I have to confess, exhaustion is finally starting to get the better of me – we mostly spent the day in working (with a brief excursion out for one last rack of Kansas City ribs).
Our show tonight was finally a gratifying one: a packed house, with an incredibly responsive audience. Lots of laughter, and one of my soapbox speeches was actually greeted with cheers and applause.
Part way through the show, it started to hail outside, and since we were beneath a skylight, that meant we found ourselves shouting over the thunderous storm of hailstones on the roof. Then our set, um, kind of blew apart. The screen collapsed, though the cast ad-libbed around it nicely. At one point, I grabbed a piece of it, flung it backstage, turned back to face the audience, tap-danced, grinned, and spread my hands in a little “ta-da” gesture.
This got a laugh. And the thing that’s so interesting about that to me is that it represents a clear disconnect between myself and the character that I’m playing: the audience appreciated it because I allowed the mask to slip and peered out at them from behind it. That’s notable to me, because that distinction is one that I think audiences have struggled with in the past: I’m often accused of playing myself. I certainly write to my strengths, but I think that that confusion is something that often results from writers who perform their own material: the audience assumes that the character is you.
Penner isn’t me. He may have been at one point, when I first started writing him (whoa, nearly a decade ago now) – but he’s certainly by now evolved into his own entity. In this play, he functions primarily as a buffoonish figure, a kind of summary of everything that drives me crazy about left-wing pseudo-intellectualism. He occasionally stumbles backwards into intelligent ideas, but that’s more a case of a stopped clock being right twice a day than it is of any kind of real insight that he possesses.
That distinction is critically important to me as a writer. And it’s certainly possible that it’s one that I’ve simply manufactured to allow me to work – but the fact is that I’m not all that interested in self-portraiture.
The show we saw afterwards was appallingly bad, and I stepped out about halfway through. Went for a walk, and ran into another set of Kansas City locals.
THEM: So how are you enjoying our city?
ME: I dunno – we’re strangers here, so I think that we haven’t found out where everyone is hanging.
THEM: What, are you looking for more posh places?
ME: Actually, I think we’re looking for dives.
They nodded serenely, and recommended a place called the Lava Room. The next show we saw was absolutely phenomenal, and we invited the cast to join us there afterwards.
Our last night in Kansas City, and we finally had a positive experience – a laid-back bar, populated by locals, hanging out with other artists. It’s remarkable that it was so difficult for us to find this. I’ve kind of felt pretty isolated since we arrived – there’s no out-of-town coordinator, we haven’t really had much contact with any of the artists. It’s taken us this long to finally start making these kinds of interactions happen, and it’s a shame that the Festival doesn’t really seem to have the mechanisms in place to make it work.
I’m so tired I can barely keep my eyes open.