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, ( 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.
Before getting to McMinville, I stopped in on some friends in the Portland suburbs who were working on t-shirts for “Lot o’ Shakespeare,” ( 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!

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