Sunday’s show: Martin Denton, Rochelle Denton, and 27 patrons.
Thursday’s show: 6 pre-sales (according to the Vendini report).
Who knew Martin Denton would attract so many two-timers? There have been 4 people who have seen Martin Denton, Martin Denton twice as of Sunday. One person just texted me and said, “If I could squeeze yours in again, I would.” I took that in the spirit it was intended. And about the show. We will have one person who will see the show a third time this Sunday! A teacher once said you shouldn’t try to get everyone to like your work. The trick is to get those who do like what you do to become rabid about you. This experience is the closest I’ve come to doing that.
Catching up a little, Thursday’s show was **insane** so anything after that would be a step down. Friday was an expected drop in response. Attentive and chuckling, but no rolling responses. Friday audiences are usually a little more wilted or reserved until you get to about 9pm and they’ve had a chance to unwind/recover/imbibe/sugar up. People are a little stressed or run down at the end of the workweek and the Friday evening commute is usually extra aggressive and nutty. The weather on Friday was not great. It was hot and muggy. So half the audience looked like they needed to be put in the crisper drawer in the fridge.
We crossed the two-thirds mark this weekend. Doing this show is getting easier and easier. It’s like increasing your distance when running. At some point you realize you’ve passed a mile marker you had trouble reaching previously and you aren’t breathing that hard. With the quieter shows, I have to tell myself to breathe when Marisol is talking. The timing is different. Laughs coming in different places. Get back to the story, don’t gloss over things, and let moments land. Allow people come to this from where they are as opposed to expecting them to be like the other night. Don’t take it personally. Based on conversation with people after the show, it seems to have special meaning for them. “I was at ________ with _________.” “You should have been there when ____________.” But especially, “I used to do shows at _______________. Just hearing that name brought tears to my eyes.” One woman who is not in the theater told a friend of mine that she thought the show was about “how life is pre…” before she could finish the word “precious” she was in tears.
Someone I greatly admire as an actor and playwright and person was on the front row on Sunday. He was in tears before I got to the part where I usually get choked up so I was rolling and had to hold back. Another one for the not normally like this books. Saturday night, I cried pretty hard because one line that is meant to be very sincere was met with some laughs and I held a longer until it died down. I sit down on the couch shortly after that and a couple tears went flying in archs through the stage glasses (no lenses) and onto the floor. Gielgud said that many thoughts go through your head on stage and that the trick is to know which ones to listen to. My next thought was “Ref! There’s some sweat on the court. Get some towels. Somebody’s gonna get hurt!” Something we’d say in middle school when someone fell down in gym class. I don’t know why we started doing that. Some guy just started saying that and it became a thing. I was in the pip squeak/remedial section of the gym class. I didn’t know that was still rolling around in my head.
People kept asking prior to Sunday if I was nervous about performing for Martin. Since I’ve done the “Alphabet City” project at the Metropolitan Playhouse a couple of times, where you interview people and perform 20-minute verbatim monologues as them, I’m used to performing as real-life people in front of them and their friends. That combined with knowing that Martin has read the script several times, I wasn’t worried or nervous about Sunday. I was expecting more folks to show up just to say hello to him, but it was a nice crowd and they responded warmly throughout the show. Guy Yedwab from the League of Independent Theater presented Martin and Rochelle with Leading Lights of Indie Theater Awards. Rochelle exclaimed, “Martin said yesterday that he was looking for a reason to make a frame and now he has one.”
One couple flew from Arizona to see the show and took the Dentons to lunch. I have a friend coming from Virginia on Sunday. We’ve become a destination show. Someone tell NYC & Co. that I want my cut.
We got to have a nice meal with the Denton clan at B Bar after the show. They told us how much they enjoyed the show and what we did with it. Seems like we met expectations with them. Rochelle pointed out that the color of shirt I am wearing in it is not one Martin would wear. We have different coloring so he would never wear a shirt like that. That makes me happy because it’s like a great metaphor for how we went about creating this show and these characters. It’s an interpretation, not a replication. That gives us space to play.
Rochelle knitted a nice scarf for me as a gift. Martin looked very relaxed. Like a couple years had melted from his face. Living in Jersey seems to be good for you. There always is that nice 12-year-old delight ready to ignite on his face and it did several times as we talked about so many things. I must admit I also watched how he gestured with his hands to see if I come close in the show.
I’m going to say I do my own flavor. I do what Aimee called “inflating the beach ball” during rehearsals. Kind of swelling with both hands in front of me. I also cast a spell with an invisible wand from 11 o’clock to about 2:30 or 1 o’clock to 10:30. Martin does something that is more like giving a salt shaker a small toss over his shoulder when making a point about something he likes. Not exactly, but it is close. I also stand with my weight on my back foot. I had to find a way of doing that without seeming like I’m in a period play or a Three Musketeer. And I clasp my hands under my belt buckle. Martin does not really do any of those things but they are things that help me feel like I have his spirit and energy. I also feel more grounded with my weight on my back foot and my hands clasped. Maybe it helps my energy make a circuit through the floor and back up to me again.
We are extremely grateful our little indie theater show is getting the attention it has. Three cheers for Emily Owens, who is an amazing PR person for making this happen! Reviews, interviews, and a podcast! There are so many other shows out there and I know many people who can go their whole careers without so much as a mention in some of these outlets. So in that regard, no matter what is written or said about the show I have planted a flag and declared victory!! I go back to when I was 16 and driving to Parker News & Tobacco in High Point, NC and buying copies of NYC papers and reading about the arts happening in a world seemingly planets away. Life isn’t exactly what I imagined back then but it’s not far off from it.
We’ve had some GREAT reviews and a couple not-so-nice ones. Look, some people do things differently and they have their own ways of encountering things. And as the artist you are kind of powerless to say or do anything about it. You can complain about it but you look like a sore loser or thin-skinned. You have to react like you are in a fourth-wall show while dealing with a difficult person in the audience by largely ignoring it until it passes and putting your attention elsewhere. On your breath, on your objective, on your scene partners, or on your own enjoyment of the experience.
I have known reviewers and critics at many levels. Most I have met are indeed incredibly nice, smart, and funny people. Like wickedly funny! I hold no animus towards reviewers, even ones who rip me a new one. I was actually surprised that I really haven’t had anything really negative said about me for this show. Maybe I have but I have chosen to look for the positive regardless.
I’m not going to dig specifically into things in the reviews with which I disagree or that I think missed the point. I’m not going to say bad things about any of the reviewers for doing their job how they saw fit to do so. Everyone is entitled to have their own (sometimes weird) opinions or to willfully ignore or misinterpret the central ideas of a piece of art because those ideas do not jive with what they think should happen or how the world should be. I’m NOT saying they all do this. I’m NOT saying the ones who do are ones who do it regularly.
We all occasionally say and do bad or strange things, including myself. So I will address a couple things that surprised me and struck me as strange. The first was shoehorning parts of the show that are obviously fictional and used as a joke to make a point in the review that’s taken out of context and as written as though they actually happened is kind of odd. That happened twice by two reviewers. Both were meta-jokes that always get laughs during the show so I wouldn’t think they would be taken as anything but that.
And then there was something I worried about a little going into this little indie theater project but then assumed that maturity would prevail and told myself I was being silly. I’m willing to admit that I might be reading into things but am going to say this anyway. It seems there is some negativity or jealousy floating from a couple people because a little indie show is being done about a reviewer who isn’t them or they are in disagreement with Martin’s philosophy on reviewing. And because of that, they think I should have been rougher in my treatment of Martin.
The gift for me from this is that it forced me to check in with the reasons why I created this show in the first place and why I made Martin the subject of a show and whether, on those terms, this succeeded.
The difference with Martin and some other critics or reviewers is that he was a CHAMPION OF THE WORK above all else. Many people put reviewer or critic at the top of the list of the many jobs he did–editor, publisher, blogger, podcaster, and reviewer. That CHAMPION OF THE WORK is not at the top is absurd to me. That anyone has an issue with that is silly to me. That this has to be explained to people, especially ones in this industry, is unfortunate. For everyone. It means there is something off about our world. I’m totally serious on this point. Reviewing, like acting, can be done with different approaches. If all reviewers were alike, the world would be a duller place.
People talk about conflicts of interest when a critic knows or even has a passing acquaintance with someone involved in a production. “Of course __________ gave __________ a good review, she knows her.” But is it not a worse conflict of interest to review work by someone or about something or in a style you don’t like or don’t think is worthy of a review? I think that clouds judgment even worse and it is far more damaging to the artists, the readers, and the world. But I suppose it makes the critic seem more legit to themselves and to some readers. I would cite the viral review of Guy Fieri’s Times Square restaurant. It has some funny turns of phrase but I tried reading it several times and gave up after a paragraph each time because it was not cool. People have to go to work there. And like TGIFriday’s, people do enjoy going there to eat. You may not like or understand that but that is the reality.
Those people deserve to eat where they want. Just like some people deserve to see and enjoy theater that I don’t find worth my time. At some point I learned I don’t think like everyone else and should not expect them to think like me. I cannot speak for everyone else, especially in terms of my opinions.
Go back and read Martin’s reviews. He did not **rave** about everything. He did not check his brain at the door once he went to the theater. But he did take into account how difficult it is to put the work up and he recognized the potential for artists to grow, which I find interesting because he was not a theater practitioner before he started reviewing. He was always a theater enthusiast. He gave an appreciation of the work because he understood that it didn’t make itself and he wasn’t classist about it.
By the way, want to save American Theater? Stop being so classist on stage and off. Being classist doesn’t make you smarter or a better person. I’m not talking about taste. I’m talking about classism. The thing that is fundamentally rotting theater everywhere. Tell me any other issue destroying the theater and I will draw you a direct line to classism.
If things don’t change, you will only get theater by rich people for richer people. Theater, like food, should be by and for everyone. I stopped eating at McDonald’s but I don’t fault people who do. For some people that is actually a big night out and it makes them happy. It used to make me happy. Aimee said our indie theater show is a vegan food truck and I like that. It’s not for everyone.
Are you going a little nuts from the awful discourse in the news and the world? I know I am. A world fueled on snark, insults, and attacks. Martin gave us something that was outside of all of that. I did not agree with every assessment he made about shows I also saw but I respected his philosophy and point of view. And when I wrote my reviews for nytheatre.com, it made me dig deeper for something beyond the easy first thoughts.
It almost seems that being open-minded and appreciative is an act of rebellion in this day and age. People are in a defensive posture. Like you might seem weak if you are not inflicting harm.
My question to those who disagreed with Martin’s philosophy of appreciating shows, instead of insulting them or telling artists how to fix things, is if they noticed that the work over the last two decades become weaker or worse because of his coverage? Do you think any artist ever thought, “Oh, I **don’t** have to put out my best effort because Martin will love what I do, no matter what, and I’ll become rich and famous.” If so, have you noticed the quality of the work across the city has become markedly better since he stopped reviewing? I certainly don’t think so. If anything, I would say those coming up have probably had a rougher go of things in the concrete wilderness and the gene pool will not be as diverse. They don’t have the chance to find their voices and build up their scar tissue to deal with things.
Also, I did not realize I would have to explain the title of the show to people. But I will. Originally, the idea was to submit this play for this summer’s FringeNYC. If accepted, I could only imagine people talking about the show and saying, “I’m going to see ‘Martin Denton, Martin Denton.’” “Have you seen ‘Martin Denton, Martin Denton’?” It would get people to say his name over and over. Hundreds or thousands of people saying “Martin Denton, Martin Denton.” If I just called the show “Martin Denton” people would be really confused. While the Fringe is on hiatus this year, it is still fun to say the title of the show. Michael Birch used it as a warm up for the last show we did together. “Martin Denton Martin Denton Martin Denton Martin Denton Martin Denton Martin Denton Martin Denton Martin Denton Martin Denton.” I do that sometimes with the hardest line in the show for me to say “My father is a statistical psychologist in the Census Bureau while mother runs a ceramics business from our home.” Give it a try.
All that said, we are deeply grateful for the attention this show has had. We have 4 more performances and then, like Brigadoon, it will vanish into the ether. I hope people will come with their friends and colleagues. It is a solidly good show that does bring up conversations and memories. You may hate what I do or how the show is done but you will walk away with a real sense of something. I also am hoping the household name (in houses with subscriptions to American Theater Magazine), who PM’d me and said he “might try” to come to this actually does. I have learned that the moment someone uses the word “try” in any tense (might try, will try, gonna try, am trying) or any variation of “I’m seeing if I can come” means they like me but they don’t have the heart to say to my face they would rather not. There is also the awkward “when is it?” as a device to wiggle out of seeing something. For me success isn’t money or fame. Success is not having to justify what I am doing and having more I-already-got-my-tickets-I-can’t-wait responses than the when-is-it-again-I’m-gonna-try-to-make-it ones. By extension, success is when people tell other people they are sorry they missed your show. “I can’t believe I missed that show. I knew I should have postponed that open-heart surgery.” Rather than, “I’m gonna try to make your next one. I promise.”