Wednesday, April 30, 2008

NY Event Number Four: Seeing other important people read stuff.

(Posting a couple days after this actual post's date, because I just haven't had the time to sit down and really focus on this.)

Thanks to the generous thought of L. Moon in an effort to assist me in knocking things off my list, I went to an event called Public Lives/Private Lives, part of the Festival of International Literature being held this week in New York. PEN is the organization that is running the event, and this selection of readings took place at the Town Hall, a venue I'd never been to before. Basically, authors from around the globe, deemed important for whatever reasons (some of which I understood, others I did not), were brought together to read pieces from various work they've done. Salman Rushdie introduced and closed the function, and I must admit I didn't know who he was initially except as "that guy who was in 'Bridget Jone's Diary.'" The readers were:

1) Michael Ondaatje
2) Evelyn Schlag
3) Rian Malan
4) Peter Esterhazy
5) Annie Proulx
6) A. B. Yehoshua
7) Carol Bracho
8) Francine Prose
9) Ian McEwan

McEwan was the real reason I wanted to go--I have never read a lick of his prose, but I loved "Atonement" so much that I figured the author of the novel the film was based on would be well worth seeing. And he didn't disappoint. But it was great to hear several of the other authors as well, who, because of their international standing, I probably would have gone on without ever having heard of the rest of my days (though I could have been spared the two female poets, Bracho and Schlag, whose work did not impress anything upon me at all). Peter Esterhazy (that's him in the picture), a Hungarian, was really great, as were Michael Ondaatje and A. B. Yehoshua, all of who I plan to look up, whenever I finish the three books I'm already currently reading. Wait: make that four. I'm reading four books right now. Which actually means I'm reading no books, because I'm so overwhelmed by the idea of reading four books. Gah.

The people at the event were somewhat predictable. I looked around on the street while I was waiting for my friends to meet me out front before the start of the event and was struck with the thought: "These are people who read." I know this will make me sound like a jerk, but there is definately a specific demographic of people who in their personal identities border on academia (or have {or like to think they have} the prowess of academia), but still work "real jobs" and then go to these sorts of things and wear their tweed jackets or embroidered scarves, glasses (here it's okay to not put your contacts in), and velvet--there is always a lot of velvet at these functions, crushed or otherwise--to get closer to living that life that they don't necessarily live day to day. The women always give off an air of having read a lot of Jane Austin and that they hold those ideals found in her books true to their hearts, though now in our post-Nora-walking-through-the-door-age, they also accompany it with a sense of modern feminism: many will dress that scarf up with a pants suit. And the men come off quiet and thoughtful, with some kind of struggle between the eloquence of the words and works they try to produce, and that more masculine thing they had to leave behind perhaps to do so. And everyone probably listens to NPR more on principle, less because of enjoyment--I know I do. A few may have even given it money.

Where's Bukowski? Where's Hemingway? I want some one to read me a poem that will rock me in my seat, and then watch them throw up on stage. I want some one to look like they just walked back from an African game hunting expedition, slap a woman on the ass as they go up to the podium, and then promise to make it up to her by making love to her later in his hotel room in a way that she'll never forget and always regret that she'll never have again. Where are these characters? Hidden under all that wool? Perhaps.

I often wonder when I go to these sorts of things if I look like I belong. I don't read, not really, and I wonder if I look like some one who doesn't, despite owning several scarves, two corduroy jackets, one tweed jacket, one velvet jacket, two berets, and glasses (which I haven't worn since early December when I stepped on them); none of which I was wearing that evening. I wonder what I look like, if I come off as an actor at first glance. I always figured it was apparent once I started a conversation, and once some one gets to know me I think it's an undeniable fact--I am rather dramatic at times (or All the time). But I've always sought to be unidentifiable in a way, never wanted to be pinned down as this or that. I find labels annoying, and stifling, even though they are sometimes the best way to communicate ideas ("These are people who read"). Part of being an actor is to remain constantly available to change at any moment, whether it's your demeanor or your haircut. And how can you be that available if you fulfill any label wholly? But then a question arises when it comes down to personal identity-->who are you, if you're an actor, if you're some one that needs to be able to defy lables? And is this sense of need of some kind of vague, surface anonymity one of the reasons I'm having trouble getting myself in gear for school? Because to stand up and say, "I'm an actor, I'm a student, I'm an American, I'm a woman, I'm an artist," to say all of those things suddenly you set the bar, and suddenly you have to reach it.

One of the hardest things to do in life is to declare what you want, simply because there's a risk you won't get it. Then what are you--something to be pitied or mocked, neither very desirable attentions really. This is of course if you value other people's opinion of yourself to the point where that sort of thing becomes a concern. And I do. And the truth of the matter is, I view myself on occasion with enough distance and enough drama, to consider myself as something worth pitying or mocking. But I'm human, and all humans should be pitied and mocked at some point or other, just like they should be granted love and sympathy. Maybe "human" is the only label I'm really comfortable with at least acknowledging--the business of being human is far messier than most people give it credit for, and I won't say I'm completely comfortable with it because that would be a lie.

But of course we must risk something. Otherwise we'd just sit in our beds all day and never move, and die right there in the covers. So now I have what I want. And what do I do?

Oh, but how did we get here? I'm ending this post right now because I don't know what else to say, and frankly tying it up with a "lesson" is just too annoying. South Park can get away with it, but I don't trust myself to not end up writing something terribly cliche.

Do I deny my true nature by doing that?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

"I am tied to the stake, and I must stand the course."

(That title is not only appropriate, but a nod back to the fact that I forgot to post yesterday celebrating Shakespeare's Birthday. Happy Belated, my dear, darling, dead author.)

After a ridiculous chain of events that are far too boring and ludicrous to recount here, I finally had the check (British spelling: cheque) drawn up yesterday for my initial deposit to reserve my place in next year's MAATP program at Central (the acronym stands for: Master of Arts in Advanced Theatre Practices). It's to be made out for one thousand pounds (there's no way to make that symbol on an American key board in Blogger, it seems) and because it's an international draft, or some such thing, it takes two business days to make. I'm not certain why this is, but it is so, and so it is.

Anyway, after the whole transaction happened, I left the bank feeling badly. The mood lasted the rest of the day, this kind of nervous fear. My roommate (who should be making her cheque out today, incidentally) thinks that it has to do with a few things:

1) Spending that much money all at once can cause excessive nausea.
2) It's a LOT of money.
3) This is something that we are investing a lot in, and somewhat blindly.

I can attest for the nausea, no doubt--I have it right now, as I'm writing this post. And it's not just "I ate too much" nausea, it's "Why is everything spinning?", sea-sickness nausea. Somebody please bring me some Transderm Scop.

And it is a LOT of money. With the recession going on and the general weakness of the dollar (Remember that great sketch with Topher Grace on SNL? I do, but can't find a link to it to put here.), the check/cheque came out to $2,119.20.


Now, this may not seem like a lot of money to some, but it's quite a bit to me. And given the fact that exchange rates fluctuate daily, if I'd had the check/cheque made out on Sunday, or today, even, it would have only totaled a little over $1,970. This kind of fickle behavior of dollar-to-pound value fills my heart with bitterness. And it also makes the idea of living and existing in England all the more daunting, because I am a poor artist-student, and London is fucking expensive.

But, as I like to say, there are always ways of getting money. And bemoaning my poverty is much more appropriate in person, over high-priced drinks. So let's cut this one off right here.

The third reason is really the resonant one. Going over means a lot of things for a variety of reasons, but I suppose one of the chief ones is the hope that this experience will provide some answers, some clue as to what the fuck I should do for the rest of my life. Now, experience and yoga tells me that no such thing is possible. Nothing will ever give you a set answer because there is no "one answer" and if there was you probably already know it and are either not conscious of it, or you're just flat out ignoring it. But a clue would be nice. I'll even take a suggestion. Even a kick in the ass--not too hard, though please. I'm not really into that. Furthermore, taking this first step in really getting the gears moving in terms of getting myself over there makes everything suddenly overwhelming.

I should explain how I got this far: In November, I came home from somewhere, slightly drunk, with some kind of fire in my brain, logged onto the Internet, looked up Central, and after cruising around the site for a bit, I found the page that talked about US auditions. I registered to reserve a slot, but didn't give anymore real thought to it until sometime in December when I received a reminder e-mail from the school asking me to send in an application. A month later, I finally contacted my references and asked them to send their letters in, while I still hadn't filled out a single application. Cut to the last week of February, I finally finish my applications and Fed Ex them to England. They get there on Friday at noon. My auditions are Saturday and Sunday morning. My audition piece for the program I got into I finalized the day before, after figuring it out two days before the audition. The lag in this process followed me stil to sending the money off--I've had it for about a month, but now, with it due next Friday, I'm finally getting it there just barely in time to make this deadline.

Mastery of procrastination is one of my leading characteristics, it must be said. But I think part of the fueling of this procrastination is some denial of reality--the reality of the work that will be involved in just getting to England (flights, living space, setting up a bank account while over there, living costs), the reality of the work that I'll encounter (my program focuses on forms of theatrical production that I mostly know nothing about and have no substantial prior experience with, save the idea of development within an ensemble), and just the damned reality that the way of life as I've known it for the immediate past 5 years or so is going to change so drastically.

When it comes to the unknown, surely a certain amount of apprehension is to be expected. But I'm the kind of person who doesn't even deal with the immediate reality of change until about three months after the change has occurred: I float along, and then one day, BAM, the flood gates hit and everything flows through, taking out every large and small city in its path. I've been trying to think of this time I have left in NY as a kind of preparation, so that I'm not back-logging so much. But instead of acting I've just been dragging my feet more. (Go ahead and ask me if I've filled out my FASA. Go on. I dare you.) I fear taking responsibility for myself. I fear adulthood, and whatever sense of loss and hardship comes with it. The whole thing just seems so daunting, so why even bother, just stay here and have another drink, and do it tomorrow.

"Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow..."

So I'm freaked out, but not entirely willing to admit it (in my waking life, away from this forum, apparently), and while I know this is the right choice in the end, I hope to God I feel it at some point. And soon would be nice. Even if it was fleeting assurance.

And till then, I better get to work, because the recession is only getting worse, and I'll be lucky if a pound comes out to $3 by the time I get over there. Please forgive the introspective nature of this entry. Money does this to me.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Angels and Dragons

I took a workshop yesterday about shadow puppets at Materials for the Arts. I must admit, I had thought the workshop was going to be more geared towards building these kind of puppets for professional performance (I'm going to two more workshops today on set construction and lighting design on a budget for the production company I sit on the artistic board for, Wide Eyed Productions), but instead it seemed geared more towards people involved in (NY) education. It was still fun--like craft time for adults--and it was good practice just in building them. I also discovered velum paper, a translucent paper you can use as a screen to perform behind, or to glue tissue paper on in order to project color. Gels would also work for this too, but not a lot of people I know have gels just sitting around the house. (In actuality, that is a lie, as I know a LOT of theatre people, and since my roommate is in lighting, I actually have some gels lying around my bedroom that she brought home for me once. But never mind.)

Most of the teachers made animals--there was an especially good crab and duck. I made an angel that was supposed to represent death on some level (I've had an idea for a graphic novel that will just not go away) and a dragon. Typical of myself, I must say. Two other people showed up who were clearly designy theatre types, and they made a pair of glasses that had one eye open, a fly with squiggling legs and movable wings, and a hand that opened and swatted the fly inside. Really complex, and yet still made from simple materials. It was really great.

I ended up giving my shadow puppets away to a woman who works in child's therapy--the use of them would involve the "playing space," which is safe and also familiar. I figured she'd use them more than I would. But I did take pictures for posterity!

Sunday, April 13, 2008


Inspired by all this puppet stuff, I've decided to build my own. I went a little mad yesterday on an awful ride back to the city on New Jersey Transit (story upon request), and ended up story-boarding a whole piece, and began sketching out the puppet. It will be a meager design, perhaps, but I am only beginning. He surely will not look like other puppets I have built--see below for Vatican Vince.

I'll keep you updated.

Friday, April 11, 2008

After this, I will stop obsessing.

That's a blatant lie, but below is an article from the New York Times about the opera, and a discussion of the construction and design of the puppets. I think I'm posting this here for my own sake, and I may take this down in the future. If I think to do it.

Opera About a Giant's Life, Complete With Giant Puppets

by: Daniel J. Wakin, published 4/11/08

AS the orchestra emitted repeated Glassian ripples, huge puppets — some more than 20 feet tall — staggered onto the Metropolitan Opera stage during a rehearsal last week.

The grotesque, hulking creatures lurched through an ominous cityscape, their heads bobbing like doddering old men. They resembled the figures of the German Expressionist artists Otto Dix and George Grosz come to life.

While lasting only a few minutes, the scene stands as perhaps the most striking moment in the Met’s production of “Satyagraha,” Philip Glass’s 1979 opera about Mohandas K. Gandhi’s years in South Africa. It sharply illustrates the central design idea behind this production: how the elaborate use of simple materials can create a musical-theatrical world. Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, the artistic directors of the Improbable theater company in London, are the director and the designer of the opera, which has its Met debut on Friday and runs through May 1. The tottering puppets are created from newspaper, fiberglass kite poles, light cotton cloth and lots of latex glue. The sets are made largely of corrugated metal. Wicker baskets and brooms become a crocodile. Chairs held over faces become symbolic barriers.

“We decided we wanted to use very humble materials in the making of the opera,” Mr. Crouch said. “We wanted similarly to take these materials, maybe associated with poverty, and see if we could do a kind of alchemy with that, turn them into something beautiful.”

The dominant medium is newsprint. Coated newspapers paper the stage floor. Balled-up pages represent stones thrown at Gandhi. Text is projected on newspaper sheets held up by actors. News pages are manipulated into a Hindu goddess. Long strips of attached pages ribbon across the stage, representing a printing press. (Maybe the newspaper industry doesn’t have to die after all.) “It’s an ordinary object that, when transformed, becomes magical,” Mr. McDermott said. “Ordinary simple actions, when done with commitment, become something powerful,” he said, a quality of Gandhi’s idea of “satyagraha,” a Sanskrit term that can be translated as “truth-force” and stands for Gandhi’s principle of nonviolent resistance.

More literally the newspaper reflects Indian Opinion, the paper that Gandhi founded as a vital part of the struggle for the rights of Indians taken to South Africa as indentured servants by the British. The focus is on the period from 1893 to 1914, the years Gandhi spent in South Africa. Tolstoy, the poet Tagore and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. each figures in an act representing witnesses from Gandhi’s past, present and future.

“Satyagraha” is the middle work in Mr. Glass’s trilogy of operatic portraits, sandwiched between “Einstein on the Beach” and “Akhnaten.” The libretto is drawn from the Bhagavad-Gita, the sacred Hindu text, and bears little direct relation to the action, which plays out in a series of tableaus that crisscross time. There are no subtitles, only projections of sentences from the text and references to scenes and dates.

The tenor Richard Croft, who shaved his head and lost 10 pounds for the role, plays Gandhi; other cast members include Rachelle Durkin, Earle Patriarco and Alfred Walker. Dante Anzolini, the Italian-Argentine conductor, is making his Met debut.

“It’s the story of the seed of what we know about the big story of Gandhi,” Mr. McDermott said. “It’s also the story of the idea of that movement having repercussions throughout history.”

The staging was designed to match the idea of people working together, “like satyagraha,” he said. “So a lot of the images are created by ensembles of people.”

Mr. McDermott called the scenes meditations on key moments in Gandhi’s South African story. The trancelike music, he said, demands a different sort of attention of audiences. “By the third act some people just love it, or others say, ‘I can’t bear it.’ ”

“Satyagraha” is a co-production with the English National Opera, where it played last year and received strong praise from the London critics. With little opera experience, Mr. McDermott and Mr. Crouch “created a masterwork of theatrical intensity and integrity,” the reviewer for The Times of London wrote.

The two men lead Improbable, which brought the sinister, sometimes bizarre theater piece “Shockheaded Peter” to New York in 2002 and 2005.

The pairing of Improbable and Mr. Glass came about at the suggestion of Sean Doran during his short tenure as general manager of the English National Opera; who knew their work from his time as director of the Perth International Arts Festival in Australia, where the company produced a show in 2002.

For “Satyagraha,” the directors convened an ad-hoc group of aerialists, puppeteers, actors and one errant academic who wandered by one day to do research and was absorbed into the company. The group, called the Skills Ensemble, operate the puppets and provide much of the activity onstage during the meditative lines of Mr. Glass’s score.

The word puppet does little justice to the fearsome large human figures and ragged, yet delicate newspaper creatures in “Satyagraha.” They are part of an increasing puppet presence in contemporary opera productions.

At the Met the trend is represented most notably by the weirdly lifelike bunraku puppet that played Cio-Cio San’s child in “Madama Butterfly,” the heavily promoted new production by Anthony Minghella that opened the company’s 2006-7 season. Julie Taymor’s “Magic Flute,” introduced in 2004, also made wide use of puppetry. Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” at the Houston Grand Opera last season had a 12-foot high Witch in the production by Basil Twist.

The giant-puppet scene in “Satyagraha” takes place early in Act II. The figures represent the vulgar forces of urban society — corrupt politicians, rapacious businessmen — who are bewildered and angered by Gandhi’s denunciations of injustice to European newspapers, the directors said.

“Gandhi’s ideas are bigger than life,” said Mr. Glass, who watched the recent rehearsal intently from the audience, occasionally glancing at the score. “These huge figures reflect that.” He said the puppeteers improvise their movements onstage. “The puppets are created while we watch. There is a spontaneity and creativity while we are watching it.”

The heads were made mainly by Mr. Crouch. He created frames from fiberglass kite rods connected by tape and covered them with a light cotton cloth called stockinette. Newspaper was pasted on top. He said the German Expressionist look was inspired by the period in which the action was taking place, and by the presence of Europeans in South Africa. “It felt like the right kind of world,” Mr. Crouch said.

It took months to make the puppets despite their brief stage appearance. During the rehearsal last week, the time came for the big puppet entrance, which Charlotte Mooney, a trained aerialist who wears stilts to bear a giant bird onstage, wryly called “the suicidal leap into the gloom.”

In the wings Alexander Harvey strapped on stilts. Mr. Harvey, 28, has a fine arts degree from the University of Leicester. He learned juggling and unicycling as a hobby and studied at a circus school in Bristol.

He staggered over to his puppet, nicknamed “Elvis” for the creature’s wide lapels, and stepped between the opening of its giant newspaper coat. He slipped on a backpack frame attached to the puppet and put a stick that controls the head into a pouch dangling from a tool belt around his waist. The pouch held the head’s weight while he turned it back and forth.

He stepped forward, pulling the puppet off a metal-tube frame. Stagehands stood nearby, guiding him with verbal cues.

As the other puppets began moving toward the stage, Mr. Harvey stilted up a ramp to the stage, stepped over a lip, turned sideways and then had to keep his balance on the stage’s downward slope, mindful of the danger that a head sloping too far forward could send him crashing down. Skills players said there had been no such mishap.

In a few minutes a stage manager said, “Here they come,” and the creatures began stumbling back.

“Can’t be easy,” a stagehand said to Rob Thirtle, a stilt-walking puppeteer. Mr. Thirtle sat down heavily on a platform and pulled off his stilts. “Scary,” he said.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

British People know stuff about theatre, no doubt.

Just a note from the director of Satyagraha and founding member of Improbable, Phelim McDermott, from the program for the opera:

"...Improvisation as we [Improbable] practice it is less about being quick-witted and wacky and more about embracing paradoxical skills. These include the ability to be courageous and decisive while at the same time open and vulnerable to whatever happens around you. We work on developing the ability to be humble, not armored, in the face of unexpected events and to stay connected to the whole group while noticing the impulses inside oneself. The question I asked myself was: how can these qualities be useful within our production to communicate Gandhi's ideas?
"Over the last weeks the work we have done on the performance has attempted to stress that what happens between people onstage is more interesting that what can be achieved alone. The collective atmosphere among the orchestra, singers, and chorus is an embodiment of the atmosphere of satyagraha. These are, of course, simple stage ensemble ideas--not life and death concerns--but we felt there was a creative correlation between the contents of the piece and how we might communicate them in a felt way rather than an intellectual one."

I want to really respond to that last point, which is a question I've been asking myself for the past year or so: How does one create a "felt" experience for an audience? Rather, how does one create a stage picture or show action on stage that an audience will feel viscerally, tangibly, without directly addressing their presence or requiring their participation--you don't break the fourth wall. It happens most commonly in dance, a form that deals with the body more directly than most theatre does--you sometimes see a movement and you feel that movement on your body physically, even though you're only watching. I want such a response to my art, and hope that this visceral response helps lead an audience on an emotional journey. I don't know if that's possible, but I'd like to try.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

NY Event Number Three: Seeing a dress rehearsal at the Met.

Thanks to the company I work for, I had the good fortune of sitting in on the afternoon dress rehearsal today of Phillip Glass's opera, Satyagraha, which will mount at the Met in two days. The title is actually a combination of two Sanskrit words and is the name of the practice of nonviolent resistance used and developed by Gandhi (so says/confirms the wiki, to which we all bow). It's music is quite beautiful, and this new production originally staged in England (w00t! I knew I picked the right country to move to.) by the English National Opera and a company called Improbable, who I am slowly falling in deep artistic love with, really struck me. So much that I felt the need to blog about it. Incidentally, if you like Neil Gaiman and know The Wolves in the Walls, Improbable produced it for the stage as a "Musical Pandemonium." Enough said.

But give me a moment to explain something: not only is this a New York Event, but it is also a piece of great art. As it will be a while till I get to England, I feel like I'm going to have to talk about other things here in the time being, without diverging too far from the original, founding, and central idea/purpose for this blog. Under that heading falls, I think, an opportunity to discuss the kind of work I'd like to start producing once I get to England. Specific ideas and topics that I'd like to produce art about will likely remain hidden from this blog--I am pretty private about stuff I intend to develop, always worried about artistic thievery (it's true: I'm a paranoid fuck). But discussing form and methods of production I think are totally okay. And if I see something that really works, to the point I really want to share it here, then I will. It's all the excuse I can offer. I hope that will suffice.

The opera uses the original Sanskrit text of the Bhagavad Gita, a really wonderful epic poem and Indian religious text. One of the reasons I love operatic music, the little that I know of it, is because it’s often written in a language that is not English. Because of the foreign language, and the sound that operatic singing produces (far from normal speech), what is being said textually and directly, is less immediately accessible to the audience. (Unless, of course, you know Sanskrit.) This affect makes language as a tool here secondary, and forces the theatre artist to convey with body, vocal production (we’re talking about the affect of sound here, not the words themselves), staging and other theatrical affects (lighting and the rest) paramount in portraying a story that would be incomprehensible to most on a simple, spoken level. It should also be noted that this production is done sans the Met Titles usually used for performance, and instead projections of short sections of the English translation of the text are thrown onto the back wall, giving the basic overview of what’s being sung as opposed to a line-by-line interpretation.

This kind of dismissal of language (though it must be acknowledged that language does provide the opera structure and aids in the conception of some of the specific staging the Skills Ensemble pulls off beautifully) I think can be likened to circus, clown, and strict physical work--basically anything that is performed sans or sans distinct text--in that it asks the audience to respond in a more primal way, associating the bodies on stage with their own bodies, identifying with them, projecting themselves onto the journey the stage characters make more directly than they would for a piece where dialogue is used, which can be colored by regional accents, implied meanings and cadences by the actor, etc. In this way, non-text based performance can be more universal, even when dealing with a specific story, ie: Ghandi's. The program I'm going into deals a lot with developing original work, without coming from a place of text OR working with ancient text and developing work out of that. It was exciting to experience first hand such a brilliant work dealing with those principles.

Something else here, which I touched on briefly above, is the element of sound in performance. I love sound because it's so isolated, and can often be one of the most powerful elements in terms of establishing setting and mood--I know it's a movie, but I'd like to give a nod to Alien here as one of the best examples of this. It's something I had wanted to play around with for my grad school audition piece, but ran out of time to develop my idea fully. Hopefully I'll be able to revisit it and experiment how to make shape with this element in the upcoming school year.

But getting back to what was produced here, we're not just talking orchestration, which worked a lot to drive and maintain tension through the story (Glass loves his repetitious themes, no doubt), but also vocal performance. The thing about vocal performance, likened to the above idea about an audience's relationship with movement, is that it is something the body can physically and organically produce. It's resonate (literally, figuratively) because it is in the audience's capacity (in most cases) to do that themselves, again playing on the universality of that method of performance. Being a yogi, I do believe that different energy is produced and sent in different tone and pitches of sound, and that's something I'd like to explore as well.

Okay: last thing. This production really demanded a lot of the ensemble, and I loved that. Watching an entire company build the setting that they're going to be performing in is a wonderful performance tool, and constantly engages the audience in experiencing the transformation that is a key element to theatre entirely. Along with the Skills Ensemble (aerial, puppet, and circus artists employed for the production to do the business a singing chorus member would be unqualified to do), the chorus is in charge of setting some of the stage dressing, and it just totally worked. It was really powerful imagery, particularly due to such an en masse grouping covering the stage of the Metropolitan, with simple but direct movement. And I loved it.

Re-reading this post, I have to say I am the master of the run-on. Sorry about that guys, but look forward to more of it in the future.

Anyway, if you're in the NY area, save your pennies and catch this if you can.

Monday, April 7, 2008

"You're leaving so soon..."

So remember when I said a couple posts ago that I was leaving in January because that's when my program started? Yeah. I was wrong. I do start in October, so we can all set our clocks back straight. Six months to go!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

"This is a lie..."

That title's a reference to the Cure, if anybody cares.

Katie--this one's for you. Mostly.

Okay, I want to take a moment and talk about narrative structure. Partly because the thing fascinates me so, and also because it came to mind the other day when thinking on older "Battlestar Galactica" episodes, and what they mean to teach us about this season.

This post will have nothing to do with grad school, I assure you, though it will talk about art in a way and so I'm going to scrape by posting it here on that justification. And furthermore, it will fulfill a dream of mine and one GreedyGreen's desire to discuss narrative structure over blog. We had hopped for video blogging, but that shit is just too frakking expensive. (And yes: I will be using "frak" to excess over the next few months. And no, I will not apologize.) So here's a poor man's version of what could be, of what may have been. You may not understand the example I give and the ponderings thereafter if you don't watch the show. Suck it up and start renting the DVDs.

Recently, a former high school cohort who is also a BSG fan reminded me of an episode where Leoben, a known Cylon, pulls Laura Roslin to him and whispers, "Adama's a Cylon," right before he's thrown out an airlock. This happened some time ago, and I had forgotten about it. But now, with a season geared towards the revealing of the final Cylon, the question lingers. Could Admiral William Adama, commander of the remaining Colonial Fleet and guardian of the human race as we know it on this show actually be Cylon? OR: did Leoben really mean Bill Adama at all? There are two known living Adamas: the admiral, and his son Lee (or as I refer to him, "The-hottest-of-the hot"). What if Lee Adama was the Adama Leoben was referring to? What would happen then? (For those not familiar with the series, I hope those links were useful.)

But both of these questions are based around the idea that Leoben was in fact stating a truth. The question remains: was it a Cylon trick, and a lie, or will some Adama eventually endanger the lifespan of the human race on the show? The problem with telling a lie in performance--the portrayal of lying, I should say, not bad acting which is occasionally referred to as "lying"--is that the audience usually needs to be in on it for it to be of any use as a plot device. You need that sense of dramatic irony to create tension that will help propel the play. Theatre is all about the relationship the piece has with the audience. Since we understand theatre can't exist without an audience (trust me on this one) we must appreciate the dependency therein, and even if we're trying to deeply offend our audience in some kind of theatre of cruelty situation, we must acknowledge that our efforts are useless without someone to subject that kind of cruelty on.

So: here we are with our audience. They're already in a state of suspended disbelief because they've come to watch something they know to be a play/movie/whathaveyou. They have to take what the performers give at face value. It's part of the agreement they make when they take their seat. Much drama centers around watching characters functioning in both public and private settings, the contradictions between the two being what is offered to the audience as the truth of those characters, and this is so often done that it is expected. We watch human drama because we want to know what's real, what it is to actually experience something like that, whatever the circumstances. We want all the nitty gritty shit shown to us, no excuses. So when a lie is introduced, it needs to eventually be verified for being one. The great part about Othello and Richard III is that the antagonists let the audience in on the joke; both Iago and Richard turn to the audience and pointblank tell them, "I'm going to really fuck things up for these people, just watch." The audience is allowed in, and so the lying is okay because the viewers are allowed to recognize it as a device. But when that access is denied, it's almost an act of bad faith on the part of the writer/performer. Remember that episode of "Dallas" where Patrick Duffy was discovered in the shower, still alive when he was supposed to have been dead, and the entire season that had taken place turned out to be a dream? I don't, I was too young--but I've heard tell of it. Such an action on a writer's part basically undercuts the entire journey they've taken the audience on. Unless the play was somehow a large discussion about deception, and that choice was made to show the audience that even they were vulnerable to it happening to them, it's just an asshole move. Period.

So I guess basically, getting back to BSG, I want Leoben to once and for all say that Adama, whichever one, is not a Cylon. Or see more examples of Cylons lying--which there have been many, but none recent enough to remind me what they're capable of (save the day-to-day existence on the Galactica of the four known of the Final Five...I guess there's a lot of deception there, too). If it is a lie. (And I venture to guess that it is.) And generally I'd like to see a good, solid piece of drama that may trick the audience into thinking they knew the answers, but then discovered they did not. Which is great drama, truly.

When am I getting a job with SciFi?

(Note: I did find an almost completely naked picture of Lee Adama on the web, but restrained myself from posting it here. This is a blog, not a smut show. I don't know if that's a good thing or not, but the epic hotness of Jamie Bamber was bound to be just too frakking distracting for the likes of me, and I couldn't do it. Sorry guys.)

"After years of waiting nothing came/And you realize you're looking/Looking in the wrong place"

From May 2005 till about October 2007, I had been working on a project that was a fictional retelling/theatrical response of the story of Matthew Maupin, a US soldier who was captured during an ambush in Iraq in 2004. The director of the piece had come across an article dealing with Maupin about a year after his disappearance, and during the workshop of another, entirely different piece meant to meld modern discussions of torture and Ophelia from Hamlet (don't ask), themes about Maupin's story kept creeping in until we'd switched gears entirely and the whole thing became about him. The big, overlying detail of the piece was that Maupin was designated "Missing: Captured" and his real life family had continued to grieve and hold out hope for his return. The US government could not give these people any surety either way if their son was alive or dead. The family held on for literally years in some state of suspended grief, and just this past Sunday (3/30/08), word came out that his remains had been uncovered. Through DNA testing, they were able to identify whatever they found of him as him. This came about a week or so before the four year anniversary of his disappearance, an occasion that was going to be commemorated in the town he grew up in. Now they've commemorated something else.

It's taken me a week to sit down and blog about this, 1) Because I haven't had the time to actually blog about anything; and 2) Because I wasn't sure how to talk about this without getting too personal, which, as always, is something I seek to avoid in this forum. <--Perhaps, though, that is inevitable, as one of the novelties of blogging is an understanding that this is the author's take on whatever it is they're discussing, and that's just part of the form. But I'm still going to try to avoid it as best I can.

It's strange, this thing. If you know me well, you've probably inadvertently gone on this journey with me over the past couple-of-years-and-change, and you may know that I affectively left the piece in October (I tried to earlier, but it just didn't work out). So for me it was over, even though the play itself was seemingly not. But now Matt Maupin is dead. And so perhaps too is this journey, for real, not just because I left the show but because that question that kept it alive all those years, that same question that kept his family campaigning the US Government for information, "Where is Keith Matthew Maupin?" has been answered. It is a passing of a different kind, and I'm glad it's come.

I would not presume to say that my response or any sense of grieving I may feel about this happening is anywhere near the family's--that would be a flagrant lie, and truly a slap in the face to anyone that knew that individual and cared about him. There is also a sense of distance because one Must try to maintain some sense of objectiveness about the topic one is discussing on stage--it is the only way to produce well-rounded art that lends itself as a discussion, instead of a piece of stage propaganda. But something is definately over now, and I see it as another sign that tells me I'm ready to go.

Even if that journey doesn't start till January. Frak.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Aw, Frak.

The title is in honor of the premiere of the fourth season of Battlestar Galactica this evening. I'm having a party with food, friends, and fun prizes...and other things that begin with "f." What are YOU doing?

So after a brief discussion with my mother earlier this morning, it seems that my specific strand (the performers) don't actually start school till...January. So I'll be stateside a little longer that I thought, though still leaving New York in August. I blame this miscomunication on my start date (originally took it to be sometime in early October) to the vagueness of the paperwork I received from Central, and the additional illusory nature of hard solid information on their website. I'm reminded of something Dylan Moran says about talking to English people: "You don't know if they've recently died or just got married." This is the kind of vagueness I'm talking about people! A little help please!

This could speak about/to the fact that I've done little thus far to promote my journey over there: beginning of the saving of various monies, starting to pack, buying a new British-appropriate wardrobe, filling out my FASA...details, details, details...

But now the question is: What the frak am I going to do during my new "swing" period? Go home to Jersey and teach yoga? It just might happen, but I'm open to suggestions.

But enough of this. There are more pressing matters at hand. Like: Is Starbuck a Cylon?

(I say "No!")

Thursday, April 3, 2008

NY Event Number Two: Riding between cars on the 1 train to see the abandoned 93rd St. station.

So this was awesome, and if I could (given that it suddenly became legal and less dangerous {though that'd probably ruin the fun of it}) I would ride between cars all the time. No pictures I'm afraid.

Heidi and I finally went out for a celebratory dinner in honor of our grad school acceptance at French Roast, about a month-to-the-day after our auditions/interviews. On the way home, drunk enough on Argentinian wine to have the courage and care to bother, we did as KCruger recommended and rode between cars on the 1 train between the 86th St. and 96th St. stations to see the abandoned 93rd St. one. It should also be noted that after we saw it, we got seats in the car we moved into, which is some kind of triumph.

It's such an ominous word: abandoned. <--and didn't that font choice make it more so? Makes one think of ghost towns, and what's left behind that no one talks about but silently acknowledges. The station was closed because it was too close to the 96th St. station, and I guess the city couldn't justify the cost of having two stations in such proximity to one another. The walls are covered with graffiti to the point it almost camouflages it--there's a LOT of graffiti along that train line, more than most I venture to say. Having ridden the 1 train constantly over the past two years, I never noticed the station before. It was nice to discover something brand new about my commute, and to be reminded that there are still things you might miss even if you know something really well. I look forward to more discoveries about the city like this, though I don't know if I have the balls to follow Emma's advice to dash across the tracks somewhere in Brooklyn. We'll see. It might take something harder than Argentina has to offer.