Monday, November 21, 2011

The View from Here #152: OK, OR, WA, MN, MO, IL, OH, KY, PA, NY, ME, VA


Edmond Sunset
Major struggle in rehearsal in Oklahoma: Getting actors to use the “ehh” sound rather than the “ihh” sound. “Get” instead of “Git;” “Men” instead of “Min;” “intended” instead of “intindid.”

Looking back over the rehearsal process, now that it’s over a month into the rear-view mirror, it sometimes feels like this was the only note I gave… along with other enunciation comments. It was chronic among some of my best actors. I remember stopping the notes-process and asking, “Am I just being an a**hole about this? Can you guys hear this?”

“No! We hear it, really! Please don’t stop!”

It ended up making a huge difference. At least one acting teacher approached me: “How did you get them to speak so clearly? I could understand every word!”

It helps when you are the one who wrote the words that they are speaking… and are very protective of those particular words.

Meanwhile, they continued to treat me quite royally at U of Central Oklahoma: taking me out to dinner now and then, hosting a reception for me… I was “more feted than fetid,” to rework a line from Hamlet.

"We love our director!"

Occasionally, I revisited the karaoke bar… without incident.

The posters for the show came out great.


 About two weeks into the process, I had a run through of the show for some of the theatre department powers-that-be, and the laughs were coming full and fast.

We dove back in to pull the play apart again and put it back together, working one act at a time. Gradually, we added props, and costume pieces, and furniture and musicians and dancers. Our assignment had been to combine efforts with a vocal chorus from the Music department and ballet dancers from the Dance department to create a sort-of “comedie-ballet” much as Moliere used to create for King Louis XIV, who was big on combining art forms (an early precursor of the musical comedy). And, with some tongue-in-cheek, the action would be boldly interrupted by singers or dancers performing as a salute to the “King” between the acts. (The payoff for this lay in Act V, when Moliere has his Police Officer perform a 2-page paean to the king and his glorious brilliance.) Skip to the final 3 minutes of this video to see the result with the singers:


One of the actors had no lines in the show and, given the time she spent offstage stretching, was clearly a dancer.  I asked her if she’d want to take on a bit of choreography. There were sequences in the pre-show pantomime and the curtain call which demanded a tiny bit of “legit” choreography… the sort of thing that I never quite have time, nor, necessarily, the inclination to develop, and which had been weak spots in my previous attempt at “Tartuffe.” (I wince when I watch my choreography on YouTube.)

This time, the opening and the curtain call were showing much more promise. There was also the intermission lazzi, which I turned over to the cast at large as an improvisation set to music, and the cast responded with some brilliant, hilarious stuff. 


I choreographed curtain call three weeks in advance of opening night! (I was feeling cocky.)

In addition to my work on the show, and the material I was writing about the rehearsal process for use in my eventual directing textbook (sample at my alternate blog, (http://actingatthespeedoflife.blogspot.com/) I was also preparing a mega-mailing. The folks at UCO had actually started to pay me, which funded a major book buy: 150 copies of my book to send out to Shakespeare festivals. Coming off of my successful performances at the Oregon Shakespeare Fest, I wanted to promote similar stops at Shakespeare festivals for the coming summer, and I spent many hours stuffing books, cover notes, Shakespeare and Moliere flyers and promotional DVDs into envelopes. It was a big investment of money and time, but I was building my brand.


Just as I was worrying about the financial outlay, a booking came through to perform “Moliere than Thou” at a university about an hour away (U of Sciences and Arts of Oklahoma). I decided to give the actors the night off of rehearsal, with the strong recommendation that they make a “road trip” out to the show. I felt that seeing my show might be just as impactful as yet another run-through of “Tartuffe.” (It was an eye-opener for many of them with regard to clarity, and particularly “acting on the word.”) I put some clips of the performance up on YouTube, including this clip of the host’s very amusing 2-year-old son…


I was also following-up with my “maybe list” of folks who’d wanted a booking for the coming year, but who had not yet confirmed. With summer break giving way to six weeks of evening rehearsals, I had enough extra time on my hands to line up more bookings than ever. (So many that I haven’t been able to finish my latest blog until now!)

Another run-through, this one with the costume designer, the sound designer and the French teacher present, found nobody laughing. I could feel the actors’ previous elation turning to discouragement. The mechanics of the performance were working, but the show was lacking its previous crispness.

(I later heard from the French teacher that she didn’t want to laugh and disturb our rehearsal process.)

As opening night approached, I was besieged with e-mails: program notes, program lists, interview requests, clarifications about the “king event”. (We were designating an honorary “king” for each performance.)

Reporters have been finding shortcuts lately. I’ve been through many long phone interviews while reporters clacked away on their keyboards, but the current practice is to e-mail “interview questions” to the interviewee, who is expected to type his or her answers duitifully. Which means that, not only am I writing program notes, explaining all aspects of the performance to the production crew, the box office, the department chair, the publicist (sometimes drafting my own press release), but I am repeating that same info with variations to any member of the press who wants to get their own slant on the info that I have already provided. Essentially, it comes down to writing the equivalent of three or four press releases.

The upside is that I get to control the message. And they rarely stray very far from the information that I have provided. Two good articles showed up in the local press as the show was getting ready to open, and one of them repeated a quote of mine as a “pull quote” at the top of the article, which ended up looking more like a review than a feature article, as they quoted, “There is barely a second not filled with fun.”
Tartuffe (Taylor Harris) and Dorine (Kelsey Fisher)


Our first night in the theatre space on the set was also our first night in front of a larger group of people, as the singers, dancers and technicians came to watch.

The reaction was electric. Any fears from the “silent run through” were erased. I could feel that the show was going to get a good buzz, just from these added 25 voices talking it up among their friends.

And yet, a week before opening, the actors were starting to fade as the stress was getting to a couple of them. Morale seemed very low, particularly during our 2-run-through day on Saturday.

I had brief one-on-one pow-wows with each of the actors, seeking that last bit of motivation and personal commitment to carry us through the final week. The rehearsal itself was stop-and-go, but nowhere near as daunting as most tech rehearsals.

There were four beautiful-yet-challenging staircases that I had blocked the actors into climbing relentlessly upon (perhaps seen to best advantage in the curtain call at the end of the clip, below). The next day, we added costumes and makeup to the mix, and the actors were lagging, as they struggled to figure out how they were going to climb the elaborate staircases that comprised this set in dresses and coats and wigs.


By Tuesday night of tech week, having mastered the new scenery, lighting, sound, costumes, makeup and wigs, the actors were back “up” again. By Wednesday night, with a tiny, deadly-silent test audience, they were back “down” again. As soon as I saw the handful of people spreading themselves out over the 500 or so seats on the main floor, I knew this would be dismal.

Thursday night we gathered onstage for a final pep talk, and I took them through some of the self-coaching that I occasionally give myself prior to performing my one-man shows. I explained that they need to have some sense of center and purpose when they find themselves amidst the occasional performance that is not going well, and we went through some of my “mantras”:

“I am sexy, joyful, courageous and limitless.”
“I am going to f*ck with their heads.”
“They love me already; they just want to know that I love them too.”
“They have never seen a show like this before, and they probably never will again.”
“I have never had an audience like them before, and I probably never will again.”

The actors went backstage and the theatre opened… and the theatre filled.

Four hundred people filled the seats.

I was sitting next to the department Chair for opening night. She was stunned. “Where did all these people come from? I have never seen this place fill up like this!”

The play went insanely well. The audience hung on every scene. They sat forward in their chairs. Sitting on the far aisle, I would look down the aisle, and see awestruck looks, dropped jaws, wide eyes. They couldn’t believe what they were seeing. This “classical” play was, astonishingly, speaking to them. (For anyone who has seen the highly recommended series, “Slings and Arrows,” the phrase is “Youthquake.”)

This was the first time I’d watched the show from the far aisle, and I had not imagined the adverse impact of 400 people in the auditorium, absorbing sound. Even with actors standing on the forward lip of the stage, when speaking in profile, their voices were traveling perhaps 100 feet to the far side of the room (“house right”), before reflecting back towards the (“house left”) end where I was sitting, another 150 feet away.

Granted, I am the most oversensitive person in the world when it comes to my words not being heard, but I knew immediately what my lecture/demonstration would be for the cast before Friday’s performance.

The play ended in a whirlwind of excitement and, following the standing ovation curtain call, I went backstage to shout out, “You guys rock my world!”

For the following two nights, I was running the video camera, trying to capture footage from the back row.

During Friday night’s show, the University President, the Provost (and their spouses) were in attendance, and we designated the President as our “King” for the night. The audience immediately got the joke as, when we interrupted our pre-show routine to march the king in, and bow reverentially before his greatness, they burst into their own spontaneous applause, and he, good naturedly, waved back.


Afterwards, I was introduced to the President and his coeterie, and the Provost’s wife was extremely enthusiastic, declaring this to be the “best production she’d ever seen at the school.” The teacher who’d been so thrilled to note that she had “heard every word!” was begging me to explain how I had gotten the actors to be so consistently clear.

Attendance dropped following the first night… unsurprising given how the university empties out each weekend, as Thursday Night’s 400, dropped to roughly 250, 200 and 175 for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And yet, even that final performance’s attendance was higher than had initially been expected for the entire run.

I summed this up in a thank you e-mail to the design staff:
I believe that out of the thousand or more people that will have seen this show by the end of today:
There may be ten or twenty who are seeing their first play ever…
There may be one or two hundred who are seeing their first "classical" play…
Probably 900 or more are seeing their first Moliere play…
We have changed the lives of these people, some, ever-so-slightly, and some, profoundly. We will never know the impact that we have had… 


Actual store spotted in Edmond, Oklahoma.
On Sunday, the ACTF respondents were in town, and we had a nice lunch, and one of the respondents happened to note that, in his preparation for retirement, he was planning his final production for the coming spring, which, coincidentally, was going to be “Tartuffe.” (I gave him a copy of my script.)

The show went well, but the respondents were non-commital. They indicated that they enjoyed the show, but not much beyond that. It had happened that our planned “King” was a no-show for this day's matinee, and perhaps the respondents’ most pointed criticism was that they wanted to see the over-the-top presentation taken even farther: “Why not actually cast a king to be in the audience.” (We sighed, and explained.)

The next morning, I finished my packing and taking a final load of stuff to the storage facility. I met up with the Theatre Chair, Daisy, who had been a wonderful host throughout. She had been suggesting that they were interested in getting a return visit and, given that my hiring had been a coordinated effort with the “Passport to France” program, I’d assumed they wouldn’t be able to afford me again. I was pleasantly surprised that the “Passport” program head, who was also enthusiastic about my work, had suggested pointedly, “You know, next year’s program is “’Passport to England’…!”

Suddenly, I was thinking of Shakespeare shows I might direct.


And just as suddenly, I was back on the highway. I had four days to get to performances in Oregon, and I ran lines for “Lot o’ Shakespeare” (not performed since early August), on the four-day drive to McMinville, Oregon at Linfield College. I continued to upload video of “Tartuffe” at every hotel stop, all the while making advance arrangements for the sixteen or so performances coming up in the approaching month on the road. (Everyone has their own concern with lighting, scheduling, rehearsal/staffing issues, lodging, venue, timing, promotion, contracts, invoices, parking and any number of audience accomodations that they need to make, which means that every booking is generally the result of about 30 e-mails back-and-forth.)

Meanwhile, I was plotting out Shakespeare ideas… How to find a Shakespeare play as popular as “Tartuffe” had proven to be, while coordinating with “Passport to England.” (Other than his Histories, which are not among his most popular plays, very few of Shakespeare’s plays are actually set in England.)

It turns out that the show was NOT being held over for presentation at the Regional ACTF festival. It was disappointing, and I was a little startled that such an extremely good show would not be a shoo in. Retrospectively, I began recounting certain details of the Respondents behavior, such as the way they remained in their seats while a standing ovaton stood up all around them.

A separate response had come in from the President of the University, in a note that he’d sent to Daisy:
Last night's production of Tartuffe was exceptional.
It was a surprise from beginning to end, and all good and positive.
What a tour de force by cast, production and directors alike. Theexecution appeared flawless to us on the front row, and the sheer amountof unconventional dialogue amazed all.  The characters were animated andprojected most effectively. It was clear that preparation was extendedand demanding.
But what a result!  My sustained applause to everyone who produced thismemorable evening.
And, a very special note of personal thanks from me to you and yourbright, refreshing students for welcoming me in a manner not to beforgotten.
Bravo!
Before getting to McMinville, I stopped in on some friends in the Portland suburbs who were working on t-shirts for “Lot o’ Shakespeare,” (http://www.asktheredhead.com/) and I was amazed at the huge stitching machines they had working simultaneously on caps, t-shirts, polo shirts, biking shorts and much more. They did a re-design on the t-shirts, which now incorporates a larger typeface in RED. (I expect these t-shirts are going to be in ever-greater demand!)


My Oregon hosts, Brenda and Ty, treated me royally for three days. The first performance was a challenge. I played to a packed house of 100, in a space which was deceptively challenging. Even though it was not a big venue, the acoustics were unfocussed, and I found myself using lots of oxygen. It didn’t help when the very first monologue to come out of the cage was the extremely challenging “Julius Caesar!”


My second show was at Brenda and Ty’s other venue, on the Oregon Coast in Pacific City. There, they had a second home overlooking the ocean, and were working to get this town of 1000 or so interested in the theatre. They’d booked a former church for the performance, and while I was worried about having enough voice left, the acoustics in this space, with a peaked ceiling reflecting my voice back in towards the audience, were perfect. “Julius Caesar” came up here, too, but it didn’t kill my voice for the remainder of the show.

The "Haystack" at Pacific City


I pushed north to Seattle, dropping in on my friends, David and Nicole, prior to a Monday workshop at Kent-Meridian High School, a program that had been run for the past twenty years by Jay Thornton, who’d been a skinny undergrad when I knew him in Nebraska in the early 80s! Jay wanted my Commedia workshop, which I generally only do once or twice a year, making me a little apprehensive, but Jay and his students were extremely receptive.

Heading westward from Seattle

I raced off to Coeur d’Alene, ID, dropping in on my friend Joe’s acting class  the following morning, and continuing on to visit another Joe, Joe Proctor in Missoula, Montana.

Following the end of the long drive across Montana, it seemed that every North Dakota hotel was full up. Gradually, I discovered that a booming oil business in North Dakota, combined with a teachers’ conference in Bismarck, had taken up all of the available hotel rooms, and it wasn’t until I hit Valley City, some four hours later, that I found a room still available.



At the University of Minnesota-Morris, the French Department had me in the school’s guest house, where I was finally able to take the time to upload the final installments of “Tartuffe” to YouTube. (I also captured scenes from the performance in Morris. Unfortunately, my computer and my camera were suffering some kind of a disconnect, and I was unable to download the Morris performance, which had been extremely well received, to my Apple computer. (Only weeks later was I able to recapture this video, via my PC.)

Three hours of night driving after the show was followed by a 12-hour drive the next day from Minneapolis to Southeast Missouri.

Southeast Missouri State University was booking me for both shows, as well as a workshop. The workshop was a big success, and the Director of the program was immediately hinting that he’d like to bring me in to direct a show in a forthcoming season.

There were low expectations for attendance at the evening’s program, given that the St. Louis Cardinals were playing a world series game that night. They put me in their smaller studio theatre, and herded audience towards the front, ultimately filling the forward bank of seats, which worked very well for making the laughter the more infectious. We also captured some video on this one, which looked pretty sharp, given the proximity of the camera and the good lighting.


I rarely get reviews for 1-night stands, but they seemed to be doing the publicity very well, and there were two on-line reviews, with this one turning up on the website of the “Southeast Missourian” before I’d even left town:
More than 80 people watched actor Timothy Mooney perform two one-man shows Sunday at Southeast Missouri State University's River Campus.
The stage was set as Mooney scurried out, making the audience burst with laughter.
His first show was "Moliere Than Thou," which is about 17th-century playwright Jean Baptiste Poquelin, who went by the stage name Moliere. Moliere is forced to rely on his previously used material in a performance for the king because the rest of his crew is suffering from food poisoning.
"Mooney has a way of motivating himself based on the feedback he gets from the audience," said Amy Beuhler, a student at Southeast. "The way he adds comedy to Shakespearean-type plays keeps it funny and interesting. The jokes that he uses in his writing fit well with the rhyming of the lines. It's not hard at all to understand. I think that's why so many younger people are attracted to his works."
Hannah Burt was enjoying the event with her mother. "We try to attend as many plays as we can together," she said. "It's a great opportunity for us to enjoy the art of theater which we both love so much."
As for Moliere, "Mooney plays the role to perfection. Moliere was probably the greatest comic playwright of all time," Burt said.
Mooney would come out into the crowd and address various random people while still in character. At certain times he would ask for volunteers to go up on stage and read lines to take the place of Moliere's absent crew.
The second one-man show was "Lot o' Shakespeare," which uses a monologue from each of Shakespeare's 38 plays and six sonnets.
"'Lot o' Shakespeare' is always fun," Burt said. "Hearing one soliloquy from every Shakespeare play back to back like that is amazing. The Iago game is a lot of fun. It's quite similar to bingo. He randomly selects a ball from the spinning cage, and that determines which speech he is going to do next. No matter what the order is they still manage to tie themselves together in the end." Burt has seen Mooney's presentation before and has watched him play Hamlet.


Of course, I have no idea how Hannah Burt has seen me play Hamlet before, but more and more, I seem to be encountering audience who have discovered me on-line. (A woman showed up at “Tartuffe” in Oklahoma having driven in from Southeast Texas… almost from the Louisiana border!)
Another new development among critics of late seems to be interviewing the audience, and leaving the critical judgements to their wisdom. This trait was also evident in the Southeast Missouri State student paper, “The Arrow”:
Review: Timothy Mooney Adds Laughs to Shakespeare's TragediesArrow Reporter- Ethan Worthington
Though the crowd was small, the laughs were loud Sunday night at the Donald C. Bedell Performance Hall. Timothy Mooney, the former founder and editor of "The Script Review" and former artistic director of Chicago's Stage Two Theatre, singlehandedly performed "Moliere Than Thou" and "Lot o' Shakespeare."
"Moliere Than Thou" opened with Mooney dramatically stumbling out onto the stage dressed as none other than the French playwright Moliere himself. He proceeded to apologize to the crowd for the absence of the rest of his acting troupe due to the fact that they all unfortunately ate the same bad shellfish from a local inn. He then acted out what he considers to be the best scenes from his plays by himself -- with the exception of a few willing participants from the crowd.
In "Lot o' Shakespeare," Mooney chooses from many Shakespearean monologues and twists them together, or perhaps more accurately throws them into a blender. Changing the order of the plays but not the material, Mooney created a satire of Shakespeare's plays that left the entire audience doubling over in laughter and many of them seemingly in tears.
"It was hilarious," said Justin Rose, a Cape Girardeau resident that attended the performance. Rose, who does not have much knowledge of Moliere, Shakespeare or the theater in general, still found that the performance was enjoyable. He said that he actually found that not knowing the stories being discussed added to the comedy because of the fresh perspective that he had on what was being said.
Chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance Kenneth Stilson commended Mooney on his talent due to the fact that in order to satirize material you have to be not only an incredibly good actor but also an expert in the field.
"That's what makes John Stewart so great is that he is an incredibly smart man in his breadth of knowledge, with regard to politics and world events and religions," Stilson said. "As a comedian he is then able to turn these things upside down into a parody."
Stilson went on to say that in the case of Mooney he is not a comedian but an actor that has a talent for comedic roles.
When asked what kind of audiences he thought Mooney's performances would appeal to Stilson said that anyone could find some level of enjoyment in the show. High school students could appreciate it for its comedy, college students could enjoy how it is "out there" in its humor and theater and dance students were "going to enjoy the hell out of this."
I stopped in Springfield, IL, visiting my college girlfriend, Abbe (along with Tim, her son, and her daughter-in-law and grandson), and continued on to Bloomington the next day, in anticipation of a show at Illinois State.
Abbe, Liam and Tim


I’ve traded e-mails with the Illinois State folks for years, but until this year, I’ve only managed performances at Illinois Wesleyan, just down the road from them. I sent reminders to many of the ISU and IWU theatre departments, and was impressed when several responded that they were planning on coming, or were sending their students to attend.  
My host, the French teacher, took me out to dinner the night before the show, along with Leslie, a former fellow Southern Illinois theatre student, who was now a Playwriting professor at Illinois State.  It so happened that our server in the restaurant was a theatre student who was planning on attending the show the following day. I arranged for her to be my “unwitting volunteer” for “Doctor in Spite of Himself.”
The show that night was more thinly attended than anticipated, and this time the audience was spread loosely through the recital hall where I was performing. As such the laughs were not as infectious as they’d felt in my recent performances in Minnesota and Cape Girardeau, and I could feel myself pushing to get the comedy back on track.
While the applause felt light, the enthusiasm afterwards was just as strong as ever. There is a local high school teacher who has seen my performance perhaps half-a-dozen times by now, who brought a handful of students, and several of them had been with her a year before when I performed at Wesleyan. One fellow noted that he’d performed my monologue from “Doctor in Spite of Himself” for class, and one of the girls in her group gave me a very flattering compliment, to which I offered a hug.

She responded, “This is the happiest moment of my LIFE!”

Happy Moment
Or something like that.


The faculty and I hit the hotel bar after all was packed up, and they hinted at wanting a return visit in two years, now that they’d figured out how to support the event through student fees. The Language and Literatures department head noted that a student had given a quick review on his way out the door:
“Best. Extra credit. Ever.”
I’ll be using that one in future promotions.
Finally, I had a break from the road, and was able to come home for a few days, back in Chicago for the first time since early July (on my way to Montreal).  On the road I have been strategizing to meet up with items shipped to Chicago, including my supply of “Re-liv” (my secret fountain-of-youth nutrition supplement), the T-shirts from Oregon, and some computer cabling. (With the sudden rush of bookings, I can once again afford things.)
A stop in Detroit visiting Isaac was followed by a trip to Cedarville, Ohio and a performance of Moliere at Cedarville University, where they’d just adopted my new book for their Acting II class. They were hosting me in a new venue, which had an odd circular staircase at one end of the room. I felt compelled to make use of the circular staircase for my opening entrance, and the hosts found it oddly gratifying.  (“Nobody’s ever worked that into a show before!”)
The next day, I was on to Northern Kentucky University, with a workshop, and a performance of “Lot o’ Shakespeare”. The acting students responded well to the workshop, but unfortunately, they were in rehearsal for “Antony and Cleopatra” that night, and so the students who might have benefited the most from the show weren’t there. The audience was quiet that night, but the theatre chair was present, and was particularly curious about my book, suggesting that they might want to order twenty copies for their department library!
Early the next morning, I was on to Sayre School in Lexington, which had hosted me twice in past years. Their venue is actually the entry foyer of the school, which leaves me performing with audience everywhere (on two floors) but immediately behind me.  It also leaves me performing in direct contact with the students. Given that this was the entire school population, I was extremely conscious of chatty students who were much less interested than the French or Acting students. Even so,  the French teacher marveled, “You had them in the palm of your hand!”
I had four days of down time, and I stopped in Columbus, Ohio between shows, to relax, read Shakespeare, and to celebrate my birthday (52!).
A last minute Facebook invite alerted me that Franciscan University, which had produced my “Bourgeois Gentleman” last year, was performing “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” so I made a surprise stop to see the show, and grab a drink with the director and tech director. (They were relieved to find that I was not mad at them for not sending me a copy of their video.)
I was looking down the barrel of five performances (and two workshops) over the coming five days, which may be my busiest streak in the nine years of performing the tour. A few years back I think I did 12 shows in 9 days (turning my voice to gravel), but that was largely the result of two-a-nights at the Playhouse on the Square in Memphis.
Given the relentless intensity of what I was facing, I gave up drinking beer for the week.
Photo lifted from Robin Chase's Facebook page...


On Monday, I had a show at Penn State-Fayette (the Penn State community was just absorbing the latest scandal), and the French teacher who’d brought me in last year to perform “Lot o’ Shakespeare,” this time made “Moliere” a part of a special high school French Day on campus, complete with a lunch after the show featuring French dip, poutine and chocolate mousse. The high school kids were a bit antsy and chatty through the show, but several of them approached me warmly during the luncheon.
Tuesday found me back at Franklin and Marshall College for the third time! This time, the show was to be performed in one of the residential halls, and they were excited to host their first theatre event. It was an odd arrangement, in a room that would hold about 60 with a mix of easy chairs and straight-backed chairs, with minimal lighting. 


The audience was almost entirely silent. 


As I performed, I wondered if the French teacher’s over-the-top endorsement had made the audience skeptical. The first bow after the “Misanthrope” monologue got no applause until my “Thank you!” cued them. And one fellow sat stone-faced in the front row throughout the show. He seemed clearly hostile throughout, and I later found he was taking some offense at the participatory nature of the audience interaction… as if it was an exploitation of unwilling victims.
Yet, in that very same performance, the woman to whom I’d addressed the “Tartuffe” monologue had been the very same one who raised her hand to volunteer for the subsequent scene. If I was creating an oppressive environment for unwitting volunteers, that particular “victim” was unaware of it. 
I was quickly wisked away to a dinner that’d been arranged by my hosts, who were every bit as enthusiastic as always about the show, as were their students.
In suburban Philadelphia, a school that had just produced my version of Moliere’s “The Misanthrope” gathered a hundred or so Theatre, French and English students for my “Life of Moliere” workshop. It was a fun lecture-demonstration, and the cast stuck around for a question-and-answer session afterwards.
From there, a short drive to Long Island slowed to a crawl. Like Penn State-Fayette, Stony Brook University had invited high school kids and some 250 students filled the auditorium. An odd quirk of the limited lighting that I had available had left a podium light up on the right side of the stage (even after having cleared the podium off), and I was inspired to try something:
Over the course of 500 or more performances of “Moliere than Thou,” I have never performed the show with the trunk placed stage right. Many times, I’ve wondered if I might switch to the other side, but whether from superstition, or well-founded fear, I’ve resisted the impulse.
This time, however, following the performance to the silent audience at F & M College (which left me wondering if I was getting stale and predictable), I felt like shaking up my game. Maybe switching sides would force me into a more impulsive state.
Not only did I switch sides, putting the trunk stage right and the table (that holds the script and my water glass) stage left, but as the show proceeded, I impulsively reversed everything else, as well. I placed the girl to whom I would direct the “School for Wives” monologue stage right and the “Tartuffe victim” stage left, flipping dozens of my automatic choices from one side to the other. I even found myself questioning whether certain gestures should switch from my left hand to my right.  
While I definitely clutched on one or two lines, the newly-situated stage positions forced me to make decisions on an instant-by-instant basis. It was impossible for me to run through my laundry list in the back of my head while continuing to perform.
Following the show, most of the students had stayed for a question/answer session, and they demonstrated a natural curiosity for my work, along with the usual questions: “Why Moliere?” “How do you memorize all of those lines?”
This was followed by a drive from Long Island to Maine. I started out by taking the ferry across Long Island Sound, cutting off a couple of hours of driving.
Ferry arriving on the Connecticut side


It was my second visit to Bowdoin College, the previous stop being 2004, and the French teacher arranged an acting workshop, a lunch with the French students, a reception after the workshop and a performance of both “Moliere than Thou” and “Lot o’ Shakespeare.”
The tech rehearsal was a challenge, working with limited resources, and a technician who had to leave before we’d done the second show, and so we were working on details almost up until curtain time.
There was a nice turnout, in spite of the fact that the Theatre department had a performance of “Twelfth Night” that same night, and there was one older gentleman in the second row who was laughing boisterously throughout. While “Moliere” went very well, “Shakespeare” seemed to take things up a notch. The random selection took me from some obscure monologues (“Pericles” and “Timon of Athens”) into several more popular plays, and the play seemed to start to get traction, and the fellow in the second row was exclaiming with pleasure and calling "Bravo" at the completion of most of the monologues. (He was a retired English teacher.) With the show winding down, and the prizes already won, I took a couple of requests from audience members (they wanted sonnets, mostly), and with just enough time left, I decided to do “Julius Caesar”. Knowing that I didn’t have to perform for another three days, I threw everything I had into it, and when I came to the final line: “And put a tongue in every wound of Ceasar that should move the stones of rome to RISE AND MUTINY!” I held nothing back. The crowd roared along with Marc Antony.
I rewarded myself with a stop at the hotel bar after the show.
As I drove on to my next stop, I received the following:
My wife and another couple saw your performance at Bowdoin last night.My friend made the comment. For crying out load I can't even remember  the lyrics to a simple song!Well you have a gift. You seem to be using it well. It was a terrific  idea to put your material (their material!) together in such a  unique way. And to give creedance to the concept of you being able to  memorize the dozens of passages from so many different plays.  We  were all impressed. I hope you are successful enough to ease into  your retirement doing exactly as you please. But of course that will  be on a stage.My very best. You are continuing a meaningful tradition.Tom Paiement
I responded, asking Tom if I might quote him, and he replied:
Yes, you can quote me.I did go on youtube and saw a few of your teaching clips. Actually  made me want to take a class at 69. Very interesting stuff. Great  approach. You are a gifted communicator. For budding actors, your  classes must be very exciting and rewarding.The very best to you.Tom


I took two days to get to Harrisonburg, Virginia, where my old friend Kathy Conery, the designer of my Shakespeare costume is the Costume Shop supervisor. (She helped me get some new buttons onto my white Moliere coat, and did a bit of upkeep on my Shakespeare jacket and pants).

The JMU program seems to be on the brink of a breakthrough. They have a terrific, enormous new facility, though the school administration has kept their faculty numbers low. The result is a classroom of fifty students taking Theatre History in the class that I visited (unheard of!). The students themselves were exceptionally responsive, both here, as well as in the workshop that I gave.

Unfortunately, these students were all working on their directing projects which were coming due, and very few of them actually turned up to the theatre that night. There were, perhaps, twenty or twenty-five in the audience.  And yet, they were as boisterous in their laughter as any of the bigger audiences.

Early in the show, I noticed an odd design on the t-shirt of a student sitting some four or five rows back, and as I looked closer, I confirmed that she was, indeed, wearing one of my “Lot o’ Shakespeare” t-shirts. Of course, the odd thing about this is that I have never performed at this school before, which means that she had to have met me somewhere on the road to have bought, or won the t-shirt from me.  During the “Scapin” pass through the audience, I got close enough to note that I had, in fact, autographed this same shirt, addressing it “To Corinne…” But after changing out of my costume, she was gone before I might find out who she was.

I did, however, hear from the theatre’s House Manager, who informed me: “You came to my high school some time ago! I went to Rolling Meadows High School!

I immediately flashed back ten years, to what was certainly one of the most difficult, unsupervised group of little monsters I had ever performed for.

“You guys were terrible!” I replied.

“I know!” she responded. “I was your volunteer that day! It wasn’t until you did the ‘Tartuffe’ scene that I was sure that you were the same guy!”

Life overlaps.

The next day I took a quick swing through Norfolk, VA, to drop in on my Dad, my sister, Maureen and her husband, Tim. And then did the long haul across Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee to my last show of the semester, at Middle Tennessee State University.


The show was well received, in an interesting ballroom space in the student center, with some interesting mood lighting. For some reason, the scenes are not uploading to YouTube at the moment, but when they do, I'll link one or two here. (Meanwhile, here's a pic from somewhere in Ohio!)


Somewhere in Ohio


The next day, the French teacher introduced me to the Artistic Director of the Nashville Shakespeare Festival, and I proceeded to work my way south. I've decided to spend the winter break in Orlando, Florida this year, working on several projects. I gave about five minutes consideration to staying up in Chicago or Minneapolis again this winter, but all it took was a slightly cool breeze blowing through my clothes to remind me of how quickly I tire of cold weather. And so, I've decided to hole up in the south, where I can study, edit, read and rehearse outside, if I wanted. 


And so, here I am in Orlando, now, about to go apartment shopping. I've got another huge list of things to do, including working on a new one-man show ("The Greatest Speech of All Time"), editing some Shakespeare for a possible UCO project next year, and finishing off and publishing my long-planned collection of Moliere Monologues ("The Big Book of Moliere Monologues"), hopefully available very soon!
Love,
Tim


Miles on the Escape: 89,350


On the I-Pod: Emma Watson, “A Reason to Stay Up All Night”


Discoveries: I tend to get self-conscious about my relentless pickiness, although, for actors, and the audience, they may ultimately see it as perfectioninsm. * If I can acknowledge my own weak, or disinterested areas, I can identify spots in the production where someone else might well shine. * While reporters who expect me to essentially write their articles for them may be a pain in the ass, it also does mean that I get to write their articles for them. * Actors are subject to wild mood swings, generating wild differences in the quality of performance.They need a foundation of belief (in themselves) to build upon. * Sometimes, all of that publicity work is more than spinning your wheels. Sometimes it pays off in bodies in the seats, and excitement at the curtain call. * We never know the range, the depth or the impact of the work that we are doing. We can only look at the numbers and say, “It may well be…” * Ten years of doing this has begun generating a startling number of overlaps, with people who saw me back when they were students, showing up thousands of miles away from where they’d originally seen me… * Life overlaps.


Next performances: December 1-3: Texas Thespians, Houston, TX

Thursday, September 08, 2011

The View from Here #151: QC, OR, MN, OK

       Where last I left me, I was heading for Canada, with the annual conference of the American Association of Teachers of French.

       As I noted when finishing off the last View from Here, I was going to attempt a “Vlog” over the course of my three-week tour, and I really did manage to keep it up somehow, recording somewhere 5 and 15 minutes each day.

       Since I said just about everything I had to say on a daily basis, I'll resist repeating it here. Feel free to visit some of the videos that come up when you follow this link: “Vlogging a Dead Moose.”


       I promoted my show in Montreal, visited friends in Toronto, Thunder Bay, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton and Vancouver, admired beautiful scenery, watched for moose (misidentified elk). I chatted about whatever might have been on my mind on a given day, or along a given drive, curious perhaps, if my incidental musings held anything more than a passing interest... perhaps also curious as to whether the voice inside my head was what might come spontaneously out of my mouth. The videos themselves seem to have averaged a dozen or so views each, except for the performances at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival which briefly inhabited the “automatic” position on my video channel (the video that comes on automatically when you first go to my channel). So, while some people may have responded with a casual interest, I did not immediately resolve that Vlogging was my Future.


       At the Oregon Shakespeare Fest, they put me up at a lovely Bed & Breakfast, about four blocks from the festival, and while the unseasonably cool/rainy weather threatened each day (and forced the cancellation of both performances of the “Green Show” performing group that preceded mine), I managed to sneak in both performances in spite of the weather, with a terrific response. Each night, I started out with some 350 or so in the audience, which swelled to 700 or more by the ending. The producer of the Green Show, suggesting that she’d like to book me again for the next year, commented that my show had a “sticky” quality to it. By which she meant that the casual passer-by who stopped to watch, tended to remain watching until the end, with little drifting in and out.

       Meanwhile, the host of my Bed & Breakfast, who also worked in the OSF box office, suggested that I share copies of my new book with the festival Gift Shop, for them to sell. Screwing my courage to the sticking place, I went into the gift shop and asked to see the manager/purchaser. She was happy to sit down with me, and immediately took an interest in carrying my book. She bought six copies for her shop.

       I drove long days on the race home, stopping only in Salt Lake City and Lincoln, Nebraska before pushing through the final lap to Minneapolis. Upon my return, I was horrified to discover that a leaky toilet on the second floor had begun dripping during my absence, ruining some of the beautiful woodwork in the gorgeous place I had been calling home. The leak was seemingly non-existent when I left town, but had built up to what now seemed to be about two gallons an hour, and the owner who had worked so hard on rehabbing the place with beautiful wood treatments was stricken, seeing the damage. He’d had people working on the roof of the house while I was gone, but no one had been inside the house for the entire time that I was gone. Had they only gone in to use the bathroom, the problem would have been unavoidably evident. I felt terribly guilty, but entirely helpless.

       I caught up on follow-up e-mailings to French teachers from the AATF conference, to theatre teachers from the International Thespian Festival, and to Community Theatre directors from the AACT conference in Rochester that April had attended in my stead. Meanwhile, I was gearing back up on production for Lot o’ Shakespeare, running lines on a daily basis, gathering press materials and distributing postcards for the Minnesota Fringe Festival which was now just a week away. April came up from Chicago over the weekend to visit, drop off postcards and take away some of my conference display items that I wouldn’t need for the course of my fall tour, and I managed to push mostly away from the desk for a couple days.

       I previewed my show at the “Out-of-towners Showcase” the day before the Fringe got underway. Even though I’d been living in town for much of the summer, I had applied as an “out of towner,” and was still mostly identified as such by the “in-towners.” I plotted out this performance at great length, choosing the opening monologue, during which I would simultaneously hand out postcards and “IAGO” cards. I carefully checked the layout of the venue and counted out exactly how many cards I would need to pass out for each row, and then, on the night of the show, recounted the number of seats in the venue, reordering the cards to reflect how many were ACTUALLY in each row.

       The preview went extremely well, but when it came time to spin the bingo cage to give the audience the taste of a random monologue, the ball that first popped out was the only monologue that I COULDN’T perform: the Measure for Measure monologue, which demanded a volunteer from the audience. (Even if I wanted to drag a volunteer on stage for the minute I had left allotted to me, I had left the volunteer script backstage.) I spun the cage a second time, and Troilus & Cressida came out.

       The festival, as always, was much fun. On those days that I had a show, my focus was single-minded; once that performance was done, I could kick back and enjoy, seeing other performances and joining the nightly fringe party. I had about 40 or so people in my first audience, and attendance never seemed to dip below that for the run of my show. As in previous Minnesota Fringes, I was hearing great things by way of second-hand “buzz”. The reviews I was getting on-line were more personal this year, and people who had seen me over the course of, perhaps, five wildly different one-man shows, had now shaped an opinion of me that reflected me, as much as my material.


    In the realm of "It really is a small world," a girl noticed me in the audience of someone else's show and mentioned that she'd seen Moliere than Thou at the New York Fringe Festival, where she'd been my volunteer! And that I'd apparently mentioned at that time that she was the giggliest volunteer that I'd ever had. (The New York Fringe was 8 years ago, in 2003!)

With each successive show, and each new rave review, I kept expecting that THIS will be the performance that SELLS OUT, but somehow that show never arrived. My audiences included lot of the “die-hard fringers,” and a lot of fellow performers. Given the size of the check that I got at the end of the run, I would have to say that my show was extremely popular with people who were getting free tickets. Fortunately, I don’t do this festival for the paycheck so much as the good buzz. I doubled my collection of quotable quotes in the course of five performances…
Snappy but never rushed. His delivery sparkles... John Townsend, Minneapolis Star Tribune 
The device of hanging Shakespeare’s speeches on an audience participation game of lotto will make you happy. His high-energy, engaging style will make you happy, and his command of every single Shakespeare play you know (and some you don’t), with a few sonnets thrown in, will simply amaze. And make you happy. Request King John if it doesn’t pop up on the bingo balls. It’ll be worth your tip; you’ve never heard it like this before. Janet Preus, howwastheshow.com

Shakespeare fans will enjoy Timothy Mooney's performance of more than 40 monologues... Mooney delivers them with style and vigor in this one-man effort.  Emily Gurnon, Pioneer Press 
It’s a treat to hear the real thing, served straight. If you’re going to have Shakespeare read to you in delicious little chunks, you want Tim Mooney to do the reading. He lets Shakespeare speak for himself. Baron Dave Romm 
He performs them with a range, nuance, and especially energy... Two things I know for sure about theater: that Shakespeare dude can write, and you should never miss a chance to see Tim Mooney! Patrick Pfundstein 

Tim Mooney is arguably the most reliable quantity in the Fringe Festival… Power, emotional range, nuance and clarity. His delivery, both word and gesture, is direct enough that Shakespeare beginners can follow easily, but nuanced enough for the most hardened nerd. David Stagner 
I could listen for hours. Tim Mooney was amazing … My personal favorites were Hotspur's speech from 1 Henry IV and sonnet 90 (extremely beautiful and not often heard). Bravo! Kit Gordon 
A superb collection, each character distinct and delightful. Tim Mooney always gives good Fringe, and Lot O' Shakespeare is no exception. Highly recommended! Kayle Ganaan 
I wouldn't have chosen a show of consecutive Shakespeare monologues for a thirteen year old… But Tommy was up for the challenge, so we went on in. I'm glad we did! Mooney was fantastic, animating each character with energy. It was exciting. You can't help but sit back and be dazzled. Wendy Gannula, tcdailyplanet.net 
Excellent show -- Timothy Mooney really knows his Shakespeare. In simple straightforward language he sets a scene then delivers it with mastery. A delight, we'll go back to see him again on Sunday. Ann Mullaney 
A wonderful sampling from some of the most famous and least known of Shakespeare's plays… A playful and, at times, thrilling acting adventure. Robert Hubbard 
Probably the most fun I've ever had with Shakespeare. I attended with my parents - both of them, to my shock, since my Dad usually cuts me off with a hearty "hell no" the moment he hears "Shakespeare." He liked it almost as much as I did. I can't think of a better endorsement than that. Lisa Olson 
I'd be willing to see Tim in anything. He's always engaging and fun, and this show, with its clever "lotto" hook, ranks with his best... an excellent hour well spent.  Mark Browning Milner 
As a retired English teacher, I would love to have had Timothy in my classroom to help show students how much fun Shakespeare can be. The combination of setting the scene, monologues that made the language seem very real and understandable, the chance to play Bingo (Iago) and win a prize, and a lot of enthusiasm make this show a good one for Shakespeare fans and even for those who still need converting. Mary Lundberg-Johnson 
A master at work with his craft. But, it's also a lot o' fun. It made me want to read more Shakespeare. Clark Kinser 
Absolutely wonderful… I could have watched Tim Mooney for another two hours - he's that good. Expressive, funny, intelligent --- his engagement with Shakespeare's lines makes the language, the stories alive in a rare way. And as he notes, a different show each time - go often. Judy Budreau 
More important than the shtick, though, is Mooney's mastery of the material and his ability to adjust his energy levels between these different, and random, pieces. Reid Gagle 
A one-man dynamo! Comedy, drama, history, it's all here in this banquet of Shakespearean delights. Tim Mooney leaps from monologue to monologue exhibiting an amazing range… A treat to watch and not to be missed!  Jim Belich 
A consummate monologue-ist. Mooney encapsulates each character and scene with immersion into the essence of each snapshot with incredible zest and expressiveness… My only disappointment.. there wasn't time for more. Jason Dalrymple 
I laughed so hard and I had a great time. It is not just playing a game of Iago.... it is learning and participating and being entertained and a real community experience. Lauren Arneson 
Tim Mooney's tour-de-force left me exhausted! If you sit near the stage, be prepared to become part of the show. During each monologue, Mooney's intense focus may just single you out and draw you in even further... Actually, this isn't a solo show, it's a one-man band… Mooney's book quintessentially captures the spirit of this show: "Acting at the Speed of Life." Dwayna Paplow 
I am so glad that someone has put this extreme amount of work together. I will most assuredly be using his program/ bingo card as a reference when I need to find a new monologue. This show had me inspired in a way for Shakespeare I have not felt since College. Jason Rojas 
Amazing. He transformed himself from buffoon to evil king to carefree young man in seconds. He inhabited each character, and made Shakespeare's language come alive, even the more obscure words and expressions. If high school teachers had him bring Shakespeare to life like this theater attendance would rise! Portia Sephori 
I am in awe of how much information Tim Mooney has been able to cram into his brain... Wow! I wasn't previously familiar with several of the monologues he performed, but he captured the essence of each scene perfectly. Heather Baldwin

With the end of the festival, I dove back in on my e-mailing projects, sending notes to Shakespeare festivals around the country (promoting my Oregon Shakespeare Fest success), as well as beginning another pass to schools that had responded with interest to the huge mega-emailing from the first half of the summer. Now that teachers were starting to return to school, I wanted them reminded of their stated interest before they got swept up in the sudden rush of activity. I was getting more and more specific with the narrowing dates now available for bookings, offering discounts for the dates that remained to be booked. The coming fall tour is shaping up as the busiest one ever.
It was again time to pack up my worldly possessions, this time taking them on a 6-week stay in Edmond, Oklahoma, where I’d be directing Tartuffe, I loaded up a trailer and brought everything with me. I figured that when I left Oklahoma for the Fall Tour, I would put my stuff into storage, which would mean that I would eventually need to come BACK to Oklahoma to pick it all up again… but I could deal with that when the bookings ran out… if the bookings ran out.
I got on the road. While my original plan was to visit with friends in Kansas City and grab a hotel somewhere in Kansas, when my visiting plans fell through, I simply kept driving, arriving 800 miles to the south, in Edmond, Oklahoma, late that same night.
My apartment was a nice, roomy setting… the corner space in a hall filled with dorm rooms. (I get strange looks from the students.) Mine came complete with kitchenette, living room, bedroom, bathroom and laundry, and there seemed to be room for about half of my stuff.
It was perhaps 100 degrees the next day, and unloading the trailer, I could tell there was a problem the moment I tried to lift the back gate. The gate itself seemed stuck, and it was clear that items in the trailer had shifted. Shattered glass started to spill out.
The glass desk that I bought at the beginning of the summer, which fit neatly into the niche between two windows in a corner of my Minneapolis home… was now in about a million pieces.
It was one of those Laurel & Hardy days, where everything that could go wrong, seemingly, did go wrong, and I found myself cutting myself on glass, bumping my shins, bumping my head… which then bounced back down into the stuff I was carrying, bumping my chin and biting my tongue in the process. Once I’d unloaded all of the things I thought I would need, I rented a storage locker for the rest, and opening the trailer once more, found that the stuff left in the trailer, now much more loosely packed, had fallen over, scattering books and files beneath the formerly upright shelving unit.
Auditions were that night, and the actors had each been directed to work up a Moliere audition piece from something other than Tartuffe, and I grew in my resolve that my forthcoming collection of Moliere monologues was desperately needed. I saw as many as three variations of the same monologue three or four times over the course of the auditions. Notably: Monsieur Jacques and Frosine from The Miser, Celimene and Arsinoe from The Misanthrope, and Sganarelle from The Doctor in Spite of Himself.
I had so many good people to look at that I was able to eliminate almost half of the actors from consideration. I have a very subjective rating system that ranks actors from 1-star to 4-stars, and I was able to draw the line at 2 ½ stars and above, knowing that I still had about 40 actors to see for callbacks. Were my judgements not so subjective, this might almost be described as a scientific process, as I used the computer to “sort” the actors by the ratings that I’d assigned them.
Callbacks got off to a slow start, as my stage manager went to the wrong theatre space, and was unable to distribute monologue copies at 6:30, as we’d promised the actors. When 7pm arrived, I herded the actors into the auditorium, gave them a quick primer on the tone of the play and our procedure, and by the time I was done (7:20), the monologues were ready to go.
On the first pass, I would feed new ideas or direction, after seeing each actor's initial take. It gave me a good idea of whether this was an actor who would actually improve with feedback, or stay the same or get worse. I would send actors back out with directions to prepare a different monologue, seeing them read as many as 3 or 4 times through the course of the evening. With repetition, I stopped giving feedback, and just kept track of which actors were good “fits” for which roles.
Some actors were clearly best for particular roles while others were talented enough to cross over to several parts. I could count on a particularly talented actor to shift into another part if I had a slightly less talented actor who was right for a single part. I also made mental notes of racial implications as, for instance, a black actor as the seducing lothario, Tartuffe, would play into a lot of historic stereotypes which are difficult to shake loose. As it happened, I have a strong black actor playing the homeowner, Orgon, while his “wife and children” are white.
We dove into rehearsals that night and I was suddenly hearing from people who had not planned for the commitment that an immediate jump into the rehearsal process would bring. New conflicts from people unable to attend were abruptly coming to my attention and I ended up playing two roles myself that night.
Saturday afternoon, we continued with a second read-through, which I rarely do; mostly I try to get the show on its feet as fast as I might. But remembering my last Tartuffe, I thought the play really needed a second read-through to focus on language and ideas before worrying the actors about movement. And so I held out for one more pass, as the actors grew eager to get up and start performing.
In Minneapolis, I had sketched out blocking notes in the margins back of my script, amid my preparations to move, and now I was transferring them to a ground plan of the set. The Scene Designer had adopted my ideas almost in their entirety, and the process of adapting the initial plans was mostly about figuring out what my scribbles and scrawls had been trying to capture on my first go-around. I was drawing up these new plans in pretty colored lines, with different marker colors reflecting different characters’ movements on the floor of the stage. Theoretically, any of the actors could pick up my script and figure out where they are supposed to move, and when.
This tends to bring out the puppet-master in me, as I have almost entirely reversed the training I’d gotten in grad school. Rather than letting the acting evolve organically, I tend to impose detailed, specific plans on the mise-en-scene, much as the rhymed iambic pentameter thrusts great detail and demand onto those actors' shoulders, and knowing that, whatever qualities these performers are bringing to the table, the story is going to get told. Also, actors are actually much more confident when they know that the director has thought about these things and has an actual plan.
Monday was our first production meeting, and a much larger staff was in attendance than was present at our previous meeting back in January. It seems that everyone on the staff has an assistant, or two, with the exception of myself. As it happens, I have a stage management staff, including one stage manager and three assistant stage managers, but no assistant director. (Of course, I don’t know what I’d do with an assistant director if I had one.)
The scene designer had a model to show, the costume designer some costume sketches, and the choreographer was still trying to work out the intended tone of the dance she was to be creating for the “Intermezzi.” Ultimately, we determined to explore the music I’d used in the production back in Lake Forest a year prior, and I e-mailed the choreographer mp3s from sections of the music that made me think “ballet.” She selected one, from which she was immediately able to envision a dance.
In rehearsal, the actors were getting on their feet at last, and between Monday and Friday, we dedicated a night to each act of the play. In the three hours of rehearsal, we were able to stop-and-go through the course of each scene, usually taking on 2-3 pages at a time, essentially transferring the blocking from my script to theirs, and hopefully conveying the vision of why their characters were saying and doing the things that they were. Theoretically, the blocking was underlining their through-line of action, and intuitively attuning them to their character’s desires.
Each night, we found that we could work our way through a given act, and still have enough time to double back through, running each act once or twice. Some actors had taken to arriving 30 minutes early, to copy their own blocking out of my script, and were thereby a step ahead of me through rehearsal.
Thursday night, I joined some of the actors at the local karaoke bar, and my singing performance was going over quite well through “Lion Sleeps Tonight” and the beginnings of “Black Dog”.
Until, out of nowhere, somebody came running up through the crowd during “Black Dog.” Seeing him out of the corner of my eye, I assumed he was intent on high-fiving me, as some often do, amid the excitement of this song. 
I was not anticipating that he might slug me in the solar plexus, and run off, out the door.
Disruption ensued.
I was blindsided. The punch had knocked the wind out of me. Several people chased this guy outside and I stumbled into my seat. The KJ stopped the song, several people bent over me and both the manager and the waitress brought me more beer.
From all that I can figure after the fact, my assumption is that the incident was some kind of fraternity pledge-week prank. I was sore and upset, but was more struck by the compassion exhibited by my new student-actor-friends. I had known them for only a week, but in this very short time, they’d grown very protective.
On Friday, we finished working through the play, and our progress had been so good that I gave the actors the Labor Day weekend off. On Saturday, I joined the Theatre Department Chair, Daisy, and one of the professors, Don, for dinner and a movie. Several times, Daisy has told me of the good reports that she has been hearing, not only from the students, but from some of the design staff as well. I was feeling highly appreciated.
They are being very good to me here, by the way. In addition to the furnished apartment with kitchen, they’ve provided me with a meal pass for each day that I am here, as well as a pass to the wellness center, right across the parking lot… as well as… paying me.
Parellel to the rehearsal process, I’ve also been writing about the work, as the warm reception to my acting book has gotten me to start serious consideration of my Directing Text. (Working title: Directing at the Speed of Life.) And writing about the day-to-day choices, problems and decision-making processes that I make, usually without even thinking about it, reminds me that yes, these things are choices, and, hey, maybe some young directors wouldn’t see them quite so self-evidently as I do. And so, I’m writing a little bit every day.
Today’s entry, for instance, about last night’s work-through of the already-blocked Act I, helped me define the stages that the actors are at: Sometimes, they have memorized a given line and clearly understand why one line follows the next in a given speech, and sometimes they have yet to clarify the nuance that necessitates a lengthy speech, as each new line of verse continues to add further dimension to their thought process. When they have yet to think through these passages with detail or nuance, we find that any attempt at sustaining the momentum of the scene, or the iambic pentameter, simply sounds sing-songy. Each line comes out the same, and the listener becomes ever more aware of the predictability of the next line. People have issues with rhymed verse, not because the rhyme is pointed and self-evident, but rather because we are moving towards that rhyme with such deliberate, unthinking predictability. (I'd observed this same phenomenon in a performance of Shakespeare's epic poem, The Rape of Lucrece at the Minnesota Fringe. The actors assumed a tone of voice, without breaking up the lines into specific, nuanced intentions.)
Or to make a formula out of it:
Momentum – Nuance = Sing-Song Delivery.
I plan to put the occasional chapter from this upcoming book up on my other blog, “Acting at the Speed of Life.” You can find one of them over there now!
Finally, Daisy had been lamenting the difficulty that the department has often had in getting audience out to see theatre which is neither a musical, nor has some celebrity appeal, such as, say, Shirley Jones playing a leading role. Remembering a recent incident that my friend, Joe, had with a production of The Laramie Project, I suggested that the best way to get people out to see the show was to make sure that someone protested the production. If you tell someone that they’re not allowed to see the show, they become fully determined to go and see it. With this in mind, on my way home that night, I envisioned the following press release in my head:
“Banned Play” Presented by UCO Theatre
Tartuffe, a notorious 17th century French play by France’s most famous, and somewhat scandalous author, Molière, disallowed from performance by French authorities for over five years, and by innumerable authorities since that time, is being presented by the UCO Theatre department, October 6-9, in Mitchell Hall.

“It is true that some people have found the subject of this play troubling… even disturbing,” acknowledges Theatre Chair, Daisy Nystul, “but there is really nothing in this play that you couldn’t see on cable TV on any night of the week… or at least, perhaps on Showtime.”

This salacious, incendiary work drew the ire of the Catholic Church in its very first production, back in 1664, and under pressure from the Societie du Sant Sacrament, France’s King Louis XIV blocked the play from being presented for over five years. Molière, himself, was described as “A devil not worthy of hanging!”

Adaptor and Guest Director, Timothy Mooney, perhaps one of the leading authorities on the works of Molière, insists that the play was never intended to be an attack on the church, but rather on the hypocrisy of those that pretend to false piety.

“Tartuffe, himself, was never intended to suggest a man of the cloth, but rather someone who attached himself to the church for corrupt purposes. He is clearly an independent charlatan.”
As for the supposed “sex” that the play is famous for, Mooney insists that there is no actual nudity in this UCO production. “The fashions of that day simply featured a greater amount of… well, cleavage, for instance, than our modern era is perhaps accustomed to,” Mooney notes. “And the infamous seduction scenes of Acts III and IV are interrupted before they ever reach consummation.”

Whereas in the past, Tartuffe has been an incendiary lightning-rod of a play, this UCO production is not anticipating any protests. “Everyone just needs to calm down,” Chair Nystul insists. “No one is going to want to protest a 350-year-old play. “And if we do get the odd picketer, we would only ask that people keep cool heads about them. We don’t want to call in security forces, but we believe that everyone has a right to see this landmark historic play in all of its glory, without fearing for their own safety.”

For the moment, at least, some tickets for “Tartuffe” are still available at the Mitchell Hall Box office, at …

Temperature: About a week of 100+ temperatures, with wildfires burning in the distance, now down to a comfortable 75 degrees.
Attendance: 15 + 700 + 700 + 45 + 50 + 60 + 40+ 70 = 1,680
On the Computer: Netflix streaming, these days, finishing off all the episodes of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and halfway through “The Tudors.”
Discoveries: When I let the voice inside my head come out spontaneously, I achieve a greater definition of “who I am,” and gain, perhaps, greater acceptance. * My shows have a “sticky” quality to them. * When I take the chance to present my book to the people who can do something with it, it displays potential. * In presenting a preview for my plays, I do better when I share the openings of my plays, rather than, perhaps the most brilliant scenes of my plays. I need to take people where they are, as a largely ignorant audience, allow them to identify with my character, and gradually move them in the direction that they will need to go, rather than showing them the climax, or the heights to which my play reaches. * The books I have in process are clearly needed. * I have decided to accept my role as “puppet master,” knowing that there are some stages where the direct control of the director contributes invaluably to the telling of the story. * Something feels different about this cast interaction. I feel like I’ve been transparent and open with them to the point that they are much more connected and supportive than I’ve felt in the past… as evidenced by their response when I got hit in the karaoke bar. * People have issues with rhymed verse, not because the rhyme is pointed and clever and evident, but rather because we are moving towards that rhyme with such deliberate, unthinking predictability. * If you tell someone that they are not allowed to see a show, their most powerful resolution becomes finding a way to get out to see it.
Miles on the Escape: 78,800
Music in the I-pod: Recordings of famous speeches, for my next play “The Greatest Speech of All Time.”
Next performances: October 14-15: Lynfield College and Pacific City, Oregon. 

The View From Here #171: Summer, 2017

I began my summer heading south, with the last performance of the year’s “school tour” at the Christel House Academy in Indianapolis. ...