Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Safety Last (part 1): Finding the Sense of Danger


 "Nobody ever went into battle shouting: 'Give me safety or 
give me death!' And neither shall we go on stage preoccupied 
with our physical well-being. The show is bigger than any of 
us, so if you're more concerned about your own survival 
than about performing a great show, then you're on the wrong 
pyrate crew! Safety is not worth dying for, and it's 
not worth the show dying for..."

In the early 1990s i wrote my first script for Brethren of the Coast. Our director complained the script was "unperformable" and demanded changes. So i changed the director. The new director didn't work out either so i directed everything myself from then on. The next year we did a new show, 'Sanguinarium,' which i proclaimed to be my masterpiece but which Wolf described as: "an anguished cry for help." Before our first performance i said a few words to the cast to get them into the proper spirit:


"The sound of an audience laughing and cheering is worth 
more to me than my own life. So it's certainly worth more 
than any of your lives. Therefore: i don't care who gets 
the laughs, just as long as the show is funny. And i don't 
care how many of you get hurt or killed, 
only that the fights look good..."

Bullsh*tting the crew. i've got skills at this.
     In truth, there were only a couple of the crew whose deaths i would have been indifferent to but it was Brethren policy to cultivate our reputation as reckless, heck-raising pirates so i did my part.

    Wolf and i had spent some weeks and broken some swords choreographing a double-cutlass duel. i wrote a quick five-person skit that incorporated the duel so we could perform it for the rest of the Brethren on Catalina Island. During that voyage Lazarus drank 12 bottles of Guinness, puked on himself, then passed out below deck. We revived him when we docked at the island and he hiked to the isthmus with us to perform. Badly, very badly. The skit got a great reaction though so i rewrote and expanded it into a 12-person show that became 'Sanguinarium.'

Lazarus: Hours away from a great performance.

    The gist of the plot was: each of several pirates attempting to steal a box of treasure from the others thru fighting, palaverance, backstabbing, treachery and dirty tricks. Beginning with a dozen pirates it got down to four, then two who seem to have co-conspired against the others but, naturally, they betray each other until just one wench, Severine, is left on a stage covered in dead pirates, she thinks she'll finally claim that treasure until…

In those early days our pirate "look" was not even passable.

    i felt it was better if every performer got a few laughs and memorable moments so there were no "leads" or stars in this show, no heroes, just vile reprehensible characters whose sole redeeming attribute was that they were interesting to watch. i wrote the script to fit the cast -rather than casting it to fit the script- so everybody was portraying themself; Wolf, Lazarus, Severine, Winifred, Francisco, Baxter, Drake, myself, and Captain Bellows. (the few other roles were played by different people each time according to who was available).


    We did 'Sanguinarium' at different venues throughout the summer and something always went injuriously wrong. Winifred stabbed my hand in one performance. It swelled up before the second show, two hours later, so much that i could barely wrap my fingers around a sword hilt and when the blades met during the double-cutlass the wound popped open, squirting like a fat angry zit. The hilt became wet, slippery then sticky, i struggled not to drop it. The fight was awkward but the show prevailed.
    A week after that i cracked Wolf's nose with a belaying pin (not intentionally). He had to wipe with his sash and snort blood before each line to finish the show. A couple days later i stabbed Lazarus during rehearsal, into the back of his hand and out the palm. It was bloody. He had a gig that night with his band and went onstage with a wad of cotton taped to his palm and a maxi pad over his knuckles. They were punk rock so nobody noticed.
    For the first dozen shows someone got hurt in every single performance yet we always got more applause than the other acts so we began to suspect that, like a NASCAR race, certain people watched us just hoping to see a wreck.


    But after we'd done it enough times it started going smoothly. We'd adapted to the complications of blood-wet slippery stages and stepping over the dead during combat. (the dead always had their eyes open in terror that a weapon would land on them) We also got comfortable with the sword choreography and this was not a good thing. It didn't seem as piratey when everything worked. The fights were tighter, even graceful, but the audiences weren't gasping or cheering as much. The verbal jokes still got laughs but something intangible was missing. We had evolved into a polished theatrical troupe and polish did not work when you were a pirate.

Winifred, Lazarus, Severine.
    Lazarus did tattoos at Voodoo Ink on Hollywood Blvd. We were there one afternoon drinking tequila shots, watching a stripper get her nipples pierced when he proclaimed: "Something's wrong with the show! It's not fun anymore."
    "i know it, man. i know."
    "We're just a bunch of actors now. I don't feel like a pirate anymore."
    "Maybe we need a new show."
    "We can't do a new show. I finally have my lines almost memorized." (by "memorized" he meant able to remember that he had a line when it came up, not so much able to deliver the line correctly)
    "The jokes still work. It's something else..."
    "It's the fights. That double-cutlass thing used to be the sh*t, but it doesn't pack a punch anymore. It looks like choreography."
    "That's because we don't screw it up like we used to."
    "That's what's wrong with it! When you look too rehearsed people realize they're just watching a show. There's no sense of danger unless you f*ck up once in a while so it looks like a real fight."
    "Sh*t! We should drink before the shows, so we're sure to f*ck things up."
    "Good idea!"
    Naturally Lazarus thought it was a good idea, he'd never done a sober show yet. Still, i resolved to test this theory (strictly for science) so at our next show i stealthily downed a few jiggers of rotgut rum just minutes before stagetime. i was discreet about it because i'd always discouraged the cast from over imbibing.

    The show began with a three on one fight against our captain, Jaimie Bellows, with him prevailing and vanquishing us. The liquor crept up on me thru those first moments. i couldn't tell what effect it had on my swordfighting but it sure well worked on my mind. i felt GREAT! Like a true pirate, completely in character. This was awesome! The only thing that went wrong in the whole show was a squib not breaking, nobody even got hurt. What a triumph.
    "Helluva show!" said Lazarus.
    "What a show," said Bellows. "Now we can get a drink, finally!"
    "Umm, yeah," i said. "Let's get a drink." i was already four sheets to the hurricaine but i presumed they couldn't tell. (they could tell but i was too drunk to tell that they could tell)
    Severine wasn't fooled. She began shouting at me: "What the hell were you doing, going onstage drunk?!"
    Had i been sober at that moment i would have realized the futility of trying to explain it to her but, alack, in my diminished state, i tried: "i thought the show might look more natural if i wasn't so sober."
    "Well it didn't. You forgot half your lines!"
    "You're exaggerating. You're a pathological exaggerator.."
    "And you totally grabbed Winifred's ass in your scene with her."
    "i don't remember that." If i had done that i regret not remembering it.
    "Oh yeah, and you scared the hell out of Cabinboy." It had been Cabinboy's first show with us. (We called all the new recruits Cabinboy until we came up with proper pirate names for them).
    "Why? What's his problem?"
    "When his squib didn't break he was afraid you were going to stab him for real just to get some blood in the scene."
    "He's right. Blood is very important for this show. Next time i will stab him to get that blood. He moved out of the way this time." i meant that as a joke, of course, (no, honest, it was a joke).
    "You should go talk to him and tell him he's safe. He thinks you're mad that he didn't let you stab him. Now he's afraid to do the next performance."
    "No, he isn't."
    "No, he really is! You need to talk to him."
    "Balls to that! i'm drinking."
    i staggered off toward the bar. Severine followed. "I need a drink too…"
    Cabinboy didn't show up for the next day's performance.

Severine.
    i had resolved not to drink for the next show but it was too late, the precedent had been set: "If the director can drink," the crew reasoned, "then we can drink too." It was immediately clear that something was wrong. Wolf was slurring his words. He was thoroughly, obviously drunk. This is going to go badly, i thought. And it did. The fights did not look like choreography though, and the crowd applauded during the double-cutlass.


    Bellows got us gigs like the CutThroat Island screening and the Redondo Beach pier opening but we also did a few non-piratey things like histrorical festivals and faires. i really hated the faires. They always contained at least a few meddling, busy-body, "safer-than-thou" types. (Lazarus called them "safety-nazis"). Sword performers who held to a narrow opinion of how things should be done and were hostile to anyone who deviated from their orthodoxy. These were broadsword/rapier/etc. fighters. As pirates, we used different weapons hence we did things diferently. We didn't criticize them for being different but they sure came after us.
    At those events we could measure our success by the amount of hostility we got from the other performers. We quickly realized that whenever someone told us how bad our show was it was usually because our show went over better than theirs had, it was just jealousy, so if we came off stage to the rebukings and admonishments of other artistes we knew we'd done well.
    Some criticisms were reasonable, like: "Maybe you guys need to rehearse more." i would respond by pointing to the Brethren of the Coast placard next to the stage and asking, "Does that say 'Refined demonstration of thespianic skill?' No, it says: 'PIRATES!'"

    Sometimes the older sword performers would try to lecture us, affecting superiority and then boring us with "safer-than-thou" platitudes and suggestions -like "Never drink before a performance"- that would have only weakened our act until it sucked as bad as theirs had.
    We pirates felt that, as long as the audience didn't get hurt, the performers were adults who could decide for themselves what risks we were willing to take by getting onstage with one another, we could only blame ourselves for our injuries so it wasn't anyone else's concern. But these "lecturer" types presumed that we were trying to do what they did: polished proficient swordfights. They were wrong; we were pirates and there is no polish or gracefulness in piracy. It was they who wanted what we had: the fun of performing.

    One memorable "Safety First" crusader insisted on condemning us for recklessness after we'd done a particularly successful show. This guy got so angry that Lazarus and i couldn't resist antagonizing him, we eventually made a sport of these perpetually outraged busybodies. This fellow berated us for several minutes, seriously shouting things like: "Your whole crew is dangerous and you shouldn't be allowed to perform anywhere, at all, ever!" i again pointed to the placard. "Does that say 'Polished demonstration of the proper and gentlemanly techniques of swordplay?' Well, does it? No. It says: 'PIRATES!'"
    "Well I'm reporting you for drinking!"
    "Dude, we're pirates. PIRATES!" He just didn't comprehend it.
    "You're the most unprofessional group I've ever seen!" He was furiously mad even though we'd given him no provocation other than winning over an audience he had failed to, and our cheerful demeanor (which we knew would get his goat). He finally stomped away, probably to yell at somebody else he disapproved of. There's always somebody who'll try to make you feel bad about feeling good. F**k those people.
    Bellows asked: "Who's he going to report us to? The Temperance League?"      Lazarus said: "Let's get a drink!"
    We never discovered what that guy's problem was but i will speculate that he suffered from a bad case of Pirate Envy.

The lessons to be learned from this: 1: There is no polish or gracefulness in piracy. 2: If Patrick Henry had demanded "Give me safety or give me death!" nobody would remember him today.  

Godspeed!

Thanks to Jessica Black Photography for several of the pictures here.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Harry And Roscoe...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to two of my favorite people! Roscoe Arbuckle (b. 1887) and Harry Houdini (b. 1874).
    In this picture Roscoe is performing the East Indian Nail Trick which Houdini would later adapt into the Needle Trick (okay, i just made that up). Houdini is holding the hat to conceal his forearm which was broken and in a sling (no, i didn't make up that part, it's true). These fellows knew one another thru their friend Buster Keaton. Houdini had given Buster his name and Roscoe had discovered and made Buster (already a vaudeville star) into a film star. 
    What do these guys have to do with pirates? That will be explained in an forthcoming post.
     
More about Houdini at: WildAboutHarry   
More about Roscoe (and Buster) at: Silentology  

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sea of Darkness 4: Thru the Straits of Dire

                 
By the year 2006, after more than a decade of pirating, i finally had a troupe that was getting some traction in show business, hitting the stages of Los Angeles in an escalating maelstrom of performances. These were often tailored for our specific audience of the moment hence we would come up with plot scenarios whilst driving to gigs, then ad lib the rest during the show, -you can do that sort of thing when you've been working with the same people for a while. These landlocked shows took most of my time, all of my time.
    In the spring of that year, for reasons unfathomable and despite my soberest judgement, i allowed my crew, Revenge From The Sea, to talk me into doing a pirate cruise. 
Brandi: "Hey! You should do a cruise this year!" Bullet: "i'll kill you!"
    Unlike my theatrical troupe, RFTS did their pirating on a ship at sea rather than on some silly stage. i would insist they do a performance on the ship though, just because i thought it was fun and because it was the only time that i could write a script exactly how i wanted, without having to consider anyone else's tastes. 
    Besides writing the script, doing a cruise meant making hundreds of phone calls to organize rehearsals, getting Omen to paint a cool cover for the invitations, writing, printing then snail-mailing the invitations, (we didn't send email invites because we didn't want people forwarding them). We also needed to determine a 'share of plunder' to hand out, then design and create 100 of them. Oh yeah, and there was the money problem. i'd have to pay for rum, mailings, plunder shares and the ship itself. 

    Deciding that sleep and sanity were for wankers, we commenced preparing for the cruise. My irrationally optimistic business strategy for this event was to reserve the ship then mail out the invites and hope enough people bought passage in advance that i could cover the cost of the charter and other expenses. This didn't always work. Sometimes i had to use my rent money to reserve the ship because people didn't pay up in time. They'd show up just before we sailed, cash in hand. There wouldn't be time to count it all, i'd just shove it in my pocket and hope it was enough to cover the check i handed to the ship's captain, telling him, "Please don't deposit this for a few days." The next morning i'd pay rent with apologies to the landlord for being three weeks late, laying out hundreds of dollars in piles of small bills on his desk. He became suspicious once and asked me if i'd robbed a liquor store for the money. i told him, "No, man. i was pirating!"
    Other than a few crossover people, Revenge From The Sea were a very different monster than the landlocked troupe. Most of us never even saw one another except during the few weeks of cruise rehearsals each year so we were an harmonious group, by pirate standards, in that we weren't sick of working together and only a few of us hated each other's guts. 
    Los Angeles is geographically vast and we were scattered throughout it so we never managed a rehearsal where everyone was present at the same time. We practiced in shifts where about half the cast were present and a few valiant performers read multiple parts to cover for those who weren't there. We had two months -rather than the usual three- to make this cruise work. i'd written the script quickly, furiously, and somewhat incompetently. It included foolishly whimsical ideas like trying to rhyme "Caribbean" with "Gonorrhea." My reasoning skills were obviously diminished because, at the time, i really thought that would work.

CROW: "..once a mighty pirate of the Caribbeah, now a pirate of the gonorrhea! That's why i never engage a doxy without my proper wenching hat."
DOXY POX: "But sir, you don't wear a wenching hat."
CROW: "Not on my head, i don't."
  
    The whole script was this level of nonsense. It was crap but i was too exhausted to notice. Wolf quit after the first rehearsal, i should have realized then that something was wrong but i was preoccupied with other things. Wolf had been pirating with me for twelve years, he had a powerful voice that held an audience's attention and kept the other performers in line. The show wouldn't be as good without him in it. He left a note for me that read: "This script is nothing less than FINE." Whenever i didn't like something but was trying to be diplomatic i would describe it as "fine." Wolf calling my script "fine" was the worst insult possible but, again, i was just too busy to think about it. i did a quick rewrite -further weakening the bad script- to accommodate his absence and we continued rehearsals.
       A few things did go well, however. Omen Thistle painted a perfect illustration for the invites. i invented the '69 Splatterer' (patent pending), a new form of squib that shot blood in opposite directions simultaneously. We decided to add an extra hour to the charter so we'd have time to do one last rehearsal before taking off. i rigged a new hanger, from netting and boarding pikes, for the 'Ark of the Kaptaincy' so Olde Nick could command from a dignified position. We switched from Whaler's Dark rum to the more popular, and more expensive, Captain Morgan, fixed our gibbeted skeleton, Jack Bladder, to live up to his name, and Miss Blue revamped the entire Revenge From The Sea website in time for us to promote the cruise on it. 
Omen Thistle (Nikki Carey) painted the cover of our invite to Sea Of Darkness 4… and i spelled 'straits' incorrectly.
    Then, a week before sailing, something almost sank us. Spillit, and myself did a gig where we had to storm a corporate meeting in an office building to sell the CEO on the idea of having a pyrate theme for their upcoming national convention. After a hyper extended Spinal-Tappian search for our client thru the lobbies and back doors of three separate buildings, we boarded an elevator to the top floor. We were to surprise about 60 of the regional directors who had come from all over the country for this meeting.
    Upon emerging, pistols and swords in hand from the elevator, some daft office wench was so startled she hid under her desk and called 911 to tell them that armed terrorists were in the building and there was a hostage situation -because, as everybody knows, terrorists always dress like 17th century buccaneers. (isn't there a law against "piratical-profiling"). We had no idea as we were performing our skit, that the client was downstairs frantically explaining to police that the "armed intruders" were hired performers. 
    Upon our departure we found a lobby full of cops waiting for us.    
    Spillit said: "Sh*t! We'll have to cancel the cruise because they're taking us to Gitmo!" 
    i said: "We're not going to Gitmo, dude. We have pyratical immunity."
    The cops didn't arrest us, they just wanted us to pose for pictures with them. 
    The CEO of the company found out about this the following week when he recieved an angry letter from the Irvine police dept. telling him he should warn people next time he plans to invite pyrates to their corporate meetings. He decided against having a pyrate theme for their convention.

Three days before sailing, Severine phoned me. i always thought of Sev as a knee-jerk contrarian. Her first reaction to anything new was to proclaim it impossible to accomplish or just a bad idea. Thus i took it with a few grains of sea salt when she said: "You know, I was thinking maybe we shouldn't do a performance this time."
    "You don't like the script. Go on, say it! You don't have to beat around the bilge pump with me!"  
    "Honestly," she said. "You've written better shows. Much better. And we haven't had enough time to rehearse anyway." 
    She spoke in a tone of transparent tactfulness but i could tell she hated my script. Well, at least she didn't call it "fine."
Severine. Should i have listened to her? Naaah.
    i considered her advice (only because she was my Most Valuable Pirate). It was true that, even without a show, the voyage itself would be a success because we'd be on a tall ship, out on the water with barrels of rum, cannon firing and musicians playing and wenches dancing in the salty spray. That was what most pirates came for anyway. And we hadn't actually advertised that there would be a show, so we weren't obligated to do it. But, dammit, we'd always done a show on the cruise and people would be expecting one. And i just HAD to do it, i was a pathological performer and had committed to this. There was no going back.
    In the days preceding the voyage my fellow Revengers were all drafted to unpleasant duties like rolling scrolls or chopping coconuts or designing DVD labels until, late in the month of July, by the skin of our few remaining teeth, we managed to launch our fourth Voyage. 
    An anonymous person once said: "The difference between men and boys is the size of their toys." Some people aren't content to play with plastic swords or build model kits of miniature pirate ships, they want a real ship, with cannon and sails, a sea wind to push them onward and cutlasses ringing over a blood splashed deck. And rum, lots of rum. Such people are pirates, and about a hundred of them were gathered at the dock in Long Beach whilst my crew went thru a last minute rehearsal aboard ship. It was the first time we'd all been in the same place at once and only then did i notice how truly awful the show was. 
    Usually a script starts out at about 40 pages and then gets cut down to 20 or less pages during the course of rehearsals so that it doesn't run too long (about 14 minutes is optimal). The one we were performing was 29 pages and there hadn't been time to edit it or to determine which elements would work and which would bomb. So everything was left in. Every. Stupid. Bad Idea. Still, we were going to perform it because, like an addict holding a crack pipe, i just couldn't stop myself.
    My strategy was to wait until an hour into the cruise before starting the performance. Most of the audience would be on their second or third drink by this time hence more receptive to the entertainment. The trouble was that most of the performers would also be a few sheets to the wind by then so i didn't risk waiting any longer than that. 
Drink up! The show'll go down much better.
video
The Doxy Chix: our soundtrack of the seas.
    Doxy Pox began ringing the ship's bell for attention, then the musicians began a military drum beat and Mr. Spillit was led out in chains to hear the charges against him before his execution. Cassandra speaks out of turn and Crimson Bastard silences her with the line: "Shove a cork in yer blowhole, ye flank-felching mutton strumpet!" 
    The line had been written for Wolf. Bastard delivered it differently than Wolf would have. Not badly, just differently. So something seemed off, right from the beginning (it probably didn't help that the words "flank-felching" dont make any damn sense at all). But things got even more off as we continued. The first bit of banter was Spillit trying to talk his way out of being shot. i'd expected this scene to last a couple minutes but it went on and ploddingly on...
SPILLIT: "Stay yerselves! I may be the new man on this crew, But I do insist I've got the right to a trial!"  
CROW: "Nobody has the right to a trial, Mr. Spillit! Nobody has the right to any rights. Rights are not a right!"  
CRIMSON BASTARD: "Mr. Crow is right!"  
CROW: "Cap ye twig no insurrections fomented by this vain deliverer, this would-be slip gibbeting spawn of a Dover brothel whore who speaketh but to spare himself yer rightful wrath! Heed him not, who would seduce ye by the Devil's own words to the world's far edge and over, into the mouth of Hell itself..."   
DOXY POX: "But sir, it was you who set our course for the Mare Noc---"
CROW: "Dammit, wench! Don't interrupt me when I'm bullshitting the crew! ...Mr Spillit's crimes be of the vilest order since Captain Van Helsing stole my hat!...And my cloak...and my general demeanor and overall characterisation."
CRIMSON BASTARD: "Well Solomon Kane does make the same complaint against you."
CROW: "Must we cut out yet another tongue?"
She wouldn't be Cassandra if she wasn't complaining and fomenting.
     There were a dozen pages of just talk, talk, TALK... Norma Desmond would have hated this crap. Way too much dialogue and not enough bloodletting. What idiot had written this script? Oh, yeah..
    Because no one except the valiant Rillian had their lines well memorized, we drafted Mary Widow to the role of 'Girl Interrupter' and had her carry about a copy of the "unholy scripture," rushing from pyrate to pyrate so they could read their lines -if needed- as the lines came up. Our fiddler, DeAnna, was responsible for 'Accentual Musical Elements,' playing to accompany the performers, much like a film soundtrack. We were so unrehearsed though, she wasn't getting her cues. We were torturing her with all the missing and misdelivered dialogue. 
McAleenan O'Malley (DeAnna): our Musical Martyr.
    The action didn't begin until late in the show, after the audience had suffered yet more talk, and still more talk. Cassandra has been identified as the bringer of the pox which has cursed our ship... 

CROW: "This be the parcel of pubic pestilence which hast infected us! Make a fire! We'll burn her at the mast!"
LOUIE: "Burn her!" 
CRIMSON BASTARD: "Witch! Witch!"
   
    Brandi interferes with this plan, Severine fights Spillit then Brandi fights me. It barely makes any sense at all. This was Brandi's virgin voyage with us so she didn't yet have her bearings on how to avoid hitting the yardarm with her cutlass. Things went wrong. i stopped the show so we could do the fight over again, thinking we might at least get a few good seconds of video out of it. We didn't. It went slightly better but then the squib didn't work. The 69 Splatterer, which i had invented myself and was so proud of, was a FAILURE. It was nigh too much to bear but i pressed on and had Sev cut Brandi's throat over and over until it worked. On the fourth attempt the blood finally shot out properly but it wasn't effective because Brandi was already soaked from the previous three throat cuttings. 
Yet not a drop of blood in her hair...
    i was delirious and unhinged from lack of sleep, i started demanding everyone repeat their lines until the audience was satisfied with their performance. Finally, everyone on the verge of mutiny or tears, we finished the show. 
    In the end my 14 minute skit had gone on for 43 minutes and seven seconds. And my crew probably hated me. At one point, Crimson Bastard had lacerated my finger whilst handing me a dagger, was it intentional? i'm still not sure.
Severine cut Brandi's throat (four times). Thanks, Sev!
    Other than the show, the cruise went fine. The ship was packed to capacity with pyrates. We finished off both barrels of rum and many a strumpet was groped in the twilight as rum-goggles held sway over over her reasoning. The sun was just setting and the band played 'Leave Her' as we drifted into port. 
    As our guests disembarked, each received a "share of plunder," that being a DVD version of 'Sea of Darkness 3' which Wolf had edited together. At least the show had gone well on that one.  Afterward most of us staggered to a tavern on the docks to drink and wench into the late night..
    Upon closing the tavern we commenced the two hour drive back to Hollywood for the wonderful chore of carrying barrels, crates, gibbet cage and skeleton, wooden sign and weapons, and the Kaptain's head, through two security gates and up four flights to my Crow's nest. Spillit and i did the carrying while Mary Widow guarded the vehicle from criminals and parking enforcement. We finished at 4:00 am. They left. i sat on my couch, spent, no longer sober, and quickly comatose.  

    After three hours i was awakened by the telephone and Severine's voice informing me: "We're downstairs. Are you ready?"
    "Ah, sh*t! i'll be right down.." i'd forgotten we had a gig that afternoon. There was no time to shower so i wore mostly the same sweaty, blood stained clothes i'd slept in. If anyone complained i'd tell them today was 'Smell Like a Pirate Day.'
    The hangover kicked in like a rosary of pain, like a sounding iron dropping on my skull. The heathen gods of land and sea (and theatre too, probably) were punishing me for my terrible performance yesterday. i swallowed three asprins with a half bottle of beer, pulled myself together post-sloth and staggered downstairs to meet the others. 
    Sev spoke first: "Gooooood morning!"
    "Please don't be cheerful. It might get you killed..."
    We had to do four shows that day. One of them went really, really well. The other three? Let's just open some rum and drink away that memory...

The lesson to be learned from all of this: If someone, anyone, tells you that your script is "fine," it's best to just scrap the entire damned thing and start over. 

Godspeed.

Much thanks to Golden Image, and Fourth Realm Foto for sharing pictures and video!

Monday, July 11, 2016

When the Show Isn't Seaworthy

Here we are making the right decision...

video

..because a pirate has to have high standards.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Pressgang Cometh...


Imagine Pirates are looking for a new female performer who can make it to rehearsals twice a week. Preferred attributes (other than punctuality) are: work ethic, big personality, physically healthy and energetic, passion for performing… If interested, please email: Info@ImaginePirates.com

And Godspeed ye.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Mutiny Magazine #17 Weighs Anchor

My new column in Mutiny Magazine concerns the backstage complications of Pirate Theatre and pirate performers, much like this very blog. Heck, it's even named after this blog... 
Mutiny #17 can be found HERE.

Read Free or Die!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Sea of Darkness 3: Inveiglement, Sophistry, Epiphenomenalism

Concerning our Crewe's third Voyage into the Sea of Darkness 
and Complications overcome to achieve said Voyage, with 
certain Names altered to protect the easily butthurt...

In most cases no single actor can save a show yet it takes only one to ruin it. When someone screws up during performance somebody else has to cover for them and a painful truth of theatre is that the one doing the covering is usually perceived by the audience to be the one screwing up. For this reason most performers are wary of going onstage with anyone they suspect is unprepared, or worse, incompetent. Yet, perforce, it's a pirate's lot that such a situation will present itself. 

Lazarus drew the invite cover for the third cruise.

    During my first few years of pirating, casting a show required finding whomever had a proper costume/cutlass/pistol/etc, and was willing to do it. This necessitated lowering the conventional theatrical standards and settling for whoever we could get. i'd never believed that performers needed talent so much as just reasonable intelligence and a willingness to show up at the requisite time and make an effort to do the work once they were there. If anyone drank liquor during rehearsals i wouldn't give them some soberer-than-thou rebuke unless drunkenness was detrimental to their performance. Making a good-faith effort was all i asked.


Louie and Cassandra.
    Louie and Cassandra were the kind of performers i wanted in the shows, neither were actors but both knew that lines had to be memorized, rehearsals had to be attended, and excuses weren't going to save the show. They tried hard and that mattered. Severine had studied acting in London and took her sh*t seriously. DeAnna, our fiddler and band leader, was exceptional too and Crimson Bastard was so good he was worth his weight in bastardy bonds. He never said the lines exactly as written yet was the most popular pirate in the troupe and had a cult-like fan base that showed up just to see him. Most of the crew were easy to work with and rehearsals were really fun.
Bastard and Wolf.
    Lazarus was trouble though. He came to rehearsals sober but he would be drunk during performances. i still considered him one of the better performers since he tried hard and never complained about things. i'd done enough shows with him to know what would work and what wouldn't. There were certain lines that he could deliver better than anyone else, like the definitions. Whenever any character used an obscure or uber-nautical term that the landlubbers in the audience wouldn't understand, (i.e, Moses Law, Keel-hauling, Rosary of Pain, Marooned, etc.)  Lazarus would follow by defining that term for everybody. But whether he remembered the definitions depended on how much he'd drank, and there was no way to predict that.

    In Sea of Darkness 3 my character, Mr. Crow, insists the reason they've all been lost at sea for three years is because the crew's refusal to stop frigging has lost them favor with the Lord. Lazarus stepped forward to define the word "Frigging."

Scripturally, the scene went thus:

CROW: "Faith indeed, if we are to rediscover His grace and hence find the isle we seek, you must all refrain from this incessant, unholy, and nigh constant frigging!"

LAZARUS: "Frigging: That kindly, though solitary, easement of nature commonly practiced by seafaring men particularly on lengthy and arduous voyages when feminine compire is most lacking. Their worn and calloused hands, indeed providing but the barest relief from that incessant and reoccurrant swelling which doth afflict and torment them."

But Lazarus had some difficulty with the line:

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Here's Lazarus blowing his line at the final rehearsal, 
yet still not nearly the worst actor in the show.

i tore that page from the script and pasted just the one line on the side of his tankard. During the show he held it blatantly in view of everyone yet still read the line incorrectly. He didn't break character at all though and the crappy delivery came across so natural it didn't detract from the efficacy of the scene. No one expected Lazarus to know his lines. After all, he wasn't an actor, just a pirate pretending to be an actor...

Lazarus eventually paid for his lack of preparation.
    Not everybody hauled -or justified the rest of us hauling- their weight though. There were two of the cast that were useless, indeed detrimental, to the show. You know the type: lazy, complainers, excuse-makers, takers of frequent cigarette breaks. The Idiot Faction. When i had first begun doing pirate shows the casts were about 2/3rds Idiot Faction, so things had improved but there were still a lingering few. We called them the "Butthurt Brigade" because they were constantly taking offense at irrelevancies and fomenting gratuitous interpersonal disharmony. They had gigantic egos that demanded tribute and irrationally high estimations of what they contributed to the shows. Their very presence was dispiriting to the people who were actually working. Nobody was discouraged by a bad actor who was trying to be better, but the ones who weren't trying at all killed the morale of everyone else. 
    One of them, Monkeyass, (i'll just use the name we used when speaking of him) had the line immediately following Lazarus definition of frigging:

MONKEYASS: "Do you mean waxing the bowsprit?"

LOUIE: "I think he means climbing the mast one-handed."

DOXY POX (losing patience with their idiocy): "He means jerking-off!" (she moves her hand bell in an illustrative motion)

CROW (to Doxy): "Measure thy words! Abbreviation is kin to sloth and is the Devil's playground."

WOLF: "Well so is my left hand."

    i had triaged that line to Monkeyass because i knew that if he blew it (as i expected him to) Louie would be there to immediately deliver his own line and give Doxy her set up. The line could be ommitted completely without effecting the scene at all. i didn't think the scene itself was funny though. When the crowd cheered and clapped for Doxy's line i attributed that to their drunkenness and her bawdy delivery. The "dumbing down" of the dialogue from Lazarus lengthy definition to Doxy's quick punchline seemed very obvious and downright uncreative. Hell, the joke was almost dependent on the audience being drunk.

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Doxy Pox practices her delivery.

    i decided to reverse the concept: Rather than 'dumbing down' the joke we would 'wise it up.' Instead of reiterating an idea in ever simpler terms until the crew finally grasped it, we'd go the opposite direction and restate it in degrees of escalating complexity, finally culminating in a twisted gallimaufry of six-syllable words forming an overlong sentence our audience would be tortured to comprehend. It wouldn't be jibberish, it would convey a specific and clear idea, the logic would just be difficult to follow. Having established with the "frigging" joke that the crew were simpletons, this reversal of the approach would be unexpected and, hopefully, funny.
    i worked hours on just the one line, an act of pure science: first listing a few dozen five and six-syllable words then struggling to cram as many of them as possible into a single sentence which conveyed a definable thought. Wolf was the only one i trusted could handle the line. i presented him the page of script as a challenge to his thespianic skills. i didn't actually think this would challenge him -he'd been an actor since he was five years old and starred on Broadway at age six- but hoped if i expressed some doubt in his abilities he'd be inspired to excel all the further.  (Yes, i really did read Dale Carnegie and remember some of it)
Al Pacino and B.J. Barie (the future Wolf Dekardson) in 'Author, Author'
That kid could act! 
    The Idiot Faction of the cast were impressed by the long words and thought it must require a supremely skilled actor to remember and deliver such dialogue. But i thought the big words by themselves almost substituted for delivery: they just sounded like great acting no matter how you said them (unless you said them incorrectly). i began to apply simpleton-psychology to Bugger and Monkeyass whenever one would screw up during rehearsals: "Dude," i would ask, "If Wolf can memorize that long and inhumanly complicated line why can't you even remember to say 'Aye!' on cue?" Wolf went along with this too, playing up the difficulty of the line to the point where the rest of us were treating him as though the entire show depended on his getting that one thing right. The idiots would shut up their complaining for a moment but neither would work any harder, they just came up w/ new excuses for their failures. 

Scripturally, the scene went:

WOLF: "Quiet! Now be cautious! We all know Mr. Crow has a dodgy way of speaking so don't let him confuse ye with his quick words."

LOUIE: "Quick words? What do ye mean by that?"

LAZARUS: "Aye! What does that mean?"

     (several others express their lack of understanding..)

WOLF: "I mean don't let him bamboozle ye with his double-talk!"

LOUIE: "I still don't understand."

LAZARUS: "Nor do I."

    (others reiterate that they don't understand either..)

WOLF: "I mean don't let him attempt inveiglement of your perceptions via sophistries appealing to yer subjective predispositions to the point of obfuscation of our collective intentions by exploiting susceptibilities often epiphenomenal to your inebriate dispositions!"

BUGGER: "Oh, I get it!"

LAZARUS: "Why didn't ye just say so?"

RUBY: "Long winded son of a Dutchman..."

       (the rest of the crew express their sudden comprehension as well) 


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Here's Wolf getting it ALMOST perfect in the final, shipboard rehearsal.

    i construed Wolf's long line as a balloon being blown up to complete fullness as he delivered the words, the words filling it to nigh bursting, followed by a half-second pause and then: "Oh, I get it!" spoken fast, like a pinprick, bursting that fat balloon in a loud, sudden POP! 
    But Bugger didn't POP the balloon as intended, no, he just let the air out of it steadily, gradually. He didn't quickly proclaim: "Oh, I get it!" Instead he said: "O-o-o-o-o-o-o-oh, I-I-I-I get it..." Rather than the punctuating 'POP!' it was just a slow deflation to nothing followed by the others who had waited for him to finish before they piped in with their own lines. Instead of a gloriously shocking loud noise followed by laughter, we just had an empty balloon, limp as a used rubber dripping the wasted jizz of what might otherwise have been a funny joke. He may as well have been a deliberate saboteur. 
    Bugger couldn't deliver that simple line because he was an idiot who wouldn't take direction. He had whined and begged his way into the show and was cast only because i pitied him. My bad. My very, very bad. But i realized from this experience that an effective director is a director Without Pity. My mission now was to thwart the idiots so that the competent people could shine. i owed it to those good, hard working pirates not to allow their efforts to have been for naught.
    To save the joke somebody else would have to deliver the line. But Bugger wouldn't just forfeit his line to another, better, actor. He was difficult. A Four Star General of the Butt-Hurt Brigade, he would pout and be a bitch about things and slow down the rehearsal process with his bullshit when we were too close to the performance date to waste time dealing with nonsense. i had to be crafty.
    On the very last day of rehearsals, after weeks of insisting the performers not step on one another's lines, i took Doxy Pox aside during a break and told her: "i need you to betray one of your fellow actors."
    "What do you mean?"
    "i want you to step on his line, to actually say it before he does. Quicker, and louder too, than he does. Steal the punch from him before he ruins it."
    "Whose line?" 
    "Bugger's."
    "Hell yes, I'll do it. He sucks and he's an a**hole!"
    i didn't even have to explain which line i was referring to, she knew.
    "Don't do it in this rehearsal though. Wait until the actual performance so he doesn't know it's going to happen."
    "Easy."
    "Thank you," i whispered. "You're saving the show."
    "I know."
    So the joke worked, mostly. One of the setup lines got blown and other things went wrong but Wolf delivered his line perfectly (people even applauded) and Doxy Pox came in just in time and loud enough to follow it to maximum effect. And the show was saved.


    Mary Widow had printed up a declaration on parchment paper affirming that Wolf had, indeed, delivered his line correctly and awesomely "..as witnessed by all of the crew." We intended presenting it to Wolf after the performance to commemorate his success, presuming he succeeded. We'd gotten about half the crew to sign it, thinking the rest could sign it on the ship and then we'd give it to him after the show. But the paper got left ashore. "Damn!" i thought, "Wolf won't get his commemorative document."
    Mary, however, had forseen such an occurrence and had printed another copy and brought it along with her. She went about the crowded ship, dodging drunken pirate-folk, getting the cast to sign it before the performance. She'd also prudently printed a similar parchment delaring that Wolf had "royaly screwed up and failed" to deliver the line. Everybody signed that one too just so we'd be prepared for whatever happened. 
    But, alack, one pirate was in their cups enough to let go of the first paper and a sea wind took it overboard to Davy Jones so we ended up having to give Wolf the page which said he'd failed. 
    Oh well. Sorry, Wolf.

    A few years later that original parchment, the one which had been left ashore, turned up in a pile of documents betwixt D.B. Cooper's birth certificate and William Kidd's privateering commission. Behold:


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Gardiner's Island Shoot

Our beach shoot looked something like this. Thank you California for perfect weather even in December. 
Worth growing a beard for? Aye!
Worth wrecking a car for? You decide.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

To the Sea...

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Mutiny Magazine broke the briny on Saturday last, for their Order of Leviathan induction cruise aboard Revenge From The Sea's preferred vessel, the American Pride. Attending were pirates from divers crews and distant ports, all of whom agreed that there are few greater sins against the piratical aesthetic than a carnival cruise ship in the background of an otherwise superlative moment.

(Thanks to Mary Widow for the video and Pirates Charles for the music.)