.

I improvised, covering much of the material in my “Classical Acting” workshop all over again (only two of the actors in this cast had attended the workshop the day before), and, with about an hour left, segueing into a deconstruction of the Malvolio letter speech. (In which he is tricked into believing that Olivia loves him.) We broke down the speech for words that were uncertain, and addressed what seem to be emerging as my most important steps in the rehearsal process: Answering “What is the essential transaction of the scene” and “How and when does the balance of power shift?”

I then finished off with a performance of the monologue: a 7 1/2 minute speech, which worked far and away, above my expectations. The actors were laughing at each little piece of the speech, and even the director was taking notes for bits she wanted to incorporate into the show (such as my arranging the prop letter in such a way that the postscript wound its way across the very bottom of the letter, up the right margin and across the top).

Afterwards the actors suggested that their biggest takeaway from this performance was that they could “go much farther” with their characters, “go way over the top” and “really take a chance with it.” I commented on how much more directors like to work with actors that they have to restrain, than actors that they have to drag more out of. About a dozen of the actors from my interaction with this group signed up for my blog, and three of them actually videotaped brief thank you’s following my show.

The next morning, I was up before dawn racing home. The Pathways Scholarship fundraiser was that night, and I was the emcee for the event.

I had no idea how this would go. I’d gotten a wild idea about a fundraiser where people get up to sing karaoke, and entice their friends to “vote” for them by tossing dollar bills into a bucket as “tips.” A small turn-out, or a limited willingness or ability to tip might dampen the success of the event. Meanwhile, I’d been out of town for a full month, and was entirely uncertain as to how complete the preparations would be. I walked in to find about 40 volunteers ready to go.

It was my job to share the “rules” of the game, and to encourage and incite the donation process, all the while making announcements about the ongoing silent auction, the availability of change at the back tables, the opening of the carving station, introducing the band, tallying and announcing the fundraising results. All of this had been predicated on the assumption that people would show up with money to spend … but would they get fired up with the enthusiasm I’d imagined?

Between event ticket sales (about 115 people), the silent auction and the tipping process (each of which brought in a roughly equivalent amount), the fundraiser essentially doubled our goals, bringing in about $10,000! When I was able to announce that we’d brought in $5,000, the crowd went wild. When we broke $7,500, they cheered even harder. We hadn’t quite tallied the final figure until the audience had gone home, but announcements were quickly circulated around the Pathways universe, and everyone was left satisfied that they’d made a significant contribution.

Briefly in town, I made a stop at the dentist, with a cleaning, x-rays and two fillings long overdue.

I pushed on to Washington, PA, where I did a workshop and a show for Washington & Jefferson College. There were only about four students in the workshop, so in some instances I had to get them to imagine what it might be like if there were many more voices contributing to the noise that this or that exercise was designed to create.

The show also went very well (clips, below, from the West Virginia performance), and I turned in early afterwards, with an early morning departure for Rochester the next day.

Somehow Mapquest had left me thinking that the trip to Rochester was about 7 hours, but in fact it was more like 5. Having gotten up at 4 am, the fatigue was getting the best of me, and though I arrived in time to meet the host for lunch, I begged off and checked into the hotel instead, catching a quick nap in advance of the events of the day.

That day I gave a quick “teaser” performance for a school assembly, followed by a workshop, a tech rehearsal and a performance. My grad-school friend, Lindsay was in attendance at the show, and though the audience was small, the attendees were very vocal, and a couple of strong gigglers kept the audience engaged.

The next morning, I was sitting in on a rehearsal of “Tartuffe”. They were performing my version of the script, and rehearsing Act V, when all of the excitement ratchets up to a fevered pitch. With permission of the director, I stopped the actors repeatedly, rearranging them on stage and placing the emphasis on the key speaker while encouraging them to take their responses higher into the emotional stratosphere. By the time we were done, I could feel a warm acceptance by the cast, and many of them have since “friended” me on my facebook page, with notes like ...

Hey Tim, I not only thought your show was cool but it was fun and you were hilarious lol. You made my day as soon as you walked on stage. … Your passion for what you do shined right through your eyes and it inspired me greatly to work harder on me being an actress as well. ... I miss you already and everytime i remeber being on stage with you i turn flush red lol it was my first time being on stage acting (Tartuffe is going to be my first play ever) and the fact i was on it with YOU made it a night i will never forget. …
And …
Monsieur Mooney, I just wanted to say thanks for the kick-ass show and workshop! … Thanks for bringing an entirely new creative force to our show, you really helped us a lot in the few hours we got to spend with you. Break legs the rest of your tour!
And …
… Thanks so much for everything you helped us with when you came to Rochester. The workshop was a great experience for me and all of my Tartuffe cast mates and we thank you very much!!
And …
I think your show was pretty darn great! People around harley are still talking about it, I'M still talking about it!! Thanks so much for the workshop/performing your show/helping us with act five of tartuffe (the chance to work with the writer of such a great piece of work really meant alot to me!)
And ...
I dont know how to put into words how happy i am to have met you!! ... I noticed every since you left i cant get the show "Moilere Than thou" out of my head. During rehersal or even when I walk with my friends through the hall ways at school I often stop and say "I contaplated here" and "Stop Theif"lol. I wish you never left :( ... Today I told my dad about when i went on stage with you but dont worry i made it clear you were acting lol... I went on youtube and showed my dad who you were and showed scenes from "Moilere than thou" and your other shows and he thought you were hilarious!!

I also got a really nice letter from a student’s mom:
This is Edith's mom, Laura, and I am thrilled that Edith had the wonderful opportunity to work with you...what a creative and alive and skilled and thoughtful person...the work last night was magnificent. Timely, as you said to the kids and Edith … went home and wrote everything she could remember you said down...she said you were fun to be with and were brilliant … and just in general it was magic for her… i hope you know that you make a difference in the lives of these kids...Edith was radiating ...

I stuck around until Monday, doing yet another variation on my "Commedia/Lazzi" workshop for Lindsay's stage movement class before pushing on, I headed for Southern New Hampshire University. I stopped in Boston, to pick up Martha, a friend who wanted to catch the show, and pulled in to the University just as a crowd was gathering to hear Hillary Clinton speak. (While all indicators point to a big Obama win, John McCain does seem to have a “ground game” in New Hampshire, as about 90% of the yard signs in the neighborhood were in favor of him. -- Right outside the university, some intrepid campaigner had lined up about twenty “Democrat for McCain” signs.)

It took a bit of time to find parking, and eventually, we found the performance space and the host, and loaded in the show. Nosing around, I couldn’t help noticing that there were no flyers promoting the show in evidence. As I’d seen nothing about the show on the school’s website, I started to predict a turnout of about 20 people. (Given that this school didn’t have a full Theatre Department or French Department, and that this event was sponsored by the History Club, I probably should have given them more input on how to promote the show to the rest of the campus.)

About a half hour before the show, though, a busload of twenty high school kids arrived, and I was reminded that a group that was working on a presentation of “The Doctor in Spite of Himself” had inquired about coming to see the show, and their enthusiasm (and ability to fill up the first two rows) kept the show lively.

The next day, I dropped Martha back off in Boston, and she proceeded to share a review with the “Playwright Binge” listserv:

He was absolutely wonderful! He is extremely talented and so funny as an actor, and his adaptations of the speeches of Moliere were unexceptionable. I had so much fun seeing this one-man show, during which he invites members of the audience onstage to read scenes with him. Best of all was his lusty Tartuffe, creeping sideways towards a young female victim, while licking his chops, in an attempt to seduce her.

Not all of my reviews have been such “raves”, unfortunately. An inquiry on the Dramaturgy Listserv, from a dramaturg wanting to know if it might be worth booking me, drew a response from a student who had a couple of disparaging remarks about my contribution, particularly feeling like I had been “talking down” to the students in my workshop. (No matter how many enthusiastic reactions I hear, it’s the complaints that stick with me, and leave me questioning whether all the effort is, indeed, worth it, or whether my time might be better spent by taking the bulls-eye off of my chest, and hiding amid larger casts.)

The next couple of days were filled with quick visits, dropping in on my ex-roommate, Deb, for lunch in Connecticut, on my new French-Teacher friend, Susie, who Isaac and I met last summer in Belgium, for dinner in New York, and Playwright Mike Folie, whose wife, Frances, booked me last spring. Mike took me to meet several of his playwright-companions for breakfast the following morning, and I pushed on to Baltimore to visit my sister Maureen, and her husband, Tim, who celebrated my birthday early by fixing pizza in the cool brick oven they’ve built out in back of their house.

The next day it was on to Glenville, West Virginia, with a day to relax (and work on my blog!) before a performance Saturday night at the West Virginia Theatre Association conference. I had a terrific feeling about this show, as, demographically, the audience would be similar to the theatre-heavy-crowd I'd had at the Colorado Thespian Association, which really rocked. It was a tiny lecture hall/performance space, with only 80 seats, but I knew right away that the intimacy would help the show.

It rocked. There were also some "bigwigs" in the audience from Southeast Theatre Conference, and the American Community Theatre Association who were later brainstorming, variously, about involving me in their next conferences. Again the volunteers were terrific, and the "Tartuffe" volunteer was especially charming (she looked a little like a young Angelina Jolie), and the audience was downright giddy in response.

I actually had to "pull the reins" on some of the humor as the high school students were so responsive that they threatened to get out of hand (and I can never tell how that might be going over with some of their teachers).

I finish up these notes in Buckhannon, West Virginia, where I'm performing Monday night, with Tuesday off to celebrate my birthday and a landslide win for Barack Obama. My plan is to enjoy a leisurely drive down the Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway (taking more pictures like these), stopping in Blowing Rock, NC to watch election returns late into the night. Hey, give me a call and sing me a round of "Happy birthday!"


Discoveries: I actually do some of my best work when I don't have detailed notes telling me exactly what to say. * This Shakespeare material really ... you know ... works. * Students need the example of someone who can burst past limitations and take a risk. * As many rave reviews and grateful e-mails as I get, it's the negative responses that get to me, and I'll be fighting that fight until I decide that what people want to say about me, one way or another, can't add or lessen the value of what it is that I do. * I've gotten fairly accurate in predicting attendance, just based on flyers and web presence. I should probably find a way of communicating that understanding to upcoming hosts.

Miles on the Vibe: 286,500

Attendance: 15 + 10 + 15 + 15 + 6 + 60 + 200 + 20 + 50 + 15 + 15 + 35 + 65 = 521

Temperature: Back up to Lower 60s, and clear.

Next Shows: November 5 in Roanoke, VA; November 10 in St. Louis, MO