Friday, June 22, 2012

Pheasant Run Is Not What It Seems

Earlier this week, I wrote the following:

"I can imagine myself playing [Homer Zuckerman] in the children's classic, Charlotte's Web, this Thursday at around 9:30 AM in the metropolis of Pheasant Run, Illinois."

When I wrote that, I was clearly under the impression that on the Thursday in question, I'd be performing in Charlotte's Web at a school in Pheasant Run, Illinois.  Those of you familiar with Illinois are snickering.  Those of you who aren't have no idea why those other people are snickering.  I will enlighten you as I was recently enlightened:

Pheasant Run is not a city in Illinois.  Pheasant Run is the name of a theater in the city of St Charles, Illinois.  What a fool I've been!  How close I came to ruining my career!  How little I knew of the snakepit I was stepping into!  Do you understand?  Let me explain for you non-soon-to-be-Famous people.

Performing a show at a school for school children is simple.  The students, just happy to be out of class, are hardly a discerning audience.  Their attention is split between the stage and their teacher crush, and most of them, should you fall on your face, would thank you silently for momentarily refocusing the elitism of the local bully.  There is very little risk involved in performing for kids at a school, and I'm happy to step into such a situation having only rehearsed in my living room with a script and a DVD

A theater, however--now, that's an altogether different beast.  Had I known I'd be performing at a theater, for a cultured audience of youths, I'd have insisted on a full two weeks of rehearsal.  I'd have demanded previews and an understudy.  I'd have negotiated for a program, complete with a full page "bio." 

I didn't get those opportunities.  The truth about Pheasant Run was sprung on me only as our tour van passed into its parking lot.  An hour later, I found myself in front of an army of educated theater goers--young, sure, maybe 8 years of age on average, but they may as well have been wearing tuxedos and taking critical notes on their ipads. 

The heat was, as Glenn Fry best put it, "on."  

Lucky for me, I continued my lifelong trend of living up to high expectations.  I danced almost flawlessy, barely bumping into anyone at all.  I remembered most of my lines and lyrics, only paraphrasing or lip-humming when I couldn't remember what came next.  I performed unprecedented physical comedy that elicited genuine laughter from the Ivy-League-caliber audience, and I even took an unplanned turn along the theater aisles in the process. 

If all of this weren't enough, I put the proverbial cherry on my performance when I was personally plucked to shoulder-lift the show's star, Wilbur, in the closing number, "Some Pig."  Then, when it was all over, I knew I'd made a impression, because in the post-show Q&A, one student, playing innocent, raised his hand and asked:

"Are any of you famous?"

I smiled and didn't say a word. 

In the aforementioned entry from earlier this week, I also wrote this:

"If at least one kid doesn't cry when Charlotte dies, I'm going to have words with a Pheasant Run principal about raising a generation of insensitive, boorish children who don't appreciate 'the theater.'"

It looks like that won't be necessary.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


It started pretty innocently, with me watching a DVD of 8 actors performing a show.  Then, it turned into me watching that same DVD of those same 8 actors performing that same show . . . again.  Then, it turned into me closing the living room shades, moving the coffee table out of the way, and pulling up the rug so I wouldn't slip.  In the privacy of my newly-created cave, I danced, sang, and acted along with those actors performing that same show--over and over and over until my roommate came home and caught me.   

As I danced, sang, and acted to myself, I kept a close eye on one of those actors in particular.  He's the one playing Homer Zuckerman, the farmer.*  I'm happy to say that I've memorized his lines to the point where I can say them aloud alongside him.  I can imitate his blocking.  I can imagine myself playing him on stage in the children's classic, Charlotte's Web.

Specifically, I can imagine myself playing him in the children's classic, Charlotte's Web, this Thursday at around 9:30 AM in the metropolis of Pheasant Run, Illinois.  I can imagine myself doing it without any rehearsal outside of my living room.  I can imagine myself crashing and burning. 

I can also imagine myself delighting hundreds of non-theater-critic children.^

What will come of this adventure?  Well, I don't know.  But if at least one kid doesn't cry when Charlotte dies, I'm going to have words with a Pheasant Run principal about raising a generation of insensitive, boorish children who don't appreciate "the theater."  And if at least one kid doesn't question why the adults in the story immediately conclude that it's the pig who is writing in the web, I'll talk to that same principal about the academic rigor of that school.  And if I don't stumble across at least one line or lyric or fall on my face at least once during a dance number . . . then I might just start rehearsing all of my shows** this way. 

What does the future hold?  A great sausage-making failure, or a blue ribbon revolution in the rehearsal process?  I just don't know.  But damn it if I'm not going to sing and dance my heart out when the time comes.  Those terrific, radiant, humble actors on the DVD deserve it.  They've worked so hard to train me.  Over and over and over and over  . . . *changes the batteries in his DVD remote* . . . and over and over and over . . .

Oh, whoah, look at him go!
Manship's a'dancin' alone!
Sooooieee!  What do you see!
He might fall down and scrape his knee!
Crunch time, maybe he'll shine,
Did you just see what he did?!
He's some trrippin', crazy-ass, stumblin',
Disappointer of kids!


* It appears that he is actually double-cast and also plays the "Little Lamb." 

^ I have an active imagination. 

** This is the only show I'm in. 

Friday, June 15, 2012


When I first began this blog, it was as a public service, like warning the people of an impending tornado or giving them a heads up about a great show that's opening (or extending).  People needed to know that I was going to be famous soon.  I didn't want to catch them by surprise.

I never meant for the blog to become what it is today: a sell-out written by a sell-out.  

Do you know how many times I've mentioned my book on this blog since last November?  There was a period where it's all I would talk about.   

Why I wrote my book

Where you can buy my book used for $45.

How great my book's reader reviews are.  

How my college is telling people about my book

How my book is going to defeat Hitler.

It's like I was trying to market the thing.

Now it's happening again.  I want to focus on public service, but all I can think about is how "T: An MBTA Musical" is exploding all over again.  We got extended to the middle of July.  We were on  We were on WGBH.


Now it's official, at least for today.  I'm a true sell-out.*  Did you hear that?  A SELL OUT.*  Let me shout it over the rooftops of the world.



* Click on that link and buy tickets for a future show. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Eye of the Tornado

Apparently, tornadoes have eyes.  I apologize to the co-worker that I mocked on Monday.*

More apparently, two people in history have stood in the eye of a tornado.^  Here are their accounts:

"Once inside the swirling cloud, Keller said that everything was 'as still as death.' He reported smelling a strong gassy smell and had trouble breathing . . . The rotating cloud walls were made clearly visible by constant bursts of lightning that "zigzagged from side to side." He also noticed a lot of smaller tornadoes forming and breaking free, making a loud hissing noise."


"He described the inside as a smooth wall of clouds, with smaller twisters swirling around the inside before breaking free."

Well, guess what, boys?  There's a third member of this club now.  Me!  Here's my account from the eye of the tornado:

"There was a whole double tech week of non-stop promotion, rehearsal, and organization, followed by an early rise from bed with the expectation of a whirlwind opening day.  Then, everything was suddenly quiet.  I could sense that there was still so much happening around me, but except for the occasional burst of chat windows, my own Inbox was empty.  The silence jostled me more than the noise.  What strange hell was I in?  There was a baby bunny on my back porch.  At 12:30, I went to the dentist."

My take is slightly more literary** than those of the two farmers, but it is valid nonetheless. 

Here's the tornado. 

Here's the bunny:

* That co-worker will never read this blog, so there's no pride at stake here.  

^ My blog is both self-centered and educational.  Kick it!

** i.e., made-up^^

^^ Except for the dentist.  I really did that.  Look at my teeth!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Silbing Rivalry

Let me get straight to the point.  

Jeff Manship, who the hell are you, and what are you doing with my last name?  I'm going through some hard times right now when it comes to finding myself, and you're not making this any easier. 

Are you a thief?  If you've sotlen my last name, then on behalf of all true Manships everywhere, I demand you retrun it.

Are you a long-lost relative?  If so, what the hell ar eyou trying to do making it to the majors, and in such close proximity to my own dwelling?  (Don't make me come up there.)  Are you tyring to become the most famous Manship?^  Do you  have a blog somewhere I don't know about?

Who are you?  I must know.*  Are you really right-handed?  We are in competition!

Here's what I suggest.  I suggest you follow the Twins' lead and embrace your new last name that is not Manship.  Milk it for all it's worth.  How many Mansihps are there in the world?  Not a lot, I'd bet. You can be a Mansihp and do it with my full blessing. 

But if you're going to be a Manship . . . well.  Then we have beef, good sir.  We have some big, bloody beef to sort out.  Because there are already some famousn and soon-to-be-Famous Manships in line ahead of you.  And we don't want to be "less" of a household name than some guy with a 5.56 lifetime ERA.


* I'm clearly already used to disappointment.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Identity Crisis

How's your short term memory? 

Nine months ago, I wrote a blog post about how I've been incognito since coming to Chicago.  Seven months ago, I hid my face from the public.  Fifteen minutes ago, I wrote a darling little entry in this blog about using my full name and referring to myself as a writer-performer. Do you remember?

There's been a lot of hiding from myself in this place; no wonder I'm a little confused about my identity. 

Last night, I had the privilege of performing with the group Barrel of Monkeys in their end-of-the-year Celebration of Authors.  As referenced fifteen minutes ago, I got to play a cat, a drummer, a glitter fairy--oh hell.  If you want the full list, just look back fifteen minutes.  I'm not doing it for you. The point is that I, along with 40 other soon-to-be-Famous people, danced, sang, and performed through 30 high-energy pieces, all put together with amazing efficiency in 18 hours of rehearsal. That's 21 minutes of rehearsal per piece. 

When the last note of the last song came out of my mouth*, my body, mind, and soul embraced the moment.  Sure, I can handle two tech weeks at once, but the human part of me knows when it's time to finally relax.^  The work complete, I took off the mask of a competent, focused performer and just let myself be me on stage.  Whoever that is. 

The final bows took place.  The producing director of Barrel of Monkeys announced:

"We have been Barrel of Monkeys.  But individually, we are . . ."

Everyone started yelling their names.




Mo Mo.

Wow.  The name-yelling is moving so quickly down the front row of performers.  I can't wait until it gets to me.  I want to yell out my name, too.  Whoever I am. 


God's Gift




It's me!  It's me!  I yell out my name.



Did I really just get through two tech weeks, only to publicly change my name to Caintl?

Who am I? How's my short term memory?

Which is why I woke up this morning and said to myself, to my private audience of one:

My name is John Michael Manship.  You're reading my blog.  Prepare to sigh.



* I think that note belonged in that song.  I put it there, regardless.

^ There is no human part of me, and I have no idea when it's finally time to relax.

Actors are Weenies

In my childhood, I allowed myself to be slandered in a way.  People referred to me by names that are not my own, like "Michael," "Mike," or even "Suzie.* "  As soon as I realized I was going to be Famous (soon), I shook loose those wretched pseudonyms and respond now only to "John Michael Manship."  All Fame begins with pretension, and what's more pretentious than using your first, last, and middle names?

Likewise, I've now stopped referring to myself as an actor.  Actors are a dime a dozen and pursue a lonely, solitary, near-sighted lifestyle.  Actors only know how to act; I am much more diverse.  (A man who goes by two names must also have at least two vocations.) As such, please only refer to me as a "writer-performer" and never as an actor.

And I'm not afraid to write in one city and perform in another.  And I'm not afraid to do it at the same time. See how "writer-performer" I am?  An actor would whine about being in two places at once, but it does not intimidate John Michael Manship, the writer-performer.  He brags about it! 

Commence bragging:

Last night, at the same time 15 actors in Boston were acting out a story I co-wrote and singing brilliant tunes like The People on the T and Letters of Grievance, I was performing in a show here in Chicago.  I performed as a drummer, a glitter fairy, a cat, a samurai, and a beach-goer.  And I sang, too, thank you very much.

But let's not compete.  Let's mend fences.  What do we all have in common?  Both the actors and I, the writer-performer, acted and performed during what we in the biz call tech week.  It's a sort of mini-hell created by technicians and directors because they're jealous that they can't get on stage themselves.  To get their revenge, they force actors and writer-performers alike to stand still for long periods of time, to be quiet, and to stay focused--while knowing full well that both actors and writer-performers are incapable of all three of these things!

Yes, tech week is a rough time for the histrionic types.  But last night, 15 actors and a band and two directors and a choreographer and a fantastic team of designers and technicians got through one.  Together.

Resume bragging:

And so did I. Both of me. 

Tech week?  Please.^  I'll take two.**


* Those were dark days.

 ^ Also, some more italics, please.  I'm all out.

** As long as one of them doesn't actually require me to be present.