Bastille Day MDMD update

Last night’s show: 1 reviewer, 1 podcast dude, 5 Show Score comps, 42 patrons. Overwhelming show. I’m still beside myself.

Tonight’s show: 0 reviewers (as far as I know, NYT is coming at some point), 7 Show Score comps, and 2 pre-sales (based on the report from Vendini).

Marisol was good enough to meet me for a pick up in the afternoon. She left to get in a nap. Actually, now that I think about it, running the show late night might help my occasional insomnia.

I got to the Kraine just before call to set up. Tim Nolan was on the steps reading a book and I made a joke about how he was like Mick Jagger in “Waitin’ on a Friend.”  Before adding that the video was shot next to Horse Trade’s other theater Under St. Marks and then kicking myself for not working that song into show somewhere because it’s like the perfect song for this show.

I’ve been experiencing a lot from this show and it’s been drawing a lot out of people. Last night was our first night back after a few nights off and it was completely different from any previous night. I finished the end of the pre-show thing Aimee devised and I got a round of applause like I was making an entrance on Broadway. I am trying hard to remember but I don’t I’ve ever had entrance applause in my life. There’s been applause because the show is starting, especially outside of New York, but never just for me standing in front of people. It was like being a waiter getting tipped before he even passes out the menus and asking if anyone wants a drink to start.

This was the first of a couple hundred things that were unlike anything else for me last night. It was a very smart and experienced crowd last night. Many times the set-ups were getting the bigger jokes and punch lines were more like tags as they say in stand-up. The laughs, the applause out of nowhere, the gasps, the groans, the sighs, and the rolling responses that were a mix of these things were tremendous and powerful. This audience brought it.

When you are used to doing the equivalent of panhandling the audience for a response–any response–like I am, getting showered like this is like winning the lottery from a scratch ticket you found on the ground. I didn’t do anything to get it and it is getting spent quickly. I have to prepare myself for it being much quieter tonight. There’s no way another audience could top that.

There were a number of friends and colleagues in the house so it was like a bit of a reunion. I wish I could magically generate a diagram of the people who were there and how they relate to me and each other through shows. However that works out, all connections go back to Martin. A couple people have said they expected to see him after the show. One even said, “Oh, you’re back to being Chris. I was expecting to talk to Martin.” And added, “Was he here tonight?”

There were so many people I know from around and on Facebook who were there seeing our work for the first time. The indie theater equivalent of hosting the Oscars. Even though we are connected, it seemed like this really brings home how Martin was the crossroads for many of us. Because of him, we weren’t screaming into the wilderness.

I had a legit, straight-up out of body experience at one point during the show. And everyone saw it because I could not hide it. If I had my wits about me, I would have said, “I’m having an out of body experience.” But there’s a funny thing about out of body experiences. You don’t have your wits about you. The person in the audience having a great time singing the theme to “Jeopardy” didn’t help. What triggered it? Not sure. It happened right after the name of the site nytheatre.com is mentioned for the first time in the show. And it was like I was sucker punched. But I got back on track when I was reminded about what I had just said about the name of the site. I then spent the next 10 to 15 minutes having to tell myself it’s ok. I’m Chris Harcum. I’m on stage. This is a show in the Kraine on a Thursday night. Little things to keep me grounded in my body. Meanwhile, I’m having to do a couple other characters, especially Martin, and zip to several other locations in imaginationland.

Al Pacino says doing live theater is like walking a tight-rope without a net and I fell. Fortunately, someone gave me a hand to get me back to my feet. I climbed back up several stories and continued to finish the walk that also includes a trapeze act with the very talented Marisol.

Beyond that, my goodness, that was one of the best shows I’ve had in forever. I hope it continues to build as more people get the people with whom they are connected to take a chance on seeing this. I wanted to do something big-hearted and that inspires people to keep going. Something about love. But something different. Last night, it worked. I mean, I know there are some people who probably hated this, hated me, and kind of pissed I didn’t make this about them. And I hope someone hugs it out of them. I did what I could for as many as I can with this thing.

So many incredible people there last night. I’ll give a round up of everyone soon but I need to get back to some other stuff before tonight so I’ll shout out one person who was there and is mentioned in the show and one who knows me from waaaaay back. The first was someone who was in the production of “Horse Country” at the Theatorium that is mentioned in MDMD. There was a certain show in that Fringe that made its way to Broadway that was also in that fringe venue that summer. He said that was the show that was always annoying them with their warm-ups. Thinking about that makes me laugh more each time. The other person was Sara Thigpen, who went to undergrad at UNC-Greensboro with me. I was in the first show she did in college. So, if you need dirt on me, Sara is the one to get it from. But talking with her after the show was amazing. Like a cousin you haven’t see since elementary school and seeing that we’ve grown up.

I got to hang out and debrief with Lauren Arneson, Robby Gonyo, Erez Ziv, and a few others. We have a round after the show inside the theater because there’s a bar and it puts some more moolah towards Horse Trade and the Kraine. So if you want to see me after the show, please know I’m stuck there. Also, we have to get out at 9:30pm for other shows so it’s a quick one. Please tip your bartender.

The other crazy things I can’t begin to process are the tips at the end of the night. Seriously. I’ve had a dozen or so people buy me a drink after a show (half in Edinburgh because that’s the culture) but never given a tip. I won’t say names because I don’t want them to feel exposed but I want to thank them. One gave a cash donation last night. Another a bottle of Hendrick’s gin. A third went to our site to donate online. Of course the system is down so I called the company and the woman on the other end said, “Oh, Elephant Run District. It’s so great talking to you. That’s the coolest name for a charity I’ve ever heard.”

I wrote last night that we got a standing O. I can’t remember the last time that’s happened. I went backstage and teared up at that.

I am overwhelmed by the posts from people today. I wish I had Daniel Talbott’s gift of articulating gratitude. It’s so much that I’m just hitting the love button over and over. I guess that’s the thing at the end of this. I made a show about a guy who loves theater and I’m feeling love come to me in the theater in a way I haven’t since before I went to college for it. And I’m trying really hard not to shut down with it or insult myself through it to soften the affects of it or to joke it off. That’s incredibly difficult.

I am so incredibly and deeply grateful.

July 11 MDMD update

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.

July 9 MDMD update

Last night: 3 critics, 8 comps, and 30 patrons. A really solid night with some new things and laughs in different places. Marisol, Manny (SM), Cilla (ASM), and I are getting really good at timing things and playing off each other.

Today’s 2pm: 3 comps and 5 patrons. Slightly worried in that last confirmed what I thought about the show before we had audiences. It’s built to play for the kind of gene pool we had last night. Some serious indie theater vets, some indie theater newbies, some people who just appreciate theater, and some jaded bastards (don’t think I don’t see you, I’m talking to you most of the 90 minutes).

Unlike the first 2 performances, last night’s audience came in like a stove that needed the pilot light replaced. I think it’s partly the change from being in the hot weather, dealing with an awful ride on the MTA, and coming into a dark and cool theater. It took a little longer to get them there. But they did and it built and built and built so that by 10 minutes in, it was us AND them.

I was a little angry off the bat. Someone on the front row had her feet on the stage and she was texting away on her phone. I feel like all the energy of the room went into her phone until she put it away. Were this one of my solo shows, I would have made that a bit but I was playing Martin and he’s much more live and let live than me on stage. But, please, if you come to the show, listen to the announcement and turn off your devices. It is a distraction to everyone.

I was completely touched by the people who turned out last night. Brad Burgess, Bruce and Joan from Ego Actus, Sean Williams, Tim Sutton and Lloyd Fass from my Core Theatre Co days, Chad and Carrie from Hook & Eye, Joanna Parson (the show’s transcriptionist extraordinaire), AL Pearsall, Alex Orthwein, and people I didn’t know. I like people I don’t know, especially when they are well-behaved and attentive. They usually don’t have as much of a guard up. Even the native New Yorkers, who have resting “I’ve seen it all” face seemed to warm to this.

With so many critics there, I wondered a bit of how the part in the middle where Martin gives his philosophy on reviewing would go over with them. No spoilers but it’s probably the opposite of what a lot of critics think or things the newer ones have not considered. It seems to have landed OK with the reviewer from Broadway World, but I can only imagine I will get creamed for that by someone. I have money on the reviewer who came on Friday, but I’m hoping to be surprised. I must say that I don’t care because it is one of the many things that needs to be said in this.

We ran a couple minutes longer than we did the previous night. We had bigger reactions and we restored a few lines that were dropped. When we hit page 44 of 56, I know I have to pump it up a little bit because I can feel brains are getting full and I’m running on less than a quarter of a tank. Last night, I dreamed one of the audience members on the third row gave me notes about what worked or didn’t work. It was largely about how I live my life so I won’t get into it here. But one note was about a moment near the end of the show that he said didn’t work. I completely disagreed but wrote the note down anyway.

After the show, Brad Burgess gave me a big hug and said how much needed this show. I get hugs a lot but when Brad hugs you, it’s like the spirits of all his ancestors are going through you. Joanna told me how having done the most “drudge-y” part of the work of this, she didn’t know how we’d make a show out of the material but we did and it works. Our great sound and lighting guy Matthew had the same reaction. “It’s an actual show.” Alex Orthwein said how it’s not a traditional sort of play. How this show is about a good guy who has to deal with life. He’s one of several people who said he hopes this could move. Now, people have said that to me after shows before but it’s usually a way to avoid talking about the weather when trying to break through the awkwardness. But it’s different with this one. Based on a comment about how this is for New Yorkers who love theater, I think it might do well at 59E59. But they’ve never warmed to me. We’ll see what happens.

What’s nice about a 7pm show that stikes and is out of the space before 9pm, is you can go out a little and still get home at a decent hour. Aimee and I went out with Chad and Carrie after and solved the world’s problems at an outdoor table at Stillwater. What we can do to preserve spaces, how we can generate audiences, breaking through terrible Facebook algorithms and useless sponsored posts (Chad: Just write a long whiny post and you jump to the top of people’s pages), and why we do this crazy thing. A bunch of delightfully kooky East Villagers passed by. A big Citibike truck stopped to get broken bikes and put out fresh ones. Aimee said something funny while Carrie was sipping water and she had a spit take to her left. Into the pelvic area of the guy walking by. He did not slow down and kept going across 2nd Ave.

Around the time we were wrapping up, a guy in shorts and no shirt ran up near us and got a Citibike from the dock. He seemed crazy. He was grunting and started towards traffic. Then he went up the stairs to the Kraine with the Citibike where someone was holding the door open for him. We breathed a sigh of relief realizing it was a Neo-Futurist doing something for “Infinite Wrench.” Great idea for one of their 30 plays in 60 minutes. Based on the time of it, it must have been near the end of the night. The deus ex bike machina.

Off to our first matinee…

July 8 MDMD update

Last night’s house = 13. 4 patrons, 5 comps, a critic, our house manager, and the director. Still, a great show.

Tonight’s house = 3. ZERO patrons and 3 critics. Jose Solis / Talkin Broadway, Michael Sommers / Village Voice, David Kaufman / Theater Scene. It’ll be like a 90-minute audition for drama school. One that isn’t taking on any new students. Well, maybe one, if you’re really lucky.

I’ve never been in a show where the pre-show buzz is so good but the sales are so bad. People from whom I have not heard in decades are messaging me about how excited they are for this show. Each time I bump into people in real life they tell how excited they are for this show. Whenever we post about the show there are often several comments from people telling how excited they are for the show. I’ve never done a show where so many people use the word “excited” to describe their feelings about it.

Not sure what we need to do to get people to come. My close friends tell me not to worry. That people wait to the last minute to get their tickets.

Erez pointed out that I’m not famous and the show isn’t about sex or beer. But we do serve beer in the theater. Right there in the audience. And they take plastic. I will not become famous by 7pm tonight and the show isn’t going to be changed to be about sex.

I can’t think of a subject that would be of more interest to people who see or do this work.

Last night one of the Show Score comps seemed to love the show. I know because she was the only person on the front row. She sat with her feet on the stage and smiled up at me all night. Whenever I looked back I smiled on the inside while I thought about the story of Katharine Hepburn stopping in the middle of a play, walking downstage, kicking a person’s legs, and saying, “Don’t you ever put your feet on my stage again!” before walking back up to her spot and resuming her dialogue. The SSC spoke with Aimee after the show and said she went expecting it to be a one-person show about a critic reviewing plays in front of the audience. She said both performers were good enough to do a solo show and that while she really enjoyed the show, she isn’t sure what she is going to tell people. It wasn’t what she expected.

I didn’t think this is what we’d be dealing with but ok.

Fortunately, we also had Barry and Catherine from Peculiar Works Project serving as Captains of the Audience. Laughing where the laughs are and helping the audience understand what they are seeing. We went out after the show and had a great time sharing stories. They have lived alongside a lot of the history in this. This is more of what I was expecting. This is what it was designed to do.

I know it’s been 4 years since I’ve created a piece like this. A generation and a half of indie theater people has turned over in that time. I know I’m not famous. I have about 12 people who come to see anything I do. Plus about 100 people who follow what I am doing online and tell me how great it is without experiencing it in person. I’ve gone from being a critic’s darling to dividing critics. I think I took a hiatus to figure out the missing ingredient. It wasn’t until this week that I figured out what it is. Part of it is explained in the show. Part of it was in the doing of the show. The joy of embracing life no matter how busy you are or what is thrown in your way. That isn’t going to translate to people showing up tonight.

Other than that, the show is going great. We’ve had one boisterous audience and one intimate audience. Marisol and I are having a great time performing this either way. I had a couple wordburgers last night but in the course of 90 minutes with my foot on the pedal, that’s bound to happen. A friend playing Hamlet years ago described it as the demon coming up in a different place each night. Last night, my line “You are like Daniel Day-Lewis in this character, you do not stop. Sir!” Came out “Robble robble de Lewis.Comma splot sir!” A little unfortunate but a sign of relaxing into the piece. They say don’t go on stage with animals or babies. Well, she’s like a cheetah. She said I’m like a laser last night, despite mouth meltdown I just described. Maybe if we add some Pink Floyd we could sell the laser and cheetah show.

I’m going to go to the gym and rest for most of the day so I can be ready to give what I can tonight to whoever turns up. Or not.

The exterminator provided by the building’s management just came for the monthly application of whatever it is that comes in the tube they squirt into the hinges of the cabinets. “I just need you to spell your last name for our records.” “Har…cum.” “M, sir?” “Ehmmm, yes.” That look came over his face I’ve seen often since middle school where they think I shouldn’t go around with a name like this or I should at least add the missing letter “d.”

Maybe if I did, it would sell more tickets.

July 7 MDMD update

We had a great opening night last night and I don’t take that lightly. Good crowd, great reactions, and wonderful conversations after the show. But there’s more and most of it is internal.

I’m in that place of peace where you know you’ve achieved most of what you want to get out of a piece…before the reactions and reviews really change the piece on a cellular level for better or worse.

We pack a lot into this 90 minutes and it is a real slalom course. I like giving myself something that’s slightly beyond what I think I can do. It forces me to be in it as much as I can. This certainly does that. Marisol, who is one of the funniest and most talented performers I’ve ever seen and is tremendous in this show, has said more than once this week, “This is kind of a BEAST, Chris Harcum.” And, well, she’s right. She has the physical aches and I have that special sprained tongue-and-brain combo for which there is no ice pack to help. That said, it is a deeply joyful show to do.

There’s also the feeling that I don’t want it to be over, even though it just opened. Productions are like life sometimes. You have all the time in the world…until you don’t.

I’ll be honest, this was not an easy thing to create. Mostly because of life and the world getting in the way. I started on this when the election was getting to a fever-pitch and then we somehow went into a weird vortex where I must keep telling myself this is just an episode of “The Twilight Zone” and eventually we will move on to another reality. I also came down with a case of vertigo around the holidays that last just over a month (MRI showed no signs of anything wrong, possibly a viral infection) at the same time tectonic shifts started at my Clark Kent job that continue to rattle the walls. In essence, I haven’t felt like I’ve had ground under me since last summer. The Buddhists say the true nature of life is groundlessness but they can kiss my ass about that right now. 

Over tech weekend, we found out about a young and talented member of our company who has been hospitalized with a serious condition. Aimee and I saw him recently on what turned out to be a very bad day in his life and at the end of it he said, “I’m coming to see your show.” In that way only he can, full of light and spirit. Almost like it was a dare. We saw him a couple weeks ago in his show and he lit up the room again. He got his Equity card from that show. Things were looking up. A post he wrote a week later said, “Got the best news today. Look at God.” I tell myself we have to do the best we can with this show in his honor because I can’t process what is happening with him otherwise.

Then there was just facing this piece. THE RESPONSIBILITY OF IT. It’s Martin Denton’s life and work, for crying out loud. Plus I kept thinking about the actor screwing in the light bulb joke (“I could do it better if I were given the role”) and subbing in playwrights on that joke (“I could win more awards if I were given the commission”).

For some reason, there was this heavy duty emotional baggage for me as well in making this. Looking back over this time for Martin, I was coming to terms with a mix of not feeling like I’ve accomplished as much I’d like and a major dose of survivor’s guilt. Maybe I’ll figure that out in the fall after this is done. But this piece was something of a return for me. I had been doing a lot of stuff but hadn’t created something like this since 2013. I needed a break from theater and was playing around with stand-up and improv, as well as taking acting classes and wasting money on One on One sessions that got me nowhere except frustrated and full of humble pie.

Aimee did so much to make this a real piece of theater. It was not easy, I know. I deeply appreciate her sacrifice and willingness to go along with this no matter how impossible it seemed. In addition to shaping this, she went above and beyond in terms of doing things outside of her job description. Each time we seemed to have something figured out it changed. It was just one of those processes where nothing was really simple. Her big heart pumps through this whole thing. I count my lucky stars that I have her as my partner in life and art.

Because of the timing of this thing, we did this without a fundraising campaign and were rejected for two grants. There’s a perception that we’ve already sold out the run from some and we are far from that. For now. But all of that’s OK because I truly and fundamentally believe in the strength of this piece. The story is one that needed to be told and there is no better time to tell it.

So doing this play represented something for me. A homecoming. That’s what I felt last night. Something in me shifted. That is the reward for putting in hundreds of hours to make this. And not giving up.

Martin Denton, Martin Denton in July

MDMD postcard

I’m so excited this show is happening in July at the Kraine Theatre! I got to work directly with Martin on creating this piece. You can read a bit about the process on Adam Szymkowicz’s excellent blog. Martin gives his thoughts on being the subject of this on his blog. I am so glad he has trusted me with his story.

I’m getting to work with some of my favorite people. My partner in life and art Aimee Todoroff is directing. The very wonderful clown Marisol Rosa-Shapiro will join me onstage to bring all the characters to life. Matthew Fischer will be doing our sound and lighting designs. Frequent ERD collaborator Barbara Davidson will be doing the costumes and Manny Rivera will be the stage manager. I’m so happy to work again with Emily Owens as our press rep.

What will the show be like? Well, I like to describe it as what might happen when a comedy double act does a storytelling slam. Marisol and I will be playing Martin Denton and Rochelle Denton, who are going to be playing the other characters. (I once worked with a lighting designer who said he stopped counting the levels of reality in something I wrote when he got to five before the end of the first page. I think I keep this one down to only three or four.) It is set the week when they moved out to New Jersey in the fall of 2014.

It won’t be a documentary of theater in the last 20 years, though some of that will be covered in this. The good people at Decades Out have already been working on the definitive doc on downtown NYC theater. It also won’t be an evening of impersonations.

This will be a piece of theater that tells Martin’s story. There will be some allusions to Thornton Wilder’s Our Town for reasons that are explained in the show as well as some inside jokes and a few indie theater tropes layered throughout.

My 15th anniversary in NYC is coming up this August. It is amazing to me how much the city has changed in that time. That’s the length of five generations in theater years! One thing that remained reliable through most of that time was Martin Denton. For people who know him, I hope this will bring up good memories. For those who don’t, I hope this will give you an idea of the impact of his work.

It runs July 6 to 23. Tickets are $20 and $25. You can get more details on the Elephant Run District website. Or, you can go ahead and order your tickets here.

Circling Back with LIT

Guy Yedwab and I were invited to talk about the League of Independent Theater at Articulate Theatre Company‘s event at the The Theater Center to honor the impact and many contributions made by Circle Rep. and its members. So many incredible people were there. It was a real honor getting to share with them what the League does. Our complete speech is below the picture. I was happy with how we could earn so many laughs and applause breaks talking about arts advocacy!

Big thanks to Cat Parker for having us there with Jeff Daniels, William Mastrosimone, William Hoffman, A.R. Gurney, Marshall W. Mason, Lou Liberatore, Glenn Alterman, Dennis Parichy, John Lee Beatty, Chuck London, Jennifer von Mayrhauser, Tanya Berezin, Setphanie Gordon, Burke Pearson, Shay Gines, Cyndi Coyne, Jeffrey Sweet, William Carden, Robert Askins, Leonard Jacobs, Richard Frankel and many others. 

LIT Circling Back

Guy Yedwab and I have quite a good double act for advocacy.

 

Chris: Our thanks to Cat Parker for having us be part of this incredible night.

Guy: One of the lasting legacies of Circle Rep was defining the Off Off Broadway scene. Out of that legacy, the League of Independent Theater grew out of a gathering of theater artists in 2008 in response to a crisis created by the significant loss of Off Off Broadway spaces and the constraints of the Equity showcase code. We wanted to give a voice to that collection of artists that the Circle Rep brought together.

Chris: From this, a 501c6 non-profit was born. 501c6 because this allows us to endorse in political races.

Guy: In 2013, we created a Performing Arts Platform, which you can read about on our website litny.org, and endorsed in 18 city-wide races and over 50% percent made it into office. We also made a beautiful voting guide of arts-friendly candidates.

Chris: And we got a candidate for Mayor to use the term “independent theater” on TV!

Guy: This process let us tell the story of the cultural and economic impact of independent theater in New York City. We transform neighborhoods because we make more than 3,000 productions a year in all of the 5 boroughs.

Chris: To those in politics and business who do not think arts are important, we simply ask if they are for small business. Usually they will say, “well, of course, I’m for small business.” “Then you should be for independent theater because we are an important economic driver of the city, to the tune of several million dollars annually.”

Guy: We’re now a part of the conversation; we’ve seen new tracts of affordable housing for artists, increases to the cultural budget, and other gains — because we have a voice, stay engaged and active, and bring our independent passion to city politics.

Chris: Since LIT started, we’ve lost 72 performance spaces. To counteract this trend, we developed a heavily subsidized rehearsal space program that has helped over 20 companies be able to take residence in unused commercial spaces to rehearse for long stretches of time without interruption or having to lug their props and costumes on the subway. More about this can also be found on our website, litny.org.

Guy: As codes and agreements began changing at Actors’ Equity, LIT has worked to establish communications with Equity to find common ground in treating actors well but also allowing independent theater to be developed and not have such a huge financial leap between levels of production.

Chris: We also are bringing artists together with our Green Practices working group and other initiatives to come. We continue to seek creative ways of addressing issues facing the independent territory, and we do everything on less than $200 a year.

Guy: If you want to get involved, please join us at litny.org.

Chris: Membership is free.

Guy: Long live Circle Rep.

Chris: And long live independent theater in New York!