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.

Promoting We Will Go

Started the day watching McCain be recalcitrant. If he goes out the door because of a scandal and Huckabee gets the nomination it will be a very weird time. McCain’s wife looked pissed but that might just be from the plastic surgery. Then I went to an audition for Connecticut Lottery. It’s the third state lottery commercial I’ve auditioned for since last summer. It’s a meta-lottery for me. Chances of winning 1:40+.

Found a putter for my George W. Bush monologue. I went to a sports shop first and they were $109-$179. The one I got was $5.41 with tax at the Salvation Army on 8th St. It even has an American Flag sticker on it. Small but present. People looked at me a little funny as I walked with it to the Kraine Theater. In the papers today they said people have less time to play golf. I must’ve looked like a real gold-bricker.

Went on a 4-hour postcard “walking tour” of the East Village with Dan who created Thanks for the Scabies, Jerkface. He is only 21 and is still in school at the University of Kentucky but has already performed in 8 different fringes around. He was an all around nice guy. Go see his show.

It’s good to get to the bottom of your stack of postcards and flyers for a show. I don’t know if it’s worse to do that in 28 degree weather or in 105 degrees. I was certainly less dehydrated by the end of this afternoon but I did sneak in a nice nap. It can feel weird asking people to let you put out your cards. I hate going in places where the postcard area is wrecked and no one’s taken care of it. How is anyone going to find anything? I understand it at dive bars but at New York Theatre Workshop and the Ontological Theatres, it should be better kept. I do try my best to be a good citizen with cards and not knock others out of the way or fight for real estate. The thing I hate most is busking during the actual festival. To see people turn down your cards to your face is awful. Even worse is having them look at it, grill you about it, and then hand it back.

I’ve been doing more online work tonight to raise the show’s presence. I dug on the net and found emails for local universities to send blasts to their students. At this point, my number of sales is holding steady but I think my number of critics coming is going up. Tomorrow I will email people from my personal list and remind media outlets.

Bricken’s friend, Maryanne Ventrice, came to the run in the mini theatre at Roy Arias last night to take some pictures. Maryvel Bergen, my cool lighting designer, and Chris Foster, costume designer and now board op (thank God), were there too. The room is beyond tiny and it is full of crap. You feel like you are playing in someone’s rec room and the junk has been pushed to the sides and covered in curtains. I included a few of my favorites here and added the Uncle Sam, which will be added in the show now. On an odd note: Maryanne sent the link to her Flicker page (she is freakin’ amazing) and on my gmail I get these ads in relation to what is in the email. I don’t know why but one is for a colon cleanser product so I clicked on it. Oh, good Lord, the had all these testimonials with pictures of satisfied customers, and the disgusting shag ropes made of horse anuses and death they scoop up on metal hooks from the toilet to show what was inside them. So gross.

I think I’m going to do that after the run is over. Cleansing, massage, dermabrasion, and teeth whitening. I won’t recognize myself.

Round 2

Completed the second draft of American Badass tonight. When it’s just an edit rather than a full rewrite, I feel like I am cheating. Now that all that writing crap is over, I can rip off the playwright hat and put on the producer hat. I hope to do most of that in the next couple of weeks so I can throw on the actor hat. I feel in a lot of ways, that’s the part of me that’s been the most neglected or abused. So funny since for a long time I had difficulty separating who I am from myself as an actor. Over identification. Maybe that could be a piece. After the next one, which will simply be called Green. My favorite color and it has many connotations. I think I will be focusing mostly on sex and money.
I meet with Chris Foster tomorrow to go over costumes. I haven’t had costumes in a show in a long time. I suppose I could go without but I think it will be a nice addition. She wants to have bigger changes than I would like. I’d like to keep things the same from the waste down, simply because I don’t have a lot of time to change during the show. Spoke with Debby Schwartz about the music for the show. She’s super cool and is going to create a couple new tunes for it. I love how whacky creative she is. She comes up with these great ideas and wants to do all these great little noises and fills in the show. Like a Pink Floyd album. I’d love to get to a point of having a soundscape like that but it would be difficult. I know Laurie Anderson did Spalding Gray’s stuff after it was filmed.
Eric Bogosian would tape record his pieces until they were where he wanted them to be. I feel like writing is better for me. I like having the frame from which to work. Comes from the acting background. I’ve been going back and forth a lot in my own head about my identity as an actor or as a writer. I would like life to have it so I don’t have to choose and can live in an artistic Utah. Part of it is a decision on my part about what I will let myself do or not do. If you give away the milk for free, the universe will respond in kind.
I awoke today with the craziest scramble brain. All these thoughts going, going, going. I find it’s more difficult to get out the door with that. And I had the exact same morning because the commercial I was auditioning for on Friday was postponed until this morning due to a trip to the emergency room for one of the cds. It took me 15 more minutes to get out today and I didn’t have any coffee. Maybe I was groggy from sleep deprivation. The audition was weird. I love how you eventually run into someone from every chapter from your life at auditions.
I talk to regular actors a lot. It’s a different mindset from what I have and possibly why I’m not more of a star. I think I used to have that gene but I gave it up. Sometimes it’s a game you play with your own mind. A friend of mine did a reading with me last night at the Metropolitan Playhouse. He said it’s when you give it all up that usually something lands in your lap. I don’t know about that. I guess it works for him. He’s had a bit more traditional success than I have.
For me, doing the work can’t be about becoming famous or trying to forge a career out of it. At one point I did try to milk that out of it and maybe I could have eventually done that. But why bother birthing a child and rearing it if you’re only going to whore it out? I tell you, doing this stuff keeps you from facing not having anything to do. I don’t know if I like being in that place. I think there’s a balance to be attained.
I hope I can draw a college and high school crowd for this one, if possible. I don’t know if it would appeal but I do want those first time voters coming out to think about what’s going on now.