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.
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. 


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