Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The View From Here #137: Moline, IL; Naperville, IL; New York, NY; Memphis & Henderson, TN; Cabot & Conway, AR; Hammond, LA

I settled into my series of December projects, and with a dozen or so readers having signed up to receive serialized releases of “Love’s The Best Doctor,” I completed that in record time (I always do better when I know that somebody out there is actually anticipating the next chapter), and sent if on ahead to Playscripts, who are now considering it for publication.

I dove full-time into my annual family calendar project, assembling a calendar with photos in the squares of relatives’ birthdays, which went through repeated changes as new photos came in from various points.

On December 11, I made my way to the snowy Quad Cities: in this instance, Rock Island, Illinois, where Augustana College was producing my version of “The Learned Ladies,”(and where I managed to catch up with an old high school friend, Mary Jenks). They were bringing me in for a nice long residency of a week, featuring several rehearsal visits, a French class, a couple of Theatre classes (including a new workshop on Physical Performance), and a performance of “Moliere Than Thou”.

They put me up in the guest house on-campus. Which was, as these often are, probably the oldest building on the campus, which meant that the students all had stories about it being haunted, while the building itself was horribly drafty. It also had at least one mouse, irregular internet service and no toaster. (The lack of a toaster was relevant due to the fact that I burned my finger rather badly trying to toast bread in the oven.)

In the course of my visit, I was able to hear the text of “The Learned Ladies” aloud for the first time, somewhere other than the inside of my own head, and reworked about one or two percent of the dialogue.

The challenge was to “hear” where the problems with the dialogue were actor issues, or were Tim-issues. Some of the actors were more talented than others, and some of the better ones might have been compensating for mistakes I’d made, while others weren’t bringing quite the texture to the dialogue that was available. Working closely with the director, we made certain cuts, for the sake of this single performance, while other adjustments were for the final version.

I always resist "permanent" cuts in the script (unless I'm consciously working on a shortened version), as my scripts mirror Moliere's originals line-for-line. My feeling is that Moliere, at least, was a master of comic timing, and if the words aren't working, it's because I have not yet found the right ones.

(It was about this time that I got news that I’d be performing the opening event for the Southeast Theatre Conference “Fringe Festival” in Birmingham, Alabama this March.)

On the last day in town, I had a final workshop to give mid-afternoon, and, as it had done for much of my week in attendance, the snow continued to pour down. The theatre host called to tell me that they’d gone ahead and extended my stay in the guest apartment an extra day, and so I took advantage of the time to make one last visit to rehearsals.

Somewhere in there I discovered that my cell phone was missing.

In the course of getting into and out of my car a half dozen times that day, and scraping my windshield anew each time, the phone had fallen out somewhere. When all I really wanted to do was cuddle up in a blanket, I found myself tracing my way through snowbanks, hoping to uncover the telephone … to no avail.

I drove home without a phone, and had Sprint enable a back-up phone I’d gotten, while I waited for the first thaw in the Quad Cities.

Back home, I dove back into the new play, the calendar, the brochure and a revision of my promotional DVD. I’d done up a couple of variations of the DVD in the past, but every time I had to re-do it, I also had to re-learn how DVD’s work, and how you create menus in DVDs, and how you make the scrolling from one menu item to another work in such a way that it matches the instinctive scrolling that a video watcher does when they hit the up-down-left-right buttons.

I was going to swing out to Detroit to visit Isaac on Christmas Eve, but suddenly a deep snow was looming, leading me to put it off at the last minute. Christmas happened on-schedule for the family at home, and for the first time I had the final version of the calendar complete for distribution on Christmas Day.

It was the day after Christmas when I headed for Detroit, where Isaac and I partied for two days: eating out, working out, and picking up last minute presents. The day after Christmas was actually quite warm, and in a final desperation move, I called the Augustana College information line, speaking to a woman who acknowledged that “Yes, I’ve got your telephone right here in front of me.” Somehow it had melted its way out of the snowbank, though it was not the particular snowbank that I’d been searching. Either way, it was a valuable phone, and it was found ... and when it finally met me back in Chicago, even more astonishing: it worked!

I drove back to Chicago, rehearsing the lines for “Criteria”, which I hadn’t performed in perhaps nine months, but which I would be performing again at the end of January. Reciting the lines three times on the way to Detroit, and three times on the way back, I had it suddenly refreshed in my memory.

Much of the remainder of the year, and the first week of January was taken up with re-doing, and replicating the DVD, while sorting out my receipts from 2008 for my taxes, and re-packing the car (changing the oil, getting my fourth (!) set of tires, washing the car …). I also got a really enthusiastic fan-letter from a student who’d been my Tartuffe volunteer at an appearance last fall.

“I just wanted to let you know you are one of the many reasons why 2008 is a year I cant and wont ever want to forget. … You truly inspired me to pursue acting. Thank you for being Tim Mooney lol.” (Angelique Santiago)

January 7 I was back on the road. The first day I had a quick workshop at an all-boys academy in Aurora, Illinois (Marmion Academy, where apparently I got good reviews from the Abbot/President of the school), and a show in Naperville, IL at North Central College. The French teachers took me out to dinner, and explained that they’d actually seen me perform at North Park College several years before, and one of the teachers (Norval Bard) put out this collection of Moliere-related tidbits to the school:

About this week's Molière events, you may be wondering what this is about. Here are some numbers to help you...

The plays of Moliere are performed more often in France than those of any other playwright;

There are more streets named after Moliere than any other writer in France;

"Moliere" is often put in the titles chosen to name new businesses in Paris. So there are six cafés, brasseries, restaurants named "Molière", three hotels, 2 patisseries, and one institute of Yoga-Judo-and self-defense (!) among them!

There are at least 18 different brands of products (from chocolate to ink pens to notebooks) with the name "Molière" in them

For the production of only 20 of Moliere's plays in its repertoire, the Comédie Francaise has 600 costumes reserved just for his plays and another 10000 in reserve that they also consider eligible for his characters.

And, finally, the number of wigs known to have been created for his plays is currently over 1,550! (Source: Le Petit Molière: 1673-1973. Paris: Editions Guy Authier, 1973.)

That night’s show was quite well attended, with an audience that was buoyant and lively throughout, including my good friends Bryan and Chelsea, who’d never seen my show before (I dragged Chelsea up as the “Doctor” volunteer, and she gave me great feedback about how great it was to finally see “the essence of yourself,” as fully expressed through my performance.)

The next day, I gave a rather animated talk about Moliere to a handful of attendees, and the French teachers were more enthusiastic than before, and started floating ideas about a more elaborate engagement, which might actually feature me supporting one of their classes with my own Moliere/performance insights.

But once that was done, I was straight onto the highway, stopping in Toledo that night, Scranton the night after that, and on into New York City the following day, dodging snowfall as I went, and destroying any positive effects of the pre-tour car wash.

Listening to XM radio, I found myself wondering if they had listened carefully to their new motto/tag-line: "Everything worth listening to ..." Because every time I heard it, I heard "Everything worthless ..."

As always, I hemorrhage money in New York City, and this conference (Assn of Performing Arts Presenters) had already cost me a bundle. Between Conference membership, conference registration, Exhibit Hall space, Showcase purchase, and a hotel for three nights, I would need at least four bookings from this event just to break even. The parking alone was costing me $55 per night! It was a good incentive to eat light for three days, and I have decided to go vegetarian for a while. (Since doing so, I’ve steadily lost the six pounds I’ve been trying to get rid of for the last year or so.)

Moreover, the conference wanted to charge me an extra $200 for each person I might add to my exhibit booth, which meant that the friends who were making themselves available to help me get set up, or watch the booth while I was performing at a showcase, could not get in. (Thanks Kurt! Thanks Suzanne!)

I found a parking garage halfway between the Sheraton and the Hilton and unloaded my personal effects to the Sheraton while unloading my booth and showcase materials to the Hilton. Ultimately, all was unloaded and in place in time for the opening of the exhibit hall that afternoon, and I was at last ready to distribute my brand new brochures and my brand new DVDs.

Traffic was light at the booth, and even lighter at the showcases, and while the first showcase may have had 8 people in the audience, the second one had about 12 and the final one had perhaps 30. Those who attended were responsive, and a couple of old friends showed up in the various audiences, including Lindsay Reading Korth, who’d booked me for a workshop at Nazareth College last fall, and Patrick Spradlin, an old friend I hadn’t seen in over twenty years(!) who was now representing a college in Minnesota.

I also met up with a guy who was doing his own one-man show on the circuit, playing Edgar Allan Poe. He was impressed with some of my materials, but adamant that I wasn’t charging enough for my services, given that he was charging about five times what I was. (“Don’t let anybody tell you that you’re too expensive!” was his main advice to me.)

I probably came away from the event with about twenty prospects, reminding myself to follow up on them as soon as possible (he said, eyeing a long busy spring), and getting the heck out of town.

I went on a quick visiting tour, dropping in on my sister Maureen, and her husband Tim, in Baltimore, on Sandra-the-Vegan in Boone, NC, and meeting up with former French teacher, Lori Etheridge, who was on a trip with her kids to Athens, GA.

All of this positioned me for a drop-in to Greenwood, SC, where we held auditions for “The Misanthrope”, which is going into production later in the spring, with myself directing and playing the role of Alceste. Over two days of auditions, we seemed to have found an excellent cast, and I sped off again, this time to Memphis, Tennessee, where I had a week to rehearse and perform both “Moliere Than Thou” and “Criteria” as part of a single evening’s entertainment.

While doing both shows in a single night was a challenge, it was a huge luxury to have three days of rehearsal leading up to opening night, and my first night in town, I simply worked to set up the equipment and talk through the cues with the stage manager.

The next day was inauguration day, and I sat transfixed in front of the television most of the time, getting a little bit irritated when things started running late (“Why are we listening to this musical performance when it’s 12:01 already?”), but mostly glad for the end of an error. That night, after rehearsal, I went out to Beale Street in Memphis to absorb the celebratory mood, but the weather had turned cold, and nobody was left out actually celebrating … so I wound up in a karaoke bar, doing damage to my voice.

On Thursday, I actually had three shows to perform, starting with a show at a local high school in the morning. The school was unprepared to host a show. What occasionally happens is that the host is someone who has seen me performing at a conference somewhere, with no lights, sound or set-up time, and THAT is what they expect me to do at their high school. As usual, we pulled together what technical support we could in the very limited time that the auditorium was available to us, and I proceeded to perform for the 30 or so who’d come to see the show.

With two shows that night, I was focusing my energy relentlessly, making one problematic misstep: I had a cup of coffee about an hour before showtime.

By the time I had emerged on stage, my heart was racing, and my tongue was twisting its way magnificently through the complex rhymed verse, with nary a slip-up. I recognized the theatre’s Artistic Director in the audience, and I was entirely in control, and racing my way through the play … though I wasn’t exactly taking the audience with me. They seemed mildly amused at best. The volunteer scenes went extremely well, though.

Regardless, the next day, a professor at the U of Memphis sent this to his colleagues:

“Just wanted to let you know that Tim Mooney performed his one-man show, “Molière Than Thou” in Memphis last night and that he did a marvelous job. … His adaptations from L’Ecole des Femmes, Tartuffe, Dom Juan, Les Précieuses ridicules, Les Fourberies de Scapin, etc. were remarkable. His acting skills are exceptional and his translations (or adaptations) captured the depth and poetry of Molière’s theater. …Performing Molière, and doing it so well, allows 21st-century spectators to appreciate that the comic dramatist was much more than “le premier farceur de la France”!” (Ralph Albanese)

Backstage I regathered my energy and framed my mind for an entirely different performance, reemerging to perform “Criteria”, which I hadn’t done “live” for almost a year. I used all of my energy to hold my rather taciturn character in check, and perhaps especially because the audience knew of the hyperkinetic heights of which I was capable, they were sucked into this more tightly reined characterization. They laughed, but this time they laughed at realizations they were making in response to the story and the character; not because I was doing something funny. And so, exactly where “Moliere” had NOT worked for them, “Criteria” succeeded, and I began to hypothesize that audiences would tend to prefer one or the other, but rarely both.

The next night, the reverse was largely true. “Moliere” was the success, while the projector that we used for “Criteria” suddenly wasn’t actually projecting. The stage manager worked on it during intermission, and eventually I went out to work on it myself. While I hate to reveal myself out of character to the audience, they tend to love having that backstage peek, and so we quipped back and forth pleasantly before establishing that I was not going to get the system to work in this situation. Finally, I simply turned the laptop around so that the audience could follow the slides in miniature version, while I performed as if the several maps were blown up large on the screen behind me. It made a complex concept even more complex, but the audience didn’t seem to mind all that much. (Though they weren’t by any means the hanging-on-every word laughers from the night before.)

For Saturday night’s show, I had a decent audience, and finally both shows seemed to go well. My fabulous stage manager, Caren, was taking care of all the details for me. She set me up with hot tea and cough drops every night, and even “pimped” for me, locating apt volunteers out of the incoming audience for the infamous “Doctor in Spite of Himself” scene.

That night I received the following from a school I’d performed at last spring:

I felt that I should drop you a line to tell you that all of my third year students who saw you perform are now seniors in French 400. This winter they are required to perform a dramatic interpretation of a piece of French literature after having finished a survey of French Lit this fall. Over 30 kids fought each other for the right to do Moliere! Even though they had studied Moliere last year, so it was the least fresh in their minds, they all remembered the performance and said that they thought it was one of the funniest shows they had ever seen. I just wanted to let you know what an impact it had on them, and to thank you for bringing this great work to life! (Jenny Hallenbeck, Inglemoor High School)

Sunday’s matinee was another small audience, and they were probably Moliere enthusiasts, because after performing the first show for about 16 people, I returned to perform “Criteria” for about 10 people left in the auditorium. I found this distracting in the extreme, and I realize that the Moliere fans were perfectly happy with the first show, and didn’t feel the NEED to stay to see “Criteria,” but I couldn’t help seeing this show through the eyes of audience that remained, who might wonder what the people who left early might know about the quality of the show that they were now watching. As such, I stumbled on my lines a few times.

I had very little energy left in my voice and my knee at that point. Because my knee gets exposed in the course of “Criteria,” I was performing it without the knee brace I wear for support during “Moliere”. The night before I had felt a bit of a “pop” in my knee as I went through the running that the scene demands. And so, performing the ninth show in four days, I was running on fumes and string.

The next day I was pushing back east, to Henderson, Tennessee (stopped by a SPEED TRAP in Oakland, Tennessee!) for two workshops and a performance at Freed-Hardeman University. The theatre prof wanted me to talk to a class about playwriting, and address issues of business and career. I talked at some length about the many twists and turns that my career had taken over the years, and while I was dealing with it from a strategic point of view, the professor was more interested from an inspirational point of view, alerting his students that “they don’t have to wait for someone to come along and cast them; they can go out and create their own careers.”

That evening the school’s broadcasting department was videotaping my show. In an exchange for a discount on the show, the school was doing a three-camera shoot of the event.

The auditorium was huge, and would fit as many as 3000 people, if it were to fill, although they weren’t expecting more than 70 people or so. There was a cold fan on up above, which was sending a strong breeze across the stage, and adding a humming noise to the background which I was constantly aware of trying to outshout.

The show, itself, went well, and my knee and voice held up through the course of the show … but we’ll have to wait and see how the video comes out.

Meanwhile, I received news that a school in Yorktown, Virginia had taken first place in the “Virginia High School League One-Act Theatre Arts Festival” with my shortened version of Moliere’s “The Misanthrope!” (I believe this is actually the very first performance of this 40-minute version.) Fingers crossed for the next level of competition!

The next day, I was on to Cabot, Arkansas, driving on past Memphis again, giving an acting workshop to seventy or so theatre and French students, several of whom remembered me from my performance in Arkansas a year before. I pushed quickly on to Conway, Arkansas, where my high school performance had been cancelled, but where I’d already arranged to perform at the University, again as part of a videotape/broadcasting arrangement.

This time, the show was being performed and recorded in a tiny studio theatre, essentially a small classroom, for an audience of perhaps 25. This time, with little effort my voice would fill the entire space, and the cameras couldn’t possibly miss a flutter of a muscle.

I worked with the TV team to arrange the chairs closely, which ultimately made a virtue of the small audience, which looked not only intimate, but full on camera. Only at one point during the performance, did I find myself staring down into the dark abyss of the camera’s eye, and spacing out my lines for several seconds. (The director assured me he could edit that part out.)

One of the faculty wrote me later to note:

“Outstanding show, Tim. I really enjoyed it and will never look at Moliere the same way. I wished all of my movement students had been there to see in action all of the things I talk about: specificity, full-body connection, 3-d characterization etc. i was so impressed by how in control you were that you could get a laugh with your knee or with a raised eyebrow. Fun to watch!” (Matt Chiorini)

And so, now, I’ll have two videos to work with in the coming months, both for dissemination on YouTube, and to use as sales tools for a potential future PBS programming campaign.

The next day I dropped south, discovering with some anxiety that my voice was getting worse. Somewhat absent-mindedly, I had been applying Ben Gay to my knee to rejuvenate it somewhat, forgetting that in the past, the menthol fumes that Ben Gay gives off tend to evaporate the protection coating my throat. And my tone was worsening quickly.


On the bright side, I was driving, finally, into much warmer weather, and Hammond Louisiana was in the 60-degree range when I arrived. My stay had been arranged at a bed and breakfast, however, and when I left my room to make a run to the store, I went to lock my door and the key broke off in the lock. An hour or so later, the management had broken the lock off of the door, reentered my room through the window, and relocated me to a room across the hall.

By the following morning, I was sounding even more like a frog, and somehow, when my voice is at its worst, and most painful to speak, that seems to be the time when people most enjoy asking me questions, or remark how much they actually like the sound of my voice.

My voice was actually the only bad thing about the performance that morning, and I was the only one who expressed any disappointment with my inability to provide more than the frog croaks that all of my characters were now imbued with. Otherwise, the enthusiasm was as strong as ever (I sold 5 t-shirts), with one e-mail showing up suggesting:

“I was fortunate enough to see your performance at my university this morning. I enjoyed it thoroughly. It was extremely clever and well-written! Twenty years ago I took a course in 17th century French classicism as part of my French major. I have read every play that you performed, but I had forgotten how truly good they were. Thank you so much for reminding me! They are classics for a reason. All of the witticisms, double entendres, and just general cleverness were preserved beautifully!” (Michele Burns)

This particular school had been very labor intensive, with about 30 e-mails traded back and forth, and demands for original signed contracts, as opposed to the faxed versions we might usually shoot back and forth. Even so, everyone was ultimately satisfied, and the school was already discussing bringing me back to perform again the following year.

I dropped south to New Orleans that afternoon, finding a nice bed and breakfast with a hot tub, and enjoying a couple of “hurricanes” that evening. The proprietor was a really wonderful man who fixed me up with tea, directions for anything I might want, and an offer to share my promotional materials with the nearby New Orleans school of the arts.

The next morning, with little voice left, I drove west, pausing after about 80 miles to shoot a video.


(It's actually probably preferable to go to the YouTube site at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xYtCAts-Hg4 and watch it in the "HD" option for it to actually make sense.)

As you can see, my long-monitored Pontiac Vibe odometer stopped working, live on tape! I had reached the precipice of 300,000 miles, and was denied entry. As a result, I am, even more ambitiously cataloguing this tour, taking photos of all of the places that my car has managed to visit, all while registering 299,999 miles.

299,999 Miles!
299,999 Miles!
299,999 Miles!

It’s a very existential feeling. If my car keeps traversing the world, and doesn’t register any miles, have I really traveled there? How do I eventually prove that I have the most traveled Pontiac Vibe in the world? And why can’t Pontiac have invested the extra five cents to provide a digital read out which would also shift to “3” at the appropriate time? Or have they planned too far in advance for the strategic breakdown of their vehicles. Just how much borrowed time am I currently living on? And why am I suddenly conscious of the scent of anti-freeze in the cabin of my car?

I continued west, visiting cousins Kathy and Larry in San Antonio, watching the Super Bowl in El Paso, and pushing on to Phoenix and Los Angeles, with my voice finally restoring itself. Another few days of visiting in the west before a show in Monterey, and making the push back in the opposite direction once more.

Finally, I end, roughly where I began. While I’ve been running all over the country, the school that I worked with back in early December was staying home to work on my version of “The Learned Ladies.” And while the reviewer had mixed responses with some of the choices that the director and actors had made, he did happen to mention my text, suggesting:

“... I'm betting it'd be a lot of fun to read, as Timothy Mooney's rhyme-scheme adaptation of the material - completed this past December - is really quite good. (And this from someone who is, by nature, averse to theatrical rhyme scheme.)” (Mike Schulz, River Cities Reader)

Miles on the Vibe: 299,999!

Discoveries: Moliere, at least, was a master of comic timing, and if the words aren't working, it's because I have not yet found the right ones. * The reason that I do what I do, and why it feels so right, is because theatrical performance is my access to my ultimate expression of my true self, and aspects of my character or being which are only hinted at in "real life," are fully expressed on stage. * My show is actually very, very inexpensive! * Teachers who first get exposed to my work in conferences and meeting rooms need added input so that they know that the show is much more than just me showing up and doing my thing. * No caffeine before a show! I have to trust that my energy will rise to the surface in response to the audience! * No Ben Gay! Use Tiger Balm instead! * Sometimes what looks like a cold is really the result of chemicals drying out the throat, and treating it as if it were a cold would only make the throat dryer and the condition worsen. Simply talking less and drinking water cures the throat faster than anything.

Temperature: 75 Degrees (in L.A.)

Attendance: 15 + 15 + 200 + 15 + 75 + 150 + 8 + 12 + 35 + 25 + 12 + 24 +22 + 16 + 25 + 10 + 75 + 50 + 25 + 200 = 1009

Next Performance: 2/9/09: Monterey, CA