Tuesday, April 07, 2015

The View From Here #166: Winter/Spring, 2015

Well, it’s been all Hamlet, almost all of the time now!

I spent much of January working on Hamlet’s Act III, which is the longest of the five, at least as I’ll be performing them. As with all of my Fringe Festival shows, I’m fighting to keep this show under 60 minutes, which means that Hamlet’s five acts need to AVERAGE 12 minutes each.

Act III checks in at around 18 minutes! But it’s where all the fireworks happen: From “To be or not to be,” to “Get thee to a nunnery, to the “Advice to the Players,” to the crucial play within the play, to the passed opportunity to kill Claudius (“Now might I do it pat”) to the unfortunate killing of Polonius, to the reprimand of Gertrude (“Oh, Shame, where is thy blush?”)… It all kind-of had to BE there in order to tell this story.  (In time since January, I seem to have picked up the pace to get Act III down closer to 16 minutes, so there’s hope.)

I crossed my fingers that Acts IV and V would be shorter.

I paused to do another Pathways Weekend.

"Why so negative, man?"
As I’ve mentioned many times, doing Pathways fifteen years ago gave me the werewithal to realign my goals and priorities to take on the things that I really wanted to be spending my time and energy on, and over a series of deliberate steps, I managed to let go of my day job, and promote my scripts and performances, to the point that on September 5, 2002, I pulled out of the driveway on a tour, with no guarantees of success and a shadowy dread that I would, before long, come crawling back to my day job.

560,000 miles, 500+ performances,150,000+ students, and 7+ one-man plays later,  I seem to still be at it.

Over the years, I’ve gone back to Pathways, giving back for the great things I have received, and getting a renewed focus and energy each time. I signed on as a Group Leader for last January’s seminar.

With this new round of inspiration, I dove into working out of my own apartment, improving my voiceovers, recording my first book for an audio-book audience, chasing down acting and literary agents… and working on Hamlet.

There was a moment of honest inspiration this time around, when I found myself strongly moved by the generosity of the students and the attendees at large, who stepped up enthusiastically to support a friend in need.

Contemplating that discovery (people are genuinely supportive), in light of the new project (Hamlet) and the sticking point that I have found so challenging over the years (working my way out from under all of the production, promotion and travel expenses that my plays have demanded)… and the fact that I was reading Amanda Palmer’s terrific book, “The Art of Asking…”

I realized that amid my determination to make it all happen myself, as a “one-man show,” I was stubbornly holding on to my need to demonstrate that I could do it all by myself… to survive by work ethic and will power, perhaps embarrassed by any need to turn to others. But clearly, over the years of doing this, I had the work ethic and the will power, as well as a “base” of people who actively care whether this work gets done. What I needed was support.

And, as Amanda Palmer points out, amid issues of the modern predicament of downloading and cd burning, the question is not “how to get people to pay for music,” but “how do we let them?”

“The Hamlet Project” became “Something about Hamlet,” which became “The One Man Hamlet,” which became, and now is, “Breakneck Hamlet.” I was facing, once again, all of the start-up costs that come with a new show… Normally, I would throw it all on the credit card and hope to make it up over a year or so of performances.

But, given that I was also working to develop a home base (i.e., maintaining rent for a space that I might actually live in), with no immediate alternate source of income, might there be a way of making this show happen without putting myself in the hole? Might it be possible to actually secure the costume, the production, the promotion, the tour IN ADVANCE? To support the birth of the new show with confirmed resources, rather than doing it halfway, spending as LITTLE as possible on the event?

The vision for the Indiegogo campaign had begun to form, though it wasn’t quite there yet.

Because, I was back on the road!

January 22, I was performing “The Greatest Speech of All Time” for the Georgia Health Care Association. Their Vice President had seen me perform “Criteria” for the Georgia Theatre Conference last fall, and name-tagged me as a "Renowned Speaker."

January 23 I was back in Greenwood, SC, where my good friend, Bess Park was directing my version of “The Learned Ladies,” with a bunch of enthusiastic high school students. I sat in on a rehearsal that night, and another rehearsal and a workshop the following afternoon, pushing the boundaries of many of the stylized performance techniques that I’d been exploring over the years. (I shortened my usual “three second rule” to a “zero second rule,” so that the actors would sharply pivot to look directly out at the audience every time they had a line. I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time!)

Fringe Friend Charlie Bechtel,
who showed up in Greenwood, SC
That night I had a performance of “Moliere than Thou” with a terrific audience, and a really nice reception sponsored by the generous family of one of the actors in “Learned Ladies.”

With a brief break between shows, I zipped down to Florida, visiting with the Pergandes, and my friend, Tisse, enjoying a bit of warm weather.

I was working on a last minute “Romeo & Juliet” project. A woman from Charlotte Latin School had contacted me some three weeks prior to ask if I might be able to do something on “Romeo & Juliet” for her students. The main North Carolina touring Shakespeare troupe had gone out of business, but they had funds set aside for programming in support of R&J, which their students would be reading. By the time I’d be passing through North Carolina, they would be somewhere around Act III in their work. Might I be able to do a performance of material from the first three acts?

The Lava Lamp B&B
Well, I already had Mercutio’s “Queen Mab” speech memorized as a part of “Lot o’ Shakespeare”…

I sat down and edited R&J down to it’s bare essentials, with my usual snarky narrative bridging through the important speeches of the first three acts. My hosts would be forgiving if I carried the script with me for this show, rather than performing “off-book,” and, given that my January assignment (memorizing Act III of Hamlet) was complete already, I gave myself a week to repeat all of this material some nine times a day. I actually had a good grasp on it by the time I performed it, and was able to get my eyes up off of the page for the majority of the show. It was the first time I’d ever done anything in depth with “Romeo and Juliet” and I was seeing it, almost for the first time, not so much for the plot, but for the imagery that saturates the dialogue throughout. I was noticing “star-crossed” themes of stars, light, the sun, the moon, the darkened night, sight and blindness and their relation to love, riddled throughout the play.

It struck me that this was a whole new opportunity: as long as I didn’t have to be word perfect on the dialogue, I might be able to “channel” a dozen or so of Shakespeare’s most in-demand plays, for schools like this, where the curriculum might be centered around “Romeo & Juliet,” or “Macbeth,” “King Lear,” “Midsummer,” “Twelfth Night,” “The Tempest,” “Julius Caesar,” “Measure for Measure” “Much Ado,” or “Shrew…” Of course, “Hamlet” was already well on its way, and I had the “Histories” covered.

"... or we will send Jesus after you..."
Following the performance, I presented to seven classes over two days. The teacher had been vague about what she wanted me to cover in these sessions, but after a little discussion, we went with “Shakespeare Spaghetti,” in which I take requests from the students, and disentangle monologues, illuminating their special challenges, before putting them back together for performance. It made for a fun variety of performances through all seven class sessions, and for just about every session that I performed, some teacher from outside the class seemed to be sitting in to observe. They seemed eager to get me back in again.

The next day I was back to Duke University for a second performance. (I’d performed here perhaps four years prior, with a nice audience and a fun reception following the show.) This time the teacher and the facilty seemed overpressed for time, and while I might get in to set up in advance, I wouldn’t have a technician, and the teacher and her class (of perhaps a dozen) wouldn’t arrive until just before the performance. They did, still, host a bit of a reception, and I secured a glass of wine to keep as a prop, on stage with me, not indulging until the end of the play. It was a quiet crowd, and I was surprised by the enthusiasm they expressed after the show was done. (I generally interpret quiet as discomfort or even hostility.)

21?! How is this possible?
Heading north, I swung through Georgetown, KY, visiting my cousin George, Ann Arbor, MI, catching a movie with my son, Isaac (in anticipation of his 21st birthday!), and continued the race back to Chicago, settling back in, and getting back to work on Hamlet.

Meanwhile, there were some Significant Life Decisions pending…

The opportunity in Annapolis seemed to be less focused on my work as an actor, with very little money to earn once I might relocate out that way. In the meantime, I picked up a new voiceover agency in Chicago, and seemed to be making and reestablishing more connections in that area. Also, I was getting more excited about “Hamlet.”

I made the decision to nix relocation out east, and concentrate my efforts on “Hamlet” and Chicago. And now that I had cleared my decks for the summer ahead of me, there was still time to apply for some of my favorite Fringe Festivals: Kansas City, Minneapolis and Indianapolis, thus premiering “Hamlet” in advance of offering it on the road.

But if I was going to premiere “Hamlet” this summer, following a spring of (purposely) few bookings, would I even be able to afford a costume? Or the Fringe tour? Or the million things that went along with producing a new show? I grew more focused on the Indiegogo campaign, while plotting out yet another tour for the fall…

I’d planned to give myself the month of February to memorize Act IV, and the month of March to memorize Act V. But once I finished my work on Act IV I just kept going, getting all five acts under my belt before February was through, and proceeding to run the entire play on a daily basis.

Getting a play memorized and getting it performance-ready are two very different things. Having “Hamlet” memorized simply meant that I could somehow make my way through it, with a modicum of accuracy, without looking at the script, even if, in those first run throughs, it might take me 70 minutes to make it through a play that I needed to be able to perform, ultimately, in 60. I often tell people that I memorized my first one-man show in about 6 months, but it wasn’t until about 6 months after that when I felt secure performing it. And so, my goal in subsequent productions has been to start that six-month clock ticking as far in advance of the first performance as possible!

With “Hamlet” mostly secure, I directed my energy back onto “Shakespeare’s Histories; Ten Epic Plays at a Breakneck Pace,” which I would be performing March 6 at the Southeast Theatre Conference in Chattanooga.

If my sister ran a donut shop...
But first! My promotional campaign in January had landed me an audition with the Folger Theatre in Washington D.C.! Of course, I’d sent to them while I still had plans for an extended stay in Annapolis this summer, but as one of the premiere Shakespeare companies in the country, I wouldn’t let the opportunity slip past. I plotted out a run-out to the east coast, checking in with the Annapolis Shakespeare Co, as Sally prepared for rehearsals of “Servant,” visiting with my sister, Maureen, and auditioning on March 3 in D.C.

The audition, itself, seemed a bit of a bust. Given that the auditor was not listed as the director of any of the plays in the coming season, and the questionnaire I filled out in advance had queries such as “Would you be willing to understudy, even if not cast?” I realized that exposure and/or income from this particular opportunity would be minimal, at best.

For years I have lectured students about “finding your light,” always using the audition session as my extreme scenario, but since I haven’t auditioned in years, I generally felt like I was mostly inventing the crazy situation where you find yourself auditioning in a darkend room with only a single light giving you perhaps five square feet of viable playing area. Well, that was pretty much exactly what I had to work with at the Folger: it was a conference room with dim window illumination, and only a couple of overhead “can” lights offering little spots of light, only one of which was in any relation to the director’s table.

I did my “Comedy of Errors” monologue right under that light, moving out of it only long enough for Antipholus to say: “They fell upon me, bound me, bore me thence, and in a dark and dankish vault at home, left me, and my man, both bound together, till, gnawing with my teeth, my bonds in sunder, I gained my freedom…” and, finding my way back into the light, I remained there for the rest of the speech.

From D.C., I raced on to Harrisonburg, Virginia, meeting with my costume designer, Kathy Conery (she did the cool “Lot o’ Shakespeare” costume) to talk “Hamlet,” and, from there, worked my way to Chattanooga.

SETC Style Council
It turns out that it was good that I headed out early and traveled the route that I did, as I arrived in Chattanooga from the east at the same time as a winter storm was working its way from the west. My friend and assistant, April, having car trouble, got slammed by the snowstorm, pulling up in a hotel in Kentucky. While she attempted to proceed south the following morning, so many cars and trucks had gotten stuck in the snow, the highway remained impassable, forcing her to head back to Chicago.

It was good to be back at SETC, which I’d missed the year prior, while performing “Scapin” in Michigan. I got to visit with a bunch of old friends, and performed “Shakespeare’s Histories” as part of their fringe festival. The show was very well received by an audience of about 80, and extending the one-man show metaphor, I also passed out programs prior to the start, and sold books as people were leaving. My favorite comment from the audience that night was “After seeing your Moliere play a few years back, I made a promise to myself to never miss a Tim Mooney show…!”

Heading back towards Chicago a few days later, there was very little snow left on the ground, but as I passed through Kentucky, the many broken branches and fallen trees testified to the massive weight of the snow that had descended along this highway!

Following one last performance of “Shakespeare’s Histories” at Lewis University, I put myself full-force into “Hamlet:” now entitled “Breakneck Hamlet,” a nod to the brand that I had begun to establish with “Shakespeare’s Histories; Ten Epic Plays at a Breakneck Pace!” Between that and “Hamlet” and the new “Romeo & Juliet” presentation, the new brand was taking shape as “Breakneck Shakespeare,” which seems to instantly dismiss our greatest fear surrounding Shakespeare: that we will sit there for a long time with very little action.

I engaged Marcus Fernando to do one of his fun photo compilations again, and with my usual illustrator, Lee Rushton, unavailable, I chased down David Jensen, who had done my original “Moliere than Thou” illustration 15 years before, to do a new piece for “Breakneck Hamlet”. (It will make an amazing coffee mug; it reminds me of how I feel just before that first cup of coffee.)

I started an on-line “countdown” on Facebook, putting up sketches and photos as they came in, beginning one week in advance of the anticipated “Indiegogo Breakneck Hamlet Campaign!”

Once I had gone “public” with the plans for the campaign, and a date for it to begin, suddenly, I had to take the launch of the campaign VERY SERIOUSLY! I composed text for the Indiegogo website, and repeatedly edited and re-edited a script for a video in support of the campaign. The video script started out somewhere around ten minutes long, carefully laying out all of the rationale and the need and the benefits of this program, with lots of detail and lots of talk about swag or “perks.” (I hate spelling the word this way, because perqs is actually short for “perquisites,” but I think that people just assume that these are extra things that “perk up” our interest.)

Meanwhile, I was researching successful campaigns, learning that videos really ought not be more than three minutes long. (I continued cutting and cutting, and then memorizing and memorizing…) I learned that the most successful day to start a campaign was on a Monday (when people got back to work with a fresh start), and the most successful day to end was on a Friday (when people got paid).

I was drawing and redrawing the website plans, but was having a hard time “seeing” how it would all look once it was officially launched. I noted that there seemed to be an interim step, where I could put up a draft of the website, and go back and work and rework it before officially setting the campaign in motion. There was a “button” there in the set-up phase that seemed to enable that process.

After much back and forth, I simply could not NOT work any further without seeing what this was going to look like and on Friday, March 13, somewhere around 3 pm, I hit the “LAUNCH” button.

Apparently, the button that I had intended to click was the “PUBLISH” button.

The Perqs are arriving already!
Three days early, the campaign was underway! There was no looking back, and there would be no “getting it right.” If ever I would need to “go with the flow,” this was it. (In fact, the surprise launch was probably going to work in my favor: it gave me a story to tell about this adventure, and underlined the urgency of the event. It also meant that the fundraiser would END three days early, too. So much for wrapping things up on a Friday!)

Of course, if you read my most recent edition of “The View From Here,” you know this already. If not, this might be a good moment to track back to “Issue #165: The IndiegogoCampaign!”

I raced that edition into publication that same night, all the while dashing off e-mails to my most likely and loyal supporters. I believe I was up until about 3 am that night, rather astonished at how quickly the contributions were coming in!

By the time I went to bed that first night, we were just shy of the $1,000 needed to guarantee the design/construction of Hamlet’s costume, and by the time I woke up the next morning, we were there! I recorded a video to commemorate the successful reach of the first goal, and turned my attention to the next major hurdle.

Raising the next $3,500 would not be easy. I had set my easiest hurdle for the opening of the campaign, since the costume was simply something that the show could not be done without. This time, I was taking on Photos, Art, Web Design and Publicity: less “sexy,” but very necessary. I was posting to Facebook repeatedly, creating an Indiegogo Facebook event, to which I could “invite” people, and hitting up good friends and family.

Early on, some $1,600 arrived via “snail mail” from friends who weren’t comfortable posting their credit card info on-line. That gave us a confusion of tallies, with the Indiegogo site reading one total, but with me knowing that we were significantly farther along. By Thursday, March 19, our cumulative total crossed the second goal, and I pulled together another video. (The videos were a further enticement to donate… or at least to keep the narrative going, as I promised to perform another monologue for each goal that we managed to pass.)

And there, the energy dropped…! While the first four days of the campaign had averaged about $800 each day, the second full week of the campaign was almost entirely under $100. (Only on that first day of that week did we reach $115.)

I started transferring over the monies that had come in to the post office, so that the success of the campaign would be reflected in the on-line totals, and potential donors would realize we were on-track to make our goals.

I found that campaigns that do, actually, reach their goals on Indiegogo, get to retain a higher percentage of their donations, which would mean more than $500 going to the cause, as long as we hit that magic number of $11,000.

I was biding my time somewhat, keeping the campaign afloat long enough until that final week, where a sense of “urgency” would once again, push the program forward. There is a clear difference between telling someone that there are three weeks left to contribute vs. ten days, vs. one week, vs. ONE DAY!

And as I post this, we are only SEVEN DAYS OUT from the exciting conclusion! We've leveled off at $7,847 (averaging only $10 over the last three days). Actually reaching our goal remains very much in doubt. The trending lines aren’t good at the moment.

It is still a HUGE success, and I can’t deny that we’re doing MUCH BETTER than I’d dared to hope, but hope is an addictive commodity. Poised, as we are, just shy of the goal, I’m gearing up to take one more run at it, hoping that I haven’t alienated everyone in my address book.

Of course, this is the moment that I turn to you and ask for your support, either by going to http://igg.me/at/BreakneckHamlet with a donation, or sending word to your friends. I do think that we will probably make it… though I don’t know quite how, quite yet.

And, just on the offchance that those last minute donations do push us through Goal #3 (Fringe Festival Tour) and Goal #4 (The Fall School Tour), I have begun work on a new “Stretch Goal,” which is the creation of a book: “The Breakneck Hamlet Companion,” in much the same style as last year’s “Shakespeare’s Histories” book: with script on one side of each page, and discussion on the facing side. Each time I rehearse these lines, I seem to think of new things I want to talk about in such a “Companion” book, and over the weekend, I drew up a bunch of ideas for Act I already. How cool would it be to hit the ground running with a fully produced, publicized, funded and, now, annotated production?

Speaking of hitting the ground running, the new “Swag/Perqs/Perks”, with t-shirts and coffee mugs and sticker that making great use of the new illustration have begun to arrive! These will be popular not only for the fundraiser, but for sale after performances, as well.

AND, not to bury the lede, but, in addition, I’ve begun negotiations with a theatre in Waukegan to host the World Premiere of “Breakneck Hamlet,” this June!

Yes, opening day just crept up about SIX WEEKS EARLIER than planned!

Good thing I’ve been drilling those lines!


Discoveries: People are genuinely supportive. * My need to demonstrate that I can survive by work ethic and will power, cuts me off from the potential of support. * Securing the production needs of the play in ADVANCE of the first performance is a radical idea, whose time has come. * My formula for “Shakespeare’s Histories” and “Hamlet” could be applied to a dozen or so Shakespeare plays, opening up the possibility of many exciting presentations, as long as I let go of the need to memorize each one of them to perfection. * What seems like discomfort or hostility from the stage, may simply be “awe” from the audience. * Getting a play memorized is one thing; getting it performance-ready quite another. * Our mistakes sometimes make great stories, which lead to unexpected success. * Hope is an addictive commodity. * Just when it looks like you could never possibly achieve your goal is when you should figure out what you will do next once you DO.

This blog dedicated to fond memories of Leonard Nimoy and Ernie Banks! I have been and always shall be your friend.

Timothy Mooney Repertory Theatre Tour Schedule

(Available dates in CAPITAL LETTERS; Already-booked dates in GREEN; Pending bookings in BLUE; Festival opportunities in RED)
MTT = “Moliere than Thou”; LoS = “Lot o’ Shakespeare; GSAT = “Greatest Speech of All Time”

SUMMER, 2015
7/16-26   Kansas City Fringe Festival
7/30-8/9  Minnesota Fringe Festival
8/13-23   Indy Fringe Festival

FALL, 2015
9/1-4    ILLINOIS
9/17     Snow College? (LoS)
10/9-10  Laredo Community College? (Hamlet & Criteria)
10/14   Texas Wesleyan University (MTT)
11/19-20  Southern Illinois University (MTT)

11/23-12/4  ILLINOIS