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:

video
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.

video
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) 


video
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: