unCivil! (or, Emblazoned Saddles: The Re-naming of a Theatrical Colossus)

Summer! Hot, sweaty, wildly-fluctuating summer! Oh buddy, I know you know what this damp t-shirt means… that’s right, it’s Civil War musical comedy time. Or it was, anyway.

Like a carnival asked to show its permits, the Civil War musical comedy has pulled up stakes and left town for the season. There’s always a sense of sadness in the air as we take down the set decorations and box up the cast and crew.

In the kitchen, Rick Kunzi and Director Steve Bebout finish the last of the wine and pick at the leftovers, plotting program-and-turkey sandwiches for the next week. They’ve already vacuum-sealed castmates Mitch Jarvis, Brian Charles Rooney, and Antwayn Hopper into freezer bags, with plans of thawing them out for the next time the neighbors invite themselves over for dinner. The lid of Matt Stocke’s Gladware has been snapped shut to seal in the juices, and Ian Lowe naps peacefully in the corner, his snoozing face the very definition of innocence – it’s been a big day for him too.

Mike Abbott is sedated with safari-grade tranquilizers and placed back into his crate, the remaining space of which is then filled with Styrofoam peanuts to protect his glossy finish. Adam Barnosky hoists the Bobby Spencer back into the rafters for safe-keeping, and we breathe a collective sigh of relief that he’s made it through another round of performances, just as bright and winsome as when Dad bought him for the front yard display all those years ago.

And who could forget the rest of the band, crew, and festival staff, who worked ‘round the clock to get this show exploding into people’s faces like a double-jammed Kentucky long rifle? Yes, they did that thing and they did it with aplomb - to each of them will be delivered a repurposed bowling trophy as reward for their efforts. (If you’ve not yet received yours, just keep calling your postman’s home number every day until he gives you one.) There’s a reason for this season, and it’s called giving. It is also arguably called taking. Speaking of which, let us take a trip back in time to last month…

How I Spent My Summer Playcation

Yes, this past July we traveled deep into the dark heart of Adirondia. It was there, in the woods of upstate New York, that our people found refuge at the Adirondack Theatre Festival of Glens Falls. The air was thick with James Fenimore Cooper, and the streets were bursting with charming bistros. There, having finished our artisanal sandwiches and reluctantly acknowledged that none of us has ever actually read The Last of the Mohicans, we learned that the local constabulary had agreed to our putting up a show - a little something I’ve spoken of before, now replete with a newer, user-friendlier name: The unCivil War.

Oh, I’m sorry – you were expecting a more opulent title? Something gauche and hyper-dramatic, like Gods and Generals or The Killer Angels? Something like 2014’s award-winning Bayonets of Angst perhaps? Well, you’re in luck, for the legacy of Bayonets lives on in the much-easier-to-deal-with title of The unCivil War. It is also sometimes known as unCivil, just as it is always known to be a copyediting nightmare.

But so what? We may have changed the name, but the scathingly ridiculous content remains, so there’s no need to adjust your metrics – if anything, we’ve increased our laughs by 33% just by getting more people through the door without weighing them down with the eternal question: “What is a ‘Bayonet of Angst?’”

And where did that name come from anyway? Uh-oh, it looks like we’re in for another episode of...

Entitlement Issues

To find out, I went on sabbatical from my day job, took two and a half courses on “Research” at the local community college (the half-credit comes from a class I walked-out on because the professor had a different opinion than I did, so fuck that guy) and delved deep into the Zanadu Archives, seeking answers.

I will be honest in admitting that the Archives operate under a flawed organizational system – flawed in that they are kind of just stacks of shit in no particular order. From an archivist’s perspective, the upside is that you can look at the stacks and go, “I betcha that thing I wrote down that one time is still here somewhere.” Lo and behold, that thing I sought was in there somewhere, and upon focusing my search in some period-era notebooks (’02 to ’03 was an era of Mead Five Star composition books, which were just like regular comp books, but had college ruling and plastic covers – ooh-la-la, perfect for when friends drive over them!), I was able to find my original list of potential titles for the admittedly silly script I’d been toying with.

It was the fall of 2003, and with social strife enveloping the globe and pouring onto the page, I knew I would need a title that could sum up the whole bloody package. Aspiring to create the greatest (the only?) Civil War comedy the world has ever seen, I soon began comparing any candidates to the greatest title the world has ever seen. I am, of course, talking about the decadent wordsmithing of one Mr. Irving Stone and his novel… The Agony and the Ecstasy.

One more time: The Agony and the Ecstasy.

The Agony and the Ecstasy!? Not to fall back on vague blanket-praise, but I think he fucking nailed it! What else is left to even mention at this point? You’ve got your lowest-of-the-low Agony, you’ve got your never-been-higher Ecstasy - case-fucking-closed! Not since War and Peace has a title so assuredly proclaimed itself to embody the complete duality of opposing states, and even Tolstoy reads as starkly pragmatic when placed next to that beast of a name.

Anyway, I can’t really recommend the novel because I’ve never read it, just as I can’t recommend the Charlton Heston / Rex Harrison-starring film adaptation because I’ve never seen it from start-to-finish (all I remember is the scene where Heston’s Michelangelo receives a vision from god regarding the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling that appears to be an optical of a humble postcard of the ceiling as it appears now, superimposed over a shot of clouds bursting with heavenly rays of light). However, I can recommend any writer taking him or herself too seriously to try besting TAATE’s dramatic heights. Certainly I was obsessed with doing so:

Okay, a couple things jump out at me right away.

1.) I did not know how to spell the word “Bayonets.” To save face, I was just about to throw the name “The Bayonettes” out there for some girl band to grab, but it looks like they already exist - good for them!

2.) If you look closely, you can see that there's a doodle of a Frankenstein on the back of the page. This is pretty standard-issue.

3.) This story was extraordinarily close to being straight-up called The Angst and the Agony, which one could argue does not exactly hold its cards close to the vest. Considering the other options appearing on this list, Bayonets of Angst was the correct name for the show at the time, but as was the case during any James Brown gig or with the broadcast schedule of NewsRadio, times change.

So here we are, changing with those times, plowing the bow of our present into the yielding mucus membrane of the future, leaving behind naught but the Weltschmerz of gun-swords and the past. Who needs the past to present history? There are ‘needs’ and then there are ‘needs.’ And right now, I need some tin cans, two bunches of bananas, and no less than three (3) hoop skirts. You guys can handle that, right? Guys? …Guys?

And while I cannot guarantee what the name will be tomorrow, I can guarantee it will probably, presumably, in all likelihood, have the term "unCivil" in it. #unCivilmusical, #Idontknowwhathashtagsmean.

(As no tedious retelling of a Playcation is complete until you’ve been made to sit through a slideshow of photos, here are a few:)

The Cast – arguably the most important factor in getting the wardrobe and props to hit their marks.

Drinking with co-writer, Rick Kunzi. We did this a lot, mostly during the day.

Large, blond man points to poster, world sighs.

You will never be able to accurately measure the breadth of your ego until you’ve gotten your own street lamp banners.

All the world’s a stage, but especially the actual stage-part.