Monday, January 5, 2009

Tour Report: Down South Tour

Insurgent Theatre! The triumphal return!!

General impression of last weeks tour: IT WORKS! Taking a full length, intense, esoteric reference ridden, unpolished, original work of theatre, with a mostly self-taught cast, a full set and a few totally unorthodox flourishes that can make a real mess of a venue on the road WORKS! The more we do this, the better we get at it, the more contacts and skills we build. Now we’ve just got to find day jobs flexible enough to allow us to do this more, until we get good enough at it that we can make it completely economically sustainable. See more pictures here.

I’m increasingly convinced that grants and foundations whose mission is to “promote, advocate and revitalize” the “dying art” of theatre aren’t ever going to understand or support us, even though over the last week we’ve performed for at least a couple hundred people across this country who’ve probably never chosen to see theatre in their adult lives. Young people. People who the theatre world DESPERATELY needs in their seats.

Oh well, the big theatres can have their dying art, we’re building something else, and at this rate, I think we might be able to get it running sustainably before that corpse the bourgeois theatre institutions coddle, embalm and display rots too much more.

I could write about many great and exciting anecdotes, good times and tour stories: tales of wonderful people, great musicians, swims in the ocean, Katrina damaged punk squats, New Years Eve dance parties, dumb entertainments invented on the long drives, satanic noise acts, naked people getting arrested, thrash jazz, grandmothers with dementia, long debates and revolutionary discussions. All kinds of fun stuff happened on this tour. This blog isn’t about that, though. It’s not a story, it’s a lesson! It’s about transparency, about exposing the methods of our magic and spreading the word on how punk rock theatre tours can be Done Yourself. Think of it as a miniature, ongoing “Our Band Could Be Your Life” for theatre geeks.

First, and most important is show booking. Having a good contact in the city who is excited to have you coming to town is the single most important thing about taking anything on the road. These contacts are the backbone of D I Y touring, they are amazing and wonderful people. The best way to have a good contact is to develop a relationship with them. The best shows we had were set up by contacts who had seen the show before, knew someone who had seen the show before, or even who just agreed with my side of some strange online debate about the definition of words like “noise” “revolution” and “punk rock”. Now, this isn’t always possible, especially when going new places, and even the best contacts are often incredibly busy people, who aren’t getting anything out of it other than the opportunity to share shows with their community and the promise of reciprocation should they or their friends ever come through Milwaukee with something. Good contacts are so wonderful and remarkable, that you can’t really expect people to do it, and you can’t really get upset when things don’t come together as well as everyone would like, or even if a show falls through all together. It’s frustrating, and sometimes bad contacts seem like they’re just plain flakey, but getting bent out of shape about it is pretty unjustifiable. Taking a show on the road like this is a risk, a series of risks, risks that only small, tight, no-budget, dirty, versatile, committed, theatre companies like ours can afford to take.

Fortunately, last week, all these risks paid off- sometimes amazingly, every night.

For each date I am going to summarize the relevant inputs and outputs (to the best of my memory) and share any tips and tricks we discovered. We spent money on gas, some food, tolls, and a few miscellaneous things. Attendance numbers are approximated and from memory. Peter probably kept better mental track and I expect him to correct me, he is the minister of numbers after all. Also, audiences vary over the course of a performance. It’s a pretty long play, with two intermissions, and music acts in between. We don’t believe in captive audiences and sometimes people had to leave. Sometimes they didn’t like the play and chose to leave.

So, attendance numbers listed are PEAK for the largest group watching at one time and CORE for the number who watched the whole show through. If this distinction isn’t made, it’s because the whole audience watched the whole show.

Income we kept tighter track of. It’s broke down between DOOR, DONATION and MERCH. The DOOR money is stuff collected by the venue or the booking contact, admission was often “suggested donation” but sometimes the venues charged rental or fees and admission (always less than $10) was sometimes more strictly enforced. I hope we didn’t turn anyone away. DONATION is additional money that audience members gave us by hand, usually after the show was over. MERCH is scripts, essays, and T-shirts sold.

Okay, here it is:

Gas: $305.30
Food: $150.40
Tolls: $12
Misc: $10
Total Expense: $477.70

Door: $457
Donation: $122
Merch: $51
Total: $630

Balance: +$153.3

Sunday Dec 28th - Independent Media Center, Urbana, IL. 8pm.
Audience: 8-12 Door: $18 Merch $5 Drive: 4 hours
This is an example of needing to be versatile. We had a show booked in Carbondale for this date, and it fell through, we scrambled to re-schedule, thinking that any show would be better than nothing, if for no reason other than to break up the drive to Atlanta. We got a hold of Mark at the Urbana IMC (thanks to the Nonsense Company) and set this up on very short notice, right before the holidays. Then Mark got the flu. But, he still brought a good handful of very engaged people who hung around to talk about the play and political action, and theatre, for a good long time afterward. I have no idea how long because my sense of time goes out the window once the show starts.

Mark put us up, and we’re making plans to hit Urbana again, with more notice, when all the students (it’s a college town) aren’t out on winter break. We left for Atlanta at about 6 in the morning.

Monday Dec 29th - The Eye Drum, Atlanta, GA. with: Offerings and 09A.
Audience: 20-25 peak / 10-15 core Door: $26 Donation: $40 Merch: $0 Drive: 9.5 hours
Monday nights are always the worst nights on tours, if you can get something set up, you're lucky, if anyone comes out to see a show, you're even luckier. We got plenty lucky in Atlanta. The Eyedrum is an amazing space. It’s like the Borg Ward on steroids. Big gallery, huge PA, 501c3 status, projects with funding, lots of volunteers, all really cool people. We played with good musicians: distorted sad bastard music and satanic power electronics. An excited energetic audience of mainly noise folks came out. There were some nice (and some kinda shoddy) comics-inspired paintings in the gallery. I wonder what this show woulda been like later in the week.

We were invited by a young man in the audience to crash at a foreclosed condo/townhouse belonging to a former art gallery owner who was selling all his possessions and playing internet poker when we left in the morning.

Tuesday Dec 30th - Cafe 11, St Ausgustine, FL. With a TON of bands.
Audience: 75 peak / 20 core. Door: $80 Donation: $9 Merch: $10 Drive: 6 hours
When looking for venues for the tour on a noise message board, this guy Travis, who participated in the abovementioned internet debates, said he’d try to make it out to a show in Atlanta or Birmingham. I asked him where he’d be coming from, cuz maybe we could bring the show to him. He said St Augustine, Florida. St Augustine is further east than we’d plan on going, but if this guy was thinking about traveling 6 hours to see our show, we wagered he’d be pretty enthusiastic about us coming to him instead, and he was. He set up a great show: a great venue, (beachfront café) something like 8 very eclectic acts (some of whom were a bit ‘providence’ for my taste, but others totally kicked ass!). I guess there’s this weird curfew on the island Café 11 is located on, and one of the bands had an epically long sound check, so for a little while we were worried that everything wouldn’t fit in, and much of the audience was from Jacksonville so attendance dropped off as the night wore on. But we made it through and everything ended well. We started the third act of the play before the band preceding it had cleared their gear off the stage, and slammed through in record time, then asked the audience to help us strike the set. That’s audience participation!

We left St Augustine directly after the show to drive through the night to New Orleans. I wish we coulda spent more time with the Floridians, but the night driving turned out to be a very good idea. We got to New Orleans with enough time to nap on couches in the venue and be well rested for the performance.

Wednesday Dec 31th – Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Art Center, New Orleans, LA. With Self Help Tapes, Evolve, and Illusion Fields.
Audience: 80 peak / 65 core. Door: $107 Donation: $10 Merch: $1 Drive: 9 hours
This was a personal highlight for me, so please forgive a little gushing here. Our amazing Nola contact was Simon Severe. She had seen us perform Paint at the Borg Ward when Realicide, the hardcore noise punk band she was traveling with played with our homecoming show after the summer tour. Being a radical who has spent at least the last few years living in conditions not completely dissimilar to the characters in our play, Simon loved the show and invited us to come down to her home town. She works a regular job, volunteers at the Nola infoshop and anarchist library, and runs a books for prisoners program. She doesn’t normally set up shows, but for us, she found the time, and did an amazing job.

First, she hooked us up with a perfect venue. Zeitgeist hosts events at the intersection of art and activism almost nightly. They helped Simon promote, discussed tech and theatre theory with me and even read the script before we got down there. Second, Simon set up some great bands, inspiring hip hop, complex ambient/experimental, and a beautiful jazz / spoken word / film group. These elements together brought out a large enthusiastic crowd, who mostly stayed through the entire show. We were worried that we’d be competing with lots of New Years activities, but apparently the citizens of New Orleans are willing to sacrifice some party time for experimental political theatre.

This was perhaps the best performance we have ever done. No slip ups and tons of good energy to feed off of. We took New Years Day off, and wrapped the show up early enough that we were still able to go out and have some New Years fun ourselves. Saw a huge bonfire, went to a party for the Nola chapter of the Black Label Bike Collective at a small, dirty, hedonistic club with just the right space-to-dancer ratio. We danced for an hour or so with half-dressed and cross-dressed revelers, many of whom kept coming up an telling us that we’re amazing and they really love what we do. At first it took us a few seconds to realize that they had been at the show and weren’t just complimenting our dance moves. Then the sleazy hip hop got a bit dull so Kate and I went to the van and busted out the Lucky and Pozzo gear and performed for the drunks outside the club who were (perhaps fortunately) mostly too poor or too intoxicated to request many actions.

That night and the next we slept at Simon’s place, a huge punk space called Nowe Miastro with all the amenities: brownwater sink, dumpstered pizza, D I Y utilities, and rooftop access. After a relaxing New Years day of hanging out in New Orleans and doing laundry at John’s relatives’ house and another night at Nowe Miastro, we hit the road for Birmingham.

Friday Jan 2nd – Green Cup Books, Birmingham AL.
Audience: 20. Door: $60 Donation: $63 Merch: $20 Drive: 5 hours
This was definitely our worst performance of the tour. We should’ve run through the show on our day off, or at least in the car, cuz we fucked up and felt flat as hell. Also, we realized halfway through the first narration that we left a pillow and blanket used as props (and as bedding) back in Nola. Peter ran down to the car and got some of our sleeping gear to use as a substitute. Everything was thrown off and goofy after that, but the audience was really into it anyway and hung out to chat afterward. Green Cup is another amazing space, an anarchist bookstore with a performance space for punk bands and poetry readings up above. Mike, the proprietor of the store is a playwright and theatre person with few opportunities to do or even see anything but big musicals in Birmingham, so he was excited to see us come through. We talked about all kinds of great stuff. We’ll definitely be keeping in touch and hitting this place again.

But, we had the longest drive of the tour ahead of us, and we decided to repeat the success of the St Augustine to New Orleans night drive. Left Birmingham just after midnight, I think.

Saturday Jan 3rd – Robindale Concert House, Toledo, OH. With Dr Rhomboid Goatcabin
Audience: 45 peak / 40 core. Door/Donation: $115 Merch: $15 Drive: 10.5 hours
So, there’s this crazy guy named Gabe in Toledo, OH. He’s a musician, works at a record store, has a silk screen press in his house, and hosts noise artists and other performers in the middle of his nice clean dining room, right next to the mantelpiece. He lets filthy travelers, who’ve been sleeping god knows where and might not have showered for a week crash at his house. In real beds! He provides snacks at the show, and is just plain all around awesome. He saved us from a complete loss of our Nashville show and set this great show up just a few days before we left Milwaukee. He’s coming here in a couple weeks, performing with a group called KBD (I think) at the Borg Ward on the 17th. GO THERE AND SUPPORT HIM! I’ll be performing up in Minneapolis, so I’ll miss it, but it promises to be a good show, it’s Nummy’s birthday.

Performing Paint the Town in this place was weird. The set was a really tight fit, but it worked out and the crowd was GREAT, lots of young intellectuals who stayed up discussing themes of the play with me until almost 4 in the morning. A really great time, almost makes me feel, y’know, important. Also, we played with I think, my favorite musical act of the tour: Dr Rhomboid Goatcabin. Really innovative use of noise equipment, nice dynamics, and a crackpot kitchen sink spiritualist aesthetic that verged on the much hated ‘providence’ look, but escapes it. The reason I hate the providence aesthetic is because these people are half-assing something that if they did it right, I would LOVE. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what I mean by “do it right” the line between success and failure is very hard to discern or articulate due to the clouds of ambiguity and irony employed. The Butterfly Kiss Effect up at MN Fringe succeeded. Eagle Ager succeeds. Buoyant Sea failed. Baltimore mostly succeeds. Providence fails utterly. Some of the Darling Hall and Green Gallery stuff succeeds, but some of it fails. Alejandro Jodorowski blows em all out of the water.

Anyway, we slept in real beds at Gabe’s for a couple hours in the afternoon before the show, and for a couple hours afterward. Then drove home to Milwaukee. We left a second pillow and blanket pair (the last of our sleep gear, cuz Peter and John forgot to bring anything from Milwaukee in the first place) behind. Fortunately, we could get replacements from home before the Stonefly show.

Sunday Jan 4th – Stonefly Brewing Company, Milwaukee, WI. With Fahri and White Wrench Conservatory
Audience: 130 peak / 80 core. Door: $51 Donation: $0 Merch: $0 Drive: 5.5 hours
After a harrowing summer of abysmal audience attendance in our hometown, the fact that we have to pay Stonefly to have a soundman and door guy, and that we’d be out of town and couldn’t very well promote ourselves had me honestly quite skeptical about this show. But Milwaukee really came through for us, in spades! It made me significantly less bitter about living here. I’m very unsure about the high numbers listed above, too distracted to get a good look at the crowd, but Stonefly was quite full. After only a few minutes of shouting over some conversation and background noise (it’s a bar, people are used to performers having a lot of amplification) we had this large group of people watching silently and attentively. It felt strange performing for familiar faces, and John and I both feel like we were pretty flat. No big mistakes, but just not feeling it right energy-wise. But Kate looked great. Her performance in the last few scenes at this show was, I think, her best.

The bands kicked ass, the staff kicked ass, the audience kicked ass. Maybe we’ve just been performing in the wrong places in Milwaukee. Our Borg Ward show in August was also a decent turn out, but I’ve mostly attributed that to Realicide, who has quite a following. It’s really too bad we can’t get more of these people to go to the Alchemist, or more theatre people to come out to these non-traditional venues. I didn’t get a sense that many theatre people were coming to any shows we’ve put on anywhere in the country, though. Seems a large majority of the theatre world won't dare leave the hall of mirrors they live and work in. Oh well, looks like we don’t need em anyway.

In two weeks we perform at Bedlam, who are a great example of theatre artists who don't sequester themselves in the theatre world. This will be our first show returning to an out of town venue we've already performed in, with our reputation preceeding us. Also, we're playing with Lamb Lays with Lion, who saw one of our rehearsals. With these contacts, i'm figuring we don't need anyone to wish us luck up there, but, do it anyway!


k said...

congrats on the fab tour! looks like you're starting to have to tape the set together? how does the addition look?

re: the granting organizations - lots of these places won't look twice at start-ups until you've been around at least three years or so. and even though you've been around for longer than that technically, you've only been amping up your production schedule in the past year or two? Bad Soviet's technically been around since 2005, but because we rarely produce, we don't qualify either - same deal. my guess is that in another year or so, lots of these orgs will LOVE to give you money - assuming you're willing to play their game, pretty big if.

very glad to hear that content is triumphing dramaturgy, and that my comments to you on the script seem fairly to completely irrelevant with the show's audiences, which are more important anyway.


Anonymous said...

splendid! "buoyant sea failed" CLASSIC! this tour sounds more along the lines of the "give/take" balance sought on the first tour. support and dialogue was offered and unsolicited versus pulled out with wrench or left to die all together in the sloppy puddles of apathy. congratulations!

Rex Winsome said...

Hi Kurt!

The duct tape is aesthetic. The set is actually holding up fabulously, only needing a few easy repairs and alterations. We figure the tape makes it look more like a hand built shack, and camoflagues the seams.

Over the last few months we've workshopped and altered the script and the direction of the show, with your and others' criticisms in mind. I don't know if we've fixed your compaints completely, but i think we've at least addressed them.

The show continues to evolve, and clearing our plate of most everything else after this summer's struggles has really allowed us the time we should've taken developing the show in the first place.

Alieen Stewart said...

Lovely Post..thanks for sharing your experience with us..
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