Daze & Nights IIIa
The Great Salt Lake Mime Troupe Goes on THE ROAD!
of Part IIc
: The expanded Great Salt Lake Mime Troupe made a group
decision to name itself after a lake rather than a town. Jango Edwards
came out from Michigan to see our work, and taught us several sets
worth of new material. George Kugler returned from Colorado with TWO
prospects for the Christmas season, and The Highlands near Aspen,
confirmed their booking. George then bought a 33 foot school bus to
function as a mobile home. We added a driver, and a new dancer, since
Patsy had important family duties which kept her from touring at that
time. Mark Nelson had already scheduled some shows in Southern Californis,
and met us in Aspen.
Tour -- "The Highlands" of Aspen, Colorado
venue was a relatively new development at the base of the mountains
west of the main town of Aspen. The view from the hotel/resort (above)
faced east towards Aspen Grove and Eastwood. It was warm and sunny
when we arrived, but it tended to snow at night, and the daily temperatures
were about to DROP as Christmas and New Year approached.
Instant Theater -- Just Add Sweat!
hotel dining room where we played had a cathedral ceiling reaching
three stories or more up to the steep peaked roof. We took over the
far east end.
The view in
back of our newly-built stage was white and blue, day and night. We
had to compete with God's own handiwork somehow in the foreground.
After an all-day
drive from Salt Lake, we parked the bus at the Highlands resort
as night was falling. When we went inside we found out: We were
expected, but the size of our full company and five-piece band hadn't
sunk in with the management team; The building of the stage had
barely started, and there were no plans made about where we would
sleep; Les, the manager who had booked us, was away and wasn't expected
back for a few days. Luckily, the staff on hand found rooms for
us, and scrambled the whole next day to get us the material and
tools we needed to finish turning the dining room into a servicable
theater. Foremost among our allies was "Fast Eddie" the
chef -- he and the other workers at the Highlands gave us immeasurable
assistance throughout our stay, and we couldn't have succeeded without
Ken White's portable lighting system was flexile enough to light
the stage and band, plus there were some additional effects available
by way of the existing decorative lighting. George, Carrillo, and
Zupan doubled the size of the stage and tore out some barriers.
By the time we had our premiere the dining room only gave up two
tables, and we had enough room to perform at the east end, with
the band spread out along the whole wall. There was a tiny changing
area at the right where the dancers could enter and exit, but we
made do with minimal costume changes, plus the performers gradually
grew comfortable with entering and exiting from any direction, although
I had to work the lights in a front corner, next to a table reserved
for paying customers.
Debra Ryals was an Important New Addition to the Group
Debra and Katie
had to perform the most intricate moments of our material together.
Debra also had
to stand out when she worked with the men in the company, but that
wasn't quite as difficult.
Debra was a
trained dancer from the prolific University of Utah Dance Department
-- when she and Katie unleashed their skills, they totally won over
any audience who saw them.
signed up to play three shows a day: We worked things out so that
apres ski featured the band at about 3:30 PM -- their smooth
soulful arrangements of then-familiar songs went over very well with
both young and old listerners winding down from days on the slopes;
Late nights, after 10:30, became a showcase for short funny pieces,
like we used for street theater, plus Jazz, and Popular Music, as
well as Jango's handy material from the thick Friends Roadshow book.
Depending on the day of the week, these sets could be long or short.
One evening, during a long "party night," a young couple
near me mentioned "we have a group like that back home."
It turned out that they were from Michigan, and knew the Friends'
songs, so we had a fun conversation about Stan Edwards, Senior Class
President at Milan High School, before he thought of calling himself
Jango; At 8 PM we unleased "Clown's Cabaret," straight from
the Glass Factory -- our well-rehearsed combination of raw entertainment
and high art was totally unexpected by the vacationers on hand, and
they ate it up, as well as doing the same with Eddie's excellent dinners.
They also told their friends and acquaintences.
had a reputation for being a playground for the rich and famous.
Some of our customers may have been fortunate in their lives,
but we spent almost all of our time around people who worked
for a living. There was gossip that Diana Ross was vacationing
in Aspen. She was a major movie and musical star at the time.
One person swore they saw her "smiling at our street show,"
but none of us ever saw her, or anybody from her entourage.
I didn't doubt that Ms. Ross was around, but she was likely
more interested in winter sports, or private affairs of her
own, That rumor actually gave our performers some severe cases
of nerves over the unlikely and unfulfilled possibility of Ross
seeing us, which really puzzled me back then.
What drew wealthy visitors to Aspen was the abundant snow, which
generally fell every night, with sunny days following. The elevation
was slightly over ten thousand feet so the snow was deep and
powdery over a substantial base. There were great views, good
accomodations, and easy access to the Denver airport.
The only celebrity any of us met was a pleasant man named Ed
Ames. He and his brothers had a successful singing group in
the 50's, and he'd been a TV actor too. His all-too-accurate
hatchet throw on the Johnny Carson Show was re-run every year
for over twenty years.
Mr. Ames was staying at The Highlands and stopped by to see
what we were doing late one night. The band had just played
a round of music, and Georgio the Clown introduced the Siamese
Twins -- Matt and Carrillo came onstage with their heads
sticking out of a big overcoat. There was some absurd banter,
and the act ended with Debra and Katie joining in under another
greatcoat as the Twins' wives. They danced offstage to
many gruffaws and shaking heads. Ames discreetly left with an
inscruitable look on his face, but everyone else was laughing.
plus four dancers gave us the surprisingly fun Siamese Twins
number. We did this act to lighten up a Sun Tavern show which was
getting too serious, but used it successfully in many street performances.
Work, More Work, Time to Play, and Sleep!
I found an
abandoned monkey doll while we were building the stage. "Hey
George!" I said, "Here's Les!" Gentle George swung
his fist and sent 'Les' flying across the room. 'Les' became a passenger
on the bus with us, smiling all the way from coast to coast.
the hard work, we did have time to play. The Highlands had an outdoor
heated pool at the end of a tunnel running from the sauna, shielded
by hills and steam. Bathing suits were optional after 10 PM, but simple
civil behavior was common and customary.
was the holiday season, and space was at a literal premium in and
around Aspen. I'll never know why Les and his brothers didn't think
about our accomodations ahead of time, but we were shunted around
to several locations, including a bunk house, humorously named "Rick's
Racks" during our engagement. Carrillo didn't think it was very
funny, and stayed in the bus a couple of times out of pique ("I've
BEEN in the Navy!"), but it was about ten degrees below zero,
and he couldn't run the motor all night. He had enough bags and bedding
available to get by, but his idea didn't work for the rest of us in
that climate. We all were leaning about what we needed to have on
hand for work, and for living, and how to keep track of them in transit.
Living quarters far from the venue without personal transportation
required a new kind of discipline for everybody too.
the Word Out on the Streets
was an odd mix of hustle and inactivity, depending on the time of
day and temperature. The company and I did publicity for our out-of-the-way
By just trying
to stay warm during promotional street performances, Katie began to
develop a character named Madame Zablouva from under her scarves.
we first got to town, we found that we had a lot of advertising to
do, because our venue was outside the familiar local paths. Our manager
Mark Nelson had his car with him, and ferried us between the local
radio stations, and business offices. While he drove us around, he
showed us a tiny dulcimer, less than a foot long, which he was learning
to play. He had left the world of Jazz behind him, and was developing
a repertory of folk songs. It was fun to sing along with him, and
puzzle out the beautiful little Epinette des Vosges. He would
later become an acknowledged dulcimer master, and record several albums
using this family of instuments.
Except for George, the Mime Troupe was unfamiliar with the dynamics
of street theater at the time, but it was necessary to be seen by
the public, and show them something which would convince them to come
and watch us perform. The company did some short skits, and reworked
some of Jango's silliness in between George's sharp juggling routines,
honed on the bricks of Trolley Square. The band did their best, but
the freezing temperatures and noisy environment presented challenges
which weren't resolved all at once. My part was to circle the crowds
and hand out little fliers telling about The Highlands, and our show.
I also hung posters where the businesses allowed it. We had to be
back at the hotel before 3 PM, but we spent most of our first week
making our rounds midday as the temperature got cold, colder, and
Once it was looking like our promotions were paying off, the hotel
offered us access to some ski passes and rental equipment. I was a
pretty inept skier, and very adverse to any more freezing, if I had
my choice, so I skipped the group's first (and last) cross-country
expedition. The people who already knew how to ski did alright, but
it was a struggle for the others. Afterward, there were one or two
troupers who took to the slopes at times, but most of us stayed indoors.
Our drummer Jan Fogel suffered a bad fall on the cross-country skis,
so the doctor put a splint on her right wrist. She would play with
her left hand only for most of the next two months -- keeping her
right hand suspended, and using her feet liberally. The music that
came out of kit was still played in perfect time, with excellent flourishes
and bright percussive touches. She was a jewel on the throne.
Street veteran Georgio
finally got his unicycle rolling under his feet during our Aspen trip.
We met a wonderful
comic actor named Jean Paul Bell for the first time, and renewed our
REALLY cold day, I heard someone calling my name down by Mill Avenue
as I was finishing my duties. I turned around, and saw Ediie and his
girlfriend waving at me. They lived nearby, and asked me to come along
The whole group
would later visit Eddie, and we were also guests at an excellent party
given by a friend of George's who had moved to Aspen without Kugler's
previous knowledge. He worked for the Chamber of Commerce, so he knew
a lot about the history and sociology of the town. Along the way we
met an actor from Australia named Jean Paul who did a music/mime number
about a down and out sideshow man trying to sell a promoter on his
flea circus -- "Please buy my fleas" was the serio-comic
refrain, as he held out his old top hat during the song, beseeching
the audience with his expressive eyes. We brought him up to perform
at The Highlands once or twice, and met him again in Amsterdam about
six months later.
I gladly accepted, calling Mark Nelson to let him know where
to pick me up once I got inside. The first thing that impressed
me, besides their generous hospitality, was a Salvador Dali
original on the wall. We warmed up and just talked for a little
while. Eddie would have to get back to work in another couple
of hours, but we had time to play a record or two on his excellent
stereo. There was a brand-new album by someone named Phoebe
Snow, who would be a star in a few months.
I asked if they liked hearing rich, deep bass, and when I heard
the word yes, I put on their copy of the Beach Boys' Holland
album, cueing Dennis Wilson's song Steamboat. The tune
was mellow, but the bass shook their townhouse all the way to
the roof. Eddie laughed in surprise and said: "I hear you're
supposed to be going to Holland!" I nodded my head and
told him about our Steamboat Springs performance the previous
summer, also saying I hoped this album was some kind of good
omen for our ambitions.
New Year -- And A New Chapter in Our Career
did our job filling the Highlands' restaurant/theatre at all hours
as word of mouth spread around the ski slopes as the New Years weekend
approached. I'm not sure what we would have done without Jango's Friends
Roadshow material to back us up as the evening sets got longer and
longer. Clown's Cabaret, with all that Modern Dance, was the most
popular and admired thing we did, though, and it was booked solid
for most of a week at the end of our run. I was very pleased to see
many couples and families returning more than once, and bringing guests
with them. "We're here to see YOU!" I heard repeatedly,
and we always exchanged thanks.
New Years Eve was a long haul for the band -- the party went late,
and there was a lot to do the next day, including packing up all the
equipment (including Les, the stuffed monkey), and a long drive back
to Salt Lake City. The trial run was over, and trial though it was,
we aquitted the appeal of our performers and material before a world-class
was one last meal together midday at Eddie's house before we rolled
out of town. He made sure we all had as much of his superb cooking
as we could stomach, and filled our coolers. He sincerely wished
us luck on our upcoming California tour, and was certain we would
do well in Europe. Road angels like Eddie were our greatest blessings
as we traveled. There were some hard lessons to be learned from
our experience, too -- We made jokes at Les' expense from the start,
but he got the most expensive laugh at the end, when we had to pay
a substantial bar bill.
The bus wasn't very well set up for sleeping -- yet, but we made
do as Zupan, George, and Stuart took turns driving in the gathering
evening towards Utah. Sometime during the night somebody woke me
up, with the lights fully on and another party starting. Fast Eddie's
CARE packages were quickly unwrapped in celebration of our first
mini-tour as a group. The hard work was over, and it was really
time for some human bonding. We laughed about everything that had
happened, and finally turned in for a few chilly hours near Price,
Utah, when nobody wanted to drive anymore. Dawn broke, and it only
took a few hours to make it home to a town which wouldn't be our
home for much longer.
To be Continued in Part