Sunday, June 1, 2014

jackDawe, June 1, 2014

the moment
by TJ Dawe

I just debuted my new monologue Marathon at the Orlando Fringe. I took a somewhat different approach with it. 

Usually, I script my shows down to the comma. I do endless rewrites and tweaks until it seems there’s nothing I could possibly change. Then I memorize it precisely - adjusting as I go, because some things sound right in your head but don’t quite work out loud. 

This is my foundation as I unveil my new string of words to the public. The inner alarm honks - Alert! Abort! It’s a piece of shit! And so am I! Run! - and I’ve established strong enough neural pathways from incessant memorizing that I open my mouth and the words come out. 

I didn’t do that this year. I wrote an outline for each monologue. I knew what points I had to make and which stories I’d tell, and in what order. I knew how each would begin and end. But the actual wording... I let that come to me in the moment. 

Two people inspired this.

1) Mike Daisey. I saw him do an eighty minute monologue at the Victoria UNO Festival in 2011 called All Stories Are Fiction, consisting of autobiographical tales he’d never told on stage and would never tell again. He put the set list together an hour before curtain. He told these stories with ease and precision. Never said umm. Never drank from his glass of water. I never saw him even glance at his notes. And the show was fucking solid. Within it he described how he’d trained himself to do exactly this in a succession of Monday nights at the Public Theatre in New York, for years. It’s a muscle he’d built.

He actually creates all of his shows this way. No script, just an outline. 

Last Fall he performed a new full-length monologue every night for a cycle of the moon and released them as free podcasts. It’s a continuous story, much of it third-person narration about an array of characters. And it’s rife with in-the-moment tangents about Daisey’s childhood in Maine, and the emergence of his extemporaneous speaking abilities as a DandD Dungeon Master and on his high school debating team. No script in either case. And you’d better pay attention to your audience, and adjust as you go. 

2) Russ Hudson - one of the leading experts on the Enneagram - a personality type system. He’s a Five - the Investigator. Fives identify with their intelligence. They cultivate an expertise on a subject that fascinates them. They’re quiet, secretive, intense, and prefer to observe life and theorize about it rather than participate.

Hudson leads workshops in the US, Canada, South Africa, Korea, the Netherlands, Japan, Egypt, you name it. I’m a student of his. I’ve seen him speak numerous times. He never has notes. He never fumbles. He’s always fascinating. He never fails to be responsive to the audience.  

He told me he never has any idea what he was going to say before he gives a talk. He trusts that the words will come. Feel out the audience. Be with them. See them. And go. 

The Enneagram looms largely in Marathon, and a major theme is my Social Blind Spot - an illusory belief that I’m not welcome in social situations, that I have nothing to contribute, and that I’m not proficient at reading social cues. 

And I debuted the thing, terrified that it’d come off as sloppy.

Given this core hole in my personality, it might seem odd that I write and perform autobiographical monologues and perform them at fringe festivals. But I’ve developed defence mechanisms. One is meticulously writing and memorizing my script. It’s my shield. I say the words I’ve crafted, regardless of the audience’s response. 

That’s an exaggeration. I respond as much as I can. I pause for laughs. I acknowledge a sneeze or a ringing phone. And at a certain point (twenty-five performances or so) I relax enough to get loose with the material. Sometimes verbal embellishments come out of my mouth and surprise me as much as the audience. Many of these stay. And I build on them. 

So I undid some of my armour for this show. I left the whole script loose. I rehearsed as much as I could, letting the words come out however they wanted. 

And I debuted the thing, terrified that it’d come off as sloppy. 

It didn’t. The feedback I got was that the show seemed more natural than my previous stuff. 

And it felt better. I looked forward to seeing how a given bit would come out on a given night. I couldn’t wait to do it again. 

I’ve got one performance of it in Montreal (June 4th), and then it goes to bed until the Edmonton Fringe. And I’ll miss it terribly. 

Once I’ve gotten 25 or 30 more performances of it under my belt I’ll probably feel that much more in command of the material than I do now. But I’m damn pleased with how it started. This infant of mine came out of the womb with running shoes on. He’s laughing, and playing, and happy to be with others. 

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