Tag Archives: Adrienne Barbeau

Cue the Fog………Ack!!

If you hang out with theatre people for any length of time (say 15-20 minutes), you will hear many stories and quickly perceive that many of their stories fall into genres. Most theatre folks have tales about;

  • Working with children.
  • Working with animals.
  • Costume or prop malfunctions.
  • Outdoor theatre misadventures (there’s a sub-genre about bugs).
  • And……fog.

Yes, fog.

And yes, I’ve got a few fog tales if you’ve got a minute (or say 15-20 minutes).

My fog adventures, unfortunately, are not John Carpenter’s; pirates emerging to terrorize my home town while Adrienne Barbeau croons seductively on the local radio station from her lighthouse studio.

Sigh.

I attribute that lack to the fact that Lexington is land-locked. Our nearest body of water is the Town Branch of Elkhorn Creek (and we covered that trickle with concrete a long time ago), our closest Pirates are the baseball team in Pittsburgh, and our closest lighthouse might be 400 miles away on Sullivan’s Island in Charleston.

No, my on stage fog experiences are more pedestrian, but here they are anyway.

Fog in the theatre usually comes from machines though there are exceptions.

I was in a production of THE WORLD OF CARL SANDBURG in the spring of 1972. My friend and fellow cast member, Vicki James, gave a rendition of Mr. Sandburg’s poem “Fog” so evocative I remember it vividly 45 years later.

Ten years later, in a more-than-dubious production of DRACULA, my friend and fellow cast member, Paul Thomas, managed to effect a personal fog bank by furiously puffing (heaving!) on his pipe in a sad attempt to obscure his presence in one particular way-more-than-dubious scene. I still harbor hope that I can forgive him for his attempted escape one day.

But those are exceptions. Most stage fog emanates from machines wittily referred to as “fog machines.”

My first experience with fog machines was in a 1981 production of BRIGADOON. Oddly enough, it also included Paul Thomas. The show was in the Opera House in Lexington. The opening scene featured Paul and I as American hunters in the wilds of Scotland who have lost our way in the fog. We discuss our predicament and spot a village in the distance – all behind a scrim as the orchestra in the pit plays gorgeous Lerner and Loewe music.

The dress rehearsal went fine, but the director wasn’t satisfied with the quality and quantity of the fog in the first scene. It wasn’t convincing as a fog that would baffle vibrant Americans. He ordered a second fog machine for opening night.

On opening night, the music began and the fog machines (plural) began. By the moment our opening lines were required, the fog, restrained by the scrim, had achieved a height of 7.3 feet. Paul and I could not see the audience, and the audience could not see us. When we spoke we waved our guns in the clear air above the fog to let the audience (and each other) know where we were.

Then the scrim arose and a slow tsunami of fog rolled out over the edge of the stage, into the orchestra pit, and into the first few rows of the audience. It was a sight to see the violinists slashing at the fog with their bows. I think they feared pirates were eminent. I think the audience in the front row feared they had been lured into a bizarre Gallagher-esque experience (albeit with prettier music).

We all tend to resist taking steps backwards, especially in the arts, but the second night’s performance of BRIGADOON employed but one fog machine.

In 1989 I was cast in an outdoor production of KING LEAR as Lear’s Fool. I have played a couple of Shakespeare’s fools. I have a wealth of personal, real-life experience to bring to such roles.

Early in the rehearsal process, I made a creative decision that was accepted as valid by the director, Joe Ferrell. I felt the Fool would grovel and slither throughout the story as he insinuated his opinions on Lear’s actions and decisions, never reaching past the height of Lear’s waist. I wore out a set of kneepads during the show’s run.

Mr. Ferrell had also made quite a few creative decisions himself (as directors are wont to do), one of which was to employ fog machines during Lear’s nighttime wanderings through the stormy countryside, bereft of shelter and family, and increasingly bereft of his very senses.

Reasonable enough.

From my Fool-ish point of view however (about three feet high, remember), the fog machine was at eye level and only an arm’s length away. In one long scene, as Lear (my friend and fellow cast member, Fred Foster) raged against his daughters, his fate, and the weather for what seemed like four hours, I crouched in the mouth of the belching fog. My makeup washed off. My costume dripped in streams. I gurgled my lines.

When I came out for my curtain call, I didn’t bow.

Instead I shook myself like a dog to share my wealth of moisture with those nearby.

It’s good to share.

My favorite and grandest stage fog episode was on closing night of a 1992 production of SWEENEY TODD.

The house was sold-out. The cast was in place behind the curtain prepared for their grand reveal. I was storming around backstage, working myself into a damn decent homicidal frenzy.

The fog machines commenced.

However, a sold-out house was not enough for the kind-hearted and slightly greedy director, Dr. James Rodgers. He was scurrying about to find room to seat some last-minute, ticketless arrivals. He had folding chairs located and brought to place one-by-one in the corners of the house.

The fog machines dutifully blew.

A pre-show announcement was deemed necessary.

The fog machines gleefully blew and blew.

The orchestra finally began the overture.

The curtain was raised.

The cast began to “tell the tale of Sweeney Todd.”

I strode to the doors I expected to open and allow me to attempt to scare the bejeezus out 400+ people.

Instead, the fire alarm, triggered by the fog, had summoned first responders.

The fire department arrived with the Lexington and UK police – all with bells and whistles and lights a-blazin’. We were evacuated; the audience to the front lawn of the Fine Arts building and the cast and crew to the street behind the building’s loading dock. Both groups could see other in the emergency-light-decorated twilight of a lovely Kentucky summer evening – a far cry from the dingy, industrial Fleet Street.

Eventually, the authorities were persuaded that conflagration was unlikely. They were thanked for their efforts and invited to stay for the show. They chose to go about their duties instead, which was a good thing as I don’t know where Jim would’ve seated them! The audience, the orchestra, the crew, and the cast reassembled and an evening of theatre juiced by the pre-show capers turned out to be real nice clambake.

The fog machines were so proud.

Rowdy and Petulant

Movie night!

One of the commentators on last night’s broadcast from this week’s political convention described a speech as “Clint Eastwood without the chair”. That prompted me to pull out PLAY MISTY FOR ME for the 384th time.

My experience with Clint Eastwood begins with his rowdy and petulant portrayal of Rowdy Yates in the TV cowboy series; “Rawhide”. He had a great squint even then.

Later, I loved his spaghetti westerns; A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and the monumental and rambling THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY. Mr. Eastwood’s character in these films had no name so I just assumed it was an older Rowdy Yates in need of a shower. I wore a poncho myself for several years. I’m not proud of that but I did shower regularly.

Then he created Harry Callahan in the “Dirty Harry” films; talk about rowdy and petulant! But this time, he packed a lot more firepower. For you conspiracy fans, notice that Dirty Harry and Rowdy Yates have the same number of letters in their names. Hm-m. A clue?

The 1992 flick; UNFORGIVEN is a great western. In it, Mr. Eastwood’s character is once more rowdy and petulant, but now also older and slower. He’ll either break yer face or break yer heart – you choose.

These films make me feel as if I’ve watched Rowdy Yates’ entire adult life in movies and enjoyed the hell out of it.

PLAY MISTY FOR ME is not part of that experience. This character (Dave) is not rowdy and petulant, he’s selfish and bewildered.

Random synapses firings from MISTY;

  • It strikes me how similar Clint Eastwood’s radio show in the film is to “Chris in the Morning” on the TV show; “Northern Exposure”. Of course there’s a degree of difference – about 70 degrees of difference.
  • I also wonder if Adrienne Barbeau’s radio show in John Carpenter’s THE FOG might be inspired by Mr. Eastwood. In my travels by car around Kentucky, I’ve caught myself scanning radio channels searching for Clint, Chris, and Adrienne. A little poetry on I-65 would relieve the pounding of the semi convoys.
  • Donna Mills is luscious in her cuter’n-pup-turds pixie haircut. But I cannot get her “Knot’s Landing” character out of my head and I keep weighing who’s truly more dangerous; her or Jessica Walters?
  • I have the similar issues with the amazing picture postcard shots of the Monterey Peninsula director Clint Eastwood employs in this film. Yes, the images beautiful. Yes, I’ve visited the area AND read Kerouac’s tone poem in BIG SUR and know for certain the beauty of Monterey is not a trick of movie-making, it’s there. But the cumulative effect of these shots keeps summoning the croonings of Rod McKuen recordings…not so good in a film of terror.

Unlike Rowdy Yates, this film doesn’t age well, but I love it.

A Geezer Remembers; Old Yellers.

One night while watching an exquisite double feature on TCM (Creature From the Black Lagoon and Tarantula), I was able to put aside, for a moment, the fashion questions posed by these flicks (Julie Adams’ stunning white bathing suit – white always being the sensible choice for swimming in the Amazon – and Mala Powers’ inexplicable white gloves in a crusty desert town with dirt roads), and consider the respective screaming techniques of those actors. Ms. Powers’ pitiful squeak came out a poor second to Ms. Adams’ flawed, but lusty bellow. Ms. Adams’ technique was probably better suited for the stage than the camera. She paused, registered the menace (as implausible as it was), took a deep breath, and cut loose with a face-shattering, but perfectly coifed shriek. Not bad. I’d give it an eight (the bathing suit, brooking no discussion, gets a solid ten).

The female star/victims of these cinematic expressions of the 19th-century penny dreadfuls are often referred to as “scream queens”, but how often do we really evaluate their screaming abilities? We (or at least I) revere Barbara Steele, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, Adrienne Barbeau, Judy Geeson, Evelyn Ankers, and so many others for their contributions to the horror genre. However, their contributions are usually visual; big eyes, big hair, big…? The exception in this group would be Ms. Geeson. Her screaming in the sublimely crude It Happened in Nightmare Inn (imagine a Spanish Motel Hell) was spot on.

As fine a shrieker as Ms. Geeson is though, there’s one old yeller that’s truly the queen.

My first play on the Guignol stage at the University of Kentucky was “Playboy of the Western World”, directed by Charles Dickens (yes, that was his real name) in September, 1969. One evening in rehearsal Professor Dickens coached me in a reactive moment to let forth a “Fay Wray” scream. I had to confess my complete ignorance as to who Fay Wray might be. Charles muttered “dull…flat…literal undergraduate students…” and moved on to presumably more literate and direct-able cast members.

However, I took this admonition to heart and later in the year I had a chance to see Ms. Wray’s performance opposite the title character on top of a New York skyscraper in KING KONG. Keep in mind this was before Netflix, TCM, Youtube, cable television, Tivo, streaming, dvr’s, and vcr’s. I didn’t even own a television set! I had to be alert to when a local channel (two channels – count ‘em – two!) would be showing the movie and then impose on some classmate (probably Chuck Pogue) to let me come to their place watch it. Watch it I did, and to this day for me, no one screams like Fay Wray. It’s spontaneous. It’s instant. It’s totally committed to the moment.

The next fall, I was cast in the Guignol’s production of “Billy Budd”. This play takes place on a British ship in the 1800’s. Why a college theatre department comprised of about a dozen active males and about five dozen active females would choose to do a play with a cast of 26 males and no females is beyond my pay grade, but schedule it they did, and the predictable result was that there were a few guys in the cast that had seriously limited experience on stage. There’s a big moment in the first act of the play in which a sailor falls (offstage) from the heights of the ship’s rigging to his death. His screams are the audience’s only connection to the tragedy of the moment. Unfortunately, this part was being played by a young English major whose previous stage experience consisted of accepting his high school diploma. The director (Ray Smith) held auditions for offstage screamers to create the moment. Guess who got the part.

Fay Wray will always be the ultimate scream queen to this grateful geezer.