One week out, then one week more

WLM - Living RoomOne of my favorite performances last year, in the lead up to going to Edinburgh with ‘Wretch Like Me,’ was performing the play in the living room of Blair Hardman. It was a special fundraising event, and it was intimate, up-close, a little bit intimidating—and loads of fun. I’ve been carrying that energy with me over the last few weeks of rehearsing ‘Wretch Like Me’ (in preparation for six shows in September), as I have been rehearsing . . . in my own living room.

Got one more rehearsal tomorrow, with stage manager Robin DeLuca, and with some luck, maybe one more in the coming week with director Sheri Lee Miller.

Then, on Saturday and Sunday, September 5 and 6, I’m performing at Lucky Penny Community Arts Center  in Napa. One evening show and one matinee, will be a great time to bring the show back to Napa (we did a few small shows there last year), and will effectively work to get the show super-warmed-and-ready for my San Francisco Fringe Festival debut on September 13, the first of four shows at Exit Stage Left on Eddy St., in SF.

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Guesses, expectations and surprises

After over six years of performing ‘Wretch Like Me’ in theaters, living rooms, churches, and classrooms, I have recognized certain patterns in my audiences. The show itself tends to come in waves, like the waters of Corona Del Mar where my third baptism took place: waves of laughter, then waves of emotions, then waves of incredulity, then more laughter, and perhaps a wave or two of years.

The responses I get from audience members after the show also show certain patterns.

From those who have experienced similar things to those I describe in the show—the weirdness of certain hyper-intense, restrictive expressions of faith and the search for meaning—’Wretch’ has been described as funny, sad, nostalgic, and deeply moving.

From those who’ve had no real experience with faith or Christianity, or were raised in a different faith tradition altogether, I have heard that the show was eye-opening and revealing. One life-long atheist who’d always said that he felt faith was unfathomable, actually told me that my show helped him at last to see why someone would join the kind of fundamentalist group my show makes gentle fun of.

And from those who count themselves as believers, the primary response I’ve gotten is surprise . . .  surprise that a show they came to expecting to be a mean-spirited and judgmental and anti-religion is actually very loving, affectionate, and heartfelt.

That was a goal from the very beginning. There are plenty of shows that attack religion, or make cruel sport of believers. ‘Wretch Like Me’ was always intended to be, above all else, a personal story, a private recollection of how faith turned my life around, and how I eventually found the strength to say no to those whose interpretations of the Bible and the words of Jesus seemed the opposite of what the kind, openhearted teacher from Galilee was always saying.

Not to get too corny about it, but ‘Wretch Like Me’—and this is what surprises people, open their eyes, and fills them with conflicted but potent nostalgia—is a show about love. It’s about the search for love, and how I learned, eventually, not to seek it from too far outside myself. And it is a show in which the people I describe are brought to the stage with a sense of the love I’ve always held for them.

Finally, a good half of the people who talk to me tell me they were surprised at how funny the show was, while the other half tell me they were surprised at how moved they were.

I hope that anyone who stumbles upon this blog and is considering seeing ‘Wretch Like Me’ but is afraid they would be offended or upset in any way, will take a chance and come see it with open eyes.

I promise it will be a very different experience than you expect it to be.

‘Wretch Like Me’ runs Saturday and Sunday, September 5 & 6,
at Lucky Penny Community Arts Center,
1758 Industrial Way., Suite 208, Napa
www.luckypennynapa.com

Then is runs

Sunday, September 13, 4:00 p.m.
Friday, September 18, 7:00 p.m.
Sunday, September 20, 5:30 p.m.
Thursday, September 24, 7:00 p.m.

EXIT Theatre, 156 Eddy St. San Francisco
www.sffringe.org

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Spinning a Website

The primary website for Wretch Like Me (www.wretch-like-me.org) has been through a number of changes over the last few weeks, the first updates given to the site in over a year. The most significant change, other than the new dates of upcoming performances, is the new video box on the home page. The video it links to is an adapted version of the ‘Wretch’ Indiegogo “pitch” video. Basically . . . I cut out the pitch part, and left all of the stuff that tells my story and my inspirations to create ‘Wretch Like Me.’

The new version includes new music, and a rearranged  ending.

With the website prominently listed on all of the postcards and posters for the Fringe run of ‘Wretch,’ the video and other items on the site will be the first impression people have of ‘Wretch Like Me.’

You can help by telling people about the site, and maybe linking to it on your Facebook page.

The Fringe runs September 11-26. The first ‘Wretch’ date is Sunday, Sept. 13 at 4:00.

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A few words on memorization and ‘Wretch Like Me’

photo 1Last night, I ordered a veggie pizza. shoved the coffee table out of the living room, dragged a stool and a chair over near the fireplace, and waited for Team Wretch’s stage manager Robin DeLuca to arrive and kick off a fresh bout of rehearsals of ‘Wretch Like Me!’

With the San Francisco Fringe Festival kicking off in just over a month, and with ‘Wretch Like Me’ in the lineup this year, after trying to get in for about ten years, we decided it was time to, you know, rehearse the show we haven’t performed since last August 16, when Robin ran sound and stage managed my final performance at the Surgeon’s Hall in Edinburgh, closing out our time at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Sheri Lee Miller, who’s directed the last few runs of the show, is rehearsing another show tonight, so it’ll be just Robin and me (and Gillyweed) this time.

After Robin arrived, ate a piece of pizza and scratched the head of my three-legged cat Gillyweed, she fired up the computer to see if all the sound cues were still in place (some weren’t, and needed to be reloaded). Then, with me reading from the script I’ve barely looked at in a year, we ran through ‘Wretch’ from beginning to end.

It was weird.

I’ve been doing this show, in one form or another, since July of 2009, and every time I come back from a a hiatus to launch a new run of the show, I am flummoxed at how little of the script I still remember. It doesn’t help that I keep rewriting the thing, of course. Not that I’ve rewritten it much this time. With the exception of a tweaked opening scene, the restoration of a few lines cut for the very-short Edinburgh run, a slightly revamped version of another scene cut for Edinburgh, and the insertion of one BRAND NEW paragraph setting up the moment when Cindy wets her pants for Jesus—it’s the same show we did in Scotland.

photo 2Anyone curious about how far the script has evolved is invited to read the ORIGINAL 17,000 word script, which was published in it entirety on line in the North Bay Bohemian newspaper. Believe me, it’s a HUGE departure from the current version, weighing it at a trim 9500 words. That first one, by the way, I managed to memorize (more or less) in just two weeks, which is how long I left myself between finishing the script and taking the stage for an opening night I had already booked and advertised. David Yen, the original director of ‘Wretch,’ was as patient as he could be with my decision to book a run before the script was finished, but I knew myself. Without a deadline, I will wait forever, spending my time instead on projects I DO have a deadline for. So there I was, with 17,000 words to memorize in two weeks.

Last night, running a show with a mere 9500 words, was technically easier.

But I still had a remarkably hard time remembering much of it at all. Yes, I remembered it. Vaguely. I remembered the story, and certain lines and bits, but I was as far from word-for-word as an actor can get. So I just read from the script, gently baptizing myself back into the verbiage and story of ‘Wretch Like Me.’ By this morning, it was starting to come back to me.

But I suspect it’ll be at least two or three weeks before I can rattle it off the way I once did.

And no, the fact that I wrote it doesn’t make it easier. Why do people always think that? Could YOU write 9500 words and then recite ten verbatim? Of course not. Most of us can’t write a grocery list and recall more than three or four of those items once we get to the store. Memorization is always hard work, regardless of who wrote the words you are memorizing.

The cool thing is that, after so long, it really does seem fresh and kind of new.

And there were moments, last night, standing there in my living room, the smell of cold pizza still lingering in the air, when I would read a passage aloud, and part of me would think, ‘Wow! Cool. That was nice. What a cool moment. What a cool story!’

At those times, I could faintly recall the reason I started doing this whole project all those years ago.

It’s a cool story. And it touches people.

I might have to work to remember every word of it, but I’ll never forget that part.

I’m so lucky to have an opportunity to perform this story again.

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