Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Eye to Eye

As a side bar, I once interviewed a lady who lost her vision ( went totally blind) at 15 years old. Through advances in technology, and 50 years later she had an operation to give her vision back when she was 65.  I remember that interview very well, and now I understand a little more clearly what she was feeling.

My right eye has always been extremely myopic. I could see things up close but not things farther than an arms length away.  I have had glasses and contact lense since I was 16 years old.  For many years hard and soft contact lense were a miracle to me, I could put them on in the morning and see great all day long even read with the contacts. I was an excellent patient for daily wear soft lense.   However, age causes everyone to lose short vision over time, and I was slowly developing a cataract in that right eye.  So even with glasses, readers, or contacts the short vision was dicey with flares and halo’s around lights in the night time becoming increasingly problematic. If I wanted to see a stage play clearly I had to wear contacts but to read the Playbill I had to have reading glasses. It was just one of those things you just get used to over the “snail’s pace” of time. Friends had radial keratotomy and laser surgery to correct their vision, but I was never sure it was right for me although my “prescription”seemed to be perfect for the operation.  
For the last decade I have been using contact lense for stage work, but for everyday I just had my distant correction glasses which I took off to read or do work close. For me that was easier than using readers with my contacts.  But the glare of lights at night time was really getting to me... with nothing that glasses or lenses could do to correct it.  

I have a great optomologist who noticed the cataract developing in my right eye, causing most of the problems of light and glaring.  That was the bad news, the good news: with new developments in eye surgery a patient did not have to wait until cataracts are really bad before getting rid of them. The best news was that while they were extracting the cataract they could implant a lense to make me see distance more clearly.  And it is an outpatient procedure which meant I was less than two hours in the hospital.  It was simple and virtually painless.  The IV for the procedure was the worst part. 
I feel like the lady who got her sight back. I have never seen so clearly in my right eye.  In fact the biggest problem I have had all week is adjusting to more light and more color in my perception than I have had in a long time.  I am almost over loaded with new colors and a new sense of distance.  I wake up in the middle of the night and can clearly see what time it is on the cable box clock.  This may not be a trill to some, but it is very exciting to me.

The funniest thing that happened to me during my procedure happened at the prep. I went in early in the morning and was escorted to an exam room before taken to a hospital bed.  There a nurse put a series of drops in my “surgery ready” eye.  These were in addition to the three sets of drops I had put in that eye at home already.  She would matter of factly tell me what the drops were for, i.e.  “this will dilate your eye” .... “this is an anti-inflamitory”.  Then she put a drop into my eye that started stinging like crazy, and said, “This is to numb the eye.”  I said, “It stings, than’s an oxymoron.”  She paused for a moment and said, “No it is just a mild anesthetic.”  

The lady I interviewed said that, after her surgery, if she got lost in the house she would just close her eyes so she would remember her way around. For me I just close one eye to remember. 
Happy St. Patricks day to all the Irish and wannabes.
As you were,

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

The Ape and Jay

To comply with some self emposed decorum of disclosure, Charles Peachock sent me an Audio Ape some years ago just to see if I would like it.   I used it,  loved it and gladly paid for the 2.0 Upgrade. He asked me to review the Audio Ape and this is what I came up with.

Jay Johnson and The Audio Ape

On stage, a ventriloquist controls all the voices, movements, timing, jokes and sounds coming from a puppet while pretending not to be responsible.  Some might say that’s a classic case of a control freak in denial. Well,  I‘m a ventriloquist...  Here’s my story, you decide.

Music has always been a part of my act. Over 45 years the delivery format has changed exponentially.  I have traveled with full orchestra charts, 5 piece band charts,  cued up cassette tapes, CDs, mini disks, MP3’s and thumb drives.  There is one thing, though, that hasn’t changed: Whether it is a conductor, band leader or sound person, someone has to know my act and execute the cues at the right time. 

Because of this,  over the years, my cues became simple, few and hopefully “bullet proof”. I joke that they are easy enough to be “done while mixing a Margarita”. (It’s true. I once worked a comedy club where the Bartender doubled as the audio man with the sound board behind the bar. If I heard the blender going I knew I had to wait for my cue.)   

For me, the timing of my sound cues is as important as the timing of my jokes. If you have ever experienced that “eternal stage wait” between calling for a sound cue and NOT hearing it, you know the nightmare. There have been remote control systems designed before; but, the problem with most old remote control sound systems in the past is not just their large size and short range, but you still had to travel with some sort of music player that the remote could control. Short of hiring a sound man to learn your show and travel with you, is there another way?  

Finally there is. It is a digital solution, The Audio Ape. The Audio Ape is a remote control sound system that’s small, easy, effective and controls the sound on my iPad which already travels with me.  By using the music function, programming and display capacities of the iPad (or iPhone), Audio Ape is a sound designer and audio programmer in a package that’s not much bigger than a deck of cards. 

Audio Ape interfaces with several great sound apps, my preference is GoButton.  It allows me to fade, edit, cut and stack sound cues without destroying the original tracks. I can reprogram different cues easily and control them with a touch of the Audio Ape Remote button about the size of a zippo lighter. I even modified a remote to function as an ankle switch. Now instead of trying to limit the number and complexity of my sound cues, I am looking for ways to expand them. It has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for my live performances.  With Audio Ape I can directly control, underscore, tag and orchestrate my performance with music and sound effects.

As a ventriloquist my bottom line is this: I don’t trust anyone to control the operation and timing of my puppets on stage, why would I want someone to control the operation and timing of my sound cues? Is that a control freak in denial or a professional entertainer who wants to do the best show every time? You decide.

As you were,

Friday, February 16, 2018

Guns are not the Problem

So another school shooting and another predictable response.  Thoughts and prayers from the politicians who get lots of money from the NRA.  Other gun supporters  say, “not the time to talk about gun legislation, let the families grieve.”  The best response was a Right wing pundit saying it wasn’t a gun problem but a “Mental Health” problem.  Really?
One of the only things that this President has done in his volital year in office is to resend an Obama amendment restricting the mentally ill from purchasing guns.  So clearly the Trump adjenda does not agree that school shootings is  a “mental health” problem.    
If we will not restrict the manufacture of guns nor prohibit their distribution, then let’s levy a license on guns. Guns should be regulated and taxed in the same way automobiles are regulated and taxed. There is a license for the vehicle and more importantly a license for the operator.   The operator must show competence, awareness and maturity to drive/operate a car.  How much more competence is needed to shoot/operate a gun. 
A license can be denied because of a low score on the written test, the eye test or the shooting test.  The gun itself must be insured against accidental discharge and there will be checks to confirm proof of insurance on every gun owned.  The NROA, National Rifle Owners Association reminds you there is a senseable approach to licensing gun ownership. 

Guns don’t own people, People own guns.  

There are now more guns than cars in the United States. In terms of public safety guns and cars kill an equal number of people each year. However, automobiles are highly regulated, licensed, and more importantly insured. There is no probation period for owning a gun as there is for a driver.  How does a gun owner show responsibility.   Why is a drivers license test so much harder than a gun license test.  Oh that’s right, there is no such thing as a gun license test.   

Obtaining a drivers license is an accomplishment of physical and mental skills so worthy as to be accepted as a legitimate source of identification. Why isn’t a gun license recognized as a form of identification. Oh that’s right,  there is no such thing as a gun license. 

So it is not a gun problem nor a mental health problem, it is a licensing problem. 
As you were, 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Day Off or Off Day

For some reason flying into the past is a litle more confusing for me than my flight into the future two months ago.  I have no idea what day it is and although I arrived yesterday, it was the end of two days of journey.  In my mind yesterday should be today but I doubt I would be any less tired.  Also what is this odd accent that everyone seems to have.  English speaking people who use the letter “r”.  

I took no photographs once I left the Mantra Hotel in Perth. It was necessary to “zen” into the 28 hours of flights, lay overs and plane changes to get home. It wasn’t that I thought photographs would stop time, I was just in mental travel zone with my game face on.  Besides it was not the part of the tour that I wanted to remember most.  

After traveling all night from Perth to Sydney on a red eye, I had 6 hours turn around to catch the flight from Sydney to LA.  So by the time I got to the plane home I had been traveling 12 hours. I was excited to see an American Express Lounge close to my connections gate. It was a nice place to pass the time.  Free food and booze with nice chairs and electrical charging outlets at each place.  It wasn’t a large but it was sufficient for passing some really long down time. 

There were two things that made me realize I was leaving Australia. I exchanged my Australian dollars for American and I changed out the SIM card on my phone. Good bye funny plastic money and goodbye Australian phone number.  I really never got used to Australian phone numbers, but finally was counting out Australian money like I was a pro. The Aussie money is made out of some almost indestructible plastic, and has transparent spots on each bill.  The denominations are all different sizes and do not hold a crease very well.  I had to readjust the organization of my money clip.  I like to clip my cash with the smaller demominations on the outside.  For some reason the Austrailian bills would not behave if that was the desire.  Until I discovered that the larger bills would hold the smaller in a clip, I was forever watching my Australian money spring open and jump out of my hands like a magic trick every time I tried to pay for something.  

It will be a few days before I realize that I am not currently in another hotel waiting to open at yet another theater with a great group of friends.  Once my body recoups from being in a pressurized flying tin can for two days I will become aware of the fact that it is 7:30 in the evening and I am not waiting the call for “Act one beginners on stage please”.  It will dawn on me that no one has posted plans to the Cast Facebook group in a few days, and that I have not heard Circus English spoken in a while.  That is when time will catch up with me and the reality of not doing the show will be obvious. 

To any of my Unbelievable friends who might be reading this today or anytime in the coming future, I miss you. I think I was able to say a proper good bye to each of you before we all went our ways.  However,  the words of any language are insufficient to describe the space in my heart that you all now occupy.  We will all be telling our grandkids about the time we played the Sydney Opera House as part of an Australian tour, for some of us that time will come sooner than others.   No matter when the story is told I will recount the wonderfully talented people I was surrounded with for several months, and how our lives were interconnected for a time.  From Tamworth to Perth to all places and travels in between I was honored to be a part of this adventure. More later,

As you were,


Saturday, January 27, 2018

And then they were done.

Jay and Bob in Perth
Bob Mugging to the camera
Every theater that we worked in for this tour had a required “safety introduction”.  For example we were not allowed to go into the theater of the Sydney Opera House without first attending the safety lecture.  It took about 10 minutes and basically told us to find our nearest exit in case the fire alarm sounded.  They said the fire alarm would be the sound of a loud horn.  My dressing room had windows facing the harbor and the Cruise ships made exactly the same noise when they blew the ships horn for their safety demonstration. That issue was never addressed.

 At the Crown theater we had to have a safety speech the first day before starting the first run through.  The stage manager for the theater addressed us on our set while we were sitting on the stage. It was much less formal than Sydney.  He told us where the exits were and the meeting place outside.   He said, “Mainly we want you to be safe back stage.  It is dark back there and with cables and road boxes everywhere it can be dangerous.  We have tried to shore them up as much as possible and light the dark corners.  But please, if you see anything that might be a hazard let us know immediately and we will fix it.  We don’t want you tripping on anything... so let us know.”  With that he gave us a thumbs up, turned and immediately tripped over one of the gobo lights that was on the stage. Only his pride was hurt which is a good thing because we laughed uncontrollably. There has been a wealth of laughter doing this show, not much that is translatable out of the context of the show, but funny to the company at the moment.  

 There is an old show biz chestnut that is bitter sweet. It goes like this: “We opened, we played, we loved we left.” No matter how long the show runs it always closes. By now, I should have adjusted to the fact that nothing goes on forever, but I haven’t. My family says I don’t like change and they are mostly right.  I am rarely part of a large cast and this is such a different world of performers than I have ever had the privilege to know; so for me, saying bye to friends who have have shared this common emotional experience is extra difficult.  I don’t know when our paths might cross again.   We had to say goodbye to Alexandria the aerialist acrobat the early part of the week.  She was not able to recover quickly enough from a muscle tear to do the Perth run. And before we flew to Perth we had to say goodbye to “Deadly Games”.  Anna cracked her ankle and was not able to continue dodging the axes and knives that Alfredo threw at her (on stage). Saying goodbye to a few cast members at a time does not make it any easier.  It’s like cutting your hand off a finger at a time thinking that it won’t hurt as much.  

 We only have a few days left on this adventure. I will be glad to be back home, but will soon be looking for the next adventure. I’m not ready to simply relive old stories, I would love to continue to experience new ones. Touring Australia and playing the Sydney Opera house will be tough to top.
 As you were,  

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Koko Black

Koko Black is where I am writing at this very minute.  It is a lounge/restaurant near the hotel. I am having a very nice latte wondering if I will order something to eat or go right for some of the chocolate they have for sale. Koko Black is only in Australia, and this is the first one that I have  the pleasure of hanging here.   Koko Black offers confections in long black elegant glass cases sold as a piece or the gram by lovely ladies wearing black.  The clerks can describe each chocolate creation like a sommelier pitching an expensive wine. It is not hard to eat $32 worth of chocolate in a couple of bites. The decor is black and dark wood and the smell is that of coffee and chocolate. While See’s candies in America has the same product, their decor depicts the clinical sterility of Mrs. See’s white kitchen and a retail store functionality,  Koko Black displays the decadence of a softly lit perfume store and a romantic lounge to pass the time.  I have to say, when I think of my chocolate obsession, my fantasy goes to this setting.

To fit the mood I am in,  I am wishing my current window view was the twinkling lights of the San Fernando Valley from Mulholland Drive on a clear night.  Unfortunately that can only exist in my imagination right now.  It is summer time in Australia and very hot outside in the rush of the Perth CBD.  It is in stark contrast to the world of Koko Black. I will be performing at Crown Theater when the Australian evening starts to turn on the lights.  Koko Black is not open late into the night.  
Except for the weekends most of Perth goes to sleep by 10:00.  We went to a wonderful Sushi bar last night on our day off.  At 8:30 they told us it was last call.  After a week day show we tried to get some food but even though the bar section of a restaurant stays open, the kitchen is usually closed by 9:00.  That may be one of my best memories of New York, especially when my show was at the Atlantic Theater in Chelsea.  After the show we had our choice of really good places to eat, sit, dine and unwind. The New York places would be still be bustling at 11:00.  It is a show business vampires paradise.  
There is a homeless problem in Australia and since it is summer the street squatters are very noticable.  This coupled with the fact that the drinking age is 18 in Australia, navigating the pedestrian areas after dark is an obstacle course, particularly on weekends when the restaurants do stay open later. The panhandlers are a little more aggressive here in Perth than in Melbourne or Sydney.  The street people in the other cities seemed to take a subservient posture.  Most on their knees in a quasi-prayer pose bowing their  heads toward their change collection.  In Perth there is more of a “Hey mate have you got some change” approach.  There are no single dollar notes in Australia only coins for a dollar and two dollars.  They also round up to the nearest penny since that denomination does not exist.  The result is a very heavy pocket full of coins by the end of the day.  I usually separate the silver 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent coins which are bigger than the dollar  and two dollar size bronze tokens and distribute them to street people accordingly.  
My other observation about Australia and Perth in particular involves the women.  The young women are attractive even it they don’t use the letter “r” to communicate, i.e. “su, ah ye goin’ by ca?” (Sir are you going by car?)   But, attached to their bodies are collectively the worst arm and leg tattoos I have ever seen. To be totally candid, I am not much for tattoos, and only rarely do I think it makes an attractive woman more so, and these are big carnival mistakes, in my opinion.  I would think that a major decision like that would involve more than just an etch-a-sketch pattern.  I have come to the conclusion that at my age I will never understand this millineal custom but probably should invest in high quality tattoo removal studios here in Perth. 

I will hate to see this tour come to an end. I have made some friends who will forever share a special time and a fantastic memory of an adventure to OZ. I like Australia. The people are friendly, the audiences are lively and it is just enough different from the US that is is a great vacation where they speak the  same language (minus the letter “r”) Most refreshing is their conversation, news and discourse is not dominated by politics, especially not American politics.  I am not ready to return to the frantic madness of 24/7 coverage of  our corrupt system and idiot representatives in Washington.  Here they simply laugh at our situation but do not hold that against the individual American.  We need to get our shit together pretty soon so they don’t start. 
As you were,

Monday, January 22, 2018

Opening of the Closing

I am not good with small talk at cocktail parties of people I don’t know.  It’s work to converse and it feels like I am having to perform. It is not the fault of the party or the people, it is just an old deep seated insecurity and shyness from childhood.  I have developed copping mechanisms that help me get through these stressful times but employing those methods makes it seem even more like performing.  
We opened the show in Perth last Friday night to a very enthusiastic audience and a lot of invited VIPs. There was a champagne party at one of the theater Bars after the show.  This time I remembered to bring a new jacket that I bought in Melbourne so I felt a little better dressed. But for me it was still awkward.  I watched Harrison and Brett waft through the crowd like swans in calm waters.  They did not shun the contact but sought it out and there would occasionally be busts of laughter coming from the groups they occupied at the time.  

There was a ten year old  boy who came up to me with this family and wanted to say hi.  I am usually pretty good with kids since they relate to me on their own level, or maybe it is me who does that.  Nonetheless, I found out from his family he wanted to be a ventriloquist.  When I tried to engage him in conversation about it he replied without moving his lips. I really didn’t understand what he said with his mouth closed, but I said, “Very good. Looks like I have some competition.” The family giggled, the boy did not. He insisted on continuing the conversation with out the use of his lips.  The noise of the party, his lack of projection and the inability for me to read his lips, made any substantive conversation impossible.  I turned to his folks and with a compliment (perhaps a cautionary tale) toward their son’s ability I was able to slip away.  It was not a clean break however.  More than half a dozen times through the rest of the evening this kid would show up intently staring me in the face and mumbling something inaudible and inarticulated.  

There was a Scotsman  in his late 70’s, friend of the producer with a very striking (read obvious and old) hair piece who appeared from the crowd.  He was very complimentary of my act as he not so subtly sneaked in his own performing and producing credits.  It went something like this, (Poetic license taken)  “Your act would be great at the Beesworth Liaman Laugh Festival.  It is one of the highlights of the Farthington region.  Of course you have heard it... the one held in Bemington every other August?”
It doesn’t matter what you say in response. It is not a question just a pause so he can take another breath.
“I started that festival back in 1961, when my partner and I did a black face comedy act with hoopla hoops and rope.  Yeah those were the days. The days when you didn’t have to worry about what they call ‘political correctness’. In thoses days if got a laugh it was funny, you didn’t worry about it. Everyone went home with a smile on their faces.    Your act would kill at the festival today....if you want I can call the guy who runs it. He would be thrilled to have you there.... now they don’t pay anything, but you get into all the shows for free and  Bemington is such a charming place.....(etc etc)”
As this point the lighting designer/set designer walked by.  I quickly grabbed him and said, “Here is someone you would like to meet. This is the lead designer for the production.” When Scotty’s attention went to the designer I faded into the crowd like a Ninja..  As I got out of range the last thing I heard was “Braveheart” telling him what he thought was wrong about the set.  Later I apologized to the designer for leading him to the lions den.  He said, “No problem mate, the old guy just mistook me for someone who gave a fuck about his opinion.” 

It was like running a gauntlet to get to the bar for a taste of the champagne I had earned. By pretending to be deaf and not making eye contact with anyone other than the bartender my mission was accomplished.  Unfortunately I had not made an effective exit plan.  As I turned  with glass in hand, an older woman in an odd red dress blocked my path.  She said, “I saw the show.” She paused like I should be surprised that a person standing in the theater where we just did THE SHOW half an hour before would have actually seen it.  She had one of the big color souvenir programs under her arm.  Inside is a well crafted comprehensive bio of my career printed for all to read.  After what seemed to be a longer pause than even her age would require she said, “So what other things have you done.”  There was another pause as she looked at me intently. There was a vacant look to her eyes which I did not perceive as intoxication. 
“Pretty much all the things in that bio of the program.”  
Quickly and without much of of a pause this time she said, “Oh, surely you have done more things than just that.”
To give her the benefit of a doubt, for no reason at all, I think what she wanted was some funny story about my time in the theater like I would tell on the couch of the Tonight show. This time I waited a long time before I answered; like I was thinking it over, remembering the funniest road story in the world.  I waited, took a couple of sips of my champagne, thought some more and said, 
“No, that is pretty much it...”
As the comedy gods would have it suddenly the mumbling 10 year old appeared waist high to my right and I was able to bend down as if actually trying to listen to what he was saying. Conversation over. 

Perth is fun.  I like this theater the best.  It does not have the bragging rights of the Sydney Opera house, but for me the production has finally gotten it all together, video, staging and sound to make my job the easiest it has been.  Everyone is talking about their next booking and their next tour.  The host travels directly to Dubai, and the arielists have been signed to six month contracts in Reno.  As for me.... I have never had a schedule where I knew what is next.  Next for me is just the next show when ever that might be.  I am looking forward to getting home to be with Sandi, hoping that my dog Boo will still remember me. And I think it is time to buy that Mini Cooper  I have been looking at.
As you were,