Saturday, July 31, 2010

Friday, July 30th, 2010

Almost Done It

Spent most of the day dealing with some (hopefully and probably only embarrassing) medical issues, which may necessitate my returning early. We’ll see how that pans out.

Had another show, back down to an embarrassingly small turnout. If last night was the inevitable Artist Night, then this was the equally inevitable Zombie Night – the night where the audience seems to be consistently engaged, but generates almost no appreciable vocal response. They seemed to enjoy it, but it’s always extremely frustrating to play. The temptation is to overextend yourself, but that reeks of desperation – it’s difficult to relax and let the story happen without the playful back-and-forth that usually propels it.

I dunno. One more performance left, and unless it really sells the hell out, I’m going to need to seriously re-evaluate the wisdom of returning to KC. The thought pains me – I’ve really come to love this place, and it’s only on this trip that I’ve begun to realize to what degree that’s true – but I’ve really done the best I can here, and it’s hard for me to justify continuing to throw money at it with so little return.


Saw two shows that evening, both by out-of-town solo performers. Saw Kurt’s show, and actually found it really engaging: it has that sort of uber-ironic anti-comedy thing going on, kind of Kids in the Hall but trippier. I was glad to catch it.

Followed it up with The Hefner Monologues, which I saw last year in Indianapolis. Was debating whether or not to see it again, and it was a wise decision: an 11pm show, populated almost entirely by other artists. The upshot of this is that he ended up performing a kind of director’s commentary – pausing and interrupting himself at various points to comment on what he was doing, which cities various jokes had gotten laughs in, et cetera.

They headed out to a bar in Westport – I offered to join them, and stumbled across the cast of SHARDS on the way to my car. Ended up sitting and talking for a while (and, hooray, we finally found YJ’s open, with the legendary late-night biscuits and gravy I’ve been craving since I was first told about them, and they were everything I was hoping for, and I could have been hit by a car immediately after consuming them and died – well, with a lot of regrets, but at least I wouldn’t have been hungry) before we decided to try to catch up with the others.

We had an under-21 in our party, however, which immediately eliminated a number of possibilities for nightlife. (Shades of the 2008 tour, when our stage manager had managed to come without a license, severely limiting our activities.) We ended up wandering around Westport for a while – which apparently comes way the hell alive on a Friday night, in the best and worst possible ways, place was crawling with cops and they all had plenty of work to do – before returning to the house of their billeter, a barber who works out of her own home.

One of those sprawling, endless conversations about work and art and all that good stuff, before I excused myself at five in the morning to try to get back to my place before my billeter woke up. Time flew right by, and I didn’t have a drop of alcohol in me. Who knew?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Wednesday-Thursday, July 28-29, 2010

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010
On the Process of Aging

Ran into Curt Fitzpatrick (the title of his show is The Last Straight Man in Theatre, which makes me wonder if there’s something he needs to tell me about myself) – apparently the Westport Coffee House is where it’s at. Followed up with a visit to the Negro Leagues and American Jazz Museum. Haven’t been since 2008, and again found the experience sublime. They actually have a re-created jazz club that is still in use as a jazz club – on Monday nights. For the past three years, I have consistently recalled this fact on the Tuesday before I leave.

On Tuesday night, Cheryl invited Molly and I out to storm some urban thing. (I presume that she used more detail than that, but it was late and I was drunk.) I unquestioningly agreed. So Wednesday evening, we met at Fringe Central to…well, to figure out what the hell it was we were doing. I was handed a stack of programmes, advised to distribute them as well as postcards, and driven to the venue.

Arrived at a bar a short while later – walked into a room full of youngish, well-dressed individuals, all sipping wine and nattering away at each other. Found a woman at the desk, handed her the programmes, mentioned that I was from the Fringe, and…

HER: Oh, wonderful! Do you mind coming onstage and talking about the Fringe for a while?
ME: Huh? Uh, I’m not really prepared…
HER: Yes, please? Just a few minutes.
ME: I mean…I guess I could say a few words…
HER: Wonderful. I’ll call you up to the stage once we get started.

This, of course, prompted a half-hour panic attack. I flipped through the programme, trying to memorize numbers – first Fringe in 1947, 126 companies, 4th year, all shows under $10.00, et cetera. I also asked around (as subtly as I was able to, without blurting out “Where am I? What is this?”) – enough to figure out that I was at something called the Urban Core Group, and received a vague explanation without comprehending much of it. The guy who was explaining this to me then tried to charge me money to be present, despite my stating that I was there as a representative of the Fringe. I actually started to reach into my pocket before sanity re-asserted itself and I point-blank refused to pay, at which point he refrained from throwing me out, so.

HIM: So, are you a professional speaker?
ME: (long pause) …technically.

I suppose that it’s a great irony, considering my profession, that I have a blind and unreasoning terror of public speaking.

Eventually the woman who greeted me at the door assumed the stage, and attempted to go through a couple of announcements. The audience continued chattering away at each other. She stopped at several points, repeatedly demanding their attention, then plunged forward upon failing to receive it. She then introduced me.

I jumped out to the stage, opened with a quick joke, which was duly laughed at before the audience turned back to their conversations over their wine. I launched into a brief explanation of what Fringe is, observed that nobody was paying the slightest bit of attention to me, became irritated, mentioned that there were programmes at the back, then left the stage.

All in all, pretty lame. I glance back over what I’ve written, and wonder if I’m not being unkind – but, then, it strikes me that they were being rather more so.


Had another performance of Descendant, this time with about a dozen people, which is apparently a roaring success by my dramatically lowered standards. Audience was quiet but engaged, and as usual incredibly enthusiastic afterwards.

The structure of the show works. It’s my Goldilocks play, the one that does seem to hit that just-right balance of elements – you can enjoy the family drama at the most superficial level, but the more thoughtful stuff is there for anyone who wants to dig – thoughts about the concept of identity, and of the self, of individualism vs. collectivism, of determinism vs. self-determination.

Working on the sequel, Pissing on the Great Wall, was an interesting project for a couple of reasons, one of which was bringing me back to an old script and really analyzing what made it tick – a strange combination of travelogue, family drama, fish-out-of-water comedy, historical mystery, and political satire. I quickly realized, working on the new script, that it was neither possible nor desirable to re-create that strange alchemy – doing so would have made it into the worst kind of sequel. So Pissing had to become its own entity, somewhat darker, more thoughtful, certainly less wide-eyed and apparently much less likeable.

Which brings me to the other odd aspect of working on a sequel, which was a sudden consciousness of the concept of aging. My scripts are usually in development for a minimum of five years before they see the stage – I cycle through dozens of scripts I’m working on at any given time, putting one away for a few months and picking up another. But one of the results of this is having a surreal sensation of collaborating with a younger version of myself, someone with their own sets of ideas and systems that have since altered for me.

And that’s one of the bizarre things about dusting off Descendant again – I’m no longer the man who wrote that play. And in a sense, I’m no longer playing myself, either, but a younger version of myself – one who is often irritating the hell out of me. I read these lines onstage and find myself wanting to sit down with the author, tell him to, for fuck’s sake, relax – you’ll get through it. And the crap you’re worried about is going to turn out to not be a problem at all, and the stuff that is going to turn out to be a problem are things you haven’t even conceived of yet.


Headed over to the Pearl to hit GRIND, before I got a call from Molly – her car battery was dead, and the rest of her troupe was coming in. I headed on over to help out, and stuck around long enough to greet her cast as they arrived – including yet another former student of mine, fresh from a series of performances at another Renaissance Festival. And it occurs to me that I’m finally hitting the point of seeing a whole new collection of people hitting the circuit – that I’m no longer the pwnz0rd n00b. And that a phrase like pwnz0rd n00b is, in itself, a dated reference. Jesus.

Headed on back to catch the last 15-20 minutes of the show, then stuck around to hang out with the performers. Turns out they were having a cast party at their billeter’s house, and I managed to weasel my way into an invitation.

Turns out their billeter had been in the audience for Descendant, and pulled me aside from the rest of the group to share a glass of fine scotch with me. Turned out to be another fascinating guy – an Army brat from Iowa, who’d weathered careers in politics, law, and a failed marriage – so the show is apparently continuing to still work its magic, in terms of inspiring people to share their own stories with me.

Joined the rest of the group to hang out, laughing and talking, before glancing at my cell and realizing that it was 3am. Looked around the room and realized that it was easily one of those parties that could barrel on to five or six in the morning, excused myself, and headed home.

And the thought occurred to me, walking out to my car – there’s a time in my life when I would have felt genuinely remorseful for doing that – when it was critically important to me to close out every party, to hang out sharing dirty jokes and bullshitting until I was the last one left. But now, there comes a point in the evening where having that memory is less important to me then going home to get some rest.

Is that a loss? It seems like it should be, but somehow it doesn’t feel like one.

Thursday, July 29th, 2010
On the Aging of Process

Looking back over some of the previous entries, it’s hard not to see some patterns emerging.

(That’s another one of the things I find so important about travel – there’s that old saw about how traveling outwards causes one to looks inwards, and a change of environment does cultivate a certain sense of detachment.)

Ever since I was a kid – who knows why – I had in the back of my head the age of thirty as a sort of cut-off point for a certain degree of success. (After all, most of my heroes were headliners by the time they had left their teens.) I’m nearly thirty now – hardly ripe old age, but I’m not going to be a twenty-something for much longer, and that shifting of a single digit, while arbitrary, still has a lot of symbolic weight in my mind – particularly as it’s doesn’t seem likely that I’m going to be anywhere near the goals I’ve been shooting for. I don’t feel like I’ve been squandering my opportunities – on the contrary, looking back over the last decade, I think I’ve done a good job of more often than not keeping my nose to the grindstone. Which, if anything, makes falling short of those goals even more frustrating.

That’s been manifesting itself in a variety of ways over the past year, almost universally unhealthy, and I’ve made some pretty catastrophically bad decisions that have hurt a lot of people I’ve come to care about. Every time I think I’m starting to pull myself out of it, I step back and realize that I’m mired in the same place, if not repeating the same mistakes then still responding to the same impetus.

But, yeah – it all seems to come down to alarm at my own biological clock, which is, of course, nothing more than a kind of hubris. Hence agreeing to just about every project I’m getting offered, these days. Hence spending my entire trip here struggling to recapture past experiences. Hence, perhaps, the entire love-hate relationship I’ve had with Descendant for the past three years.

They say the first step is admitting that you have a problem. Which has never been the difficult one for me. Is that what this blog is? What these shows are? Just another form of the Catholic confessional, allowing me pour out my sins, receive absolution, then be set free to sin again?

Perhaps the true theme song of this trip is Count Basie’s Dark Rapture:

…night time brings the rapture
bringing of delight, boy
while we both recapture
the thrill that fills the still of a Congo night…

…may we share the dark rapture
and every year take a flight
may we always capture
the thrill that fills the chill of a Congo night…


Received a call from Curt in the afternoon – wanted to know if I wanted to accompany him to the Jazz Museum. Hell, I could cheerfully spend all day there, so, yes.

Got there early, and spent some time walking around the neighborhood. 18th and Vine is the historic Jazz district of Kansas City, and in a lot of respects it’s stayed pretty close to its roots: filled with all manner of bars, bands, and nightclubs.

There’s not a lot of places that I’ve been able to visualize any kind of life for myself – they’ve been limited to Minneapolis, Melbourne, and Hong Kong – and Kansas City, despite my fascination with the place, has never really been on that list. But hanging out in that neighborhood – yeah. I could cheerfully live there. Multiple choices for live jazz every evening? That’d be just some life, I tell you what. Provided, y’know, that cost of living in that area wasn’t as exorbitant as I assume it must be.

Took Curt to the Flea Market afterwards – yes, I could eat there every night, if I could possibly justify it to myself – then went to catch The Tragedy of Rumplepunchkin afterwards. I’ve always had some mixed feelings about the fact that almost none of my former teachers have ever really attended my shows – mixed, because it would certainly mean a lot to me for them to be there, but at the same time I recognize that most of them wouldn’t care for the work that I’m currently doing, and then we’d both have to decide how much we care about that – but I understand their perspective, as well. Watching performers who I spent some time training, even many years ago, and it’s hard for my brain not to snap back into that role – hard for me to shut it down enough to relax and enjoy the show, which certainly isn’t fair to them.

Then had the pleasure of seeing one my cousins for an hour. He lives in KC, but we rarely see each other when I’m here, largely because both of our schedules preclude it – he’s a surgeon, and I’m Fringing, so. Beyond that, it’s another one of those clashings of roles I find myself struggling with – I don’t know that I’m comfortable mixing the marketing whore/party lizard that I play on the circuit with the face that I try to present to my family.

Had a good time, though, this time in the Power and Light District, which I hadn’t seen before – mere blocks from the crumbling theatre areas, it’s definitely a more yuppie-ish part of town, leaving me to again marvel at just how schizophrenic this city is.

Made it in time to set up for my show, which was packed, as it turned out to be the Artist Night – when you’re touring a show, there’s always one night where all of the other artists end up deciding to come. So, you don’t make much money, but it’s definitely one of the most gratifying audiences to play – they totally get all of the more writerly jokes, as well as the high-concept stuff.

Immediately afterwards we descended, en masse, to Fringe Central again. As usual, the place was pretty much deserted except for us – I reclined with a beer and watched with amusement as various other performers leapt up to the mike for each other’s entertainment.

At one point – as there were about five people from three different companies onstage, working their way through a song with a variety of instruments and occasionally breaking down and arguing with each other – I turned to Tim and said, “Does it ever strike you just how absurd our lives are?”

He responded, without hesitation, “Yes. But you can’t ever let yourself think that way, because then you start to tell yourself that there’s no way you can possibly do it, and that’s the beginning of the end.”

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Takin’ a Break From Doin’ It

…as tonight is my night off from performing.

Every time I set out on one of these trips, I throw together a mix – basically, I select the “most frequently played” from my iTunes, drop out the longest-running ones, and burn them onto a CD. The result usually consists of show music – I tend to build playlists for each individual show or story as I’m writing it, and listen to those songs over and over again as I’m working. One of the odd exceptions is “Meds”, by Placebo, which has become the de facto theme song of this trip by virtue of my inability to get it out of my head. It has a suitably angsty, adolescent, Pink-Floyd-esque quality.


I’ll confess to some frustration with this particular trip – I just can’t seem to figure out what to do with myself. Last year, I was able to set out every night with no idea of where I was heading or where I would end up, with never dismaying results. This time around, I seem to find myself wandering about aimlessly more often than I’d like. Am I just burned out on the city? It seems unlikely – I’m sure there’re thousands of holes-in-the-wall I have yet to discover, but I’m just not finding them.

Maybe the problem is expectation. Glancing back over what I’ve just written, it seems pretty clear that I came here in need of a very specific kind of experience; so maybe when I let that go, I’ll be able to find something. We’ll see.

…since, y’know, letting go is the kind of thing I’m so good at.


My billeter’s location actually isn’t too far from the one I had last year, which means I’m within easy walking distance of the Westport area. My impression is that Westport is very much the Uptown of Kansas City (i.e. much more hipster-oriented). But, yeah, I know this area pretty well, so I had the opportunity to (finally!) make it to a cafĂ© with free wireless and start catching up on work.

Part way through, I ran into another chunk of the cast from Grind, doing their flyering business throughout the city. I’ve grown rather fond of these guys; they’re a bunch of Carlton graduates, and remind me a lot of Ben Egerman and Rachel Teagle before them: galloping into view with boatloads of enthusiasm, seizing hold of every opportunity as it arises. I talked to them for a while, and they echoed my frustrations at not being able to find what to occupy themselves with. I offered my services as a tour guide – really, I’d just like the excuse to hang out with them more. I gave them my phone number and asked them to give me a call if anything came up. Call, me GRIND: The Musical! (They won’t call.)


Determined to do some serious and irreparable damage to my bowels, I subjected myself to a Patty Melt at the Flea Market. (For a once-a-year indulgence: so worth it.) Then set out to Just Off Broadway to catch Tim’s show. (They seem to be setting some of the venues by theme this year – in this case, all the Shakespeare shows in one venue – which is smart: I recall them doing something similar in Indianapolis to great effect.) By far, the best-attended show I’d seen – I presume due to some combination of the success of his show last year, and the fact that “Lot O’ Shakespeare” is a pretty solid marketing package – art combined with a nifty parlor trick.

I flyered his crowd on the way out, then stuck around long enough to flyer the next crowd on the way in. The upcoming show was “Boobs, Burlesque, and the Bard”, and I could barely keep up with the number of people.

So…what is it with KC and burlesque? I mean, just about every Fringe Festival I hit on the circuit has one or two burlesque shows, which have an attendance that varies from moderate to respectable – but KC has, like, dozens. And they’re always, always packed. Even the shows that aren’t burlesque shows are trying to be – I was amused to note the huge percentage of previews that involved people removing their clothing. I mean, all Fringes are a little sex-crazy, but this is noteworthy.

Anyway, flyered that crowd, glanced at my cell, and realized that I had just enough time to bolt over to another venue and catch another crowd. Made it in right before start time, bought a ticket (immediately before asking what show I was seeing, to the amusement of the box officers) and grabbed a seat. Headed to the lobby as soon as the lights rose at the end of the show, eager to get this crowd, too. Found myself waiting for about five minutes before I realized that, oh. The entire audience had consisted of the artists’ family and friends. Oops.


The volunteers talked up a couple of late-night bars at great artist hangouts, great places to flyer and network, and I met the prospect with enthusiasm. I headed to Fringe Central, to see if I could talk anyone else into joining me.

Bit of a tough row to hoe, since the few who were there seemed to want to stick around. Enh, I dunno – it’s hard for me to be game for the open-mike again. I mean, pretty much every night I’m going out and doing my stuff for a handful of people – I don’t want to go out afterwards and do the same thing for a body of people who care even less. It’s just not fun for me to work that hard for so little. I envy guys like Tim, who will eagerly perform monologues for three people and regularly holds performances in his own apartment – but I’m not constituted that way, and it’s extraordinarily difficult for me to continually generate the energy for that kind of performance.

Perhaps more to the point, I just couldn’t handle spending another night in the same place. I really don’t want to slink back home with my only memory of Kansas City being hunched over the same bar every night. So I was able to con a few people into heading the street with me.

I say “con”, because, well – one of the places was closed, the other place dead and in the process of closing. Well, yeah – Tuesday night. But, yes. Starting to go a little crazy. all play and no work makes phil a big jerk

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Flee, Spammers! fleeeee

...I'm back. Having finally rediscovered internet access. Here comes the backlog.

Saturday, July 24th, 2010
Why Do I Do It?

…is the question I am frequently asked these days, with the unspoken implication of “Why are you an idiot for doing this?” Why am I going to freakin’ Missouri? Particularly when I’m already so overcommitted? And I’ll confess, it’s a question I’ve been asking myself, in the days and hours leading up to my departure. Why am I doing this? Am I forgetting anything? Why am I doing this? I can’t do this. Oh, God, why am I doing this? All running through my mind, packing, loading, all the way through navigating my way out through classic Twin Cities roadwork-crippled traffic.

And then I was out, and then…silence. In my head, anyway, and only for a moment. There’s nothing quite like popping out of the TC metro area like a champagne cork and watching the freeway open up in front of you with Ennio Morricone blasting from your car stereo.

I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness, anyway, mainly because I haven’t been experiencing much of it lately. Presuming we can sidestep that whole uber-American argument (but you have so many things! How can you be unhappy with so many things), I do have a remarkably blessed existence – not least, the extraordinary community of people I find myself surrounded by, and I value them more than I can express – but happiness seems to be based on a wide range of stimuli for a wide range of people. I have been happy at various points in the past, and I’m old enough, and I’ve experienced this cycle enough times, to be confident that it’s just a question of hanging on until the wheel turns again.

But when I think about those brief periods of happiness that I’ve experienced in recent memory, the pattern is undeniably consistent – it’s been when I was on the road. There’s something about setting out with no knowledge of where you’re going to end up that evening, of being liberated from the traps you’ve built around yourself in your environment, of being able to re-invent yourself over and over again – yeah. I still have my intense ambivalence regarding travel, but I’ve been doing little enough of it lately that the romance is pretty goddamn energizing right now.

Of course, it’s not sustainable. Or particularly profitable. And it’s incredibly draining, incredibly quickly. It’s not at all unlikely that I’ll be reduced again to my typical, quivering mass of neuroses by the end of the week. But I don’t know that that’s what’s going to happen. And that’s the point, innit?


The drive down was fairly uneventful – I spent most of it working on memorizing lines for my 3,012th Fringe show – doing my typical routine of stopping for gas/food/facilities in various small towns, and watching accents evolve over space.

Here’s the thing. One of the recurring arguments I get into with fellow Minnesotans is whether or not Missouri is considered part of the Midwest or part of the South. I usually argue for the former – that’s how the US Census identifies it, in any case – but if the accent is any indication, I may have to re-evaluate my opinion.

See, in Kansas City proper, there’s a wide range of speaking patterns, and most of them aren’t particularly noticeable. (I’ve written in the past about the fact that accents tend to fade as you get closer to population centers.) But in the small towns I stopped in along the way, I was consistently greeted with that nasal, twangy drawl I can only identify as Southern.

But, yeah, that observation did serve to remind me of the fact that, hey, I’m heading to a different place. Another aspect of touring that fascinates me is the fact that different crowds respond differently. Which is the case with every show I’ve done, but most notably in 2008 with All Rights Reserved. Even sidestepping the more dramatic stuff that went down, it was a completely different set of jokes that hit. Saying “nigger” in Minneapolis might have drawn a few gasps, but for the most part people were willing to relax and trust that it was going somewhere. In a more diverse city, with its own history of racial tensions, it was a trickier slur to drop.

…and it only just now occurs to me that, hey, I’m taking my big racial-identity show this year. That should be interesting.

Provided that, y’know, anyone’s in the audience.


Arrived in town in time to gatecrash my billeter’s birthday party, taking place at a local pub. Picked up the key, drove back to her place, got myself set up, and decided to walk back out to join the festivities.

The walk back took about a half-hour – a little longer, since someone asked me about my Stanhope T-shirt and decided to invite me into a bar to buy me a drink. (Again – this kind of thing simply does not happen to me in my own city, but happens with absolute consistency every time I travel.)

Arrived back at the bar – a roomful of strangers that I immediately began to introduce myself to, interjecting myself into one conversation after another. (Which, again, is something that I’m utterly incapable of doing in Minneapolis.) Another thing that fascinates me about this city – this is my third time here, and I feel like I find a different city every time I come. A number of people I spoke to agreed with this observation – Kansas City, more than other places I’ve been to, seems to be a clumsily-knit collection of communities that have little to no interaction with each other.

But, yes. If they say the measure of a person is by their friends, my billeter is a very cool lady indeed. Spoke at length to a used-bookstore owner who invited me out to an open-mike, a former New Yorker who was a significant part of the creation of the Daily Show (and was kind enough to share plenty of behind-the-scenes nitty-gritty), and a representative of PBR who kept me in free beer for much of the evening.

PBR: You’re an actor, right? You’re used to having your picture taken. I’ll give you free beer if you let me take your picture holding it.
ME: …you are like the Santa Clause of liquor.

People ask me, why do I do this? Which doesn’t seem to be the relevant question to me. The real question, I think, is why don’t a pull a Tim Mooney and do this all the freakin’ time?


(A: paragraph five, for those of you taking notes.)

Sunday, July 25th, 2010
How Can I Do It?

…becomes the more pressing question upon arrival.

Started off the day by checking in at Fringe Central, where I was once again surprised by the recognition and warm reception from the staff. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – this community of people is the thing that keeps me coming back year after year, in the face of wildly varying success.

MV did okay in ’08 – not amazing, but, y’know, serviceable. Freakin’ tanked in ’09. And in that case, the evidence suggests that I need to accept full responsibility, since several of my colleagues from out-of-town were doing gangbusters. Moreover, I was doing all of the same publicity work they were doing, in many cases more so – which suggests that it was the show itself that was presenting the marketing challenge.

Which is the main reason that I chose to bring Descendant – it’s my most consistent money-maker. It’s growing harder and harder to justify coming here, if I can’t generate an audience, so this is something of a desperate attempt to rationalize the amount of time, energy, and money I keep investing in this place.


Spent most of the afternoon flyering. Which wasn’t hugely successful, since, like every other city I’ve been to, theatre venues tend to not be located in the ritzier areas of town; hence, lots of empty storefronts. Also, doing this on a Sunday might not be the most brilliant idea I’ve ever had. Also – I really need to remember to create posters, flyers, and postcards; I generally create two of three and end up regretting that I don’t have the third. I have my usual bevy of postcards, and a set of 11x17 posters that look fantastic, but there’s simply not a lot of places to put them up, and a stack of flyers sure couldn’t have hurt.


My venue’s a bit of a hike; not as bad as, say, the Ritz or the Gremlin in MN, but still definitely off the beaten path. The fact that I had to circle the area about five times before figuring out where it was – and the fact that every local who I’ve asked about it has responded with “Huh?” – is not hugely encouraging to me. Combine the above factors with a Monday-night opening and I’m not holding my breath for the initial turnout.

Tech was a bit of a mess, since we ended up trying to tech three companies in three hours. Spent most of the time hanging out with the Journeyman (Players? Theatre? Lost their card and I don’t have internet access at the moment), who are doing a play which they described as “absurd.” (Well, actually – I asked three individual company members what their show was about, and all three responded with something like a combined sigh, a snort, and an eye-roll – couldn’t have been tighter if it was rehearsed – and then, when pressed, responded “It’s absurd.”)

My tech seems like a reasonably cool guy – he’s an R&B/Gospel musician, born and raised in KC – in fact, who claims to have been born on a Greyhound bus as it was entering the city limits. Offered him a lift to the opening night party after that, where I was delighted to hook up with a number of familiar faces – Tim Mooney, for one; the cast of GRIND: The Musical, for another – who was kind enough to mention my show on their blog, and for whom I am now returning the favor – and two of the cast of SHARDS, a group of first-time Fringers composed of a good chunk of former students of mine, in a bizarre clashing of worlds that I have yet to fully adjust to.

Opening night was a blast, as usual, but I’m wondering if it wouldn’t be smarter at this point to move the action to a larger venue – I understand the importance of establishing Fringe Central as a location in everyone’s minds, but the event has simply grown beyond the building’s capacity. Crowded, sweltering, and noisy, it was a tough room to play – you really had the option of plunging forward and nearly passing out in the press of bodies, or hanging toward the back and not being able to hear anything. Regretfully, I had to spend most of my time with the latter option.

For my three-minute preview, I opted to do my Fringe-For-All piece from 2007 – opens with a bit of clowning, I tear my clothes off to reveal the Game of Death jumpsuit, then closing out with some slam poetry. It was a huge hit in MN, but I wasn’t sure if it was just a fluke.

…and turns out, nope. Was really successful, at least for the portion of the audience I was able to see/hear/communicate with, which hovered in the neighborhood of fifty percent – one of those shows that’s super-fun to play, where you can just hold those moments and know that the audience is hanging there with you. Really validating, in that “I-can-still-do-comedy” kind of way.


So, yeah. I definitely have the sense that I’ve done everything right this year, marketing-wise – I have the right show, I hit with my preview, been suitably aggressive with the cards and flyers – no press this time around, but dem’s the breaks. We’ll see if this pays off tomorrow night.

Monday, July 26th, 2010
Am I Doing It Yet?

So I departed in the morning (er, noonish) with a bus schedule I managed to print off of Google. The bus system’s a bit of a pain here, though – I find their website nearly impossible to use, and they generally don’t post schedules at the bus stops – so I decided to set out on foot.

Sun was hiding initially, but I forgot that KC can get deceptively humid – forgot only briefly, however, as my environment was at pains to remind me of that fact. A bit concerned, considering all of the fatigue issues I’ve been having lately, but I stopped at a CVS to pick up three bottles of Gatorade and set out.

I actually prefer walking to driving on tour – I’ve stated before that I don’t think you can really get to know a place until you’ve gotten lost in it a couple of times. Imagine my disappointment, then, to realize that I’ve reached the point that I can actually navigate my way around fairly well. This is strange, because I regularly become disoriented in my own city. I can only conclude that I manage to be somewhat more alert to my surroundings when I’m in unfamiliar territory.

Made a few stops – one at the blissfully air-conditioned Crown Center again, to restock their supply of postcards – before I made the five-mile trek back to my car. A bit of a wince admitting that, since there was once a time in my life when that would have been nothing. Oddly, Fringe is the time of year I seem to lose weight, despite eating a disproportionately large amount of junk food – presumably because I spend most of the time on my feet.


Hit my car, and broadened my explorations a bit, mostly trying to re-familiarize myself with areas I’d been before. Considered swinging by the Union Station – a large, museum-type area – hit it last year with Kirsten and Dean, when they had a Narnia exhibit. They had a thing about dinosaurs this time, and I like dinosaurs, but I recall it being pretty kid-oriented last year, and I really didn’t want to be the creepy guy looking at dinosaurs by himself, so I gave it a miss.

A sprawling Liberty Memorial was visible just down the street, however, with a WWI museum built into it. Walked around the grounds a bit before realizing that the museum proper was closed on Mondays. As are most museums. Which rather elegantly dismissed a big chunk of my potential plans for the day.

Rediscovered the Westport Flea Market – which serves one of the most amazingly greasy burgers I’ve ever tasted – and the nearby half-price bookstore, where I picked up a bunch of road-trip tapes last year. Picked up a copy of Humphrey Carpenter’s “Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien” – since I am apparently determined to read every syllable the man ever wrote – and a big metal thing displaying the silver-age JLA, since I am apparently a big ol’ geek.

Between flyering, walking, and driving, I’d figured out my territory pretty well again, and it was about time for me to head on out for my opening night.


Okay, tiny audience, let’s get that out of the way right off the bat, which by no means means that I’m out of rationalizations – it was a 7pm on a Monday night, after all – but worth noting that they had chosen to come see the show with no prior knowledge, based entirely on the show title/image/description. Descendant’s consistently done that – the only other show in my repertory that’s had that effect is The Secret Book of Jesus. Usually, people seeing my show is contingent on them having talked to me or seen me preview it or heard about it – it’s rare for one of my shows to garner audience on its own, and one of the reasons I picked this one to bring.

But, yeah. It’s the first time I’ve performed the show in its entirety since 2008 – I’ve performed it in chunks regularly in the interim – and I was startled by how emotional a lot of points of the story were for me. I figured that I would have cultivated some kind of detachment by now, but I’ve obviously made no progress whatsoever in resolving this stuff for myself. So much for art as therapy.

In any case, both my audience and my two box officers (who were listening just outside) were extremely effusive afterwards, and eagerly offered to talk it up, so we’ll see how that pans out.


Had the option of sticking around to see the show after mine, or of grabbing a bite to eat and heading on over to Fringe Central. Still riding the post-show buzz, and wasn’t really up to sitting through an unknown quantity – so stopped at a Thai place and headed on over to FC.

The place tends to be pretty dead on weeknights, and has been for as long as I’m doing this. It’s symptomatic, I suspect, of how the Festival is structured. It’s a week long – opens on Monday and closes on Sunday – so the only people really seeing shows through the week are die-hard Fringers. The actual Festival doesn’t take off until that closing three-day period. So through the week, people are either seeing shows (generally at 7pm, 8:30pm, or 10pm Mon-Thurs), or going home – it’s usually the out-of-towners huddled around the bar. Which is fine, since we all know each other by now, but it’s not really an effective means of networking.

I was also invited to host the open-mike again. Flattered as always, but I’m not 100% sold on the fact that it’s such a great idea – I mean, half the time there’s a half-dozen people there. The people who want to see performances are out, well, seeing performances. I’m not sure what it would take to make the place into the evening destination it needs to be. People seem to enjoy it, though, so it’s entirely possible I’m overthinking this.


It may also account for the fact that Tim Mooney is consistently greeted with “Hey! You’re the guy who did ‘Dancing Nude’ last year!” and I’m consistently greeted with “Hey! You’re the guy who hung out at Fringe Central all the time last year!”