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,

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, 
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.