What an exciting night was last night! I performed my one-man musical, "Charles Darwin: Live & In Concert" at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco to a sold-out house of 450. Two days earlier, I gave a lecture on Darwin in their 200 seat lecture hall--also sold out.
It was like a real homecoming. I've never done this show in San Francisco before, although forty years ago I used to do monologues in little clubs on Upper Grant Avenue. This time, I entered like a star. Arts and Entertainment Editor of the SF Chronicle, Jesse Hamlin, wrote a spectacular article about me, which certainly helped ticket sales--although we had already sold over 200 seats before his piece appeared.
Why so successful? I don't know. Was it me? Am I actually getting famous? Was it part of the frenzy of the Darwin 200th Birthday Celebration? Or maybe many people came because they were intrigued by the NY Times video that is reposted here on redroom.com. TS Eliot said, "Oh, do not ask what is it. Let us go and make our visit."
Whatever it is, something magical is happening in my late-in-life career. I'm an overnight success at 68! I'm now able to move beyond the script I've written to communicate spontaneously, embrace, and interact with a live audience on a deep level, and hold them for an hour and a half. And I'm loving it..
I really have to laugh at those standup comics who brag about their "dynamite" ten-minute sets; it takes me that long just to clear my throat. I'm onstage for an hour and twenty minutes, and manage to engage the audience the whole time.Years of practice--and not being afraid to get up onstage an make a damn fool of yourself when you're working out material--is the key. )
But I've noticed something weird. When you're standing at the pinnacle, being given a standing ovation by almost five hundred people, the thought crosses your mind: This is IT, the best it's ever going to get. You'll never have another night like this, so enjoy it before the music fades and the lights dim. Theater is so evanescent, a flickering bauble that enchants and exhilarates, then disappears forever. You cannot capture it or make it last. So it's a bittersweet moment, unparalleled and incapable of being stored, bottled, or frozen.
And I love it.
And, of course, I try to get the show to coordinate with my book "Darwin's Universe: Evolution from A to Z" and the CD of my songs. Shows sell books and CDs, and vice versa. You want to develop that feedback loop, reaching your audience from all sides. If a person hears about you in three different ways -- say, show, book, video, website--- you're considered famous by that person.
It's not enough to be a book writer, in my opinion. To get noticed, you've got to come at them in every way. For many authors, the money they make on their books is secondary to the what they can make through personal appearences, lectures, and shows. No one said it would be easy. But try to use as many special channels as possible to spread the word.