Monday, February 20, 2012

The View from Here #153: TN, FL, TX, VA, FL, IL, TX, FL

The new book is out! 

“The Big Book of Moliere Monologues!” 

And it is exactly as described: 8 ½ by 11 inches, over 150 pages with over 160 Moliere Monologues drawn from 17 plays! With plot info, character analysis, biographical background, and some of the funniest stuff I’ve ever written (and, hopefully, that you’ve ever read). The preface is by author William Luce (“The Belle of Amherst,” “Barrymore,” and “Baptiste”), who gave me the best cover blurb ever: “A masterwork… The best compilation I’ve ever seen.”

You can find it on Amazon, and on CreateSpace, and on my website. For what it’s worth, I make about three times as much if you buy it off of my website… and when you get it there, I can inscribe it personally, which adds at least five cents to the value! But if CreateSpace, or Amazon is more convenient for you, go for it; I’m just happy to have it in front of you.

Previously, on the View From Here… I had one final show to finish off the busiest fall tour in memory. A long day of driving brought me from Norfolk, Virginia to Murfreesboro, Tennessee. I was brought in to perform at Middle Tennessee State University by a French teacher who’d caught my show at Belmont college perhaps eight years before. We set up in a Student Center ballroom, with some fun lighting, and a small, but responsive crowd.

And from there, I was off to Orlando! After last year’s Chattanooga most-severe-winter-ever, I decided it was time to take my annual "holiday" a little closer to the equator. I briefly contemplated the possibility of saying screw it, I’ll stay in Chicago this year. And then I felt a brisk wind blowing through me, and with a shudder, decided it was time to head south.

I stayed a few days with my Orlando friends, Al and Gale while shopping around for a place to hang out in for a while, eventually finding a small condo about ten miles north of the city.

I proceeded to throw myself into the several projects I’d been waiting to dive into for much of the fall.
New Lot o' Shakespeare Photos by Tisse Mallon
1) The Henriad
The University of Central Oklahma was looking at doing something for their “Passport to England” semester next fall, which got me thinking: Most of Shakespeare’s popular plays actually take place outside of England. Shakespeare’s tetralogy of four histories: Richard II, Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2 and Henry V are rarely performed outside of Shakespeare festivals (where the Shakespeare-going crowd, presumably, has an understanding of the context into which each of these four plays fits). These are almost never done at universities, for instance. It would be like seeing “Empire Strikes Back” without ever catching the original “Star Wars” or “Jedi”. Unless we see how Henry IV stole the crown from Richard II, we don’t quite get the whole redemption journey that Henry V has taken. But what if all four plays could be produced as part of a single epic event?

Given that I’ve already edited a half dozen or so Moliere plays down to 45 minutes (so that they can be performed in high school competition), what if I gave that treatment to each of these plays? Theoretically, we could see two plays in 90 minutes, take an intermission, and come back for the rest all in a single evening. And in the course of cutting out some 60% of the material, we would be left with all of the gripping action, as opposed to all the Ned Poins and Mistress Quickly stuff… I’ve been working my way through these plays with a marker…

2) The Big Book of Moliere Monologues
It was last year, at the Texas Educational Theatre Assocation conference, that I met a publisher specializing in monologue books. I’d offered the book to them at the time, and they seemed very interested. But the longer that I didn’t hear back from them, the more I wanted to NOT hear back from them. A) Their interest was not such that they were banging down my door.  B) I thought I could do a better job with the publication if I was managing my own interests (more below).

3) The Mega Mailing
It’s the usual list: 12,000 or so teachers of Theatre, French, English, and sometimes History. It takes me about a month to get through each time. I personalize it… the hard way.

4) The Greatest Speech of All Time
The success that I’ve been enjoying with the Mark Antony and the Henry V speeches in performance has suggested to me that there is some combination of “making sense of history,” “navigating my way through rhetoric,” and “transcending the hard language to unveil the emotional expression of a speech“ that I have access to, and which opens up doors to the historical sensibilities, as well as the imaginations of the audiences for whom I’ve performed. As such, I have performed a Google Search on “Greatest Speech of All Time,” and started memorizing some of the stuff that comes up.

I did my best over these past few months to give a little bit of time to each of these projects each day, planning to put at least an hour in on each of the projects each day, but I tend to find that as I get into the thrall of any given task, one hour gives way to two or three or four, and one or two of the projects get shuffled off to tomorrow or next week, or later…

·      The default project was the Mega-mailing. I knew I’d have to work my way through that, regardless, or earn no money in the coming year.

·      While I’d planned to spend some significant efforts on The Henriad, knowing that I didn’t have an immediate venue waiting on it, led me to push that one the the back of the queue once I’d trimmed away about 30% of the text.

·      As much as I wanted to work on The Greatest Speech of All Time, I wouldn’t actually have to perform it until May, and even then, I might well sell it as a “preview performance” (at the Orlando Fringe Festival) so I wasn’t quite feeling as driven by the urgency that I’m sure I’ll be feeling in the coming months. I found myself memorizing speeches while walking on the treadmill, and so far I’ve got Socrates, Stephen Douglass and Abraham Lincoln in pretty good shape.

·      It was the Big Book of Moliere Monologues that was getting all my attention.

One year ago, I had discovered that it was possible to shepherd one of my “children” through the publication process by myself; to see the project through from beginning to the end, even taking on those portions of the business that I clearly had no business handling: editing, layout, proofing and even cover design… I found that I did not have to wait for some almighty publisher to give me permission to move forward with my, mission as I had envisioned it… that I didn’t have to wait for permission to proceed, nor for direction as to how to reshape my vision to fit the perceived need of the marketplace (something of which most writers complain that publishers are notoriously bad).

Rather, my job ws to chase down my own initial vision through all the warrens and spider holes that it might lead me through, keeping my instinct of what a good book might be as my ultimate guide. This meant that I was neither held up to the expectation of what a “quality” work of literature ought to look like, or what a responsible/predictable/mainstream textbook ought to be, nor was I limited by the generally accepted standard by which similar books would get passed on into the public forum.

In other words, as my own publisher, I was able to give “the writer” more latitude, and there was no reason that I might not make my book better, if for no other reason that I am probably willing to ride myself harder as an “employee” of the “TMRT Press” than any given publisher might otherwise reasonably demand. (“Me? Put in overtime? You’re a slave-driver!”)

I believe that theory has been validated in the amazingly good reviews that ACTING AT THE SPEED OF LIFE; CONQUERING THEATRICAL STYLE has gotten in this past year. In fact, a fantastic review came in through the Theatre Library Association publication, “Broadside:”

Among the many singular and intrepid theatre artists at work in the United States today, none is quite like Tim Mooney. A skilled actor and teacher, Mooney has barnstormed the country for years performing his solo show, Molière Than Thou, bringing to life with hilarity and precision the greatest of Molière’s characters for thousands of high school, university, and general audiences. Mooney’s virtuosity as a performer, and the workshops he offers in tandem with his performances, are enhanced by his vast store of knowledge of the classics and the art of acting, which has resulted in seventeen of his own adaptations of Molière’s plays and the creation of additional solo shows, including Lot O’ Shakespeare, doing for the Bard what he has done for Poquelin. 
 Mooney’s much sought-after workshops have now inspired a unique “how to” book offering a refreshing and highly practical approach to what many contemporary actors, at various stages of development, find most daunting: approaching theatrical style and acting in classical plays. As evidenced by his performances and workshops for actors, Mooney has a decided gift for demystifying the classics. He provides actors with tools for approaching verse, for many American actors the most daunting hurdle in developing their craft, and moves them beyond the realistic conventions that are the foundation of contemporary acting training, but most often the essential problem in facing stylized plays. With clarity and specificity, and no small steps to approach the demands of stylized acting that will be of essential value to both beginning and veteran actors. Directors and teachers of acting will also find Mooney’s book an essential resource, supplying specific exercises and illustrating problems and challenges for the actor.  
Covering issues such as memorization, the pursuit of objectives, how to assert a ‘presence’ on stage, and the skills toward mastering rhetoric and verse, Mooney returns to basics, but teaches them through the most challenging of plays, from Greek tragedy and Shakespeare to Molière and commedia dell’arte. The book is divided into six parts, “Being Seen,” “Being Heard,” “Playing Fully,” “Playing with Discipline,” “Outwitting Yourself,” and “Putting It Together,” titles that in themselves suggest something of the unpretentious method of his teaching and the practical nature of his approach to stylized acting, and each part is further divided into multiple, comparatively short subsets in which Mooney illustrates everything from “Articulation, Volume and Projection” to “Iambic Pentameter, Rhyming and Reality...And Why We Go to the Theatre,” illustrated with short specific examples of texts.  
“We can own who we are in the presence of other people,” Mooney assures his reader, and “Everything on stage is a bluff. And very much of life is a bluff” (p. 233). Such wisdom is accompanied by amusing overstatements, as in a section on critics: “Yes, all reviewers are idiots” (p. 230), but I will not take that comment personally and will, instead, recommend this exceedingly valuable book which, to be sure, will inspire actors to approach stylized theatre with the spirit of fun and style.

With responses like this, I have been feeling more and more annoyed with myself for holding back as much material as I have been sitting on these past years. (This stuff is just the tip of the iceberg!) I first assembled the bulk of the monologues of the Moliere collection some eight years ago, and then set back, waitingfor somebody else to come along and do the leg work for me. And while I’d seemed to have attracted the attentions of another publisher a year ago, I was now hoping that they would NOT contact me, so that I could continue to push this project forward in my own way, and do it up right. As I drew closer to the time when they said they’d be ready to look it over, I specifically resisted following up with them, so that I could fly solo.

I realize that having a publisher behind this project would clearly enable me to sell more copies. These guys know their market, and they know how to sell a book, and they know which noses to push these books in front of to help them survive. But they would never push me as hard as I push me. (And, if they did, I’d probably resent it and rebel, and generally feel bad about selling out.)

Early last month, just as I was diving in full throttle, I got a note from a student who had seen Moliere than Thou and was looking for one of the monologues to perform. I sent him the manuscript of “The Big Book” (BBoMM for short), and he promised he’d read it through and send me his reactions.

Given the number of times that people DON’T follow through on seeing my shows, or reading my books or plays, or booking my show when they tell me enthusiastically that they will, I’ve just taken to remaining largely unattached to that thing called hopeful anticipation, putting my attention solely on “putting the energy out there.”

Did I mention the haircut?
Or the... the thing?
And yet, on January 9, a note from Sean Byrne arrived, reporting “I read through the compilation much to my pleasure and enjoyed most every part. Thanks for the wonderful work.”

Which was great, in and of itself. But he also attached a more thorough review.

Things that he liked and didn’t like (as much) gave me a sense of how the book was coming across… affirmed for me that the book was, indeed, coming across… what things I might yet cut, what things that I’d cut since sending him the copy, which I must, now, immediately, paste back in… and what stuff was sticking out awkwardly.  These particular thoughts encouraged me:

“I found this set of works to be beguiling, challenging and addictive. I must say you truly have made a Moliere fan out of me… The logical order and openness of the flow lent itself to reader ease and appreciation of Moliere. Instead of being an anthology of monologues, this compilation let the reader experience the characters at their own pace and presented them with almost a story to follow.”  
“Although it would be hard to choose favorites among such great work, I have fallen in love with a few… [and then, half-a-page later…] So, although I named nearly half the plays included in this collection, I cannot wait to delve into more and discover more Moliere. I find a different level of connection with the audience in his writings, as well as a different level of blatant honesty, satire and criticism present. And yet, it’s entirely refreshing…“

I was newly enthused by the power of words, and particularly excited, now, by the potential of these particular words. Somebody understood them, and there was an impact at the other end.

I generally just work under the assumption that I’m creating stuff for my own entertainment… or that I’m sending stuff into the void, and that things that are meaningful, or hilarious, or powerful, or significant to me, are being read by the person at the other end “through a glass, darkly,” as if they had been written in another language, another language that is only actually understood or appreciated by me.

In order for what we do to work, writers and artists have to assume that it is impossible to ever be fully understood. One must, instead, create a work that satisfies oneself, that “fits” together in its own particular language, and meets its own particular criteria, with the occasional hope that someone’s life may tangentially intersect with the intended purpose. It’s the very awareness of the impossibility of the gap between author and observer that pushes the author to reach beyond easy assumptions and offhand implications.

I dove in… printing out a copy of the book, laying it out, cutting it back, adding more stuff, and building it beyond my previous vision, with new plays that I’d added to my catalogue since first plotting out this book, and with illustrations from David C. Jensen (who had done some of the flyers for these shows back in the late 90s), and a preface from William Luce.

I suspect that the average publisher of a collection of monologues approaches a project like that as something functional, with a limited buyership, and a limited shelf life. They make their money by reaching a certain threshold of serviceable volumes that fit a particular pattern and style. But I was reconceiving the mold, seeing it not only as a strong resource of audition pieces, but also as a peek inside the world of Moliere: a one-stop-shopping exposure to the greatest comic playwright of all time, which would enable me to give a distinct overview into each of the individual plots and the relevance that those plots have, not only toward an understanding of the monologues, but to the theatre at large, and the socio-political progression of Western Thought to which these works contributed. (I get ahead of myself.)

And yet, I was knee-deep in the trivia of semi-colons and page layout, and commas and font-sizes… (I agonized over whether to set the book in 11-point font of 11.5 point font… (11-point won).)

And, eventually, I found myself with what I believe is a worthy companion to the acting book that I sweated out almost exactly one year before. Perhaps, this is to be an annual ritual.

More importantly, there was no point for me to sit back and NOT publish this book. Even if I sold no copies at all, the very existence of the book would get more people interested in my versions of these plays, get those plays produced, and refer people to that other book, or play, by Tim Mooney, which also seems to be getting good reviews, referring people to my Moliere scripts, to “Moliere than Thou” and to a renewed interest in the man behind all of this. Synergy.

And with each year of having it published, that is another year in which its readership might grow. If I sell 57 units this year, perhaps next year I sell 114, and 228 the year after that. If this is a grass roots campaign, those roots must first be planted somewhere, somehow if I ever expect those stems to reach for the open air.

And so, I worked on the book. But also…

I ran off to do “Texas Thespians” in late December. I performed 5 shows and gave nine workshops in the course of three days. I was exhausted; the students were invigorated and invigorating. One teacher’s class would all come in to my workshops and begin bowing and chanting “We’re not worthy…!”

I ran up to Virginia to spend Christmas with Dad and Maureen.

Isaac at Universal
Isaac came down to Orlando for New Year’s, and we hung out at Universal Studios.
I ran up to Chicago for a Pathways weekend, and back on down to Texas to do the Texas Educational Theatre Assocation (which is where I first met the publisher that I ended up NOT going with, a year before). 

And, after a brief stop in Galveston, TX for a cold day at the beach, I headed up to Panola College, in Carthage, TX, for a workshop and a performance of "Lot o' Shakespeare"! Which really rocked. Teachers were effusive in their gratitude: "This is just what these kids need...!"

And everywhere I went, I continued to return to my work on the book, changing commas to semi-colons, and back to commas, so on and so on. I printed a proof, which looked all wrong to me; reworked and redrafted and printed another proof, working my way back through one play at a time.
This joint has a margarita with my name on it.
I talked my friend, William Luce, who just happens to be a wildly famous playwright… and author of several amazing one-person shows, into writing a Preface for the book. (I’m still not entirely sure what the difference is between a Preface, a Foreword and an Introduction, but I’ve never let my own ignorance stop me...) Bill wrote some really wonderful stuff. Here’s a little bit:

Next to Tim, I feel lazy. His book of monologues is a masterwork.  It represents years of creativity, resolve and follow-through.  I’ve never seen a better compilation, and even counting my years in theater, I know I still have a blessed lot I can learn from his ideas, ideals and experience.

With this in hand, I was finally ready to put it out there.

Now, while I obsessed over this, I was not quite so good about following through the mega-mailing. I had a few bookings lined up for this spring, but the actual number of performances may be thinner than it’s been in the ten years since I started this… As such I’ve declared a temporary “SALE.” If anybody out there wants to book me, catch me this spring!

And, on the positive side, that may just give me a little much-needed time to actually launch a sales program, all while getting back to work on “The Greatest Speech of All Time.”

Discoveries: There is some combination of “making sense of history,” “navigating my way through rhetoric,” and “transcending the hard language to unveil the emotional expression of a speech“ that I have access to, and which opens up doors to the historical sensibilities, as well as the imaginations of the audiences for whom I’ve performed. * I’m also noticing that three of my four projects involved extensive editing, and find myself wondering whether edting is perhaps my most significant talent. (Or, perhaps, framing a story in such a way that the modern audience gets it.) (Or, having a heightened awareness of whether the listener/reader has been brought along in such a way that s/he has access to the necessary information that makes sense out of the story.) * I am better equipped at capturing my vision for a thing if I work through each piece myself… I don’t have to wait for permission, nor direction. What I have to be responsible to is my instinct of what a good book might be. * Nobody pushes me as hard as I push me. * One must, instead, create a work that satisfies oneself, that “fits” together in its own particular language, and meets its own particular criteria, with the occasional hope that someone’s life may tangentially intersect with the intended purpose. It’s the very awareness of the impossibility of the gap between author and observer that pushes the author to reach beyond easy assumptions and offhand implications. * If this is a grass roots campaign, those roots must first be planted somewhere, somehow if I ever expect those stems to reach for the open air. *
Miles on the Escape: 98,000
Temperature: 30s (rarely, in Orlando) to 80s
Playing on Netflix: Dollhouse (skip the first six episodes, after which it gets good) and Arrested Development
Playing on I-Tunes: Roy Zimmerman & Emma Wallace
Attendance: 80 + (25 x 14) = 350 + 30 + 85 = 545
Next Performances: Sacramento: 2/28, Fresno (Rogue Performance Festival): 3/3 & 3/4, Fort Worth: 3/7, Chattanooga: 3/9