Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Day Off or Off Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

As you were,


Saturday, January 27, 2018

And then they were done.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Koko Black

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

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

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

Monday, January 22, 2018

Opening of the Closing

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Perth- ect.

The set had  to be trucked to Perth which gave us a couple of days off before we had to get back to work.  On one of the first day off  most of the cast went to Rottnest Island.  It is a ferry ride from the coast of Perth.  No way to describe it but from their stories and the pictures it was very close to being in Paradise.  There are only a hundred people who live on the island and sixty-five beautiful beaches.  Just about anyone can find a beach practically to themselves.  
I did not get to participate in the adventure since I was called in to do publicity. It is just as well.  At one time I had the body to hang out at the beach without grand children, but right now I have neither so... it’s just as well I remember what I was when, back when, disco WAS as well.  Anyway,  the group text messages were filled with plans and pictures of their adventure.  There is a generational gap between me and the cast regarding social media.  It seems that their experiences are so much more enjoyable when documented by pictures, texts and videos sent to Instagram with the occasional share on Facebook.  It would appear their good time depends on letting other friends, who are not having as good of a time,  know the great time they are missing.   

So while I was answering questions about why people should come see a show named “The Unbelievables” my phone was pinging like a Chinese table tennis match.  I kept seeing pictures and video’s of dancers and acrobats in bikini’s on deserted beaches being chased by sword swallowers and comic magicians.  I finally had to silence my phone and explain to Cassie,my interviewer,  what the deal was with the rest of the cast.   I came up with this idea to film a bogus interview with my camera where the interviewer asks me about the cast.  This was the result.  I intended for only the cast to see in on a private Facebook group, but somehow it ended up on “my story” of Facebook. It  just goes to show you that you never know what will show up where when you post something.  If you didn’t see it here it is: 

The next cast outing was to explore Northbridge.  That is a trendy section of Perth north of the Bridge (obviously).  I was available this time.   Perth is about a week away from the Fringe festival which looks to be spectacular. Several pop up theaters and venues have already begun to take shape.  There are three Spiegle Tents erected in the park. The term was new to me, but they are traveling theaters that have been around for centuries.  They are German in origin and basically a round tent with hard sides.  At first I thought a Cirque de Sole tent had propagated and procreated itself.  It really did turn an ordinary park into a spectacular wonderland.  

We eventually ended up at a pub/indoor mini golf place called Holey Moley.  There are three different 9 hole courses that are all themed with artistic fantasy.  There is the music themed course, with an Elvis hole.  You have to hit your golf ball into the drain of a  shower  (it is golden by the way), which sends it to another part of the Presley bathroom where a live size Elvis is standing behind a microphone in his open legged stance.  You have so shoot the ball around the mic stand through his legs up a ramp and into a golden toilet where the hole is.  

I think the best was the final hole on the last course.  It is called “The Ass Hole”.  You have to putt through a small chiseled hole in a large border wall,  around some junk food wrappers, a twitter bird and through the legs of a Mexican burro.  The ass of the Donkey is the sculpted likeness of Donald Trump.  Your ball drops in a hole with a sign that says, “Make Golf great again.”  We went back to that bar twice in one day.

The opening night is tomorrow.  We preview the show tonight. So this will be the first show in this massive theater.   Not as tall as the other theaters, but maybe twice as wide.  More on that later.  
There is not piano in my dressing room this time, I will miss that, but I will try to put up a tour of back stage with other background music.
As you were,

Monday, January 15, 2018

Space Ship Perth

I can’t remember the last time I had a window seat for an airplane ride.  If the choice is mine I never want to be stuck on the inside of a row, dependent on two people to move out of my way when I need to hit the can or stretch my legs. It was just the luck of the draw this time,  traveling with the rest of the cast.  However,  it was a chance to see a landscape I have never seen before.  Australia is pretty much a doughnut of a country. There are these great coastal cities around the edge and a lot of nothing in the middle.  Really nothing, mostly desert with the occasional river that snakes through the continent like some huge forrest green serpent. It was like the current view out my hotel window, but that comes later.  It was actually entertaining to observe the OutBack from that perspective.  
As we got close to Perth  the air turned very brown.  At first I thought it was just pollution but it kept getting thicker and browner. It soon became apparent that it was a huge range fire outside of the city, in fact it was two fires raging on separate sides of Perth. The evening news said that the athorities suspected arson and were looking for the perps.   As we landed I snapped this picture of the fire from the airport runway.  It reminded me of a massive toronado but this wasn’t Kansas,  and we were already in OZ, Dorothy. 
It was very hot outside and extremely humid as we left the airport.  The cars were covered in brown ash and the smell of burning brush stuck in my throat. Everyone who knows the theaters we are playing in Australia says that the one in Perth is their least favorite.  That knowledge coupled with the gloom the smoke cast over everything was depressing.  It seemed to mirror the spirits of the troupe.  Everyone was a little down.  
We had to say goodbye to the knife throwing act. The doctors determined the female partner needed surgery on her foot and had to stay off of it or damage it permanently. They never got to do the act in Melbourne and now they were officially gone.  Hard to say good bye some of the original troupers. 
The girl acrobat in the Lyra (that’s a big hoop that gets suspended in the rafters) pulled a muscle and was out of the last three shows in Melbourne.  We are hoping that with a few days rest she will be back for opening night here in Perth. This two show a day schedule is really hard on the athletes and the dancers.  I think Perth has a more traditional schedule and we will do only a couple of two show days in the next two weeks.  Hopefully everyone will have a chance to get well.
We have been staying in the same hotel chain from city to city.  We thought we knew what to expect when we got to Perth, but it was very different. The same name brand but the other hotels were walking distance to the Theaters, they had washers and dryers in every room, fast Internet, efficient air conditioning and the floor plans were small but efficient . This hotel has no washers and dryers, slow Internet, some of the air conditioning units do not work, and some rooms smaller than ship crew cabins, and it is a thirty minute drive to the theater.  I managed to get a little bigger room with a working air conditioner on my first move.  Several people in the cast had to try four different rooms to get one that was “sort of” satisfactory.  Half a dozen of us ended up in Harrisons room after dinner to play a great video game when the room got extremely warm.  Matinence came twice to try and fix the air, but never could so they moved him to another one... his fourth.  We grabbed his suitcases, the beer, the video game and moved the party to another location.  We were a movable feast.    
Today it rained, all day long.  It put out the fires, cleared the air and cleaned the ash off the cars, but it made getting supplies difficult. This is unusual to have rain this time of year and it is the most rain they have had in the last eight years.  We are near some really cool restaurants and places to shop and get anything we might need but we are so far from the theater, that becomes the issue.  
What I love about the cities of Australia so far is the architecture and the art that is all around.  I have seen some of the most interesting buildings and art installations in Melbourne and Sydney.  For some reason I thought Perth would be more conservative, or more rural.  That is not the case.  For example: My Hotel window looks out on this mural.  It is the back of a building in an alley and can not be seen from any street.  I love that it is just my taste in art, and seems to be there only for my enjoyment.  

I don’t know what this leg of the tour will turn out to be.  It is supposed to be a very big stage, and big theater that’s part of a resort and casino/hotel.  I don’t know why they didn’t put us up at the hotel on property.  It would have been nice to just take and elevator to work every night, but I would miss seeing this green organic reptile outside my window.  It will always remind me of Australian geography from 35000 feet in the air. 
As you were,

Thursday, January 11, 2018

On the Lighter Side

I am an admirer of show biz trunks.  Steamers, traveling wardrobes and big cases are the icons of show business to me.  For a long time I had Edgar Bergen’s steamer trunk.  It was too big to get through the back bedroom door of my house, so it was limited as to where it could be displayed.  After some time it was moved to storage as children’s things took over.  Eventually I sold it to a collector who hopefully has more space to display it properly. .  My one man show was a set composed of old cases.  The luggage of today is sleek, functional and as light as possible. The vaudeville trunks of my fantasy are bulky big and heavy.  That is because there was and army of  porters  at every train station with dollies to transport the bulky trunks.  People used to make a living taking care of travelers luggage.  That job like the guy who used to pump your gas with a smile and wipe your windshield has gone the way of self service now.  Too many service jobs have been thrown out with the technology of today.

The picture below is a close up of the luggage tags on Bob’s case. It is a stage case, which means it is only good to transport Bob from dressing room to the stage, or when I am doing a show locally. It is very light and has a classic “traveling case” look... read old style. It is a stage prop for all intents and purposes, it would not hold up to the normal airline handling of today.  I remember exactly when and where I bought that trunk.  It was at Harrods of London on one of my first professional trips over seas.  It replaced a similar case that had simply worn out from use. I didn’t get to use it very much as I was soon using anvil cases to transport my act around the country. To get this case to Australia it traveled in a case of its own with other props for my show. (Note: Bob always travels with me on board the airplane. It’s in his contract rider.) 

One of the cast members, Brett Loudermilk the sword swallower, recently admired the case in my dressing room. He said it was a very old style but seemed in such good condition.  I explained that it had only been checked on an airline a few times.  This sparked my memory of how I had aquired it on my trip to do Live London Television from the Palladium.  Brett put up with my reminiscing about the first time I heard a British Stage Manager say, “Act one beginners on stage please” rather than “places” as we say in American theater.  I remember at the end of my act at the Palladium they asked me to pause and take an extra bow at the stage left wing.  As I bowed they turned up the house lights to take a television shot of the audience clapping. The audience was suddenly lit up and no longer in the darkness I had performed for.  I was able to clearly see the entirely sold out audience of the Palladium in applause.  It was breath taking.  As I put the dates together in my mind I realized the case is four years older than Brett.  To me it’s not so old, to him it is more than a lifetime old.  

Everyone in the cast and crew of this show is someone I admire and am honored to be on stage with. I think if someone could package the fun we are having backstage and sell that to an audience it would make a fortune.  A few days ago the juggler, the hand balancers and the quick change artist (I know it sounds like the set up to a joke already) came running off the elevator and took threatening positions at the entrance to the stair well. They took the elevator but the strong man (yep another cast member) took the stairs to the stage level.  The gang was ready to yell in unison and scare him when he walked out of the door. I was walking by and realized what was going on,  so I decided to join in.  We waited and waited, and waited some more. He didn’t show up.  It was only a couple of flights but he was not arriving.  Finally I said to the group, “I have lost interest boys. Moving on”  Like hooligans after a disappointing soccer game the rest of them also gave up.  The hand balancer who speaks no English turned to me and said in a very thick Portuguese accent, “Dat, Muther Fuck”.  It was followed by a very proud smile on his face that he had cursed in English.... I laughed for ten minutes.  
For most of the show we are only passing back stage as people go on to do their solos. At the end of the show for the bows we all get together as a team back stage. Most of us end up in the green room just off stage left in costume ready to hit the wings when the final act wraps.  Yesterday I looked around and everyone was in wardrobe except Sos (pronounced Sauce). He was in shorts and casual shirt. I thought to myself... “He is cutting it close to get on stage for his bow.”  I think I said something like... “New look for you Sos?”  He shrugged it off and said in a German accent, “I’ve got plenty of time”. It was then that I realized Sos is the designer and creator of the quick change act he does on stage with his wife Victoria.  They change clothes 16 times in four minutes..... DUH.... of course he had plenty of time.  
As you were,

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Just an Observation

There are two reasons that I think I have an educated opinion on this subject.  First of all I have a BBA in Marketing from the University of North Texas. At the time I got that degree it was and still is a well respected business college.  It was my Dad who convinced me to forgo a Drama scholarship I was offered  at the University of Texas to persue an alternate career route if it became necessary.  I am not sorry that I made that decision.  It is after all called Show BUSINESS and I have certainly made better financial decisions than some of my fellow performers.
Secondly, my show “Jay Johnson: The Two and Only” never rally found a huge audience because of the difficulty in marketing the concept.  It was a lesson of hard knocks and real life tough lessons.  I was not involved in the marketing aspect of the show, and not sure I could have made a difference, but it gives me an interesting perspective.  
Now when I got my BBA there was no social media, no Internet, no cell phones; the big ticket ads were television spots, billboards and Newspaper ads.  A local reviewer could kill a show with a snarky review, or make it a success with a kind word.  The way things get delivered has changed exponentially since those dark days of education, but the basic principle is the same.  You have to create enough desire to see the show you are advertising that great numbers of people will spend their money to see it.  Advertising still takes money and “going viral” is mostly an accident not a calculation.  

The lesson I learned from my own show is, artistically I had no trouble enteraining the people once they were in the theater.  The people who came to see the show genuinely loved  it but said they weren’t expecting to see that “kind of” show.  They repeatedly said,  they expected to laugh, but they didn’t expect to be moved, touched or brought to tears.  From the marketing and advertising they thought it was a stand up Ventriloquist Comedy show presented in a theater, not a personal journey into the love of a strange art form  and a valentine to our mentors.  It was a funny show, but had more colors to draw with than just an extended night club act.  We were never able to reach the people outside the theater to communicate what they would experience inside. 

Although we were not the financial success we wanted to be, the show did win the Tony Award for “Best Special Theatrical Event”.  That is what we should have been trying to promote: a “special theatrical event” not a comedy puppet show.  I appreciate that the American Theater Wing saw past the mis-marketing and honored us so generously with the Tony.   

I now find myself in a show suffering from a similar problem.  I am not using the name of the show on purpose.  I do not want the Internet Algorithms to send it to the wrong people for two reasons:  1) I don’t want the producers of this show to think that I am un-grateful or not having a great time here in Australia. And,  2) selfishly, they are paying me to perform, not to offer my production opinions.  And honestly, who am I to tell producers, who have been making a fortune running dozens of shows for the last 7 years, that they missed the mark on this one.  

But here is what I see.  The people that come to this show are blown away. They love the show, the spectacular production and the incredible talent. But based upon the advertising and marketing no one knows what kind of show it they are not coming.  Some of the reviewers have complained of the same thing: they thought the were coming to see a show we didn’t end up doing.  
I think the variety show and specialty acts are ready for a huge comeback.  And I don’t think we need to compete with each other as winners and losers.  But how will we entice the public to turn off their screens and come see it live, much more to pay for the experience and not “stream it” for free?  At this point I only know what DOESN’T seem to work.  Maybe we should look to the past for some guidance. 
Here is a poster from variety shows past:
There is no doubt that you will see some guy do an amazing feat of strength in this show.  The art is dated and the concept exaggerated but still it has action, intrigue.  I would be encouraged to see that show.
Here is the front of the theater where we are currently performing:
Never mind that not one of the people in these 6 foot cut outs (on the glass windows) is actually in the show. Can you tell me what they do?  Okay one guy can balance a single juggling pen.  But what sort of act will the others be doing? The guy in the vest? The stolling tuxedo guy?  The lovely lady modeling the evening wear.  I understand this is a new show and this advertising had to be done before the show was cast, but again what are these people promoting?  Even if it was the cast in a similar pose, would you know what anyone did?    
The fact is we have athletes who demonstrate more strength and acrobatic agility in breath taking acts than that strong man in the vintage poster.  We have a juggler who juggles five pins so fast they almost break the sound barrier.  There is a magician who can make cards vanish before your eyes.  We have a quick change duo that does 16 changes in four minutes...  an artist who draws beautiful pictures in sand which appear and disappear as they are projected on a huge LED HD screeen ; our singer brings the audience to their feet with a stunning number. The comic magician does a mind reading trick that literally brings the audience to a laughing frenzy of a standing ovation, and a sword swallower who makes this cringe worthy craft a modern day miracle.  And to keep the audience entertained between this activity are dancers who deliver as much energy and beauty as  anyone.  
It is a show full of action and movement but it is represented in the advertising by  people standing in a static pose doing well... nothing.  
All I know is if people really knew what an incredible show, and what wonderfully talented performers there are in this production, traffic would have to stop to get them all into the theatre.  
As you were,


Monday, January 08, 2018

The Show must go on...

The picture is of my dressing table at Hamer Hall.  I was restricted by weight traveling with this show, so the brass monkeys that have graced my dressing room table for years had to stay home. I was litterally weighing everything and finding ways to travel lighter. The monkeys were too heavy to have no purpose other than tradition.  I brought along a miniature 3D print of the Maltese falcon, Harry Anderson made for me, as a substitute.  “It’s the stuff that dreams are made of” after all.

Melbourne has been a great experience.  Opening night was great.  We weren’t told until the interval (intermission in the USA) that there would be drinks after.  Turned out it was a full on party at one of the Hamer Hall bars. The patrons and administrators were there all decked out in their finest and most of us were wearing the jeans we can to work in. Of course, the female dancers came prepared with alternate wardrobe, and looked stunning.  It made for sort of an odd mix of party goers.  But the food was good and the drinks were plentiful so after awhile it was unimportant who was wearing what.  However, I bought a new dinner jacket here in Melbourne that I would have loved showing off.  Perhaps there will be a chance in Perth.
The show has settled into a routine by now.  Today will be our 33rd and 34th performances. There have been a few technical problems.  The wench that hauls a couple of the aerialists aloft malfunctioned at a matinee two days ago.  The good news is it broke after Alex the beautiful acrobat was safely on the ground.  The bad news is it hangs directly in front of my stage mark with Darwin.  The order to “show stop” didn’t get to me in time so I was on stage before I knew what the situation was.  There was nothing to do but move me further down stage and secure the cable while Darwin was trying to make funny.  There is now an addition to the old stage chestnut, “never work with children or animals.”. Now I can say  never work with guys fixing a wench behind you.  

Unfortunately three days after opening in Sydney, Anna (from the Deadly Games Act) stumbled on one of the uneven walk ways that are a constant “Sydney threat” and fractured her ankle.  She has been unable to do the act since.  Deadly Games is just that... Alfredo throws knives and shoots arrows at and around Anna so it was not just a matter of getting someone else to do it, although that idea was bantered around. There was a joke going around that Bob would be asked to do is since it is necessary to stand very still.  When I reminded them that Bob does not actually stand on his own, the idea was dumped.  In reality there is a massive amount of paper work and red tape that goes with this type of dangerous act.  Australia is much more strict about weapons, like Alfredo’s crossbow and his throwing axes than other places.  There still hasn’t been a decision made about their rejoining the show yet, or even if Anna can do it.  For now they are bored and frustrated that they can’t do the show.   Bob and I are schedueled to follow Deadly Games on the run down, so until they make a decision we open the second act. I am not sure which is a more difficult position, following a jaw dropping act or trying to get the audience settled in after the interval.  

All in all I am having a great time and for a reason I’d never have anticipated.  I think I have written about this before, but not in the context of the show.  For some time, maybe a year or so, I have not been getting the “ventriloquial sound”  I am used to.  I thought it was because I was off my vocal exercises. I had gotten lazy since work had been scattered through the calendar.  But when I started “training” for this tour, I wasn’t able to get the vocal placement I wanted.  I was depressed thinking that the voice is after all, just a muscle. This might be just one of those things that age and time do to human muscles. It was not an option I was very comfortable talking about to anyone.  

During a routine physical exam before I left I mentioned a bad taste and sometimes a bad smell that I had been experiencing to my doctor.  This led to antibiotics and a Sinus CAT scan.  Turned out that my right sinus was completely filled with infection that had developed a resistance to most antibiotics. It was moving down the root of one of my back teeth, and up the nasal cavity toward my eye and brain.  It became a rush to get it taken care of before I flew to Sydney.  Eventually I had to loose a tooth in the very back of my mouth, and have sinus surgery to drain the infection and reshape the nasal passage swollen from the infection. They told me that the swelling from the surgery would take a couple of weeks to heal. I was still healing when we opened the show in Tamworth.  By the time we got to Sydney I was noticing a huge difference.  The placement that I have grown accustomed to feeling and hearing in my head was back.  I wasn’t having to push as hard and got a clearer and louder sound.  Suddenly I remembered how easy it used to be for me to do what I do and the thrill of enjoyment returned.  

There is no way to tell you how much better I feel.  Sure there was some minor symptoms I was experiencing like sneezing more than usual and drainage into my throat that I associated with allergies ( although I never had an allergy problem before).  So those symptoms are gone, but so is the blockage that was affecting my ability to perform my act. That was psychologically much more of a drag than I understood.  I have the Unbelievables to thank for my new lease on enjoyment.  I might have just gone on thinking that allergies and age had gotten me, until it was too late and the infection did some irreparable damage.  One back tooth was an easy price to pay.  Unfortunately for the rest of the cast and crew, no one can get Bob to shut up back stage now that he seems to have found his voice again.  As for me I love testing the acoustics of any place that might give me a bounce back with the loudest vocal tone I can muster.  The show must go on... and for me, so will the fun of going on.  
As you were,

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

What it takes to be Funny!

We open the Unbelievables in Melbourne tonight, so there will be time tomorrow to talk about Hamer Hall and the audiences of Melbourne.  Although it doesn’t have the legendary status of the Sydney Opera House, I like Melbourne’s Hamer Hall much better so far.  We did one preview last night and although like any theater it takes time to figure it out, this one seems to be more friendly to comedy.
But speaking of Comedy.... Harrison Greenbaum is the “host” of our show. He is a good magician, a funny comic and a very nice guy.  Rarely do you find all three of these qualities in one person.  It usually comes down to a choice of one.  Harrison is also  the hardest working man in show business.  

He is constantly revising his introductions for the acts, finding new local comedy references and doing everything he is asked to do.  No matter what the producers or director require of him, including very long hours and minimal consideration, he always has a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye, without a cross word to anyone.  This accomplishment is much more than I have been able to do with only two spots in a two hour show. 
Not only is he working the show he is working his own act.  Every city we go to he contacts the local comedy clubs and books a spot for himself.  After seeing him perform at a club here in Melbourne a couple of nights ago, he can’t be doing this for the money.  He is doing it to learn the Australian audiences. Harrison booked a late night spot after a long day of promotion and our first preview show just last night.  He said he wanted to get up and do some material one more time before opening night.  This was the third night he has been out performing in the area since we arrived. This brings me to the point of the blog.  

Harrison was by far the funniest guy at the bar turned comedy club where most of the cast went to see him. There were other comics filling the bracket and according to Harrison they are examples of the new generation of comic.  There were of course local references lost on an older American like myself, but I do know timing and the structure of a joke, and I know when an audience is NOT laughing.  I understand that most of the comics were working on their act and their stage presence was certainly no where near the professionalism nor polish of Harrison but still....

One wore a stretched out tee shirt that seemed to have been laundered sometime in the last 6 months.  He had a goofy smile and talked about his skinny arms.  He basically said it was hard to get laid with skinny arms.
Another comic said that he was deaf in one ear.  It was apparently the only thing of interest in his entire life.  His girl friend said the “he hadn’t heard the half of it”.  He was repressed because he had an unseen disability, envied those who had more obvious problems.  Basically he said it was hard to get laid because he was half deaf.  
Next there was a Ukraine female comic in a black leather motorcycle jacket and blond bangs that mostly hid her eyes, who did a turn.  Think of Natasha from Bullwinkles Boris and Natasha cartoons trying to do stand up. It was telling that the two Ukrainian performers in our group did not laugh once.  

Finally before Harrison “killed” ending that segment of the evening, there was a guy who talked about being epileptic.  I wasn’t sure if he was building tension with the idea that he could seizure at any moment on stage, or it was me who didn’t find his perspective appealing.  He basically said it was hard to get laid because of his epilepsy, because of the time he went into convulsions during sex, and could never repeat that stunning performance.  

Now to be fair this was an open mic night in a club that mostly featured a DJ and dancing on other nights.  And it has been a very long time since I was in a comedy club.  But as I said I think that I am more than a novice when it comes to funny.  I had a long talk with Harrison the day after.  He said that is the new trend in comedy, find something that makes you unique and riff on it.  It vaguely reminded me of some advice I heard from a comedy writer friend of mine long ago.  He said, “If you can’t think of something funny, think of something that irritates you and make that funny.”  His belief was the idea that comedy and tragedy are so close emotionally that one can lead you to the other. 
There is no doubt that not getting laid because you have a deaf ear, skinny arms or epilepsy is irritating.  But does that translate into something that we all can relate too?  The thing that irritates the comic has to be something that potentially irritates the rest of the audience.  The humor comes from the alternate way the comic deals with the irritation.  

Humor today is much harder than it used to be.  Disjointed jokes are no longer acceptable as an act.  The comedy must be personal, insightful and most of all funny. But political correctness has stiffiled the ability to make satrical insights, and we no longer accept stereotypes as strawdogs to make fun of.  People are no longer willing to laugh at differences in behavior and are offended if they are even pointed out.  It would be too easy for me to walk out of the comedy club and say, Well those comics weren’t funny.  They particularly paled in comparison to a seasoned professional like my friend Harrison. But you don’t look at a house being built and say “That house isn’t livable”.  You have to wait till it is finished. Taking a second look at the comics who were up on stage, knowing the shear courage it takes to get behind that mic, and the barriers they face in acceptable material I wonder how anyone does it.  So, rather than judge and sit on the porch and say, “these comics today...”. I will wait till they get the final coat of paint on their acts and then decide. This job of being funny is getting so much harder. 

As you were,