Friday, June 27, 2008

Well, it's over ... for now.

Your Humble Narrator as Mr. Foley

International Mystery Writers Festival

Too many stories to tell. I'm battling a little post-show depression, which I used to get all the time but not really anymore, probably because I'm too damn busy to think "show life" is any different from "real life." For some reason, though, this show is different, and I owe a lot of these loose feelings to synchronicity.

Deana Duncan, director and comedic star

I love doing sound effects, especially live, and boy did this project stretch me. I think I commented elsewhere: 8 shows, 34 performances, 10 days, with a little over a week of real-time face-to-face onstage prep and rehearsal. Damn.

But what made this so rewarding was the talent involved. From the seasoned audio producers, to the pros in the sound booth, to the versatile actors, to the great writing, add me to the mix and you've got a unique, hybrid theatre experience. A little bit old-time radio, a little black box, plus 3 of the shows were screenplays adapted for live performance -- basically movies performed live -- all done on a shoestring.

Amy Walker, BIG talent

And then I got to play Mr. Foley in the REMEMBER WENN play, which was great. I loved that show when it was on the air, right around the time I was getting into radio theatre and sound effects and sound design. More than that, though: I got to BE Mr. Foley for a couple of weeks. Relentless schedule. Non-stop problem-solving, literally on my feet for hours at a stretch. And, as often happens, the distracting noise I was making at first turned into an extra cast member and eventually everyone who didn't know what I was up to "got it." I even saved a couple of plays at the absolute very last minute. Wow!

Yeah, too, too many stories to tell, good and bad, but here are some low/highlights:

* The hotel the casts, as well as virtually everyone attending the festival, was staying in, closed, suddenly, two days after I got into town. So instead of a 5 minute riverside walk to the venue, I had a 10-minute drive across town, and everyone was spread out over 4 hotels. A fairly minor inconvenience for me but not a good start to the run, not to mention 300 people losing their jobs overnight. And they found out about it on the news.

Andy Paternoster, live music on Mapes for Hire

*The schedule was brutal. Most days I was in the theatre by 8am to set up, and rehearsed from 9am till 10 or 11pm every night. It got only slightly easier once we were performing in front of people. The worst day, for me, was Thurs 6/12, the night we opened the first play. Rehearsal at 9a, and rehearsals for other plays all day, then open a show at 7:30, THEN rehearse another show, which I wouldn't touch again until it opened 3 days later. The amount of work was actually quite overwhelming when I stopped to think about it. So I stopped thinking about it.

Rich Fish as the Dead Man, and Gerry Vermillion as the Reporter, in It Burns Me Up!

* Everything was under-rehearsed by the time it opened, but each play was performed 4-5 times, so we had a chance to work out the kinks as we went. By the 3rd live performance, tech, acting, live sound effects, lighting, etc., all were locking together.

David Ossman, director

* One play, FLEMMING, a comedy, hit the ground running -- it was hysterical at the table read -- and everyone new it would be good from the very start, and it was. The REMEMBER WENN piece also turned out great, as was to be expected given the context, and the whole cast really ran with it. WENN probably had the best "energy" of all the plays, everyone was so into pushing it and playing it large. Plus, though it is a comedy, it's a dynamic play, taking the audience from belly laughs to tears in about half an hour. Personally, I cried at the end every fucking time. Right on cue.

* My favorite was probably the Bradbury piece IT BURNS ME UP! even though it had very few live sound effects. It's classic Bradbury, though, and the writing, with Rich Fish's great performance, totally carried it. It also featured a huge walla ensemble, which was a cool thing to see happen live.

The Walla Pit for Crime of Passion

* I most definitely am going to get more live SFX work out of this, likely in other theatres where troupes want to stage radio plays or "wide-screen audio" performances as opposed to staged readings (yawn). In fact, there are serious plans afoot to take some of the plays from IMWF to a for a week, soon, before the original casts scatter to other projects. More details on that as they develop. Keep your fingers crossed! Mine are.

* If you climb a shelf in Home Depot and hold up a 8' sheet of corrugated barn roofing so someone else can shake the bottom to test its usability as a thunder sheet ... people will look at you funny.

* I got to break a lot of glass on stage. A LOT OF GLASS!

The Help by Bill Kerby: 90-minute screenplay adapted for stage/audio. Very cinematic, obviously. Almost a movie within a movie too. Four grifters -- including protagonist Buck, a poolman/part-time stunt man -- cross paths. You can't trust anyone in Hollywood.

BRADBURY/CLARK double bill
It Burns Me Up! by Ray Bradbury: Classic Bradbury tale, told from the perspective of a dead man, enhanced by the gaggle of reporters, onlookers, and cops come to watch.
Crime of Passion by Mary Higgins Clark: By mystery legend Mary Higgins Clark, who attended the final performance. NOT my favorite play, but we pretty much nailed it. Part whodunit, part US Weekly romance.

Hallie Bowers by Harris F. Mack & Linda Campbell: Set in 1941. Hallie, a female PI, tracks drug dealers and dodges handsy club owners, all before sending her kid brother off to fight in the war. Another screenplay, and one of the most complicated sound designs.

Cajun P.I. by PJ Woodside: A retired detective teaching a criminal science class at a community college inadvertently leads one of his students into a bad situation.

Mapes for Hire by Lee Goldberg: Harvey Mapes works the security booth at a gated community, until he's hired to follow a man's wife. His first case as a budding private investigator! But PI work is not all fun and games, Harvey learns.

Orson Ossman as Harvey Mapes

Phil Proctor, the Total Tool, directing the walla group for Mapes

MURDER TIMES TWO double bill
Take My Word For It And You Don't Have To Answer by Robert S. Levinson: Two early film "stars" reminisce about their failure, the crime one of them has kept hidden all these years ... and the payment finally due.
Between Sins by Robert S. Levinson: Pure radio noir. The engineers dubbed this one "The Downer" because everyone is a bad guy and it's a pretty relentless tale. A private dick, a comely judge, and an ex-con with an axe to grind cross swords.

Flemming: An American Thriller by Sam Bobrick: Probably the most successful play. Broad, slapsticky comedy about Flemming, a bored suburban businessman reinventing himself out of his midlife crisis and into life as a hard-boiled detective. Drinks on the house!

An Armchair Detective: A Remember WENN Mystery Play by Rupert Holmes: The first half is the first episode of the acclaimed AMC show; the rest is new material written by Rupert Holmes, the show's creator. It's 1938 and young, wide-eyed Betty Roberts, fresh from Elkhart, Ind., arrives at station WENN in Pittsburgh ready to write her way into a career in broadcasting. But, of course, this is live radio, where nothing ever goes as planned.

All photos by Bryan Leazenby

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Greetings from Owensboro, KY!

This is where I've been, literally, for most of the past week. I'll try to take and post more pics of the different sets. My rigs for each play are actually quite different, some more elaborate than others. This was taken June 8, just a day or so after I'd been down here, so my li'l 8x8 square is relatively uncluttered. Haven't even set mics yet at this point. Full write-up to come, but below are some of the amazingly talented (and at times difficult) people I've been fortunate to work with ... and may have an opportunity to work with again in the very near future....

David Ossman
Phil Proctor
Gary Sandy
Amy Walker

Friday, June 06, 2008

The Tale of the Type

Now that Hill is out of the picture, for me it all comes down to this:

McCain's typeface: Optima, a modernistic sans serif designed by the German type designer Hermann Zapf in 1958 that was popular among book and magazine designers during the 1970s.

It ain't a serif face; it ain't sans, but it's not exactly neutral either. Could this be a centrist typeface? No, it's just Optima, trying to split the difference. Except for that insipid star/dingbat fiasco on top. Also, used for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which makes sense considering his military achievements. All right already! I get it! you're a war hero! sheesh.

Technically speaking, though, I think he's using a false bold in order to make a strong font out of a fairly week one. I've set entire books in Optima. Don't care for it. Makes me think of a dentist office shingle.

Obama, on the other hand, is using for all his "change"ing needs Gotham, a relatively new face by Hoefler & Frere-Jones, modeled after Port Authority Bus Terminal signage in NYC. No, it's not Helvetica or Arial. It's Gotham: refined, simple, bold, and progressively familiar. Used on the Twin Towers memorial cornerstone.

Plus, and best of all, it's an Open Type font, meaning it has nearly endless variations for virtually any application. This is probably one reason why every piece of printed matter the Obama campaign uses starts with Gotham (other than his name/logo, which I find endearingly generic compared to the Importance of His Message). Everything. Signage, door hangers, leaflets. Everything. That's good design -- way to control your image. Talk about having your game together.

I'm not saying my political inclinations depend on typography. But they certainly are reinforced by it. And the candidates' platforms are, I think, amplified by their design choices.

btw, Hillary went with New Baskerville. No comment.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Would You Buy a Used Car from This Man?

Oh yeah, how could I forget: I ran into jim the fiend* at the roller derby after party at the Vid last month. Hadn't seen or heard from him since my ex and I separated and he was living with her in Spencer for a very short time to help her out financially. Very enlightening conversation. Now, I take (and have always taken) everything James says with a grain of salt so titanic ... well, it's so big it looks like it could sink the Titanic. But I also understand Jim and his longterm friendship with my ex well enough to believe that he was just trying to help and got the short end of the stick for it.

Regardless, it was really good to reconnect with someone from that time -- one of her oldest friends even -- who hasn't written me off as a patriarchal, life-ruining asshole. (Although that's the line he was fed too, and he believed it for a time. Who wouldn't?? It's so plausible....)

Also, clearly I wasn't crazy or fabricating any of my grievances regarding co-homeownership. So, score one for my tiny tired brane brain.

*This link is in all likelihood NSFW, as James works in the adult entertainment industry.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Five Days to Kentucky

The most glorious rainstorm came through just now, a strong one but not so scary that I couldn't sit on the porch and enjoy it. The wind picked up and blew rain in on me. Thunder and lightning. Cars slowing down in the downpour.

It felt like time just came to a standstill, I've been moving so fast in so many different directions lately. The Ivy Tech class went really well ... despite there being only TWO students. But they were great, knowledgeable people who already knew InDesign pretty well. They just wanted to know more about it. I learned a few things myself too. Overall, a great experience.

I have announced for the Rollergirls of Southern Indiana (in Evansville) twice now, and apparently the legend of Dick Smack is growing. I was introduced to a local radio DJ who wants to be an announcer for ROSI someday, and when I said "I'm Dick Smack," she says "Oh, I've heard about you." Really? About Dick Smack or about me? Let's hope it's all just part of the act. Anyway, good times on the derby front. The ROSI girls are awesome, and they and their refs helped us out a bunch at the season opener on 5/17.

I'm gathering gear like crazy this week for IMWF. I leave Friday and will be down there till about the 24th. This project is really kicking my ass, which was expected, but it has also been causing a great deal of anxiety. There's so much to wrap my brain around: 10 scripts, totaling well over 800 pages, one of which I won't even see till I get down there. I haven't been sleeping well, which is totally weird. Normally, I work work work but as soon as my head hits the pillow (actually as soon as I get anywhere near comfortably prone, say, on the couch) I am out like a light. For a couple of weeks, though, I've been either having trouble getting to sleep or waking up an hour or so before my alarm. Making lists. And lists of lists. And walking through everything in my mind. Gotta build a glass-break box. Gotta figure out how to perform flashbulbs. Gotta find a wind machine ... or, failing that, build one. So I get up earlier than usual and work, rather than just lay there and fret.

But I see light at the end of the tunnel. Items lists are getting checked off. I need to make one or two more trips to the hardware store or Goodwill, and then I can just box it up and get down there. Of course, this is all prep work. The REAL ball breaking doesn't start till Saturday. Then 6 days of rehearsals before the first show opens. And each day after that we'll be performing AND rehearsing every day. Some days as many as 4 performances, more or less back-to-back.

So yeah, I'm a little tense. I mean I'm really looking forward to doing it, and working with Fish and David Ossman and Judith Walcutt, but there's just SO MUCH. Even David and Judith are openly overwhelmed by it all. Fortunately, I do like this kind of pressure. Especially since I'll be the only person down there doing live sound effects. I like to specialize.

But it has made an already tense situation with me and Mars even more pressurized. You know the story, gentle readers: she's leaving B-tizzle, eventually, for a library job. Somewhere. This week's contender is Wells College (upstate New York). Am I going with her or staying here in Bloomington? Good question, one I never tire of asking myself. So on top of conceptualizing sound effects and gathering the gear to perform them, and planning to be gone from work at the end of the fiscal year and right before our senior designer is retiring, I'm thinking about my options every other minute instead of every other day like usual. I just KNOW I'm going to get a call while I'm in Kentucky asking if I want to move to Ithaca. And I'm just don't feel capable of making that determination that yet.

The thought of leaving Bloomington fills me with as much dread as the thought of not going with Mari wherever she goes. I can make it work, right? Find a decent job. Connect with the locals like I have here. Keep all my hobbies and varied interests going. This is about as far I get into the internal discussion, though, because I then have to turn my attention to IMWF. I feel like once I'm done with this gig, and I'll have only derby and poetry to contend with for the rest of summer, I can start doing some job searches and general location research right alongside Mari as she applies to all these places. I feel like I can't wait, though. I feel like she can't wait either. But I can't just hope it'll work out. I don't have the confidence to just pick up and hope greener pastures await me. I need to know that at least some (optimally most) of what I want from a community is going to be there. bleah.

We fight quite a bit lately, but honestly I think it all comes down to this core issue.

We're both traveling a lot in June/July. She's leaving for Pennsylvania for her bro's high school graduation about the time I'm going to Kentucky. Then we're both home for about a week before she leaves for LA for the M.L.A. conference. And I still want to go somewhere in July or August. Someplace beachy, maybe, with a poetry workshop nearby. That's not too much to ask, is it? Or maybe see Gerry in Colorado? Vacation: that's the word I'm searching for.

Books read:
Miracle Fruit by Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Really good but a bit too feminine for me. I loved hearing her read in person, though, and will probably seek out her new book. Foodies, take note: lots of poems about fruit, cooking, and the senses.

The Splinter Factory by Jeffrey McDaniel
Good but I bet I'd like him better in person. His poetry seems a little confined by the page. Is that a bad thing?

Recent movies:
No Country for Old Men
Wow. Definitely deserved all those Oscars, and made up for some comparatively lame Cohen Bros. movies of late. Real gritty.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
The last movie featuring the original TV show crew. Actually this is one of the better flicks of the series. I think I may have run out of steam on this viewing project, though.

Storm's over. Sun's out. We had the most incredible, long spring this year. Weeks and weeks of it. All things considered, this is going to be a great summer. Just need to get past IMWF.