Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year. May 2007 be as wonderful, challenging, exciting, fulfilling and surprising as 2006. May your dreams continue and never grow old. May you find happiness inside and carry it with you always. May you see your smile not in the mirror, but reflected in the face of another. May we all keep our consciousness in constant contact with the highest concept of our consensus of good.
As you were,

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Tony Bennett has a DVD out of his duets album. We got it for Christmas and gave a copy to several others as presents. Rob Marshall directed and it has the feel of a television variety special they used to do so well. There are great production numbers with some really wonderful dancers.

Now I am not a fan of Tony Bennett personally. I have opened for him a few times and have several Tony Bennett stories to entertain a dinner party. But, in the talent department I am a huge fan. He still has great chops even at an age when the voice usually weakens. I never thought I would have anything in common with B.N. (you have to hear the story to understand),however, in an interview the other day he said something I related to; he said when he is not performing, he loves to paint. When he is not painting he loves to perform. I get that totally. That happens to be my dual passion as well.

Which brings me to say “The Muse” came back to visit with all her luggage last week. I started drawing again. Drawing may not be the right word. Sandi came into the office after I had been up most of the night working on a canvas and said,
“Are we obsessing on this woman?” I wasn’t sure if she meant the muse or the girl in my painting. Either way the operative word was obsessing.

The woman in question is a 16.5” x 20” acrylic and ink on canvas. It is the cameo of a young “goth”, and I am obsessed with her.

At the Colony Theatre in Burbank there is an art gallery. When we did The Two and Only there, I was given the gallery to show my art. At talk-backs I would be asked about the artwork in the gallery as much as about my show. The question that kept coming up was, “Why don’t you paint women?” I draw women, but there was none in that exhibit.

This new painting has become my Mona Lisa. Finally a painting I can display with pride to dispel the belief of gender bias in my artwork.

It is the most expensive painting I have ever painted. I learned that trick from an artist who said she had just finished a one hundred thousand dollar painting, if anyone would pay her for it.
As you were,

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Here is a little blog Christmas card for the season. I don't know if you can read it at this size, but there is a little devil sitting on the angel's shoulder and the caption reads, "Finding out who is naughty and nice." It is a drawing from my animation cel period, the original is an 8X10 acrylic on acetate.

I hope this is the best Holiday season for everyone. I will be toasting my eggnog to all the great memories and new friends of The Two and Only. There will be more posts before the New Year, blog you then.
As you were,

Thursday, December 21, 2006

This is one of my favorite pictures from the Helen Hayes daze. This is my hero Bill Irwin laughing during our conversation after my show. I think I just said, "So what do you think about a ventriloquist doing a Broadway show?"

I have been asked about the Two and Only Tour next year. There are so many friends and TAOists who want to know when the show is coming near where they are. At this point plans are being made but I suspect nothing will be known until mid January at the earliest. I am suggesting that everyone sign up on the email list here on the Two and Only Website to get the updated information. You will probably get it quicker than I will.

I thought I would be in New York for Christmas, but now that I am in Los Angeles, we are revamping our holiday plans. It will probably be a calmer Christmas than usual. Our oldest Son is in Europe; it is our first Holiday without him. The youngest is living here going to college, but is taking a full load and we hardly see him. I hope we can catch up this weekend. However, all his friends are coming home and he will be off seeing buddies most of his extra time.

Paul Kreppel is back from New York for a few days and we had lunch yesterday. The Big Voice is still running in New York and he is torn between being here and being there. I know the feeling; it is still sort of a haze for me.

We hope to have the merchandise from the show up for sale on the website soon. Anyone who didn’t get a chance to buy a Monkeyjoke tee shirt, poster, Spaulding eyes, or poster magnet will soon have the chance.

As you were,

Monday, December 18, 2006

I realize there is more to say about fruit slot machines. The Wiz reminded me that my real passion for the fruit slot machines comes from this picture on the left.

It is my rendering of the “cherries” icon on the reels of a 1970’s slot machine. Not the digital television slots like today. These were actually spinning mechanical reels, activated by the pull of a handle, that locked into place displaying pictures in a window. To me this picture of the cherries is a beautiful historic graphic that deserves to be interpreted as art.

I like the line and the color of this picture. The crimson red of the cherry orbs compliments the green jagged leaves and the brownish red tree limb. The lighting on the cherries evokes a fresh clean feeling. This could be a Christmas ornament if not used as a gambling pip first.

For anyone who has ever played one of these slot machines the emotion is subliminal. The art itself continues to be associated with a pleasant feeling. It is integral to winning. In the left most position of the slot machine these cherries would pay the player even money. None of the other fruit pictures paid in that position unless all three were the same. On some machines triple cherries paid more than any other three of a kind. So every time you see this graphic on the slot machine it associated with a win.

Now I stress that the drawing is my artwork for legal reasons only. By displaying my own artwork I don’t have to get permission nor pay a fee. And I don’t have to give credit, only take it.

I don’t know who designed the first graphics for those first machines. There are many different versions of slot machine cherries, but this design is one of the oldest and for me the best. It was this summer in Cambridge where I had the time and the muse to create my own slot machine cherries. I researched several styles on the internet and duplicated this one. I’m glad I have this picture now. For me it will continue to bring back memories of a time in Las Vegas that doesn’t exist anymore. Of course the kid who experienced that time in Las Vegas doesn’t exist anymore either.
As you were,
I guess I will soon be working around casinos again. It is a job, but certainly not the excitement it used to be.

I have always been superstitious about “fruit” slot machines. Today there are hundreds of types of slots and they are all themed out to the max. I have even seen slot machines themed out with classic television show icons. You can play “I Dream of Jeanie” slots, “Munsters” slots, but back in “the day” the standard was the fruit slot. Various kinds of fruit would show up on the reels to indicate the level of your win or loss.

Years ago I was at Harrah’s Tahoe Casino working and bored. On the way to the coffee shop one afternoon I see an old fruit machine in the middle of a row of new themed out machines. I get five bucks of quarters and decide to play. Three dollars in, I hit three plums, that is a thirty- dollar jackpot. I pocket twenty-five and play again.

Within three dollars or about 10 plays, I hit three plums again, another thirty dollars. With a win of fifty-four bucks on a six-dollar investment I walk away.

The next time I am walking through the casino I pass the machine again and decide to press my luck. Three dollars in I hit three plums. Thirty more bucks. Every time I play that machine it will hit three plums within 12 pulls. Well, I know that it is not my luck, but a mechanical blessing. To hit the same jackpot consistently defies all the odds a casino is built on. The decision now is how hard to milk my new found cash cow?

Casinos keep tabs on everything especially money going out. If a machine pays out too quickly it will alert the management that they may have a defective machine. So I decide that three wins a day will be my limit, a hundred bucks a day will not alert the goons. So for the rest of the week I use this slot machine as my personal ATM.

One night I see workers replacing the carpet on the far side of the casino. They don’t close the casino, just the section they are working on at the time. They move all the slots and tables from the section rip up the carpet, replace it, move the machines back and continue on. They are doing this 24 hours a day.

By the next day they are half way across the casino. I notice that they are putting the slots back in a different order, and pattern. I realize that if they put “my” machine in a different place I will never find it again. Being a fruit machine in a row of lucky sevens is the only thing that distinguishes my machine from hundreds of other fruit machines. If it is in a different row it will be lost. I start playing the machine with a new sense of urgency.

My three wins a day become three wins an hour. I am trying to second-guess how much I can win without triggering attention. It is a time consuming process. Feed the quarters 12 times, collect the winnings, fill the bucket, take it to the cage, cash it in for paper money and head back to the machine. The carpet layers are getting closer and closer, I am playing harder than they are working and finally they arrive at my section. The machines are moved into a clump and replaced after the new carpet is laid, and just as I thought, the lucky machine is lost forever.

I spend a day or two and 30 dollars looking for it again, but never find it. Flush with my winnings I decided to learn to play Baccarat. It is an expensive game, but fun when playing on Harrah’s money. It is the only game I know where you can lose all you have on a hand and still owe money. It is called “commission to the Banco”. Every time you bet on the bank and win they charge you a three percent commission. They collect commissions every time they shuffle a new shoe. I slowly lose all the money I won from the dysfunctional slot machine learning to play Baccarat. I retire from my Baccarat career with my original five-dollar investment in hand. After two weeks of being up several thousand dollars I am back dead even.

Money never really leaves a casino; it just gets moved from one game to another.
As you were,

Friday, December 15, 2006

I always wanted to design my own set of Tarot Cards. However, creating 78 highly detailed and symbolic drawings seems like more work than my attention span will allow. I soon gave up on that idea.

While doing "The Two and Only" in Cambridge this summer, I decided to create a normal deck of playing cards (which includes only 12 drawings, 13 if you include the joker). This is a pen and ink study of a joker from my deck. So far I have a King, a Queen, three Jacks, one Ace and 7 jokers. Does anyone know some card games you can play with only 13 cards, half of them jokers? I have already lost interest. AADD.
As you were,

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

This is an experiment. I created this picture to entice David Letterman during Ventriloquism Week on The Late Show. I sent it to people who sent it to people who said, “David shouldn’t see this. I don’t think David would find it funny.” Another person involved with the Late show said Dave wouldn’t “get it”.

Well, you be the judge. I think it’s funny.

(Now if this picture didn’t show up on your computer or took a long time to load please leave me a comment. I want to start a political cartoon section in this blog and up load drawings. Let me know.)
As you were,

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Wiz report for Tuesday

I was in Times Square today for the first time since the closing of “The Two and Only”. Although I live in New York, I don’t often go there. I live in Brooklyn and it now takes me almost an hour on the subway to get to Times Square from my house. I say “it now takes” because I have recently moved. I packed up my favorite show and my favorite apartment in the same week. I guess when it rains, it pours. But I’ve been trying to get acclimated to all the change, and decided to do something routine today, something traditional, something that I enjoy doing – Christmas shopping. I was looking for something fun and uplifting in the midst of the turmoil. So I stopped unpacking and trundled off to Times Square. I was headed to the giant Toys R Us on 44th Street in search of a big ticket item for my eight year old son. I knew what I wanted. The trouble is everyone else wants them too. So I’m walking up Broadway (as I now live on the N/R subway line – have to get used to that too!) and as I cross 44th Street I look west towards the Helen Hayes. There is no “Two and Only” marquee. I knew that it was taken down rather quickly, but I hadn’t seen it yet for myself. Though full of people, that street seemed empty, almost lonely. I found myself getting angry again – angry at producers, angry at the women in front of me on the street complaining about the dirt on the street, angry at New York and its theatre goers. I had left my house in search of something uplifting, but I was quickly down in the dumps. I fought the crowds in Toys R Us, made a small purchase, and started walking uptown. I don’t know what possessed me to go uptown. I should have gone the other way towards home, but I didn’t. I stopped and had “lunch” at Mc Donald’s on 46th Street. I sat upstairs and looked at all of the neon posters for all of the Broadway shows. I grew angrier, sadder, more empty. After lunch I continued walking uptown towards the 49th Street subway stop. At 48th Street I saw a store that I haven’t seen before. It’s called “M&M World”, and it’s an entire store based on a little round candy. Believe me, I like M&M’s as much as the next gal (I keep a jar of them in the dressing room), but come on, a store based on a candy? I stuck my head in and it was packed! I couldn’t believe it – packed. People are purchasing pillows with the M&M logo on it! Then it hit me – of course they are. They’re buying things that are familiar, recognizable, safe. They’re not looking for something fresh or innovative. They’re not willing to take a risk. It was the same thing with “Two and Only”. Not as many people were willing to take a risk and come see the show as we had hoped for. Broadway is full of recognizable shows. Some are based on movies we all know, some on music we all know, and several have “Disney” above the title. I challenge all of you: take a risk. Go see something lesser known. See something you haven’t heard much about. Try seeing something off-Broadway. Great theatre is not always familiar or safe. Go to an independent movie. Visit a local boutique rather than a giant chain store. I may try Christmas shopping again tomorrow or I may not. When I do, I’m headed to a neat little store I know of in my old neighborhood. And I am definitely in search of a different “big ticket item”.

Until the next one,

Monday, December 11, 2006

For several weeks now I have not been sleeping through the night. I wake up and look at the clock several times. Often, I have to get up and walk around the house to clear a bad feeling I wake with.

First, I thought it was just the uncomfortable bed of my New York apartment. Then I thought it was the stress of the show closing so abruptly. Now that I am home I have run out of reasons why this should be happening.

The strangest part is waking up and not knowing where I am for a few seconds. I forget I am home. I try to remember what hotel and what city I’m in. My own bedroom doesn’t look familiar in those moments. It compounds that feeling of being disoriented. Sometimes it feels like I wake up because I don’t know where I am. That is perhaps the worst way to be disturbed.

Many times I wake up thinking I over slept and I am late to the theater. I also have those actor dreams of standing on stage or about to go on with no clue what the lines are, or what show I am doing.

It is difficult being back home this time of year. Everyone expected the show would run through the holidays and I would not be here. I think we have eight parties to attend in the next two weeks. Friends want to talk about my Broadway experience. But they approach me like there has been a terrible accident in my life. They are glad to see me, but sorry I have to be back home. They want to tell me what an awful thing it is to close a show, but how happy I should be about it.

What I hear them saying is, "You were lucky to get this far with a ventriloquist act." It is couched in polite phrases, but the message is clear to me. Doing what I do I shouldn’t have expected much.

One can neither justify nor defend the show, particularly to those who didn’t see it on Broadway. I quickly tire of trying to be as grateful as they think I should be. If we were still running I wouldn’t have to be here for this. We are not, I am here and it is depressing. “Depressed to be home for the holidays? Why you should be grateful the show closed so you could be home.” The world is a series of conflicting opposites for me right now.

Perhaps that is why I wake up at night trying to figure a way out of this situation.
As you were,

Sunday, December 10, 2006

It is one of those perfect days in Los Angeles. It rained last night, which means the mountains were in crisp focus, stunningly shroud in purple and sunshine. It’s my California dream to drive a fast sports car on the tight curves of mountain roads on a beautifully clear afternoon. That is exactly what I did today. I love New York, I always have a great time there, but I’m a valley boy at heart.

In the emotion of The Two and Only closing, Sandi’s television show “Happy Hour” was also cancelled. It was short changed here in this Blog, but it was an equally sad closing.

I liked Happy Hour. It was on Fox Network and should have been given a chance to find an audience. It was a cast that got along and they were very much liked. Not that common in the television industry.

Last night, Brooke, one of the show’s stars, had a Christmas party at the home she shares with a director/writer companion. Her house is off Mulholland Blvd on Pacific View Drive, a hill that looks over the Los Angeles basin. This amazing view of lights is like the view of central park from the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Plaza.

Yeah, I know that view. I saw the Rainbow Room view the afternoon and the night I received the Artist of the Year Award from the New York YMCA. I recalled that moment as Sandi and I ogled the view of Hollywood from Brooke’s infinity pond.

Both views are equally majestic and similar in awe.

The night in LA is clear enough to watch the clouds roll in and the lights play peek-a-boo with the fog. The view of the Los Angeles lights from the hills has always captured my heart. It becomes commonplace if you see it every day, but I have been away long enough to see it anew.
I forgot how beautiful it is and why I fell in love with Los Angeles long ago. What a great Christmas home coming this is.

What a great memory it jogged.
As you were,

Friday, December 08, 2006

It was almost a two-hour drive to Kennedy airport yesterday. The driver cursed the entire way in a language I am glad I don’t speak. I was later than I like to be for check in. Then of course there is always the TSA to deal with.

I am carrying Bob and Squeaky with me on the plane in a specially designed case that fits easily in the overhead. (Basically it is the Punchinello parts of both guys, the workings, so to speak) I have traveled over 2.5 million miles on American Airlines alone, and probably half that many miles on other major airlines, carrying this case. Until yesterday I was never identified as a threat.

They are confused by the x-ray and want to do an explosives test on my case. That usually means they run a cloth over the handle and latches and if it comes up negative you are on your way. This is not uncommon in my experience. Few people have ever seen inside the workings of a vent puppet before. It can look strange.

The test is of course negative. However, I see the very large lady (I did not know they could make a TSA uniform that big) start to open the latches while the case is up right. This means the heads will fall and bang on the table if she continues. I gently lay the case on its side and she informs me that I am not allowed to touch the case. She continues but she can’t open it without the combination to the lock. She allows me to unlock it and I open it in the right position.

With as much charm as I can muster I say these are puppets and they are very valuable and fragile if not handled correctly. I would appreciate her caution, consideration and care. I have been through this drill countless times before, usually without incident. Most of the time I am able to strike up a conversation with the screener and trade a joke or two. This screener, however, looks at me like I am her next meal, which will have to be killed before consumed.

She wipes the control stick of each puppet with a motion that makes the mouth trigger snap open and closed. I ask her once again to be careful. She doesn’t respond. My charm is not working. She is treating me like I am being booked into LA County Jail. This explosive test is negative. I figure I will be on my way. Not so.

She starts to grab for Squeaky’s eyes to pull him out of the case. I stop her hand and say once again that this will damage the puppet if she continues. She tells me that I need to back off and not touch anything. She calls a supervisor over. I think perhaps I will spend my last New York night in custody.

The supervisor is much nicer. We have an instant rapport. I explain, she asks me questions about ventriloquism. She has heard I am in town doing a Broadway show and she lets me lift the heads so they can look under them with out damage. The fat lady says nothing and is still pissed off about something. The test again is negative for weapons of mass destruction.

The supervisor leaves. I figure I am finally done but the fat lady starts to slam the lid of the case before the guys are in position. I stop the lid with my hand and say, “If you are all done I will close it up.” She says, ”Sir I am here for your safety.” I say “And, Lady, I’m here for their safety.” She pushes the case toward me and walks away.

Now I don’t want to do this fat lady’s job, but apparently neither does she. I am glad to cooperate in any way I can to keep airplanes safe, I travel on them a lot, but can’t we all just get along here. It’s bad enough that every traveler must submit to a search and be presumed guilty until proven otherwise. But I draw the line when my instruments are placed in jeopardy by a disgruntle, under trained, personality deficient, search monkey with no regard for other peoples possessions.

Merry Christmas TSA lady, don’t forget Santa still keeps a list.
As you were,

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

It's my last night in New York for awhile. They replayed my shot on David Letterman last night. Sort of a fitting ending to my New York experience. Letterman bookended my stay here. I came and went with a David Letterman shot. There is some closure to that idea and it fits with my since of yen and yang.

Two things: First, the sign post at the corner of 53rd and Broadway is named Senor Wenches Way. It is very appropriate since that is the North west corner of the block with the Ed Sullivan Theater (Now the David Letterman Theater). Senor Wenches more than any other performer, much less ventriloquist, is associated with Ed Sullivan and that theater.

Second, the corner of 45th and 8th is Runyon way, named for Damon Runyon. It was from there that most of his New York adventures begin. Both these streets are just two blocks from where I spent most of my time here. Wenches two blocks from my apartment, and Runyon two blocks from my theater. Both men are romantic figures in my life as a ventriloquist and writer. I suppose I fancy myself as the combination of them both. I guess the gods of the City waited to show me those two signs just before I left so I would have something to think about after I get back to Los Angeles.

I will be on a plane tomorrow night and not available to blog. But the next time I do, it will be right here at this same location. I am sort of hooked on writing to you this way. If we stay in touch, maybe I will feel less like I am gone. There will be tours to talk about and adventures to recount. Who knows where this ride goes next, but let's go together okay?

Until again,

As you were,

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

What I love about live theater is you always have the next performance to do better, unlike film or tape when you have to live with your mistakes over and over. Ask Michael Richards.

The Gypsy of the Year opening number went up without a ventriloquist problem today. Everyone had a laugh about my brain fart yesterday with his or her own story of going up on a line. The stage manager did post a couple of key word cue cards in the pit for me to refer to just in case. Thankfully I did not need them but the safety net was appreciated.

I find out that the Monday show is really considered a dress rehearsal because of the short time anyone has to work on it. Tuesday’s show is when the competition is judged and the show was wonderful. Very exciting. The crowd was electric. At the end of the number the reaction almost brought me to tears. It was the very Broadway send-off I dreamed about. There I was standing before a sold out audience at the Neil Simon Theater receiving a rousing ovation as a gypsy member of a big Broadway production number. It was a moment in time you want to freeze and keep forever. What a ride this has been.

My gypsy brother-in-law sent me the following article, which made me feel much better at having just flubbed a few lines yesterday. It can always be worse.
As you were,

Monday, December 04, 2006

Well the Broadway musical stage has not found a new star in me. Today was the first performance of the Gypsy of the Year Competition. I am doing well for a little while. Then I missed a line, I try to jump back and retrieve it but it is set to music and that train leaves the station without me. I think I am in the right spot for my next musical line, but I realize I am early. I vamp for a minute and start listening to the music to try and catch up and completely went up on the next line. I have always prided myself on an ability to pull most any situation out of the fire, but I went totally blank. I dipped into the well and it was dry as the Mojave. It was one of my dyslexic moments where my brain has no clue what my mouth needs to say. Bob (my wooden co-star) finally says, “I understand now why they closed your show”. It was a personal disaster.

Fortunately all of this takes place before the real number starts to cook and the real gypsies save the number in spite of my involvement. The rest of the show is wonderful and clever and exciting, so perhaps my participation will be quickly forgotten. However, I never felt more like hiding my face backstage and getting out of town very fast.

Tomorrow is another show and another chance to get it right. I really feel awful about letting the dancers down today. I am sure I have lost all credibility with them, as well as Josh and Lauren the director/writers.

It was not the experience I needed to improve my disposition. I was hoping for a really wonderful memory to end my Broadway experience. This was not it. Perhaps tomorrow.
As you were,

Sunday, December 03, 2006

New York City is full of tourist right now, and why not. The City is beautiful, the lights are up, the Rockefeller Christmas tree is lit up and the windows in the stores are works of art. There is just enough crispness in the air and a Santa on every corner posing pictures for a price. The excitement is thick with the frenzy of commerce. This is the biggest single concentration of humans in the USA and capitalism insists we separate the masses from every penny we can lure from them.

Not all the people in Times Square are tourist. But you can tell the local New Yorkers from the out or towners with very little effort. It is not just by the way tourists will stop in front of you and impede your progress. It is not the way tourists ask you to take their picture. It is not because you see them boarding a bus wearing a newly purchased Mama Mia tee shirt. It is also not when you hear some person with a thick Texas accent say, “Lookey there, Doris, it’s the Empire State Building” when they are pointing at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. None of those things. It is the way people walk.

A tourist will always walk looking up. They’re looking at the billboards, the signs, and the upper stories of buildings. They walk around looking up.

A New Yorker will always walk looking down. It is not just the fact they have seen the billboards, the signs and know how tall the building are. It is not because they are unfriendly or want to avoid eye contact. A New Yorker is looking down to make sure he doesn’t step in dog shit.
As you were,

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Okay, so life has not stopped. I will be doing the Gypsy of the Year Competition on Monday and Tuesday.

I haven’t felt like talking about the Gypsy of the Year show until now. This is a benefit show to help Broadway Cares. It is staged once a year and it has become a huge Broadway community tradition. The New York shows get together and create original material for this performance. It is a lampoon of their own shows or someone else’s show or just Broadway in general. Pretty much anything goes and it is riddled with inside gags. Josh Rhodes a dancer in “Chicago” wrote and directed the opening number. He saw my show and wrote the number with me in mind. I am honored, thrilled, and also awed to be in the presence of such talented performers.

We had our first tech rehearsal at the Neil Simon Theater yesterday when it dawns on me; I am doing a Broadway production number. This is what people dream of when they think about doing Broadway. In the number, 16 dancers, a choir of 25 singers, and a full orchestra working their talents off surround me. Bob and I are explorers, dressed in safari outfits, observing the habits of the elusive Broadway gypsy. The dialogue is funny and inside, and they have let me customize it so it feels like a Jay and Bob routine. I am usually a one-man band (or make that a man and a puppet band) on stage. For this performance I have to count music, say dialogue between phrases, take cues, not run into dancers, hit a mark and try and be funny. It’s just another day for these Broadway performers, but a stretch for this out of place ventriloquist.

I can’t wait to do the show. I am slowly getting to know all the gypsies in the number. My love for dancers is well documented. This group is the cream of the crop of Broadway. They are much more talented than they can even comprehend.

This number is life, imitating art. On stage, I am the outsider looking in, and so it is in reality. It seems that my life as a Broadway performer has been crammed into just a few months of intense work. I guess this is New York time and I am used to the LA pace of things.
As you were,