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My Last Four Months
by david   October 6, 2003
gypsy, henry, urinetown, lamancha

It's 10:25am on Wednesday, October 1, and I've not gotten a lick of work done. I slept a full 8 hours last night, but am still abnormally tired. I didn't do much yesterday evening -- cleaned my seahorse aquarium which has been badly neglected these past months (my seahorses are all farm-raised -- no harvesting from our precious reefs for me), fixed the faulty pump in my viquarium (treefrogs and firebellied-toads rejoice), fed my new green mantid nymph, and cooked a spaghetti dinner for myself and Shannon. Nothing too strenuous. And yet I am exhausted.

It's 2am, early in the morning of June 22nd. We've just finished cleaning up after our Lucid by Proxy fundraiser, a combination of a re-staging of our (in)famous radio play, Jack Cracker, Viking Slave Detective, and a concert from the Monolators. It's been a success, though not as strong a one as we'd hoped. Still, the seed money for our upcoming play, School of Jesus Fish, over twice what our fundraiser made the previous year, is in our pockets, and the audience reacted extremely well to the short teaser Rick and Josh gave of our upcoming musical, Spare Parts & Cynic. We clean up the bottles, take down the lights, and generally make ourselves disappear from our rented space, all while Jeanette's newest fling makes a drunken nuisance of herself (she will be dumped by Jeanette the next day, just about the same time I discover that the inebreated idiot loaded my jeap with broken, leaking beer bottles). We're tired after two weeks of whirlwind rehearsals and preparation, especially since James and Val are out of town and the whole fundraiser fell on just four of us, but it's been worth it. We say goodnight, and head on home. Back to the day jobs on Monday. Rick (and Josh) have much writing to do, and I've got to begin preproduction work on Jesus Fish.

It's 11pm, July 22. Jesus Fish rehearsal has just ended. Valerie picked up the postcards from the printer early in the day, and I'm secretly gushing with pride over how great they look. We've been in rehearsal a little less than a week and, while I talk with Shan afterwards about my worries over a couple of the actors, I'm more or less confident. Thorin's taking care of publicity this go-round, so I'm not obsessing about that, though it is in the back of my mind. Jason and I spent some time emailing back and forth about the music -- I'm extremely excited to be collaborating with him on this, even though we won't see each other during the process, and he won't be able to see the show. We haven't worked together on a theater project since 1995, and I miss his particular genius. I've been talking with Alex about the theater and working on the program for the past few days, and my day-job is already beginning to suffer the effects of neglect. I hope I can conceal my lack of work for the next few months.

It's 3am, Sunday, August 10. Rick, Shan, Jeanette and I stumble bleary-eyed out of the Paul E. Richards' Theater Place. We're covered in paint and grime, but the walls are painted, and the floor is shiny with its slick white covering. The TV is hung and the lights are in place and wired to my home-made board. I'm tired as hell -- my day job has become increasingly unbearable over the past four weeks. In my two years at this particular dot-com, I've gone from a graphic and UI designer to a producer to a business systems analyst, whose function, at least at my company, appears to be primarily coaxing other people into doing their jobs and, when that fails, doing their jobs for them. We're rehearsing from 7 to 11 or later every night and on the weekends, and the rehearsals are becoming pretty intense, as they need to be, considering the subject matter. We leave rehearsal every night exhausted, yet too wound-up to sleep. Shan and I have turned to the occaisional Sominex, a mild drug, considering what so many of our fellow actors all over LA are popping or snorting or shooting right at that same moment, but it's abnormal for us. She's brilliant in rehearsals, but she's too tired to notice, and I'm too tired to tell her. I'm almost finished with the program and other production materials, and the web site is looking pretty good. Our scenic designer is in hell at his day job (Nick is a set-dresser for a new television drama), so he's been leaving us design info, and we've been doing the heavy-lifting on that end. Still, I'm giddy. Jason just delivered the music in it's almost final form, and it is wonderful. The show is coming together. We're almost ready to open our first play outside of the annual theater festival which gave birth to Lucid, and the excitement is electrifying, at least in my heart. My arms and legs, on the other hand -- well, I can't feel them.

It's 11:30pm on a Wednesday night -- August 20th. Jesus Fish's first weekend was a success, despite a light house on Sunday, and a Friday which contained perhaps my crappiest performance in recent memory (until the distracted one I'll give three weeks later after 48 hours without sleep). We've just finished our initial read-thru of Spare Parts & Cynic. It's by far our biggest undertaking as a company -- a full-length original musical with a 14 person cast. It's also scary as all hell -- one of our lead actors dropped-out the night before. We found a musical director (finally) barely 24 hours before rehearsals started. Josh, nervous behind the 66 key electronic keyboard (we don't own a piano and can't afford to rent one, much to his dismay), has declined to play through most of the songs in the show, so we're without any real feeling for what the show sounds like. The script is missing a couple of scenes, and none of the songs are transcribed yet. In contrast to Jesus Fish's great opening weekend, this first rehearsal feels strained and hastily thrown together. No postcards to hand out, or pre-sale vouchers, or posters. I haven't even sent out my email request for headshots and bios. Thorin's getting married, so next week I have to begin courting the press, and I don't yet have a plan. All of our information, including a press release, performance dates and times, cast lists and a publicity photo have to be turned-in to the EdgeFest within 48 hours. Shannon and Nicky and I are just getting settled in our Jesus Fish roles, and the transformation to these new roles will be jarring, especially for Shannon, who has a million lines and a half-dozen songs to learn. Rick still isn't sure how the play will end. Josh hasn't written a couple of key songs, including the closing number. Val is going crazy over the mannequin. Our stage manager, also working on Jesus Fish, is sick with the flu or pure exhaustion. James' dad is extremely ill, and may die. It all feels like an enormous cluster-fuck. A $5000+ cluster-fuck. Lucid doesn't have that kind of money in the bank, so most of it is coming from my American Express Blue card, and a smaller part from Valerie's school loan check. If this doesn't go well, it could kill Lucid (at least our reputation), and render us financially unable to put up any shows, at least for a year. I'm scared, and sick. And tired. We all are.

It's 3am on September 15th. I have to be at work in 6 hours. I'm driving my jeep toward home on the 134 freeway. Somewhere ahead of me, Shannon's heading the same way in her Cabrio. My jeep is toting a huge 6-foot chrome table, a smaller steel side-table, and piles of tools, costumes and miscelleneous rick-a-rack. Shan's car is similarly filled -- it's the set, props & costumes from School of Jesus Fish, which closed to a packed house some six hours earlier. The run has been an enormous success -- much to our astonishment, we made back all we invested in the show (later that week, when Shan finally has a moment to do the books, she'll discover we actually made almost $500). We garnered some extraordinary reviews in Backstage West and (most importantly) the LA Times. The LA Weekly's review was very warm as well, and they saw our initial nerve-wracked performance. Shan and Nicky received a heaping pile of praise for their work -- Sarah and Joe were praised as well, and I was called "appealing," which is better than a kick in the ass. Overall, all three reviews gushed over the intense reality of the performances in general. The last two weeks of the run were almost entirely sold-out. I'm numb from striking the set, from loading the cars, from drinking a few beers afterward, and from the chilly air rushing around inside my jeep. I'm wiped, and I'm fighting tears a little. I'll miss Jesus Fish -- it's one of the best roles I've played. I'll miss hearing Jason's beautiful music every night (sadly, we sold only 6 CDs), and fighting to retain my doctorly professionalism in the face of the raw emotion projected from Shannon and Nicky and Kyra and the others in that tiny playing area, no more than two feet from the nearest audience member, nervous and twitchy at his uncomfortable proximity to the same rush of raw emotion my character is fighting against. I'll miss that moment in the play when Joe says "perhaps not," and I realize that I've been had, and that I'll have to sacrifice what I believe in order to save the life of one of my patients, even though I know her life will be badly diminished. I start my new job tomorrow -- same employer, but I've happily been moved back to the Design team. It's a great move for me -- I actually lose some "rank" in the company, but I'll be (hopefully) creative again, and not suicidal every morning when I wake for work. I hope. We open Spare Parts in two weeks. We're still waiting for that last number, though, happily, the script has entered its final (we think) revision. The set is built, and waiting in pieces in my garage until we can load it in and paint it. I haven't yet begun the program. Posters and postcards are out there, maybe being used, maybe not. I'm a week behind on press stuff. I'm barely memorized, despite the fact I have relatively few lines. None of that matters -- right now I need to concentrate on not crying, getting home, unloading the cars, and getting to bed.

It's 5:15pm on September 26th. Spare Parts & Cynic opens in two hours and 45 minutes. The set is in place. We finally got the sound late the previous night, and rehearsed sound queues until the wee hours. Most of the cast has recovered from various colds and flus. Val, Jeanette and I were able to attend James' dad's funeral. The songs sound great, and the movement is more-or-less there. Shan found an extremely realistic Chihuahua to replace "Mr. Crappy," the obscenely poorly constructed dog built for us by a kindly Canadian acquaintance. Val's been back in graduate school for a week, and Rick has been running rehearsals -- the switchover went extremely smoothly. There are still some line worries with one or two actors, but we will overcome them. We think the play is funny, and sad, but have no way of really knowing since we've never had an audience. Shannon and I sit on our living room floor, binding the cast & crew's opening night gifts: final (really final this time!) versions of the script, lovingly reproduced, along with a program, some vitamin C drops, a highlighter and a nice note of thanks. We've 15 minutes to finish before we head to the theater. We underestimated the amount of work these gifts would take pretty dramatically, and we're feeling the pinch. I'm wound-up and terribly nervous (I badly biffed an important harmony at final dress) , and I lash out undeservedly at Shannon. We've got an opening night reviewer (the good ol' LA Weekly again -- we owe those folks big-time) and a good-sized house. And we've got a good show. On the way to the theater we stop at a 7-11 so I can down a Big-gulp of diet coke, and scarf a nasty cherry pie, as much for the sugar and caffeine my wrecked body needs as for the pre-show ritual I've establed since Jesus Fish opened and Spare Parts rehearsals began. Shan appears calm, but I know she's nervous as hell. She's the lead in the show. She has one difficult song after another, and the character is complex and deep as anything she's played. Fortunately, she's the most brilliant actor I've ever known. Unfortunately, she can't see that. Val's not going to be at opening -- she's called-back for Sweeny Todd at UCI, where she's getting her MFA in Directing. Rick will be there, sweating, as will Josh and Chris. While Jesus Fish was running, we rehearsed Monday night through Thursday night and all-day Saturday and Sunday, and then performed Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Since Jesus Fish closed, we've been rehearsing every night and day, with only occaisional breaks, during which we loaded-in the set, painted everything, built props, set lights, and printed programs and posters. We're ready as we'll ever be.

It's 11:45am, Wednesday, October 1. I still haven't gotten any work done. Our opening weekend was a success -- good houses who seemed to love the show. Everything came together all at once -- everybody pulled together and lifted the show higher than it had been, which is what should happen when the lights come up and we find ourselves in front of an audience. I'm nervous to hear what the LA Weekly thought -- we'll see on Thursday. I'm back to being a regular person again, at least during the week, after almost four months. I've got to pull it together at my day job -- much has been neglected, and I need to keep this gig, if for no other reason than to pay back the difference between what we spent on my credit card and what Spare Parts brings in over the next few weeks. I feel good -- it's a good play. I'm extremely proud of what we've all done -- Rick and Val and Shan and Jeanette and James and I and the cast and crew. It's a great show -- extremely funny and deeply sad. It's complex and challenging. I'm proud of the hard work that went into this and Jesus Fish, of the depth and skill in our acting, of the darkly hilarious script, of the amazing, funky, utterly original music, of the functional and great-looking set, of every aspect of this show and the last. And I'm proud at just how fucking good we are -- how we can pull this stuff all together and make some great original theater time after time. I try to see as much LA theater as I can. I think we are one of the best companies in town. And we get better with each show. I'm proud and happy and my brain is already spinning, formulating Lucid by Proxy's next step. The company can grow. We can all gain exposure -- Rick and Jeanette and Val for their writing and directing, Shan and James and I for our acting. We can parlay this into a career, so we can all leave our draining day-jobs behind and make a living as artists. People will know Lucid by Proxy, and they'll come see our shows on that name alone. I'm sure of it.

Right now, though, I'm just pretty tired. And I've got to get some work done.

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all original content ©Clark Schpiell Productions, ©David Nett, ©Christopher Nett, ©Christopher Martinsen, ©Jeremy Groce, ©Jason Groce, ©Chad Schnaible, ©Rick Robinson, ©Eli Chartkoff, ©Thorin Alexander, ©Craig Bridger, ©Michelle Magoffin, or ©Jeanette Scherrer.
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