Sunday, December 31, 2017

Hello from the Future

It was a wonderful New Years Eve celebration last night in Melbourne.  I know Sydney gets all the attention, but this one gave them a run for the attention.  We are a block away from South Gate river walk which was a hub of activity. This is a picture that Brett took from a great position at the River.
 On the top of half a dozen buildings in the CBD (Central Business district) they fired off massive firework displays.  Being up high it was spectacular and easily seen from many different vantage points.  The coolest thing to me is that they were all coordinated.  The same type of mortar display would fire at exactly the same time on the top of each building blocks away from each other. The coordination was an added dimension to the show which was probably 20 minutes of non stop rockets and explosions.   

2018 is a great year so far. I am sure you will enjoy it.  Most things haven’t changed but my perspective has.  Now that I have had a couple of days off in Oz to see what it is like to live a day in the future, I like it.  Especially the news, it is actually news and not a continual comment on the state of US National politics.  45 is mentioned, occasionally, when relevant,  but no more than any fascist dictator of a foreign country.  His tweets are not news, and there are no pendants anticipating and predicting what his tweet will be on breaking current events.  
In the Unbelievables, our comic host Harrison Greenbaum mentions a famous story in Australian politics when the Prime Minister was lost at sea.  He went swimming in the ocean, was swept out to sea and his body never found.  Harrison says, “How can you just lose a Prime Minister?  Where was his security detail, and..... can we get them for our Guy.”  It gets a huge roar and ovation from the crowd. Harrison doesn’t even have to say his name. The difference is the people of Australia don’t hate Trump... they see him as a total fool like some Bannanna republic dictator.  I realize that most people who do not support Trump in America have a genuine hatred for him. Here he is mostly the punchline of a joke  until it comes to North Korea.  Sydney and Melbourne have a large number of Asians, both as citizens and tourists and they see Trump’s  stupidity taunting Kim Jung Il as extremely dangerous.  Some one said Trump is like a child driving a race car in a competitive race, one bad decision or inexperienced mistake will cause everyone to wreck. 
But enough about that.  Brett Loudermilk and I do a radio interview program today to promote the show.  Brett swallows swords and I am a ventriloquist.  Two talents that are definitely not enhanced nor showcased very well on radio.  It made us laugh when we thought about it.  However, this show is so visual I don’t know who else they could have gotten, except our incredible singer Emi, who could suscessfull showcase their talent on radio. The magician, the juggler, the hand balancers, knife thrower, sand artist and the acrobats would have the same issues.  
We have not seen the inside of Hammer Hall where we will be performing yet.  It is litterally across the street a block away from where we are staying. The crew is in the process of the “bump” in.  There is no such thing as a tech “load in” or “load out” they are “bump ins”. The stage manager does not call for “Places” there is the call for “Act One beginners on stage, please”. Stage left back stage is the “prompt side” and backstage left is “prompt other”.     I missed getting to see the Stage Manager’s museum at the Sydney Opera House, but those who did said it was fantastic.  It is not open to the public it exists in the office of the head of the theater on shelves around the wall.  They have items touched by famous people who have performed there.  Actually to be correct they have DNA tract evidence in clear jars and plastic bags. Things like, a lipstick stain on a water bottle from Audrey Hepburn.  A  cigarette butt from Lauren Becall.  A makeup stained wash cloth labeled Hugh Jackman.  On shelves that line the office are ordinary pieces of debris touched and used by the famous and infamous. The display is tame,  the things that aren’t on display I understand is not as PG rated.  
It will be hard to compete with the thrill of going to work every day in the legendary Sydney Opera house, but I am having a ball entertaining these audiences. It is still just as addictive and delightful as it was when I worked at Six Flags. Our opening night is Wednesday. More then.
As you were,

Thursday, December 28, 2017

So Long Sydney

Today will be our last two shows at the Sydney Opera House.  As is always true, every time you go on stage there is a chance to learn something. For me it has been a chance to learn how to grab large audiences who have a hard time with MY accent. Yes they speak English here, but their accent is almost a dialect.  As was the case when I first got here and didn’t understand that the hotel clerk was asking for my “mobile number”.  The audience is also struggling a little to understand me, and it is my nature to talk fast especially with my interaction with Bob. So I have to adjust and slow down a little and open up a lot.  Every show gets better and easier.  But slowing down adds a little time to the process. 
Unfortunately, those of us who talk to the audience are being pressured to keep the show from running over.  Since most of the acts are silent and timed to the music there is no flexibility for them.  The duty to stay on time falls to Harrison, the comic, Brett, the sword swallower, and me, the ventriloquist.  Unfortunately, we can not control laugh time, it can add minutes to a set without changing a word.  In my humble opinion we are not the reason the show runs over.  It doesn’t take a mathematician to add up the time of each act and realize the show was produced too long. In fact because of an injury one of the acts has been absent from the show for about a week, and the show still runs too long. For those who may not know what that means in show biz terms, if a show goes over a certain length of stage time, the local crew goes into over time pay.  It costs the producers money... which is ultimately all that matters to them.  
I am not being paid for my consultation nor my expertise but I think I could cut 10 minutes from the show and not touch a single act.  There is some production fat in the show which, although very pretty, is totally unnecessary, especially if the show is running long.  If it was my show that fat would be gone faster than a stage hand can claim golden time.  Instead of looking at the show fat, they come after the comedy acts to cut material.  They have no idea that comedy is all about timing, and timing is an element of time.  They seem to think that if we just cut to the punchlines we will still get the same laughs.  That will not solve the problem of length, and it will kill the audience enjoyment factor as well as our acts.  
There are rumors running around back stage about what they might do to get the show to run on time in Melbourne.  I kid you not, one idea was to start them show 10 minutes early.  Some one pointed out that starting early does not shorten the show. Duh?? The other suggestion was to have the opening comic start his set as the people are being seated. Again, pretending the show has not started when it really has started, is not a way to solve the problem.

I am one of only a couple of people who have two spots in the show.  That is what the producers contracted me to do and that is my job.  The question might come to this:  “Am I willing to cut one of my spots to keep the show from running over?” It is a loaded question. No one is anxious to cut their own creation, but this is not my show and I am not the star, the show is the star and everyone in it is a necessary part.  But even if I cut one of my spots the show would still run long, and there would be one less moment for comedy.  Until the producers realize that some of the unnecessary fluff is making the show long we comedy acts are unwilling to sacrific our art for their bottom line.  
At one point in the rehearsal process everyone lost their temper.  There was so much wasted time during the rehearsals it lead to the frustration of exhaustion if nothing else.  My turn came when there was a particularly long segment being over rehearsed as the concept kept changing over and over. 
I said, “This is the reason no one wants to hire us old guys, because we have worked in shows that know how to do it right.”   I am pretty sure that all anyone heard me say was, “You kids get off my lawn.”  
Even after all these realities of show business, the moment I am on stage, alone doing my own thing, everything else goes away. For about 13 minutes I even forget Trump is still in office.
As you were,

Monday, December 25, 2017

Settling In

We had our first scheduled day off from the show on Monday.  It was Christmas Day so Sydney was not about its usual business.  Lots of places were closed, but those open were swamped with tourist.  Sandi and I chose to see the first performance of  ‘The Greatest Showman” with Hugh Jackman. I am a huge fan of P.T. Barnum, Sandi is a big fan of musicals, and we were able to support an Australian home-boy’s career.  It cost $26 AU a ticket for the movie (that is about $20 US) even pricey for LA and we had to wait in line for a long time.  
This is not a review of the movie but I did relate to it in a different way because of my participation in “The Unbelievables”. They have sanitized the Barnum story but it is still about a group of misfit performers and freaks trying to buck the odds and reviews to draw a crowd.  I don’t know about misfits and freaks but  “The Unbelievables” is attempting to do the same thing with our show.  The movie depicts the inception of what we now know as Circus.  It was in some way hard for me to realize it was a day off. 
My goal in this series of blogs is to document what it is like to perform at the Sydney Opera House for the first time.  I can only write from the way it feels to me. Sometimes I channel my inner Spalding Gray. I feel like I am over analyzing but since this blog is actually for my own use to look back on some day and remember what was going on it is what it is. Perhaps it is being too honest for publication and best left to private journal. 

I think my deepest insecurity comes from the fact that the show is called “The Unbelievables”. After watching the show, that is a very apt description of what is happening on stage.  There are people who are literally risking their lives doing things that seem physically impossible and Unbelievable. I think when it comes to my act... unbelievable is not the word that is normally used.  For a ventriloquist it is not so much a question of  how we do it as much as WHY.  My mistakes result in embarrassment not physical danger. I sometimes feel like I should be doing the act while riding a unicycle. (Which just for the record I can ride a unicycle. But Bob would never agree to do it)
In the second act I follow Alfredo, of Deadly Games, who shoots a crossbow, and throws knives and axes at his beautiful wife Anna.  Although I can not see all the faces in the back of the Opera house, I am sure that after Deadly Games is  done and I walk on, the observers mouths are wide open.  I have the task of closing their mouths and slowing down their heart rate.  In the act Bob says, “You aren’t Unbeleivable, you are just adaquet”.  Even with my clinical depression controlled, the darkness of my fears sometimes get expressed. I am reminded of what my first boss Charles R. Meeker, Jr. once told a singer in one of his theme park shows.  The singer did not think the song he was singing was exciting enough.  Mr. Meeker said, “At this point in the show we need a down moment.”  It was hard for the singer to hear that he was a “down moment” but Mr. Meeker was right.  A show should be a roller coaster ride not a rocket blast.  It was a concept I was able to use to my advantage in “The Two and Only”.  It is impossible and unwise to pace a show without a chance for the audience to catch their breath. Murphy, Paul and I were able to provide some tender moments to my show that let the audience recoup. I think that is what made it the theatrical piece it is.  

It is hard for me to remember this is not my show, I am just a cog in the wheel.  More like the clown who comes into the ring to spend some time while the dashing man on the flying trapeze gets ready.  It is much easier to go from the chorus to the lead, than it is to go from solo writer performer back to the ensemble.  It has required more adjustment than I was counting on. However, at this point in my career I need the time to catch MY breath. Besides Echart Tolle says it is healthy to let the ego be over taken by the simple actions of living now occasionally. It is not a matter of not feeling excited and blessed to be performing in Australia in their most famous venue. I am grateful, blessed and incredibly lucky to be here.  I just have a hard time with change and the world is nothing more than continual change. It is not a complaint,  just an observation.  As Edward Albee said, “I write to know what I am thinking about”.
As I remember it, at Astroworld my act was just long enough so the dancers could change clothes and get back on stage.  I wouldn’t let them go back on until I thought I had milked every moment out of my final applause.  I would hold the lead dancer and keep her from going on until I was sure my applause had crested. That lead dancer was Sandi Asbury and I have been holding her ever since.  So maybe there is an advantage to being the “break act” in the long run. 
As you were,

Friday, December 22, 2017

The Reviews....

Here is a selfie of me at 5:00am coming to the theater the morning after opening.  Several of us were “chosen” to be interviewed live on Australia’s Today Show from the theater and broadcast coast to coast.  It is the glamor of show business. We are trying to spread the word along with reviews.

I learned a long time ago not to read reviews of shows I am part of.  As they trickle in for the “Unbelievables”it becomes impossible to avoid them because everyone else is reading them and making comments backstage.  Even without reading them I can still tell you what the critics seem to like and what they didn’t like and why.  Unkind adjectives that reviewers have used get thrown around back stage in whispers and as the punchline of jokes.  As I told someone last night, “Reviews are not Directors notes, why do you care what they say?”  
I’m not saying this cast is any different from any other about trolling the reviews but as I am the oldest in the cast I know from experience that the opinion of some unknown writer absolutely does not matter. I believe my job and my responsibility is to the audience who paid to see the show, not a local writer who got a free ticket. And now we performers also have to endure the snipes of Facebook comments and illiterate opinions of bloggers. From personal experience of writing this blog for several years... just having a Word Press account or Blogger App doesn’t make me more qualified to have an opinion.  
It is for the same reason I don’t like America’s Got Talent.  Who cares what Howie Mandel thinks?  Why is it important to please Simon Cowel?  I was around when Howie was doing stand up in the clubs.  If I were his judge I would have Xed his act faster than a Japanese bullet train through a tunnel.   And I still don’t know what Simon Cowell does, what is his talent?  But obviously my opinion has not affected either one of them career wise. 
Most of the performers I know have a very fragile relationship with self esteem, myself included.  Getting up in front of people to speak much less to perform an act is a universal fear of most every person.  Some writer sitting in safety of a darken theater seat has no idea the courage it takes just to walk on a stage, not to mention the hours of practice it has taken to perfect their talent.  We do it basically because we want to please people.  We take their criticism harder than we let on.
By the same token we take their accolades which great joy.  The problem with reviews is  simple, if you love to hear the good ones, you have to also accept the bad ones, so why acknowledge them at all. Neither have any power nor control over the performer unless they are taken as anything other than an opinion.  It is impossible to please everyone every time but we performers try to do just that.  Pleasing the audience should be the goal, but sometimes we let the words of a single sniper change that goal. 
No one wants to get a tough review at the Sydney Opera house, But consider this.  When the Sydney Opera house itself was being designed and built the “critics” hated it. They thought it looked silly and did not have the dignity that an Opera House should display.  They thought it was a blight on Circular Quay. The architect and designer took a beating in the press.  He was so upset he walked away from the project and did not even come to the official opening. The Sydney Opera house is now an icon.  Everyday when I come to work there are literally thousands of people trying to pose a selfie with the Opera House in the back ground. Those critics who panned it are dead, gone and forgotten.  So ultimately the critics opinions don’t matter, it is the work that eventually speaks for itself.  
To the snipers who sit in the dark trolling our performances and to the sycophants who just want to hand out compliments so we will love what they have to write, Who cares.  Take your shot and go away.  We have work to do and thousands of people coming to see us who can make up their own opinions. And their opinions are more expressive than yours. 
I personally love this show and am proud to be a part of it no matter what a local news writes or some old lady with a twitter account posts.  To my cast from the old guy, it’s showtime. 
As you were,

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Not just another Opening

The song from “Kiss Me Kate” goes... “another opening, another show”. In most cases that is true.  However, I have had some very exciting moments, on stage,  in my life. Doing my show at the Helen Hayes Theater and accepting a Tony on stage at the Radio City Music Hall are two that come to mind immediately.  However, being part of a show opening at the  Sydney Opera House to a sold out crowd on the Concert Hall Stage is absolutely like no other experience.  There’s no sound like the one you get from a theater that was built to be as near acoustically perfect as possible. It makes the audience reaction seem so present and immediate it’s magical.  
I noticed it right away.  The dressing rooms have sound proof walls and doors for opera singers to warm up, so the hallways are sound studio quiet. And until you walk into the wings backstage you really don’t know that there is huge crowd waiting.  But the minute you get in the theater proper you hear this mumble of thousands of people quietly in conversation.  The same thing that makes it great to hear the performers also makes the rumble of the crowd rich and beautiful as well.  I love that sound in any theater but in this one it is particuarly wonderful. Someone said, it is like being on the inside of a guitar and that seems to be the right metaphor.  
In America we say “Break a Leg” on opening night.  That is not the tradition in every country, although every country has some superstition about the opening night of a show.  Because we have an international cast I found out that in Germany they say, “Toi Toi Toi” (that is my phonetic spelling) and in France they say “Merde” and in Australia they say “Chookas”. At the Opera House there is a wooden wall up the stage left corridor that gets kissed.  We went for it and performed all the rituals.
I had to throw Shin Lim out of the dressing room for whistling.  Tradition is if you whistle in the dressing room, especially on opening night it it very bad luck.  To avoid the penalties of a bad show you have to go outside the dressing room door, turn around three times, curse and spit.  He thought I was joking but I believe that theater is all make believe anyway and you have to live in that make believe world.  So he did it as he was leaving to get some coffee from the Green Room.  Five minutes later he walked back into the dressing room... whistling. You would think one of the worlds greatest magicians could remember a routine. 
I am working on a video tour of the route from my dressing room to the stage at the Opera House and will post it here when I get the time.  I am running out of adjectives to describe the night.  Sandi said it best when she said, “The show is Unbelievable.”  Whatever Unbelievable is on steroids that would be what it was like to perform a show called the Unbelievables.  I am posting a photo that Sandi took.  
You might think that being such a high ceiling it would not be good for comedy.  Not so here at the Sydney Opera House,  because the domed wooden roof is actually designed to enhance the sound you hear.  It is hard to explain how intimate this large house feels.  
Our stage manager told me something that even he didn’t  know about this incredible venue.  While we were doing the show inside there was a tremendous thunder storm outside.  Of course we never heard it, but Terrence was worried the power might go out while one of the acrobats was doing some dangerous stunt.  The operations man said it will never happen. He was so certain that Terrence questioned him on how he was so sure. Seems that the building was designed with it’s own generator that matches the feed from the city of Sydney.  If the entire city of Sydney loses power moments before there is a noticeable dip in the feed the generators kick in and the power stays on.  They have enough back up power to keep all  six theaters fully running at the same time for 6 hours.  There is no other theater in the world  that can do that. 
Now that we have some free time I will edit that back stage tour video and post it here.  The back stage passages are just as impressive as every other aspect of this amazing place.
As you were,

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

‘Twas the night before Opening

Tomorrow is the official opening of “The Unbelievables” at the Sydney Opera House.  There will be more stories about that.  But first let’s catch up.

 There is a natural herding instinct among the cast. The musicians group together, mostly because they are called in at the same time and work together as a team. The dancers are a group for the same reason and are always rehearsing either on stage or off.  The comic/Variety acts seem to hang together trying to top each other’s lines, and what they are calling the Circus acts form another clique. In the case of the acrobatic (circus acts)  it is a language issue. I think they speak four different languages between them. Portuguese seems to be the one that communicates with everyone. There is no clique for the older performers, like myself, so I mostly hang with Darwin and Bob. It is okay with me for the most part. I have done my share of hanging out until all hours and I’m past trying to keep up with 25 year old athletes.    

Some of us traveled together from Tamworth to Sydney on the same plane.  We were all one tribe for the flight.  The highlight of the trip was to gather around Brett (the sword swallower) to watch him go through security.  His swords were checked but in the violin case  he carries on the plane contains his other stage props including an 18 inch dildo  with a handle.    In a show that is not as family friendly as this one that prop gets a great laugh when he shows it as a joke.  
Security at Tamwoth did not react to the X ray picture of the large “tool” but Brett was immediately chosen for and additional “Random” screening.  The  fact that the Aussie TSA tried to maintain their professionalism while a circus... literally went through security made me giggle.  Of course, that tagged me for an additional random screening as well. Brett and I were the only ones chosen to be additionally screened.  In this case having heads in my carry on bag made me the most normal of the group.
Everyone was laughing and having a good time teasing each other. It was getting loud in the boarding lounge when someone said (in various languages.). “Hey they have free wifi”  Suddenly all talking stopped and everyone was on their smart phone. There was no more loud talking, only an occasional bell sound on everyone’s phone followed by laughter.  Alexandra,  a beautiful acrobat and winner of Poland’s Got Talent (no really, there is a PGT and she took home the big prize) asked me if I was on Facebook.  I think she was shocked when I said yes. (As I said, I am the oldest one in the cast). That’s when she looped me into a Facebook message group she created for the cast.  Suddenly I knew what all the laughter was about.  Roberto the juggler was making jokes about Artem the strong man. Everyone was adding their take on the thread and they were texting in English. It was the first time I understood what was going on.  I got it. this is the way they were all communicating.   I was wondering how they all showed up for a trip to the Marsupial Zoo in Tamworth and how they all seemed to wind up at the same bars and restuaurants. The secret communications between cast members was revealed to me.  
One of the stories that I would have missed if I wasn’t a part of this group was Arianny getting bitten by a snake at the petting zoo. 
Arianny  is the four year old girl who is traveling with the Unbelievables.  She is the daughter of Alfredo and Anna, who do a dare-devil knife throwing and cross bow act.  They are 6th generation circus performers which makes Arianny the 7th generation.  Arianny is as beautiful as her mother and very precocious. She is an amazing little girl.   I should get the rights to Arianny’s life story and make it into a movie one day.  
On an afternoon off from rehearsals Anna took Arianny to the petting zoo.  She was filming Arianny interacting to a snake the  zoo handler was showing to the kids.  Arianny was the only one of her peers who would  pet the snake.  When she did the snake struck and bit her on the webbing of her left hand.  It was a small constrictor so it was not poisonous but still Arianny is a four year old and it was totally unexpected.  The handler panicked and pulled the snake away quickly but the fangs were stuck firmly into Arianny’s hand.  The handler quickly disconnected the snake from the child’s hand and removed it from the area. Anna yelled to her daughter to see if she was okay. Arianny didn’t skip a beat nor do anything but take it in stride. She calmly said, “I’m okay.” 
Because of the Facebook feed the entire cast was horrified and worried about the the four year old mascot of the tour.  We were all concerned when Arianny showed up backstage that evening with a bandage on her hand.  The doctors and nurses had examined her and determined that she was okay.  I asked  Arianny  how she was doing and she said, “The snake didn’t bite me he was trying to kiss me.” 
One day I will write her story, the tale  of a seventh generation circus performer but until then I will just say... this whole experience is Unbelievable.
As you were,

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Good Bye to A Wonderful Lady

We spent our first day at the Sydney Opera House yesterday, and I intended to blog my knee jerk impression of what this iconic place is like.  It is as amazing as you might think.  But when I woke up this morning  I heard the news that Keely Smith has died. Rather than blog about Austrailia I want to take the time to remember my evening with Keely several years ago.

I am the old man in the cast of the Unbelievables. It is doubtful many of my cast members will  know who Keely was without a quick google. But a Google search will not tell them what an incredible talent the world has lost.  That doesn’t matter,  I remember and my heart is sad today. I was a fan, and quickly became a friend after an evening in New York I will never forget. 
Keely Smith was married to Louis Prima and they had a nightclub act that rocked the early days of Las Vegas Lounge shows.  They had hits with “Old Black Magic”, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “I ain’t Got Nobody”.  Sinatra went to see THEIR show an often re-recorded their hits.  In spite of all the million dollar production shows in Vegas, the Louis and Keely show was the one you couldn’t get into without a “connection”. 
Keely kept her deadpan look with the short black bobbed haircut and bangs all her life.  She was a jazz singer and there is a question whether Louis Prima would have been anymore than an Italian wedding singer if he had not met Keely Smith.  
Prima was a known womanizer and in Las Vegas he was a kid in a showgirl candy shop.  Infidelities to his relationship with wife Keely were well known.  They would eventually divorce and dissolve the act.
Three years ago a small Musical Called “Louis and Keely in Vegas” dramatized those Vegas days.  It featured Louis and Keely’s music and their tremulous relationship.  There was a story in the show that Keely had an affair with Frank Sinatra’s drummer while Louis was playing around.  Keely came to see the show and said that story was totally not true.  She insisted it be changed to reflect the truth.  She insisted that it was an affair with Sinatra not his drummer.  The script was changed.  
I met Keely Smith at Joe Allen’s in New York. She was a friend and client of Richard Hillman my publicist for “Jay Johnson: The Two and Only”.  I called him “Churd” but that is another story. We were at the iconic show biz restaurant to celebrate the Tony nomination of my show.  I was an exclusive table of me and Sandi, Paul and Murphy, Rick (head of the publicity firm) plus Churd and Keely.  We sat at a round table. Happiness, excitement and show biz stories flew.  If I was not currently half a globe away I would post a picture of us all taken that night.  It occupies a place of honor framed near my Tony. You don’t forget a night like that even if you are not sitting with a show biz Legend.
Keely had the best stories. She was in her early 80’s at the time living in Palm Springs.  For some reason we got to talking about dating.  She said that in Palm Springs she had a very active social life and there were lots of men to date.  I’m not sure who asked, but someone at the table said, “After all your experiences and all the famous men you have known, what do you look for in a date today.”  
She didn’t skip a beat to think. She said, “I’ll tell you. He has to be able to drive at night”. 
Keely was 89 when she passed away in Palm Springs yesterday.  I am only one of the millions who will miss her. 
Good bye Keely. 
 As you were,

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Down Under - Upside down

There is a YouTube post by a seemingly intelligent man who identifies himself as an educated lawyer. He is pleading the case that the Earth is actually a flat disk and not the round ball we have been told it is.  To prove his point he has a model airplane and two models of the Earth.  One Earth is a flat disk, sort of a round map on a table. The other is the traditional elementary school globe we all grew up with.  
With these visual aids he uses the example of an airplane trip from Los Angeles to Sydney Australia to prove the Earth is flat.  This is the part that originally caught my attention since it was my exact itinerary last week. 
Holding the plane over Los Angeles on the flat map he says, “Here is a trip to Austrailia.” He moves the plane across the map as if it was flying to Sydney.  When it arrives he says, “You will notice that the plane is still up right, it hasn’t changed its perspective. That is normal, that is the way planes fly.”
He then moves the model plane to the globe and holds it above Los Angeles, and says, “Now watch what happens when you assume the Earth is a ball” 
The man follows the curvature of the Earth with the plane until it reaches bottom of the globe and the continent of Austrailia. “Look at the plane.” He says with the excitement of turning lead into gold. “The plane is upside down.  It is no longer right side up.  Planes can’t fly like this... we don’t land upside down in Austrailia, therefore the Earth is flat.”  .....  You just can’t argue with logic like that.

I am here to tell you that the Earth is not flat.  Down-under is not upside down, but there are things that are reversed down here.  Of course they drive on the “other” of the road causing me to take my life in my hands everytime I cross the street.  The water does swirl down the drain in the opposite direction, and The Burger King chain is called Hungry Jack. (Some rule about using the word King for a burger joint).  
But nothing has affected me more than my sudden personal reversal. 
When I started doing my act I was most always the youngest person in a  show.  I usually performed with people older than myself, sometimes it was only a few years difference but the younger you are the greater the gap between age seems to be. 
I was cast in the Shazam Show when I was a junior in college. I replaced Sammy King for a week or two during my spring break from University of North Texas.  The show was John Daniels Magic show at the Carillon hotel in Miami Beach, Florida.  One of the dancers was my age but we were the babies of that cast. I grew up a little during the run, but the green had not turned yet.
Other than John’s Magic Illusions there was my act and a vaudeville act called Elza and Waldo.  They were seasoned pros, who did a silent adagio dance act that was hysterically funny. I am guessing they were in their late 50’s or early 60’s which seemed very old to me at the time. Of course this was almost 50 years ago and back then anything over 20 years of age was ancient to me.   Elza and Waldo were amazing to study.  Every stage moment had been polished to perfection and I watched them from the wings every night.   I remember thinking that this kind of skill and polish only comes with the perfection of time.  They just had done it for so long it was as natural as their heart beat.  Perhaps I was peering into the future. 

I am now rehearsing a show that is not that much different from the Shazam Show 50 years ago. It has dancers and singers, a great band, magic and novelty acts.  At the time of the Shazam show, Miami was as foreign to a Texas ventriloquist as Austrailia is to a California Ventriloquist today.  But here is the upside down reversal: I am older now than Elza and Waldo were when they did  the Shazam show. I am the oldest member of this cast and it is a role I am not familiar with.   In my mind I am still a college kid looking for a good audience to play with but that is not the reality.  I have been performing more than twice as long as this cast (and crew) has been alive.  To them I am Waldo and Bob is Elza. (Bob would probably reverse the metaphor).  Thanks to Elza and Waldo, I think I know what I am supposed to do.  Elza and Waldo just did their act, they didn’t try to tell us how to do ours, nor did they try to tout their massive years of experience.  They were nice people who just did the best act they could every night they got the chance.  While I was watching them from the stage right wings every night, I knew I was learning something.... I now know what that something was.  

There may be someone watching me from stage right at sometime during this run.  If there is, I will probably never know about it as I don’t plan to look. It is my job to silently pay it forward and, like Elza and Waldo, use every minute of my stage experience to do the best show I can. I have been learning this part in the Unbelievables all my life.  Perhaps a reversal is no more than a conscious rebirth.  More later,
As you were,

Saturday, December 09, 2017

What is a Tam-Worth?

I have been telling everyone for weeks that I was going to Australia to open a new show at the Sydney Opera House.  I am here in Australia now but only saw the Sydney Opera house several miles away from a bus window as we left the city to the  hinterlands of down under.  This is the first chance that I have had to reflect on the journey so far. 
After the fifteen hour flight from Los Angeles I met up with the six memebers of the band outside of customs.  It was two days later than when I left Los Angeles, it is summer time in Australia and I was jet lagged to the max. It is very odd to see snowy pictures of Santa and his reindeer in 75 degree temperature and 60% humidity.  
A driver with a sign led us to a small van in the parking structure and we loaded in.  I was the only one who didn’t know the rest of the this group. They introduced themselves to me.  A couple of the guys started in New York before a quick layover to  board the same plane I was on to Sydney.  They were jet lagged on steroids and still nice people.  We  settled in for ride to our accommodations. No one knew much more than I did about what was happening next. The British composer for the group asked the driver where we were headed.  The driver said, Tamworth.  The next question was how long is the drive to this place called Tamworth. 
I’m not sure if it was the giggle of surprised laughter or the gasp of total shock that reverberated through the van when the driver said, “It’s about a 5 and a half or six hour drive.”   There was silence that fell over the group as we realize this was not a joke.  Some one said, “I thought they said it was an hour and a half”.  We were about to spend the next 5 hours in this van.  Evidently the local plane connections did not work with our arrival time, complicated by the two hour delay we had taking off in LA.  
As we talked about it we realized that we were technically taking the show out of town to prep and rehearse rather than spend the high end money at the Sydney Opera house to work out the details.  Tamworth was the cheapest place that was also big enough to accommodate a show as large as this one.  The ride was every bit of 5 hours, on top of the 15 hours (in some cases the 20 hours for the New York guys) on a plane.  The country side was alternately the look of a coastal California trip with pastures of horses, sheep and the occasional wallaby siting  in the growth of Eucalyptus groves. But no one knew anything about this place called Tamworth.  
Time was passed with alternate sleeping, joking and talk about the adventure of putting together this new show.  The composer had written individual theme music for all the acts and the musicians had put words to all the melodies.  They sang the Jay Johnson theme to me several times.  It was much funnier to them than it was to me, but in context to the adventure I was honored.  
As we get closer to arrival in Tamworth the roadside billboards start to give us the flavor of where we are headed.  It seems that Tamworth is the “country music capital” of Austrailia. It looked like we were headed to Pigeon Forge, or Nashville lite.  Advertised on billboards was a rodeo,  stock show,  and several Aussies in cowboy hats, glittery costumes and guitars.  Although I was having trouble remembering the name of the town it suddenly made since to me.  Tamworth.... like Fort Worth. Worth being the operative subjective noun.  
We arrive at the Best Western Motel which is our destination.  We immediately see a group of older people gathered in a circle outside their motel room smoking cigarettes and drinking beer as if it were a southern front porch.  Their pick up truck is backed into the parking place in front of the room and serves as the buffet and beer bar.  This is a typical motel you would find at any touristy destination in America, but after 20 hours of travel even the Plaza Hotel would have been a let down.  No one says anything as the van finally stops.  There is no great rush to get out and grab our stuff.  Finally the only girl in this group on the bus says, “I see a white butterfly. It is all good”.  I confirm she said “white butterfly” and she said “That is very good luck”.  It was what everyone was waiting for... some good news for the day.  

As we check in,  a lady in the lobby  who identifies herself as the company manager,  gives us per diem cash and we check in.  I am a walking zombie as the very nice girl behind the counter is very chipper and very Australian. She says in an accent that does not translate in my groggy head. “Jez sien yer name, and giv a mobi nooba, in thu squah”. I sign my name and say, “What else?”
She repeats “jez yer mobi noomba”.  I am no closer to understanding the second time.  I look at her very intently and ask again.  She looks as intently back at me, like I was her aging grandfather and repeats two more times, slowly but no more distinctly.  As if my brain was looking for information off the web with a dial up modem it finally comes to me that she is asking for my “MOBILE NUMBER’.  As if I have solved a difficult puzzle I say, “Oh my Mobile Number.” The girl smiles and says “Thatz rit” as the entire band in unison says, “Your cell number you stupid American.” Most of us have a big laugh.
 I say, “I don’t know you all very well yet,  but this is a long tour and I don’t quickly forget things like this.”  They laughed again, but the truth is- they don’t know me at all.... nor the wooden  friends I hang out with.  This is not the last laugh by any means measurable.  More later,
As you were,