Sunday, December 07, 2008

The View From Here #136: Buckhannon, WV; Roanoke, VA; St. Louis & Maryville, MO; Chicago, IL; Sarasota, FL; Green Bay, WI

Anonymous Feel Good comment on my last blog entry: “People like you that work hard to live their dream inspire many people to do the same. I love the fact that you dont only act because you love it but you act also to make people laugh and have fun!! I have yet found someone or have yet met anyone who can make me laugh as much as you did.”

Recent trend: My Moliere adaptations in competitions. My “Imaginary Invalid” will be at the Virginia High School League One-Act Play Competition, while my “Misanthrope” will be at the Massachusetts Drama Festival.

The folks at West Virginia Wesleyan had booked me once before, and brought me in at a discount, since I was nearby to do the West Virginia Theatre Conference. They put me up in the school’s guest house, which had about a half-dozen bedrooms to choose from, and I joked with my hosts that I was going to get up several times in the middle of the night, just to change beds.

I got a lot of work done, including updating these pages, from the guest house, while closely following the political race coming down to the wire. Of course no one knew, at that moment in time, just how close the vote might turn out to be, or how outrageously off the polls were. [FYI: proved to be the most accurate polling site.] And it looks like the state of Minnesota turned out to be this year’s Florida/Ohio, as even now, more than a month later, the votes continue to be counted.

The show went fairly well before a small audience, though without quite the dynamic that I’d felt in the Theatre Conference performance two nights before. Speaking of which, I have since received an e-mail from the Conference President with the following quotable quote:

"Mooney's performance is certainly energizing for a general audience, but if you put him in a room with about 90 theatre people, the event becomes electrifying. I've never seen young actors from different schools so mesmerized by a single performer." (Dennis Wemm, Glenville State University)

In addition to being election day, the next day was my birthday, and I’d planned a leisurely drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is one of the most beautiful drives I’ve stumbled across in my travels. Also, I figured that the leaves would be just about perfect for photos by then.

What I didn’t calculate was that it would take a good three hours just to get TO the Blue Ridge Parkway (crossing the West Virginia Appalacians into Virginia), and by the time I got there, I was driving through low clouds and drizzle most of the day. This, along with the fact that the speed limit was lower and the parkway would bend a mile laterally for every two miles it went forward, it all proved to be extremely slow-going. As I’d planned to watch election returns from a hotel near Boone, North Carolina, I eventually got back off the parkway and onto the Interstate, pushing on through.

I met my friend Sandra the Vegan in Boone, and we didn’t have to wait long to get the big election result. As soon as they called Ohio for Obama, I knew it was over, but that didn’t undercut the big emotional response when the polls closed on the west coast and the networks anointed Obama as the “President Elect.” Perhaps the most moving sight was the face of Jesse Jackson, who’d weathered the civil rights struggle over many decades, and whose face was awash in tears at the result.

The next day, I headed north once more, this time capturing good pics in better weather from the Blue Ridge Parkway, and listening to the celebratory radio broadcasts on Air America. And while most of the enthusiasm was good natured, I must admit that there are a few nyeah-nyeah liberals out there who are “bad winners.”

I checked into the hotel in Roanoake, where the next day, I performed for a good 400 or so students. About four years before, this school district had brought me in to perform to a crowd of 700 or so, and they were, in fact, the only venue over the years that had complained of not being able to hear me well enough. This time around, the numbers were lower, and I overworked my articulators to the point that they would understand everything.

They might have actually understood too much, as it turns out, for while the response from these high school students was fairly sensational, the teacher later called to not that she’d gotten some complaints from parents about just how risqué the event was. (Between focusing on my volume, and a series of recent performances for colleges and more liberal parts of the country, I think I let my guard down on this one.)

I had long weekend break, and swung through Chattanooga, Tennessee, visiting Sabra, along with her new husband, Paul, and headed out to a recent haunt, the Red Lantern, where the karaoke was jumping once again. I also managed to catch some photos of a sunset from a Chattnooga bridge.
Heading west once again, I worked my way to St. Louis, where I caught up with one of my old NIU students, Marty Stanberry, who is now running a small theatre company of his own.

I had a performance that day at the Priory School, at none other than the “Kevin Kline Theatre.” Unfortunately, no one informed me that Interstate 64 was entirely shut down for construction work, and what I thought would be a quick 10-minute ride to the theatre took longer than an hour, as the technicians awaited my arrival. (My lone contact was unreachable, as she’d left her cell phone at home with her husband.) Upon arrival we pulled the show together in less than an hour, and launched into the performance.

The place was packed and the hosts had added 100 folding seats to the 200 permanent seats. Unfortunately, the 100 extra seats had a bad view any time I got down off of the stage to approach the front row, so I stuck to the stage more than I generally tend to. My cousins, Peg and Jeff, and their son, Doug, were in attendance, and they’d never seen me perform before (this was my first show near St. Louis), and we had a quick visit afterwards. (I had a bunch of “fans” approaching me for photos and hugs throughout the visit, which always helps make me look like a Big Deal when old friends or relatives are around.)

The next morning, it was an early drive out to Northwest Missouri State, with a mid-afternoon acting workshop, and a fun performance in their large auditorium. The faculty, at least one of whom was a fellow U-Nebraska grad, were particularly responsive, and were hinting that they might be considering a full Moliere production in the coming years. This host wrote:

We thoroughly enjoyed your visit. The workshop received rave reviews from all participants, and I know what was learned will be put to great use. I've also heard wonderful responses to your show, and I personally loved it. It was an excellent experience all around and one I will certainly highly recommend.

Finally, I got to turn my car towards home, heading back for Chicago once more.

It was a brief stop, with a performance at North Park University, where they had me performing in the “chapel.” The professor was working to build her French program, inviting High Schools from all over the area, and there were 250 or so in the auditorium.

I decided to try something radically different this time, making my initial entrance from the organ loft, far above the stage, and then racing down the steps, out of sight of the audience, in the middle of the opening speech. Yet, when I opened my mouth for my first line, my voice croaked out the first couple of words, and I realized that this would be a vocal challenge throughout. Luckily, the chapel, itself, had good acoustics.

I jumped onto the highway for a quick run to Minneapolis. A group of students from University of St. Thomas, who were seeing the theatre program getting cut from their curriculum, decided to put on my 40-minute version of “Tartuffe” as a class project. While no one was actually able to “bring me in” for a paid appearance, I couldn’t resist the enthusiasm that this cast and director had obviously thrown into this effort, considering that I kept appearing on the blog of the woman who was playing Elmire.

I arrived at the theatre just in time, and the director and “Elmire,” tending the box office, reacted as if a rock star had just walked in. Somehow, even before the show got underway, she got on-line and broadcast:
Opening night!!
Tim Mooney, Tim Mooney! He's here, and I got to hug him! He's going to watch the play!

The show was lots of fun, and held together fairly well, considering that I’d cut about half the dialogue from this version to bring it in under 40 minutes. I was timing each act fairly carefully though, and ultimately it ran 44 minutes.

I met up with a couple Minnesota Fringe friends while I was in town, and caught wind that the recently closed Theatre de la Jeune Lune was selling its stock at a rummage sale the next morning. Given that Jeune Lune has produced a lot of Moliere over the years, I decided to see if there were a costume piece or two that I might use. I came across a vest or two that might work, and a pair of colorful baggy pants that I have since integrated into the Scapin scene.

The check out line in the theatre lobby was about a half hour long, so I struck up a brief conversation with the woman standing in front of me, who was apparently buying the hats she was carrying for personal use, rather than a show. I turned to the girls behind me who were buying a drape as a photographic backdrop. When they asked about my purchases, I explained that I was buying stuff for my one-man show about Moliere.

Overhearing this, the woman in front of me turned back around and asked: “Are you Tim Mooney?”

I was immediately impressed with myself for my seeming popularity, and assumed that this girl must have seen me at the Minnesota fringe in the past year or two, but as it turned out, she’d remembered me from having seen me perform in Denver four years ago! We traded e-mail addresses, and corresponding ever since, as she’s been reading through my acting textbook, and I have found myself wondering how many people like her, over the years, I might have had such an impact upon.

That night, I returned for the closing night of “Tartuffe,” and the show earned a standing ovation this time around. The cast called me up onstage to join the curtain call, and presented me with a University of St. Thomas teddy bear and blanket as thank you gifts. I returned the favor with “Moliere Than Thou” t-shirts for Callie, the director, and Cindy, the blogging dramaturg-turned-Elmire, who later blogged: "Today has been one of the most absolutely greatest days of my life. And I have photographic and video evidence that I met Tim Mooney. I can check that off of my "To Do Before I Die" list." [Curtain call photos by Craig VanDerShaegen.]

I headed home for about 24 hours, and left directly from the dentist’s chair for the next leg of my tour. With Novocain wearing off as I drove, my tongue compulsively tested out (and shredded itself on) the temporary crown in my mouth.

I stopped in northern Georgia to visit with Lori, one of my hosts from the second season of my tour (five years ago!). She, and her late husband, Marc, had been among my best supporters early on, and I hadn’t seen her since Marc had passed away four years ago.

Following a nice reunion, I continued south to Sarasota, a much longer drive than one might guess. The hotel was comfy, and the show was well-received, with five t-shirts sold. The New College of Florida had been built onto the campus of the former Ringling Brothers School. It was the French teacher that had brought me in, and the venue was essentially a conference room with a stage at the far end. A bunch of high school students actually sat on the floor in front of the stage, which gave me some terrific opportunities for interaction throughout. (This "Tartuffe" volunteer was eager enough to get up on stage, but looked like she occasionally wanted to crawl out of her skin to get away.)

I took a few side trips on my way home, stopping first in Orlando, where the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages were holding a conference. I snuck into the exhibit hall, and visited around a bit, handing out a couple of brochures. I hung out at the bar for a few hours, but found it nearly impossible to distinguish the French teachers from any of the other teachers in attendance.

The next day, I continued on to South Carolina, sharing plans with Bess Park, the Artistic Director of the Greenwood Community Theatre, which is bringing me in to direct and act in “The Misanthrope” later this Winter.

Following one more side trip to Georgia, I raced north to meet with Isaac in Chicago. He was out of school for Thanksgiving week, but I still had one more performance before the break. Lewis University had me in to do a workshop as well as a show in Chicago’s southern Suburbs, and while Isaac had seen me perform before, he’d never seen me teach, and it was good for him to see this other side of his dad’s professional life. (He ran the camera, below.)

The show itself was a bit of a struggle for me, as the audience seemed to be perhaps divided between students with a genuine interest in the subject matter (Theatre/French students) and General Studies students who were there to get a credit for a class. And while they were respectful and responsive throughout the show, as soon as Moliere starts to wrap things up (“I would like to thank each and every …”) the students started reaching for their book bags and their jackets, which always leaves the curtain call feeling a little pathetic.

And yet, there was these responses from the host, and a student:

I heard, with a great deal of excitement, from students that the masterclass was “[expletive] mindblowingly awsome” (as one put it). Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the workshop, but the show was fantastic. You actively engaged an audience that is difficult to win over. On a personal note, you inspired me to revisit some of my favorite Moliere plays! I’m confident you inspired others to do the same. Your show and masterclass is exactly what our Arts&Ideas program strives to offer our students and community. (Mike McFerron, Lewis University)

Thank you, sir, for taking the time to share your incredible talent and wisdom with us. Your presence was greatly appreciated and I am very glad to have made your acquaintance! And even though sharing the stage with you brought set my cheeks ablaze, I enjoyed myself immensely. : ) (Natalie, Lewis U)

Isaac and I enjoyed about four days of video-watching and ping-pong, before he and his mom headed back for Detroit, and I headed north for a show in Green Bay.

The Green Bay folks had brought me in almost exactly a year before, and the Tech Director had a good memory of the show, which made our rehearsal a breeze. Unfortunately, while the French department had good attendance, the theatre department had scheduled “callbacks” for the same evening, which meant that some of the students who might’ve gotten the most out of the show were not present.

Apparently the French Club president, who was part of the play’s anticipated introduction, was late getting to the theatre, and the show was at least ten minutes late getting underway. Given the antsiness of the most recent audience, I made a quick decision to drop one of the less playful monologues out of the show and “cut to the chase” as it were. The French teacher had encouraged students to sit closer to the stage during her introductory remarks, and thankfully, at the last second she’d gotten four students to shift into the front row (at least one of whom was surreptitiously “texting” during the first monologue).

A brief rant about texting:

It is silently beginning to kill the theatre-going experience.

We (speaking collectively as theatre artists) need to address the issue of texting with the same aggressive repudiation with which we took on cell phones going off in the middle of a show. No one thinks that their one little text message is going to disrupt the show at large, but frankly, we are not far from a time in which half of the audience is spending more time looking at their laps than looking at the stage. At that point, the theatre is no longer a collective forum, communally examining humanity in action, but a single window on the screen of the audience’s attention span, easily clicked in and out of existence with the interruption of a single message.

We can drop “pagers” from the list of items that the audience needs to turn off during the opening announcement, but if we don’t double down on “texting” big time in the coming year, we’re lost. People may still show up and sit in the seats, but they’ll find themselves rather flummoxed about exactly why this was ever considered such a profound or moving experience to begin with.

I drove back to Chicago, where we celebrated Mom and Dad’s birthdays. While Mom’s remains a closely guarded secret, Dad just enjoyed his 80th birthday, with my brother Pat flying in with nephew Ryan, and cousins Maryellen and Rob and their spouses dropping by for the celebration.

Finally, I am knuckling down on a writing project. The good folks at Playscripts, Inc. have informed me that they’re interested in getting a new version of Moliere’s “Love’s the Best Doctor” into their catalogue, and I’m determined to write one before Christmas break is over! And so, I’m going to try an experiment! I'm going to paste my first draft of the opening scene below. And I will offer up new scenes as I write them, to anyone who wants to follow the show in its development.

In other words, IF YOU WANT TO READ ALONG, PLEASE SEND AN E-MAIL to that says: "SUBSCRIBE: LBD", and I’ll send you new scenes in your e-mail!

I have discovered, in the past, that the best way to complete a project is to get as many people as I can interested in its my progress. The very publicness of this potential failure forbids me to sit idle on the project, but rather thrusts me into action. As long as I know that willing eyes are waiting to read the thing, I work more relentlessly to see the project through to fruition. Enjoy!

Love’s the Best Doctor
by Jean Baptiste Poquelin de Moliere

© December, 2008

Adaptation by:
Timothy Mooney
All Rights Reserved

LUCINDE, his daughter
CLITANDRE, her lover
AMINTE, a neighbor of Sganarelle
LUCRECE, niece to Sganarelle
LISETTE, servant to Lucinde
MONSIEUR GULLIAME, an upholsterer
CHAMPAGNE, Valet to Sganarelle


SCENEThe Scene is in Paris, in the home of Sganarelle


Leave off, I say leave off these reckless quarrels
No more dispute one talent over others;
As reaching solitary laurels
Can but diminish ‘mongst we brothers,
Let us, as one, let all three revels ring,
To serve the bliss of this world’s greatest King.

Let us, as one, let all three revels ring,
To serve the bliss of this world’s greatest King.

What greater conquest might we ever boast
Than to divert our king from stately cares?
Might greater honor quite come close?
Might there be any joy that dares?

Let us, as one, let all three revels ring,
To serve the bliss of this world’s greatest King.

Act One, Scene One

How strange life seems from in this head;
How right that great philosopher who said,
That with great having comes great grief
And woes come not alone, but in a sheaf.
I had but one wife, and now she is dead.

And how many would you wish to have wed?

My friend, she’s dead; I feel it as an ache;
The tears come when abed, or when awake.
And while, while she was still alive and strong,
There were times when we’d not quite get along,
And said some things one ought not quite pronounce,
She’s dead now, and death settles all accounts.
Good Heaven gave us children, yet, what’s more,
A single daughter’s all I’ve left in store;
One daughter, who’s the source of all vexation,
For some disturbance, some preoccupation,
Some melancholic source I can’t quite factor,
Holds her in bonds from which I can’t extract her.
And all my efforts to conceive the cause
But further hides the source as ‘neath a gauze.
And, as I’ve come up empty, on these questions,
I’ve brought you here, my friends, for your suggestions.
Lucrece, my niece, Aminte, my thoughtful neighbor;
You, sirs, are both my friends in trade and labor:
I ask you, please, to frankly share your view:
Advise me what you think I ought to do.

I find young women long for finer things
Like necklaces, or bracelets or for rings;
It’s this stuff with which you ought to surprise her:
She’ll lighten up if you accessorize her.

It’s her environment you must address;
Her very walls should stir her beating breast;
Give her some tapestries; give her a grand drape,
Adorned with figures, or perhaps a landscape.

Well, I’d take neither of these routes to please her,
I think it’s time that marriage ought to seize her,
And you could change her churlishness to cheer:
Give her that man that asked for her, last year.

To bear a child in her most fragile state
Would make her prey to some most fatal fate;
It’s death that waits a wedding to some suitor,
And I believe a convent better suits her.

All this advice suggests such earnest wishes,
And yet I can’t help be somewhat suspicious.
Such wary thoughts, we find, one quickly quells,
Were it not your advice so suits yourselves!
You are, yourself, a goldsmith, Monsieur Josse,
And your prescription seems a precious dose,
And yet your tone takes just a slightish ring
Of one with too much backstock of such … bling.
And Monsieur Gulliame, your tapestries
Are well designed to decorate and please;
All tell of how they’re stitched and draped and painted,
Although, I sense they leave your counsel tainted.
The lenses that you wear, neighbor Aminte,
I fear are likewise touched with selfish tint,
The man you sought now seems to want my daughter
And you’d prefer to see some other caught her.
And as you know, my niece, I haven’t planned
That anyone should win my daughter’s hand,
My reasons are but mine, and mine alone,
And yet your motives, if we’d have them known,
Are not so purely drawn from convent’s prayer,
As how that might leave you my only heir!
And so, dear ladies, and kind gentlemen,
I’ll hesitate to take advice you’ve sent till when
It doesn’t seem to so befit yourself,
And so, for now, I’ll keep it on the shelf.

Miles on the Vibe: 294,500

Temperature: 20 degrees-ish

Discoveries: I need to keep checking student age/maturity/community standards as I shape the level of my performance. * Double and triple check the route to the school, and make sure that all the roads still work! * “Texting” is killing the theatre-going experience. * I do better at the French-Teacher conferences than at the general Language Teacher conferences, as the French Teachers at these don’t quite walk around with badges identifying themselves as such.
On the DVD Player: Battlestar Glactica again (listening to the podcast commentaries this time)
Attendence: 60 + 300 + 320 + 30 + 100 + 250 + 120 + 20 + 100 + 75 = 1,375
Next shows: A residency at Augustana College (Moline, IL), Dec 11-16. North Central College (Naperville, IL), January 7.