Saturday, May 15, 2010

Super Cool Musician's Tour Diary: Day 3 -- Modesto, CA

About mid-way through our four-and-a-half hour drive to Modesto this morning, I tried to explain the premise of these posts to our stage manager Rachel. We had just passed a prison, and I was feeling pretty awesome about myself for being on the outside. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: ...I decided to call it "Super Cool Musician's Tour Diary." Which is really funny.
Rachel: Sure.
Me: Yeah, I know. Anyway, it's about how we perform in all of these regional theaters and what they're like and how big they are and what other kind of shows they do and who comes to see them. It's funny and insightful and wry without being cynical. Like David Foster Wallace, probably.
Rachel: You realize that we're not performing in regional theaters, right?
Me: Wait, what?
Rachel: These are performing arts centers. Regional theaters are a different, very specific thing.
Me: Are you serious?
Rachel: Yeah. A regional theater is a self-sustaining entity that has an artistic director who programs a whole season. They hire directors, actors, and a technical staff and mount shows that run for an extended period of time. They don't import one-off shows like ours.
Me: But technically speaking, they are theaters in a region that's not New York. That makes them "regional theaters," right?
Rachel: No. Not really. Places like the La Jolla Playhouse, the Signature, those are regional theaters. Places like the Clark Center and the Gallo Center don't really count.

At this point, one of the actors chimed in from the back seat:

Debbie: Your blog posts are probably still worthwhile!

Faced with this, I did what I always do when I realize I'm wrong about something. First, I sulked for about 20 minutes. Then I insulted The Beatles. Then I decided to make lemons into limon-flavored* potato chips:

...and eat half a bag of limon-flavored potato chips. Then I decided to change the subject.

Yesterday, I mentioned I might talk some about what we actually do on stage as a group. A good, comprehensive explanation would take more than I feel like I can give at 1:30 a.m., so I'm just gonna write about one thing. But it's probably the most interesting thing to write about on a blog about a plays and the people that write them.

One of the games we play in our show is called "Rewind." It involves two to three actors, a host and a pianist. Before the game begins, the host sources the audience for a song title. The actors then improvise a short, underscored scene based on the suggestion. At the first logical break, the host freezes the scene and asks the actors and pianist to repeat it beat for beat in a variety of different styles of entertainment, solicited from the audience. The suggestions he/she asks for are typically some combination of the following:

1) A famous playwright or style of theater
2) A style of movie or film director
3) Your favorite TV network
4) A style of music

We tend to get a lot of the same suggestions show to show. This is particularly true when we ask for playwrights, because everyone knows the same five or six. Here's a short list of who those playwrights are, and what about percentage of the time we get them:

Shakespeare - 90%
Tennessee Williams - 5%
David Mamet - 2%
Neil Simon - 2%
Eugene O'Neil, Brecht, Kabuki, Theater of the Absurd, Rogers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Miller - <1%>

These, however, are big ol' estimates, and I've always wanted to collect some raw data. Below I've transcribed the actual Rewind suggestions from the first three shows of this tour:

Show #1: Arroyo Grande, CA
Playwright 1: Shakespeare
Playwright 2: Eugene O'Neil
TV Network: Logo
Musical Style: Opera

Show #2: Modesto, CA
Playwright 1: Shakespeare
Playwright 2: David Mamet
Movie Director 1: Michael Bay
Movie Director 2: Tim Burton
Musical Style: Rap

Show #3: Modesto, CA
Playwright 1: Oscar Wilde
Playwright 2: Shakespeare
TV Network: MTV
Musical Style: Screamo

As usual, everyone wants to see Shakespeare, and Mamet and O'Neil both made their customary side show appearance. But there were a few surprises in there. Oscar Wilde, I discovered, translates in my brain to "play something staid, Britishy and classical sounding. Unfortunately, so does Shakespeare. If anyone in the audience had really been paying attention to the underscoring at that point in the show, they would have been underwhelmed with me. More than they should be for my sloppy dress and poor frizz control, anyway.

The only suggestion we get more frequently than Shakespeare is rap. I have two guesses as to why this might be:

1) Our audiences tend to be predominantly elderly, and elderly folks have a hard time taking rap seriously.
2) They've all seen the episode of Whose Line is it Anyway where Wayne Brady and Stephen Colbert rap dying in an avalanche, over a beat that sounds suspiciously like The Doors' "Touch Me."

Above: The thing I was just talking about.

Oh, also, Modesto was not nearly as awful as everyone says it is, the folks at the theatre were absurdly kind to us, and it was nice to have high school students in the audience, because they engage better than the older folks. They also forced me to figure out what "Screamo" was on the fly, which I appreciated. I think I got it about 80% right.

Tomorrow: I either explain what it was like to perform as part of the annual Fallon, NV Migratory Bird Festival, or ramble on about something completely different.

*Totally lime-flavored, actually.

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