Current mood: accomplished
Believe it or not we have finally passed the halfway point. We have written seven musicals in a row live on stage in an improvised long form format that we developed at the Bad Dog Theatre. The cast is made up of some of Canada’s (and the worlds) best musical improvisers.
Every morning I have been getting up and reviewing one of our previous performances. This is a painful process for me as I have to listen to everything that I think might have gone wrong on my part. The difficult balance is that I have to come up with original ideas constantly, that aren’t too complicated at the same time because it might throw the improvisers off who need something basic and fairly slow to improvise over. If I ever feel like I am not supporting the players as well as I could it becomes harder for me to listen to. And then the other day I accidentally taped the View over one of our best performances. I had a fit.
I was very tired before the show today. Perhaps its because we just got over the halfway mark. It is hard for me to relax during the day knowing I have to compose a new musical every night in front of everyone. Tonight we had a lean and mean cast with only six of the twelve players in attendance. The suggestion was The Realtor’s Bar Mitzvah. In an unexpected start Jamillah came out and set the play in Argentina. And Aurora came out as a dance instructor. I knew then that I had to make the whole show have a latin feel. This is not the easiest thing for me to do since latin music is not one of my strong points. I’m a child of The Beatles, Prince and Grease. But I had enough knowledge to get through.
Jamillah and I escaped the clutches of the beer tent and went to Hogwarts at midnight.
July 11. 2007
Today we decided to go to a Fringe play and our choice was to see Harold Pinter’s Betrayal at Theatre Passe Muraiile (or however you spell it). Our friend Kerry Ann was in it and she was phenomenal. A very interesting play. It makes me want to do something serious. I put up posters around the venue.
On a side note I want to say that I have probably gained ten pounds during this Fringe Festival. I had been dieting successfully for about six months up until a a week before the Fringe. Now it’s all hamburgers, pizza and ice cream.
We decided to dedicate this evening’s performance to Honest Ed Mirvish who just died. He helped make Toronto theatre what it has become today. The suggestion was Reality Television Host and Bachelor Party. What followed was one of the more bizarre storylines we’ve had. I actually ended up playing Prince. It always freaks me out when I suddenly have to play a character when I’m musically improvising because I think my brain works differently when I’m playing the piano then it does when I’m onstage improvising. But that is what happens with this show. Jamillah held back a little because she started to lose her voice the other day. I miss hearing her voice when she has to hold back. I’m trying not to talk to her.
July 12, 2007
This was the day that everything went haywire. I actually haven’t even been able to write in this journal for a few days because I have been so frazzled. It does take a lot out of you to write this many musicals in such a short period of time. I spend my days thinking about chord progressions and musical styles and anticipating the show each night. I can never take comfort in knowing what we are going to do since I never know what we’re going to do.
In the daytime we went to see Paul Constable’s Something Unexpected which stars Sandy from our show. It was an excellent short play that had a twist I wasn’t expecting and an ending which gave you just the right amount of uncertainty. A lof of friends in the audience as well. Jennine and Dave are back from their eight month cruise. It was good to see them again. Afterwards I put up the remainder of my posters up around U of T. I just want to make sure I don’t have any left.
When we arrived at the tent we went out back behind the Tranzac to do our usual warm up. Not too far away in the distance was an electrical storm headed our way. Usually I love storms like this. I find them kind of exciting. We went inside and I set up my keyboard and then I kept hearing the speakers crackling. Then my keyboard’s sound just went out. Nothing else seemed to be wrong with it. The lights were on. I switched it off and tried again. Again the speaker’s crackled and the music dropped out. We are fifteen minutes away from opening in front of a close to sold out house and my keyboard isn’t working. And we are being filmed. I informed the cast of the problem and then it was suggested that I use the keyboard from An Inconvenient Musical. I switched my keyboard on again and it seemed to work. I put the other keybaord behind me just in case. Suddenly there was no time.
Then the house came in and the opening number started and I jumped down on the keyboard and started playing and the keyboard crackled out.
The cast just kept going and sang the rest of the number a capella. I quickly unplugged my keyboard and set up the Rumoli Brother’s keyboard. At first I couldn’t find the power cord and it was like angels singing in heaven when I got the keyboard up and running while Jenny and some patrons helped me set up. Meanwhile Doug just started making the show about how you can’t rely on electricity. Nicola Tesla even made an appearance. Perfect. Turning mistakes into gold is what this show (and improv) is all about.
The rest of the show went off very well as the cast held together in the face of this adversity. The show was called The Horseshoer’s Reunion. To be honest the whole thing went by like a bizarre dream and I barely remember anything that happened since I spent the show sweating a gallon under my now very stringy and greasy Jean Val Jean wig.
Afterwards I went home and changed and recovered from this near disaster. I plugged my keyboard in at home and it worked perfectly. This made me suspect that the gremlin was actually the electrical storm. I went back to the beer tent where I spoke to my old Second City friend Carlie. She did not even notice that we had a problem. This is the magic of covering up mistakes in improv. The fact that some of the audience didn’t even know we were in trouble is amazing. Carlie also told me that the wig looks terrible and she was horrified when she thought it was my real hair. Also she didn’t get the Les Miz reference. I have discovered that only about half of the audience gets that I am supposed to be Jean Val Jean from Les Miz. The grey wig was a lot more beautiful and flowing when I first got it and some people told me it made me look hot. Hot sexy – not hot temperature. Although the humidity at this year’s Fringe has made me sweat alot under that greasy wig. I am determined to bring the wig back to life. I had to make a quick exit, but not because of the wonderful Carlie.
I went back into the Tranzac and watched Jamillah do Monkey Toast. Everyone was funny as usual. The beer tent was not too exciting after that. We went and got some McDonalds and I wondered what would happen at tomorrow’s show.
July 13, 2007
Today was the day that I really started to feel exhausted after having done 9 shows in a row and another one to do. I spent the day trying to get to the bottom of my sound issue. But there really didn’t seem to be anything wrong with the keyboard and Long and McQuade would have had to take the keyboard in over night. I decided to record the whole opening number so I don’t start playing halfway through. I also decided to set up a second keybaord just in case. I also aired out and brushed my wig.
When I got to the Fringe tent and we warmed up I could tell the cast was having trouble getting there energy up. I will never ask them to do this many shows again. We received an exciting offer which was that The Fringe wants us to do The Best of the Fringe at the Diesel playhouse. We said yes once we consulted with everyone.I will be back at the old Tim Sims Playhouse, or as I call it …the Tim Sims Playhouse – where my comedy career started many years ago. Show Stopping Number also got another offer which I am going to say no to.
Tonight my keyboard worked fine and I heard from someone else that there was a crackling in the speakers. So I am pretty sure there was a loose wire. I loved doing the entire opening number for once, doing my own little dance by the keyboard. The storyline tonight was the Painter’s Intervention. The show had some great moments and the audience seemed to like it but the cast (who are the worst critics of the show) felt that they hadn’t done as good a job as they could have. But to me its the night before the end of the show so we are obviously not going to climax with energy on this night which is sort of a reverse second night blues. It’s the second to last night blues.
For once I didn’t rush home. I sat and had a beer with the cast. Slap Happy reunited right there in the beer tent and I offered to take a photo of them all since they haven’t been together in eight months, due to Second City cruises. Jamillah and I danced up a storm later on inside the Tranzac.
It’s an exciting day. It is the last day of our eleven day run. No matter what amount of stress I feel today, I know it will be over by 9:30 PM. I spent the day feeling a little more relaxed knowing this fact. I wanted to see a lot more Fringe shows, but when you do this many shows there really is only so much energy and time.
Today was one of two days in the eleven day run where I had a problem finding a parking spot right in front of the building. So it was a bit of an awkward set up. Every member of the cast felt determined to hit one out of the park tonight. An hour before show time there was a line up for tickets. I stopped worrying about the size of our audiences a week ago. I have been pretty happy about how many people have been coming. Tonight we sold out! The cast is also buzzing from being included in the Best of the Fringe, although some of them will be away.
A few days ago I said to Jamillah that the only event I was worried about being shouted out was Caribana since I wasn’t sure I could do calypso for an hour. Jamillah sang the opening number tonight because Sandy was running across the city from his last performance of Something Unexepected. He arrived just in time for the show. We all had a group hug and an “I got your back” round. The suggestion was Caribana of course since I put it out there into the universe. I didn’t sweat (well maybe a little because of that damn wig). I just started using the steel drums patch, and the series of reggae instruments. When I wasn’t underscoring I went into my keyboard and built a Calypso band. Jamillah played the lead. Her voice has been rough so she’s been holding back a bit. Tonight she let it all out. Everyone was brilliantly supportive of her character Lila who wants to fly over Caribana in a butterfly costume. The end of the show ended with the cast lifting Jamillah above their heads and the smile on her face at the end of the show was worth everything I did for this show. The crowd went wild and we made an announcement that we would be at the best of the Fringe. Alex Hatz was there with his camera filming it. I’m really happy we got this one on camera.
Everyone went crazy backstage. I quickly tore down everything and drove home and dropped it off. I came back as soon as I could to join the festivities. I hung out with all the women from the show (I want to call them the Pink Ladies). It’s like The View except it’s Rica, Ashley, Jamillah, Jan, Jenny and Aurora. I love hanging out with the gals. I also chatted with Robin and Carmine about all of the reasons I did this show and why I did it the way I did. There are a lot of personal reasons why I did Show Stopping Number! Maybe that’s why it worked. I put my heart and soul into it every night.
When the party moved inside you could sense that everyone wanted to dance. The DJ was playing really amazing, but fairly obscure funk and hip hop. I was loving it. But the grungy, granola fringers weren’t really going for it. The party started to die. The women from our show were losing their mind and finally complained. Then the DJ switched it up and started playing The Bee Gees, The Go-Gos and Britney Spears and suddenly everyone started dancing. We partied with all of our good friends untiol 2:00 AM. Then Rica, Jamillah, Ashley, Jan, Aurora, Carmine and I went to Mel’s and we had a late night breakfast. All of us feeling drunk with the after effects of our hilarious, fun and stressful eleven day run. It has been the Best Fringe ever!
Today was really the last day of the Fringe, even though our show itself was done. Jamillah and I decided we wanted to see some shows on the last day. We decided we wanted to see the wierdest shows we had heard about that our friends are doing. First we went down to Queen St. to see this show called Ubu Roi (Massacred). We went and got a coffee at Second Cup first and bumped into the cast of Betrayal where we got a chance in person to tell them how good their show was.
This massacred show was in a space called the Hub and in actuality it was a small one room apartment, complete with wires on the wall, a bathroom and a dreadful kitchen and no air conditioning. Luckily I didn’t have to sit on the floor though half the audience had to. The players were wearing ripped leotards and chatted with the audience as they prepared the room for the show. The play was one of the most bizarre theatre experiences I have ever had as the three players gave their performance their 100 per cent sweaty best. Halfway through I had to look at the program so I could understand the absurd proceedings. That was when it made sense to me since I had no idea that it was a play written in the 19th century in Paris and the show had caused riots. The theatre company itself described it as an “awful” play. So I don’t mind saying that I agree it is an awful play (hated it). I felt very clautrophobic and maybe even a little upset. The show ended withe the players singing and following each other into the bathroom.
We jumped in the car and sped across town to U of T to see 10,000 to Flight Centre at the Helen Gardiner. I really like this space actually. It was a breath of fresh air to be in a real theatre. This show has my friend Mark who I know from Co-ed Prison Sluts way back in the late 90s. The show started with the comedy duo once again greeting the audience. I might add it also ended with them walking out of the theatre without a curtain call similar to the last show we just saw. It occured to me then that in order to break the conventions of theatre you can almost fall into a backwards trap of repeating the same anti-conventions. Still I thought this show was more successful at being reactionary theatre. It was a more positive experience for me. At one point we were invited up on stage to have some tea and tarts. I was really hungry at this point and I enjoyed watching their anti-improv from the viewpoint of the stage and watching the faces of the mostly flabbergasted audience. Both shows also had some interesting and unconventional lighting, but this one was actually entertaining.
The wierdness of the afternoon left me exhausted and I fell into a deep sleep wondering if the whole festival had just been a strange dream.
Part Two of Sean’s SHOW STOPPING NUMBER! Fringe blog
Sunday, July 15, 2007