Sunday, August 1, 2010

'Escalante, Spirits Rising...'

Last night, I did my show, 'Bohemian Cowboy' in Escalante. Sean, my brother Dan and I left yesterday afternoon with a truck full of lights furniture and props, towards a black thunderstorm horizon and the twenty-eight miles to Escalante. Two days before, I was in 'crisis of faith' mode, for a number of reasons, the primary one being I hadn't done the show in four months and I was going into the town where my father was born and raised. Even though I've done the show fifty times now, I still have to work for three days to get the memorization back. Like any memorization, you start to lose it if it is not activated enough. I think there was also some very real sub-conscious upheaval happening, it was everything I could do to muster up the energy to go and do this show. We arrived at the Escalante Outfitters around three, with an eight o'clock show. The venue was a veranda behind the store, with a cement slap and a covering. To the north, you could see the red cliffs behind Escalante, which made the perfect backdrop for the show. However, it was sprinkling on and off as we put up the lights and set up for the show. Only seven tickets had been pre-sold, and with rain looming, it looked like it would once again be a small audience if we went on at all. At about seven o'clock, as I began preparing and stretching to go on stage, no one had arrived, and the clouds were persistent. At about seven thirty a few people arrived, buying some hotdogs from the outside grill that Dana and Dennis from the Outfitters had set up. (By the way, Dana and Dennis of The Escalante Outfitters were the best hosts ever!) As I started to do my facial exercises, I was suddenly overcome with a flush of emotion. As I started to practice my opening lines… "My father has vanished into the desert…" a wave of emotion overtook me, and I started that weird sobbing thing that happens when it’s an inappropriate time to cry, so there I was, fifteen minutes to going on stage and I thought, "This is going to be a crying disaster, I really need to get hold of things here…" And then, people started to arrive in little groups. In all, about forty people gathered around the veranda for the show. It was a great mix, old, young, some relatives, some unexpected people, the mayor, Jerry Taylor, (who I went to school with) cowboys, the town sheriff, and other assorted folks that make up the town of Escalante. Another worry I had was the production value, as I couldn't use my slides or my sound design. Even though I had lights, without the other values, it leaves it entirely upon the actor to make it work without those cues to help him. Even though I still felt a little rusty with the full memorization, I walked onto the stage to a very close and curious audience. "My father was a singer of songs, I began, songs that were remnants of all the good things that come from small towns delivered with the splendor of a lonesome broken angel…" I sucked back the sob I had way down, and the show proceeded without much of a hitch. I did some things I've never done in the show. Several times, I broke character and ask if they were doing okay. They laughed, which I was happy for. Because of the humidity and my costume, a few pages into it, I started to really perspire. When that happens on stage, it can become really uncomfortable for the audience. It's not unlike the 'cookie question', (audience thinks, I wonder what the cookies are at intermission during the show only the cookie question becomes about the sweat pouring off the actor's face.) I do always carry a bandana, this time when I used it, I said, "Is it hot in here, (we were outside) or is it just me?" I've learned that these little touches help relax an audience, and enables them to deal with the intensity of the show because what you are really telling them is "Hey, we will go through this together, it's theatre, and its pretty naked, but I'm part of you even though I'm up here doing the show…" That's the best way I can explain it.

Once again, driving home, I was thinking about how powerful theatre can be, and as I've done so many times with show, had that rush of enthusiasm that preaches its continuance. Of course, immediately following a show, there is always a flush of understanding that you cannot receive at any other time.

In the opening introduction of 'The Alchemist' by Paul Cohleo, he makes a very powerful statement about a personal dream. There are four obstacles that stop a dream from happening. The first being that we are told much of our lives that the dream we want to achieve is impossible. (Thankfully for me that hasn't been the complete case) but, it’s the rhetoric that seeks to temper a dream with practicality. The well known quote in the arts, "You need to go to college so you have something to fall back on…" (Interpretation: your dream probably won't work out).

The second obstacle is love. That's a curious one, but it makes sense. Most of us may fall in love and begin to change or modify our dream because now there are other variables to consider. As a family arrives, there is an immediate practical side. As life moves forward, although this may be a wonderful thing, (another dream replacing an original dream), if your original dream was in the arts, you may need to modify your dream and reduce that full time playwright dream to taking a class in playwriting at the college. I'm so NOT putting down these choices, (in fact lately I've been envious of so many on this path). But it is reasonable to say that being put in a position where you are nurturing your children's dreams while sacrificing your own is a fairly common theme. Again, I want to reiterate, that in many ways this can be an ideal life, and I'm not suggesting you can't fulfill dream under these circumstances, it's just reasonable to say that love and family does change the trajectory of the myopic pursuit of an original dream, unless this is in fact, your original dream.

The third obstacle, is the continual defeat that seeks to cause your dream to fail. This is a tough one, because defeat and failure can sometimes arrive with the very clear sign that says, "There is no way out of this one, give it up, go home. " Now, of course, as I'm writing about these obstacles to you, I'm giving my own spin on what Cohleo said, but I think it's similar. Cohleo says, "Fall seven times and rise up eight…" My friend Tom came by this morning and gave me the word that they are using in the white house most recently, 'persistence'.(I'm really out of touch with news lately). The philosophy there recently is, "When seemingly, nothing is changing, we will persist anyway." People become annoyed with dreamers very easily, especially when persistence becomes long suffering. Quite often, persistence of a dream that doesn't seem to be moving can at times seem a self absorbed and myopic focus of self, and I suppose quite often it is. When nothing seems to have movement forward, (in fact a great chunk of the dreamer's pursuit often appears to be going in reverse), the dreamer's life can become extremely lonely. Hundreds of doubts can assault the brain all at once, (which is why its great to have some other dreamers you can talk to, thanks so much Mom) and defeat seems imminent.

The last obstacle, and the most interesting one of all to me, is when the tipping point of the dream appears on the horizon. As Oscar Wilde said, "We kill the thing we love the most…" I think there is a truth to this statement that is profound and neurotic at the same time. I remember after writing and producing 'Blue Baby, A Memoir', I thought that I will never write a play as good as this one. And, that may be true, still, you move forward with an even greater persistence, and the ensuing work continues and teaches you something else. I read an article about this, the journalist was of the opinion that once this happens to a writer, it's all over. (it's nonsense really, the fact is, any kind of thinking that may dissuade this notion quickly goes away as you go on to the next project as part of the whole) I think what Cohleo was saying is "Don't stop before the magic happens. Don't sabotage what you've worked so hard to achieve."

I remember during my teaching years, I often became a bit of a nightmare for administration. I was in the classroom not only teaching the dreamer's creed, but I was working on my own as well. I was determined as a teacher that I didn't want to teach or execute mediocrity. This can become a problem to people who are attempting to daily deliver the status quo. Excellence in any endeavor creates an imbalance somewhere in the machine that houses other parts seeking a status quo, and so very often, conflict arises when the balance gets out of whack. My theory was pretty simple and actually really practical, "The amount of success and excellence one has in any endeavor is in direct proportion to the hours spent executing its form." As I also did as a gymnastics coach, if my students wanted to be in the gym, we could eventually get the repetition we needed to excel. I attempted to create an environment where discipline met fun. (It worked, we excelled) But just like Oscar Wilde said, I eventually killed what I wanted because I created impossible goals with questionable motivations that ultimately burned me out as a coach and a teacher. Maybe this is what Cohleo is really talking about, that pursuing something that is akin to lust instead of love can destroy the whole thing. (I'm just speculating here, but its certain that there are lots of bodies out there that came tumbling down with the house of cards before the last card made it to the top. Further, I think lust is an apt metaphor for wanting something for the wrong reason. I also think that's an easy temptation in the arts world, fame, recognition, money, etc. )

As for today, I'm really pretty tired from the last few days, but my mind seems to need to express again, hope is springing up from the rush of another show. I did notice however, that last night was telling me that I've let my body get completely out of shape for a show like this. Oh God, another mountain to climb. Tracee arrives tomorrow, a modest box office last night, and thanks to Tom, four pre-sold tickets. Onward, defeat be damned, ragged pants, sacrifice and soup will yield yet another play, and another step in the life of the dreamer.


Gerry said...

I am very glad to hear how the show went as I was beginning to worry when I had not heard from you by this evening, but I got a very good feeling from you going and doing this show. You needed to do it in his hometown, I thought, no matter what. I thought it sounded like you did have a modest success and got a lift. So on you can go.
For really we all look to the dreamers, our artists, writers and performers to give us entertainment and take us out of our mundane worlds. I kept getting snatches of dialogue from your dad. He had come through the veil with your effort and I would get snatches of his thoughts. I certainly think you needed to do this for him, too, as it was sure to give him a lift and perhaps give him a little more peace of mind.

Anonymous said...

Sounds to me like Esclante was a success, I must admit I was a bit worried for you on this one, I thought it might prove difficult for you. I agree with your mom that you needed to do this venue and I teared up reading about how emotional you were before hand. I think your dad was there and proud of you. So as we discussed at our last visit, how do you define success? Yeah, your doin okay my friend.


caroline said...

40 people on a rainy night in Escalante? that's a Broadway SRO, dude... Glad you made the leap. So when is the show up at Anselm's? Remember how the clouds and rain held off and then the last of the sunset illuminated the set and your face? Can't wait to see what your Dad will deliver for the Anselm's, part deux...

btw, the verification word was wingsb. Fly, bro, fly...

Chuckh said...

"Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship, which carries on in the survivors mind..." Quote from, I Never Sang For My Father. I used ti use this in auditions. This speech really didn't mean anything to me until it was a real thing, then I understood it. My father's death, my brother in law's death, they both live on so vividly in my mind. I can see why you wrote a play about your father after he was gone. I think writing is tapping into a waking dream state. Often I wake up and remember my dreams as scenes in a movie or a play. It's how I think. How I remember. As for the obstacles, I think having a family will curtail someone that doesn't have complete conviction, other wise it will just motivate them to do more, better, and faster. Looming poverty can be a great motivator sometimes. It can be an excuse to not have to deal with the constant rejection, also. An idea, a song, a play can be good and still find no audience. It takes the right wheels to drive that bus, and the right wheels are hard to find.
One of my favorite quotes is from the great Russian method acting teacher, Stanislovsky...he said, "We must make the impossible difficult, the difficult easy, and the easy second nature..." Few artists stick around long enough to get that far. said...

I was so happy to read that 40 in Escalante ventured out to your show. To me that is wild success and I know that you touched their hearts..those who knew Dean. I am glad you went there and shared your creative story, Dean's son.
It is a monument to him and to his home town. I am happy to read this post!