Sunday’s matinee: 0 critics, 3 Show Score comps, and 27 patrons. A loose and fun show. Laughs were bigger, longer, and often on the set-ups for jokes instead of the punch lines.
Thursday’s count: 1 critic, 1 podcast journalist, 8 Show Score comps, 1 patron. This is based on the midnight Vendini report. We never know early who is coming or who might have gotten tickets from other outlets. There are 2 points in the show where this is a factor. I’ll explain here a bit later.
I’m writing these long things to attempt to answer the questions “what’s your show about” and “how’s it goin’?” My answers are never simple or short. I’m not good at spin or summing it up in a tweet. So…
I first want to thank everyone who has rallied behind this show to celebrate the Dentons!! It has meant a lot to see people galvanize in our funky segment of the industry. Also, I got a message from my Mom about how happy seeing this has made her. She’s recuperating at home in Florida from an operation to give her something of a bionic backbone. So she’s unable to see the show and she’s living a little vicariously through this online adventure. While I sometimes have a quandary about who I am online vs. in real life, the fact that she can read about all this and see that there are truly great and supportive friends here in NYC and elsewhere means a lot to me.
Sunday’s show was different from all the others. I know it’s live theater so it’s always different but this one was our first run of any kind that early. Peter Brook’s actor Yoshi Oida wrote that there is a difference between daytime energy and nighttime energy. Basically, that you have to encounter things in different way. For me, this piece works brain > mouth/voice > body > emotions. Sometimes there is a different order but that’s really how the stuff I make for myself works through me. I wish it were different. I wish it were more Zen and fun. For me, the fun is in the precision and hitting the notes and having the experience with the other performers and the audience work.
What Marisol and I are doing isn’t a tennis match like a traditional play. It’s more like street handball where it goes out, hits the wall, and comes back. The hitting of the wall is what makes it hard to know what will happen so you have to be on your toes. This means I need to run the show before I run the show. Also, I have zero visual memory. I don NOT see lines on the page. I never find lines on a page in my head if things get wonky. I find it in my body. And this ain’t some Meisner/let whatever happens happen kind of show. Running the show helps me get out of work brain or life brain so I can be on top of things. I mentioned to Marisol how when we dovetail certain parts, it really brings it to life. She said she learned to focus on her breath to be ready to jump on the ends of my lines. Waiting for a space to speak or an impulse to feel something before you speak kind of kills this one. But there is also the element of hitting the wall that means the ball isn’t always going to go where you expected.
Plus, I don’t play golf so running lines is a way to fill up my life. Several members of my family play golf and I don’t understand that. I run lines for hours at a time. Not many understand that so it’s cool.
Between the cumulative exhaustion of the last couple of weeks and a less-than-complete night of sleep, I was very tired Sunday morning. So I started the coffee infusion around 9am. This meant 2 rounds from a French press. Not all for me. Aimee got a few sips. Then we took a train down to the East Village where I pondered the stats of people who do hari kari or self immolate due to the slow and poor service of the MTA. I was tempted by the time we hit Chelsea and were waiting again in the station. So we got down there 30 minutes after I would have liked. I downed a sandwich and an Americano (third attempt by the baristas at Coffee Bean, totally nice folks but it was not looking like my day) by 1pm. I hate being a coffee snob but I spend most of my week drinking the free liquid gruel from the dispenser at work so I’ll pay another dollar on weekends to have something that wasn’t brewed a few hours ago.
We hustled to the Kraine to start setting up. We get to get in an hour before curtain. A luxury compared to 15 minutes to set up and get your audience in for most festivals. Some Edinburgh Fringe shows have 5 minutes. Over the course of a day, that can mean squeezing an extra show or two. So having almost 45 minutes before we open the house is almost befuddling. Of course, the time before “places” is called goes much faster than you think. After setting up the space, scanning the house for trash, Manny checking the sounds levels, and finishing any repairs on the set and props, we slip back to the dressing room where Marisol and I will run a few tricky spots where the timing is important. Aimee heads out to the lobby to meet our loving audience plus some of the characters who showed up to see this without knowing why.
On Sunday, I simply didn’t get enough time to run the show for myself before doing it for the audience. I was tired and WIRED on so much caffeine. So I was spazzing out before the show. Marisol, Cilla, and I laughed a lot, which is a great warm-up. Great for the nerves and it warms up the voice. We were in much more of a place to play but did I mention there was a lot of coffee consumed? Marisol and I both thought we were going to need a bathroom break we would not get during the 95 minutes of the show. I have yet to be in a dressing room where that was not a major topic of discussion at some point, if not every night. I think it’s a bonding thing. After the show, Marisol said she was going to run off during one of my monologues.
Suddenly, we get the text for places from Manny to Cilla and off we go.
I immediately invert 3 lines and have to tell myself to slow down mentally until I found my groove. As I said, it was a looser show so in many ways it was an even better show. By the end of 4 shows, you get some idea of the range of reactions you’ll get to things. I think it takes 10 performances to really know a show to the point where you can make micro shifts with real authority. “I kind of lost them here, I’ll make this bigger or I’ll quick pitch ’em on this one.” That kind of thing.
Marisol and I think in similar ways but, as Aimee frequently noted to me during rehearsals, we approached things from opposite ends of the spectrum. I drilled down the lines while she came at things from a place of play and discovery. I think I had a different set of pressures from knowing what the piece means and what people will think. She was more of a tabla rasa. But I maintain she is one of the most talented performers I’ve ever met. People often ask where we found her so I should tell you.
Aimee and I were coming home late one night and right in front of our building we saw this little urchin girl. Aimee said, “Little urchin girl, do you need a play to stay for the night?” And she did. So I cleared a drawer in my dresser. Because she’s so tiny, I was able to put some of my shirts back to make bedding for her. Since she mostly runs on lemonade crystals and raw kale, it didn’t cost much to feed her. Eventually, we became more comfortable with letting her go by herself to play in the park until it was time to put her in a show and let the world see the full-grown woman she has become.
Or, I met her at a Lecoq master class lead by Norman Taylor. One or the other, I get confused.
Either way, she is really great in all of her 26 or so characters. Her Rochelle is delightful and so funny. She crushes it throughout the show. If Keith Moon came back as a female clown, she would be jealous of Marisol.
I’ve had a few people remark that they experienced moments where I dropped away and all they saw was Martin, which is right where I wanted this to land. I don’t want people to forget they are in the theater seeing a play by us but to also have those moments where we whack people out of nowhere. Enough to feel they were in the room for a moment with Martin but also something bigger, which is the world in which we live and toil and struggle and play.
My ideal audiences come in sizes of 25 to 50, 200, or 600. For some reason those amounts form an identity and I know how to deal with them. Below 25 and it’s more like an AA session. Over 50 and the audience doesn’t feel an obligation to be part of this until you hit 200 and again until 600. Beyond 600 and you’re just screaming into Mall of America. This is just based on my experiences and results may vary depending on the conditions in which you are performing. Consult with your doctor to make sure you are healthy enough to get up in front of people and humiliate yourself. Side effects may include writing long Facebook posts because you’ve lost your mind.
We had a bunch of lovely faces in the audience. Our Front Row Brigade was a strong force consisting of Suzanne Bachner, Bob Brader, David Lally, and Steve Lally. Helen Herbert, Sheila Head, and Joanne Dorian were also there. Now I’m going to admit some of my literal blind spots. Part of it is the lights. Part of it is where my mind is in the two real breaks with the audience. I knew Joshua Polenberg and Joseph Franchini would be in the house but 45 minutes in it is hard to remember who I am, let alone anyone else. I saw Joseph in the second row. But he looked a decade younger (still waiting to hear his secret) and I quickly assigned him as being a Joseph Franchini-type in my head. Joshua was probably in front of me the whole time but I didn’t see him. Then I got caught up in an indie theater history exchange with someone near the back talking about a show I didn’t know. Playing Martin, I know he would recall key elements about every show mentioned. So I kick myself for not reading all of nytheatre.com before starting this but then I’d have to start in 2019. Wow, does the future sound like it is so far in the future.
And David Carl was there with a presence like a friendly lion in the smaller bank of seats stage right/audience left. He was leaning forward most of the show and laughing but I kept waiting for him to stand and take over. He’s a master impressionist. Like Dana Carvey-level brilliant.
But near the end, I do something of an 11 o’clock number with the names of venues, companies, and artists that should have been covered in the show but weren’t because we don’t have a 9,000-minute running time. It’s intended to be this nice thing that’s supposed to give a hint to the vastness of the territory so it changes and has been growing each night. It started at zero in rehearsal (“uhh, I’ll add something here”), built up to 12 by tech, and is now around 50. The tricky part is including people in the audience. While I have a great memory for material, I have no visual memory (I close my eyes and only see darkness, my hit rock ballad title) and I have a terrible memory for names. I constantly ask Aimee, “Who’s the guy who played the part of the dude who did the thing in that movie with the stuff?” She thinks I’m getting senile but I’ve been like this since 21. So I blanked on David’s last night. I’m throwing out names of spaces and companies and I start feeling like the tunnel is going to close. “A name. David? Another name. David? More names. David..DAVID? Carl! Don’t yell it. (quietly and gently) david carl. (beat) WHEW!”
My apologies for people waiting after the show. I have a full water bottle just before the show and most of one in the fake break in the middle. Then there’s the breakdown after the show. But I should really just run out and say hello. I know for some people there needs to be that interaction after it. Recognition that in some way we’ve survived. I spoke at length with a playwright I’ve never met named Patrick Thomas McCarthey, who has a play called “Custody” in the Fresh Fruit Festival at the Wild Project this week on Thursday and Sunday. It sounds like a charming comedy.
Aimee and I went with the Lally brothers to McSorley’s where we shared a cheese plate and had one and ones (a light and a dark beer) and talked about flashes of indie theater history and coming to terms with parents living on their own for the first time in decades. Steve gave me a tour of the bar. I’ve only been there once or twice previously. Seems afternoons are the time to go there.
Then I went home and had a bunch of sushi and my first full night’s sleep in months. Then I went back to having 2 or 3 longish naps last night. I can see why famous musicians have doctors to get them up and put them to sleep over the years. I think the nerves and adrenaline has been a bit much.
We’ve had 2 great reviews so far. Love letters really. That has been so rare for me lately. I feel most of my reviews fall more into the “I don’t know what to make of what I saw but I have a deadline so here’s this…” category. I hold on to the hope that we will one day soon get back to the idea of thinking deeply about a show before writing about them in reviews. Since one of them was over 1100 words and the other was so incredibly nice, I shouldn’t complain. But I do wish they could recognize the work Aimee has done on this show. She shaped this thing in ways that made this work when it probably shouldn’t. Since there are so many levels of reality going at the same time, it’s like spinning plates. She made sure they stayed on the sticks. I mentioned this to her this morning and she said she is ok about it because they mention things she did even if they don’t credit her. How incredible is that? I could not ask for a better partner in life and art. Also, she was so great in handling the disturbed person who turned up at our show on Sunday. Chances are good you saw the post. I won’t go over it again as we want to focus on the positive about the show. So this post is my attempt to do that. This neurotic post is the closest thing to a happy stamp you’ll get from me about what I do. 🙂
On my ride into the Clark Kent job this morning I was bummed about taking the train instead of riding a bike but I ran into my friend Chris LaPanta, who is a great actor. We were on the 59th Street platform and we picked up where we always leave off saying we need to have coffee soon and showering each other with grass-is-greener compliments. We were in an indie film about 10 years ago. Since then, he’s been tearing it up in movies and TV while I’ve been doing this self-infliction, I mean self-production thing. He said he read a post about the show and thought it’s just a matter of time before I blow up. And I feel the opposite. He’s going out for great projects and doing things with above-the-title names. And, more importantly, he’s a father. He said, “But you’re **creating** things.” And I’m like, “Dude, I’m losing money like crazy and fighting for every seat. You’re doing what I should be doing!!” I know he’s going to get a big break soon and I’ll get to have Nespresso with him while visiting his big trailer.
I guess it comes down to what you value at the end of the day because you’re here and then you’re not. I’d like to do some things so when people hear my name, they know what it is about and I don’t have to justify it over and over to people who don’t know me. It stinks to spend more than you make on shows. It hurts to get slammed in reviews or comments but 1/3 will love you, 1/3 will hate you, and 1/3 will be ambivalent. On stage or off. It’s rough playing for empty chairs and feeling like you’re going uphill. But the worst part for me is the explaining and the justifying. It was an eye-opening thing to read Wallace Shawn doesn’t tell 7 or 8 out of 10 people he knows that he’s doing a show. Not everyone will like it. It’s the same with what I do. You have to have an open heart and a love for craft and story to like what I do. You also have to like getting something other than what you expected. Most people don’t. Most people get mad that you don’t give them what they thought they were getting. I really don’t see the point in that but what’re you going to do?
I’m not destined to pack Town Hall or Carnegie Hall. If I were a band, I’d be doing the happy hour set at Bar 55, not Madison Square Garden. I’ve been at this thing for over 30 years, 15 in NYC. From an outside perspective, I’m in the same place I’ve always been in. Money goes out and not in. Houses are about the same size. Explaining this doesn’t get easier. Aside from being an NYTheatre.com Person of the Year and a Leading Light of Indie Theater, I’ve had no other awards or recognition. That doesn’t really matter but when I meet people, I’ve noticed it’s gone from “I **think** I’ve heard of you” to literally people saying, “I’ve **never** heard of you.” If I have a style, I couldn’t tell you what it is. I fail at grant or fellowship or residency or other submissions. I may always need a Clark Kent job.
Which brings me back to why I wanted to do this show in that blink of a moment when Martin told us stories I didn’t know last summer. Because he always recognized and understood what I did. His writing and coverage of my work made me feel like I should keep doing this because it has meaning for someone else. Because of that, I can call myself a professional and an artist. Two things I’ve had trouble saying over the years.
I hope this rambling on stage and off is a reminder to others of why we do what we do and everyone connects back to that thing inside that lets them do this for themselves. Because that’s all there really is at the end of the day.