This weekend we did a short regional tour with Paint the Town, hitting Chicago, Madison, and Minneapolis. These were the last shows Jason Hames will be able to do with Paint the Town. When you see him next, give him a pat on the back for good work. He did these shows with a broken toe.
Special thanks also go out to Ed and Rachel, Ron and Jeff in Chicago, Tim, Ester and other coop members in Madison, John, Maren, Thor, Kat, and everyone at Bedlam or Kat's house in Minneapolis. These people kick ass. They're doing the often tedious and sometimes risky work of maintaining a space, promoting a show, and otherwise enabling our anarchist and DIY art to happen. They're clearly motivated by a love for art and artists. They should be applauded and emulated by anyone claiming to share that love.
Thursday October 23rd, Chicago
We performed in the basement of the Co-Prosperity Sphere, a gallery and studio space in Bridgeport run by Ed and Rachel from Lumpen Magazine. Our enthusiastic friend Ron helped organize and promote this show. He also dragged some friends to help us load in and take care of everything. Ron is great.
We left Milwaukee at around 5, after Hames got out of work and hit some ugly traffic on the way down to Chicago, not making it there until after 8.
We used the basement because Ed didn't want us painting his gallery floor, basements look awesome and fit the setting of the show so well, and there is a whole punched in the wall, Kool-Aid man style which we incorporated into the set (Ron took this picture of it). The ceiling was too low so we had to put the set up sideways, which works fine. Hooray for versatility!
John Kuehne who will be taking over the role of Arthur Pratt in future productions came down with us, and familiarized himself with our process. He had a good enough time that he almost came with up to Minneapolis, but couldn't get out of work.
We performed with two musicians. First was Cecil, an good ambient/drone guitar and laptop guy and second Instinct Control, who does something very dangerous and impressive with a broken reel to reel machine. Basically he takes the back off the machine, plugs the auxiliary output into a PA and then touches the circuitry to generate and control the static and noise, achieving amazing control, range, and composition without accidentally touching any of the exposed components which could seriously electrocute him.
Our first performance with a live audience since the end of August was really quite rough. Having only done a few pick up rehearsals, swapping some props and needing to accommodate and adapt for Hames' broken toe (with one of those big plastic boot things on it). But, we pulled it off well enough that the audience remained thoroughly engaged and very complimentary when it was all over. We had at least 15 people throughout, peaking at 25. This was the best turn our and most lucrative show of the tour. Having Ron on the ground, drumming up support harassing radio stations and bringing people out obviously helped. Jeff Grygny also helped spread the word down there.
We drove back to Milwaukee after cleaning up and making plans to come back in January. Got home with enough time to get a few hours sleep before going to our day jobs.
Friday October 24th - Madison
We were back on the road heading toward Madison by 5 am the next day. Hit traffic again, but made it up there with enough time to be ready to perform at 8:00. Unfortunately, Madison wasn't ready when we were.
The show was at the Nottingham Coop which is a great big house full of hippies and punks located right on fraternity row. The city lived up to it's reputation as the kind of town where people are too busy living in a liberal community college town to actually go out and see or do art.
Eventually, a few of peter's friends showed up, just stopping in to see if they had enough time to grab some food before the show started. Since they were the only audience, we all walked down to state street and got some food, walked back and started the show about and hour and a half late.
When we got started a half dozen or so coop inhabitants came out and we ended up performing for a small but impressed audience. Peter's friends left after he played the first intermission and then Tim Morgan, the booking contact at nottingham played an amazing prepared guitar percussion piece for the second. He put a cymbal on the strings of an acoustic guitar and beat the strings and body of the guitar and the cymbal with drumsticks and various other objects. he was damn good at it too. Seeing this alone made the stop in Madison worth it.
After the show we sold some merch, chatted with co-op denizens and repaired or replaced a few faulty props. I got the kind of impression i get after many of the more poorly attended shows, regret on the part of the small audience that more of their friends and community didn't take the chance on coming to see theatre from an unknown touring group. I don't know what i can do to prevent this situation in the future, other than coming back to cities we've already played so we'll have some reputation.
Kate and I wandered state street for a bit, getting some great food from one of those little cart booths, best tacos and quesadillas i've had since visiting Oaxaca. We sold some merch and got donations from our hosts, crashed in "the study" and were on our way to Minneapolis after a cheap meal but decent meal at a diner near the willie st coop.
Saturday October 25th - Minneapolis
We rolled into Bedlam, and found everyone very busy in the midst of their huge barebones Halloween spectacular. This is a giant puppet show version of Jason and the Argonauts with hundreds of performers, a flaming undead Greek army, and huge fire breathing puppets, staged in an inner city park. In other words, Bedlam is amazing. Minneapolis is amazing. I love this city.
I wish we hadn't been in competition with such a great show, especially since most of the people from the venue were out in the park and encouraging everyone else to go to the park throughout our show. Our friend Kat managed to round up a handful of audience, and a couple other people came out. So it was another small audience, but enthusiastic.
There must have been some miscommunication with Terricide, because they never showed up. Ice Volt more than made up for it though. He is one of the most commited and otherworldly performers i've seen. Attempting to describe what he does would be a disservice to anyone who hasn't seen it, let me just say it was remarkable and incredibly effective, musically and as a piece of movement theatre.
The puppet show did leave us a spare tech assistant. A great guy named Thor, who was very helpful and friendly, turns out he and Peter have some mutual friends. If we make it back to Minneapolis while he's still there he promised he would work it out so we'd get to use the paint.
We hung out at Bedlam with Thor and at the hard times cafe (Minneapolis' equivalent to Fuel) until two AM, then crashed on couches at Kat's house, much to the chagrin of an adorable German shepherd puppy who whined about Hames' snoring away on her couch almost as much as i wanted to, until i moved to the basement and got some real sleep.
Sunday October 26th - Minneapolis again
We grabbed some grub at The Wienery, another good cheap diner, with great hash browns and home made bread, and made our way back to bedlam for our 2pm matinee. We played mainly for the band (a great power pop band, with members originally from Milwaukee, The Liarbirds) and Bedlam staff (who missed the 3rd act because they had to go to the park to work on the barebones thing) This performance was one of our most energetic and just plain fun. A great note to go out on before heading back to rehearsing and workshopping the script with John.
Overall, it was a great weekend, and same as august, i hate being back in Milwaukee. The touring thing is rough, there's a lot we need to work on to get better at it (mainly promotion, booking and networking, but also with the play itself) but, even with poor attendance, we managed to cover gas costs and the company bought a couple of our meals without going bankrupt. Touring like this is difficult, but i think we can only get better at it. Once we do, we'll be much more fully realizing the insurgent theatre mission than ever before. At any rate, the prospect of perfecting a DIY tour seems more likely and much more exciting than perfecting a local Milwaukee production.
I've been thinking about expanding the online transparency of the company for a while, making information about our finances, our successes and failures, our trials and celebrations available to anyone who cares to find them out. Radical theatre is a very difficult thing to produce and promote in the US today, so I hope this information might help others with the same aims as us. This tour brought in $74 in at the door donations (mainly in Chicago) and $70 in merchandise sales (this is total sales, not net profit from sales, it doesn't take in the cost of the blank shirts). So that's a total income of $144. We spent $132 on gas, and $84 on food, for a total of $216 spent. That's a net loss of $72.
Of course finances are only one (and not a very important one) of the measures of success. I think $72 is a perfectly acceptable cost for the gains we got in terms of lessons learned and contacts made. I also prefer to measure success by the faces of the audience members as they watch the show. Ron describes the Chicago audience like this: "the most rapt audience I have ever seen at any Chicago production. That was something that continually impressed me through the night. Our audience of 25 or so, including house managers, was totally quiet and attentive. " Considering the informal setting, the fully lit house lights, and the lack of any pre-show requests for people to silence their cell phones or unwrap their candies, or even remain in their seats, this attentiveness is more impressive.
When we get to the final narration, when i sit up and look at the audience and see a group of people, no matter how big or small, whether they're the friends of the musician who mainly came to see him perform, or the artistic director of Bedlam, sitting on the edge of their seat (or leaning forward while sitting on the floor) mouths open and eyes unblinking, not absorbed in cathartic suspense, but puzzled, with furrowed brows, actively working to figure out exactly what it is this play is communicating to them, i see a success that is far more valuable to me than any monetary reward, shining review or accolade. The possibility that we are transforming audiences into critical engaged participants, not just passive entertained punters reaffirms my commitment to making the kind of art that can escape commodification and produce a revolutionary change in our society.
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