The Office took our annual "retreat" up to the Skagit Vally Tulip Festival yesterday - basically it's an excuse for soon-to-be Old Boss to take pictures for his watercolor painting portfolio, and for my co-worker to order spring bulbs; me, eh, it gets me out of the office, into the (this year anyway) sunshine, with a bit of walking around and lunch on the Company to boot.
We generally spend a couple of hours wandering around the various tulip & daffodil fields, then head over to La Conner for lunch before driving back to town. La Conner is one of those picturesque little hamlets that dot the countryside, once the epi-center of the valley's family farming industries, it has been transformed in the past quarter century into one of those quaint little regional "artists communities" (think Taos or Santa Fe, Milford, CN, Athens, GA, etc., etc.) that have sprung up here-and-there like weeds, that cater to the sort of folks - mainly tourists - who think overpriced Thomas Kincaid paintings are the epitome of contemporary art, while at the same time injecting some much needed revenue into the city coffers.
I mean, it's all very pretty, in a sort of "good old days that never were" rose-tinted way, evoking a past that generally only occured in Disney movies and Meredith Wilson musicals. But that also just emphasizes how very manufactured and ersatz it is; the old-timey storefronts get preserved, which is good, but the insides are all artsy-craftsy knick-knacks and tchotkes of the type that can be found just about anywhere a similar "tourist crafts" aesthetic has been created as a means to prop up the local economy.
Meanwhile the fishing boats that once crowded the riverfront piers lie rusting in their slips, or, have been replaced by gleaming white charter affairs, and the Pendleton shirt-clad farmers and ranchers who occasionally venture into one of the local cafes begin to look more like extras hired to provide "atmosphere" for the busloads of folks shipped in from the cruise terminals in Seattle, than the real economic pillars they most probably are.
It's progress, I suppose, but of a kind that belies how much the economies of small towns like these have changed in the last half century or so. The truly utilitarian crafts that once supported these places: blacksmithing, furniture & cabinet making, mechanical maintenance and repair, et al have given way to purely decorative arts that serve no real useful purpose other than to bring in cash. Meanwhile the products the local citizenry once relied upon for their livelihoods: the farm implements, the homemaking utensils, the faded advertising signage, get recycled into just another form of take-away memorabilia for the folks from Duluth, or, Osaka, or, Hamburg, or wherever, destined to end up on a shelf (or worse, in a closet) as a semi-forgotten reminder of a trip to a charming-yet-unauthentic little corner of the American Continent; but with most (assuming it had any in the first place) of the historical or geographical context completely rubbed out, sanded smooth, or varnished over.
"Greetings from Anytown, USA" it says, "hope you enjoyed your stay!".
Everyone You Meet, They're Jamming In The Street All Night Long
Well, it's probably a given, but the birthday bash was an unequivocable success. Although there were a few folk I was hoping would turn up who were unable to, nevertheless, there were still a fair number who came out of the woodwork to give the event a definite aura of "encompassing the generations" as it were, from one original founding member, through people from the eary 4th Avenue days, right up to some of our newest company members in attendance.
Ed Hawkins, a long-time company member, current board member, and official company historian put together an amazingly detailed timeline of every single show we've produced in two-plus decades; I think the official count reached something like 390 some-odd shows, an amazingly large percentage of which were World Premieres. In addition, there were lots of photos, show posters, programs, little factoids spread all over the theater, along with enough food and drink to sate a small army.
It was great to see all these different times in the company's history come together; at several points, someone would come up with the intent of saying their "goodbyes" for the evening, and thirty minutes later, you'd see them in a corner engaged in some sort of lively conversation - people just didn't want to leave, and by the time things reached their peak at around 1:00 p.m. or so, our little "open house" had swelled to a full-blown party of around 250 or so, by my rough estimate.
I think in many ways it was even better than the last one of these we did back in 2001 when we moved out of our old space on 4th Avenue, where we'd been producing since 1988; that was an ending, and frankly nobody knew what was going to happen to the company once we became an itinerant producing organization. This, on the other hand, was a celebration of not only survival, but of rededicated purpose, in a new venue, and with a sense of moving forward, as much as reflecting on past accomplishments.
It was, in short, everything those of us who planned the party could have wished for
In addition, there were a couple of presentations, one of which I am almost embarrassed to say, directly involved me. Someone (Brandon H.) decided, after seeing me writhing in agony on the floor during our invitation addressing party a couple of weeks back, that I needed some additional adjustment, and the entire company pitched in to buy me a couple of gift certificates to a local Russian day spa, which were then presented to me in front of the assembled guests. Although the thought was certainly appreciated, it was a bit of a humbling experience nevertheless; we pride ourselves on our dedication to collective effort and will, and rarely do we make a point of singling out individuals for special attention. EVERYONE works so hard to keep this little theatre company afloat, and there are certainly other particular individuals who have done just as much - if not more - on behalf of the organization, and who are (in my opinion) equally deserving of public recognition for their efforts. But, what are you going to do? You take the envelope, say, "thank you", give a (mercifully brief) little speech, and then move on.
But really, I do appreciate it. And so does my back.
I managed to make it until about 3:00 a.m., at which point things were definitely winding down, but after a full day of doing taxes, plus the prep for the party, I was completely beat. I had wanted to stick around to help clean up, but my guess is, things probably ran on for another hour or so after I left, and I just simply ran out of gas. I think I'll be forgiven.
At some point our intrepid house photographer, and new Marketing Director, will have plenty of action snaps up on the web site, and in a few days I'm sure the nice folks from The Seattle Channel, our local government affairs channel, will edit down the several hours worth of footage they shot (it helps that one of their producers is yet another Annex alumni!) into a nice little segment on the theatre, the party, and so-forth. I'll keep an eye out and let you know when that's available on-line; I'm sure it will give you a good idea as to the breadth and scope of our little shin-dig, and at least some small inkling as to why we've managed to keep this little theatre company chugging along for the past 21 years.
The only downside to an hour's worth of deep-tissue massage is that it takes about three days for everything to realign back into proper position. Meaning that, while the muscular stress and tension that caused you to get the massage in the first place has been relieved, you get to experience pain in a bunch of more places, while other muscle tissue in opposition stretches back to where it's supposed to be.
It seems appropriate that today, April Fool's day would be the "official" birthday of one of the Upper Left-hand's most celebrated personages, one Julius Pierpoint "J.P." Patches" (AKA Chris Wedes), a beloved Northwest Icon for the past 50 years.
Having grown up in Portland and environs, J.P. was not a fawcet of my childhood, in the way of say, KPTV's "Ramblin' Rod" Anders, or his mid-day colleague, Rusty Nails. In fact, I never actually saw the - dare one say, "psychedelically surreal" - "J.P. Patches" morning show until probably 1973 or so, when my step-cousins up the street got cable TV. And of course, by that time I was pretty well past being much interested in "kiddie shows". But, even with this late exposure to J.P., his "girlfriend" Gertrude, and all the other denizens of the City Dump, it was obvious there was something more going on here than met the eye - or ear.
Unlike typical shows of the genre, J.P. and Company weren't merely glorified baby sitters, corralling a studio full of 30 or 40 sugar-hyped youngsters through a half-hour of old cartoons and birthday announcements: this was an entire world, filled with an amazing and eclectic assortment of eccentric characters (most performed by the incredibly versatile Bob Newman), not to mention the "4th wall" breaking antics of "Mr. Announcer Man" and the behind-the-camera crew, who were as much a part of the show as the on-screen characters.
And as I grew a bit older, it became increasingly clear that, not only were these guys completely making up each day's show on-the-fly, in what must surely rate as the world's longest-running completely improvised TV program, but, they were having the time of their lives doing it. And I also began to take notice that they were interacting on more than just one level in the course of their performances. There would be the occasional joke that would fly over your head, but would get the camera operator laughing so hard the screen image would begin to wobble; non-sequitor comments that didn't seem to make any sense, and which would be left hanging in the air, as if waiting for a response you never heard; strange, incongruouos appearances by guests you'd seen on other TV shows (among them, Jacques Cousteau, Steve Allen, Danny Thomas - even Colonel Harlan Sanders!), things like that which clued you in to the fact there was something else going on here, some level of humor that you, the 13 or 14 year-old, simply couldn't grasp.
Later, when I started college and began interacting with other classmates who'd grown up in Seattle, J.P. became a regular part of our morning ritual; these other kids had literally grown up with the show, and the notion of tuning in at 7:00 a.m. before going to class was as natural to them as waking up. And of course, given our relative "maturity" at the "ripe old age" of 18, we began to recognize that these other levels of humor, which previously had seemed so incomprehensible to us: the sly double-entendres, sophisticated visual gags, jokes with multiple punchlines - were being aimed directly and deliberately at adults! Hence, there was no guilt involved in watching a "kiddie show", because it became readily apparent that kids weren't the only ones the show was trying to entertain.
Which, given a little thought makes perfect sense. After all, two full generations had grown up with "The J.P. Patches Show", and many of the earlier generation had continued watching, even as their own children were being introduced to it for the first time. Wedes, Newman, and their behind-the-scenes collaborators knew their audience - regardless of age - and had mastered the art of effortlessly playing to both, without condescending to either, while at the same time managing to maintain a seemingly non-stop barrage of jokes, puns, sight-gags, pratfalls, and grimaces, all barely contained in an atmosphere of near-total chaos and anarchy. It was this sophisticated brand of multi-leveled, sharply-honed humor that would prove highly influential on "Patches Pals" like comedian and former "Almost Live!" host John Keister, cartoonist Gary Larson, and even "The Simpsons" creator Matt Groening (it is rumored that Springfield's own kiddie show host, Krusty The Clown, was loosely based on Wedes.)
On a complete side-note, I am also proud to say that both Wedes and Newman were members of the union I represent, AFTRA throughout their 23-year stint on the longest-running locally-produced children's program in TV history. And in a fortuitous bit of synchronicity, Wedes joined the Seattle local on this date back in 1958, the same day J.P. and friends first went on the air to entertain two generations of Puget Sounders.
To this day Wedes and Newman are still out there, despite age and debilitation, putting on the white paint, rubber noses and funny wigs, raising money for local charities, meeting with their fans, and reminding us that, just because we've grown up, it doesn't mean we have to grow old.
If you're interested, there's a fundraising effort underway to erect a statue in their honor; it'll go up in Fremont later this year, and will be most appropriately titled "Late For The Interurban", a final, fitting pun-parody-and-sight-gag-rolled-into-one tribute to a couple of true Northwest Treasures.
So, for once we get to turn the "ICU2-TV" backwards on its proud and feisty owners, and wish them "Happy 50th Birthday!" The present is in the hall closet, underneath the pile of memorabilia.