Good Monday morning. Solstice and first day of spring just ahead. Always a good sign in the busking life. Warmer days mean bigger audiences.
Pictured with me are two of the great improvisational talents of street theater from an act dubbed The Shakespeare Brothers. We rode that first wave together. Anyone having witnessed a street show in Harvard Square circa the 70’s will have memories of some of the most high energy street performances to ever be seen then or now.
I am the one of the three who remains active as a variety act. How the long and winding road has allowed me to arrive all the way out to here remains both a mystery and proud accomplishment.
Like vaudeville my community is a living tradition of human beings who embody the show, the experience— we are the physical link to street theaters earliest days. Robert Shields, Harry Anderson, Michael Davis, A Whitney Brown… just four of our best of the best who went onto much great success.
Travel Day for the Left Coast Busker. More soon. Remember to buy a book, watch my video, and come on back. I’ll be here love to have you hanging around too…
In Birdman Michael Keaton plays a desperately successful actor riding a new play into an uncertain destiny. His fame weighs on the new show he is opening on Broadway.
Critics unimpressed with his selling out to the big time lurk in the saloons of Time Square waiting to pounce. They are ready to fell this bombastic super star for daring to descend from Hollywood back to Broadway where he has the nerve to write, direct and star in a new show. It is a desecration.
He is rotten with doubt, miserable in his quest and racked with fear and delusion. If that is not enough the whole stinking mess backstage is hysterically pathologic to the point of being so chaotic as to be hilarious.
If we could rip open the actors head without mortally wounding him then look inside we would see that thing we were worried might kill him is waiting just the other side of his skull. It is his date with immortality.
There are a constellation of other players and people in the film. They are all there in the libidinous tumult that is opening a new show.
None of that matters so much as the fact that Keaton is in a creative corner of his own making, a predicament that took a lifetime to conjure up; a pyrotechnic head trip in wide screen living color. It’s career daredevilry in Panavision.
Birdman: The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance is a send up to all of us who awaken to the self-inflicted fix we are caught in at this latter stage of our careers. We are suckered into taking one more foolish bite of the apple.
Now me, I am just back from being on stage six nights a week for two months. I thought I might be cracking under the pressure. I thought maybe there was something wrong, that I no longer had it. That’s what unconsciousness and questing for immortality will do.
As the lyric goes, “The road gets rougher, it’s lonelier and it’s tougher…” And then I come home to this brilliant film… Birdman!
“According to the package on my underwear it says that when I put on my briefs that I will be able to stride in confidence.I put two pair on now I am twice as confident.”
“As far as entertainment goes clinching a barbecue fork in my teeth and performing this stunt stands at least one foot higher in the minds of audiences than topless dancing does.”
The Godzilla in the room of a performer’s world is to know when to build new material.
A huge dividend is paid for having polished a routine. It is a reliable tool in the shows running order. Anyone who has honed their act to this razor sharp edge is reluctant to abandon the surefire for uncharted waters.
I have no such show. Twice now in my four decade career my performing dogs have retired leaving me to start all over from scratch. New jokes and stunts are devised. Most of the old show has to be abandoned in its entirety. A few pieces are cobbled together and survive. But that killer closer you’ve been doing for a decade is now an old flea bitten hound with cataracts and hearing loss.
This week I’ve had no less than two superb variety acts make no bones about it. They aren’t building material right now. “Thanks, but no thanks.” The shows working fine as is and it really just isn’t what they want to do. I was racked with envy. Talk about a couple of lucky stiffs.
Build new material? Of course not! It is a source of flaming pains in the ass followed by spiraling pangs of doubt that are halted once your confidence has been shattered beyond reach of repair. Unless the dogs died why in the name of vaudeville would you set out to make yourself so utterly miserable? Nobody needs to man-‘splain this. This isn’t fanny patting this is butt kicking welcome to your own personal little hell.
I am between rounds. Angelo Dundee’s in my corner. Half-way through the fight and I’m giving, as good, as I’m getting. When you are prizefighting, and when you are building a new show, you know you are in the ring and if you’re going to win the fight you’ll need to face the fact that you are going to take a pounding.
The lipstick on this pig is that I can see the light at the end of the funnel. Testing proceeds apace. I’m taking the now proofed pieces to my lego-comedy-puzzle and have near finished erecting the all shiny new framework.
Dundee slaps me across the face. I stand up off my stool. The bell rings. I’m heading back into the ring. It’s all fancy footwork and tactics now; my audience won’t even see it coming. I’m back and I’m packing a knockout punch.
Don’t believe me? Get in line. Buy a ticket. Put your money where your mouth is. Working cheap is for suckers, and winning fights is what you do when a career is on the line.
Drop by the slaughterhouse of comedy where this act works six nights a week. I either kill or I die. Last night it was the audience picking itself up off the floor. Damn right they deserved it. I worked hard for that victory. And that’s how a new show gets done. You got a problem with that?
“My volunteer will toss the orange into the air over to me. The orange may well miss. Continue across the room and land at this table where this beautiful woman is seated. If it does stay where you are; I’ll go over and get her phone number.”
Get it Here…
“The love scenes are among the funniest I have ever read — and what in this world is better than funny sex? The author’s strong, unique narrative voice and high-desert dialogue are seductions in their own way and sure to entertain.”
It is more than connubial bliss, more than your partner’s satisfaction. It is in fact more about your ability to overcome sleep deprivation.
The show went off like a Roman candle last night. I was able to proof the quality of the opening monologue one more time. This is not even the tenth time I’ve tested the material.
It was tangled up with my performance. I had to deliver. I had memorized and practiced for several hours yesterday. My plan was to try and go in and out of the new material with short improvised excursions with what was right before me in the room.
I was at Puerto Aventura a resort along the Riviera Maya, Mexico. The setting was a theater. It was a family audience. In my business this location is one of the best. Good lighting, good seating, the stage is set up correctly, and the sound is excellent.
I punched away with the new routine. What the new routine sets out to do is create a mythical explanation of how I arrived in Mexico, a short jabbing at the audience’s use of relationship to build their lives, a digression where the differences between an eligible bachelor and what I call a slacker dude are explored. Ultimately I draw my audience into the world of not just relationships, but of penultimate relationships… the revelation of the identity of the world’s greatest lover and of course naturally the world’s greatest lover’s lover. I try to pick extraordinary common people to play these parts in a show that tries to sneak up on my audience’s preconceived notions of what love and lover’s might look like.
Life is not based on any static position or point of view. Life is dynamic. There are no answers. There are experiences, and the experiences are what our imaginations thread together into what emerges as the story of our life.
The basic narrative is the story of deciding whether we will fall in love and explore the mystery of our hearts powers. What kind of relationship do we wish to form and with what kind of person? Some are certain they want to be in a relationship while others are quite sure they would rather remain single. Some want children others might focus on their careers. We begin this journey in our youth and we deal with these choices over a lifetime. How well we love and how complete our surrender to the mystery has much to say about the story of a person’s life.
There you have it. This is in essence what I am thinking about, what I am writing about in my novels, and what I am trying to make an entire show of on stage. Last night’s almost hour long performance suggests we are well on the path to what I call, The Book Show.
“Romance… it gives a man something to do while he’s waiting for the only thing he really wants.”
A performer is just that. We earn our money by presenting whatever it is we have learned to do. Sometimes it is as simple as memorizing lines, and at other times it is the result of years and years of physical stunt training.
Our reputation hinges on our consistency. If all we had to do is walk on stage and execute the physical stunt then all our practicing would focus on just that. If we are comedy juggling act then we have to expend as much effort on being at the top of our comic game.
New comedy takes effort and time and practice and ultimately with all of that something might emerge that is repeatable and worthy of becoming part of our show. Stunt training is often a much longer process. We’ll work for months, sometimes years on a trick only to learn once it has made it into the show that it isn’t getting the kind of reaction we had imagined it would.
Every juggling act I know has wasted vast quantities of their precious time on tricks that never make the cut. Yeah, I know, everything accumulates into some positive contribution to what is ultimately presented. But, really the truth is that often what we’ve been working on amounts to a failed experiment and it’s time to get back to the drawing boards.
Living a lifetime on stage is to be caught in the world of performance pressure. We all have pressures, but the pressure to be a consistent top level performer is a particularly stressful life. I am sure a great janitor, a custodian of the finest caliber, can quietly fall off his game for a night. A performer in front of an audience has to face the spectacle of all the mistakes, the diminished emotional energy and general unsatisfied audience’s unfulfilled expectations. Ouch….
After decades on stage it never gets easier. You may find yourself in a polished sure thing vehicle, but if you are a creative you’ll have to move on from that pristine material and explore, and it leads inevitably to the very nature of what it means to be a survivor. I am such a creature.
I am breaking new material in down in the Riviera Maya region of Mexico. I am playing a string of resorts six nights a week. Remaining in the game, finding a path to being on stage, and reliably executing a practice and creative regime that supports this work I do is to say the least a challenge. Except for one night a week I’m swinging for the fences, looking to connect with my audience, send the ball over the outfield fence, and be the winner of the game. That one day off is golden…
Bankrupt Heart explores the journey a man begins under some duress when his life on one fateful day vanishes. But wait! This is only where the story begins.
Victoria, Ry’s long term life partner, a composer-pianist on tour in London is not only not coming back, but is immersed in an affair with a British tuba player! Finn who is Ryan Waters true best friend has just purchased a forty-three foot wooden sailboat, Jasmine and offers her to Ry as an escape from his now empty house on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco. Into the gale of Ry’s sorrow a boatyard of beatific people is discovered. Penniless souls for the most part; this tribe of sailors, drunks and artists transforms what appears initially as a march into the heart of darkness into a delicious redemption.
Ry Waters withered personage is soon pit against the towering humanity of Jackie Van Hart, watercolorist, yoga instructor and art teacher. Morty, his supercharged agent, vows to find him a new job at another radio station that Ry is not sure he even wants. Finn an avowed bachelor, meanwhile is falling in love with a woman who, like him, wanted nothing to do with relationships.
Pain and struggle’s antidote is plot twist, humor and surprise. Jackie, this gifted, intuitive, uninhibited woman with a knack for shattering convention and sparking the unexpected is the high octane catalyst for change. Then, as if too good to be true, her lover Lenny sails right back into Jackie’s life and even her world spins out of control.
There are intricate totems placed into this narrative that add valuable meaning.
Bankrupt Heart is paradoxically a joyous romp, a story of a man restoring a wooden sailboat while reviving his most authentic self, initially his world implodes into a hellacious mess but soon the main characters join Ry on the path to a wholehearted life.
Available as an ebook at Amazon and Barnes and Noble
I was running with the wind again. Headed north with Lacey riding shotgun. We had dinner in Ashland Saturday night. Sunday stopped in Eugene for breakfast. I’d been the producer of the street performing program at the Eugene Celebration for a bunch of years. Downtown Eugene has gone from bad to worse in the last few years.
After breakfast north to Portland and stopped to have a visit with one of my oldest friends. He’s holed up on the Northeast side just off Sandy. My friend likes to think outside the box, he prefers to live outside the box, and working from this scaffolding makes a curiosity, a kind of unbridled romp far from the familiar fields.
Evening shared more time with a husband, wife and their two teen daughters. On my way to see our youngest now at Seattle University it was like a taste of warm ups for what was about to come.
The progressive teen of the Pacific Northwest is a roving Burning Man Festival. They are playful souls. They bet with imagination. They read books, good reads.
They recycle. They eat good food. They like to juggle. They draw. They hook up and get tight with their sweethearts. They know that authenticity is the coin of the realm.
These are the souls we are handing our world off to. They are good loving people. They love the world they’ve been born into. The same as you and the same as me, and they want to do, to do whatever it takes, to turn the world around.
The obstructive class of status quo types that have the world by the throat… they will always want just one more bite of the apple, make one more close, one more deal, one more day before they let go.
My bet is with these feisty types up in this corner of the country. Come high tide, black ice, or snow storm they’re going to try to steer away from the catastrophe.
If you hadn’t noticed, Scientific America published a story this week. The article was unequivocal. Climate change is irreversible. The world is going to get much hotter. An extinction event could be baked into the cake.
We apparently can’t help ourselves. We can’t fix every problem. We can’t win every war. There are things beyond our reach. So, when was it we gave up and became fashionable not to try?
Click on the pic and go to Amazon to get the ebook for $1.00
Connect with me and I’ll sell you a print version for $15.