Friday, September 28, 2012

Andy Williams

There are many reasons to remember Andy Williams. Besides all of the obvisous like great entertainer, great singer, hip and classy, successful variety show host, and icon of the Christmas season, I have my own to add.
I was the opening act for  his last Andy Williams Christmas Show Tour. We had a plane to travel in and my seat was across from Andy. He was not always "on" like some entertainers. He was as easy as he appeared to be on stage.  His stories came out of those relaxed moments of conversation and he had great stories. Being a wanna be story teller myself I hung on every word and every chance to listen or ask a question that might lead him into one of these great stories.  My favorite Andy Williams story involves one of my other heros Edgar Bergen. 
Edgar Bergen died at Ceasar's Palace, Las Vegas.  He was performing in the Andy Williams Show. Andy was a big fan of Mr. Bergen who had recently announced his retirement. Andy begged him to do one more Vegas turn in The Andy Williams Show before he stopped performing. Andy said he didn't care if he did the whole two weeks of the run; if he wanted to he could do a week or just a few days. Andy just wanted him in the show.  Edgar agrees.  After mentioning it was their retirement show Edgar and Charlie took their curtain call to Andy Williams singing the "September Song". All of that I knew already, but here is the story Andy told me. 
Midway through the first week Andy's road manager comes to the suite earlier in the day than usual.  Tennison Flowers looks forlorne and Andy asks what's wrong. Tennison says, "Edgar Bergen is gone." Andy says, "Well, we all knew it might happen." Tennison agrees sadly. Andy continues, "It was good we had him here as long as we did. So what do you think we should do?"  
Tennison says that is exactly why he is there so early to try and figure it all out.  Andy says, "I guess we better replace him.  Can we get someone by tonight? I'm sure someone local can come in and do 20 minutes, right?" Tennison says, "Replace him, you just want to replace him...just like that?"  Andy relies, "Well, I don't think we have to make a big deal about it. "  Tennison says,"Are you sure we don't need to at least say something?" 
Andy, "I don't see why, I wasn't sure he would last the week. We just get a comic or someone and the show will be fine."  
"I don't know if I agree with that. The man was a legend,  his death is going to be big news." 
"Wait... Edgar Bergen is dead?"
"That's what we have been talking about."
Andy thought Tennison was telling him that Edgar had decided to go back home.  Of course it was a big deal, they did not replace and a tribute was done.
Andy's Birthday is in December so we celebrated it on the road in St Louis. I gave him a birthday card that said, "It is unsettling for a ventriloquist to be in the show that killed Edgar Bergen."  He laughed.
So it is another good bye to a friend named Andy this year.  They are gone but great memories remain.
As you were, 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Intellectual Property Recycle or Garage Sale?

Long time readers of this blog will remember psychic readings, like the one republished below, which would appear at this URL from time to time. In fact it was a weekly-weekend feature of The World is a Stage for several months in 2008 and 2009. That was a time when I assumed I could take off from writing on the weekends.  I know now that an artist must adopt the work habits of the muse and always be ready to "articicate." 


Saturday, November 15, 2008

My thanks to Madam Tnek the psychic tarot card expert and seer for this reading today. Until recently Madam Tnek had a small store front on Ventura Blvd and Haskell in Encino, CA. The neon sign out front read, "Madam Knows the Future for everyone." Recently she closed the store from lack of business. Wait a minute, didn't she know?

The Single Tarot Card Reading for Today -

Saturday, Nov. 15, 2008
King of Wands: The essence of fire behaving as air, such as lightning: A great and daring leader who inspires others to rise to challenges alongside him. An artist who can take hold of an idea and make it a reality through bold action. One who is forceful, charismatic, and honest, leading by example, but unafraid to invest authority in others. A dashing and magnetic personality, carrying authority naturally, and striking at the world with swiftness and grace.

These "features" were created in advance and timed to be published on a schedule.  Other attempts at running themes were  Medium Rare's Weakly Astrological Projection . For entertainment purposes only. 
I actually wrote the text for the zodiac signs myself. That way I was sure no one could claim prediction plagiarism. I just wrote a few sets and then switched them from sign to sign. So far no one has noticed.  We tend to read only our own sign and ignore the rest.   
The soap opera of Jam Shade actually exists in my sketch book as a cartoon series.  Produced by National Visual Radio I thought I could just jpeg the cartoons.  That process was not satisfactory.  So I attempted to recreate the short lived adventures of Jam Shade (Bflat 7th) Dyslexic Detective.  in blogsy html. It was quickly replaced on line by imaginary blog editor J Arthur Tildad with the Magic 8-Ball: "answers to your future". That feature was unceremoniously cancelled by the creator from total lack of continuing interest.  The only reason all of this was brought to my attention was because the stats say two people read this Saturday, November 15, 2008 blog... yesterday. It is the first time it has been read since, you guessed it, Saturday, November 15, 2008. I have no clue why, now? But, everything reminds me of something now-a-days. 
See there I did it again. Published a blog with practically no original thought. Totally relied on past attempts at original thought. I suppose there isn't a shelf life on thought.  Thought is the raw material of intellectual property. Therefore... no expiration date on expression.
As you were,

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


I have a rule about reading reviews of my performances.
I don't, if I can avoid it.
In the early days of my career I was just so excited that someone would write about my act that I was eager to see what they said. It seemed like part of the entertainer's romantic myth.  Waiting at Sardi's to see if your show is a hit.
For me stalking reviews was never satisfying and more often heart-breaking.  More importantly... the information pointed out in a review, good or bad, never helped me make better choices on stage.
At some point I realized I could save the energy spent listening to what someone else said about my show, and use the energy listening to my own heart.  It cancels regrets later, you never have to say to yourself, "What I wanted to do," or "What I should have done was..."  If you follow your heart you make the most satisfying decisions.
That said, this can not be considered a review. This is a note I received from Jimmy Nelson.  I did not ask his permission to publish it here on the blog.  I hope he doesn't mind but I want the world to know how much it means to me.   The way I figure it, if a ventriloquist gets a letter from the Dean of American Ventriloquists, and in my opinion the Dean of ALL Ventriloquists, it seems appropriate to share it.  So here goes:

Hello Jay.
Just a few thoughts about our recent get-together in Wilmington.
Jay, you never cease to amaze me with your many talents. I've always admired you for your obvious vent
talents...impeccable lip control, manipulation, etc. But to watch you work in three back to back performances of "The Two and Only" was a revelation. How you manage to keep all those voices sharp and clear, and your timing perfect, must hark back to your ten-plus shows a day at Six Flags!  And even then you weren't on stage for almost two hours continuously!  You are truly a Renaissance Man in the vent world!
I want to thank you for allowing Betty and me to participate in this special event.
The DVD will entertain audiences, but for me it will archive your talents for years to come.

Betty & I send our love to you and Sandi.

'Till we meet again,


I have written a pre-rebuttal right here in a previous blog on  Wednesday, January 26, 2011.  
To find favor with those of whom you favor is the most satisfying review an artist could receive. Thank you, Mr. Nelson.
As you were,
Jay (Officially Half-Nelson)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Dyslexic Spelieng..

As I was unpacking from Wilmington I found this note among the receipts and other documents I brought home.  It is a packing note I wrote to myself before making the trip.
It just proves that technology has not out paced the use of a ball point pen.  In addition to the spelling mistake, there is an indication that purchasing is easier than laundry in some cases.
You can lead a dyslexic out of stupid class, but you can't make him spell.
As you were,

Monday, September 24, 2012

Hallowed Eve is Near

Spring Fever.... Autumn what?

I had to get a new battery for my wrist watch.  For a day and a half I thought it was 10:55. That is what time the watch stopped.  I would look at the watch, realize it was not working then get the time from my phone.  I would forget quickly that the watch was not working and go through the same process several times over the weekend.  I needed a new battery,so I went to Fashion Square to my "watch guy".  I know it is a sign of my age that I actually use and wear a Wrist watch.  Most people today use their phone to tell the time.  I find that a little cumbersome, digging my phone out of my pocket and waking it up just to see what time it is. However, looking at a wrist watch is something like writing and mailing a picture postcard in today's connected public.
While at the mall I decided to hang out and see if the environment would be conducive to writing a blog.  I had my trusty iPad and keyboard.  I found a great place with a table just the right height for typing.  There is an original Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf there so I was well oiled for the attempt. There was just one thing wrong, I couldn't seem to get any sort of thought/writing flow going. There was no inspiration at the dining  circle of Fashion Square even though I had the place almost to myself.
Just a doodle on my iPad thinking about Halloween.
I don't know if there is a reciprocal state of mind for an autumnal version of spring fever, but I have always been susceptible to something this time of year.  It makes me inhale differently.  I get a smile on my face when I walk out the door, the angle of the light and the slight change in the temperature just make me happy.  I start thinking about Halloween, my favorite holiday.  My friend and teacher John McLean called autumn the "champagne of seasons" yesterday.  Eloquently said and for me inspired truth.
The summer seemed to be all about getting ready for the filming of the show.  Suddenly it is done and with that, a let down... but a change in season brings me back up. Here is hoping you are feeling the same excitement today and for the rest of the year.   
As you were, 

Friday, September 21, 2012

What would you say?

I got a FaceBook message yesterday.  A screen capture of that message is published below.  I blurred the identifying information like they do in those true crime television shows, you know, to protect the innocent and all. Other than that this is the actual message.  Okay, and the profile picture of the devil was my idea...only trying to protect the innocent.
Here it is just as I got it....   How would you answer?

"How would you answer" is a rhetorical question.  While I would never actually answer a FaceBook message in this manner, my knee jerk response is:

"You certainly may have a moment of my time.  That was it.  I hope it was great for you too. "

Never give a person who thinks he's funny an opening line.

As you were,
On Happy Friday,

Thursday, September 20, 2012

HD Mentia

I am not exactly sure what I said at the curtain call Saturday night when I introduced Jimmy Nelson at Historic Thalian Hall. There was nothing written. I was prepared to do it with the directors blessing of camera coverage.  I decided I would speak from my heart in that moment. That is what my show is about so it seemed natural. To thank Jimmy Nelson for being the inspiration to thousands like me who have heard the call of an inner voice should come easily from my heart.
However, I discounted the sheer power and emotion this moment would have.  To realize as you talk about the history of ventriloquism, one of the greatest ventriloquists of the 20th century, the only living legend of that era, currently sits in the audience, is to realize a moment of speechlessness.  Unfortunately in moments like this my mouth begins to speak before my consciousness gives it permission; consciousness then forgets the entire verbal discourse so it can't be blamed for the unauthorized dialogue.
The same dumbstruck amnesia has erased what I said about Murphy, Sandi, John Ivy, Bryan and I remember nothing about mis-pronouncing Marge's last name. 
The shout outs from stage could have gone on for much longer.  Sitting close enough for me to see their smiles was Annie Roberts and Lisa Sweasy. How great to have the historians and keepers of ventriloquist history come to participate in this moment. Because of my friendship and affections for these ladies, I forget the impact of having W. S. Berger and Vent Haven Museum represented at this filming.  In later moments of reflection I realize how blessed I am with friends like Annie and Lisa.  It is only later that I have the words because, the moment is all to overwhelming.
This memory erase is caused by the psychological stress of multiple HD cameras imprinting digital images from the stage. I do not think this mental condition has been identified before so I claim the discovery in the name of science.  I name this condition of digitally induced amnesia "HD Mentia."

To everyone working at presenting the show or working at enjoying it... to Lori, Bob, and David, peers in the artform... and especially to Betty and Jimmy ... Thank all made it happen. 
Marge and Bryan you led the charge and gave quarter to the troupes. You believed, but more than that you acted upon that belief with your talents.  
John you continually amaze me with the wide brush your artistry covers.  You are a modern theatrical Renaissance man.  
Murphy you are Captain of the Heart for "the two and only", and channel energies to the performance that are of "more than ordinary significance".   
Sandi after four decades I have run out of words to express my love for you. Beyond my deficiency of vocabulary, you know, in the silence, that you are my muse, my lover, my friend and the reason I do what I do.
As you were,

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Post Mortem or Mortem Post?

I have returned home from Wilmington. I thought I would have time to post some blogs while in the moment of filming "The Two and Only" but that was not to be.  
Starting on Wednesday of last week it was like getting ready for the launch of a NASA rocket.  Each step had to be done in sequence before we could take off on Saturday for the actual filming. Because they had an event at the theatre on Wednesday night we could not load in the set until about 10:00pm.  Scenic Asylum pulled an all night-er to get it up so we could focus lights on Thursday. The set looked beautiful. Terry and Robert who own Scenic Asylum are artists of the highest order. 
Bryan ran a stop action camera looking at the stage during the construction and setting lights.  It looks like a bee hive of activity at that speed. My heart went out to John Ivy who had to call circuit numbers and focus the plot while hammers boomed and the smell of paint made everyone light headed. 
We shot a rehearsal with a small crowd on Friday and used the time to have cameras on stage to film the "reverse" angles of the show.  Then Saturday we went for the gold with two performances and for the most part got what we wanted.  Sunday we spent five hours doing some pick up shots for insurance.  Just to make sure that we got the crosses and some of the movements clean. 
For me, no matter how well the shows go there is always something in the nuance of the performance I would have corrected the next night if we had the time.  At the matinee John said he missed a lighting cue because he was watching one of the monitors and got caught up in the beauty.  No one knew but me and we got it on the next performance. By the time we wrapped on Sunday I was so exhausted I felt like a deflated moon bounce. I was a complete zombie on the flight home the next morning at 6:00am. Bryan and I have decided that we will not even look at the dailies until October.  It will help to get some perspective on the project before we jump into it again. 
The theatre is definitely haunted.  As I was packing up in the empty theatre on Saturday night I heard someone walking around in the upper balcony. They refer to that part of the theatre as the "slave benches".  It is a section of church like pews with a separate entrance from the rest of the theatre. It was used at a time when the theatre was segregated.  I was always drawn to that section of the theatre because it seemed to be the most honest and looked most like the old theatre that it is. But there was definitely someone or something up there that night.  I was so sure it was a camera man retrieving cables that I called out several times.  There was never an answer back.
As long as we are talking "other worldly" events there was one that was special.  I took over the dressing room mid week and made it as comfortable as I could. Just before the evening show on Saturday the feather of a crow or raven appeared on one of my cases.  I am sure that is wasn't there before that moment.  It is almost the one year anniversary of the death of my Father. He died just before I did this show in Rochester on a Saturday evening.  That day I had an experience with a raven or crow that I knew was some sort of symbol for my Dad.  The raven feather in my dressing room immediately reminded me of that moment.
I usually carry small items in my pocket for good luck while I am on stage.  To keep from loading my pockets too much I have a small red cloth bag that travels with me in the makeup case, and I keep the "used Talisman's" there.  
Most of the time it is a coin that means something to me.  For these shows it was a gold stuck coin of my face that Clinton Detweiler did as a part of his vent series of coins.  Since I felt like the feather was a talisman from my Dad I put it in my pocket before I went on stage. I wanted him to be with me for this important event, as he was always so supportive of my show and my career.
I was comforted when I would gently touch the feather when reaching into my pocket on stage. It was a physical reminder of my Dad.  I remember touching the feather just before I delivered the final dramatic Arthur Sieving story.  
At the end of the show I was changing clothes and reached into my pocket to get the feather. My plan was to put it in the red bag with the rest of my memorable icons. The feather was gone. I checked the floor around me, went back on stage to see if it had dropped out of my pocket. It was no where to be found.  I searched and searched and retraced the path I took to and from stage to try and find it.  It vanished as mysteriously as it appeared. It was my Dad.  He was there when I needed him but reminded me that I don't have to have physical reminders that he is always around now.  I broke down and cried with a feeling of joy and connection with Dad.
With so much goodness looking over this show  the music issues will "fall in perfect order" I have no doubt. 
As you were,

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

September 11

As I am watching the coverage on 9/11. It is too much. I have to stop because I find myself living it all over again. I was such a minor player in the events, I can't imagine the feeling of those who lost loved ones eleven years later.  I have already written my feeling on this blog. Not Forgotten
I am glad that I have the show details to keep me occupied.

Cape Fear

It's like a being on a land locked cruise. I am here for the week and really only doing two shows at the end of my stay. There are more things to do in Wilmington than on a ship, even the megaships of Royal Caribbean. My schedule is easy an interview or two, and checking up on the progress of the production. Starting tonight the staff and crew begin to arrive. John Ivy arrives from New York in a few hours. Tomorrow Murphy Cross will arrive. Wednesday night they will start loading in the set. Lights are being hung today. Then Thursday we will focus and run cameras, and start the real count down. We are shooting some backups on Friday evening with a skeleton audience and then it is balls out to record the two performances on Saturday. Sunday we will shoot some inserts and pickups that can't be done without blocking the audience view with cameras.
The weather could not be better, very comfortable temperatures and no humidity. There are not even any hurricanes developing at sea so it should stay this way. If this was typical Wilmington weather, I think i could live here relatively easily. Unfortunately it would be alone because I don't see Sandi moving away from LA.
The big news when I arrived is Linda Laven. She has been living here for a decade or so and has become a fixture in the Wilmington theatre community with her own theatre company. The news was about her emanate departure from the area to move back to New York. The information was pitched with sadness and just a little bit of resentment. After proclaiming Wilmington to be the renaissance city of theatrical revival when she arrived, she is now abandoning ship to go back to the more traditional roots of theatre. The thespian south was supposed to rise again with her in command and now she is defecting to a Yankee stronghold. I personally don't think her exit will impact the local theatre much but I am certainly not a local and as my son is fond of saying, "I am talking out my ass". It is just the way it is being covered as a local story here. It is being reported as a very sad event. My director Bryan ran into LInda today at lunch meeting with our cinematographer Adam, who is a local. Bryan invited Linda to our show on Saturday. I am not sure that event will make it on her social calendar but I would be happy to entertain her along with the rest of my audience.
Linda or not, my show will go on and I am sure so will the creative community of Wilmington.
As you were,

Monday, September 10, 2012

T- Minus and Counting

It has begun. I am here in Wilmington. By now for me the city is a familiar shirt that is comfortable to wear. It is extremely rare that I feel this way about a town where I am performing. It seemed a very strange choice when we started planning a year ago, but now it seems exactly right for all the right reasons.
As Bryan Simon, the director has said many times, this is not my first rodeo, nor is it my first time on a bucking bronco. I suppose with every production there are brick walls that must be scaled. My experience in the past has been with networks and executives. However, with that element gone in this production the gap has been filled with other challenges. There was a minor hiccup when the New York designers union wanted twice as much money as the camera budget to use the original set and lighting design. I had budgeted payment for the designers who had agreed to the fee, but the unions wanted more. After a few phone calls and emails the union dropped its demands and actually said I didn't owe them anything.
Now we are battling the music publishers. With permission we used several songs in the Broadway production which have become part of the fabric of the show. For some reason one of the publishers does not want to give us permission to use the song in the DVD. It is odd because permission to use it comes with a royalty that we are willing to pay. Still they do not want us to use the song. It is baffling to everyone.
I have made an appeal and hope they will change their mind. However it has brought up all sorts of interesting information to consider. One idea is the fair use doctrine that is sanctioned under the copy right law, and supported by a 1994 Supreme Court case. It involves the legal definition of a parody, a satire and a joke. In music fair use is more of a gray area than it would be in using a video or audio clip. I have the feeling this will be another tempest in a teapot when we are able to state the case. Confidence is high and I am trying not to let that negotiation affect the filming. It must not distract from the job at hand which is to do the best show we can on Saturday.
I know a lot of you who read this blog will be at the show on Saturday. I am looking forward to seeing you.
Onward and up ward.
As you were,

Monday, September 03, 2012

Labor Day

Sandi and I were just remembering, for most of our married life we have used the Jerry Lewis Telethon as a temporal mile marker. It seems that most of our Labor Days together were spent packing or unpacking boxes while we watched the MDA Telethon. Not this year. In fact the telethon is even hard to find these days. We are settling in to watch the US Open Tennis tournament.
The season for a theme park used to be Memorial Day to Labor Day, which would correspond to an end of our contract and a move to another place. I am glad not to be moving out or in today, but I do miss the excitement which this day used to be associated but very glad that our roots are deeper than back then.
Last night I performed at my favorite place, Brookledge Theatre. It is a private theatre with invited guest list. My youngest son wanted to come and bring a date. I was very excited that he wanted to come and see the show. However, my dyslexia reared its ugly head and I told him the address was 292 instead of 929. Sandi is the one that actually caught the mistake. Obviously, he did not make it to the show, but did end up wondering around the wrong neighborhood in Venice California. Later he said, "I know never to ask you addresses or directions. Mom is the only one that can really get me where I need to go." I am afraid that the boys have grown up with my lack of ability to know left from right and the irritation of transposing numbers. I am able to hide my disability with a good deal of coping and experience but when it does decide to take center stage it is usually a situation like this one.
All the build up for the filming of "Jay Johnson: The Two and Only." is coming to a close. Two more weeks before the show. One of the things you learn from performing is to trade your terror for excitement. There is no difference when you measure it physically, the heart races and the BP goes up with nerves for fear or excitement. A performer learns to interpret the physical signals as excitement and happiness rather than crippling fear or you never overcome stage fright. The problem comes when you know that the emotion can be seen either way. There are so many distractions with this production between the work of actually pulling it together and filming the show it is easy to forget that the pit in my stomach is not just hunger or fright but is excitement. (Although it is about as easy to think of it as hunger since I have been on a diet of late... I call it the HD diet, knowing that we are recording in High Definition.)
So, I will try to cope with my Dyslexia, interpret my emotions, do my best to deliver a good performance and go for the record. I can't believe that summer is coming to an end.
As you were,