Saturday, February 1, 2014

Stiff as a Board

Okay, it’s after midnight, so it’s officially Day Two of this blogging attempt.

I’m currently watching Bill Murray shaving on David Letterman’s show. I used to love Bill Murray. He was a clever, offbeat, and funny actor. Then, about 1998, he retired. Oh, he’s still making movies; he’s just sleepwalking his way through them, more or less defining “coasting on his reputation.” (His biggest rival in this regard is probably Steve Martin, who’s relied on accumulated good will since about the same time. For that matter, Dave’s been coasting for quite a while, too.)

Murray baffles me. I’m inclined to like him, but his choices – such as his delight in working with the annoying Wes Anderson – consistently turn me off. Film acting is always described as being minimal, but Murray takes minimalism to new depths. He consistently puts the least possible effort into his appearances (I nearly called it “work,” but that would be an extreme misnomer.) He remains the star of the only movie I’ve ever shouted at to “be interesting!” before shutting it off in disgust. (I’ve walked out on only one movie – and that was one I was in, Once I’m there, I’m in to the bitter end, be it “Being John Malkovich,” “The Big Lebowski,” or “Rachel Getting Married,” which are the most awful movies I can remember seeing.) Even when he puts some effort into an appearance, such as tonight, when he dressed as Peter Pan and was flown in, then shaved his beard on camera, until it became so tedious that Dave – who thinks nothing of playing, for minutes at a time, a tape loop of a guy hammering a tin pan – went to commercial.

I’m not here to shit on Murray, though. He is what he is, and the topic is just what came to mind. My intention was to comment on tonight’s performance of “The Speakeasy.” I’ve mentioned on the Facebook that that’s my current show, and I’ve never done anything like it. It’s an environmental, site-specific piece designed to give the audience the approximate experience of going to a speakeasy in 1923, despite the obvious anachronisms such as some of the music choices, dialogue – and the audience themselves, some of whom come dressed in period costume, and some of whom don’t. There’s nothing like seeing a flapper with a mostly-shaven head and tattoos.

We’ve been performing for three or four weeks now, and no two performances have been the same. We do the same scenes in the same order every performance, but the reaction varies wildly, usually depending on the state of inebriation the audience has reached. (Night after night, I’m amazed by the amounts of alcohol these people can put away; it’s oceans.) Tonight, though, was unique. The space is divided into a number of areas. I spend most of the evening sitting at the bar, and watch the audience come in and populate the bar, usually talking quietly among themselves and drinking until the show starts. Once the lights dim, the bar is pretty full, with standing room only. Tonight, though, the bar seemed pretty empty. I figured the bulk of them were just in another part of the building, but as the evening went on, the emptiness continued. At one point, there were literally only four or five patrons in the bar; the cast outnumbered them. This is a problem only in that the show is built to have a lot of interaction with the audience; they can follow individual characters, eavesdrop on conversations, or even get talked to. So we were faced with a variation on the old riddle: if actors perform and no one is there to listen, do they make a noise?

Fortunately, people started to drift in and things went on (more or less) as normal, but all night, it seemed we were performing for a crowd that wasn’t there, even though the show was (as usual) sold out. It wasn’t a bad performance by any means. For the most part, things went as they always do (on our end, that is). It was just weird that it seemed like no one was there to see it.

A small crowd that seemed to require little performing? Seemed a perfect venue for Bill Murray.

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