A couple days after taping the first episode I’m heading down to Salt Springs to take Richard Borders (camera guy, engineer, and genius) back to the Amrit Yoga Institute where he works and lives. Upon arriving it’s clear it would be beneficial to stay for a couple days and take some chill. Breathe Jim, breathe. Hearing the words of Marie Bailey bouncing off the sides of my skull. There’s no place like Om.
The road to that night was challenging. Trying to be creative and actually produce something under pressure. My mom in the hospital and the production crew with a load of work on their queue as it was. So we all are really just focused and everyone was at their best. I wrote some of it in mom’s room reading her bits now and then. (She’s fine now ;) Our guests deserved nothing less and we wanted to give the TV audience an experience. Being a TV audience is much different than a theatrical audience. Long pauses between segments, retakes, technical issues crop up. The audience is part of the show. That’s why we can’t even imagine pricing a ticket. We need their energy. We need the audience to applaud out to a commercial break and applaud in. And hopefully laugh, cry or at least be moved by each segment if we do our job right.
The hardest segment for me was Daydream Believer. Not because I forgot my lines and fumbled with the teleprompter but because I had to reach in deep for that one. When putting a show together I have a hard time wrapping my head around lines that are written for me. It’s hard enough to deliver the ones from the heart without the water works kicking in front of everybody. Yet that is the work if I want to be authentic. “Oh I could hide ‘neath the wings of a bluebird as she sings”. That was truth. No one liked me in school and I was bullied daily so hiding in any place of comfort was heaven. So for this 12 year old it was alone in my room singing with Davy Jones for an imaginary audience of thousands. In that place I was safe, accepted and loved. Looking back it’s easy to see how it changes one’s programming and hopefully reach a point where you rewrite the code, get out from under the wings and fly. That’s when being out there becomes fluid, surreal and it just flows. Much like swimming. Then when the nervousness kicks in I remind myself there is nothing to be afraid of and it’s really okay. Watching fear is much more productive than giving it any more energy than it has already taken.
Afterwards the “reviews” start coming in. And we are “floored” (hang on to that word as we move into the season). The comments feel wonderful and we are grateful to have pulled this off.
On the writing side I am grateful for Barbara Colaciello for guiding me through the improvisational landscape. Yet I didn’t expect that physical improv would change the way I write. For example, the Utter Bliss Duet that Robert White and I sang was written at 2:30 in the morning in 10 minutes with nary a tweak. Even the Daydream Believer piece felt like it was gifted and I was just a conduit. In that space it just happens, the filters go away, the ego takes a break and as each word falls to the page there is no judgement.
Conceptually the show is not to be a carbon copy of “pick your host” of late night network television. We are the first (anywhere that I can tell) local late night format show ever. Maybe there is something somewhere but I haven’t found it. So we wanted to have distinguishing markers. Back in the day bands would do concept albums and I always loved that. Some thread ran throughout and the songs were placed in a particular order along some vague plotline or impressionistic vision. Then in 2014 Coldplay released Ghost Stories and it reminded me of the thrill of the thread. So that’s how I write the show, but it’s more of a guiding principal for me as a writer/producer. If the audience picks up on it all the better. The very least I hope to get out of that framework is continuity, and that the audience senses the undercurrent even if they can’t name it.
So it was for episode one. The working title in my head was “Thoughtful Monty”. Just a play on words for me to express the way our thoughts play with us and just put it out there in front of everybody. From the opening segment where I think out loud in a thought bubble, to Marie Bailey telling me I’m not my thoughts. And how wonderful it felt to Om our way into a show along with the audience. Our first guest Yogi Amrit Desai who is the teacher of these things brought us to the precipice. Melissa Ross admittedly was a dream come true. I so admire what she does. The mission of Tonight! is closely aligned and inspired by the bar she has set in giving audience to artists, creators and change makers in our community. That was my Davy Jones interview folks. Judi Herring, advocate for self-determination, explains the problem of gender identity where someone else determines the sex of a child that has intersex traits because they are thought bound to something that isn’t real. Finally with Bob, living out our photo fantasy in front of our voyeuristic audience. And yes, even the song that we played over the PA as the audience took their seats was part of the deal. Mr. Brightside by the Killers. Look up the lyrics. We closed the show with it and ended up dancing on stage, audience and crew.
Another distinguishing marker is the monologue and finale. For Tonight! it’s a community experience. I’m sure delivering a straight monologue can be fun, but I’m not a comedian and I’d rather be up there with my friends having a good time. We share the experience from the start.
The morning after arriving at the ashram I swam across the lake behind the property with my friend Patti. It’s a six kilometer swim and we were in the water for a couple hours opposite the wind. I went back to the cabin to rest and chose to lay in the grass with a pad and pen by my side. So I steal this term from farming and use and leverage it often. It’s called the rowen. It loosely means the second harvest. When the energy is this high there is bound to be one. Waking from a brief nap I wrote the concept to what I hope will be episode two with all the “songs” in order. It came through the rustling pines needles high above in the wind. One falls to the ground and act two begins.