Behind the Scenes: My Evening with Jeff Bridges

Sometimes what goes on behind the scenes of event production is just as entertaining as the show itself.  I thought it’d be fun to share a bit of my own highlight reel, fashioned below as abridged text from an email I shot off to my boss hours after the event concluded.

Preface: My year kicked off with a 850-person event to host none other than actor and author Jeff Bridges on the occasion of his new book, “The Dude and the Zen Master.”  For anyone who doesn’t know who “the Dude” is, an immediate screening of “The Big Lebowski” is in order.  It’s a cult classic from the Coen brothers that I confess to only having viewed a few weeks prior to his arrival, but now having met “the Dude,” can attest to the fact that Mr. Bridges IS the Dude.  He was not acting.

-Jan 10, 2013

Good evening from what must be the coldest night on record in Los Angeles.  Happy to report that our stars turned the temps upside down tonight and left 850 people feeling warm and fuzzy with their engaging and comical rapport.

My evening started when I jumped into the suburban at the authors’ hotel in Little Tokyo to escort them the one block to the theatre. Bernie (Bernie Glassman, zen teacher and co-author of the book) immediately starts talking about a funny Yiddish curse -something to the effect of, “Make yourself like a chandelier and hang upside down and swing around in the dark.”  His white wily eyebrows extend into a dimension of their own.  I knew it was going to be a special night. 

Good humored but a little low on energy after a transnational flight, they got right to book signing in the green room before Jeff’s super long phone interview for NPR, causing for a delayed sound check.  Hustling at 6:50 to get photos on stage and sound checked in order to stick to a 7:00 house opening, Jeff suggests, “now why don’t we just do the whole thing as Q & A”  and Bernie, liking the idea, chimes in with “yeah, let’s get a bunch of questions and mix them all together like soup…it’s about working with a bunch of different ingredients and pulling the ones out that work.”*    Meanwhile, I have the stage manager pressing me to finish so they can open the house- it’s freezing outside-and I have to find a way to tell these two men- our guests of honor- that there is no way in heck we are going to let the audience run the show.  I suggest a compromise and say that if the audience portion of the talk is really important to them, we can  limit the conversation and add some time to the Q & A, but the moderator has prepped excellent questions that will take the conversation to a depth we probably wouldn’t achieve with audience input alone.  As this is happening, I see the irony of the situation unraveling in my mind.

Jeff and Bernie are here to talk about a zen way of life.  Of expecting the unexpected.  Of going with the flow.  Of not resisting the current.  

Somehow I manage to laugh on the inside, trying to figure out the best way to say ‘no’ on the outside (and to do so without actually using that word.)  Bernie makes a joke that it must make me nervous to have them try and change the rules on me.  I pause, then agree.  Jeff suggests people yell out from their seat, to give it energy, change the dynamic.  I see a sea of 850 voices rising out of their seat to get a moment with Jeff, to get their word in.  I try not to panic.  I suggest that based on prior experience that is probably not the best idea.   There is a big black zen target curtain staring at me from behind the stage chairs where they are seated.   Will we hit our target?   Only the moment knows.    We finish the sound check, guests are ushered off stage, and the house doors open as the audience floods in.  Showtime is at 7.30 pm. 

 Photo by Gary Leonard

7.20 pm and a colleague calls to say there is a major problem with valet; tons of her VIP guests are not parked yet and therefore aren’t in the theatre.  She asks me to hold the program.  We wait for the donors to get seated and begin 10 minutes behind schedule, all the while with our authors sitting side stage, trying to keep their patience.  Jeff was threatening to disrobe and start dancing on stage.  I asked him if he did any sort of meditation before he did these types of gigs to which he responded with a simple, “no.”  

Showtime.  I was given the cue and walked onto stage and despite not being able to see a thing, knew that every seat in the house was taken.  My intro was short and peppy, concise.  (Come on, what can you really say to introduce “the Dude?”  I’d spent weeks worrying about it before I came to the simple conclusion of: nothing.)  The Dude came out and so did his Zen Master and for the next 40 minutes they waxed on the love rug that ties the room together**, plorking (my new favorite word- ‘playing + working’), Jeff’s journey with the art of marriage, Bernie’s work in the Middle East, snapshots from the world of acting, and a good bit about relating- to life, the world, each other.  It was beautiful: light and comedic, with wisdom and contemplation woven in between.  Bernie’s shoes had been kicked off within moments of beginning the talk and he  sat in half-lotus in the cushy chair, with Jeff in the middle and the moderator rounding out the half moon arrangement.

I had taken a seat in the audience and before I blinked twice some 45 minutes had gone by and I realized that in order to keep things running on time for them (they were concerned about the potentially unwieldy length of the book signing line) that it was time to call it a wrap.   I gave the moderator the cut sign; he regretfully shared things had come to a close and unfortunately we wouldn’t have time for Q & A.  I felt badly, as I knew this is the part our authors were excited about- but they themselves were the same one to also be concerned about staying on track with time.  They’d had an engaging and fun conversation and had the crowd at their fingertips.  The announcement was immediately followed by a unanimous ‘boo’, both from audience and stage alike.  We abided because after all,  the Dude abides.  

We got a few questions in, and yes, the first one was asked, ehem, shouted from someone’s seat, and the rest were orderly and in fashion with how we normally run this segment.    It was short and sweet.  As the big boss once reminded me, “let them leave wanting more.”  

I escorted the authors back to the green room where Jeff grabbed a sandwich and took a few bites before walking out with it in order to meet the crowd in the lobby for the signing.  As he took a seat, sandwich in bare hand I wondered how he was going to sign books while holding the thing in his hand.  Well he grabbed two napkins, padded the sandwich in between, and then squished it like a paper wad: tight and compact.  It got thrown in his pocket-for later?  I just watched in awe.  The Dude was in the house.   

The signing line was full of fan-frenzy energy.  Our team worked their magic to get people and some 250 books signed in about 30 minutes.  

We brought them over to the donor reception, covered the photo opps, and Jeff heralded his arrival and almost simultaneous departure with a full blown whistle and loud GOOD NIGHT!  It was absolutely perfect.  

Oh, and I didn’t even mention the moment when, taking Jeff’s lead, we broke into song and performed a round of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.’  

These are the moments that make up a night to remember.  Three hours of activity: a culmination of months of planning, communicating, ticket selling, coordinating schedules, prepping, fretting.  But in the end it all turned out to be a whole lot of plorking.  Or wolaying.  And yes, we hit our target.  

Abiding with the Dude backstage

Enjoy the video of the evening. 

*This suggestion is completely contrary to our program model; we have a moderated conversation for a bit under an hour, and the Q & A is the icing on the cake, never the main course. 

**You’ve got to see the movie! 


~ by maureenmoore on February 3, 2013.

2 Responses to “Behind the Scenes: My Evening with Jeff Bridges”

  1. Podcast is a triple threat: Enlightening, lightening and lightning. The Dude and the Zen Master need to publish an audio version of their book.

    Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. I guess that’s where ALOUD comes in! Glad you enjoyed the lightning-like listen 🙂

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