Friday, September 14, 2012

Days of Low Adventure

From the Revenge archives circa 2006:


Illustration by Martin Abel (Here's his Official Website )

During those unspeakable horrors known to Revengers as "cruise preparations" we were asked to perform at something called the Hollywood Pirates Ball, which would take place at the Key Club, one of my favorite music venues. The Key Club was on Sunset Blvd. at the very site where the famous Gazzari's rock club had stood from the 1960s to sometime in the early 90s. Old Bill Gazzari, the 'Godfather of Rock'  would do radio commercials where he liked to point out that this was "..the same stage where the Doors, Van Halen, and Ratt started!" i'd always wanted to play Gazzari's on a Saturday night and here, at last, was my chance. Never mind that we weren't actually a rock band. Band of musicians, band of pirates; the difference was trifling.

    There was no profit in it for us, only a promise (which remains unkept) that we'd receive a video copy of our performance. We didn't have time to put an act together and there was a certain lack of enthusiasm among the others to do this unpaid gig. In fact, it wasn't until the morning of the event that i exerted my dictatorial influence to get them to do it at all.     
   
   After a long and despairing morning of cruise rehearsals, i asked my core pyrates to stay late. i opened my first beer of the morning and told them: "Let's just take the next hour and pull a show out of our arses and then go and do this thing tonight!" The decision had been made.

    We arrived an hour before stage time and were led thru the crowded club and out a door to the back rooms and out another door and to our dressing room, which was an old tour bus parked in the alley behind the back exit of the building. There were couches and a mirror and a plastic bucket full of ice and beer. Naturally, i wondered if this was the same tour bus "where the Doors, Van Halen, and Ratt" had drank beer before their gigs (it looked old enough). The walls and ceiling and floor were covered in band stickers. It looked like every single band that ever played here had left a sticker. There wasn't a square inch of surface that didn't have a sticker on it. Severine spoke first: "I've got one of our bumper stickers!"
Brandi, Bullet, Severine in the bus.
    She pulled it from her bag. It was a big, lame-arsed oversized rectangle that someone had rush printed for us one night when we were desperate. Black lettering on white, sans even a jolly-roger, that read: "My Chest Was Plundered by Crewe of Revenge." It was embarrassingly clumsy to behold.

    After several minutes scanning for the perfect spot to stick it, she gave up. It was just too damned big, there wasn't enough empty space to stick it on and Sev refused to cover any of the other stickers, "That would be really rude of us," she said.
    "But we're pyrates. It's our privilege to be rude!" 
    "No." she said, and opened a beer. "You guys just really need to make some smaller stickers."
    "Actually, we need to make cooler stickers."
    That was six months ago and we still need cooler stickers.
Key Club.
    We drank and practiced our skit in the space betwixt the bus and the building. The girls had come up with something they wanted to surprise me with, so they wouldn't rehearse in front of me. This irritated me because if their "surprise" happened to suck i, as the director, would be blamed for it. i grilled Brandi to tell me what it was. "No!" she said. "Sev and i worked all week on it, and it's a surprise."
   "You know what?" i said. "You're fired!"
   "Oh, you'll just hire me back again tomorrow."
   "Not this time! There's the plank, take a walk."
    She didn't move.

    Spillit kept interrupting our practice to talk to the groupies who were watching from outside the alley gate. He had been assigned groupie-duty since he was the only single pyrate in the show. Sporadically, we ran thru our half-arsed sword moves.
    "Dude," said Spillit. "You really have to stop firing Brandi all the time."
    "Dude, quit yer bellyaching and go grope a groupie. Or else we can do something bizarre and drastic like rehearse our fight a couple more times so we don't completely suck tonight."     
    He walked toward the gate where a wench in a skirt and biker boots was waving at him. i opened another beer.

Other vaguely piratical acts.
     Louie wasn't performing with us this night. We hadn't even seen him at all since he'd started POTC3. But he had made it out to the Pirates Ball and was hanging with us -if only for the free beer- and when we went to the backstage door he came with us. 
    i entered from stage right a minute before the others and immediately i knew that something was wrong. Most of the time we have to perform a good show and win over the crowd before they cheer for us but this time i just had to walk out onto the stage and they were screaming bloody mad. i hadn't even done anything yet. It didn't make sense.

Brandi, Spillit, Bullet: Live on the Sunset strip. (pic by Tiger Lee)
    Spillit and i had some dialogue but we weren't wearing microphones and the crowd was never quiet enough to hear it, so we gave up and just pantomimed some business which included him throwing a coin toward me as an insult, thus provoking our fight. It went over fantastically. They laughed and then cheered as the swords came out then pressed toward the stage during the fight. The girl's were next and their "surprise" was the addition of breakaway clothes, which they tore off of each other during their catfight. i liked it and so did everyone else, apparently. Brandi and i then did a double-cutlass duel to climax the show and then we were done. The whole thing had lasted about six minutes.
Severine.
Brandi and Sev.
    Louie had followed us out onto the stage and when we took our bows he came right up to the front and bowed alongside the rest of us even though he hadn't actually done anything in the show. That took nerve and i totally respected him for it. What a f**king pirate!

    i noticed my hand had been bloodied during the show but i couldn't locate the cut...
    Back in the tour bus, Spillit asked me: "Did you hear that crowd?"
    "Yes," i said. "But something's wrong. We just can't be that f**king popular."
    "We're not," he said. "Remember what you did on that pyrate cruise? When you planted people in the audience?"
    "You mean quackers? To incite the crowd..."
    "Yeah. I put Adam out there. I told him to get some of his friends and to all scream loud as hell as soon as we came onstage."
    "How many friends did he have?"
    "Only like three, they were just really loud and got everyone else going!"
    "Sh*t! i'm gonna buy him a beer!"
    Some rocker kid stopped me at the bar. "You guys were f**king great! That was the coolest sh*t I ever saw!!"
    "Thanks," i said, and dove into my first rum and coke of the evening. The kid didn't go away.
    "I'm Steven," he said. "I'm writing an article about the Pirates Ball. Can I interview you?"
    The last thing i felt like doing was talking to him but.. "Alright." i said. (we're media whores, have you noticed?) "Just promise me you won't say 'arrrgh'."
    "Why not?"
    "Either promise or i won't talk to you."
    "Okay."

Louie, Brandi, Bullet.
    There was beer in the trailer so we went there. He said he'd arrived just as our show started so he missed the performances before us. i told him what happened, careful to mention only our friends by name, viz: Shelby, Courtney, and the Scarlett Harlott, of course.
  We had been playing up the rock star/pyrate parallels in every interview for the past few months so i encouraged him to use that angle. After we plied him with beer and sent him on his way, Sev asked: "Do you think he'll give us a good write up?" 
    "Of course he will. i told him you'd hack him to death with your cutlass if he said anything bad about us. He's terrified now."
   She laughed. "Damn! I never would have thought of threatening a reporter."
   "Well, you're not the only one who knows how to work the media."

In the interview i'd had to spin some of the difficulties we'd had that night... 

SPUN 
(from Rock City News): 
According to Bullet: "We made a point not to use any of our usual FX. No gunshots, blood splatterings or bottles breaking over heads. We wanted this one to stand on just the sword work alone. Like an acoustic set. Revenge: Unplugged."

UNSPUN 
(what really happened): 
Sev forgot to bring the breakaway bottle, Bullet brought the blood squibs but forgot to fill them before going on stage (he'd been drinking), the venue threatened to sue us if we used gun powder. 

    A few weeks later it was on the newsstands. Spillit called me as soon as he read it. "Accoustic set?" he said. "What kind of bullsh*t did you shovel on that guy?" 
    To which i could only retort: "Dude. If it was in Rock City News, it MUST be true!"
   Well, as you know, the dedicated pirates of Revenge were born and are destined to suffer, and to that end we had to awaken early the next day as Spillit, Louie, and myself were committed to do an appearance in Long Beach. Ah, those wonderful post-pyrating hangovers! 
   i began suffering land-sickness during the ride but a quick stop to lean out the door and things were much less bad. Pyrate Wisdom: Always remove your seatbelt before casting up accounts.

   We stopped for a bottle of rum and drank it in a hurry as we gassed up the car. i began to feel optimistic after a few swigs of the pirate potion. i found my bottle of sunscreen, alcohol based, and squeezed some onto my left hand. Immediately i located my wounds from the previous night.          
    "AAaaaaaagghhh, sh*t!!" 
    There were four small, almost invisible cuts at the base of my fingers. i blamed Brandi for it.        
    "That bitch! She's fired! She's so f**king fired! i'll kill her!" 
    My pirate brothers only mocked my misery.
    Louie: "Oh my god! He fired Brandi!"
    Spillit: "Again? You bastard!"

   And the worst was yet to come...

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Revengings of Late

Currently: we are preparing for our first picture-shoot. Wardrobe and weaponry are done. We'll be fitting the final few pirates over the next week and building a set for the background. Pictures will be posted here before anywhere else. 
    And whilst ye're waiting anxiously, please do amuse yourselves with THIS ..
(photo by Michele Clement)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Saint Douglas Fairbanks


    Back in the olden times -1980s- it was a complicated challenge to join the Screen Actors Guild because you weren't eligible to join until you'd performed a speaking role on film or television, but you weren't allowed to audition for those roles unless you were already a member. Of course if you had family in the business it negated these rules (because nepotism is the supreme rule in Hollywood) but for the rest of us this was a formidable obstruction to our ambitions (this, and the $830.50 initiation fee). Other actors respected you for getting into SAG but not because it meant you were talented, rather because it meant you were clever enough to have dodged the Catch-22 regulation. SAG membership was the last great barrier between being a wannabe and being a real actor (or so us credulous youngsters believed in those simpler times). Anyway, it was a big steaming deal.
    Eventually, thru trickery and audacity and winning a role i wasn't "legally permitted" to even audition for, i got into the Guild. There was an "orientation" meeting for new members which was something like a brimstone and hellfire sermon from a James Joyce novel except that the deadliest sin in this case was to work non-union. The meeting wasn't mandatory but i endured it because my friend Donna told me they'd give me my card at the end (rather than mail it to me which would have taken a few weeks), and they did. On the bottom of a SAG card is a line one has to sign to make it valid. Donna said she took her first card to the Chinese Theatre and signed it whilst standing in the footprints of her favorite actress, Ginger Rogers. She described it as though she were adopting Ginger as the patron (matron?) saint of her acting career.
    In those days SAG headquarters was located on Hollywood Blvd. just a couple blocks from the Chinese Theatre. i'd always liked Donna's story so i went immediately to find my own patron saint. Naturally, it was Douglas Fairbanks, the first great swashbuckler. (i might have been torn between Fairbanks and Errol Flynn but Errol never got to put his footprints there).
    What i knew about Doug was that he'd had his own studio back in the 1920s, and total control over the movies he made; casting, scripting, stunts, directors, set design, etc. he had the final say on all of it. He built colossal sets for The Thief of Bagdad, and an entire castle for Robin Hood. Many of the scenes in his Black Pirate movie were directly modeled after Howard Pyle's paintings. He embraced the fun of life and it showed in those films. He seemed to scale every wall in his path and never came across a sword he didn't pick up to wield against injustice. For several years he'd been the biggest movie star in the world, and now he would be my patron saint. i knew i wasn't worthy, and Doug might have been affronted at the idea, but i was arrogant. Hell, i'd just gotten into SAG, hadn't i?
    Doug was among the first to leave his footprints in cement at the Chinese Theatre. i knew the spot, between the box office and the front doors. i pushed my way into the courtyard and found him. Ignoring the tourists who still crowded on all sides -even at 11:00pm, i set my feet in Doug's prints, traced my pen through his signature, then set down my card on his hand print and signed it.  
    "What are you doing?" asked one woman in a foreign accent. 
    "It's my SAG card!" i shouted, excited as hell. "It's my SAG card!!"
    She backed a few steps away, as though i were crazy. Behind me, a voice asked, "What the hell is a SAG card?"
    
    i never got to perform in a swashbuckling movie. Nobody was even making such things anymore. As my career fell miserably short of those first Fairbanksian aspirations, i was stuck playing parts like 'Heavy Metal Kid #1' or 'Maladjusted Student' or 'Junkie #2' on bad television shows when i should have been swashbuckling instead. Doing this when i just knew that God intended me to do this. Grateful for what i had but not at all content.
"i'm not complaining, but i'd rather be boarding galleons and hacking shit up with a cutlass."

    Doug was in the Hollywood Cemetery and i would visit him frequently, even doing a picture shoot there which rendered my most successful headshot, but he never spoke to me to tell me where i was going wrong. i returned many times, hoping for a word or a sign from Saint Doug. But nothing. 
"Honest, i'll go away if you just say something!"

    In 1993 my friend Severine brought me into a pirate group she belonged to called Brethren of the Coast. She was trying to form an acting troupe out of them but most of them didn't have the discipline or interest for it. There were a few good people though   and the group got some good gigs, including opening for the CutThroat Island movie at an early screening and inaugurating the Redondo Beach Pier. So i wrote some scripts and we did a few shows, but it was futile. Even after i brought in Wolf (an actor i'd met filming The Mask), who was talented and enthusiastic, we were still outnumbered by those who -even though they'd begged to be in the show- came to rehearsals only to lounge about drinking rum. BOTC did do some cool things, like sailing a tall-ship to Catalina, but Sev and i wanted to be on stage.
    Then, after years of waiting, Saint Doug finally spoke. Probably just so i'd stop bothering him.

    In June of 1996, the Los Angeles Conservancy presented a screening of The Black Pirate at the uber-historic Orpheum Theatre in downtown L.A. The film, made in 1926, had just been released on video with a newly recorded soundtrack by the 20 piece Robert Israel Orchestra. The orchestra would be performing the score live during the screening. A stage show would precede the film with two singers followed by a comedy skit. At some point during rehearsals the director realized that his sword battle wasn't going to work at all. Instead of swords the actors were using flimsy foils and just didn't know what to do with them. Hell, i wouldn't have known what to do with foils either. 
    An acquaintance of ours, Louis, was in the cast and he phoned the Brethren of the Coast about coming in with some pirates and doing a big sword fight to close the show. This seemed to me a great opportunity and, with the Douglas Fairbanks angle, like a destined gift of fate. We could finally get pirates into the real world of show business. The BOTC agreed to do it, and then -a couple days before the event- decided not to. i was heck-bent to do it though, with or without them. Sev and i phoned Louis and told him we were still in. Wolf and Christina joined us.
The four of us rehearsing in the Brethren days.

    Wolf and i had some half-arsed duel choreography which needed a lot more work, whilst Sev and Christina had nothing, so we weren't prepared at all. But when opportunity rings you answer the door whether or not you're dressed. Anyway, we four were the disciplined pirates and this time we'd be able to work without any drunken, lazy fools hindering us.  
    We showed up at the Orpheum next morning and rehearsed thruout the day whilst the musicians tuned their instruments in the orchestra pit. It was a gigantic stage and the director, Stanley Sheff (alias Maxwell DeMille), seemed grateful to have us there and worked our fights into the plot of his show.
    Sev and Christina did just some very basic sword moves, switching off attack and defense so they each did both sides and stretched out the fight. Then they added a few slashes and a disarming. There were only four cutlasses between the four of us so the hardest problem was finding a graceful way for Wolf and i to get hold of the girl's swords in time for our double-cutlass segment. We all went thru our fights over and again for about eight hours and became confident with the choreography but the sword acquisition part still seemed like it could go terribly wrong. And it did, even in the final dress rehearsal.

video
Here's one of the first run-thrus. The choreography was 
silly and we hadn't yet worked out the second sword procurement.

video
A couple hours later: we still don't have our
sh*t together.


video
And a full minute w/ Wolf, me, Severine, Christina, and
 even our indefatigable director, Maxwell DeMille.

    We hoped to go thru it another few times, focusing on just that element, when the woman from the Conservancy ran up to the stage and asked, "Can we open the doors a little bit early? Those people are lined up across Spring street!" Spring st. was around the corner and a block east.
    "Cool!" shouted our videographer.
    The show was SOLD OUT. 2300 people. And i knew that Doug was smiling down on us.
"Ahoy, down there! You realize, don't you, that they came to see my movie,
 not your silly sword fight?"

    Sheff said a few words at the opening, and introduced the singers. They each sang a song and then the spotlights followed a couple pirates as they chased some screaming women thru the isles of the theatre. The curtain was raised to reveal a stage full of pirates with a giant skull and bones backdrop. The audience cheered at this point. It seemed to be going well but the dialogue was hard to follow after that, and some of the actors seemed lost trying to wield their flimsy foil blades. Wolf and i stayed at the front of stage left, waiting for our moment.
    "Prepare to save the show," he said. Wolf -like me- was an arrogant bastard.
    "Sure. If we don't fuck up completely..." i was worried because we'd never gotten thru a single rehearsal perfectly. This might go really badly for us.
    Sev and Christina did their fight and didn't screw up, thus raising the bar of audience expectation. By the time Wolf and i began we had their full attention. One strike went wrong in the second sequence but we didn't even pause. As the tempo of the fight picked up so did the orchestra and i felt more powerful. Wolf pushed me across the stage and i landed, pulling off my baldric as he did a long leap and brought his cutlass straight down at me. i rolled and picked up Christina's sword, raised the two blades over my head to deflect his attack, then taunted him. 
    "i have two swords!" i turned and spun them in front of me. "i have two and you have only... Two??"
    "Aye!" he shouted.  
    Having taken Sev's sword, he beat the two blades together -they rang like church bells- then charged. A few seconds into the double-cutless duel the audience gasped and began cheering and clapping. It was the first glorious moment i'd ever had as a pirate performer. The fight got faster and the music along with it. The choreography was simple but flashy, with a few silly moves. We kept it a trifle slower than rehearsal speed to avoid disasters. One sword did slide into the orchestra pit at the end and a musician had to dodge it to avoid being impaled, but it all worked.
     The duel ended with "baseball sword," a gag Wolf and i had come up with that got a big laugh. The other actors finished their skit quickly and the curtain closed to great applause. The stage went dark and as the cast lined up for the curtain call i searched frantically for one of the other swords and found it just in time. The curtain opened and Wolf and i crossed our swords overhead as we took our bows.
And, thanks to the sorcery of 21st century technology, you can watch the whole thing HERE .
    Afterward we finished up backstage, got our pay in cash, then rushed to one of the balconies where some seats had been saved for us to watch the movie. The Black Pirate was filmed in two-strip Technicolor but most video releases of it had been in black and white. The color had been restored for the new video version and for this screening. Also restored was the original musical score composed for the film. Silent films were never really silent but were intended to be seen with musical accompaniment, whether a single organist in the small venues or an entire orchestra in the great movie palaces, like this one. So the sound and sight combined again, as they had in 1926, and Douglas Fairbanks' masterpiece got it's due that night.

    On my way out i pirated the lobby poster -which hangs over my desk as i type this, a fitting prize for a night of piracy. Thanks, Doug.