Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Minnesota Fringe approaching!

First things first -- Matt Everett, Fringe blogger extraordinaire, has placed Maximum Verbosity at #2 on his top ten list this year. That's out of 163 shows. Woo-hoo! He's been kind enough to do a write-up on us -- the first half is a kind of retrospective of our first four years (can you believe we've been around that long?), the second half a somewhat cranky interview with me about the new show. Worth checking out, if only for the trip down memory lane: http://www.fringefestival.org/blg_showPost.cfm?blogID=4&id=2406

Second things second, the Asian-American Press has done a write-up about the show, complete with a (rather snarky) interview with me about the Asian-American community in the Twin Cities. Also available online, this time at http://aapress.com/index.php?subaction=showfull&id=1185766871&archive=&start_from=&ucat=6&.

I've also just returned from touring in the Iowa Fringe. There's a clip of me previewing the show with some comedy for their "Fringe Frenzy" in a local coffee shop at http://www.iowafringe.com/videos. The audience reviews were unanimously glowing:

"phillip low is a straight-up (fantastic) storyteller. Okay, he’s also a slam poet, an actor, and affectionate entertainer. I thoroughly enjoyed his Descendant of Dragons. It’s a journey you should take with him."

"Excellent show, engaging story. He’s physically and verbally charismatic and unafraid to be vulnerable and genuine with the audience. Best of the Fringe for me so far."

"A great story, well written and well told. I enjoyed this best of all I’ve seen, so far."

For my own thoughts on the experience, I've been writing at the Maximum Verbosity Production Blog (http://maximumverbosityonline.blogspot.com). Check out my promotional sonnet!

Speaking of blogging, for those interested in some, er, DVD bonus features, so to speak -- the show being a travelogue, much of it has been collected from my travel writing. You can read early drafts of some pieces that ended up in the show -- and several that were cut -- at the following links:


Want to help me out? I'd like to get the show videotaped, as well. Since this is a storytelling show, and pretty much the least physical thing I've ever done, left to my own devices I'll probably just set up a home video camera on a tripod and hit "Record," much like the infamous Star Wars kid (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQibs3albtM). If anybody out there would be willing to undertake anything more ambitious than that, I'd be happy to offer a small stipend for the service.

Fringe Festival starts in two days -- and I open in barely a week! Eeeagh!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Sonnet

I've been running an annual poetry challenge over at my blog for the Minnesota Fringe, wherein interested companies can send me a sonnet written to a set of insanely complicated rules (terza rima this year) if they want me to cover their shows. I've been a big believer in not taking advantage of that space to plug my own Fringe show, but I've been critiquing so much of other people's poetry that it seems only sporting to allow them to take a crack at mine. So, without any further ado, a sonnet promoting my own show:

Faded descendant of a noble line,
his life defined by his duality
of Western coarseness, Eastern blood so fine,

he plunges into ancient history
accompanied by others, yet alone,
unique in his genetic alchemy.

In Canada, a Buddhist talks of bones;
In Fiji, tombs conceal a mystery
beneath blue tile, granite, dirt, and stone;

New Zealand harbors filial secrecy,
and China -- here our cranky hero blunders
to battle a grotesque bureaucracy.

Amidst his doubt and toil, still he wonders
if somewhere in his blood -- a dragon thunders.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Scrimshaw Preview

Did a brief preview for my show Monday night before Joe Scrimshaw's weekly interactive comedy show Adventures in Mating -- was the third of three Fringe previews, who I'll do the favor of not mentioning here, since I was too busy freaking out to really give them the attention they deserve.

First set I've done for this show that I really felt dissatisfied with -- I made the mistake that I so frequently do, which is that I ambitiously chose too much material for the limited time slot and ended up barrelling through most of it. It would have been better for me to select less and really try to cultivate a relationship with the audience.

Actually, I ad-libbed most of it -- I opened by riffing on Iowa (I can't believe that simply naming the town you happen to be in at the time actually works as an applause line, by the way) and Harry Potter (the fact that obtaining a copy earlier that day had prevented me from doing any work on my show). If this show's done anything for me, it's really helped me develop a lot more comfort with my audience -- as the most personal and least theatrical thing I've done. There's a time in my life I couldn't have imagined going on stage without exhaustive rehearsal, but I've written both of my Minnesota Fringe previews the day of performing them, and they've both been significantly better because of it.

I was concerned about memorizing my lines (I was working on-book while I was in Iowa), but I'm surprised to note that I've already done it -- there's a way that pieces you've performed on stage get burned into your brain. My problem right now is that they aren't *quick* -- I find myself stammering a lot, losing my place and taking a few seconds to find it -- but I've got a week left to nail 'em down.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Reflections on Iowa

Had nine people in the audience yesterday -- that's four performances of three, three, nine, and nine, bringing me to a grand total of twenty-four. Hardly auspicious, but the tour's served its function, which is to start transforming the show from a *reading* into a *performance*.

I've written previously about my struggle with complex sentence structures, and even though that rapid-fire delivery has become something of a calling card for my shows, the main work I've done on this tour is simplifying my delivery. One of the main issues that my editors jumped on was my fondness for "soft punches" -- to deliver a punchline, then immediately undercut it with another punchline. That kind of reflexive, self-deprecating humor is a big part of what the show's all about, but it plays weak on stage, and I've been chopping away at it.

I've always been finding that there's many parts of the script in which punchlines can be entirely replaced by expression or gesture -- and I find it ironic that, even though this is the least physical show I've ever done, reviews have still been commenting on the physicality of my performance.


So the Festival's done, and sure, it was both disorganized and critically understaffed -- I received my venue assignment late, never got a tech, did at least one performance with *no* volunteers or staff on hand -- but I can't think of the last time I had this much fun.

The out-of-towners have always been cloaked in mystery, appearing and disappearing softly and suddenly with flickers of genius, the rock stars of the Fringe circuit. Having the opportunity to be around them for a week has been one the coolest, most exciting times of my life since -- well, since last year's Fringe.

Make sure to check some of 'em out in Minneapolis this August. They deserve it -- and we deserve them, too.

I'm off to perform in another preview, as part of Joe Scrimshaw's show at the Bryant-Lake Bowl. Feel free to swing by and say hi. If I can tear myself away from this for long enough to actually work on the preview, that is.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Coming to a Close

The show today went significantly better -- I managed to triple my audience, bringing it to a grand total of nine. The audience consisted largely of other artists, which is always fun to play -- they get all of the geeky references and narrative tricks.

Did the whole weird high-school thing that seems to be a hallmark of out-of-town Fringing -- "Have you heard there's a party at this guy's house? Yeah, spread the word!" and spent the evening with the cast of Knuckleball, as well as trading angst with the writer and actor of Pigeon Man Apocalypse.

Just so exhausted. Really snapping into Fringe mode now, seeing tons of shows and all of my energy going to reviewing them. One more day of this nonsense before I'm back in Minneapolis.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Quarter-Life Crisis

One of the stranger side-effects of the spread of internet culture is the fact that, thanks to any number of myspace/ringo/facebook memberships, my twenty-fifth birthday is now public knowledge. (I've even gotten automated messages from online dating services, offering congratulations from "the team." Uh, thanks.) In any case, this means that I am now able to officially begin my quarter-life crisis, as opposed to the 4/25 crisis of last year, or the 23/100 crisis of the year before that. As if I needed permission.


Had a preview at a coffee shop early in the evening (I nearly said "early in the day," since I'm on Fringe schedule now, which means working all night and sleeping all day), which basically ended up being a bunch of artists entertaining each other -- which I'm totally fine with! Most likely the largest audience I'll end up playing this month. It was sort of barely organized, half-MC'd by the Festival director, with a bunch of us impulsively leaping onto the stage and performing pretty much whenever the hell we felt like it.

Y'know, the Minnesota Fringe is large enough -- and has been around long enough -- that, a few glitches excepted, for the most part it chugs along pretty much like clockwork. (At least, from the artist's perspective -- I'm sure it seems much more chaotic than that backstage.) But I'm really falling in love with this scrappy little festival, the last-minute wild ideas that just sort of *happen*. It's fun to be getting my foot in the door here, and I'm looking forward to returning.

My only real regret is that the run is so *short* -- I've made a point of not bringing up the Festival to the locals, just asking "Is there anything going on in terms of theatre here?" And they always think for a minute and say "Well, there's Spamalot..."

Nobody knows what the Fringe *is* yet, but they're always interested once they find out. Give me a week and I can drum up some interest. I don't know how to do that in four days.


Had another audience of three people tonight (was nearly two, but a friend from Minneapolis surprised me by driving down to catch the show) -- which is apparently kicking ass and taking names, from talking to the other out-of-towners. A number of other performers have had to cancel shows entirely due to nobody showing up.

After my first run-through with an audience yesterday, I'm starting to relax with the material, simplify some of my punchlines, replacing words with gestures and expressions in a few places -- growing more comfortable with the story, at any rate. Hopefully I'll have this down to a science by the time I hit the Mini Apple again.


Closed out the evening with a recption at the hotel, which naturally led to my becoming obnoxiously drunk. Took the opportunity to get out as many postcards as I could, since it's becoming rapidly obvious that I've printed more cards than the total population of Des Moines.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Notes from Des Moines

Managed to hook up with Carl Franzen in the afternoon to put up posters. Found a few decent, receptive areas, only to discover that a number of businesses in the area don't open until 4pm. My observation last night being that everything closes at 8pm, this leaves a remarkably short window of time for anything to take place.


Never did get a tech person -- I'm still uncertain whether this is because my assigned tech person wimped out on me, or because I was never assigned a tech in the first place. The TD basically sat me down in front of the light/sound board and told me I was free to poke around. I'm not a skilled tech, but I've been in show business long enough to be able to operate a simple board. No matter; after a brief round of vomiting in the library's restroom, I was able to draft one of my ticket-takers to run my sound cues for me.


My very first Fringe show, I had a grand total of three people in the audience. In the intervening years, I've been able to gradually build an audience, and that's not an ordeal I've had to go through since.

So how many people did I have in the audience? A grand total of -- you guessed it -- three. This is definitely the downside of touring -- that there's a sense in which I'm starting over from scratch, and that experience is somewhat depressing.


The audience was receptive, however, and I had fun with them. One of the major *upsides* of touring is the fact that, locally, people have come to know what to expect from me. Out here, I'm re-introducing myself to an audience all over again, that's just oodles of fun.

One woman in particular I shared a very nice conversation with -- she's the adopted mother of several Chinese children, and found a lot of resonance in what I was saying to her own experience. One of the things I love about storytelling isn't sharing my *own* experiences, but the fact that doing so seems to give me access to the experiences of others.


The other upside of touring -- and, for me, possibly the biggest one -- is the opportunity to shoot the shit with other artists. Those who make it onto the road always seem to have the most interesting experiences, and I'm eager to soak up everything I can like a sponge.

Did a spot of bar-hopping, too, in a desperate attempt to track down food -- every time we asked one of the locals if there was a restaraunt still open at 11pm, we were met with a torrent of Errol-Flynn-like belly-laughs. Managed to find a bar that was willing to whip up some appetizers, only to have them kick us out at midnight. Midnight! On a Thursday night. It's like being back in Rochester all over again.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Arrived at the hotel. Must have been the odd one out or something, because I managed to get a room all to myself. And what a room -- Jesus, 66 channels and free wireless. That's better than I get at my apartment.

My performing space is respectable, as well -- far from the stack of books I was dreading, it's actually quite spacious. Put up a few posters in areas recommended by the Festival director and got back to my car just in time to keep it from being towed. Seriously, the guy had it hooked up and was in the process of loading it into his truck. Major suckage.

I have a number of other things to take care of before opening the show tomorrow night, but I'm not going to. My reason is this: when we opened our first show, I set a strict deadline for myself -- everything would be done two days before the performance, no matter what. My logic was that I would then be able to kick back and relax, spend the day refining whatever still needed to be worked on.

What actually happened is I got everything done early, kicked back -- and realized I had nothing to do but sit around and anticipate the opening. Forty-eight hours of raw panic ensued. I have since learned to leave a few select items to the last minute, to give myself something to worry about other than the performance.

My panicking for *that* doesn't get to start until I hit the stage.


Currently staying at the apartment of a friend in Ames. The Festival takes place in Des Moines, about a half-hour away, but my check-in time isn't until 3pm.

Such an odd, vitriolic mix of different phobias -- my typical stage fright, combined with my fear of being miles away from all of my dozens of little comforting rituals. It's ironic that I'm such a big traveller -- that my latest show is in fact a travelogue -- and so much of travel just makes me so nauseous.

(There's an irony, too, that I find vacationing to be so terribly stressful -- I'm much more comfortable at home, chugging away at a variety of projects, than I am just about anywhere else. Part of it's my usual Catholic guilt, I'm sure -- the sense that I'm able to have a job that I love so deeply that it feels unjust for me to be taking time away from it. My whole goddamn *life* is a vacation.)

I've been playing the multicultural card a lot with this show, which makes me uncomfortable -- I'm a staunch opponent of affirmative action, viewing it as little more than a form of institutionalized racism -- I've passed up a lot of opportunities, grants, etc. because I'm so uncomfortable with being granted any kind of advantage because of the color of my skin. But this show -- hell, I got into the Minnesota Fringe this year via their multicultural lottery. (I can at least partly justify this by the fact that a significant topic of my show is multiculturalism.)

What's bizarre is the degree of coverage I've been getting because of it. Asian American Press contacted me, asking me to write about the local API community. It took me several minutes (and a frantic Google search) to figure out what the hell they were talking about -- the Asian-Pacific Islander community (and not application programming interface, as I originally suspected) -- because apparently I'm now some kind of expert on the subject.

The director of the Iowa Fringe has also been kind enough to introduce me to the, uh, "head of Asians" in Iowa, for lack of a better term (which makes it sound like some kind of exotic, solemn ceremony) -- in fact, here's a link to some info about her. It's hard for me to imagine that she has much in common with a foul-mouthed libertarian.

There's a part of me that feels a little guilt about this, like I'm somehow masquerading some kind of "yellow cred" that I don't really have. But then, I think that maybe that's not all that uncommon an aspect of the Asian-American experience, especially among ABC's like myself -- I have at least one friend who was rejected from an Asian-American club for "not being Asian enough."

What a strange animal this show is.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Iowa and Minnesota

More announcements, because there's always ten thousand freakin' things going on Fringe season.

First of all, a reminder that I'm opening the new show in Des Moines this Thursday -- I'm taking off for the Tall Corn State tomorrow, armed with a garbage bag full of props and the cheapest bottle of vodka I could find. And your first reminder about the Minnesota Fringe, opening in Minneapolis in three weeks! If you haven't added my show to your Fringe schedule yet, now's the time -- just register over on the Fringe site at www.fringefestival.org. More information about both venues can be found as usual on our site at www.maximumverbosityonline.org/current.html.

As for previews, Fringe blogger Kate Hoff made some very kind comments over at www.fringefestival.org/blg_showPost.cfm?blogID=3&id=2360. I (unexpectedly!) ended up plugging my show with some slam poetry as part of Cafe Barbette's Bastille Day celebrations to fill in for another group. I'll also be doing another preview during Joe Scrimshaw's hit comedy "Adventures in Mating" when I get back into town this Monday (the 23rd) -- more information available at www.adventuresinmating.com.

Not strictly Maximum-Verbosity-related, but if you're interested in seeing a lot of Fringe shows this year, volunteers are still being hired -- and for each show you work, you get to see another show of your choice free of charge. Believe me, this is a community that's worth being a part of. If you're interested in chipping in, head on over to http://fringefestival.org/volunteer.cfm.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Why Does Political Theatre Have to Suck, Part One of a Very Likely Continuing Series

A few weeks ago, a friend and I went to go see a production at a theatre which shall remain nameless. She wrote an excellent post about how silly and pretentious the programme was, and I agree, though I think for the most part harmlessly so. I would, however, like to leap on board ridiculing the symbol next to some of the actor's names, which indicated the following:

"Supports peace in the world, equality and justice for all, and the fundamental human rights of speech and all forms of artistic expression."

Now, why does this get under my skin so much? Well, perhaps because I don't *agree* with it. I'm no pacifist, and I don't support peace on general principle -- I believe in the concept of self-defense, and recognize that we live in a world where self-defense is frequently necessary. I also don't necessarily support the idea of equality -- there are, after all, those who devote their lives to helping others, and those who devote their lives to spreading harm, and I don't see those as being morally equivalent.

Some will say that I'm missing the point, and they're absolutely correct -- because this sentence is so ridiculously vague that it could mean just about anything. And that's what I find so offensive about it -- that it is smug, and self-congratulatory, and purports to be daring while saying nothing whatsoever at all.

Perhaps you've become so insulated that you believe that a statement like this is still challenging and provoking. But it's nothing more than cheap applause line, the kind that many college theatre groups are fond of making, and I don't accept it from you, because you are fucking better than this.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Minnesota Fringe schedule online!

First of all, just a reminder that I'll be in Iowa the weekend of July 19-22 (more details available at http://maximumverbosityonline.org/current.html). If you know anybody in the area, have 'em swing on by and I'll do my best to entertain them.

I've also updated the website with clips from the upcoming show: feel free to view/hear them at http://maximumverbosityonline.org/clips.html.

Also, the Minnesota Fringe Festival's new website has officially gone live! Feel free to check out my show page at http://fringefestival.org/showDetail.cfm?showid=595. If you want to help a brother out, register for the site and add some of my performances to your schedule -- there's a top ten list of the most scheduled shows that everyone pays attention to, and it would really rock my world to crack that.