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!


cokaly said...

your research project sounds utterly fascinating. i can't wait to hear how it turns out.

side note: my first thought when i saw your pictures of inauguration-watching was, "why is it so dark?" ... it was a sad day when i realized that one...

side note 2: i miss all the farmer's markets in foreign countries. i want some of that coffee next time i'm in london.

Lea Maria said...


How long has it been since you've been inside a bar with low lighting?

And yes, please come to London and have coffee with me and my boyfriend.

(PS: He's not *really* my boyfriend, that was just a joke. But don't think I haven't thought about what it'd be like to wake up to some of his coffee in the morning, if you catch my drift...)