Sunday, January 25, 2009

"There's thoughts in my head/like brass in my head/When I start to speak/it all disappears..."

I keep meaning to blog, and then I don't. Trying to engage in normal life more fully, as well as keeping a personal journal, as well as keeping an art school journal, as well as keep up this blog is...difficult.

My group hit a major snafu regarding our research project this week. We came to the sudden realization that there is no way to actually document the rhythm of a space scientifically (unless we had some mad equipment we don't know exists/don't have access to), and came to wonder if that was really necessary to have proper research. This idea in science of measurement is to have a scale to compare your results to--a control group or location, if you will. Makes sense. But what room has a neutral rhythm, and by whose definition? We lost heart for a bit, and decided to spend our time together on Thursday running small workshops for each other. We were each meant to bring in an exercise that would incorporate something we were interested in, in terms of our subject. Ronan had us cross the space a few times, creating a physicalized crescendo and decrescendo. Next, he had Lisa draw a line on a chart that rose and fell, followed by a physicalization of that. Then he had James play impromptu piano as inspired by the chart, and the rest of us (Ronan, Lisa, Maria, and myself) each wrote according to the tempo we heard in the music. I turned this out:

Slow December waltz, at home with Henry. Everything in order and children in bed--oh but Jeffrey's forgotten his teddy bear. Never mind it, he'll get it tomorrow, no doubt. And where did I put that--my knitting, I know, I know it was here somewhere, somewhere, I pricked my hand the other day, with my broach and stained my best day coat. Could it have meant something? Surely not. I'm just being silly. How foolish I was to cry over that. Just a little blood. Just a pin prick. It will come out in the wash. Just like a little girl, like a silly little girl, Rosie the other day over her bear and her milk all over her dress, silly girl, and the wailing the wailing, I never wanted to be a mother, I hate my children and I hate myself for hating my children but such a nuisance. Always under foot.

James had been playing something in 3/4, hence the waltz reference and subsequent Victorian/Edwardian dialogue. Also: I'm certain I have a woman of that era living inside me, somewhere, so I'm sure that has something to do with it...

For my part, I ran a short and somewhat bastardized Shakespeare workshop (I skipped over scansion completely--I am ashamed), trying to emphasize the rhythm found in his text by accessing the aural signifiers as well as the punctuation. It succeeded for the most part, which made me happy, but I don't know how much of that work has anything to do with our topic. This brings up a small problem that has me again revisiting the idea of not wanting to research anything, but rather just wanting to do something. Today it's Shakespeare, tomorrow it'll be aerial silks--I'm fickle like that. (Oh, and how I dream of aerial silks...) Then Lisa had us try to incorporate some of the Shakespeare work into a piece of modern text--namely from Sarah Kane's Crave, ala a workshop Martin Wylde, head of the MA Classical Acting program led a couple weeks ago.

After the mini-workshops, we met with company members of Present Attempt, Velna and Alex, both working at Central currently and having small experience in producing work from a place similar to our research topic. They assured us it would be all right to work from research that wasn't completely scientific in nature, since trying to replicate anything on stage essentially fails from the get go--you have to re-think what you're replicating just to have it come off theatrical, so why worry so much? It was nice to have this support, but I'm still trying to re-engage with this topic. Outside of my fascination with rhythmic texts, I don't really know where to go with this one, and certainly not in a group setting. As always: we shall see.

Friday was the second week of "The Space (in) Between." Classmate Mauro and I met beforehand to discuss what we were actually doing, what the purpose of The Space was, and what kind of weekly assignment/stimulus we'd be doling out. As suggested by Ronan, we continued on with the structure of providing restrictions and provocations, modeled off of the Toby Jones lab week. I also personally liken this to an aspect of Moment Work, but let's not lose ourselves in a realm of theatrical jibber-jabber for the moment, all right? Mauro had the idea that we would weekly offer five sentences to the group to create work for the following week. As the course goes on, more and more work seems to be piling up, and I am worried about The Space's success hinging on people's time to consider these mini assignments. But hopefully, if nothing else, The Space will provide an allocated time for people to try out their ideas, research related or otherwise, and will prove a comfort in that it will always be there. And of course, because it seems to be the only way I deal with anything these days, I created a blog for the function. If you want to know more about what we do and why we do it, just check it out here.

My last encounter with the London International Mime Festival is today. I'm seeing Familie Floez's Hotel Paradiso this evening, and I'm quite excited. I'm hoping it will be as great as the last show I saw at Southbank, also part of the Mime Fest's offerings, Tomas Kubinek. This man was simply amazing: funny, specific, engaging, musically talented (it must be said: I love a ukulele), and just sheer joy. So much joy, that I found myself crying at the end I was so happy. These tears varied greatly from those cried during a very mediocre circus show I'd had to sit through two days prior in the very space, called Circus Klezmer. I won't get into the reason for those tears (let's just say I have a very personal relationship with circus), but I will get into the mediocrity. The thing I hate about circus that tries to apply a narrative is how often that narrative is just there as filler. If you're composing a circus piece with a narrative or theme, I think you have two options:
  1. You just let the acts be linked by a common idea, and don't try to add too much story wise;
  2. You allow the acts to help promote and advance the narrative, like what makes a musical a musical, and not just a show with music and dancing and lights.
Or you can just do a show full of acts and antics--that's fine too, and is a big part of what makes circus circus. But these lack luster attempts at making a story are just awful: "Here's a scene, and now suddenly as if out of no where, an aerial silk act! And now another scene, that in no way refers back to that last act whatsoever!" And so forth and so on. And quite frankly: the show wasn't that funny. They company members did "funny" things, but it just wasn't funny. People laughed at antics, not at what was REALLY happening on stage. Most audiences can be bought through desperation, it seems. I grow more and more suspicious of this as time goes by. God, I kept hoping there'd be an intermission so I could leave. Luckily, it was only seventy minutes. Seventy minutes I'll never get back...

Yesterday I also saw The Kid for the first time, the last offering of the Early Chaplin Program at BFI. And thus ends the first, pretty full couple weeks back. I don't expect too much activity in the next few days as far as outings. Despite the incredible drop in the exchange rate (Britain has FINALLY entered the recession, whoo hoo!), I need to give my wallet a rest (I have entered my own recession) and try to re-engage a little more with school work (yuck).

It's raining, which reminds me I'm supposed to be reading King Lear today. Wish me luck! w00t!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"Steppenwolf, the Circle Line, and Obama," OR, "My activities over the last two days."

I forgot to mention in my last post that one of the founders of Steppenwolf Theater Company, Jeff Perry, spoke to us yesterday (19.1.09). He's in town with the rest of the cast of August: Osage County, which closes its run at the National tomorrow. For those of you who saw the original Chicago cast transplanted in NYC (or in Chicago, even), he played the husband of the eldest daughter, Bill Fordham. Great guy and very interesting to hear speak about the founding of the company and their commitment to producing work. I asked him how he kept a three hour performance fresh after 15 months on the job. He basically said you needed to spend the other 21 hours of the day completely detaching yourself from the experience. He also said that as the tour went on, the company's "service of the writing" and "sense of improvisation" have both gone up, which I found interesting and logical--it seems like the only way a show like that could stay afloat longer than three months. What was most striking about his talk was the nonchalant way he spoke about the forming of the company. He'd say something like, "And then Gary [Sinise] said, 'We'll do this play.' And so we did." And later: "And then John [Malkovich] was like, 'If we don't get funding, I'm leaving.' And we said, 'Shut up! You're not going anywhere!' So we got the funding." There was never a comment about doubt or misgivings they may have had as they formed the foundation, it was just simple necessity and achievement: we needed to do this, and then we did; we wanted to expand this way, and so we did. It was refreshing to hear someone talk about professional accomplishments with that tone of simplicity minus any DRAMA, and yet also admit to some shortcomings (like so many artists, they weren't the greatest with money management, though their intense fear of debt kept them from really accumulating any). And mostly, it was nice to hear the voice of a successful American theatre practitioner, who was established enough to play in sold out houses at the National. There is some major collateral in that, no doubt.

Today, I spent two hours on the Circle Line, one of the tube lines in London, doing field research. I should explain: our main topic for our research is to examine how people behave under the influence of an interior atmospheric rhythm. I will explain further: when you think about a coffee shop, think about all of the elements that exist there--people sitting in chairs, ordering drinks, making drinks, on their cell phones, in a queue (line), entering and leaving the shop, listening to the music playing in the background, waitresses fluttering around. All of these things exist to create the overlying rhythm/atmosphere of that space. So take this as our setting. Now: how are characters affected by that rhythm or energy that is existing around them? Does it make them nervous? Does it calm them? Do they engage in it, or fight against it? And how do those characters' personal rhythms deal/react with that kind of space? This is the sort of thing we are researching. A goal is to see if we can notate the rhythm of a space, and then use that notation to create a whole piece of theatre, or at least a few exercises dealing with various rhythms for scene/devising work. Will we fail? It's entirely possible. Is this kind of research/work/methodology even useful? It may not be. But in regards to both points: we don't know yet.

So today's task was to observe the Circle Line from 2PM-4PM. Myself and two of my research partners, Ronan and James, sat in various parts of one car for two whole trips around Zone 1. London is broken up into zones--the further you get away from the central section of the city, the further zone you're in. 1 is the epicenter, and the Circle Line, true to its name, simple goes in a full rotation within it. We started at Westminster and got off after the second full trip. I took copious notes (about 6 pages). The most exciting thing was when a homeless/crazy man got on at one point, and sat down on the floor of the carriage and got out a tambourine that he didn't play, but just spun the mini cymbals on. It was kind of a godsend, 'cause after an hour on a train, I was starting to zone out and doze a little.

When I got off the train, I headed over to Leicester Square to Yates, the bar that I watched the Inauguration at with fellow members of the North American Stronghold. It was pretty packed, all the ex-pats in one space, all clapping and cheering for Obama, all laughing at the shots of now former President Bush looking confused or "concentrated." I didn't like the poem, and kept waiting for someone to introduce Maya Angelou (any excuse for Maya Angelou is a good one, and the first black president is a REALLY good one, damn it), but alas it was not to be. Below are pictures of us celebrating. Hooray, Obama! Hooray, America! And hooray decorated stripper poles...

On his way over to the Lincoln Bible...

Even Uncle Sam is keen to this action--hit that doilified pole, Sammie!

The Wards look on the CNN footage approvingly.

Me, with a Budweiser in my hand and my elected representatives on the background, broadcast on a flat screen. Now that's America.

Caitlin, Heidi, and Melissa enjoying Inauguration drinks and general merriment.

Me, roasting a marshmallow on the flames of my flaming sambuca shot. Max gives a thumbs up while Amy documents. Now THAT'S America!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Miss me?

I thought you might have.

I know, I know--I've been away. My apologies. I've been super busy since I got back, so let me give you the general run down, and I'll plod through specifics later.

Saturday, 10 January:
I land around 6AM--forty-five minutes before scheduled to do so--in Heathrow airport to light flurries and the sound of a screaming child (if I've learned anything from my last two trans-Atlantic flights it's that all children should only be permitted to travel by boat). I pick up my luggage, ride the tube to my halls, drop off my bags, get a shower in, go for coffee, and then head out to the first day of Devoted and Disgruntled. While there, I run into the costume designer from my senior year show in college--Amazing! Interesting discussions ensue. (I will actually do an entry on this, so fret not the lack of details herein.) I go home early from the event and go to sleep, as I'd been up for about 30 hours straight<--I cannot sleep on planes, especially when Braveheart or On the Waterfront is offered as entertainment.

(York Hall, set up for Devoted and Disgruntled goodness.)

Sunday, 11 January:

More D&D, including a session about doing theatre in elderly homes, which brought back fond memories of this book.

Monday, 12 January:
Last session of D&D in the morning, and then off to school, where I saw The Five Obstructions and The Perfect Human, to help put into perspective a future speaker's topic of discussion. Good movies, and I recommend you definitely check out Five Obstructions if you are into the film making process. And if you find the time, scroll down and watch The Perfect Human--it is on this very blog!

Tuesday, 13 January:
Class consisted of gathering with the other MA courses at Central and sitting through presenter after presenter, discussing topics they had spent time researching. We are doing major research projects ourselves this term (to take place of our weekly lab work), so this whole week of speakers, workshops and the like were meant to give us a framework of understanding what it is we're meant to do. Some of it was useful. Some of it wasn't. It's amazing how boring some people can make theatre when they're reading a paper they wrote about it, after they've spent fifteen minutes really engaging you while they set up their discussion. It's kind of a shame, really.

Best part of the day was when my friend Caitlin gave me a necklace with a Dalek charm on it. For those who don't know (and I am guessing many of you do not), Daleks are the greatest adversaries of the Doctor (Dr. Who, people: that doctor). Caitlin and I love Dr. Who, though it must be admitted the reason rests almost solely (if not entirely) on David Tennant. But we're fine with that.
I swear to God I'm not a geek.

Wednesday, 14 January:

First Wednesday back at Swiss Cottage meant the return of the greatest coffee I have ever found in my life. Jason is the man who runs the coffee stand in the farmer's market we have in front of school on Wednesday and Friday, and besides having great taste in books (he loaned me a Fante volume that I really need to finish...someday...), his coffee is impeccable. Seriously. I would not kid about coffee.

We met in the afternoon with the tutor who will be leading us through our research this term (and incidentally will be filling in for the performer's movement tutor while our course leader is off doing research on the history of movement directors) to present our topics. Each group had five minutes, after we'd all taken an hour to compose our presentation according to a graph model that was given to us. In research, it seems, people are very much fond of graphs, charts etc. It makes a person feel official, and it's fun to decide what color to make different parts of a pie chart showing percentages. The most fun part of the actual presentations for me was chiming out, "BONG!" at the five minute mark--Heidi was timekeeper, and a little sick, so I stepped in to BONG when the tutor reprimanded her for not projecting enough. A silly thing, to be sure, but it caused me much joy to participate in such a way, bringing about the full realization of the sneaking suspicion I'd had all week and month previous: I don't want to be an academic, and research for the most part bores me. But doing research is part of what makes this a master's program. Uh oh. This may become an "issue." We shall see.

Afterwards, I went to the first evening of our MA-ATP Speaker Series. The dramaturgs have been commissioned to bring in theatrical practitioners to speak (duh) about their jobs in the theatre today. That evening, we had as our guest Christopher Campbell, a very nice, interesting, and engaging man, who spoke to us about his job as Deputy Literary Manager for the National Theatre. No small fish here. He spoke about play selection, actor requirements when plays are selected for them, playwright insecurities, and why the National puts on so little new work--and it's not because every play they get is shit, either. It was a very enjoyable talk, and I look forward to more in the future.

On the way out of school to go grab dinner before Slumdog Millionaire that evening with friends, myself, David (dramaturg student who brought in Campbell), Campbell and my friend Poppy ended up in the lift together. The doors closed, and suddenly there was a mighty "THU-THUNK!!!" We had dropped a little, and then gotten stuck in between floors. The fire brigade had to come and get us out! Luckily it didn't take too long, and the company was very pleasant. David had given Campbell a bottle of whiskey as a gift for coming, and I kept joking her should open it up.

Caught Slumdog Millionaire, as already stated above, and may have found an affordable gym with a pool right by school. Very exciting.

Thursday 15 January:
I skived off ("played hooky"). I wish I hadn't because there were a couple workshops I heard about later that sounded interesting, but the sleep was very precious. I also had a really nice jog, and somehow ended up at King's Cross. Thought about checking for Platform 9 3/4, but decided to save it for another day. Also came to the realization that jogging in London is a near futile venture if you're not in a park: the sidewalks are WAY too narrow, and people seem confused/put out/ignorant of the concept of MOVING OUT OF THE WAY of the jogger who is going for time. Goodess sakes, people. It's almost as bad as people who smoke while walking, but never enact the common courtesy to move the cigarette out of the way when another person passes by closest to the hand holding said cigarette. I guess no one gets blinded by smoke, ash, or otherwise when room isn't made on the sidewalk, and surely no first degree burns are earned, but still: it sucks.

When I got home, I bought an impromptu ticket to a show for Friday night.

Friday 16 January:
More coffee. I love you, Jason.

Went to school to attend a function a classmate and I are trying to run every Friday called "The Space In Between." Basically, it's a big cross-sharing space for the different strands to come together and show off to each other what they're learned, what they already know, what they're interested in exploring. The hope is that out of these sharing sessions people will be able to find other students who are interested in investigating/developing the same kind of work, which would maybe lead to a collaboration for festival work. I should explain: during third term, our course puts on a festival of original work. A lot of the more noteworthy companies/practitioners that came out of this program moved their festival piece to Edinburgh the same year they were finishing their dissertation, so it's possible what we do here could lead to greater things. The sharing sessions would also hopefully be a place to showcase developing work for feedback, or to derive inspiration about your own work from what other people are bringing in. I thought it was a little ambitious to start off the first week back with a session, but I showed up with a Viola Spolin book in hand, ready to play.

I was the only one there.

I made use of the time by perusing the Spolin text (thank goodness I had brought Theatre Games for the Lone Actor<--I had a sneaking suspicion this was going to happen) and making a list of the things I had learned about living a theatrical life, in case, of course, I am ever called to give such advice. It's quite the list, I assure you. In any case, we hope that this week's SIB is more successful. We can only hope.

When I got home from school, I had a surprise package in the mail. My friend Logan had sent me Battlestar Galactica replica dog tags for none other than Kara Thrace! It came on a perfect day, as BSG premiered in the states that night. I did my part by honouring the occasion and wearing the dog tags to the theatre that night.

(Two science fiction accessory pieces in one week, is pretty geeky, I guess...

But they were gifts!)

The London International Mime Festival is running till the 25th, and Friday night was the first show I caught. I saw Seeking Oedipus by Theatre of Silence Ex Machina at the Southbank Centre. It was a pretty solid show, and I enjoyed the physicality. But the most striking thing about the piece was this HUGE inclined plane that made up most of the set. You really appreciated how athletic the performers had to be to work on that--they were running, jumping, leaping, climbing, and sliding all over that thing. And then at one point Oedipus walked up the rake backwards very slowly. His quads must have killed him. What was nice about the actual narrative of the story was that they basically told you all of the exposition covered in Oedipus as the stage action. There was no "mime chorus," though that phrase conjures an interesting image. The actor playing Laius was by far my favorite. He was also the hottest. (Whatever helps...)

Saturday 17 January:
Met with my research group around the corner from my halls at the Welcome Collection in the morning (more about our topic of research and methods at a later date), and then heading home to watch the premiere episode of BSG I had downloaded from iTunes. (Holy Frak!) Then I wandered down to the BFI to catch part of a program of Charlie Chaplin's early films. The double-reel contained Pay Day and The Pilgrim, and the event started by showing the audience some old footage of when Chaplin first came back to the UK from the states--throngs of people at Waterloo, crowds that really wouldn't exist in that size or clamour again until the Beatles. It was wonderful, and seeing the films was a wonderful compliment to the mime/clown activities of the festival as well.

Sunday 18 January:
I slept. I needed it. And read Othello. I realize I've been neglecting Shakespeare for a while now, and that has to stop. So I promised myself that every Sunday I would read one of his plays that I hadn't read yet--and no, having seen a performance doesn't count. Next week: King Lear.

And that's all for right now. Tomorrow a lot of the North American Stronghold heads out to a bar on Leicester Square to watch the Inauguration. I'll let you know how that goes, and I promise to try to be more diligent about updating you guys about my life happenings. I promise to try. I promise.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"Today, too, I experienced something I hope to understand in a few days."

Commentary on the weekend long D&D session coming, but till I find the time/energy to get something useful down, please enjoy this short that in turn lead to this film several years later. We watched both on our first day back. I liked it, thought it was sexy, and thought I'd throw it up here for the sake of sharing. Enjoy!




Monday, January 12, 2009

Monday, January 5, 2009

For the Record...


If anyone wants to buy me anything from the upcoming Battlestar Galactica Auction, I would love you forever. My favorite piece is Lee Adama's watch, something that I've actually been perusing the internet in search of for the past few years. Anyone know some good replica makers? I don't have $300-$500 to spend on something Jaime Bamber wore, but I'd settle for a really good copy and a lower price tag. Again, though--my undying love is on the table here, people, and it's worth less than $1,000 (apparently). Just saying.

(PS: That dress Tricia Helfer is wearing above is set to catch $10,000-$12,000. That actually seems cheap to me.)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Travel Update

Changed my flight today for a mere $35 (thank you, International Youth Travel card), and will be getting in earlier on the 10th than originally scheduled. Let's hope D&D will be worth the profound jet lag. Looking forward to it!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Personal Opinions

Spending the last few days in borrowed space while cat sitting for my old cat, I’ve been perusing the books on the walls in the apartment I’ve holed up in. Today I picked up Witness Iraq, a largely pictorial war journal chronicling the few months the US was in Iraq tearing down Saddam’s regime. In it, I came across a letter of sorts—it’s either a blog post or something like it, written by someone serving during that time. I’m not sure why I’m posting it, and I can’t really justify it’s purpose on this blog by referencing it’s discussion of celebrities. But it struck me, so here it is.

>People are talking about boycotting celebrities who spoke out against the war.
>>You can count me out. I don’t look to celebrities to tell me how to think.
>>I make my own decisions. I volunteered to serve in the military. I worked hard to earn my officer’s commission. I swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. That includes the First Amendment.
>>Celebrities, like all Americans, enjoy the freedom of speech. I enjoy the freedom to not listen to what they have to say. Until they run for public office, their opinions hold no more weight with me than that of my garbage man.
>>Heard that Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins have taken some heat for speaking out.
>>I think they are fine actors. I loved Bull Durham—it’s a classic in my book. If Susan and Tim want to take advantage of their celebrity status to express negative opinions about my Commander-in-Chief, that’s their prerogative. I happen to disagree with their point of view.
>>Hey, I have people I call friends who have similar points of view to Susan and Tim. Some of them may have attended war protests, for all I know. We disagree, but they’re still my friends. I’m not going to stop returning their calls just because of their political opinions.
>>So why should I boycott actors, or musicians, just because they oppose what I’m doing? I think there’s room in our democratic society for dissent, as long as it is respectful.
>>So go ahead, boycott celebrities if it makes you happy. This American respectfully declines to participate. But that’s OK, I’ll continue to defend your freedom, just like I defend those celebrities.
>>Whether they want me to or not.
>>Posted by LT Smash at 04:28 PM, 04/22/03