In 2003, shortly after I graduated from college (for the first time), I was hired to work at a theatre in southern Utah called Tuacahn. I was hired to be a mud person in the production of The Wizard of Oz, and as third half-naked priest from the left in The King and I. Because I’m so very Asian.
It’s a beautiful outdoor amphitheater that seats over 2,000 people. Being set in the southwest, Tuacahn plays up its cowboy old-west heritage. In order to help turn this massive theatre in the middle of nowhere into more of a destination experience, they also offer a chuck wagon dinner each night, where folks who have bought their tickets to see the show can get a meal and enjoy the scenery. One of my other jobs at Tuacahn was to perform in the little Preshow performance that took place on a small stage up in the plaza outside the theatre during the chuck wagon dinner.
The show was extremely hokey, and not a whole lot of fun to do (which could sum up about 80% of my career as a performer, if I’m being honest), and so, after about a month of doing the show, I decided that I wanted to make a Christopher Guest-style mocumentary about the whole preshow experience. Of course, I didn’t have any filmmaking resources, so I bought a small consumer DV camera, and pirated a copy of Adobe Premiere, (which I had never used before in my life) and I started interviewing the cast of the Preshow each night after the Preshow performance, but before the main stage show started.
It wasn’t long before word got around, and folks were clambering to take part. You know how it is with performers. As soon as they get a whiff of attention, they start cycling around overhead like vultures over so much carrion. I was interviewing costumers, stage managers, and friends who were in town to watch the show as audience members. About two weeks before the end of the summer season, during which I would be leaving Tuacahn to drive to Tennessee to work at the Black Bear Jamboree, I took the hours and hours of footage, cut it all together in about three days of work, fitting it in before or after the show.
My biggest challenge is that I had only interviewed the 40 people in the casts. I hadn’t really asked a lot of leading questions, nor had I staged most of what happened. Everyone there knew it wasn’t serious, and they fed me with a lot of great material, but there just wasn’t a unifying thread to the whole thing. I cut together most of what I needed, shot a bit of B-Roll, and asked the "assistant director" who did a lot of the interviewing to do a bit of voiceover work. I was then able to craft a rough story out of the footage I had.
I wasn’t perfect. I didn’t have good audio equipment, so the audio is noisy. It wasn’t a controlled set, so people were always walking into the frame. I wasn’t familiar with the editing software, and there are a couple of continuity errors or incorrect B-Roll, but when it was done, I was pretty proud of it. More surprisingly, someone (not me) convinced the theater management to let us show the finished product during the closing night cast party.
I was one of the proudest moments of my life. There were probably 100 folks at this party who watched it, and the film got a standing ovation at the end. I decided then and there that I wanted to be a filmmaker. And like all of my big, life-changing decisions, I stuck with it for the 20 minutes it took me to drive from the theatre back to the hotel I was staying in for the night. But I’ve always looked back on this little project with fondness. It’s not perfect. It’s full of inside jokes that most folks wouldn’t get. But it was something I accomplished that was well-received. And as an artist, that’s always a great thing.
I decided it was time to put the thing up on the interwebs for posterity. I still have a DVD master of the thing, but the source tapes and files have long since disappeared over the years. I just wanted to make sure that, if I ever had my house burn down, that I wouldn’t forever lose this thing. So, I am proud to present, Preshow: The Mocumentary.