For the Benefit of "ETC"

Last Saturday I made one of my most brief sojourns to Scranton ever, and also one of my busiest, to perform as a part of the Electric Theatre Company's (nee The Northeast Theatre) midsummer benefit,

Sparks & Feathers

. Although everything I was scheduled to do there is fairly old hat to me, I was anxious about this volunteer work. The theatre has had some extremely well-intentioned benefits in the past that were just disastrous affairs, owing to an almost complete lack of interest (and/or possibly awareness, though they advertise the hell from these things) on the part of their community. It could have gone either way -- on the one hand, the event coincided with their change in identity and received a broad press coverage; and on the other, tickets were $50 a head, which seems like a lot for a buffet-style party even in places where the cost of living is higher. The mayor was scheduled to finally appear, famous as he is for not attending their theatre, but even that was uncertain. There is little more excruciating than performing energetically in the context of a big bash, when only a handful of people show.

Fortunately, the affair was quite well-attended and, perhaps more importantly, everyone there was excited to be there. I have to hand it to the newly formed ETC: They really dolled the place up right nice. The theatre is essentially set up in three areas of a former hotel (about two-thirds of a floor), and when they initially moved in in 2005, TNT/ETC worked pretty hard to refurbish it closer to its original state, peeling away layers of bad decorating decisions through the years. They even framed a rectangle of wall in the lobby that was left un-re-painted to demonstrate the layers of experience the place had had. In keeping with that ethos, a lot of what they've done since has been in honor of the hotel's former glory. This is all well and good and all, but in their traditionalism they had a convenient excuse not to claim something for themselves, to not make something new and wholly theirs (budget, of course, being another handy excuse). What they did for the benefit was hardly reconstructive, but it went a long way to making the space both special for a night, and more thoroughly theirs. Building details were painted in their new three-color scheme, an inexpensive but effective homemade electric chandelier of sorts was hung in the lobby, and the rest was decked out in balloons, show photographs and posters, and old scenery flats. It was a pretty impressive transformation, if you ask me.

As to the work I contributed, it was mostly pretty fun, and my expectations were either met or exceeded. I usually get a little nervous about improvising a speaking character for a busking gig, though I usually do all right with it, and I knew that the characters we'd be walk-about-ing were not the sort that adhered to my particular

busking ethos


Richard Grunn


Elizabeth Feller

and I were to play the Marx Brothers -- Groucho, Harpo and Chico, respectively (though not respectably). The Marx Brothers, for those of you not in the know (and shame on those of you; you'll catch your death of cold out there) are one of the most anarchic comic groups in recent memories. They exist to stir up trouble, and rare is the cocktail party I've been to at which people were eager to get their horsefeathers ruffled in that way. Fortunately, we had a "backstage" (never mind the quotes--it was literally backstage) to retire periodically to, and Rich had some plans for gags. Some people were still terrified or, worse, disdainful, but by-and-large people were there for a good time and wanted to be included. The Marx Brothers are a great excuse for punning, which is a rare joy for me. Which is, it goes without saying, probably for the best.

Thereafter, I had but a short break in which to change and warm up before performing acrobalance with

Friend Heather

to the live accompaniment of

Cuban Tres

, a wonderful young trio of musicians we had the pleasure of meeting last season. Improvising a sequence of acrobalance moves to live music is really just a joy. I think I appreciate it especially because most of the time I'm either aiming to perfect a move I haven't yet or trying to incorporate it into a story when I'm working on acrobalance, and when it's set to music before an audience I can just enjoy it and loosen it all up a bit. This, too, had its own worries, of course. Heather and I don't get together nearly enough, even when we did live in the same city, to practice to the extent a straight-up acro-adagio deserves. The week before we practiced a bit when I was down for our NEIU (no, the other one) certification, but that's like combining a first rehearsal and the dress rehearsal in one day a week before opening. At that session, I had the idea for us to be domino-esque characters, in keeping with the black-and-white theme of the affair, and so Heather dressed in black clothes with a white half-mask, I in white with black. And we didn't drop each other even once, and we were well-received, and Heather and I may even regain muscle control in a few weeks. So it was really really good!

After my obligations were fulfilled, I got to join the party as a formal participant with

Fiancee Megan

, and so the evening ended with rewards similar to those enjoyed by the rest of the attendees. As usual, I immediately wished I were in better practice with my acro, and wondered at when I would return to the theatre. The mayor had donated a very large, free-standing projection screen to them, and the main stage was set up as a kind of ballroom, with couches at the perimeter, a DJ and a DVD projector running silent films on the screen for a backdrop. People had finally reached that critical blood-alcohol level that allows them to dance with some abandon. I relaxed, however briefly, and dreamed of uses for the screen in shows, and for a moment I had done a job well and had nothing to do but sit back and enjoy my company and the world around me.