| Honor System Penn - 6/05/01
We put a new bit in the show. Almost 12
minutes of brand new. A very complicated escape for Teller, about 10
minutes of new patter for me, and an upright bass solo. I mean solo. I
mean, I'm not talking over it. For 1:15, all you hear is me playing the
bass. It's a great solo. Really great. It was written by Doctor
Stockdale (of course), and Morrie Louden, my bass teacher. I've been
playing upright for just about a year. I've been taking lessons with
Morrie for less than that.The faxed sheet music that I have for this
solo, has a November date on it.That means I've been working on this 1:15
every day for about 7 months. The Doctor and Morrie did a great job at
figuring what I could rise to. I'm playing slides and double stops. I'm
using a lot of the neck. I get asked all the time how long it takes us to
put in a bit. Well, this one is an idea we've been talking about for over
20 years, and we had it laid out a couple months before the music was
written. So, I guess it's been about 10 months from the time we were
okay with the idea, until it went in.
This is one of the first bits for Nate as Director of
Covert Activities all on his own, and he did an amazing job. This is one
of the hardest bits we've done and it really came down on Nate. I can't
say much about what he did ("covert" don't you know?), but he did it well.
We're very happy.
It was a hard bit for everyone. Burt and Robbie were great as always.
Matt had to light it, and Rex, well; Rex had to mic an acoustic upright.
Morrie found the bass. He flew to San Diego and found me a wonderful ax.
It's fairly new (about 15 years old), but it's not ply. It has a darkness
of tone that wonderful. He set it up with a great action and it has a nice
deep growl on the low E, F, and G. It's really nice for this piece.
Morrie and Rex worked for a few hours getting the sound right. They
invented this mic technique. Rex is even mixing in a little of my
glasses mics to give some string sound. It may seriously be, without
exaggeration, one of the best acoustic bass sounds anyone will ever hear
in the theater. Rex and Morrie inspire me to play as well as I can.
It's a complex intellectual idea for a bit. It's not a
wham bam wow magic thing. It's a gentle thought thing and we're
asking the audience to close their eyes for full
effect (hence the name "Honor System"). The balance of making it
work with eyes open or shut is really tough.
It's hard talk. It's really hard talk. There are so many
ideas, and it's very hard to find jokes that move us
forward and don't violate the concept. The visuals are
really hard too and Teller and Matt were working like crazy on that.
So, we did it last night. It changes our pre-show. We
invite people to come up on stage before the show and
examine the boxes that Teller will escape from. I had to record
invitations to the stage to go over the pre-show music. This also means
ushers and crew helping people on stage and stopping them from going
backstage. It changes the look and vibe.
So, last night was the night it went in
and the trick worked like it was supposed to. The patter was all
clear. I need several more jokes, but those always come after the bit is
clear and the trick is working. But, I did feel like I was talking to
the people, and that's what I'm looking for early in performance.
Then, I finished the intro, leaned the bass against my
chest, stretched my fingers, took a breath and started to play. I
took a full breath and sang a measure to myself in my head to get it where
I wanted. I had practiced too much in the afternoon. I put in 3 hours
and my hands were a little tired, so the first notes weren't as clear as I
would have wanted, but all of a sudden I was playing bass on stage.
Real upright. It's odd, but I felt like Harpo. Harpo said in his
autobiography that when he played harp that was a side of Arthur Marx that
the audience only saw there. He wasn't talking about how he looked, but
rather how he felt. I felt my face relax. I wasn't trying to sell with my
voice and my face and my body; I was trying to sell through the upright. I
was really trying to just think about the music. Yeah, Teller is doing the
bit, and I'd like to think if something were going very wrong, I'd know
it and help, but I was very lost in the music. Just trying to get
every note to sing, every phrase to tell a story. It was a whole new thing
for me. Outside of the bit, I'm trying to play a really nice piece of
music for the people. I'm trying to put as much of me into the music as I
can. As I got closer to the end, and Teller got to the piano, I felt the
world come rushing in again; it was time for showbiz again. I grabbed the
bow for the final note and tried to sell it. It was a great feeling. I
was so afraid of really playing music on stage and I think I'm going to
be able to do it.
So, the crowd liked it. That's what we want out of a first time
I played the upright bass on stage. Wow.