What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
I enjoy performing too much to let anything cloud that experience, knowingly. There are artists I know well who believe they are better connected to their art, whatever it might be, if they are chemically altered in some way. Although I can't imagine that would be so, they do seem to at least be able to work in that condition. Are they better because of it or do they convince themselves that it is better is the question? I am surely not the one that can answer that query.
But that is not the subject of this blog, "other people performing high" it is about me.... "performing high. " Here is how it all went down: It was just another corporate show for a very exclusive group on Friday night. I am not even sure what they did, but I knew based upon the venue and the speakers on the roster that this small group was important. The driver who took me to the venue said the day before a Brinks truck had arrived with a solid gold artifact from the Mel Fisher salvage of the Atochia wreck. I think the subject of the day was gold, so they decided to bring in the ultimate in valuable gold bling.
Things like this don't intimidate me. I decided it was just another version of the Bohemian Club, and I have no trouble entertaining those rich buggers, so how was this group different. Besides, I don't care what kind of business they are in.. or how much gold they can afford to buy, unless they perform ventriloquism, I can do something they can't so we are even at the starting line.
The booze was flowing freely to all. And based upon the sound check I knew that I would be working close to the audience in cramped conditions. That was a little concerning but not unique to my performing experience. As I did my usual warm up in the holding area I didn't think that my voice was responding very well. The producer kept plying me with water which I gulped down, but it was not helping my "chops". I just figured that Dr. Greasepaint would have to take over once I was introduced. It was finally time for me to go on. Even after a few sentences I knew something was different about this performance. My timing was off. It was an immediate struggle, one that I had never experienced before on stage. I forgot the opening joke that I had planned to do. It was like climbing a mountain. I just couldn't catch my breath and didn't seem to have enough air to even finish the next joke. I had to slow way down on stage but my mind was racing to find an answer to my current conditions. There was a side of my brain that was going through everything that I had done that day to help make sense of my situation. I had not done anything different than I had done for thousands of corporate shows in the past. I wasn't stressed I wasn't overwhelmed, I wasn't doing anything different than I have always done. Here I was in Vail, Colorado entertaining a small but receptive group and I was struggling. That is when it hit me.... VAIL, Colorado.... what is the altitude here? Much higher than I am used to and I have been here less than 24 hours.
It was the altitude that was intefering with my performance. I have always been extremely proud of the breath control I have worked on for all my career. I rely in that control for the timing of my act and the projection of my voices. I have even lectured on the importance of breath control in ventriloquism. If it is off then your entire act is off. That is when I figured it all out. It doesn't matter how good your breath control is, if you are not getting the amount of oxygen you are used to getting with each breath, you are screwed. My problem was... I was performing high... higher in altitude than my usual performances. There is nothing quite like the feeling when you thing you have 30 more seconds of air....and you don't .
I will remember this if they ever offer me the "ski resort" tour.
As you were,
Judy was the first choreographer that I ever worked for. It was a challenge for a 15 year old ventriloquist who had never been in a show like the Campus Review at Six Flags Over Texas. It was probably a challenge for her as well. Not only was I not a dancer, I was holding a puppet the entire show. But we got through it together, because we had one big thing in common: It was Judy's first year to work for Charles R. Meeker, Jr. too. A man who would become very important in both our lives.
I continued to work for Mr. Meeker off and on for the next 10 years, which meant I was working with Judy as well. Judy was always there during the Meeker days. Mr. Meeker wrote, cast and produced the shows and Judy set the movement. She was the live show manager at Six Flags Over Georgia the summer I did 918 shows for the season. We never knew the arrangement between them other than business partners, I never heard her call him anything but Mr. Meeker. Ultimately it didn't matter and no one really cared. To those of us who worked for him Mr. Meeker was bigger than life and couldn't be defined by normal rules.
Judy was there when Mr. Meeker passed away. He did it his way... left a rehearsal, went to the hotel and died. Judy continued to produce shows and plan meetings in the tradition of Mr. Meeker. It wasn't always easy because of his bigger than life legacy and the fact that it was still "boys club" at the time. Judy and I stayed in touch but by this time I was in Los Angeles trying to ply the experience that Judy and Mr. Meeker had given me. Our time together became mainly reunions with casts members she had taught.
Years later Judy would influence my career again in a very direct way. We had occasion to talk about my one man show. She knew I was trying to complete the funding for a shot at Broadway. She decided that Dallas Summer Musicals should get involved and began to lobby our mutual friend Mike Jenkins. With the tenacity of Mr. Meeker she convinced Michael to come to the Colony Theatre to see the show. His participation was the tipping point and we were on our way to Broadway with the Two and Only. It was perfect to have Judy there at my Broadway opening, she had been so much a part of my journey.
A couple of weeks ago she called me to say that she had not answered my email because her computer was up stairs. She had been in the hospital and she was too weak to walk up the stairs. We talked, we reminisced, we said we would talk more. I looked forward to that. Last Monday my friend David Sinkler told me she was back in the hospital, Thursday our friend Judy passed away.
Her family is large, it includes kids from Six Flags, Cedar Point, Desert Fiesta, Charlie's Place, Incredible Charlie's, the Miss Universe Pageant, the Miss Teen Age America Pageant, Dr Pepper Bottlers Tours, and those are only the family members I know about. There are many more.
Judy crossed over too young, but I swear I can hear the voice of Charles R. Meeker, Jr. saying "Chop, Chop Judy.... we got work to do.".
Goodbye sweet friend,
I posted this before I realized it is Friday the 13th. Now I will be looking for all the reasons they call it Friday the 13th. but just for you history buffs, it was a Friday 13th of October when the King of France ordered all the Knights Templar arrested. I suppose that unless you are a closet Tempelar this is just another Friday.
It was in the middle of the show as I am recreating a phone conversation with my mentor Art Seiving, that the sound began to squeal. At first I thought it was a hearing aide in the audience, but it was indeed my microphone that was feeding back a very high pitched sound. John was not running the sound, and the sound board and operator were up in the rafters booth with the lighting operator. I will never understand why you would put a sound board in a booth where you can not hear what is sounds like in the audience. It is like trying to thread a needle in the dark. But that was the case on this stop. I think if we had been there more than one night John, the perfectionist, would have tuned the sound and tweaked the room. It needed to be done. But we do what we can do with what we have and John is able to do some amazing things with smoke and mirrors.
By the time I realized it was my mic making the noise, John dashed for the board to fix it. I sensed that the audience was so aware of the sound that they were not listening to the words. At that point my Art Sieving character says... "Jay you must be calling long distance on AT&T." It got a bigger laugh than I thought it might and the laugh covered the time it took to correct the ringing. We were back on script and so was the audience.The writer in me was a little upset that the actor in me had ad-libbed a joke not in the script. But the performer in me agreed with the actor. Such is the schizophrenic nature of my solo performance.
Some times you have to put yourself in place of the audience and if they are so distracted that they are not getting the text, something must be done to acknowledge that distraction. In my opinion to do other wise creates a disconnect between the performer and the audience. Live theatre is not film. In a film the actors would never be aware of what is going on in the audience. Stage Actors must take that into account when performing live. Not to say that shooting from the hip and going with the flow is always the best idea. It takes developed instinct to know when to break that fourth wall and when you do not. I will say that it is much easier for a solo performer to do that than a bigger cast.
I guess that is what keeps it fresh for me on stage. It is always a matter of trying to connect with the audience. Since no two audiences are ever the same it is a unique and wonderful challenge each night to walk that tight rope. I feel completely blessed that I have been granted the opportunity to explore those mental acrobatics in my career.
Tonight we open in another town and another theatre. This one is a beautiful 1920's jewel box that seems like it will be perfect for my show. And we are here for a few days. I am really looking forward to it. In the past I would have stated the name of the theatre, but I have found that is not the best idea. I was once chastised by a promoter who didn't like the way I talked about his obnoxious sound man in my blog. On the one hand I think, freedom of expression, and the guy really was a jerk to us, but on the other hand.... who really cares. Turns out the only ones who would care are the promoter and the sound guy. As the blog becomes easier to google for specifics, it is just not worth my "freedom" to name names anymore.
As you were,