Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Rage Across America Tour: June!

"...nineteen suburbs in search of a metropolis."

- Aldous Huxley on Los Angeles

Y'know, even if I couldn't have articulated this to myself, I think that some part of my brain was expecting LA to be more like New York (which I revisited recently) -- at the very least, much more crowded. But while it has about half the population, it's got a third of the density. It doesn't feel so much like a city as a collection of cities, each with a distinct culture, although united by one pretty awesome transit system (and as someone who tours frequently, boy howdy am I impressed by a 24-hour bus service).

POPULATION: 3,904,657
HIERARCHY: conurbation
NICKNAME: City of Angels
VENUE: Theatre Asylum

I also think some part of me was thinking that LA would have some phenomenal theatre scene -- on the basis that it's a film/television town, and consequently full of struggling actors and writers. I was surprised to find, in my initial research, that there were very few papers regularly covering local theatre. I was also anticipating that there would be a much higher bar to clear, in terms of production quality -- but what I found is that, while there's a hell of a lot more of everything (i.e. a lot more really good shows, and a lot more really bad shows), the overall ratio of good to bad is pretty consistent with just about any other city I tour to.

The good shows (and I saw at least one that I'd call phenomenal) aren't that interesting to talk about, because a large part of what makes them good is the fact that they're unique -- they don't conform to obvious patterns. But boy howdy the bad ones do, and different patterns in every city. I saw a string of bad ones as soon as I made it into LA, bad enough that I was dragging my heels and despairing of ever seeing a good one again.

The LA bad-show pattern: a solo performance, consisting of a physically attractive actor bouncing around in front of an audience loaded with friends, cheering, laughing, and applauding throughout. The show is a memoir, with maybe about five minutes of story. The actor proceeds to put on a variety of voices, accents, and characters, sing songs, maybe do a little slapstick, all with the thinnest thread connecting this to the actual narrative. And after about four of these in a row, I had the revelation that, ah. I'm sitting through somebody's audition reel.

This is a networking city, no doubt about it. Usually, I have to down a few shots at Fringe Central before setting out and shoving my cards at strangers; here, everyone else is approaching me. I spent my first three days aggressively pushing my show at every Fringe event before realizing, hey, I don't think I've encountered a single audience member. It's all other artists. Likewise, there's hardly a critical review on that website -- it's almost entirely artists gushing at each other. I briefly considered diving in before realizing that this really wasn't the appropriate venue for critical analysis. That's not why anyone's here.

It's an environment that revolves around building relationships and being liked, and consequently my brash, swaggering, confrontational style has been met with an extraordinary amount of audience pullback -- in the shows proper, in my previews, and in my street interactions. The tense, guarded expression that comes over the face of everyone I hand a card to when they see the word "Libertarian" is a study, I tell you what.


Audience numbers have been thin, but I've received some positive press, which was my primary goal in coming out here, as well as at least one serious invitation to a promising performance opportunity, which is one more than I was expecting. I certainly don't regret making the trip.

Would I make it again? That's a harder question. It's a huge investment of time (it's a month-long Festival, most are only about ten days), as well as a huge investment of money -- in addition to just general cost of day-to-day living in a city this size, I was immediately inundated with offers (hire me to do your publicity! Hire me to record your show! Hire me to place an ad!) Definitely couldn't have swung it if one of my old touring buddies hadn't offered to put me up. So while I don't object to the notion of returning at some point, I can't see it happening anytime soon.

That said, in terms of intangible benefits, well...I spent an evening chatting up an attractive Irish bartender with tales of Celtic mythology. I watched a street preacher on Skid Row quote Ecclesiastes not half a block from where I saw a homeless dude lighting up a crack pipe. I spent another evening talking the Fringe circuit with a sex worker who introduced herself by comparing me to a mass murderer.

There was an article going around Facebook a while back, but its basic gist was that Baby Boomers devote their lives to collecting status symbols, while Gen-Xers devote their lives to collecting experiences. I am definitely in the latter camp.


As part of the tour, I've included in each programme a "First Amendment Box", in which audience members may write any extreme, absurd, or politically incorrect thought -- and submit it anonymously. I share them here, with no commentary or context.

"Morals, while subjective, support the common sense of legislature. Professed Christianity is not, as popularly misunderstood, a shorthand for strong moral character. We should refuse to allow the sloppy invocation of religion as a mass appeal in our political process."

"The key problem of our age is immature masculine energy. All problems can be traced back to some man fucking things up."

"Get more graphic with Palin."

"That I'm awesome."