Well, Good Riddance to 2017!
If you’re at all like me, you got the wind knocked out of you on November 8, 2016, sending you spinning in unanticipated directions, like in the iconic Coney Island ride pictured above, only not nearly as fun. Ever since that date, there has been nothing but daily crises, constant emergencies that throw you off balance and into a tizzy, requiring some kind of response, whether it’s marching in the street or mouthing off online or complaining to Congress or hiding under the covers without bathing for several days. In short, the scoundrel who stole the White House has hijacked and derailed everybody’s lives. If you find these remarks either unacceptably political or politically unacceptable, I invite you to go away…far, far away from me. In addition, I’ve been hustling for scarce free-lance work these last two years. These two things combined, I feel, have put a bit of a monkey wrench in plans and ambitions and slowed my momentum. But what is life if not a series of detours?
Still, as happens every year, when I tally things up in December, I realize that I have been very productive after all in the final analysis. So here are some highlights.
And miraculously I managed to get my own work in front of audiences pretty much all year:
In April, I produced and presented a World War I themed vaudeville show at the Metropolitan Playhouse Gala
Also in April: I was honored to be asked to give the keynote address at Coney Island USA’s Congress of Curious Peoples. My topic: “When Did the Circus Become Un-American?” Working at Coney Island USA this year and spending lots of quality time out there every week has certainly been one of the happiest threads of the past twelvemonth and has enriched my life immeasurably.
In June, I got to act with Hope Cartelli and Jorge Cordova (and a giant squid) in Alexis Sottile’s excellent short comedy Small Dinner at The Brick Theatre. This was a very happy, satisfying, and rewarding artistic and personal experience for me.
July-December, I got to play the lead in several workshops of Edward Einhorn’s timely new work-in-progress The Resistible Rise of J.R. Brinkley at various locations around the city. Here’s hoping this project will see daylight again and a full production in the not too distant future! For my part, I feel like it was a match made in heaven!
In August, I gave several talks at the Coney Island Museum. According to the staff, one of them was the best attended talk they’ve had in five years!
Also in August I appeared with these cute kids on the Hideaway Circus podcast
In September, I gave several talks, performances, etc at the Marx Brothers Weekend on Governor’s Island, another hugely fulfilling experience for me. Marx Fest proves to be a gift that keeps on giving, and getting together with Marx Brothers fans (and the Marx Fest Committee) now always feels like a family reunion.
In September, I got to co-host a benefit for the hurricane victims of Houston at the Brick with Starr Kendall, organized by the big-hearted and big-talented Alyssa Simon.
In October I got to be the “Teller”, or Narrator, in Peculiar Works Project’s revival of America’s oldest play Androboros at historic Fraunces Tavern. This six week run was historic in every sense of the word!
Also in October, I gave a 150th birthday talk on Weber and Fields at the Lambs. These important American artists deserve tribute, and the audience was like a brain trust of people I consider some of the greatest classic comedy and vaudeville experts in the country.
In November, I helped organize and book the talent for the Soiree on Surf, Coney Island USA’s fall gala.
In December, Edward Einhorn’s 2016 adaptation of Jack London’s The Iron Heel was published. As part of the original cast, I’m in the book! To get your copy go here.
Last, but hardly least, this very blog you are reading has had another breakthrough year (we don’t have one every year, the last one, properly speaking, was 2014). We worked assiduously on improvements to Travalanche this year; I took down a bunch of the most moribund content, amounting to about a third of the blog; also changed the look and layout; and did some other technical things on the back end I won’t bother you with. As a result, readership increased 60% over our previous best year, 2015. Travalanche got a half a million hits in 2017, not a lot perhaps for some people, but in the arcane world I’m accustomed to dealing with, a new personal best of which I’m proud.
Also I moved one of the old Travalanche content streams, cultural tourism, to a new blog of its own, which I call The Trav-a-Log. I don’t do much to promote this one, but I do like to keep it as a kind of record of my impressions of the world around me. It may seem a little redundant in this age of social media, but the difference is, the blog includes some writing along with the pictures.
As to the latter, I hope you will follow me on Instagram. I went a bit crazy there this year capturing my two favorite haunts: Coney Island and Prospect Park. I also love to immortalize the bizarro cultural realm of neighborhood holiday decorations, and to make jokey captions for absurd things I see on my daily jaunts.
This year I also increased my activity on Twitter, although nowadays the Tweets are about evenly divided between show business and politics, which is pretty unavoidable. I sometimes live tweet the movies on TCM when I can squeeze it in and when the showings are relevant to the content on Travalanche. Please to follow me there and I will follow you back!
On the other hand, while I practically live on Facebook, I have gotten increasingly particular about whom I friend there on my personal page. The times have made me increasingly sensitive I’m afraid and when my feathers are ruffled I don’t just unfriend, I block. If this has happened to you, I apologize. Very often it’s not the slightest bit personal, I just need a bit of a moat around the castle to keep from going nutty, and it’s for your protective insulation as well as mine. 2017 has definitely been the Year of Biting People’s Heads Off. But I can always be reached any number of other ways besides Facebook and my public Facebook page is always always accessible to everybody.
Now that we have touched on the personal: I have moved some of my memoir type writing from Travalanche to Medium. I did a lot of this kind of writing in 2015 and 2016, about my personal life, and about history in relationship to recent discoveries I’ve made about my family’s past. Most of this writing is not currently publicly available, although I am continuing to work with it, with the goal of adapting it into a large scale project of some sort (book, theatrework, screenplay) in future. If I do publish pieces of it again in future a likely outlet is the Medium page, which is here.
So those are some loose plans, and I have others! In 2018, not only will Travalanche turn ten years old, but we’ll also pass the 2 million mark, and possibly the 3 million mark in terms of hits, if trends continue. So there will likely be public vaudeville celebrations of these benchmarks in the coming year. I’ve been itching to return to regular vaudeville producing. And we are now in the planning stages for West Fest, a Mae West festival to take place in late summer and fall of next year. And I’m also mulling a full production of our holiday show Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. These things, among much else, if the creek don’t rise. But as we’ve seen, the creek has been rising an awful lot lately.
Our last bit of news: this month we launched our new Patreon campaign, to help underwrite all these activities! About 20 folks have generously jumped on the bandwagon, and I hope you will too if even at the tiny amount of a dollar a month! It’s the thought that counts! Learn more about the campaign here.
I hope your year was as good as it could be under the circumstances, and let’s all hope for a much better one — personally, professionally, and politically — next year.