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Touring

Running Lines

I’m in a nice hotel room in the Boston area.  It’s late-ish, but my body is running on Pacific Time, plus I’ve been drinking lots of coffee, so I’m not sleepy.

Tomorrow and Sunday I’ll be doing my Andy Warhol show — info here.  Since the last time I performed it, in Santa Fe, I’ve done Citizen Josh and The Mathematics of Change, so I need to get Warhol back in my body and synapses.

It usually takes me one run-through to bring a show back to life for myself.  As I run it, I feel the shape of the whole show coming back to me, like a puzzle fitting together.  Before the run-through, the piece feels like something of a stranger — almost as if it could be someone else’s show.

In a sense, each monologue is someone else’s show — it’s a reflection of the person I was (and my collaborator/director was) when I created it.  The “me” of Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews? is still pretty much who I am now, though the Jewish journey that I am on was only beginning when that show was created.  Now I’m preparing for my bar mitzvah this summer — in Israel, no less — and the Warhol me sits inside of the current me, a bit like a Russian doll inside another Russian doll (albeit a bald doll).  All those other me’s are in there too — giving shape(s) to an otherwise amorphous self.

Because the actual me is unenclosed in a story, unobserved (for the most part) by an audience.  That me is I don’t know who, exactly.  So what I am about to do in this hotel room is get into character, to cross the border from being to portraying, and it’s exciting, and also unsettling.  Like Bruce Banner about to turn into the Hulk, on purpose, only with less green, and fewer muscles, and more pronouns.

“Warhol” Rises in Phoenix!

1277980392-warholbanner2My show Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews? opens tonight at the magnificent Actors Theatre of Phoenix (through March 20). Tix and info here.

Arizona is … different.  The doors to the theater have placards that say, “No Weapons.  No Smoking.”  I think my usual audience members will take this as a sign to leave their crossbows at home.

I like to make a mix CD for my crew on opening night.  Here (because I haven’t figured out yet how to print stuff at my hotel) is tonight’s mix:

  1. Janelle Monáe, “Tightrope”
  2. Big Star, “Thirteen”
  3. Josh Rouse, “Valencia”
  4. Prince (covering Joni Mitchell), “A Case of You”
  5. The Waterboys, “Fisherman’s Blues”
  6. Spoon, “Written in Reverse”
  7. Sufjan Stevens, “To Be Alone with You”
  8. Black Kids, “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance with You”
  9. Lizz Wright (covering Neil Young), “Old Man”
  10. The Mountain Goats, “Dance Music”
  11. Little Jackie, “LOL”
  12. Ida Maria, “I Like You So Much Better When You’re Naked”
  13. Destroyer, “My Favorite Year”
  14. Steve Earle, “The Galway Girl”
  15. The Decemberists, “Of Angels and Angles”
  16. Benji Hughes, “I Went with Some Friends To See the Flaming Lips”
  17. Buke and Gass, “Your Face Left Before You”
  18. Danielson, “Did I Step on Your Trumpet?”
  19. Abigail Washburn, “Bring Me My Queen”
  20. David Byrne, “In the Future”

And yes, Apple Corporation, I am well aware that these CD’s are for my personal use!  Thanks for caring.

P.S.: Here are the pre-show and post-show mixes that I put together for our audiences (with help, as always, from my pal Scott Rosenberg, along with tips from my Twitter and Facebook friends):

Pre-show:

  1. Dion, “The Wanderer”
  2. The Kinks, “Strangers”
  3. M.I.A., “Paper Planes”
  4. The Doors, “People are Strange”
  5. The Clash, “Lost in the Supermarket”
  6. John Cale & Lou Reed, “Smalltown”
  7. David Bowie, “Andy Warhol”
  8. R.E.M. (covering a Wire song), “Strange”
  9. Pete Townshend, “Let My Love Open the Door”
  10. The Submarines, “You, Me and the Bourgeoisie”
  11. Nirvana (covering David Bowie), “The Man Who Sold the World”
  12. Public Image Ltd., “Public Image”
  13. Johnny Cash & U2, “The Wanderer”
  14. Bryan Ferry (covering Bob Dylan), “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”
  15. The Rolling Stones (covering The Temptations), “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)”
  16. They Might Be Giants, “The Statue Got Me High”
  17. The Mountain Goats, “Jaipur”
  18. Ida Maria, “Oh My God”
  19. Amy Rigby, “Knapsack”

Post-show:

  1. Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong (covering a song by George & Ira Gershwin), “It Ain’t Necessarily So”
  2. The Velvet Underground & Nico, “I’ll Be Your Mirror”
  3. The Slip, “Suffocation Keep”
  4. Jesse Sykes and The Sweet Hereafter, “Your Side Now”
  5. Martha Wainwright (covering a song by Ralph Vaughan Williams & Robert Louis Stevenson), “Whither Must I Wander?”
  6. T-Bone Burnett, “I’m Coming Home”
  7. Cantor Jordan S. Franzel, “Torah Blessing”
  8. Jill Sobule (covering Warren Zevon), “Don’t Let Us Get Sick”

At It Again

awgftjHad a lovely time last night at the opening performance of my run of Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews? at the Ashby Stage in Berkeley.  (The run — tix and info here — goes through Feb. 27.)  Monologues are what I do, and there is an extent to which I don’t feel fully myself (professionally speaking) when I’m not performing onstage.  Entering the world of a story takes me into a kind of altered state: time is compressed, and for a couple of hours I’m not as incredibly scattered as I feel most of the time.  Plus, I get free coffee at the theater!

The postshow talkback, with my friend Rabbi Menachem Creditor and my new friends Rabbi Dorothy Richman (who came out in favor of Zeus, kind of!) and Maggid Jhos Singer, was an extraordinary experience for me — and, I think, for the audience.  Once I figure out how to post audio here, I’ll try to add a recording of the conversation.  (For a listing of the remaining talkbacks, click here.)

Multitasking

Venn DiagramEven my lovely and powerful computer is getting fed up with all the multitasking. When I ask it to let me use Firefox, it rope-a-dopes me — asking, in effect, “Do you really need to use Firefox?  Wouldn’t you be just as happy sticking with your email application?”  I need to click on the little Firefox icon a few more times before the machine grudgingly brings up the browser.

I feel my laptop’s pain (something I’m sure we’ve all experienced, though possibly not on our wedding night): There are so many things I’m trying to do right now that I feel myself approaching a sort of fugue state.

On one of my “tabs” on Firefox is an uploading video that my brother Jake and I made yesterday, alerting our supporters at IndieGoGo.com that we plan to shoot the next installment of our new film, Love & Taxes, next weekend — and gently asking for even more donations.

On another tab is the enewsletter-generating program I use: I plan to send out an eblast to my peeps today about a couple of improvs I’ll be doing (towards an expanded version of my monologue Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?) in San Francisco over the next two weeks.  (The improvs — each open to a maximum of 15 audience members, so that few will be able to speak of the chaos and disaster — will be on Dec. 21 and 22 at 8 p.m. at The Jewish Theatre San Francsico; call 415.292.1233 to reserve a spot.)

Another tab holds yesterday’s article from the San Francisco Chronicle detailing brother Jake’s ongoing collaboration with Robert Reich on terrific little videos that give simple explanations of complicated policy issues.  At the same time, I keep checking my email for updates regarding an event that Jake and I are trying to put together: me interviewing Reich on stage at the Berkeley Rep in January, and filming it for use as a pilot for our new interview show, Josh Kornbluth Talks to Strangers.

There are also:

  • Word documents with in-progress contracts, a proposed budget for a possible concert film of my show The Mathematics of Change, my running diary of research and thoughts toward the Warhol piece, thoughts toward a future monologue about playing the oboe and spirituality (working title: Practice), notes from my fellow members of the Berkeley Energy Commission toward a report we’re preparing on local control of our energy production (so we can more aggressively fight global warming), and the text of President Obama’s very interesting Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.
  • My RSS reader, which offers continually updating summaries of all the items on all the blogs I like to follow — DANGER! WILL SUCK UP ALL ATTENTION IF ALLOWED TO!
  • PDF documents with scenes, notes, and schedules for the Love & Taxes shoot.
  • JPEGs of possible locations for the L&T shoot.
  • A complete script, in “Final Draft” software, of L&T.
  • An audiobook, in iTunes, containing an unabridged recording of a complete history of the Jews (I just started it, but I suspect there may be some suffering).
  • A printer utility warning that I am about to run out of cyan-colored ink — which is actually okay, since (a) I will soon vaporize and thus won’t need to print anything and (b) I have no real idea what color “cyan” is, and suspect that few if any of my documents will need to be tinted cyan.

Which is just for starters, and does not take into account the books by and about Kafka, Brandeis, and other “Warhol Jews” that are staring accusingly at me from the bookcase, asking why I have not finished them yet; nor the pile of unsorted papers I brought back from my recent trips to India and Portland (guess which place was drizzlier); nor the fact that my new booking agent has been waiting a week for me to send him the technical requirements for my “smaller” shows (i.e., the cheaper ones); nor many other things that are now rolling around vaguely but impatiently in my head and working their way down to my esophagus, from whence they will eventually try to reflux their way back out into the world …

But really, the idea is to just start with something, right?  Baby steps.  Okay.  Right.

I’ll pee.  Yes, that is what I’ll do first.  I will pee.  Peeing is good.  It also involves stepping away from the computer, which will be a relief for my laptop and myself.  We both need some space.  Too much multitasking.  Too many tasks to be multi-ed.  Go back to a simpler time, when people left their front doors unlocked and movies cost under $10 and one person doing one task on one computer was the subject of worldwide awe and admiration.  That is what I will do.  And it will be nice.

Un-Solo Performance: Notes on My Off-Day

What I do on stage is called “solo performance,” and people sometimes ask me (with real sympathy), “Isn’t it lonely up there?”

And I tell them, emphatically, No, it isn’t!

There’s my crew — up in a booth (possibly knitting during the long stretches between cues).  There are all the characters in my monologues — often people who are very dear to me, some of them no longer alive but very much in my thoughts and my heart as I (imperfectly) portray them.  There’s my producer, whose love of and respect for the theater I have the honor and duty to represent.  There’s my director and collaborator: these stories we create are, in a deep way, a chronicle of our evolving friendship.  There are the designers and the composer, whose beautiful worlds I inhabit.  There are my family and friends, whose encouragements and loving corrections continually run through my mind.  There’s the theater staff — working in a field that offers strictly limited remuneration but unlimited epiphanies.  There’s my own staff — my colleagues who (among other things) arrange for my travel (and that of my set and costumes) and absorb my freak-outs.  There are my investors, and those who choose to donate to the theater.  And, of course, there is the audience: changing in personality from show to show, sometimes rapt, usually adventurous, occasionally sleeping peacefully (dreaming, perhaps, of an actual drama, with multiple actors) — always granting me the enormous gift of their cumulative genius.

So no, it’s not lonely at all on stage.  As for this hotel room, however — well, that’s another story.

Malvina Reynolds at the Rotary Club

The International Upper Middle Class Shall Be the Human Race?

The International Upper Middle Class Shall Be the Human Race?

Just had one of the strangest experiences of my life: hearing the Rotary Club of Portland sing “Little Boxes.”  As a red diaper baby from New York, now calling Berkeley my home, I was expecting at least a soupçon of disorientation at my first-ever Rotary Club meeting — but it never would have occurred to me that the proceedings would kick off with a lusty rendition of Malvina Reynolds‘s famous song lampooning comfortable bourgeois culture.

Adding to the weirdness, I was dressed as Ben Franklin.  This was the idea of the fantastically named Devereaux Dion, the club’s current president.  He and his wife had attended an early performance in my current (and very fun) run of Ben Franklin: Unplugged at Portland Center Stage.  I remember spotting them from the stage: a handsome, middle-aged couple sitting in the front row.  I had snuck covert glances in their direction, to see if they were enjoying the show; at some point in the first act I finally saw Dev smile, and relaxed a bit.  Afterwards, Dev came up and introduced himself to me — following up with an email asking whether I might be interested in attending an upcoming Rotary Club meeting as “Ben.”

I should have warned him that I’m actually not a very good Franklin impersonator — in a way, Unplugged is about how I learned to love Ben without being able to embody him — but I was too delighted by his invitation to bring that up.  So today at noon (sharp — these Rotarians are nothing if not punctual) I found myself in a fancy ballroom in downtown Portland, in full Franklin regalia, preparing to recite a short excerpt from my show.  That’s when Dev brought this guy up to the lectern — apparently they start each of their meetings with a sing-along — who led the assembled Rotarians in an enthusiastic version of “Little Boxes” (they had the lyrics up on a screen).  The irony was not lost on anyone — in fact, it was celebrated: the fellow leading the recital introduced the song as being a parody of the kinds of folks who were in that very room.

I was stunned — a countercultural anthem was being, as it were, co-opted by “The Man.”  Turning to Trisha Mead, PCS’s delightful P.R. and publications manager (who had, thankfully, accompanied me to this gig), I said something about this moment being confirmation that not only had “my” people lost, but the winners were now actually able to gloat and joke about it!  She replied, with an understanding smile, that she could certainly imagine I’d be feeling a bit of cognitive dissonance.

But here’s the thing: these Rotarians were winning me over.  As I understand it (dimly, to be sure), the Rotary Club is about business leaders “doing well by doing good,” as Franklin liked to put it.  (Or maybe it was “doing good by doing well.”  Oh, well.  That’s why I don’t have an almanac.)  They contribute to many worthy causes — including, I’m pretty sure, the kinds of theaters I perform in.  They educate themselves on important causes of the day: the fascinating main presentation of this luncheon was by two creators of a potential totally “green” high rise in Portland.  (One of the presenters commented drily that not all architects design “boxes.”)  And, yes, they help one another in their business endeavors.  Soon after arriving in Philadelphia, Franklin launched a club, called the “Junto,” for doing these very things.  So these people are living the lives that Ben advocated for a self-fulfilled America.

And who am I — the Paine in the ass who smiles smugly while observing these high-toned ceremonies?  Well, not exactly: I’m a businessman myself now — my company, Quixotic Projects, owns my intellectual property (insert your joke here) and occupies a great deal of my time, energy, and hopes.  I could learn a lot from these businesspeople.  Plus, I’m a member of the Berkeley Energy Commission — and this green-building presentation was of tremendous interest to me in that regard.  So you could say that I’m a potential Rotarian myself.

And yet, and yet … I’m also still … me.  My aesthetics and politics — derived from the Old Left of New York, honed in the ’80s punk scene of Boston, and buffed to a Free Speech gleam in my beloved Bay Area — would probably tend to diverge a great deal from many (though perhaps not all) of those in that ballroom.  Of that I have little doubt.

After the Rotary luncheon, we walked back to the theater in a thoughtful silence.  Eventually, I said to Trisha, “Well, it looks like the Revolution is definitely over.”

Her eyes twinkled.  “I wouldn’t be so sure,” she said.

Maybe she’s right — and perhaps, when the time comes, Rotarians and red diaper babies will march shoulder-to-shoulder into a democratic, sustainable future that would make Malvina smile.

Video: “You Want It To All Sink to the Bottom”

Shortly after I arrived here in Portland, Ore., for the current run of Ben Franklin: Unplugged at Portland Center Stage (through Nov. 22), I wandered off during a break in search of coffee-making equipment.  (I hadn’t brought my Melitta stuff from Berkeley.)  At the popular Stumptown Coffee Roasters I became entranced with the idea of trying to make coffee with a “French press” — which had always seemed like a cool way to make a very strong brew.  (I imagined burly, caffeine-addicted French people — or maybe even French Canadians — applying enormous amounts of pressure to create super-intense cups, then writing muscular poetry about societal injustices.)

Wanting to get the French-pressing process just right, I asked the young woman who was helping me — Carrie — if she would mind my video-ing her while she made an exemplary brew.  Kindly, she said yes.  The result is one of those gritty, hard-hitting documentaries that blow the lid off of outmoded stereotypes of coffee preparation; needless to say, it is not for the faint of heart — watch at your own risk!

So far, a couple of weeks into this eight-week gig, both the coffee and the audiences have been hearty and complex, with a gratifying finish.  Once my family gets here, next week, I will be completely grooving on the whole Portland experience.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some serious pressing to do. …

Opening-Night CD Playlist

Had a fun opening at Portland Center Stage last night.  I love this theater, the people who work there, and this wonderful city.  And it’s really fun to be performing Ben Franklin: Unplugged again, after several years away from it.  Ben Franklin is great company — and his brilliant historian Claude-Anne Lopez, the heroine of my piece, is a delight to (try to) re-create.

I traditionally make a CD with a mix of songs for the crew that runs each of my shows.  Wasn’t able to figure out how to print out the list of artists, songs, and albums for them at the hotel, so I’m just putting it here.  I was feeling wistful as I put together this mix (missing my family in the Bay Area and around the world, thinking about my late father and my still-very-much-alive mom), but as I went on I found myself adding more songs that were not so incredibly gloomy.

Song, artist, album:

  1. “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton,” The Mountain Goats, All Hail West Texas.
  2. “The Stoop,” Little Jackie, The Stoop.
  3. “Wild Mountain Thyme,” Penelope Houston, Birdboys.
  4. “Beautiful,” Anna Waronker, Anna.
  5. “Knapsack,” Amy Rigby, Diary of a Mod Housewife.
  6. “Don’t Let Us Get Sick” (cover of a Warren Zevon song), Jill Sobule, The Folk Years, 2003-2003.
  7. “Frank Mills,” Shelly Plimpton (I think — does anyone know?), Hair — Special Anniversary Edition.
  8. “Steve Willoughby,” Vic Chesnutt, West of Rome.
  9. “Carol Brown,” Flight of the Conchords, Single.
  10. “Phantom Pains,” Christine Fellows, Paper Anniversary.
  11. “New Girl,” The Long Winters, When I Pretend To Fall.
  12. “Lord, I Have Made You a Place in my Heart” (cover of a Greg Brown song), Cry Cry Cry, Cry Cry Cry.
  13. “The French Inhaler,” Warren Zevon, Learning To Flinch.
  14. “Victoria,” The Kinks, Arthur.
  15. “Mercury,” Kathleen Edwards, Failer.
  16. “Papa Was a Rodeo,” The Magnetic Fields, 69 Love Songs, Vol. 2.
  17. “Driving Wheel,” T-Bone Burnett, Truth Decay.
  18. “Lazy Eye,” Hem, Rabbit Songs.
  19. “The End of the Tour,” They Might Be Giants, John Henry.
  20. “My Body Is a Cage” (cover of a song by The Arcade Fire), Sara Lov, The Young Eyes (EP).
  21. “Love Is All Around” (cover of the Mary Tyler Moore Show theme), Hüsker Dü, Eight Miles High/Makes No Sense at All (EP).
  22. “Swimming Song” (cover of a song by Loudon Wainwright III), Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Kate & Anna McGarrigle.
  23. “Count on Me” (Demo), Kirsty MacColl, From Croydon to Cuba … An Anthology.
  24. “Time,” Tom Waits, Rain Dogs.
  25. “The Anchor Song,” Björk, Debut.

After the show there was a sweet party in the lobby of the theater.  At one point some performers from Ragtime, the musical that’s playing upstairs, came over to say hi.  There’s no way to get around it: the cast of Ragtime is way better-looking than the cast of Ben Franklin: Unplugged.  On the bright side, I’ll match up my crew, looks-wise, against any other crew in town!

Now I’m off to the gym to burn off 1,000 calories on the aerobic machines, as I promised Von Ray I’d do.  Then another performance tonight.  Wife and son coming to Portland a week from Tuesday!  Trying to line up bicycle tours of the Portland area for while they’re here. …

Greetings from Portland, Ore.!

Yes, Portland Has a Seal

Yes, Portland Has a Seal

I’m just about to do the second preview performance of Ben Franklin: Unplugged at Portland Center Stage.  I’ve been having a great time: the theater staff is amazingly friendly, helpful, and erudite; the first preview audience, last night, was warm and receptive; and, thrillingly, I’ve been able to hang out a bunch with my theatrical collaborator, director David Dower.  (We used to see each other all the time, but then he moved from the Bay Area to work at Arena Stage in Washington D.C., where he’s been doing incredible things — albeit [*sniff*] 3,000 miles away.)

Some quick highlights from my first week here (mostly spent rehearsing):

  • David and I wandered over to a local gym, and I happened to mention that I really missed my Berkeley-based personal trainer Georgia — who has made my life, previously beset by frequent back ailments, so much better.  Almost as if by magic, a trainer named Von Ray appeared.  Within a short time, somehow David and I had both committed to training with Von Ray while we’re here (seven more weeks for me, a few more days for David).  A moment later, I found myself at Whole Foods with Von Ray helping me choose my exact meals for the next few days.  Von Ray is a force of nature: yesterday was “Terrific Tuesday,” today is “Wonderful Wednesday.”  He’s been working our asses off.  Oh, and one other thing: He doesn’t allow cursing!  I said, “Look, Von Ray, I’m from New York!”  No sympathy.  Every time I curse, I have to do 25 pushups.  Yesterday, I had to do 50.  Today I made myself say things like “Jiminy Crickets!”  It felt weird.  Golly.
  • People at the theater told me I needed to check out Stumptown Roasters.  I did, and their coffee does indeed rock.  (As does their music: last time I was in there, I was delighted to hear them playing one of my all-time favorite albums, Television’s Marquee Moon.)
  • Powell’s Books!!!  In a rapidly digitizing world, it is a sensual thrill to wander through their “City of Books” (just a block from my hotel, and from the theater) and pick up actual, physical volumes.  Heaven.  (Plus, given the horrifyingly slow Internet service at my hotel, rather than Google, it’s often faster just to walk over to Powell’s and look something up.  It might even be faster to walk to Tanzania, actually.)

And in two weeks, my wife and son come to visit me here!  And today is the birthday of my youngest brother, Sam (hero of Citizen Josh)!  And Joni Mitchell is playing on my computer’s tinny speakers (“People’s Parties,” one of my favorites), and she still sounds glorious!

Gosh darn, it’s enough to make you want to cuss for joy — but I don’t think my arm muscles can take anymore pushups today.  So I’ll just sip some more Stumptown coffee, run down to get my laundry from the machines downstairs, and prepare for that second preview.  (The official opening is on Friday.)

If you know Portland, I’d love your suggestions for places I should visit. And if you know people who live around here, please suggest that they come visit me at the theater — that would be way, um, friggin’ cool!

Kindly Do the Needful

Ratna in front of the theater

Ratna in front of the theater in Chennai

“Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today,” advises the late James Dean on a poster mounted in a hallway at the U.S. consulate in Chennai.  As far as I was concerned, his latter point was especially well taken: It was Aug. 14, and I was feeling quite nervous about my first performance in India, which was to take place that evening.  For months, starting back in the States, I had been brooding — though perhaps not with the same photogenic impact as Dean himself — about whether my Berkeley-centric monologue Citizen Josh would work for Indian audiences.  Now the wait was nearly over, and in a few hours around a thousand Chennai-ites would either watch me in mute horror or respond in a warmer fashion.

My guru-looking stage manager, Bob Webb, and I had been ushered through extensive security by Ratna Mukherjee, who has been working at the consulate for over a quarter century.  I have heard people spout various theories about who might be the most powerful person in India (Manmohan Singh, the scholarly prime minister?  Sonia Gandhi, the influential widow of the former P.M.?) — but I suspect that it’s Ratna who really runs the country.  She knows everyone, has everyone’s phone number, and probably knows where all the bodies are buried (or floating).  She’s the fixer: most often, she can be seen back in the corner of the room, hand discreetly covering her mouth as she explains to someone that — no matter what anyone may have told him — he must send a car to pick us up right away.  She is also one of the most charming people I have ever met.

In fact, I’d have to say that the consulate staff, as a group, are quite a friendly lot.  Ratna’s boss, Ragini Gupta, is another warm, sweet person (her husband also works there) — and, though I met him only briefly (after the performance), Consul General Andrew Simkin struck me as a kind and gentle soul as well.  Bob and I were looking through the consulate’s library for a bookcase suitable for our little set, and both of us were impressed by the range of titles — from Jack London to Ishmael Reed.  About a month before our visit the consulate had hosted a series of events on gay, lesbian, and transgendered subjects; a sweet intern from the University of Washington told me how amazed and delighted she was, just after arriving there, to be coordinating a reception for a group of transgendered Indians — not how she had pictured life in the Foreign Service!  I thought: To all my fellow Berkeleyites who complain about how our tax dollars are spent (war, corporate bailouts, etc.), here was a government institution to warm our progressive hearts (along with, you know, public schools, libraries, hospitals, transportation …).

But I also thought: Yikes! Because the hour of my first performance was approaching, and I still had no real idea how Indian audiences were going to receive it.  And that’s when the U.S. consulate’s entire computer system went down.  Ragini had just asked me if there was anything else I needed, and I had kind of jokingly responded that it would be cool if I could run through the piece with the consulate’s staff.  So she got on the P.A. system and announced that, since there was no work that could be done at the moment, people should feel free to come to the auditorium, where a run-through of Citizen Josh would shortly commence.  And that’s how I got to try out the first half of the show for a mixed audience of Indians and Americans — which greatly relaxed me for that evening’s performance.

After the run-through, consulate staffers filled me in on some of the local lingo — often a mixture of Hindu and English (Hinglish) or of Tamil (the official language of the southern state of Tamil Nadu) and English (Tinglish).  My favorite such phrase — which I’d already encountered in emails from Ratna — is Kindly do the needful.  (Is there a nicer way to ask for something important?  I think not.)  There’s also prepone, the opposite of “postpone” — as in, Actually, I already have a meeting at 6, so why don’t we prepone it to 5? And What is your good name? — which means, well, “What is your name?” but has a little bit of sugar on top.

A car — arranged by Ratna, of course — took us back to our hotel, where we passed by several truly inspirational signs: WORK IS WORSHIPLOVE CALLS FOR A RESPONSE OF LOVE.  A GOOD THOUGHT IS LIKE FRAGRANCE.  I had been casting about for a reference to replace Isadora Duncan (in a joke about how physically graceful my friend Brian Weiner is).  Ratna had suggested the famous classical Indian dancer Anita Ratnam — and then immediately dialed a number on her magical cellphone; a few moments later she had arranged for Ratnam and her daughter, who live in Chennai, to attend my performance!

Children at the Kapaleeshwarar Temple

Children at the Kapaleeshwarar Temple

The show that evening seemed to go very well (as did the joke), and afterwards I briefly met the stunning Ms. Ratnam herself.  It was with great relief that Bob (who had done an amazing job of getting the show set up) and I returned to the hotel for a brief rest.  The next day Ratna took us to the glorious Kapaleeshwarar Temple (you can see my little video here) and I led a storytelling workshop for some very talented theater students and professionals.

And then, just like that, it was time to depart for Kochi — as we began to work our way north.  At the airport, Bob and I jokingly — but also sincerely — begged Ratna to join us on our continuing journey.  Like a benevolent but weary mother sending her reluctant offspring to their first day at preschool, she just smiled and waved us toward the ticketing counter.  Life without Ratna, we knew, would be a challenge; but in all fairness, there were many others coming through Chennai who would need her magical help — doing the needful, firmly yet always kindly — just as much as we had.

[More India-trip blogging to come.  Right now I’m in Kolkata, where I’ll be performing at the American Center this evening at 6:30.]