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:

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 Revenge From The Sea's third Voyage and Complications 
overcome to achieve said Venture, viz; the slothful Saboteurs and irrational 
Accords endured by our valiant Crewe in their Pursuit of theatrical 
Grace. With certain Names altered to protect the easily butthurt...

In most cases no single actor can save a show yet any one actor can 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 troupers are wary of going onstage with anyone they suspect is unprepared, or incompetent. Yet it's a pirate's lot that such situations will occur.. 
Lazarus drew the invite cover for the third cruise.
     In Los Angeles there are plenty of people who want to be movie stars but far fewer who are competent actors, and fewer still who own a proper costume/cutlass/pistol/etc., hence during my early years of pirating, casting a show required lowering the usual theatrical standards and settling for people who were already pirates. 
     i'd never believed that talent or experience mattered as much as reasonable intelligence and a work ethic. To show up at the requisite time and make a good-faith effort to do the work was all i asked. If anyone drank liquor during rehearsals i wouldn't give them some soberer-than-thou rebuke, most pirates drank, as long as they knew their lines and blocking it didn't matter. Lazarus came to rehearsals sober but he would be drunk during performances. i still considered him one of the better performers though because he never complained about things and there were certain lines 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.
Bastard and Wolf.

    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 graces 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 reoccurring swelling which doth afflict and torment them."

But Lazarus had some difficulty with the line:
Here's Lazarus blowing his line at the final rehearsal, 
yet still not nearly the worst actor in the show.

    After Lazarus blew the line four times at our final shipboard rehearsal i tore that page out of 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 really expected Lazarus to know his lines because he wasn't an actor; just a pirate pretending to be an actor.
Lazarus eventually paid for his lack of preparation.
    Lazarus was worth the trouble he brought because he was a good enough pirate that his acting skills were irrelevant. Not everybody justified the rest of us hauling their weight though. i knew who was good and who wasn't, and scripted the shows so the good pirates got the bigger parts. This caused some grumbling by the incompetents, several of whom quit (as i'd hoped they would), so by the time we did Sea of Darkness 3 there were enough good pirates to carry the show and we were stuck with only a few useless people. A vestigal Idiot Faction.
    Nobody is discouraged by a bad actor who is trying to do better, but the ones who don't even try are a poison to the morale of everybody else.
    Two of this Idiot Faction were blatantly detrimental to the show. Their very presence was dispiriting to the people who were actually working. These wankers had nothing to offer yet felt entitled to be involved simply because they'd been around so long (that is, they were too dense to realize nobody liked them or wanted them around). You probably know their type: lazy, complainers, excuse-makers, takers of frequent cigarette breaks, habitual fomenters of gratuitous interpersonal drama, constantly affronted by irrelevancies, gigantic egos with irrationally high estimations of what they contributed to the shows. Eventually i outright fired these morons but in those days i had to make Faustian deals just so the shows could go on at all.  
    One of the Idiots, Monkeyass, (i'll just use the name the others 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 omitted 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. The joke was almost dependent on the audience being drunk.
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 sesquipedalian gallimaufry of six-syllable words forming an overlong sentence our audience would be tortured to comprehend. It wouldn't be gibberish, 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 Idiot Faction 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) 

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, Bugger's delivery left us with just an empty balloon, limp and wasted. He may as well have been a deliberate saboteur. 
    Why had i cast this undisciplined moron? Oh yeah, because he had whined and begged to be in the show and -idiot that i was- i pitied him. My bad. My very, very Bad. i learned from this experience that an effective director must be Without Pity for anyone or anything except the show itself. 
    My mission now was to thwart the Idiots so that the competent people could shine. To save the joke somebody else would have to deliver the line. But Bugger wouldn't just forfeit his dialogue 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?" 
    "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."
    "Thank you," i whispered. "You're saving the show."
    "I know."

    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, loud enough to follow it to maximum effect. So the joke worked, mostly, and the show was saved.
    Mary Widow had printed up two documents on parchment paper, one of them affirming that Wolf had, indeed, delivered his line correctly and awesomely " witnessed by all of the crew." the other declaring that Wolf had "royaly screwed up and failed" to deliver the line. We intended presenting one or the other to Wolf after the performance to commemorate his success or failure.
    We got about half the crew to sign them, thinking the rest could sign on the ship. But the 'success' paper got misplaced and left ashore. 
    "Damn!" i said, "Wolf won't get his commemorative document."
    "Unless he blows the line," said Mary. "I still have the 'fail' one." So Mary went about the crowded ship, dodging drunken pirate-folk, surreptitiously getting the rest of the crew to sign it. 
    Wolf, of course, delivered the line perfectly, ergo it was with some apologies that we had to present him with a parchment proclaiming his complete and utter failure. 
    Oh well. Sorry, Wolf.

    A few years later that original parchment, the 'success' 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: