Archive for September, 2008

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Some Days the Bear Eats You

27 September 2008

EDIT: dozens of Adventurers Club photos now up on a new Flickr site: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kazookris/

Tonight marks the end of Pleasure Island. The night club complex that opened in 1989 at Walt Disney World was why I moved from California to Florida, having been offered a one-year contract to perform at the Adventurers Club. I stayed seventeen years. I could write a book about the place, my time there, my dear friends, my thoughts and feelings, and my warm memories and bitter resentments. It would all spill over from the Adventurers Club to the other night clubs (especially the Comedy Warehouse) to Pleasure Island to Downtown Disney to Walt Disney World to Orlando to Florida to The Disney Company and to the United States of America.

But that’s for another time, or for my biographer to figure out.

Much attention is being paid to the end of the club. Some people, pictures and pieces of trivia that reflect the club’s beginning and longevity deserve mention and attention.

The original cast, every one of which contributed something that turned the club from a concept into a creative entertainment:

Terry Mike Acord, Phil Card, Donna Charles, Andy Clark, Phran Gauci, Tim Goodwin, Phil Johnson, Mike Leopard, Kerry Long, Frank O’Brian, Paula Pell, Mary Schickling, Kristian Truelsen.

None of these actors worked full-time from beginning to end. I left 2-1/2 years ago, having been an Adventurer from 1989 to 2006. Tim Goodwin left Disney for a year in the nineties but returned and has otherwise survived the entire run. Andy Clark was still subbing in as Graves the butler up to the end. The amazing Sheila (Smith) Ward, who opened Pleasure Island as an entertainer at XZFR’s Rock ‘n’ Rollerdrome (later the Rock ‘n’ Roll Beach Club) and who joined the Adventurers Club within its first year, can probably claim the most overall hours logged in as an Adventurer.

The maid’s original name was Doreen (“specializing in light dusting and high heels”). Other names used since then include: Millie, Flo, Trixie, Annelle, Fanny, Ginger Vitus, Dusty Cabinets, Marion, Sunny Knight, Inga, Gabby, Dottie Lama, Yvette Lemieux, Mona, Prudence, La Rue de Lamour, Tish Myash, Sugar Snap, Beulah Belle, Talullah Buttertart, Molly McLean, and Kiki.

Tim Goodwin invented the word “Kungaloosh.” Talk about leaving a legacy.

Three original cast members (two of whom were Mike Acord and I) invented the Club salute.

Phil Card invented the New Member Ceremony.

Before Samantha Sterling, there was a different character—a nightclub singer/adventurer named Mandora. (My memory is unclear as to when the switch occurred.) And before Mandora there were only two women characters, Pamelia and Doreen (the maid). But back at the beginning there was an ape-like, silent character called Marcel who would water the plants, deliver mail, and provide a step ladder for the maid so she could climb up to sit next to the Colonel where she would sing Smile, Darn Ya, Smile to him.

How to spell correctly:

• There is no apostrophe in “Adventurers Club.”

• Colonel Critchlow Suchbench’s name is misspelled on the brass plaque in the Main Salon listing members. Yes, Imagineers don’t always think things through and The Disney Company makes mistakes. Like closing certain entertainment venues oh don’t get me started.

• Hathaway Browne’s last name is spelled with an e. The writers originally named him Hamilton Beach, but I guess trademark lawyers nixed that. He was renamed after a girl’s school near Cleveland, Ohio.

Before rock music (live or DJ’d) took over, there was once a walk-around combo dubbed the Pleasure Island Philharmonic that would stroll the island. In those days the street felt more like traditional Disney: small town Americana, family-friendly, Dixieland music. Art Levitt injected adrenalin into the place and it came to life. But I always missed the PI Philharmonic, who became regular visitors to our club.

There was once no stage in the Main Salon. Phil Card and I suggested it, and in the Fall of 1992 a very nice Ganesha statue was moved to the Zebra Mezzanine near the service bar to make way for the ceremonial stage to the left of the Colonel.

The Library originally had long tables running between the bar and the stage, with stools on either side of each table. Getting to and from seats was difficult, and one’s neck became tired from having to keep one’s head turned to see the stage. Other club improvements: adding the revolving door to help keep out amplified sounds from outdoors (actors used to have to shout to be heard in the Main Salon) and making the club non-smoking (thank you thank you thank you)!

The two library shows that ran for as long as the club was open were the Balderdash Cup and the Radio Broadcast (Tales of the Adventurers Club). The original version of the latter was a somewhat different script and all done by Pamelia and Otis with no audience volunteers. In fact, Otis had to read the role of Hathaway Browne, who neglected to show up for the broadcast!

Library shows that came and went:

• Pamelia’s Welcome Party – Three songs by Pamelia, Hathaway and Graves.

• The Brew Fest – The less said the better.

• The Gypsy Show – Madame Zarkov sings and Fletcher gets into a mess.

• Fletcher’s New Discovery – Fletcher opens an ancient spirit box and Emil gets possessed by a demon. (And yes, I played Emil for years.)

• Fingers Takes Requests – Fingers would try to play tunes suggested by the crowd. After nightly renditions of Gilligan’s Island and other anachronisms (don’t get me started), the end of the night farewell party was created and was christened the Hoopla (HOOPLA).

Library shows that existed but were never performed publicly:

• The Fingers Zambeezi Show – Pamelia, Otis and Hathaway wrestle with a spirit released from the same box recycled years later for Fletcher’s New Discovery. The spirit finds a home in the club organ.

• Hathaway Browne’s Hour of Love (in Twenty Minutes) – a radio program offering advice to the lovelorn from the master. Why did this show not happen? Don’t get me started.

Celebrities that have visited the club include some I got to meet: MacLean Stevenson, John Davidson, Meat Loaf, Lyle Alzedo, Leslie Nielson, George Lucas, Robin Williams, Bobcat Goldthwait, John Lithgow, Woody Harrelson, Barry Gordon, David Odgen Stiers, John Scully, Raul Julia, Bozo the Clown, Robert Klein, Pauly Shore, Gilbert Gottfried, Gary Sinise, and Neil Patrick Harris; those I only saw: Norman Fell, Curtis Armstrong, Molly Ringwald, Stephen Sondheim, Howie Mandell, Nichelle Nichols, and David Copperfield; and others I missed (but they were there): Bob Hope, Jim Henson, Alan Alda, Liza Minelli, Gary Coleman, Larry “Bud” Melman, Mark Wilson, Johnny Unitas, George Blanda, Y.A. Tittle, Susan St. James, Gloria Estefan, Andrew Lloyd Weber, John Stamos, and Bob Saget. And more.

There are photos and videos aplenty to be found on the internet, and since I do not mean to slight anyone whose picture or name is not included in this post I encourage you to go look! It will be easiest to find the amazing talents that have been brilliantly entertaining guests since I left, which is why I have focused on the early days.

I wish I could name all those who have been part of the cast over the years. (I wish I’d kept track!)

I wish those who only knew the club over the last few years could have seen the original cast, as well as the talents of Darin DePaul, Jennifer Goodwin, Art Dohany, Doug Mackey, Ken Thiboult, Sue Peahl, Cullen Douglas, Bob Dutton, Jim Howard, and more. (Forgive me for not listing everyone, please!) Former Adventurers have gone on to many achievements. Paula Pell became a writer on Saturday Night Live. Mike Speller had the lead for three seasons on the Nickelodeon sitcom, Welcome Freshmen. Darin DePaul and Kurt Von Schmittou have appeared on Broadway. Leslie Carrara is a Muppeteer. Anne Hering is Director of Training with Orlando Shakespeare Theater. Philip Nolen is, perhaps, the most highly respected wooberhead in North America.

And I haven’t even mentioned the musicians (Steve and Jim and Al) and technicians (Mike and Jim) bar and wait staff, door hosts, managers, show directors, supporters, regulars, fans and crazies. And Comedy Warehousians, and DJs, and dancers, and bands. And custodians and security and everyone else whose lives have been affected for better or worse by the Disney After Dark experiment that lasted for nineteen years. I regret I cannot be with my Pleasure Island pals on this, the final night.

I toast you all.

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Buffalo Shufflin’

26 September 2008

 

Stayed overnight with our friends and most excellent hosts Steve & Martha Thomas, who gave us their hospitality so that we could get an early start at the Canadian Consulate General in Buffalo, NY. With the request for Katharine’s passport in hand, we arrived shortly after 8:00 AM to find a short line in the lobby. After ten minutes we were all taken upstairs to the consulate, where there were maybe ten others already in the waiting room off to one side.

We handed over the passport and paperwork and were given a card with a number and told to wait. We hadn’t eaten because, based on reports of others who had been through the procedure, we thought we’d be killing five hours in Buffalo while waiting for Katharine’s immigration visa to be processed. After two hungry hours our number was called and within minutes, visa attached to passport, we were eager to finalize Katharine’s immigration at the border. Except that getting the file electronically transferred to ports-of-entry isn’t quite that fast. 

So three hours, brunch, and almost but not quite meeting up with another friend in the area later, we crossed the Peace Bridge back into Canada. No wait at all at the guard booth. Pulled into Customs & Immigration and walked inside. No wait at all at Immigration. The official went clickety-clack at his terminal for a few minutes, had Katharine initial and sign a few places, and told her she was now a permanent resident. (No complimentary pin, flag or flask of maple syrup given as a welcome. What the hell, Canada.) Then across the narrow room to Customs—no wait at all—to provide a list of Katharine’s belongings we hope to move up here… someday. Then to the cashier: no wait there, either, nor fee to be paid, just a stapling together of documents. And we were done.

Except that we figured: let’s face all the bureaucracies in one day! So we went to the Service Canada Centre in Niagara Falls, Ontario for Katharine’s Social Insurance Number (like the Social Security card in the US) and then to to a Ministry of Health location in Toronto to register her for health care, which will become effective on Christmas. No more than a two minute wait at either of these places, either. For once the government was working as it’s supposed to! Everything went smoothly and easily. Still, it was eight hours all told from the consulate to the ministry of health; eight months since we started Katharine’s immigration; close to two years since I immigrated; and going on four years since we decided to attempt the move and change our lives.

Celebration dinner and home. Yes, home: Canada. A long day but a good day. (Except now we have TWO federal elections to angst about…)


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Zoo-be-doo-be-doo

24 September 2008

Perhaps my Michigan Lottery commercial is being watched at this very moment from Kalamazoo to Ontonagon. For those of us outside the Great Lakes State, here it is. See if you can guess which look was “borrowed” from my brother Doug. (No, it’s not the monkey tongue.)

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We won!

12 September 2008

 

Much to the shock—and probable dismay—of the competing teams, the hosts, and Canadians everywhere, the “Americans in Canada” scored highest in knowledge of Canadiana on Test the Nation – Canada, Eh?  Hey, we were surprised, too.

Confession: call me a cheater. That’s right, I studied. Thanks Canadian History for Dummies and assorted helpful websites. (But I still couldn’t tell you about Canadian hip-hop.)

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Welcome to the theatre; you fool, you’ll love it so

5 September 2008

I rarely see as much theatre as I’d like. In a distant past chapter of my life I lived in New York City, which coincided with one of my most poverty-stricken periods. Having the least spending money in the town with the most theatre. That’s irony, baby, and an experience shared by many.

Conversely, when I’ve had steady jobs and some money to spend, my gigs have generally been evening performances, the upshot of which was limited opportunity to avail myself of the local theatre scene. If there even was one. 

L'Histoire du Soldat by Igor Stravinsky

Now that I’m in driving distance of the Stratford and Shaw Festivals and living in a city with several top-notch theatres, I am back on an austerity budget. It agonizes me to miss Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra starring Christopher Plummer (whom I saw onstage years ago, absolutely brilliant as Iago in Othello). And as a big (but discriminating) fan of musicals, I am missing Jersey Boys, Spamalot, and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee among others, simply because of ticket prices. I haven’t seen a single show at two years of the Toronto Fringe, and only one at Summerworks: Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat, done with imagination and a kick-ass chamber orchestra.

Eventually, of course, I break down and buy tickets. Maybe the theatrical tectonic forces have been building, because Katharine and I recently saw four plays in a week. First, a double bill of two comedies at Soulpepper: The Real Inspector Hound by my idol Tom Stoppard and Black Comedy by Peter Shaffer. The former has been a favourite of mine since I first read it in college some 35 years ago. Soulpepper, one of Toronto’s most respected theatre companies, did a nice job with this witty, silly, stylized piece. Black Comedy has a reputation for being hilarious, and needs to be seen rather than read to experience the physical comedy. This production was not bad, if a bit short of hilarity.

Soulpepper really dropped the ball, however, with Jean Anouilh’s Ring Round the Moon. Miscast, paced far too slowly, and missing the bubble-lightness required, it was a disappointment. A few strong performances provided moments of real enjoyment, but they were too sparse to save the evening.

Tarragon Theatre, another great Toronto company, remounted the inventive, theatrical and visceral Scorched by Wajdi Mouawad. Highly regarded since seeing it a year ago, the treat was doubled when, as a sometime volunteer usher at Tarragon, I was given 2 free tickets to the remount. And free cookies, too. That’s the kind of evening I can afford.

The biographies of Soulpepper’s and Tarragon’s actors are intimidating for someone eager to break into Toronto theatre. How can Florida credits, for example, convince such illustrious theatres to cast me when compared with actors whose meatier experience has helped them infiltrate these essentially closed-shop companies? Only the weak performances by a couple of actors of my type/age provided some encouragement.

Well, until Toronto and Ontario want me on their stages, I’ll return to British Columbia to appear on theirs. I’ve been cast in a western by Ian Weir, The Man Who Shot Chance Delaney, at Western Canada Theatre (Kamloops, BC) February-March and Eugene O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness! at Chemainus Theatre Festival (Chemainus, BC) April-May 2009. So there. 

Five months between now and then. Who wants me?

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Workers of the World… sunscreen!

1 September 2008

 

Last year I marched (only part way, thanks to a problematic foot) in Toronto’s Labour Day parade with ACTRA, my union for film and television. And this year they were there again, in good numbers and with signs taking Stephen Harper’s government to task for cuts in arts funding. Stupid government.

Both Katharine and I kept company this year with the members of the theatre union, Canadian Actors’ Equity Association—a rather smaller contingent, but every bit as important as far as I’m concerned. Yay theatre, I like theatre.

As a member of both groups, I can choose with whom to march. (I later learned that the American political/social group Democrats Abroad were there, too, giving me a third option.) Katharine came along to offer support as a non-member and non-actor, but looked like she fit right in. Clever shape-shifter girlfriend-partner.

Seemed to be a lot of groups this year, making for a l-o-o-o-n-g parade. And more than a few marched with bagpipe accompaniment. Charles Ives would have loved hearing a bagpipe band on one side and steel drum calypso on the other. There were Marxist newspapers offered, NDP candidates out in force, and protests against various wars and world injustices (which had nothing to do with labour unions, but hey, here’s a lot of people so grab your soapbox).

After an uncomfortably long wait for our group to be called into motion, we trekked Queen Street West beneath a hot sun. With sore feet we finally arrived at the Canadian National Exhibition, where one beer, a dozen Tiny Tom doughnuts and two bubble teas later, we then dragged our way home. Tired? Whew.

But a nice day for actors and union supporters like me.