Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The View From Here #147: CA, OR, ID, MI, KY, OH, PA, VA, WV, SC

San Francisco Bay from Point Richmond
 The fall tour is complete!

Following a flurry of performances over the past two weeks, I find myself suddenly with time on my hands!

At the moment, I’m somewhere in the southeastern states (I have no idea where I’ll be by the time I’ve actually posted this blog), catching up with family in Virginia and heading for Chattanooga, Tennessee…

But, as to how I got here…

Mount Shasta from Interstate 5

From Salt Lake City, I proceeded to Reno, NV (Avoid the Peppermill Casino/Hotel! Yechh!), San Francisco, where I caught up with Risa and saw Bill Irwin performing Scapin!), Fresno (catching up with Airplane Jayne), and Los Angeles (where I caught up with Kirsten, who is working on her own one-woman show these days).

The California Lutheran University performance has been in negotiations for about two years, and the French prof hosted myself and the theatre professors to a sumptuous dinner at a small French restaurant, in advance of the show, which was extremely well received, capped off with a standing ovation (…In fact, I think every performance of this fall got a standing ovation, so I’ll stop bringing that up…), and we captured some fun video, as well.

A long review appeared in the CLU school paper, saying, in part:
Tim Mooney single-handedly entertained audience “Moliere than Thou” packed the Preus-Brandt Forum on Monday, Oct. 4… Mooney interacted with the audience by reciting his rhyming verses and making his way through the rows of people, even crawling over seats… compelling them to burst into laughter.

Canon Beach, Oregon
Anticipating an event for some 40 high school theatre teachers in Oregon, I was trying to pull together the latest variation of my book (new chapter available at ) so that I could show it off the teachers who might want to buy a copy. I wasn’t able to actually “publish” the book in time (still working on the index), but I managed to photocopy the book back-to-front in such a way that I actually got a sense of what it would feel like to flip through the book (now fitting onto half as many pieces of paper!).

The Oregon event rocked, with interest in both my upcoming book and my bookings. I even dropped by a previous venue on my way to the conference, and they were like: “Tim! We were just talking about booking you again! What dates are you available next?”

Racing back through Portland, I visited with Bruce, my webmaster, about new plans for the websites, particularly featuring the new book. (As a self-publisher, I am calling my publishing venture “TMRT Press” after the “Timothy Mooney Repertory Theatre.”)

Western Washington, from Interstate 90
I haven’t been able to book anything in Washington State for ages, but my Seattle buddy, David, has a great basement apartment, and throws terrific parties. As such, he invited a bunch of friends over, and I did Lot o’ Shakespeare for them (forgetting lines for several monologues…!). David and I went to catch a performance of “Doctor in Spite of Himself” at the Intiman Theatre (which has been getting great reviews on-line). Much like the “Scapin” at A.C.T., it was flush with contemporary references and playful clowning… The serious theatre-goers ate it up, and I enjoyed some of the schtick, but still mostly preferred the lines of my variations.

I headed for Coeur d’Alene, and my friends at North Idaho College. I dropped in on a couple of Joe Jacoby’s classes, and performed “Criteria” for them that night. My last go-around with “Criteria” had been for a large group of Japanese exchange students, so I was relieved to be reminded that it DOES, indeed, work, and that students DO pick up on the subtleties hidden in the subtext, as well as getting really revved up with the climax of the thriller. (I also tried out some of my poetry on a handful of students who stuck around for an "encore.")

This review appeared in the NIC school paper:

Mooney tells story of divided U.S., invokes laughter with 'Criteria' Mooney physically and verbally tells this story in such a way that he takes the audience along for the ride, running and leaping over imagined obstacles while delivering descriptive monologue. He gives every fiber of his being to paint a mental picture for his audience … This stirring look at a bleak potential future is a captivating analysis of the social problems of our day and specifically how the real burden will be felt by the generations to come. –Keith Sande, NIC Sentinel
I visited Joe Proctor in Montana, and several friends in Minneapolis before dropping back to Chicago for a few days, just in time for the anniversary of my mom’s passing one year ago.

Onward to Michigan, I dropped in on one of Isaac’s swim meets, before continuing on to Saginaw, Michigan, and a performance of “Moliere Than Thou” at Saginaw Valley State University.

The French teacher there was a big enthusiast, and brought me in to address her French class. The theatre was a large recital hall, and the audience started low in their reactions, but seemed to build from one scene to the next. The Tartuffe volunteer scene won the audience over, as the volunteer, encouraged by the cameraman, who she was sitting next to, was a very young girl.  (I finally got the opportunity to use a line that I’d meant to improvise at a similar event years before: “Do your parents KNOW the meaning of the word ‘seduce?’”)

The next day, a “Google Alert” set to my name informed me that a student who saw the Saginaw show had blogged about it:

Yesterday, I went to a play called "Moliere Than Thou". I thought it would be all educational and stuff, because I was going for my French class, but it was completely hilarious. 
This guy, Tim Mooney, translated a ton of Moliere plays into rhymed English and in "Moliere Than Thou", he plays Moliere performing a bunch of his greatest hits. Goodness, it was funny. He calls women in the audience up to the stage to help him perform, and pretty much all of his characters... like to seduce women. So... lots of girls got seduced. Including some girl who volunteered and turned out to be, like, twelve. 
That was kind of awkward.
Likewise, the host wrote:
Thanks again for an amazing performance and workshop!! My students are still talking about it... I am hoping we can have you come back again in the not-too-distant future!
I found out that your underage seduction victim was the sister of one of my students, and her parents have given the OK to post the video. My students keep talking about this moment in particular, so I'd love to see this on Youtube, along with any of the other "seduction" scenes, which were so funny…! (Julie Foss)

The next day I was racing through some near-tornado conditions to Cincinnati, with a show at Northern Kentucky University that night. This is the third time that NKU has brought me in, but this time, the French teacher teamed up with a number of allies in the area. Applying for a matching grant from Kirsten’s program, she was encouraged to seek broad support and recruit an audience widely. Whereas past performances at NKU were to modest groups of a few dozen, this time some 220 or so attended, including dignitaries from the French “sister city” of Cincinnati.

From the host:

You were wonderful.  The French officials and all the AF and AATF members were more than pleased with your performance (and that is a major compliment!) for having been the President of the AF of Cincy for two years and a board member for even longer, I know only too well how critical the French can be… We had 40 participants in the workshop and 220 at the show, and those numbers are amazing at NKU--even more amazing than normal when one considers the weather of the day. (Barbara Klaw)
From one of the high school French teachers in attendance (writing to Barbara Klaw):

Thank you for bringing about last night's program.  Our students really enjoyed it, as did our teachers.  Cassidy, the first to join Mr. Mooney on the stage, is a student of French and of drama, so she was "on cloud nine!" Our drama teacher was with our group, and she is planning to do "Tartuffe" with the students this winter, so she was thrilled to be able to see how Mooney handled the various characters and costuming. Une vraie rĂ©ussite!  Grand merci, (Maureen Motsinger)
From the Drama teacher (who bought a copy of my Tartuffe script):

It was a joy watching your performance (at NKU) and I am also delighted with your script!  Great advice to directors, especially high school and college, who try to impose their brand when Moliere has already branded it. I would be most grateful for additional advice regarding exercises to help young actors perform the physicality, demands of timing, and language. I mentioned that I directed Scapino! and am comfortable with farce, but the verse seems more challenging and I am concerned about a sing songy quality dominating the rhythm rather than the intentions of the characters. You said you are working on a book, which I would love to get a copy of when it’s finished, but in the meantime I would be most grateful for any pearls of wisdom you can share. (Mandy Volpenheim, Scott High School)
[For those of you who might be thinking the same thing, the book is indeed coming along (Due on Moliere’s birthday, January 15!), with FREE chapters now available at .]

Back to Steubenville, Ohio, where they were producing my Bourgeois Gentleman, I holed up in a hotel working on e-mails to Shakespeare Festivals (promoting Lot o’ Shakespeare), and actually arrived late to the rehearsal I was dropping in on. (My computer clock was still set to Central Time!) The rehearsal was terrific though, and I later learned that one of the actors spotted me in the back of the audience, and word spread rapidly through the cast that the author was in the house!

From the director, a couple of weeks later:

After much labor it would seem that we ended up with a highly successful production of The Bourgeois Gentleman. We played to mostly full houses, had several return customers, and I've been receiving messages from many colleagues who were absolutely delighted by the show. One of the most rewarding aspects of it all: the cast had the time of their lives. … Thanks so much for the gift of your script and for the many measures you took to help us bring this show to life!  (Monica Anderson)
That same weekend I had a similar experience, as I went to the Millersville University version of my School for Husbands in its world premiere!

I’d had virtually no contact with this school, mostly communicating through the production manager, and was thereby delightfully surprised to see just how effectively they’d captured the style of the play.

This was a script that I’d written some 13 years ago, and it was terrific to find that it felt fresh and sharp… and that they hadn’t felt the need to “screw with it” to make it funny. In fact, never having actually seen it on its feet before, I was pleasantly surprised to see how charming the presentation was.

In fact, I videotaped the performance for them, and you can find the entire show on my YouTube channel. Here’s a sample scene:

The next nine days featured six shows and eleven workshops in quick succession! Gettysburg College was a VERY fun show. Even though the Theatre students were almost all in rehearsal the night of my performance, the French folks PACKED the place, with a standing room only crowd. Afterwards, a fellow who’d been trying to book me for almost 10 years came up to introduce himself! (I’d long ago given up on ever getting to do the show for him!)

The teacher noted:
It was wonderful and the students are raving about it in class! I believe it was by far the most attended and successful event we have had since the start of National French Week 8 years ago! I hope we'll be able to bring you back! (Florence Ramond Jurney)
Zipping down Interstate 81, along the “spine” of western Virginia to a show at Virginia Intermont College, I was inundated with Facebook messages, wishing me a “Happy Birthday”. Given that this was the year AFTER the “big one,” I wasn’t planning on making a big deal out of it (thus scheduling a show on the day of, and the day after it), but once the Facebook universe gets hold of an idea, they go wild.

Some hundred or so messages and replies later, I ran a Commedia workshop at Virginia Intermont, followed by a fun “Moliere Than Thou.”

The next morning I was off to Charleston, West Virginia, and the West Virginia Theatre Conference. The host there, Dennis Wemm, had brought me in to perform twice previously, and has given me some terrific endorsements over the years. When I walked into the lobby of the venue, Dennis and two of his cohorts sang “Happy Birthday” to me in lush three-part harmony.

Given that I’d not performed this show since Seattle (when my lines were pretty shaky), I’d been reciting Shakespeare pretty obsessively for the past week or so.

By show time, I was geared up and ready, but the (union) technicians insisted that I wear a microphone through the course of the show. (“We need to be able to hear you backstage so that we can operate the slide show properly.”) Rather than risk losing the slide show, I allowed them to hook me up with a lapel mic, but resented it more and more as the show went on, particularly as the monitor backstage was so loud that I could hear my own voice coming back at me, and, since my voice was never intended to come through the main speakers, the audience assumed that the mic that I was wearing was broken (as opposed to appreciating how well I was projecting). Also, the attendance was very low, with only about twenty of the hundred or so participating in the festival coming out for Shakespeare.

Those who WERE present, though, were very responsive, and the show warmed up as it went, with several well-received monologues, though none so popular as the Julius Caesar piece. (Three out of four people tend to cite that one as their favorite.)

The next morning, I delivered my usual “Acting in the Classical Theatre” workshop, featuring my usual “Being seen and being heard” lecture, but in the middle of the event, all of the lights in the theatre went out! (Ironic, n’cest pas?) Fortunately, I was just about to launch into a monologue that I knew by heart, and the students actually listened much more attentively in the dark. A few people lit their cell phones and their laptops, at least until the union stagehands came in to chase us out of the darkened theatre.

South Carolina’s Columbia College put me up in a guest house, with a lovely package of snacks and provisions waiting in the refrigerator. Arriving a day in advance, I had plenty of time to run all of the Shakespeare monologues onstage, figuring out just when I would be using the stage itself, and when I’d descend into the “pit” area in front of the first row. I also managed to arrange for a student to videotape the show, and captured the best footage I’ve gotten of the show so far.

While the performance itself was going extremely well, with hoots and cheers going up with the completion of each monologue, I found myself searching the audience for men to “cast,” to speak to a “Romeo,” for instance, or the evil brothers in “Titus Andronicus,” but the only men I could spot were several rows back. It wasn’t until I mentioned this, casually to my host that she noted that this was actually an all-female college.

Up early the next morning, I raced up to Spartanburg, SC, with a Shakespeare performance at the Spartanburg Day School. As opposed to the long prep time for the Columbia College show, this time I arrived at 7:30 and started the performance at 9 am. I was on an open platform in a room with tall windows flooding the space with light, so there was little sense in making adjustments beyond than running the usual simultaneous slide show.

There were about 150 students in the audience and, though this group was drawn from the general student population, after a few monologues they really seemed to get into the rhythm of the thing. I was very aware of the evident pleasure of the faculty sitting towards the back, as they responded to the effectiveness of the Shakespearean monologues that they had spent so much of their careers advocating.

This theme continued to play out over the next three days, as I dropped in on one French class, one Theatre class and six English classes. In the English classes, I was largely able to play “Shakespeare Jukebox” with them, chatting about the performance value of the words themselves, and demonstrating with monologues. (Again, Julius Caesar was the overwhelming favorite, requested for almost every class.) One teacher wrote to say:

I think your work with the kids was the best and most substantive of any visiting artist during my time at SDS. (David McPherson)
I raced off once more, with a Shakespeare show that same night in Florence, South Carolina, at Frances Marion University (where I’d performed Moliere three years prior), and by this time, I was feeling in the groove of Shakespeare. With four performances in less than a week, in four very different settings, I was comfortable adapting to whatever new environment was thrown my way.

My host, Jon Tuttle, a playwright-friend, whose “The Hammerstone” I’d produced back when I was running Stage Two about sixteen years ago, was again quite happy with the results, although we seemed to enjoy going out for beer just as much as the performance itself. With some 200 people showing up and enjoying Shakespeare, Jon’s response was the same as three years prior: “Thanks for making me look good!”

Later, the school newspaper chimed in:

Tim Mooney makes Shakespeare accessible
...He performed sonnets, comedies, tragedies and histories. One minute, he was wielding a sword and calling for bravery as the title character of "Henry V," and the next he was enthusiastically discussing possible sexual exploits as the plump Falstaff in "Merry Wives of Windsor." Mooney showed a great deal of memorization, range and overall talent as he moved through monologues. One student, history major Debra Walters, was thrilled by the performance. "I was enthralled. My favorite [monologue] was 'Henry V'," Walters said. "As a historian, that was my favorite." 

Tuttle also had nothing but good things to say about Mooney and his performance. "I also enjoy anything Tim Mooney does," Tuttle said. "He's such a tireless, generous performer and a good person." Mooney told the audience that one of his goals with "Lot O' Shakespeare" was to show people that Shakespeare is not boring, that it can be understood and enjoyed by anybody. If the audience reaction is any indication, Tim Mooney seems to have accomplished this goal at FMU. (Shannon Pratt, The Patriot News)

Dad and Maureen

And with that, the Fall tour was complete. I took a run up to Norfolk, Virginia to drop in on Dad, Maureen and her husband, Tim, in their new home on the Chesapeake Bay. I spent a couple of days walking around, spotting dolphins and watching football, before taking off for Chattanooga.

I spent two days driving around Chattanooga, learning about its neighborhoods, all the while looking for “For Rent” signs. The better neighborhoods didn’t seem to have these signs up, and so I started drawing on my resources, checking in with my friends in the area and putting an ad up on Craigslist.

Chickamauga Horse Farm
One response to the Craigslist ad came in after I’d already made my way back to Chicago: a horse farm about 20 miles south of Chattanooga, in the mountains of northern Georgia. After some last minute negotiations my good friend Sabra took a drive down to the horse farm to capture photos, and I decided to go for it.

As such, I will be moving to a horse farm in Northern Georgia right after Thanksgiving!

Yipes! That seems so funny to read in print!

In front of Chesapeake Bay

For now, this is a temporary move… something to bridge the winter break in somewhat warmer environs, now that the old homestead in Arlington Heights is up for sale, but I remain open to the possibility that I might fall in love with the area, or perhaps want to continue to explore new horizons in upcoming years. I’m sure, though, my path will continue to wind its way back through Chicago, now and again.


Temperature: 70s, dropping to the low 20s.
Discoveries: I’m so used to playing monologues for laughs, I’m not prepared for the wealth of emotion that they respond with when I do Shakespeare. The response to “Julius Caesar” has probably surprised me more than anybody. * The value of a play is not ALWAYS tied up in how much it manages to make the audience laugh. Sometimes, people like stories for the value of a good story. * School for Husbands, while less controversial or cutting edge than most of Moliere’s plays, is still a pleasing jewel-of-a-play. * Resist microphones! They never work the way you hope they will! And they undermine the value of the actual human voice! * Teachers are very relieved to hear the words that they’ve been teaching all these years, brought to life, making sense of the convoluted syntax that keeps students at such a distance.
Reading: The Shakespeare Wars by Ron Rosenbaum
On the i-pod: MC Lars The Graduate (featuring the funniest song ever written about Moby Dick.)
Attendance: 200+ 170 + 40 + 8 + 60 + 150 + 30 + 220 + 175 + 25 + 150 + 200 + 135 + 100 + 200 = 1563
Next show: Southeastern Oklahoma University, 1/24; Workshop at Texas Educational Theatre Assn 1/27-30.

Dolphin swimming in the Chesapeake Bay