Mercury in Retrograde

Things have certainly changed financially. The era of the stand-alone investment bank is over. Cash is still king and Asia still has it. Will they freak out and leave us completely? The 85 billion dollar bail out of AIG is crazy. Do we have that? How are we financing our wars? How can we do all this and not have better infrastructure, schools, and access to health care. Call me naieve but I think it’s time we get back to fundamentals here. Part of the big problem goes back to our education system. We don’t understand government, our civil rights or civic duties, money and finance, or how to rear children. America is like the house that gets trashed when the parents go out of town and say, “Don’t have any parties while were away….”

If we did understand the fundamentals, we wouldn’t be having an argument right now about who is best suited for the Oval Office. Scratch that, if Americans could actually argue and not get into childish screaming matches, it would be clear. I’m seeing a lot of trash talk. It plays on the “don’t get caught with the wrong people” mentality from middle school.

On top of this craziness, there’s a lot going on with people in my life. My buddy Alex had a motorcycle accident a month ago in the Czech Republic and busted his hip. I hear he’s doing better and his latest show is going up at the Metropolitan Playhouse. My friend and brilliant clown/actor/writer Abraham has a bad disc in his neck so he’s bedridden. My friend from high school, Roland, lost his father this week. My yoga, movement, contact improv, viewpoints, t’ai chi, physical theatre teacher from college has had a couple of strokes. The World Market Center is effectively killing the furniture markets in San Francisco, Dallas, and my hometown of High Point, NC by making a huge one-stop complex like the World Trade Center in Las Vegas. My girlfriend’s Mac laptop went silent. My brother says he’s found enlightenment. The Mets are beating the Nationals. A guy is doing an orchestrated evening of music from video games at NJPAC this fall.

In other news…

I’m doing a reading of American Badass (or 12 Characters in Search of a National Identity) this Saturday 9/20 1-3pm at 939 8th Ave. (btw 55&56) studio 3c. The Dentons have generously decided to publish it in Plays and Playwrights ’09 through nyte small press. I only have a couple more weeks to tweak it. It’s weird now since both parties have swept Bush under the carpet. I’ve changed it a bit so it’s more of a document of where things are at the moment. I’ve added an evangelical preacher and a Karl Rove character to it. I’ve taken out some of the in-between pieces and replaced them with other small monologues. I imagine it will get produced at a few colleges so I thought I should have the bits between the bigger monologues be able to funtion in a high or low tech way. The way it is now feels more like a full album. The way people made albums in the 60s or 70s. Where you’d put the vinyl on and sit down and listen to the whole thing.

I think is where I part company with other writers and performers. The thing that’s in these days is a sensibility. It’s not about rhythm, punch, or surprise as far as comedy is concerned anymore. People have stopped laughing unless there’s some kind of assault on someone’s crotch. Attention spans went out with grunge music so there’s no point in bemoaning that.

Anyway, if you enjoy laughing and, at the same time, looking at some of what’s horrendous about human beings come down to my reading on Saturday. I’d to hear what you think. Coincidentally, because of what’s happened this week, the reading is free.

Back in the Ring

Festivals are funny animals. You have odd schedules and wind up having to do a revival in the middle of it. I had my first show last night since my matinée on Saturday. The 6pm Weds crowd was good but it was a little disjointed. I can tell now where they are before I make my first entrance. This bunch was talking over the recorded announcement I made so I knew I’d have to grab them with physical work to get them on the same page. They were not listeners first and foremost. Some crowds respond to things visually more while others ride on the emotions. The stage combat bit in the beginning was what clinched it for me.
The mechanism for the slide projector was jostled early in the show so all the videos were about 3 feet higher than the target. That threw things off a bit but the crowd got used to it and was good after the 2nd or 3rd clip. I came out for my 3rd monologue and saw that. I wanted to stop things and adjust it. It would have only taken 2 minutes but the festival wants to run on a tight schedule.
The great thing about last night was that a lot of people from the film Two Toms came out to see the show. They were a good crowd and seemed receptive. I was worried they might be offended by parts of it but it didn’t seem to be that way. A couple of the guys are firefighter/actors, which I think is the coolest combination in the world. It was a relief that they liked my New York guy in the show and found him believable. That’s the real test.
I feel like I’m finally getting it where I want it to be but only have 2 more performances. There are a lot of little things I’m beginning to do now that give the characters more dimensions. The old man I play steps up on a chair to get out a candy bar. At first, I was doing that carefully and steadily. Now I add a little more wobbling so no one’s if he’ll stay on the chair or not. There’s other pacing things and emphasizing or framing certain words that make it all ring differently. While I do need to run the lines a couple of times a day to be on top of them, I don’t feel it’s as difficult getting through the show anymore. If I were doing the show every night, it would be a different animal.

Amercian Badass Review

American Badass

reviewed by Martin Denton

Feb 28, 2007

The subtitle of American Badass is “12 Characters in Search of a National Identity,” and that encapsulates this terrific show quite nicely. In it, writer-performer Chris Harcum portrays these dozen different people (plus a few more in inter-sketch interludes), and he zeroes in on much of what constitutes the “American character,” circa 2008. For its wit, its intelligence, its fearlessness, and the great skill with which it is executed, this is a standout show, not just at FRIGID New York, but of this still-new theatre year.

Harcum begins by disarming us, portraying some supposed acquaintance of his who is reacting to the idea of a one-man show called American Badass. This armchair performance artist proceeds to explain what would be good and what would be lousy in a show like this, and it’s hilarious but it’s also way too true for comfort as he talks about how the show needs to be somewhat, but not too, relevant because you don’t want to bore the audience or risk offending them.

Luckily, Harcum disregards his own first character’s advice and treads boldly into terrain that seldom gets play on stage or screen these days. One of the vignettes is about a retired George W. Bush in the near future, playing golf and reminiscing about that fateful day when the Twin Towers were hit by airplanes and he was trying to decide what he ought to do in that Florida classroom. Another is about an American mercenary who works for Blackwater, back from Iraq and trying to pick up a woman in a bar by impressing her with tales of his bravado in combat (“I’m Superman,” he tells her, bragging that bullets never seemed able to penetrate him). A third depicts a one-time military interrogator who is trying to repent his acts of torture via the services of a dominatrix.

Some of the pieces are much more lighthearted, such as the one about a “competitive eater” in training for the Coney Island hot-dog-eating contest. And in the first segment, Harcum demonstrates some really dazzling talent as he explores the notion of a one-man stage combat show—this bit is not just spectacularly impressive physical theatre, but extremely funny as well.

But American Badass is purposeful theatre, and the last piece—in which a character who may well be Harcum himself announces to a small but swelling crowd on the sidewalk that now that he’s old enough to be President of the U.S., he feels like he needs to figure out what needs to be done to fix our obviously ailing Union—brings this socially conscious artist’s concerns right to the fore. The show is always provocative but never polemical, reminding us that political/protest theatre still has the power to arouse us.

Harcum, a fine actor and writer, is well-supported by director Bricken Sparacino and a design team that provides him with appropriate quick-change costumes and a projected backdrop of drawings, graphics, and video to keep the piece flowing interestingly. (There’s also a short film by Evan Stulberger in which Harcum talks about his real-life day job as a teaching artist in a Bronx public school; sort of a gentle rebuttal to Nilaja Sun’s No Child, it seemed to me.)

It’s not easy making an audience laugh and think at the same time, but Harcum accomplishes exactly that throughout American Badass. It’s a combination that I highly recommend.

Another Day in Sideburns

Went back to shooting Two Toms today. I love how long we’ve worked on this and having it come together. There’s lots of Italians on the set so we eat really well. 2 huge pans of ziti today. I love the freedom and intimacy of performing around the table. I’m getting away with murder clowning this character who is stoned. What I’m not crazy about is the time it takes. I don’t mind it, per se, but I had my call bumped up 2 hours but didn’t even get into make-up until 3 hours after I arrived. There are doing a good job but after your 10th hour, you get punchy. I try to use it as much as possible. I’m still conditioned to working in the theatre where you damn well better be 15 minutes early and going by the clock, especially on Equity shows with a stage manager who has a stopwatch. This is a different process where you work until you get it and then you move on. In theatre, you move on knowing you will get it when you go back through it (hopefully). When you aren’t involved in what’s happening, you hopefully are set free so you can go learn your lines or do other things like go over fight choreography or work on your accent. This just keeps plugging along.
The cast and crew for this are great. All of them are truly wonderful people. Ok, every group has to have a couple of bad apples but I do hope I get to stay friends with most of these guys and gals for years to come. Jason each of us a picture in costume. With my fake sideburns and Hawaiian shirt, I look like Wolverine meets a surfer dude. Some of the takes are outrageous. I think Jason will have a nice movie on his hands. I have been trying to set up spin-off ideas for a romantic comedy/horror film. Stay tuned.
On the American Badass front, I sent out more email blasting to press and people on my list. I’m getting a little better at that. I don’t know how it will pan out. I am not going to send out to anyone again, except to write personal things to specific people I really want to have come out. I don’t like blasting. I also learned gmail will lock you down if you send out too many emails or if you have too many bounce back at you, which I did with some weird bounce of 59 hotmail emails. I’m not comfortable talking myself up like I’m a refreshing can of soda or the sports car. But you have to do it, otherwise you run into tree falling in the woods territory. That truly sucks.
I had one solo where I got to the theatre and had no reservations. Being an optimist, I stayed thinking there had to be at least a handful of walk-ups. No one. I did the show for the artistic director and treated it as a special extra rehearsal. I say one in the audience is a rehearsal; 2 is an audience. 4 with some energy and receptiveness are the bedrock of a good audience. In any audience of 100 hundred people you usually have a couple or 3 ringleaders and people fall into camps with them. A good laugher helps train the rest of the audience. An annoying laugher can just make things worse.
Lately I have been giving quite a bit of thought to breaking my addiction to laughter. It’s a form of a need for approval and seeking recognition. It’s dirty money. I think laughter as a by-product is good but as a goal it tends to poison things. I rely on it at times as measure of whether the audience is there with me. Do they get it? Are they making connections? Is this hitting them on a certain level? But then, I also reach out for it as a balancing bar when feeling insecure about crossing the tightrope. Do they like me? Am I worthy of them? Will they go all the way to the end of the show with me or will I need to wrangle them the whole way?
Once I have a show down, I can let some focus go toward indirect energy being put out by the audience. It’s clear who is listening and who has tuned me out. There are times when I’ll go out and feel like I’ve reminded the whole place of stuff they avoid thinking about and have done a huge social faux pas.
In certain styles of acting, thinking about the audience at all is wrong/bad/sinful but in solo work, it’s necessary. They become other characters in the piece. They give and take the way a scene partner might. There are times when there might be one person who is radiating displeasure. One day I will become crazy enough to stop the show and ask what’s wrong. I try to find other ways to that so as to not be confrontational but sometimes I just want to find out if there’s anything I can do to help them or let them know they are free to leave.
I don’t know what response this show will have. I think I will be pushing and pulling the audience at various times. I wrote another one without direct audience address. Should I expand this one, I want to put in one piece that goes right to the audience and brings them out a bit. With this, as long as I can keep the information going across my brain and my mouth moving, I should survive.
Carolyn took her slides and illustrations to Daniel’s to add them to Debby’s sound design and Evan’s film. She showed what they did while we watched the Oscars. It looks freaking great. They did an amazing job in just a few hours (on top of her spending a long time putting the images and drawings together). I’ll get Debby’s theme song for the show tomorrow. You deal so much with ingredients, you forget there’s a cake being made. Actually, this show is more like a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.
I’m really fortunate to have a brilliant group of people working with me on this. Makes things easier and keeps me motivated. I need to find a great stage manager and my team will be pretty complete. We have 3 hours of tech on Tuesday in the Kraine. We have to be on the ball. This is when Maryvel will be bringing it with the lights.