Tag Archives: New Vaudeville

March 19, 2018 Harvard Square Veterans

Al Krulick, Steve Aveson and Dana Smith

Chop Bar- Jack London Square- Oakland

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…

Mental Rattlesnakes and Ego Implants

Birdman-Movie-Poster-Michael-Keaton

 

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.GetTNI put two pair on now I am twice as confident.”

 

Prizefighting the Godzillas in the Room

Wives and Lovers...
In the Ring…

“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?

in the round

“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.”

Hot Spring Honeymoon Front Cover

 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.”

Making Show

Book show blog pic

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.

 

 

 

 

It’s the Good Life

good life

 

“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…

 

 

 

All About Bankrupt Heart

Bankrupt Heart

A Novel by Dana Smith 

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

Or Contact Direct here to Purchase Print Version

 

Children at the Brink

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.

 

Eternity Ringing in my Ears

My 1967 Ford pickup truck was home. It took some practice to get the kinks out. Simplicity was the key. When I got the truck it had a V-8 and when I finished it had an inline 6 cylinder 240 cubic inch motor.

Matched weighted forged pistons, steel timing gears, special camshaft profile, roller rockers, balanced the rods, and tweaked the one barrel carburetor. I got 20 miles to the gallon. Smoothest engine I ever made.

Much of what I did to the motor comes standard now. I didn’t get roller lifters. Instead I opted for special hydraulic lifters matched to perform with the roller rockers. I might well have seen 22 miles per gallon with the roller lifters had I installed them.

Got rid of the points and added an electronic ignition system. I bought the rig in 1976. When I was done I donated the engine to a Ford Bronco restoration shop. The 240 was a prize.

 

I’d swapped out the 8 for the 6 and ran it around for a few months prior to rebuilding it. Ran fair enough, but I knew I could do better. I’d had the truck now for some years. It was about 1983. I had put about 300,000 miles on the rig touring as I had across the United States.

After jerking the engine and tearing her down, sending her out to the machine shop, ordering all the trick parts, getting her back and then painstakingly reassembling the engine back together I was ready to start the motor for her first try.

It was like an out of body experience. The motor purred. Gone were the rumbles and shakes. The motor had come to me speaking in broken English whereas now it was fluent, in fact perhaps mellifluous: to my ear Shakespearean.

I ran north to south. The Ford took me as far as Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and as far south as Bahia de Los Angeles in Baja, California, Mexico. She’d taken me east to Key West three times, New York twice, and Boston once.

I’ve slept around as they say. Finest neighborhoods I could find, or sometimes not, sometimes I’d just sleep where I was, wherever that was, however that looked.

Never put much stock in wanting my rig to draw attention. Curtains sealed out any light my reading lamp might make. Once I was in back on my bunk nobody gave the rig a second thought. You want to be invisible.

On my way to 500,000 miles I’d put something like ten coast to coast tours on this old truck. I spent the better part of a decade living in her, half those years non-stop, twenty-four-seven-sixty-months-straight-during one stretch.

 

I went over Rabbit Ears Pass on my way to Durango, Colorado in 30 below zero one night; had to chain up for that one. Not the dumbest thing I’ve ever done, but was a nominee.

Life was all about the show. I played dates town to town. Between dates was whatever I wanted it to be. I’d usually stock up the rig with food and then the real art was to know what dirt track to turn down.

If I had a few days I could write, read and workout. It wasn’t anything special. Many of my performing friends did much the same. It was good and still is.

Have a home now, but I still own a pickup truck, still get out on the road, and still pull off and take a dirt track now and then out fifty miles to nowhere pull over and spend a few days with eternity ringing in my ears.

 

Now Available at Amazon (click on the pic) for the handsome price of $1.00

Or, Contact Me for a Print Copy for $15

dana@danasmith.com

Hand in Glove

Handsome, a physical specimen, educated with grace and manners but are we capable as California/artist/performer/author of being debonair? Is our style too casual, too wash and wear, with silk and linen missing from our closet?

The Bordeaux is one continent and one ocean removed. We go to the Napa Valley. It is all so downscale. Yes, we have the French Laundry but who can get a reservation on the day and time of their preference? Dining on their schedule instead of ours?

Telegraphing taste in California is done by automobile. Clark Gable had many elegant rides. His 1938 Packard eight cylinder convertible Victoria with coachwork by the polo playing Darrin of Paris, a war hero, snappy dresser often described as dapper. That is how it was done back in the day.

It goes without saying that since the last good war we’ve had only other kinds of war. Whatever is left of taste and style is piled onto the shoulders of George Clooney. Nob Hill is in decline everyone that is anyone in high tech is south of Market Street now.

A Wilkes Bashford shopping spree can save a man from himself. From there a luncheon at the St. Francis Yacht Club or a martini out at the Cliff House at sunset begins to crack styles salvation back into view.

Our politics is more crude and coarse. We now have wave upon wave of propaganda outlets posing as talk radio hosts. In what universe is global warming a hoax and birth control pill use to be discouraged?

The best educated among us leave for Wall Street. They go with an algorithmically enhanced ambition. Ethics has been drowned in a sea of free market theology. These distinctions are lost on a world that is trapped in a technologically supercharged innovation cycle.

It is where we find ourselves. Sinatra is gone. He had style. Palm Springs did back in the day. Perhaps vulgarity is a necessary part of any gilded age. Our manners, our clothes, our cars all hissing at one another, but missing the acquired pleasure that civility offers to the delicate central nervous systems of a more aspirational soul.

I by chance stumbled upon a radio interview with Norman Mailer. While our current President has raised the bar considerably in his use of the English language when compared to the previous office holder he has to speak to all of the citizens whereas Mailer simply is allowed to speak.

There is a pleasure to a person choosing the right word. We find our lives improved. What they have to say changes us. We know something when they are finished, and it isn’t poured down our throats and manipulated into us. Instead it is by the right means that we get there, persuaded by fact and perspective until the best course is obvious.

This is the hand as substance and the glove as style that I miss in discourse and why there is still much to be said about the fact that the clothes still do make the man while his speech might well undo him.

EBOOK AVAILABLE AT AMAZON FOR JUST $1.00 

Testosterone is King… King of Dreams

Don Juan meets George Bernard Shaw

Testosterone gathered for coffee at an outdoor café. There were four of us. One married, another cohabitating, another just back from the frontlines of new love, and a fourth sidelined for the moment.

It was a good afternoon for testosterone. Each carrier of this potent point of view gave their individualized perspective of how they see things.

The passing phantoms walked on by. Yoga students in spandex tights are not much interest to men, but it is of paramount importance to testosterone. Testosterone is like the notion of an ego trip, you don’t actually go anywhere but it is a vivid state of mind.

Testosterone burdens man. You do not negotiate with testosterone so much as you are hijacked by testosterone. I think any number of spectacular failures by famous womanizers always leads to the question: “what were they thinking?”

Thinking is part of testosterone, but testosterone is in fact larger than thinking, or more precisely it is the container that all thinking is put into when testosterone’s abundance floods the playing fields of a man’s being.

Of the four yesterday I was the one married. I am also the oldest at sixty. Married and sixty and lets add, how shall I say this, married, sixty and no longer believe, even for one second that a fling might best a lifetime of happiness with my beloved wife.

I know this, it is my truth, it is my vow, and it is how I live my life. Most amusing is that testosterone doesn’t believe a thing I say. It goes its own way and I must go mine.

I was no match for testosterone when I was twenty, but twenty is sublime in the sense that men have already peaked and as we begin to make our descent back from the perilous heights the view from this stratospheric perch etches into our minds an unwavering awe into the nature of desire. How is it that the gods were able to make so much out of so little?

A good education can help a man who is seized with a frightful bout of testosterone. There is the outside chance that our stupidity can be hidden behind the seeming appearance of intelligence. Unfortunately they made women who can see right through us.

The two players in our group yesterday were busily negotiating with testosterone. They were getting their particulars in order before the next hormonal seizure took hold. They wanted someone this tall, with this color hair, and that age, nothing too sticky, too clingy, too volatile, or too unfaithful.

Testosterone is above all a great dream maker. There exists a theory that the difference between a married man and one that is single is fussiness. Another theory suggests that testosterone so wears on a man that he just finally quits, gives up, and packs it in.

The main point is if you have testosterone in your life to appreciate its power, to use it wisely, but most of all, for everyone’s sake, whether married or single, man or woman, when you find yourself around this stuff you would do well to remember that when used as directed in a mutually truthful and honest way that testosterone can be everything you ever hoped it could be, and sometimes even more. “Mrs. Smith- it’s a girl!”

Available as an ebook at Amazon and Barnes and Noble