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.

Solo Harvest

Last night was a good night for me as a teacher and solo performer. My solo performance students did their short pieces at the Gene Frankel Underground, where Groove Mama Ink currently resides. It’s a lovely black box theatre just north of Houston kind of smack dab in between the East and West Villages. It’s been an interesting process. I’m a bit concerned that people don’t care about this unless it has some cheap sexy title but last night restored my faith somewhat. Mariah Freda, Laura Mannino, and Josh Kauffman all got up and gave some thrilling performances that were quite moving.

Monday Monday

Had my second rehearsal for Core Theatre Co’s new series of short works based on the seasons called SPRING. We’ll be reading them on April 16th at 7pm at Center Stage, which is at 48 W. 21st St. on the 4th floor (pay what you will). It’s the old LABrynth Theatre Co. space. Vampire Cowboys are ending a run there this week. My piece is called THE THREE-MONTH FREAK OUT. Tim Flynn and Lisa Bruno are reading it and they do a bang-up job of getting the broken psychology of this pair of people trying to decide whether they should be together.

It was funny at the first rehearsal when I said to Lisa, “It’s like when it’s easier sometimes to let the other person break up with you.” She responded with a “YES!” before she had a chance to think about it. I’ve never done that but I’ve certainly had it done to me. I don’t know why some people would rather let something good fall apart than face it and deal with it. I guess it’s less messy.

It’s been good writing short plays for other people. I’ve been learning my own sense of dramatic structure. Revealing action and character through dialogue rather than monologue, which is what I am more used to doing with solo performance. It’s also nice to sit in the back of the house and take in an audience’s reaction to what you wrote rather than having to keep pumping through the performance. I’ve learned a lot about being clear for the actors. I think if the actors can get what I am writing in the first cold read of a piece then I’ve done my job well enough that the audience will be hooked and go for a ride rather than struggle their way through it. I like making my audiences think, feel, and make connections so they stay alive through a performance but I don’t want them to have to labor. I also like hearing an audience laugh. Usually that lets me know they understand what’s going on.

day off

So I’m still in my boxers and a t-shirt at 5pm feeling the stubble on my face. I hope this is just a 24-hour bug. I don’t want to get my cast sick. We have 16 more performances through April 1st. Joseph Yeargain, who is doing a nice job of Bland, is going out to an audition for graduate school in Denver this weekend. Michael Hardart will be taking over for him this weekend. I’ve never really subbed for anybody onstage. I’ve alternated performances but never actually jumped in for a couple of days. Wait, that’s a lie. I jumped in for some children’s theatre in Virginia. I believe that counts. Some people feel you can fake your way through that stuff because kids are stupid and don’t pay attention. I disagree. I can’t believe Joseph gets flown out and has a whole weekend of auditioning there. I guess they really get to know you and find out if it is a good fit.

I feel drunk from the medicine and hope the moment of big clarity comes along today to guide me through tonight’s show. Took the day off today. Cancelled my audition and my teaching meeting. Woke up at 3:30pm. Still groggy. I’m going to go in tonight and fake being well. The show must go on, right? Body aches and chills with stuffy head. Should be good. I run my lines several times to get ready. I wonder sometimes if I’m not developing some weird performance anxiety but then I know that running them so much is what gets me through some nights. I think the best acting advice ever is what Anthony Hopkins said about running your lines 200 times. That’s when they really begin to come out without your concious brain doing the lifting. In this workshop I was taking the other day, the teacher was saying that Jack Nicholson has his assistant show him his lines 5 minutes before shooting. I dunno. Still no review from the Times. I’m just curious. We’re still in previews so maybe they won’t run it until Sunday or Monday. I thought a lot less about reviews before I moved to New York. My dad says he doesn’t pay attention to them. He knows he’ll like a movie by the title and who’s in it.

the winter/spring continuum

I heard yesterday that there are over 200 million blogs on the internet that have been abandoned. This was one of them and now I am hoping to make up for lost time. Since my last post, I’ve written several short plays, performed a revamped version of my solo, ANHEDONIA ROAD, started a solo performance workshop, taught a few hundred kids/teens, and started a run of a play from 1798 called ANDRE. Tonight I felt I was beginning to get sick so I took an Airborne, a Cold-eeze, and 2 Sudafed. Carolyn was kind enough to make me some peppermint tea with honey. If I didn’t have a head cold, that would taste nasty. My body must be throwing in the towel after the stress of opening the show and gearing up for the Times coming out on Monday night. We had a nice full house of allies. My neoroses were getting the better of me as I was doing a New England accent for the first time. More of an historic New England accent with more leanings on the Scottish. I wanted to give the feeling this soldier I play was second or third generation in this country and that he worked hard and had a strong moral center. You don’t get that from the text and our director was pushing for something unique from me. It was birthed rather late in the rehearsal process but I only rehearsed 4 or 5 times. I also have a limp from a wound from a bayonet. If I’m not careful, I can seem kind of pirate-like. Johnny Depp squeezed one Oscar nod out of that and pretty much plumed whatever riches can be found from that.

It’s been a cold couple of days and we were blessed with a little snow today. Last Saturday was in the 50s and I was wearing a light jacket. I bet I got this from Kara Tyler the other day. She is one of the Groove Mama’s in whose space I run my solo performance workshop. I met up to give her back her key and she gave me this nonsense. I’ll get you yet Kara Tyler!! I’m used to having spring come in by now and not getting sick until November. I don’t know about you but I got through most of this winter without a cold and now I’m rambling like some Civil War soldier in a Ken Burns doc. Feel free to add your own violins underneath as you read. It’s blissfully warm in this apartment. The only place I’ve lived in New York without the nefarious chill sneaking in through cracks and enveloping me in a nasty shield of pain. As I was crossing 9th street, I was thinking how I have to sit down and pop out a 10-minute play about spring for Core Theatre Co. I am rarely not inspired but this weather is really busting my chops here.

And what about Captain America dying? I don’t get that. I don’t have much of a relationship with him but still….