Category Archives: Acting

About An Unpleasantness at Lonesome Gulch

I didn’t blog a word about this one. I just got caught up in what was going on, and by the time I recovered, it had been over for a couple of weeks. And unless you’re connected to me via Facebook, you had no idea what was going on.

So here’s what went down. I wrote another VBS play between January and May of this year, directed it between June and July, and ended up taking a part when I ran out of actors and performed in it during the first week of August.

And it, namely a wild-west themed production called An Unpleasantness At Lonesome Gulch, was worlds better than my first VBS show, The Terrible Misfortune.

Not that Misfortune was bad. It was a hoot and people loved it. But when I wrote it, I just put it together, trying to put little Biblical lessons in each episode that hopefully the teachers could use as object lessons. Not to mention that our associate minister built a pirate ship out of a haywagon that included masts and rigging and a working wheel and rudder. Lots of things for the extras to do when the main characters were busy onstage.

But I was determined to do things righter with Lonesome Gulch. We had a VBS planning meeting in either late December or early January, can’t recall which, and I told the crew my master plan. I wanted to write a VBS play that would directly mesh with the lessons being taught so the teachers could use it to draw a direct parallel from the play to the Bible lesson if they wanted. All I knew was that I was going with a wild west theme for the play, and I needed the overall theme and the daily lessons.

They rewarded me with those very things at the meeting, and while it was a challenge to fit The Creation, Jesus’ Ministry and Miracles, The Crucifixion, and The Resurrection into an Old West town, I think I pulled it off. And some of the actors were thrilled to find out that there was more to their parts than simply The Good Guy or The Doctor. For example, The Mayor of the town represented the Pharisees – devoted to the law but wanting to put his own spin on things. The Bad Guy represented the Roman Empire, and the slimy sidekick who kept whispering bad ideas into his ear was none other than Satan. The Doctor represented non-believers, and the guy in the white hat was you-know-who, the son of the man who built the town. And the guy named Pete was… well, you can probably figure that one out.

Like any production, it had its ups and downs, but in the end it all came together much like Geoffrey Rush’s character in Shakespeare In Love said it would. “It’s a mystery!” It’s the magic of theater, that’s what it is.

Directing these plays the last three years (we did “The Terrible Misfortune” two years) has really put a bug in my ear to direct something at the local community theater. I really enjoy doing it, moreso than acting, I think. And in my last role, as Bob Ewell in To Kill A Mockingbird, I gave a performance that I don’t think can be topped. At this point, I’m not sure I want to even try. But we’ll see what the next season brings… and there is the prospect of being in a Shakespeare play at some point in the future, something I have long wanted to do.

So I’m slowly looking at scripts to see if there’s something I’d like to direct. Probably a farce, since both VBS shows bordered on farce. I’ve also flirted with the idea of writing my own farce. Yeah, I did try to write a Christmas show, and it turned out so bad that I have it under lock and key until I can operate on it and make it better. There’s less decorum in a farce, and it is a lot more forgiving since the audience applies extra dollops of Suspension of Disbelief to the nonsensical goings-on. I don’t know I’ll actually do it… but it could be loads of fun. Hey, maybe I should do a Shakespears play…

Anyway, the immediate plan is for me to whip the two existing VBS shows into shape, put them into book form, and make them available through Lulu.com to other congregations looking for an unusual show without having to buy the same package everyone else in town is using. Following that, it’ll be time to start working on the 2009 production, which is going to have an outer space theme with the working title “The Incredible Adventure of the Frozen Man.” Yeah, I’m starting earlier this year.

And in between that and the launch of something else coming up soon, maybe I will have the time to start moving ahead on directing a play at the local community theater. We’ll see.

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Stage Persona Non Grata, or, Can I Find the Real Me?

One of my duties, so to speak, with Random Acts of Music is The Henry and Joe, a talk show starring Henry J and myself, done for his internet radio station, Random Acts of Radio. In this show, we roll tape (well, actually, spin hard drive) and talk off the top of our heads for around thirty minutes. Sometimes we even stay on the music-related topic that I introduce.

The most recent show we taped, #13, was about the seeming inability of American acts to write fun, upbeat songs. And somehow or another, while discussing this subject, we got onto the subject of stage names and the personae that go with them. Henry said he liked my stage name, Mr. Faust, and wondered aloud what kind of stage persona I was going to have.

I thought, good question. I thought I was just going to be me.

Then I realized something that might be the key to this near-paralyzing stagefright I’ve been dealing with when I get up to play.

I’ve been thinking what an odd anomaly it is. After all, I’ve gotten up to speak in front of churches, civic clubs, classrooms, and skeptical clients and held forth on a number of topics. Sometimes I’ve had notes, other times not. Especially when I talk about writing. I just turn on my mouth and go. And though I have butterflies before hand, they leave when I get up and start speaking.

Ditto when I lead singing at church. Some butterflies, but nothing that doesn’t leave when the job starts.

And ditto ditto when I’m on stage in a community theater production. The worst jitters I get are opening night, and while I might be jumpy before going on for a big scene even on closing night, I always manage to go out and mostly get the job done.

So why the case of shakes that gets so bad that I can hardly strum?

I think Henry inadvertently hit on something when he asked me what my stage persona is.

I don’t have one.

See, in all of the other situations, I know who I am or what my mission is. I’m Joe Faust, an Elder in the Church, giving a lesson or leading the congregation in worship. I’m Joe Clifford Faust, author, spewing out information about writing. Or I’m somebody else – Norman Bulansky or Victor Velasco or Bob Ewell, and my job is to make the audience cry or laugh or hiss.

But when I’m out there with my guitar, well… in the words of the Firesign Theater, Who am us, anyway?.

I guess it’s just me. Joe. With a guitar.

I’m not sure I’ve ever done that before. At Church I have a goal in mind, and in every other situation I am technically somebody else. No wonder I’m scared. I don’t know how to be just me in a situation like that.

So I need to be somebody else. I need a stage persona.

That shouldn’t be so hard. Look at Johnny Cash – the Man in Black. Look at both David Bowie and Madonna, both of whom went through stage personae like they were tissues (facial or bathroom, take your pick). Ever seen David Byrne in Stop Making Sense and then seen an interview with him? In the former he commands the stage, in the latter he’s jittery and awkward, and doesn’t make eye contact with the interviewer.

The odd thing is, I might have been subconsciously reaching for something like this but couldn’t quite put my finger on it. And it might have even started with everything I went through trying to pick out a stage name.

However, I’ve had other things trickle through my mind over the last several months. I went through a period where I thought about getting a hat to wear on stage. I have a ton of baseball caps – I thought about wearing a different one every time I play. But that idea didn’t click for me (although I do wear them a lot – maybe wearing one would be too much me on stage). But I couldn’t find anything else I liked that wasn’t stupid (Pith Helmets) or that weren’t being used by others with great success (Berets and Fedoras and Pork Pies).

I thought about clothing, but I’m not exactly a clothes horse or someone with an extensive wardrobe. About the only thing I could do would be wear all gray – I gravitate toward that color. But that would kill my wife, who (no doubt, correctly) thinks I look better in other colors.

Quite by accident, I realized that every time I have played Muggswigz, I have appeared with a different guitar. No. That could get ridiculously expensive, and I’d never get it past the aforementioned wife.

After the incident taping The Santa Song, I theorized that wearing sunglasses might obstruct my view of the audience and make me less fearful. But that’s kind of silly, too, I think (and again my wife would complain because I’d be covering up what she calls my expressive eyes).

(It occurs to me that if I got a divorce, I could become this grey-wearing, fedora-topped guy in sunglasses playing all the coffeehouses – but I’d no doubt be miserable as a result – the classic tortured artist, I suppose. On the other hand, maybe that’s the problem. I’m basically a happy guy. Maybe I’m not tortured enough. Perhaps my wife and I could start shooting heroin together like the Cobains.)

Probably the best thing I could do is just keep playing in front of people and learn how to be myself in the process. I’m not sure I like that idea. I’ve gotten rather used to the idea of being someone else in situations like that. And I had no idea how prevalent that has been in my life until now. I am thinking of the personality change I underwent when I ended up getting married to a gregarious girl from Ohio. I went from being outgoing to much more the quiet observer. I explain it this way: when our personalities started to click, I let my wife be outgoing for me because I realized that inside of me was an introvert who was just dying to stay in.

And now that introvert is supposed to get up on a stage with a guitar and be himself while playing songs for people. Especially since I’m not sure who the real me is.

Heh, yeah. That makes sense.

About as much sense as leading worship service. Or being in plays.

Well, they say that introverts have a switch they flip to be able to do things like this. I obviously have one for Church Leader, Actor, and Guest Speaker. I just need to find the one for Singer Songwriter and learn how to trip it.

It’s got to be there somewhere.

And if I can’t find it? Then I’m going to write a letter to David Bowie and see if he has any unused personae laying around.

Gigs

No, I haven’t exactly been busy. With the holidays coming, the calendar has filled up quickly with the usual suspects, and some that were more unusual. And some of the more unusual things were three recent gigs I had, all playing but not necessarily paying. They looked something like this…

Gig #1: The Ladies’ Retreat. Okay, this is not something I normally would have gone to. It was a Ladies’ Retreat held by and for Church of Christ members in the area/region. One of the highlights of this year’s retreat was a Talent Show. And my wife and one of her sisters were railroaded asked nicely to perform Irving Berlin’s “Sisters,” as made famous in the film White Christmas. My mother-in-law has wanted to see two or more of her daughters perform this piece for years, and it was thought that this would be as good a time as any.

Always willing to help, I offered to find them the lyrics online. And then, in an uncharacteristic bit of generosity1, I said, “If you want, maybe I could find guitar chords, and if I could figure out how to play it, I could accompany you.”

Well, my wife and her youngest sister said yes, and it just so happened that I found both lyrics and chords online. There were tons of chords in the song, but I figured out that if I just went with the first chord in each measure, the thing would work. And for the most part, it did.

So after a couple of practices, I showed up at the Ladies’ Retreat in time for the talent show, went in, did my thing as a hired gun, and then left. Only messed up once, but the cuteness factor of the two sisters singing was high, and nobody, not even the two vocalists, noticed. Good thing I wasn’t working for Buddy Rich.

Gig #2: Random Acts of Music. Back when I became a producer or director or whatever the heck my title is for Random Acts of Music, the first thing I did was to start shooting our guests performing original Christmas songs for a Christmas show that would air, well, around this time of year.

In the ensuing months, we’ve accumulated quite a few, but not quite enough for a full show. So partner Henry J did one of his, and I was railroaded asked nicely to perform my piece, The Santa Claus Song.

Fortunately, I knew this was coming, so I practiced the song up. For the longest time I couldn’t seem to get it right – I wanted to play it too fast, I think – so I got the idea of playing it with a metronome set at a deliberately slow pace. That did the trick.

So Friday night I put on a Christmas sweater and taped the song. The good news is I had all the chords and the words right, and the singing lessons my wife has been giving me paid off, because my voice was right there. I was okay in front of the mike because I’d practiced in front of my own mike at home. I was okay watching the camera because I kept in mind I’d have to look into it and follow it, too.

Unfortunately, I still got my usual stagefright. It about paralyzed my strumming hand. Made all the muscles Jell-o. So, after a couple of false starts, I managed to improvise enough to get through the song. As a result of this, I think I also had a deer-in-the-headlights look except when I had pre-planned facial expressions during the song.

Now the folks there for the taping thought it sounded fine. I think that’s the usual case of me knowing where all the strumming mistakes were and them not. Either that, or they were just being kind. But I told them not to use it if it was bad.

Whatever. If you’re in Northeast Ohio and have Time Warner Cable, the show will probably appear in it’s usual slot sometime next week and run through Christmas. If you’re not in Northeast Ohio, the song will be posted on YouTube and MySpace around the time the Christmas show airs. Just do a search for “Random Acts of Music” and you’ll eventually find it.

Just make sure to wait an hour after you’ve eaten before viewing.

Gig #3: The Actual Santa Claus. Okay, this wasn’t a play as in playing music gig. It was playing as in pretending. Sunday my wife and I did our annual turn as Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus for a local landmark. I think this is the sixth or seventh year we have done this.

Attendance was down as it was cold and rainy – more adults, not as many kids. The big requests this year were for The Littlest Pet Shop toys and the Nintendo DS system. Among adults, the big requests this year were for the Wii (Santa: “Are you kidding? I can’t even get one this year!”) and world peace (Santa: “Sorry, that’s not my department. You have to talk to my boss about that one.”).

Sometime during the day I got an offer to do an extra Santa appearance next year – but I’m not really sure I want to do it. Yeah, there’ll be money involved (my wife and I do the regular gig as volunteers because we were railroaded asked nicely to do it as a fill-in some years ago and they kept asking us to come back).

But money isn’t really everything (although I suppose it could depend on how much is involved). I like the idea of only doing it for four hours a year. I like the idea of exclusivity, that the Real Santa (or so many kids say) is at this one exclusive location and all the others are just helpers. With that in mind, the idea of doing it for money just seems wrong.

Plus, if I started doing that, where would it all stop? How many other paying gigs would come up? When would I have to start saying “No?” And most importantly, how many hours a year would get racked up before it became just another job instead of a lovely little one-off that helped get me in the holiday spirit? When would I stop showing up as Santa and start showing up as Ebineezer Scrooge?

Well, I’ve eleven months or so to think about it. In the meantime, it’s been a busy holiday season already. I wonder what other adventures like ahead that I will be railroaded asked nicely to participate in.

  1. It’s strange, but I’ve been exhibiting other moments of uncharacteristic generosity lately. Some church friends asked if their teenaged son could borrow my acoustic guitar for a month or so – he was interested in taking lessons, and they wanted to see if he would stick with it before plunking down a couple of hundred for a decent started guitar. And I said yes without blinking. What is happening to me? Am I becoming human at long last? No, I think that’s not phrased right. Am I transcending my own humanity at last?

I’m Ready For My Close-Up, Mr. DeMille Konczak

I guess you could say this is my latest acting gig. The cable show I moonlight with needed a promo to run on some of the other cable stations, and this is what Henry J and I came up with. Since Henry J is the host, it fell to me to play the part of Blind Melon Faust, an incompetent blues singer. This spot is intended to be the first in a series of spots covering the adventures of the hard-luck musician.

The irony is that I was never in this to be a star. I’m perfectly okay working behind the scenes for the show. But when you work in a small crew, you have to step up and wear the dark glasses when your name is called.

Me, as a pretty unpleasant fellow

JCF as Bob Ewell in "To Kill a Mockingbird"

We opened To Kill A Mockingbird this weekend to two consecutive standing ovations. I would have played the picket fence in this show, but I’m elated to have the part of Bob Ewell. We have three more shows next week – Saturday is already sold out.

I Got Some Catching Up To Do

The sun is out and The Darkest Month has about melted away. I’ve had a couple of passing urges to pick up a pen, but couldn’t seem to decide, or perhaps was unwilling to contemplate, which set of words I should direct to come out of the other end.

Since it has been a while since I have arranged electrons for display, I suppose I should catch you up on what has been happening. I’ve been busy, but that is with the everyday kind of stuff. Nothing earthshatteringly creative or anything like that.

Here’s some notes on what I’ve been up to, and some other random postings:

I Visited St. Paul in the Dead of Winter
My son posted and won a job inside the Large Corporate Giant he works for. It entails a raise, a promotion, and a move to what is probably the next state that Sufjan Stevens will write an album about: Minnesota. Specifically, St. Paul.

My father-in-law and I loaded up most of his earthly belongings and drove him up there during The Darkest Month. As it turns out, the time we chose had a special relationship with three massive storms that hit the state in general and the city in particular – we missed the first one by a day or so; we drove into the second one (and nearly got marooned in Madison, WI), and we left STP just hours before the third one hit and outran the sucker coming back to Ohio.

Not much time for a lot of tourism, but we did swing by the Mall of America just to say we’d been there. The next trip out will be the More Fun, I hope.

When I Say I Died Onstage, I Really Mean It
I auditioned for and was cast in the local community theater production of To Kill A Mockingbird. While I told the director I’d play the picket fence just to be in the show, I snagged a juicy role – Bob Ewell, the drunk, racist, child beating-and-molesting villain of the piece.

Given that I’ve played Nazis (The Sound of Music and The Diary of Anne Frank) and an anti-semitic tool of the Tsar (Fiddler on the Roof), I guess this was just the next step up – or down – for me.

And for the first time I get to actually lie dead onstage.

I’ll try and remember to post the details on the Appearances page.

The Rock Hall Restrospective on The Clash Had Nothing To Do With It

I bought a Fender Telecaster. It’s a basic Standard Telecaster, MIM (Made In Mexico) with a black finish, just filled with twangy single coil goodness. I stole bought it from a friend at church who had it as a backup but didn’t really need it.

I also did see the exhibit on The Clash at the Rock Hall, and yeah, Joe Strummer was a dedicated Telecaster player. I wanted one before, though (and I think the purchase was made before – I don’t remember now).

R.I.P.B.C.
I need to make note that Johnny Hart, creator of the comic strip B.C., passed away over the weekend. I always knew about the strip in the paper, but didn’t develop an appreciation for it until I went through some of my brother’s paperback B.C. strip collections, and for years I was hooked. During its heyday, the caveman strip was the focal point for edgy, subversive humor within the realm of the daily funnies, and it was a definite influence on me during my Cartoonist Wannabe stage.

I drifted away from the comics page entirely over the years, and when I came back in time for The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes, I thought B.C. had lost some its edge (as had Peanuts). When Hart underwent a religious conversion, he carried it over to his strip. Not everyone appreciated it, but I for one especially looked forward to see what he would do for his Easter Sunday strip.

It’s rumored that the strip will continue, making use of scanned and recycled images from Hart’s own catalog of work, with outside writers. I hope that’s not the case. Nor would I like to see it recycled, rerunning old strips as is happening with Peanuts and Lil Abner. I don’t think that’s appropriate, either, and I wish the estates of Schultz and Capp felt the same way.

Were it up to me, I would just let these strip go, let them rest, and let Hart and the others be remembered for their best work – and let it be collected into book form.

By the way, Hart died at his drafting table.

NP – Pat Metheny Group, “Across The Heartland” (American Garage

What I Did Last Sunday Afternoon

If you’ve seen the picture at the top of the page, you might have a guess. But that’s more than just a festive decoration. That’s me.

For the last six years, my wife and I do a one-afternoon-only turn as Santa and Mrs. Claus for a local museum of sorts. We don’t get paid, although they do rent the costumes for us, and we usually get to take home some of the leftover cookies that they’ve baked on the premises that day.

After doing it so many years, my wife and I have a great system worked out for surprising the kids, She greets them and gets their names while I pretend I’m doing something else. Then she says, “I’ll bet Santa remembers you,” at which time I greet them by the names I’ve gotten seconds earlier – and, not seeing the trick, they’re floored.

My wife and I play off of each other very well, and it’s a matter of pride that some parents have told the powers-that-be at the museum that they had the best Santa they’d ever seen. The great thing is when a kid is overheard saying, “That’s the real Santa Claus!”

It’s also fun to torment some of the older kids who are at the age where they are “too cool for Santa” by hugging them. And on the other side of that age, some late teens and even adults like to come sit next to me on the bench and pretend for a couple of minutes that it’s all real.

I’ve also had to pick up some tricks over the years. Like telling kids that I need parental permission before delivering a live animal. And that, sorry, as much as I’d like to be, someone else is in charge of Peace on Earth. Fortunately, I didn’t get any requests for the Browns to go to the Superbowl this year.

Then there are the kids. I don’t consider myself a kid person at all – I liked mine, and with a few exceptions, can do without most, but this day is an exception. That’s because you never know what the day will bring. I sometimes get handwritten lists or pictures brought in (Mrs. Claus discreetly tries to slip those back to the parents if they want them). Sometimes I get hugs. There are the requisite number of frightened kids (hint: if your child is scared, it’s okay – try again next year – don’t do what one set of parents did and held the line up while waiting for the terrified, squirming toddler they’d plopped into my lap to quit moving long enough for a photo). This year a girl asked if my beard was real. I said, “You want to pull it and find out?” That was good enough for her, but if she’d taken me up on it, I was going to give her a hearty “Ouch!”

Sometimes there are things you don’t expect. One year an autistic boy was freaked out by my painted-on white eyebrows. This year a girl asked for an electric scooter for her friend who has cancer.

I think the reason I like doing it so much is that it’s only one afternoon a year. Any more, and it would be too much like a job. And it’s funny – it seems like the last couple of years I’ve been rather Scrooge-ish heading in to do it, but by the time I’m done, I’m glad that I went through with it. It used to take me until about a week before Christmas for the holiday spirit to hit, but this is a nice jump start. I think my family appreciates me being into the holiday earlier than it used to be.

Meantime, I should be finishing the second draft of A Father Christmas this week – reading party to come soon after that, I hope. What a great time to be finishing a play about Christmas.

Listening:
Remember when we were hand in hand
Remember we sealed it with a golden band
Now your eyes don’t meet mine, you’ve got a pulse like fever
Do I take you for a lover or just a deceiver?

(via iTunes shuffle play)

(Thanks to Brad R. for the photo!)