The View From Here #162: Winter/Spring, 2014
|Photo by Brian McConkey, Caption: Marcus Fernando|
|Shakespeare's Histories! The first published copies!|
"This book is a must. Tim Mooney’s dazzling, encapsulated renditions of Shakespeare’s plays are robust, dedicated, and nothing short of brilliant artistry. Tim's knowledge and understanding of the work of William Shakespeare, and easily understood dissemination of same, are, for me, comparable to Carl Sagan's interpretation of the Cosmos. Only faster, and funnier." (Eduardo Santiago, award-winning author of “Midnight Rumba”)
"This book and the performance based upon it do an outstanding job of explaining the larger context of Shakespeare's history plays in a manner that is detailed (but not overwhelmingly so), easy to understand (even for those less acquainted with the material), and above all, great fun. It should be required reading in classical theatre classes, and will be a welcome addition to the libraries of longtime Shakespeare aficionados, those newly enchanted with The Bard, and even those who may not have an interest in Shakespeare works per se (perish the thought), but who simply have an interest in history, and an appreciation of excellent history teachers." ("Lisaie")
"I just ordered the book after watching Tim Mooney perform the live version of “Shakespeare's Histories.” Breathtaking, mindblowing, fascinating, and witty (both Tim and Shakespeare.). I hope Tim willl do an audiobook so everyone can feel his knowledge, passion and humor. In the meantime, read the book or find his traveling shows! Bravo Tim, actor and author!!" (Bruce Bloom)
"Centuries of historical detail and drama strung together in a breathtaking journey! Gives a great bird's-eye view, and as the author says, 'now you know enough to learn all the rest...'" ("ALC")
"After seeing Mooney perform this compilation in an hour, I wanted nothing more than to download these plays to my Kindle and read them. High praise, considering that my prior familiarity with the histories was mostly confined to Henry V's Agincourt speech and "my kingdom for a horse." This book is both a playable script (for someone with genius memorization skills and excellent acting chops) and a handy guide to an important segment of Shakespeare's works. In an era of power grabs, class struggle and corruption, these histories are eminently relevant. Stop letting confusion about rose colors, royals, bastards and battles keep you away. Let Mooney's distilled histories, augmented with photos and helpful family trees, lead you once more into the breach, dear friends." (Julie S. Higginbotham)
Checking the “ballots,” my favorite comment, left by the viewers was: “I felt like I was time travelling.”
I headed far, far south, to Laredo, Texas, where the college there was hosting me for performances of “Lot o’ Shakespeare” and “The Greatest Speech of All Time,” almost exactly a year to the day following last year's “Moliere than Thou” booking. These were both well-received, and I also gave an acting workshop, sponsored by the local community theatre.
Usually, I figure that it’s safe to schedule travel in Texas in January, but when the temperature dips below freezing in San Antonio, they freak out and close the highways that have overpasses, so the return trip north hit a major slowdown. Along the way, I got word from the anticipated next-show at Valparaiso University that, due to the extreme cold, school had been cancelled for the date of my show. (Curses!)
|Carbondale, looking south on Highway 51|
|With Rick Plummer|
|Trees outside of Westshore Community College|
Heading east, Newman University (near Philadelphia) hosted me for a couple of very fun workshops: “The Life of Moliere” and “Shakespeare Spaghetti.” From there, I spent a long weekend visiting Maureen and Tim in Claiborne, from which they were now getting ready to relocate. Their home, which was perfect in fair weather, was suffering through a thoroughly frigid winter, with extremely little insulation.
From there, I headed on to Washington, DC, with two workshops and a performance at the Bullis School, before heading back to Michigan.
|Isaac and I|
Word came to me that a scene from my “Imaginary Invalid” (as presented by East Central University) was invited to the ACTF Region 6 Conference, while my “Misanthrope” took first place in the Richmond Area High School theatre festival. I discovered that I was “in” at the Kansas City Fringe Festival and the Minnesota Fringe Festival (where I’ll be presenting “Shakespeare’s Histories; Ten Epic Plays at a Breakneck Pace!”). AND… my YouTube channel passed 200,000 views!
A friend at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, who was celebrating her birthday, challenged her friends to create flash-mob dance performances of the song “Happy,” to post to their you-tube sites. I didn’t have any flash mobs to work with, and it was freezing outside, so I created a “face dance” from my position at my chair. Just in case you aren’t thoroughly sick of that song yet, here it is again:
This video was shot, by the way, at a lovely bed and breakfast I was staying in while in Ludington: The Lamplighter Inn. The charming couple that runs it couldn’t have been more helpful throughout my stay, especially as the snow and the plunging temperatures led to my car’s battery freezing up a couple of times!
|Gregory Marcus, LeAnna Engwall, and I in "The Schemings of Scapin"|
I particularly enjoyed adding new audience interaction bits, and embellishing on the routine in which Scapin flips back and forth, between playing himself and playing a series of supposed villains who have come to beat up Geronte, who is now hiding inside of a sack. At one point, these two characters started articulating their “t’s” in such a way as to spit in each others’ eyes. Which is hilariously absurd when you consider that it is the same character switching roles and somehow spitting in his own eye. Now and then I come up with a piece of schtick, assuming that the audience will never pick it up, but this time found myself delighted to hear that the cast (on stage the whole time), is finding it hysterical.
The play was very well received, with “big laughs and spontaneous applause.” The print version of the feature story in the local paper was a bit more elaborate than the on-line verison, as it highlighted the point that this play was definitely “not boring.” (I think they had “Not Boring” as a bold sub-heading.)
It was a bittersweet goodbye to my new friends in Ludington, pushing on to my next engagement, but I was due to perform BOTH “Lot o’ Shakespeare” and “Moliere than Thou” at Alma College, in Alma, Michigan the very day after “Scapin” closed. Which meant that I would be performing six shows in the course of five days! My final days in Ludington were filled with drills of the two one-man shows in my head, while maintaining “Scapin's” performance-readiness. The Alma performances were just as successful as the Ludington shows, with a standing ovation at the end of “Lot o’ Shakespeare”!
And while there were a lot of applications going out, there was very little coming back in. I have a coterie of “recommenders” who have been writing some brilliant recommendations for me, but of the 40 or so applications, I’ve only received one noticeable “nibble” so far.
Which got me thinking.
Would it be so bad, if I didn’t get a “regular” job?
Might it not be great if I didn't get a regular job?
I started thinking about all of the things I might be available to do: audition, voiceover, local one-man performances (wherever “local” was). I could focus on getting an agent and promoting the new Shakespeare book, which I am increasingly convinced has a big audience out there, waiting.
And, so, IF I were to get back into the swing of life (as I left it, prior to setting off on the “big tour”), what steps ought I be taking?
I made an appointment to get new headshots done.
I tried to drop a couple of the excess pounds I’d put on to survive the cold winter, and the pics that Brian McConkey created were really terrific. One Facebook friend, noting how very young I looked, remarked “I’ll have what he’s having!” To which I responded: “Try the Photoshop; it’s delicious.”
|Photos by Brian McConkey|
The first half of the performance, “Lot o’ Shakespeare,” featured some of my best stuff: “Hamlet,” “Julius Ceasar,” “Twelfth Night,” etc., but it was the second half of the show which seemed to make the biggest impression, as I returned to perform all of “Shakespeare’s Histories” for the group. (It was a small group, but most of them seemed to be Shakespeare afficionadoes.) I was much enthused for the performances of “Histories” that I’d be giving this summer on the fringe circuit, and very relieved that I made it through the many events of this visit without ripping out my voice in the dry El Paso air.
I visited with my new friend, Kate Mura, in Albuquerque (during which we discovered that I’d seen her in a show back in Chicago about a dozen years ago), passing through Flagstaff, and stopping in Las Vegas for a couple of days (where it turned out that Marcus and Shauna, a couple of my new friends from Ludington, just happened to be spending spring break).
Betty’s friends were kind enough to buy copies “Criteria” (the book), and two new reviews got posted to Amazon, as L.F. Salter called it:
“…A 5-star evening of gripping, thought provoking material. Written in 2002, the metaphor is stunningly timely for today...The story is funny, profound, tense, and a great read! …Tim's one-man performance of this (if one is lucky enough to see one) is a breathtakingly energetic and astonishing… His performance-insights and writing mastery will draw the reader into his arena with rapt empathy... You will laugh deeply, ponder profoundly, and wince knowingly! His presentational presence comes across even in his writing and will linger with you for days after the reading (or nag you into wanting to quote him at smug cocktail parties)!... For those of you who cannot witness Mr. Mooney's performance, his thin book is an engrossing page-turner!”
“I recently saw Mr. Mooney perform "Criteria: A One-Man, Comic, Sci-Fi Thriller!" I was eager to see it, but I also must confess, I wondered whether the material would hold up more than a decade after the piece was written in the wake of the 9/11 attack on New York. I was delighted to have my fears punctured and put to rest. A really engaging piece that manages very quickly and succinctly and entertainingly bring the audience up to speed in a history lesson of the future and to place the audience solidly in its own world. Like the most deft of sci-fi writers, Mooney uses the genre not as a tool to talk about laser guns and spaceships, but as an opportunity to explore big and small questions of our lives today. He does so by focusing on the small things -- does humankind ever really change that much? And while we focus on the small things, thoughts of the bigger issues slip into our heads.”
Is it that all of my good news comes with bad news attached to it, or that all of my bad news comes with good news to mitigate it? (I'm guessing this is the eternal half-full/half-empty conundrum.)
I began serious progress on “How Do You Remember All Those Lines?” while working a bit more with Kirsten on her show, “Firecracker”.
Passing beautiful Mt. Shasta, I continued on up to Oregon where I dropped in on the Oregon Shakespeare Festival “Tudor Gift Shop.” You may recall that the woman at this shop (which also carries “Acting at the Speed of Life,” and “The Big Book of Moliere Monologues”) gave me the idea to publish “Shakespeare’s Histories.” When I showed her the now-published book, she was initially excited by it, until she heard the retail price was $19.95. I explained that the color illustrations made the increased price necessary, and she grudgingly took five copies for her store. Overnight, however, having read the book, she turned around and ordered ten more. It’s now available on their website, where she declares:
“’Shakespeare's Histories; Ten Epic Plays at a Breakneck Pace!’ is a slim volume of clear, accessible explanations of the history behind Shakespeare's plays. Added to that is a dizzying performance text summarizing the plays, designed to be delivered in one hour-bet you can't do it! This is the most fun you'll ever have preparing for ‘Richard III’.” (Eileen Polk)
|With Bill Luce|
Continuing east, I pulled up in Laramie, Wyoming for a couple of days (where I noticed my allergies springing to life), before descending on McCook, Nebraska, where Clay Grizzle (who had previously booked me in Texas) was now booking me for his new school, Midlands Community College. It was nearing Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, and Clay was gearing up for a production of “The Complete Works… Abridged,” and so he booked “Lot o’ Shakespeare” and a workshop.
|The old homestead-now-McMansion|
Racing on to Omaha, I got to visit with the staff of the Nebraska Shakespeare Festival folks once again, this time on Shakespeare’s birthday, where I won the “Shakespeare’s Birthday Pub Quiz” (which meant my bar tab was paid for for the night).
Working my way back to Chicago, I made a stop north of Milwaukee to visit my dear friend, Lisa, whose mother had recently passed away, and on back to Arlington Heights, where the old homestead, which, when we last visited, had been torn down, was now being built up into a McMansion.
|TV hidden behind the painting|
And therein did the long National School Tour, finally come to an end.
|The View From Maureen's Porch|
Experimentation with “Scapin” and with “Shakespeare’s Histories” has alerted me that three run-throughs of a given show in a single day is my magic number. Less than that, and I might struggle with remembering the exact word at the exact moment that I need it; more than that and the words become a little too rote, and I may actually forget whether or not I have already spoken a given line in performance. But over the course of three run-throughs, I may see the time that a particular play takes to recite descend from, say, 62 minutes, to 59 minutes to 56 minutes. (A fourth rehearsal may well creep back up to 60 minutes.)
Repetition is actually more impactful than study. The muscle memory of the speaking gives me the confidence that I am moving smoothly from the shaping of one word to another, without beginning to form odd, uncertain consonants along the way. (Just like the pianist who works endlessly on his or her scales, I continue to work the muscles needed to create my art.)
|Outside the Claiborne Village Hall|
Two days of 3-rehearsals-a-day worked “Criteria” back up in my head, and I performed the show at the Claiborne Village Hall once again. I’ve now performed for these folks five times, and each time the attendance has increased. This time, following a potluck and a town meeting, there were perhaps fifty in attendance.
This show was also very generously received (lots of money in the tip jar!), followed by a brief intermission, a few Shakespeare monologues and a party.
A few days later, I traveled in to Annapolis to visit with the director and cast of “Scapin” at the Annapolis Shakespeare Company. Plans had shifted slightly since my last visit, and while ASC had previously intended to open the show on May 6 (which would've enabled me to be there for opening night) medical issues had backed up the opening night to May 20 (tonight, as I type this!). In addition, however, they have slated yet ANOTHER of my Moliere adaptations (“Imaginary Invalid”) for later in the summer, and are hinting that they’d like me to try my hand at a new adaptation: Goldoni’s “The Servant of Two Masters!”
|The cast of "The Schemings of Scapin" in Annapolis|
I caught lunch with Sally, the director, before the rehearsal, and got to hear these new actors trying out the lines from this now very-familiar play. Sally’s notes to the actors after the read-through gave me confidence that they’d emphasize the words with the kind of value that they apply to their Shakespearean work. She turned the floor over to me, and, having just performed this show, I shared my thoughts about interpretation, with some clues on the intended delivery and some of the psychological nuance surrounding the action. And then we went out for drinks.
|The Cast of "The Misanthrope" in Charlotte|
While I was there, a videographer captured some of the workshop and an interview as well (above)...
I shifted to working all “Shakespeare’s Histories” all the time. I was reciting the lines three times a day, and was easily getting my run-throughs under 55 minutes. I did a test performance for my friend, Jenn, in South Carolina, and even with this audience (of one), the performance clocked in under 58 minutes (audience usually adds at least 5 minutes). I was newly hopeful that the show would not get cut off in the waning moments by a technician eager to maintain Fringe regulations. I also found an app for my phone which would provide me with a digital timer big enough to read from about 15 feet away. I was running this with each successive run-through, and it was keeping me on track.
|The new, green illustration!|
Finally arrived in Orlando, I started coordinating my posters, flyers and “yard signs,” while drilling the lines, out by the pool in Al’s back yard. (Al and Gale are my “billets” in Orlando.)
Meanwhile, I have received updated art for the “Shakespeare’s Histories” illustration from Lee Rushton. This time around, the sea is in GREEN, and it loses the “heaviness” that the previous black-sea illustration carried.
My three-hour tech rehearsal was also serving as a preview performance, and we took one hour to work through the cues and laptop/projection issues, another hour to race through the performance once, and the third hour with an invited audience. (In other words, I performed two full hours back-to-back.) There were at least three reviewers in the audience, along with some old friends who have seen just about everything I’ve performed in Orlando over the course of my seven or eight fringes here.
I had just one glitch. Somewhere in the middle of the Henry V “Saint Crispin’s Day” speech, my mind wandered off and I lost my place. A couple of blurting attempts failed to re-ignite the next line and I called to the technician for a cue. After a few odd seconds she spoke a phrase that launched me immediately back into the thick of the action, and the crowd let out a cheer. I had only probably been delayed by about 15 seconds, and I reinvigorated my attack through the remainder of the speech.
I was thrilled to hear some of the snide jokes that I had written (a whole year ago!) now getting big laughs, and I’m always gratified that things that strike me as particular funny also strike a chord with an audience, like describing the way that Queen Margaret forces the Duke of York to dry his tears with a handkerchief drenched in the blood of his dead son as “generally considered to be bad form.”
The show checked in at around 57:30, and I was immediately off to the races again, this time readying a two-minute preview performance for the out-of-towners showcase that evening. I’d selected and decided against about a half-dozen sequences in short order, and when my technician asked what portion of the show I was going to do for the preview, I asked “What part do YOU think I should do?”
“I like the part where everybody stabs Prince Edward.”
“Great. That’s what I’ll do.”
In the midst of the chaos around the preview event (35 different acts, all nervously hanging out backstage), I figured out where I needed to start the performance so that it would climax with the stabbing scene, and still come in under the requisite two minutes. I transcribed the scene on my notebook, to remind myself of the very specific section that I was going to do, and then ran those lines about twenty times. I wasn’t scheduled to come on until late in the evening (I was 27th), and so I took that time to drill that section again and again. (Which couldn’t help but improve that part of the show, anyway.)
The next day, the reviews started showing up on-line. Carl F. Gauze noted the special challenges of knowing the necessary history to appreciate the plots of these ten plays:
“…Mr. Mooney set out to clear all this up for us. He’s well equipped for the battle, there’s a PowerPoint presentation with org charts and performance reviews and color coded maps, the detail of medieval romantic politics are explored, and we run across all sorts of interesting women from Joan of Arc to Margaret of Anjou. Armed with a sword and defended by a slit-sleeved doublet, Mooney is the English teacher you always wish you had. His speeches are delivered with a fury that will rally the troops, and I think Shakespeare’s politics are beginning to invade my 20th century skull. You may well be exhausted by the end of the hour, and all you need do is sit still and clap. Yes, this is all the stuff that would be 3 credit hours in an English lit program, but this show is quicker, more fun, and doesn’t have that nasty midterm theme paper due.”
And later that day, an even better one from the Orlando Weekly, that I can’t resist quoting at length:
|"Scapin" in Annapolis|
The future is less defined for me than it has been in living memory, but perhaps that’s because I seem to have climaxed what has been and am ready to transform into what will be. I expect I’ll continue to recount my adventures here, but perhaps this is a conclusion, of sorts. See you on the other side.
Miles on the Escape: 197,000 (Total for the tour: 541,000 est.)
Temperature: 86 in Orlando
On the I-Pod: (The I-pod remains stolen; actually “on the I-tunes on my computer): Lonely Avenue (Ben Folds and Nick Hornby) and Pomplamoose.
On Netflix: Second pass through “Breaking Bad!”
at some point, we must actually establish that "art" is what we are about, or else we will ever consign ourselves to self-deprecating assessments of "luck" or "hackery."
Next Performances: Sat & Sunday (May 24 & 25) in Orlando; July 17-27 at the KC Fringe and July 31-Aug 12 at the MN Fringe.