Tuesday, December 11, 2007

30 Minute Man

I don't know what to do with my evenings anymore.

Well, that's not really true. I've got a steamer trunk full of half-finished scripts, short stories, oh, and yeah, that novel of mine that I started before the Internet came into our lives.

Still, I feel a gap in my life.

I did my 30-minute solo performance last night and I managed somehow to survive.

This was the culmination of the Solo Performer 2 class that I took at the People's Improv Theater, better known as the Pit.

Even though I signed up for the class, I was telling myself that there was no way in hell I could stand up before an audience--by myself--and flap my gums for half-a-freaking hour.

And yet...I did. And it went pretty damn well, if I do say so myself.

I was the second feature of the night and while my colleague, Mary, did her act, I sat backstage in an old barber chair like Albert Anastasia waiting to get whacked at the Park Sheraton Hotel.

My solo show is called "Breathe With Me," something my mother used to say when she was struggling with lung disease.

I couldn't believe how quickly Mary's show seemed to go by and suddenly she was coming backstage and giving me the thumbs up.

I had chosen to open the show with a song, "What's So Good About Goodbye," by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles. As I walked out into near total darkness, I heard the opening notes on the song and Smokey's fabulous voice.

"What's so good about goodbye,
All it does is make-a you cry

And then the lights came up...

Grunt Work

I rehearsed this show every day, usually while I cleaned up after supper and made my lunch for the next day. I recited it when I rode the trains at night, mumbling under my breath, and fitting right in with the rest of the subway loons.

This is the only way to get the thing to work. Once you memorize it, once you know it backwards and forwards, then you can get creative with the piece.

I actually frightened my sister when she came over on Sunday, as she approached the house just when I was shouting the F-bomb at the top of my voice.

It was part of the show--honest.

I reminded myself that people were coming out to see me at an odd hour--Monday at 9:30 p.m., hardly a slamming spot--so that I would have to give it every thing I had.

Like they say in my gym's boxing class, "don't leave anything behind."

I also told myself that I was telling my story, no one else's, so I couldn't very well forget something like that.

Naturally my health failed my as we got closer to the date. On Friday I was feeling crappy; I had an upset stomach, I felt fatigued, nothing terribly serious but just enough to distract me.

I met a woman coming home on the subway Sunday night who told me she was a performer who was once part of a group called "Witches in Bikinis." We rode into Brooklyn together and she got off at one of the Park Slope stops.

"Break a leg," she said to me--for real.

On Monday morning I was a wreck. I was cursing and fuming and even though I promised myself that I'd get to work early, I couldn't seem to get out of the house. I couldn't find my shoes, I had to fill the cat dishes, and I still felt awful.

After work I went to my gym and took a nice long sauna, so I could sweat out the poisons, both physical and emotional. As I was getting dressed in the locker room, I saw that my undershirt was stained.

It was barely noticeable and I'd be wearing a shirt over it anyway, but I couldn't bear the thought of this thing on my body.

The audience wouldn't know, but I sure as hell would. So, swoosh! right into the trash bin. Bad karma be gone.

I wandered around Herald Square for a while before show time, walking in and out of Old Navy, Foot Locker and then over to the Manhattan Mall. I started to fell like a vagrant so I hiked down to the Pit.

I was way early, of course, so I sat in the sub-arctic air of the Pit's waiting area wondering if there was so way to get out of this. I was feeling a little better physically, but my nerves were getting to me.

I saw a sign in the restroom asking people not to throw paper towels in the toilet because "our plumbing is old and disagreeable."

"So am I," I muttered as I dried off my hands.

Bugging Out

Mary showed up with her husband and we did our best to comfort each other even though we were both ready to climb out the window and run screaming down Broadway.

There was a very noisy show going on before us, filled with loud voices and plenty of whoops and whistles.

As Mary was speaking to me, I saw something out of the corner of my eye moving along the wall. It was a roach and I picked a magazine from a nearby table and brushed him off the wall.

I guess I didn't feel like committing bug-icide before my show. It could be more bad karma.

"I'm listening," I told Mary as I knocked the little critter off the wall.

But he was a determined bastard, and about a minute later, there he was, back on the wall, the Little Cockroach that Could.

"Son-a-bitch!" I knocked him away again. "I give you a break and you come back for more?"

The earlier show ended and we weht in. The tech woman arrived and we set up the lights and the music. Some clown from the earlier show was backstage with his groupies and he was apparently holding some kind of improv class--bull session--mental masturbation sing-along.

What he was doing he hogging our freaking space. But, I didn't want any negative ions in the air so I kept my mouth shut. Hell, I let a roach live, didn't I?

There was about a dozen of these bums, too, which also gave me pause.

They finally left and Mary and I had the place to ourselves, until the audience showed up.

Lights...Lights...And More Lights

As I took my place on stage, I couldn't see a damn thing. The theater lights just about blinded me--something I noticed the last time I performed--and I really like that.

I could be back in my kitchen rehearsing instead of doing my piece for real. I couldn't see anyone, so I felt free to walk around, to wave my arms, and shout.

I'd never done anything like this before and I was loving it. I think the piece needs a little bit of editing and I could probably slow down, but I still had a great time.

That's the beauty of a solo piece--it really is all about you.

I wasn't somebody's best friend, a hanger-on, I wasn't in the darkness, I wasn't in someone else's shadow as one scumbag "friend" said to me back in high school. (You can see I've gotten over it, right?)

I came to the end of my piece and Smokey came back on. I've always wanted to use that song in a show and this seemed to be the best time.

I was going to go with Taps because of my father's military background, or a big band number from my parents' generation, but I settled on Motown because that's my time. And the words are telling.

What am I going to do now? Hell, if I know. My bud Hank is encouraging me to turn the story into a script and my classmates say I've got a novel in there. Either way the material is great and it's real.

I know, I was there.

So now I've got to find something other than rehearsals to fill my nights. I can finish that novel I've working on for the last 45 years, send out my short story and get my script together.

Whatever I do, it'll be the only thing I work on, and I'm going to keep working on it until I get it done. All by myself.

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