Gerald went into his favorite coffee shop to write his theater reviews. Some cafés are about the food. Gerald went for the coffee. Coffee was his thing. He really liked coffee. Black.
No. You don’t understand. He lived for coffee.
Let me put it this way. Gerald was a caffeine addict. Gerald was how caffeine got around each day.
He wrote poems about coffee. No one read his poems. They were a labor of love. He knew he would, one day, be hailed as the ‘Coffee Bard.’ Anyone knowing his poems could not doubt his love of coffee.
He took satisfaction in his title of Poet Laureate of North Hollywood, California. The title bore no official status. It paid nothing and brought no invitations to social events. It looked great on his resume.
Some would expect so much coffee would make him edgy. But Gerald felt it mellowed him. Most mornings, he set up camp in the back corner of his favorite café, and wrote on his lap top. He spent more time there than at his part time job, or at home.
The NoHo Arts district housed dozens of theaters in converted retail space and in abandoned movie houses. Most were equity waiver, venues of under 100 seats, and which didn’t pay union scale to actors.
This being Hollywood adjacent, throngs of wannabes lined up at auditions. Acting schools polished their chops and massaged tender egos. And, where every waiter writes, theaters have a rich source to feed the public’s voracious appetite for entertainment.
Still, finding quality projects remains a challenge. Self-financing one’s beloved script lays beyond the reach of most writers. Renting performance space, paying actors, building sets, and advertising adds up. For their work to see light, writers must strike deals or max out credit cards. Getting a play performed by a professional troupe remains a pipe dream for most.
Tim, the manager at Gerald’s favorite café, had produced over thirty of his own plays. But he never got a nibble from the big boys in Hollywood, a club joined only by invitation.
Most knew Gerald as the drama reviewer for a weekly newspaper. His press pass provided choice seats at opening night performances. Glowing reviews followed, paid for by the producers, to promote their project.
This Monday morning, Gerald followed his routine. The looming Tuesday deadline drove him to write, polish and submit his reviews. He earned a hundred dollars for his efforts, based on watching three performances and a day’s writing. That increased when he also covered a matinee, or interviewed a celebrity. He never reckoned the hourly rate. It kept the caffeine coming.
This café employed four writer/director/actors. It had the best coffee, roasted in-house. And it was blessedly quiet. His several poems about it were framed and displayed around the café.
After getting his coffee, Gerald set up camp and examined his notes. He noticed some guy staring from across the room. Gerald ignored him. His reviews were well read. This could be anyone.
Tim, approached. “You need anything, Ger?” They’d been friends for years.
Tim refreshed the cup. Gerald spent so much time in his corner, they joked about charging rent, or hiring him.
Gerald held no illusions. He was paid by producers for elaborate ad copy. The spin ran to the positive. His mother always said, ‘If you can’t say something nice…’
He knew he made more writing reviews, than these short-run showcase plays ever would.
People read his work. They knew his name.
He had the self-designated title of Poet Laureate – who’s to say he isn’t?
Along with his poems, Gerald always kept a manuscript handy, for insurance.
He sipped his coffee and scanned the room. ‘Who is that guy staring at me? Vaguely familiar. A producer? Wants a review? Or publish my poetry…’
The man stood.
Gerald recognized him. “Dork! Hey, everyone! It’s Dork!”
The man said, “I’m not actually Dork, Gerald. I played him. He was a character.” Gerald wondered how ‘Dork’ knew him. “I’m Drake. Have a moment to talk?”
“Uhm, sure. Coffee?” They sat. Gerald waited.
Anyone who ever watched TV knew the former child actor, Drake Skegee. Fans still wore t-shirts bearing the image of ‘Dork,’ his most famous character. He joked in interviews about portraying children until he turned thirty. A respected talent, his youthful appearance kept him from more mature roles. After his show’s cancelation, his acting career stagnated.
Drake and his beautiful wife of ten years recently split. She had wearied of questions about her ‘famous son,’ when seen together in public.
Not one to squander decades of experience, Drake produced shows for the studios. As a hobby and tax write-off, he bought a theater to nurture talent and explore his own writing. He wanted to ‘give something back.’
Small theater owners kept the lights on via festivals, promotions and sharing gallery space with local artists.
Writers’ and actors’ friends and families proved to be the most loyal theater patrons. They volunteered, bought tickets, and laughed at in-jokes. Networking was a big draw. It served both the seekers of connections and those wanting to cultivate talent.
Small theaters weeded out the inexperienced and untalented. Those unwilling to learn lines or attend rehearsals need not apply. That served the industry, which reciprocated with grants.
Tim brought them coffees. He whispered to Drake, “Gerald’s favorite joke starts, ‘Why did the critic cross the road?’ Just ask, he’ll tell it to you.”
Drake grunted and addressed Gerald. “Tell me about your review of my play.”
Buying time, Gerald sipped his coffee.
He needed his notes to identify what shows he’d seen more than two weeks ago. Almost by definition, his assignments were forgettable.
Over two years, he remembered few of the productions. Paid to promote bad plays, he didn’t see classics, or hits. North Hollywood’s Poet Laureate knew he was a paid hack.
“Uhm, what was the title? Let me think…”
“At the Skegee Theater, a month ago. ‘The Last Moon.’”
Gerald frowned. “I remember... I liked it… A lot. You didn’t like it?”
“To start, I didn’t pay you to write nice things about my play. It’s not a nice play. It’s a revolutionary play. I paid you to fill seats.”
Gerald stammered, “I have no control over…”
“But you do. Telling readers it’s suitable for children is not only wrong. It’s untrue. It’s insulting. No child would understand it.”
“Hmmm… As I recall, I found it… whimsical.”
“Did you see the play?”
“I think you didn’t. A bad review might generate curiosity. Bland reviews sit there, but don’t fill seats.”
“So, Drake, what is this about? Cut to the chase…”
“It’s my theater, my play, my girlfriend. I paid for the review…”
“Your girlfriend? She was the star, right? Uhm… Nat…”
“The character is Natasha. It was her debut role.”
“Ah, right… Beautiful… Gorgeous… But… no lines.”
“She’s green. Working up to that.”
“But wait. I remember… I heard she… at the end, she mooned the audience?”
“I thought she’d make a splash.”
Gerald leaned in. “Watch what you wish for.”
“Wait. You said, ‘heard’? You admit you didn’t see it! No hint of it in your review. You missed the big ending!”
Gerald floundered. “Uhm, I didn’t want to give it away.”
“You could have teased it. It was the climax of the show.”
“That was her big line. The resounding silence.”
“Mooning the audience?”
“Eloquent, don’t you think? The ineffable nature of reality transcending words...” Drake got lost in the poetry.
“That’s a lot to expect from a butt.”
“…of man’s inhumanity…”
“Her moon was amazing. Perfect. Profound. Earth shaking! Shakespeare didn’t dare...”
“Yes. Cheeky. Very memorable, I’m sure.”
“My point exactly. You don’t remember the end. You’re a fake…”
Drake pounced. “Because you slept through it.”
“Hardly. That’s impossible!”
“But I watched you snoozing in the front row. Legs stretched out. Actors yelled over the snoring. You slept until applause roused you.”
Mortified, Gerald looked at the table. He mumbled, “My deepest apologies, Drake. I cannot tell you how embarrassed I am.” He looked up. Tears streamed down his face. “What can I do…? How can I rectify this? I owe you…”
Drake regarded Gerald with a mixture of compassion and amusement.
“The Skegee has a gap in its fall schedule. Can you recommend…?”
Gerald pulled his manuscript out. “I have this. Give it a look. I’m flexible. Tell me any changes you need…”
Drake flipped through the script and scanned random pages. He smiled.
“I’ll look it over. We’ll talk.”
Gerald let out a huge sigh. They shook hands and grinned.
Gerald said, “Coffee’s on me, Drake.”
“You bet it is.” They laughed.