Sunday, September 27, 2009

Note From Melbourne

Tonight, I showed up at my venue to find a sign out front claiming that all shows had been canceled due to illness -- our venue manager was in the hospital, and unable to let anybody into the space. Because I have the most awesome tech ever, she immediately made a series of phone calls and secured us a performance space above a nearby coffee shop. Since all of my props, costume, and (perhaps most importantly) script were locked inside, the show would have to go forth without any of those things. My tech spent several minutes frantically scribbling all of her cues onto a sheet of paper so that I could use her tech script (in ten-point Times New Roman, squint) as my reference material. All of this happened in the space of approximately half an hour.

As the audience shuffled in, I tried to say the following to them. (I would love to say that this is exactly what I said, but I'm rarely anything resembling eloquent without the opportunity to write my material beforehand.)

Six years ago, I formed a company called Maximum Verbosity, out of the belief that words could do damn near anything. Tonight, we're going to put that hypothesis to the test.

Normally, this is a show punctuated by visual cues: by costume, props, and carefully-rehearsed changes in lighting and mood. I believe that this story is strong enough to survive without any of those things. It should be: it's already survived for over fifteen hundred years.

But for tonight, we're all going to be part of a little Brechtian experiment. Here's hoping I can entertain you.

Friday, July 31, 2009

July 27-28: Iowa

Monday, July 27th, 2009

Relieved to be on the road again.

Listening, this time, to a bunch of Tolkien short stories that I picked up in Kansas City. Slightly dramatized but mostly quite faithful: "Farmer Giles of Ham" was in particular quite entertaining. (Y'know, Tolkien never gets props for his comic chops. The books are full of rustic comedy, but that never seems to make it into the various adaptations of his stuff.) I also found "Leaf by Niggle" to be extraordinarily moving, and hearing a superbly-done, and superbly-performed fantasy story about stuff that, y'know, really matters, was a nice reminder of why I try to do the stuff that I do.

I stopped in Des Moines to visit an old friend. We dined that evening at the Hessenhaus, a German pub/restaurant whose back wall featured the Iowa Polka Music Hall of Fame. I am prepared to declare this is as my cultural achievement in Iowa.


Thatcher Williams invited me to see a rehearsal for Spermalot, which is performing at the Minnesota Fringe: my thoughts can be found at my Fringe blog on the Twin Cities Daily Planet.

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

Afternoon tea in Des Moines.

ME: Y'know, I'm really interested in Fallout 3 now that I've been to DC.

LIZ: Why?

ME: Well, because the whole thing is set in a replica of the city.

LIZ: That's cool.

ME: Yeah, it's supposed to really accurate. Only, y'know, with mutants and robbers crawling through the ruins.


ME: Okay, maybe not all that different.


My friend took me out to a tea shop in Des Moines. She sat herself down across from me, and said, "Okay. Want some unsolicited marketing advice?"


So she pulls out a sketch pad, and begins doodling. And here's something that struck me -- there's a lot of people who have been very aggressively giving me marketing advice, but none of their suggestions have anything to do with the work that I'm doing. This is the first time I really sat down with someone who, I think, actually gets the concept of the show -- and from only a few brief conversations, at that. (Well, excluding the many years we spent discussing this stuff when we were teenagers. Which, come to think of it, may be more to the point.)

But she's always had a flair for visual designs, and was effectively able to produce some really iconic images. And while I know that current Fringe wisdom suggests human face and human body for publicity -- this show is all about icons. And about smashing icons together.

The key image of the show, I think, is that of Pellinore and the Questing Beast -- the noble knight, pursuing the chimerical monster across the desert. "What does it mean?" she asks -- and, well, it's not ever exactly explained in the original texts. Some scholars think that the sound of beasts that emerge from its belly indicates the corruption and civil strife that will tear Camelot apart from the inside. And Pellinore's assertion that it will continue to be pursued by his children is either hopeful or ominous, depending on how you choose to read that. But there's something compelling in that unquestioning, self-destructive pursuit of an unattainable goal. There's a parallel to art, to the act of creation, that a number of audience members of picked up on, though nobody seems to have yet grabbed hold of what it may evoke politically.

Or maybe it doesn't mean anything at all. Maybe there is no meaning, and this simply happens because this is what happens in Arthur's realm.

Some have asked me to be more specific -- to be honest, I'm worried about being obnoxiously heavy-handed. I'm not really interested in allegory -- that childish, simple-minded form of storytelling in which each image has a clear one-to-one parallel will something else. Rather, I'm interested in what Tolkien described as applicability -- the development of a richly detailed, internally consistent world, within which many parallels can be found.


EVERYONE ELSE: Don't worry. You've got a following in Minneapolis! You're sure to a get a crowd there.

ME: Awesome! Thanks! So when are you coming to the show?


Hopped in my car. Can't express enough how gratifying it was to be able to reach up and plug "home" into my GPS.

I'm reassured by everyone that I'll have a strong audience showing in Minnesota. And I certainly have for the past two years. But that's not something I ever take for granted: I've learned the hard way that an audience won't necessarily follow you from one project to the next. Particularly when you genre-hop as heavily as I do.

In any case, since I'll be back in my hometown, posts here will be on the back-burner until I hit the road again. If you're interested in my adventures at the Minnesota Fringe, I advise you all to check out the blog I write for the Twin Cities Daily Planet at this link.

July 23-26: Missouri

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

In true Fringe fashion - a random photograph of myself and this rather fetching creature, presented with no explanation.

Went out to get some work done at a nearby internet cafĂ©. I was wearing my campaign shirt for Doug Stanhope’s 2008 Presidential run, when the dude sitting behind me noticed – claimed that he had been a stand-up comic on the circuit for a while, and had known Doug back when they were first starting out. We started chatting about various venues in Minneapolis which we’d both performed at.

There’s an anecdote about the aging Groucho Marx – he was hired to entertain in a hospital – but when he arrived, he realized that the people there didn’t want to be told jokes, they wanted somebody to talk to. So he went from bedside to bedside, and proceeded to chat up each person he met. He would initiate every conversation by asking where the patient was from – and then proceed to talk about local gossip, places to eat, places to hang out. And the staff was astonished to realize that he’d been to nearly every town, from his years of traveling on the vaudeville circuit.

I wouldn’t mind being like that someday.


I ended up, at the last minute and with no rehearsal, being the stage manager for Kirsten and Dean’s show. (One of the great pleasures of this stretch of the tour – I’m here with some of my favorite artists, well, ever.)

It was all routines I’d seen before, usually dozens of times (I’ve probably seen their material more than anyone other than, say, them). Since I was backstage, though, I was seeing them perform from the side. They have a series of sketches they do moving back-and-forth behind flats, and it’s startling to see just how hard they work.

(They did have one of those rare, bizarrely unresponsive crowds – not hostile, seemed to be enjoying it, but dead silent through the entirety of the show. I mean, who doesn’t laugh at the Star Wars parody? When Dean ignites that lightsaber, and makes that “come-get-some” gesture? I get that comedy is subjective, but Jesus.)


Also saw The Miniature Housewife – review available at Womb with a View.


My audience tonight was almost entirely made up of other artists. So the downside is, I didn’t really make any money; the upside is that it was one of the more fun performances.

Talked to Dean and Kirsten afterwards. Kirsten offered a few helpful suggestions – including the observation that Pellinore would not refer to a superior officer in such a familiar manner, even in casual company. (Rewrites ahoy.) Dean enjoyed it, with the caveat of being a bit overwhelmed by the wordstorming (new word? New word. Gonna start using it all the time now). Being the sweet guy that he is, he attempted to couch this is in friendly language: “I mean, we’re mimes, so we want less language. But I bet there’s a lot of people saying that they want more language,” at which point I burst out laughing. I have never, in the period of time I’ve been doing this, had an audience walk away from one of my scripts claiming that they want more language. I see no danger of this occurring.


Went out with Mike Shaeffer afterwards, ending up in, of all places, the Lava Room – the same dive we ended up in at the end of last year’s tour. That makes this our official hangout, since we’ve been there exactly twice in two years. (Although it apparently turns weird on a Friday night, since we spent much of the evening being harassed by what appears to be Ron Kovic’s identical twin.)

Friday, July 24th, 2009

Spent most of the day being completely zapped – just staring into space for big chunks of it, not getting work done. Mentally, in addition to fatigue and my other physical issues. I’m a classic introvert, and often find that I need periods of isolation to recharge – the kind of hyperactive extroversion that touring requires is incredibly draining to me.


I think I’m going to give a rest to talking about specific information regarding my shows in this space for now, and just let this be a tour diary – at least, until I have something positive to say.

I would like to say – I recall a quote by Federico Fellini, in which he claims that every artist tells the story that they love – and that therefore Steven Spielberg is the luckiest artist in the world, because so many people love the thing that he loves. I’ve always been very resistant to this – I find it hard to accept – I can’t be this unique, surely? Can there really be so few that love the things that I love? Trying to woo an audience often feels like being an unrequited suitor – and the less they respond, the more I start to feel like a stalker.

One of the revolutionary aspects of chivalry is the fact that it’s a system of courtship that revolves, at least nominally, around self-perfection – around making oneself sufficiently worthy to achieve the object of one’s desire. (This simultaneously elevates the object of your affection – since you need to be prepared to affect a kind of transformation to obtain them – and denigrates them, since it reduces them to a kind of object to be won solely through your own action.) Pellinore even cites this as one of his reasons for joining the military in the play – “If I’m lucky, I’ll meet a good woman, and if I do, I want to be worthy of her, God willing.” But what this ultimately means is that, if your love is not returned, it’s not simply bad luck – but a personal failure, an imperfection of character.

Whether or not any of that’s true – unrequited love sucks. Regardless of whether the “romance” in question is referring to courtship or heroic narrative.

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

I arrived before the volunteers did for my show today, and so ended up guiding audience to the show that was taking place above mine. Not that I minded doing it, but it's kind of a kick in the nuts to be directing audience to somebody else's play.

In the case of one family, there was a little girl whose eyes widened as soon as she saw the sword. "What show are you doing?" I told her, and she replied, "Cool!" It's a shame she won't be able to come see it.

But I've been thinking about the excitement on her face at the prospect of knights and heroes and war and all that stuff. There's got to be a way to tap into that. Maybe it's time for me to do another kid's show -- I haven't done one for a while. I have a great love for the adventure/fantasy genre -- perhaps I've just been targeting the wrong demographic.

In my audience tonight was a mother who had been dragged by her teenage son. Both loved it. I assume he was drawn by either the knights or the soldiers -- I wish I'd had the presence of mind to ask which it was.


I stage-managed Dean's show again. My favorite piece of his is called Jackass the Mime -- a dark little routine that opens with him playing a street mime who nobody laughs at. It becomes, ah, unpleasantly ironic without audience response. And ends up feeling a bit reminiscent of the whole trip.

Since this is a show that's also going to the Minnesota Fringe Festival, I've posted a few more thoughts at my blog at the Twin Cities Daily Planet.


Sunday, July 26th, 2009

Spent my morning working, running off of a sudden burst of inspiration -- pinning down outlines and notes for three potential, and potentially marketable, Fringe shows. Bursts like this for me are rare but intensely gratifying. (The point at which I note that most amateur writers fall down when making the leap to professional is that they assume that writing is a constant burst of inspiration, and become discouraged when it isn't.)

The word inspiration comes from the Latin spirare, meaning, "to breathe." In many of the early texts, Merlin is described as physically inhaling a kind of foreign entity before prophesying. I can see the parallel to the act of creation: when it works, you really feel like you're riding, not guiding, the process.


Hit up the after-party, where I ended up spending a good chunk of it talking to Kirsten and Dean. She recently lent me a copy of C.S. Lewis' Reflections on the Psalms. In his introduction, he simply states that he's not going to be attempting to convince anyone of anything: his readers either need to already buy into the basic premise of what he's saying or need to be able to suspend their disbelief.

There's something gratifying about being able to chew over ideas with people with at least a somewhat shared ideology. Otherwise, everything becomes apologetics: if I want to talk about faith or conservatism, I have to spend a huge chunk of time onstage convincing the audience that these ideas have some value worth considering. It's a real struggle to achieve any kind of depth of thought while still arguing over the initial principles.


I closed out the closing night party. Score.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

July 21-22: Missouri

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

Woke up this morning to a deluge of well-wishing and birthday messages on my Facebook. What the fuck has happened to my life? Since when do I have so many cool people in it?

Had a nice, low-key day for the most part – stayed in for the morning and got some work done, treated myself to a Chinese meal in the afternoon. Actually got to meet my billeter for the first time – he’s been out of town – shortly before taking off for my opening night.


…annnd we’re not going to be discussing how my opening night went.


Went to Fringe Central afterwards, where I ended up talking with a Vietnam medic turned salesman turned voice actor. One more for the menagerie that is Fringe.

(Incidentally – one of the great, surprising pleasures of storytelling for me has been the fact that when you stand onstage discussing a topic, I’ve found that there’s a huge number of people who are eager to return the favor. When I did Descendant, I heard similar tales of angst recounted from people of every ethnicity. So one of the cool things about this show is that I’ve been getting talked to by veterans lately – who feel compelled to give me war stories, boot camp stories, et cetera.)

(And not intending any disrespect to those many who enjoyed Descendant – but it’s grown hard, over the past two years, for me not to resent its success. (There’s a reason my last short story was titled “In the Shadow of the Dragon.”) I always assumed that once I had a really successful show, it would finally give me the credibility to work on those projects I was truly enthusiastic about. This…hasn’t proven to be the case. In many respects, it’s turned out to be quite the opposite.)

(Which leads me to remark on the vast amounts of unsolicited marketing advice that a struggling show draws:

THEM: Maybe the problem is…

ME: Yes, I know. People tune out as soon as they hear “King Arthur.” Nobody goes to see drama at the Fringe. The language is too dense for live performance.

THEM: But if you knew all those things going in, then you don’t get to complain when ow ow god and jesus you just rammed a fork into my eye socket)

I mainly swung by the central area to pimp my show at their open-mic night, which they run every evening. Things were late getting started – when I asked why, they indicated it was because their host for the evening hadn’t shown up. I jokingly said, “Hey, I’ll do it. I’ve hosted stuff.”

There was much muttering back-and-forth, and then I found myself onstage with a mic in my hand. Which is how I ended up being the master of ceremonies for the evening.

Turned out to be a lot of fun – small crowd, but very responsive. It struck me, hitting the ground running, that I’ve come a long way in my hosting from my first attempt – a religious storytelling cabaret, for which I wrote massive amounts of material, panicked, tried to perform all of it, and ended up dragging the evening onwards into oblivion. (I once again heartily apologize to anyone who had to witness this.)

But the opportunities I’ve had like this – the previews, the open-mics, et cetera – have reinforced for me something that I’ve badly, badly needed on this trip – that, yes. I do know how to have fun with an audience. I do know how to work a crowd. So it would really be nice to, y’know, have one occasionally.

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Got up, stayed in, worked. My billeter proceeded to cook an amazing meal for me.

Was then picked up by Kirsten and Dean to check out the Narnia exhibit at Union Station. Kirsten and I are both huge C.S. Lewis fans, so that giant banner out front wasn’t something we could pass up.

So the exhibit is mostly a tribute to the Disney movies, although in the foyer they have a small room dedicated to Lewis himself – including his writing desk and several of his books. I pointed at a picture of the Inklings – “Those dudes are the reason that I’m a writer,” I said to Dean.

We were then ushered into a darkened room, where we waited for several minutes while the music swelled and the wardrobe opened. I found this irritatingly cute. (Although I was amused by the over-enthusiastic volunteers – “It sure is amazing that guy could have had such a good imagination so long ago, huh?” Actual quote.)

Exhibit was definitely geared toward kids (it boasts of teaching “The Science of Narnia.” Science? Seriously? That’s the tack we’re going to be taking with this?) – with clumsy lead-ins like “When the White Witch takes hold of Narnia, she causes the climate to change. Here’s an essay on climate change!”

I was sort of fascinated with all the behind-the-scenes movie stuff, though (I had issues with the movies, but they’re almost entirely, and entirely unsurprisingly, text-based) – the costumes, props, and set pieces – and realizing that, damn. In order to build the world, they really had to, y’know, build the world. The attention to detail – such as the carvings around the edge of Miraz’ shield – is astonishing; minute aspects of this production were labored over, aspects that the audience would never see on film.

It’s bizarre to see these images come to life, and I wonder what Lewis would have made of it. It’s strange to see something that you’ve imagined realized in three dimensions. Even in my own small case – I’ve had two comedians perform parodies of my writing style now, and two visual artists create their interpretations of my work, not to mention those few times I’ve been fortunate enough to hand over my scripts to directors who aren’t, y’know, me – and it’s always surreal to see that filtered through somebody else’s intellect. Tolkien was openly hostile to many of the attempts to adapt his work in his lifetime, and I’m quite confident that he’d hate the latest film trilogy. But there’s still an undeniable thrill to seeing their creations up and moving about.


I spent most of the evening seeing plays: for anyone who’s interested in my thoughts on those, they are, of course, archived over at Womb with a View.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

July 18-20: Missouri

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

A lot of people expressed surprise that I was returning to Kansas City, since our numbers last year weren’t great and we had a few stressful experiences along the way. But, hey – it’s close and it’s cheap, so it’s relatively low-risk. More to the point, it’s a young Fringe (at five years it’s heading out of toddlerhood in people years; I guess that means that the Minnesota Fringe is well into its adolescence, and starting to notice boys. And girls. Because the MN Fringe is totally bi), and there’s a certain excitement to getting to jump on board a Festival as it’s just starting to achieve wider recognition. Plus, our numbers did start to pick up towards the end of our 2008 run, so I’m curious to see if I can now continue to build on that.

Arrived at my billeter’s place, a stunningly schwank apartment that is clean. Very, very clean. Like, Felix Unger clean. I, on the other hand, live in a tepid pool of my own filth. Spent some time exploring the neighborhood. I’m currently located in the Westport district, a prosperous area bearing signs boasting “Real people. Real places. Real life.” (Which suggests the kind of cultural elitism that drives me up the wall – so¸ your implied assertion is that the people who live on the other side of town from you aren’t real, yes?) So it’s a nice enough area, but it’s not the Kansas City I remember.

Then I drove down to the Fringe in the Crossroads theatre district. Crumbling warehouses, wailing sirens – there’s the Kansas City I remember.

(So one thing my hosts in both Chicago and DC asserted – independently of each other – is the role that artists in play in transforming the landscape of a city. Their assertion runs thusly:

1) area becomes economically depressed;

2) artists move in (presumably because the spaces are

a. cheap, and

b. because only artists are dumb enough to invest so much into operating their respective businesses at a severe loss);

3) gay couples move in nearby; and

4) neighborhood becomes gentrified.

If this assertion is true, then it begs the question of whether or not artists are a symptom or a cause of gentrification. It also suggests that Detroit is about to become the arts capitol of the nation.)

Was too early to check in at Fringe Central, so decided to swing by my venue to take a look. Coincidentally happened to arrive at the same time as my venue tech, which granted me a handshake, some face time, and a chance to look around before they set up.

Headed on over to check in, and was pleased to shake hands with and be introduced to the various staff members I’ve corresponding with online. Ended up hanging out for about twenty minutes, telling jokes and sharing stories of the various Fringes that we’d all worked. When I glanced back into the main area, I was grabbed by the arm and promptly given a tour of the building.

Is this what I’ve been missing? Midwestern hospitality? I feel like I’ve made more connections here in a half hour than I did in a week in DC.

Opened up a special weekend edition of the Kansas City Star, since they had an article about the Fringe in there. Guess what their leading image was? That’s right: a half-page splash of my publicity photo, with a caption plugging the show.

I have no idea whether or not that’s going to translate into audience numbers: but either way, this place feels right.

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

Had my tech rehearsal early this morning. My tech guy’s been super-cool and laid-back about everything.

Lighting is pretty limited – pretty much on and off – which I’m used to on the Fringe circuit. But surprised, this time around, that I find myself missing the cues – the subtle changes in mood, the abrupt blackouts, et cetera – which interests me because it indicates a pretty dramatic turnaround for me – that I now find myself thinking in terms of lighting design and stage pictures, as opposed to solely in text.

Went exploring the Westport area. I enjoyed the Kansas City ribs on my last visit here, but not enough to actively seek them out – so I stopped in a place called the Flea Market, which is, appropriately enough, a bar set in a flea market. They advertised something that had apparently been voted “Best Burger in KC” for two years running. They did not disappoint. You know it’s a good meal when you have to wash the grease off your hands afterwards.

Also swung by a used bookstore. They had an audio adaptation of several short stories by Tolkien (including my single favorite short story of all time, “Leaf By Niggle”), as well as a number of books by Geoffrey Ashe. He’s that rare combination of rigorous scholarship (at least, he usually indicates how much of what he’s saying is derived from solid detective work and how much is speculation) and raw enthusiasm – he’s the medievalist’s answer to Carl Sagan in that respect, I suppose. I picked up two on the cheap, since I’ve nearly burned through what I brought with me. (Just finished Robert de Boron, and am slowly working my way through an abridgement of the Lancelot-Grail Cycle. One of my goals on this trip has been to read all of those remaining Grail texts that I haven’t read yet – I note that most of those are extremely pious in nature, which I found kind of a turn-off at the point in my life when I was first discovering them. I’ve since developed a fascination for medieval theology, so I’m having all kinds of fun digging into them now. Next up: Perlesvaus.)

I’ve seen two mentions of this show in the press, describing this as an attempt to examine the Gulf War through the lens of Arthurian legend. Erm, well, yes – you sort of end up doing that by default in the course of writing it, and there’s a level on which the action of the play can be read as a kind of protracted metaphor for American foreign policy – but my original intention is in fact the reverse: to find a new way of looking at these old stories, and to see if they still have anything to offer us. But I’m struck by the assumption: is there something in my marketing material to suggest that the Gulf War is the point? (Granted, I’ve been pushing that angle, since I’ve learned that a mass audience just doesn’t give a fuck about King Arthur. I have since learned that a mass audience doesn’t give a fuck about the Gulf War.) Or is the assumption that modern political commentary is simply more interesting than the old adventure stories?


Checked out the opening-night party, which was already exponentially better than last year – I remember being here in 2008, where most of the after-parties consisted of the Maximum Verbosity crew, 3 Sticks, the staff, and a few stragglers hunched over their beer in the corner. And maybe my expectations have been adjusted, but this place felt hoppin’.

(The T-shirts – although I haven’t yet sold any – have already done their job in terms of building audience interest – I’ve had several people come up to me, peering at it, reading it aloud, offering their various jokes and commentary, and lending me an excellent segue into plugging my show.)

Monday, July 20th, 2009

A dream…to some. A NIGHTMARE TO OTHERS!

It’s been said that every profession has their own unique nightmares. I know that’s certainly the case in theatre, as most actors will nod in recognition when you mention “actors’ nightmares” – which usually consist of being onstage, unrehearsed, without being able to recall a single line of dialogue.

Now, I used to have these all the time. Only they stopped a few years ago, when I switched from primarily performing the words of others to primarily performing my own. Now?

Now I have writers’ nightmares, in which I find myself onstage, struggling to perform a show that I haven’t written yet. I usually have a few notes scribbled down, consisting of a few vague plot ideas and a couple of one-liners, which I bumble through before a stony-faced crowd.

I wonder what’s going on in my subconscious. And if this is the reason that I suck at improv.


I spent most of the day in working. I’m relieved to have finally caught up on my publicity for Boulder and Indianapolis. Still to go: Melbourne. Plus the shows I’m still getting set up for October and December.

Arguably the single most frustrating aspect of doing such a wide tour is the amount of energy I have to spend catching up on publicity – I’d rather be able to focus on the show itself once I hit the road. Oh, well. Tradeoffs in all things.


Hit up – and performed at – the previews tonight. The quality of the material seems to be generally high (although I was, once again, the sole performer doing drama).

The event was hosted by a pair of performers doing schtick as outrageous characters. They were both entertaining and did an excellent job, though I maintain my usual dislike for “wacky” MCs: my sense is that the job of a good host is to keep the evening clipping along sharply, not to bring the show to a halt every five minutes.

Classic “straight-man funny-man” stuff, anyway, with a heavy emphasis on Don-Rickles style race-baiting. Managed to subtly keep the audience in the “it’s okay, we’re joking, we’re all just playing around” space without drifting too far into audience discomfort. He found one Hispanic audience member who cheerfully played along: when asked “What do you do for a living?” he replied, without a missing a beat, “draw on social security.”

(I was particularly impressed with the fact that the comic immediately identified me as half-Asian; most people who register anything at all peer at me for a moment and make several wrong guesses.)

Along those lines, the standout act for me was definitely by an Indian performer – the KC Fringe’s first international artist. It was a kind of dance/storytelling performance, a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi, about the moral dilemmas faced by a hunter trying to kill. The performance ended up being part dance, part pantomime, as he shifts into the various characters and animals; while the bulk of his movements are designed to clearly indicate character and action to us, these are punctuated by several that are purely expressionistic. I even found something Chaplinesque in his ability to rapidly switch back and forth between intensity and whimsy.

(Although the content of the piece raised many of the issues I have with Hindu/Buddhist/vegetarian points of view – which is that they tend to sidestep the whole point that we are killing machines. We’re built for it; two hundred thousand years of evolution have made us into the most effective killers in the history of the planet. It’s arguable that our most significant environmental problems emerge from the fact that we’re just too damn good at it.)


Part way through the evening, I felt someone tugging roughly at the back of my waistband. Kirsten spent several minutes fussing over my uniform. “You need a belt,” she said, frowning. “And your boots aren’t regulation. Pellinore looks like a sloppy soldier. He’d get his ass beat.”

Kirsten – of the Kirsten & Dean comedy duo – is also Air Force (although she recently switched to the Navy), and was one of my early consultants – I sent her an early draft of the script, to see if she could help correct any of the glaring inaccuracies. I’m amused to note that she’s more distressed by what I’m wearing than by what I’m saying.

I’ve had a few veterans see the show by now, and for the most part they tend to either avoid me or take off immediately afterwards, which I’m not sure how to interpret. I’d be fascinated to hear what they make of this nonsense, despite the fact that what I’m doing is far from documentary – the Iraq of the story is a fantastic landscape, after all, having about as much to do with the real Iraq as say, Thomas Malory’s Britain had to do with the real island.

In any case, she expressed her desire to hit up an army surplus store and get me whipped into shape. We’ll see how that works out.

Star Trekkin’, Across the Universe…

Mike Shaeffer and I found ourselves stranded and without car. Fringe being what it is, we simply trusted fate to take us by the hand. A dude offered to give us a ride:

ME: What’s your name?

HIM: Kirk.

ME: Oh! Like the captain I’m sure that’s the first time you’ve ever heard that I’m so sorry.

HIM: Yeah. Let me just pull up my starship.

A few minutes later, a limo pulled up.

MIKE: (joking) Well, looks like our ride is here, guys!

(Kirk gets out.)

ME: Holy shit.

It turns out that the dude has a private limo that he just picked up on Craigslist. He’s been toying with the idea of throwing in some Guitar Hero 3 and turning it into a gamer-specific commercial vehicle. Or possibly fixing it up and selling it. But he may just hang onto it because it’s, y’know, a fucking limo.

ME: So are you from Kansas City?

HIM: Not originally, but I’ve lived here for a while now. I moved around a lot growing up – this is the first place that really felt like home.

ME: What do you like about it?

HIM: I don’t know. It’s a way more cosmopolitan city than most people think.

ME: Yeah. This is my second time here, and I feel like I’m seeing a completely different place.

And thus we spent the evening with Kirk, an Air Force brat turned rainforest explorer. He took us out to an Irish pub and regaled us with stories of avoiding deadfalls. It’s fascinating to see that there’s still people doing the Richard Francis Burton thing – traveling the world and accumulating bizarre experiences.

And then I find myself thinking, holy shit, am I one of those people? I don’t feel like it – I feel like an uptight small-town Midwestern boy. But it’s one thing that always baffled me about the success of Descendant of Dragons, when people expressed fascination with my experiences – wow, they didn’t feel magical at the time. How did I feel performing a pig sacrifice? Well, I was hot and sweaty and annoyed for the bulk of it. In retrospect it’s totally heady stuff (and yes, I’m working on some more autobiographical shows down the line, get off my tits), but at the time it’s just one more day in front of you.

Glanced up at the clock on our way out of the pub: after midnight, making it officially the twenty-first. Travel stories, a limo ride, and a pint of Guinness. I’ve had worse starts to a birthday.