Monday, August 31, 2009

The Day I Became Undead

August went out with a bang, as this last week was beyond full. I'll catch you up on the majority of it soon, but I thought I'd just throw up something quick from today, when the zombie film Baby's First Steps was shot. I woke up this morning at 5:30 AM from several zombie nightmares, to shower and get ready to make my 7 AM call. We finally wrapped at around 6:15. It was a really easy and fun shoot, and the small crew--director Stephen, producer Stephen (a different one), DP Mark, and the fabulous Faye who did my make up--were great to work with. Below you can follow my transformation from human to zombie. Enjoy!

First I was made paler than I usually am, with a slight green tint for the just-turned-into-a-zombie feel.

A little red around the eyes.

Veins were applied thickly, but would be faded a little bit later. I had some painted on my arms/hands as well. (Don't I look like such a charming zombie in this shot?)

Add contacts, and voila: instant zombie! And check out the blood covering my hand! This shot was taken in the middle of the day, during some of my down time. The contacts were really terrible for about the first twenty minutes, which was surprising as I had been putting them in and leaving them for increasing periods of time the whole week leading up to the shoot. Eventually I adjusted and was fine for the remainder of the day.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

E-burgh, baby. E-burgh.

"I know, I've been neglecting you. I'm sorry. I don't mean to do it. Things just get out of hand sometimes, you know? I know I've said before that I would change, and that I haven't. Well, that's to be expected: people don't change. I won't ask for your forgiveness, because I don't want it. All I really want is your understanding. And your acceptance. This is just me, baby. Take me for the good and the bad. But when I'm not around, you gotta believe that I'm thinking about you. For reals."

If my blog and I were in a relationship, I'd do that little song and dance just above, and would hope it would hold us together till we got back from that mutual friend's destination wedding. After that though, all bets are off.

I know I haven't been around. The week in Scotland was a nice change of pace, caught some good theatre, caught some bad theatre, caught some things that I wouldn't necessarily label "theatre" ever, Ever, EVER. Here's a drive-by of what I did/saw on the trip:

Thursday, 13 August: Fly from Luton Airport (the silliest airport to ever have its own TV show), and land in Edinburgh with Amy, Max, and their friend from the states, Ashley (who was my awesome roomie during this trip). We took a bus into the city proper, then walked to our digs and headed out, looking for dinner. We ended up at probably the worst Indian restaurant I've ever been to, where the food was LONG in coming and then had no taste when it finally arrived. The only redeeming part of the evening was the terribly pornographic mural we ended up sitting under. Here it is:

(Those are Max and Amy's heads, cut off down there. They were feigning a pose so I could take this picture in a less obvious way.)

Friday, 14 August:
Walked up Royal Mile to the Hub, where the Edinburgh International Festival Centre is located to meet our friend Mauro, who was able to wrangle us some tickets for a couple shows. That evening we caught part of the Gate's Friel trilogy, his play Faith Healer. I love Brien Friel (Translations may in fact be my most favourite play), and was sad to have missed Faith Healer during its run on Broadway a couple seasons back, starring Ralph Fiennes as Frank Hardy, a traveling faith healer--part con man, part miracle worker. The acting in this current production was great, and of course the Friel dialogue was both real and poetic. The set design was a little disorienting, though. The play is delivered in four monologues, the first and the last from Frank, the second from his wife Grace, the third from his manager Teddy. As the play progresses, you realize two of the three speakers are dead. Each of the characters sits in a space that resembles a meeting hall (presumably where Frank would have performed a show), but is then given certain props and set pieces that places them in another, specific place. It was off putting to see such specific and detailed set dressing in an environment that appeared to otherwise act as a non-space, perhaps even a kind of limbo. It wasn't terrible--just curious, and little distracting somehow. Still, a nice opportunity to catch a traditional piece of theatre, something I haven't taken in too much of since I got here and began exploring the avant garde, the inventive, and the devised.

The Hub--home of the International Festival

After the show, we met Mauro for a drink at the bar of the Traverse Theatre, marking mine and Max's first foray into the world of good, Scottish whisky. Then Mauro took me off to the Assembly's Supper Club, a late night cabaret, where we took in a couple of acts. It was late by the time we got out, and I was hit with my traditional "late-night-drunken-hankering-for-fried-food." I told Mauro this, and he said, "Let's go to the Techno Chippy."

I present to you: "The Techno Chippy."

Above is the establishment we visited. Mauro's nickname for the chippy was due to the fact that there was a man DJing our eating a experience, on two turn tables, with hot techno music. You can see the sound system in the windows on the left. A very strange and wonderful place, Cafe Piccante has several locations (New Yorkers: go find yours) and offers a number of fried delights. Scotland is famous for its chippys, where you can take any number of food items in and request that they be submerged to crisp, greasy perfection. The most famous of these novelty normal-to-fried foods is of course the deep friend Mars Bar. Oh but yes. After devouring some pizza (not fried, alas!), I delved into my Mars Bar (which Max would later liken to, perhaps not completely inaccurately, a deep fried turd).

Oh, the disgusting goodness.

It really wasn't bad, I promise. It was a very satisfying way to end the first night of our adventure.

Saturday, 15 August:
Today we caught our first Fringe show, The Tale of Lady Stardust, another straight play, apparently written by a fellow Centralite on the MA writing course. It was a fun little show about a couple guys who thought David Bowie was a prophet. A nice afternoon. That evening we caught our second International production, Diaspora, a really lovely show that combined live music, projection, movement, short film, and acting in a discussion about personal identity and national heritage.

The ceiling of the Playhouse Theatre, where Diaspora was presented.

After the show, the group of us went back home to watch my very first zombie movie ever. I had bought a few at a nearby HMV to do research. That evening we watched the original Night of the Living Dead. The trailer reads kind of hilariously kitsch nowadays, and we laughed at the movie more than gasped I think it's fair to say. Still, I got into bed as quickly as possible that night, and made peace with the idea that if I was bitten, I hoped Max would have the decency to kill me quickly. I should mention that Max is pretty much a zombie expert. He helped me select all of the zombie films in my research arsenal, and discussed with me different kinds of zombies and their movement. He also taught me how to create an effective zombie escape plan--apparently he creates one of these for every home he lives in. Yes, my friends are pretty much brilliant (albeit occasionally strange).

Sunday, 16 August:
Got up early to go for a jog through the city, and attempt to get tickets to Barfly, a site-specific theatre piece that used a bunch of Bukowski short stories as its source material. A pretty perfect theatrical event for me (and yes: it was performed in a bar), but alas it was sold out. So I ended up wandering around the city before heading back to the flat, and stumbled upon Greyfriars cemetery. My mother and I used to go for drives, pull over at cemeteries and walk through them, reading the gravestones and making up stories about how the people died if a cause wasn't cited on the stone. It's something I still do today. Gravestones are such interesting things: the fact that a whole human life is meant to be represented by a piece of rock, that that is what's left for us to remember them by. But those things don't last, of course--many of the older cemeteries contain gravestones that have been totally eroded. It is such an effort spent in vain, like so many human acts. Very fascinating. I could go on about this forever, but I won't.

I've truly come home.

Anyway, spent some time there before walking back in the rain (it rained everyday we were there), and headed out later to the Scottish Whisky Experience with Max and Ashley. It was basically a tour (with a ride!) that taught you about the distillation process, the flavour difference between the four main regional sources for whisky (there was a tasting), and the Guiness World Record's Largest Whisky Collection. Seriously: there was a crap ton of whisky in this place.

Sampling some delights...

Ashley and Max offer a toast.

We left the SWE and met Amy at the Baked Potato Shop, where you can get a baked potato slathered in nearly any topping of your choice. It was a nice follow up to the afternoon spent drinking various whiskies. Then the three of us trekked up to the top of Arthur's Seat, and got a beautiful view over the whole of the city. It was wicked windy, but the rain held off while we were there, so it turned out to be a great hike.

("Such great heights...")

We climbed down the peak, grabbed dinner, and caught the Little Angel's Puppet Grinder Cabaret, which had been directed and featured an act by my puppetry course teacher.

Monday, 17 August:
Today we encountered the perils of festival going, when you have several shows grouped under one venue name, while that solitary name has in reality several locations. We ended up at the wrong spot and had to dash several blocks to make it just in time for Earnest and the Pale Moon. I really enjoyed this show. There were a lot of live action sound effects, the acting was really good, and it was just a fun time. There were a couple questions I had about a couple plot points, but generally it was just nice to see such effective story telling done so simply. It was a fine example that you can still succeed in making a piece of theatre with energetic actors and very little props, costumes, and sets. I would have found them a new lighting designer though. But I left the theatre feeling better than I had before I got there, and sometimes when a piece of theatre helps you enjoy an afternoon, it's gift enough.

That evening we caught Suckerville, a transplant from my own MA's Turbulence Festival back in June. It was interesting to see this piece simply because of how much it had changed. The play presented in Scotland was unrecognizable as the piece I had seen a couple months earlier, which just goes to show: you never really know at what point in a piece's development you're catching something. It's weird to think about that. Rowan Atkinson's great sketch, "A Small Rewrite" comes to mind.

Finally, to finish off the evening, I caught the fabulous Camille O'Sullivan. I must start by saying, I have the hugest lesbian crush on this woman, I would absolutely go gay for her, no question. She's an amazingly talented singer, has phenomenal presence, and a pretty killer wardrobe. I first heard her sing the first time I caught Absinthe at the Spiegeltent in New York. I had no idea who she was, but she sang a version of Jaques Brel's "Ne Me Quitte Pas" that ripped my soul apart and has stayed with me for the past few years. A friend of mine recommended her show to me and I realized that she was the same singer I had heard oh so long ago, and I was determined to catch her. She had such an inviting and personable stage persona (this was probably aided by the fact that I also believe she was very drunk during her performance), and gave every song its due. In short (like her skirt), she was pretty much perfect. Thanks to the concert I now also have a recording of her "Ne Me Quitte Pas"--she didn't perform it, but I bought a CD afterwards. If they ever make a movie of her life, I would like to play her. That is all.

Tuesday, 18 August:
Because of the very random nature of the Fringe Festival, with shows coming from all over the world and at all different levels of skill and composition (and again, to use Suckerville as an example, at different stages of development), your experience doesn't seem truly complete until you see an awful, soul wrenching, maddeningly bad piece of theatre. Our last Fringe show filled this slot nicely, and how. It was called The Grind Show, and I won't even get into it. The good thing about seeing significantly bad theatre (truly) is that you remember what good theatre is, and what makes it good. It is absolutely a learning situation. The bond amongst the people you see it with also strengthens, too, by having jointly experienced such a huge amount of trauma. Still, that solace won't get me back the hour of my life stolen from me--that I paid to have stolen from me. My new rule for theatre festival going: No more student productions.*

*(And touching on that, briefly--I won't go see a revival at a festival either {And most revivals/Shakespeare plays done at festivals ARE student productions, FYI}. What is the point in seeing a revival of something in a FESTIVAL, that is usually meant to be about new, original work? It just seems silly.)

Spent the afternoon and evening with Mauro (who also accompanied us to The Grind Show--our bond is stronger than ever!), hopping from various Mexican restaurants (yes, they have those here), and then went home and watched another zombie movie. For the record, I watched all four zombie films over the course of that week, and they were as follows: Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead, and 28 Days Later. I can now say I really like zombie movies, and am sad that I've missed them for this long. However, I still don't think I'm brave enough to watch something like Dead Snow, a movie about Nazi zombies--at least not brave enough to watch it by myself. Any volunteers?

Wednesday, 19 August:
Our last day in Edinburgh, we took it pretty easy. I did a little more zombie research (this was less research, and more me watching every DVD extra on Shaun of the Dead), Amy, Max and I grabbed dinner, caught our flight, and landed that evening back in Lon-don-towne, ready to ease our way back into our normal, sadly less theatre filled lives.

That was a rather large nutshell, and you should be commended for getting through this entry. I'd commend myself for writing it, but considering how long it took me to post it, I won't. Happy?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Last blog before Scotland

I leave for Scotland tomorrow, and will be gone for about a week. I'm putting myself under internet quarantine (I need it) so don't fret that you don't hear from me in the interim.

Randomness: I booked a short film for the Zone Horror Short Film Competition. I'm waiting to hear from the director the exact date of filming, but it looks like it'll happen sometime in September. I play a zombie. I am very excited about this, but it is also completely unfamiliar territory since I have never seen a zombie movie. Yes, it's true. Please don't hit me too hard. I need to do some research, maybe while I'm up north.

Below are some lovely pictures taken of Hampstead Heath, where I've been spending a lot of time lately for rehearsal/research for the festival piece I'm working on for Central in September, on picnics with friends, and for walks. Enjoy.

Monday, August 3, 2009

"Do you realize that you have the most beautiful [type] face?"

It’s funny how the mind can play tricks on you. What’s stranger perhaps is how dependant we are on our minds to create a logical, structured understanding of our surroundings in order to become oriented. If we can change how we process information, or if we actively choose to acknowledge or apply a different meaning to something other than its common, accepted definition, given enough time we can literally redefine our surroundings. It makes one (who watches BSG) think of the Cylon’s ability to project—to literally create a different perception of their location to wherever they choose to be. It implies a certain amount of psychological escapism, I suppose, to try and change your surroundings by imagining you are somewhere else. But what if you’re not doing it on purpose?

Lately, I keep thinking I’m in New York. Not to any extreme—I don’t wake up thinking I live in Brooklyn around Park Slope (it would explain all the trees I live near), plan to hop on the subway to get to the island and wander around downtown somewhere, looking to satiate a hankering for a hot dog (“Mmmmm…hot dog…”). But there are moments I’ll be walking down a certain street in the center of London, and it will remind me of New York so much that for a moment or a little bit more I will forget that I’m on this side of the proverbial pond. It happened the other day on Dean Street—I was hunting around for the Soho Theatre to catch a play with my friends Lisa and Ronan, and I suddenly felt like I was somewhere around the Lower West Side. It confused me for a second or two, and though I shook it off rather quickly, something still lingered.

I’ve been missing New York in the strangest ways recently. London doesn’t seem to move quite fast enough, and maneuvering the sidewalks is a joke—it’s like people don’t know how to walk here. I still haven’t found a good bagel. I’d like to go out for a drink with someone at 10PM, and not worry about there being no room in the bar, or the fact that it’s going to close in half-an-hour. I miss travel after midnight that doesn’t involve buses. I dislike reading the New Yorker online, but can’t afford to buy imported copies of it, thus negating the joy I get out of the process of reading the magazine—carrying it around in your bag all week, folding it in half so you can read it column by column, getting residual ink on your hands, tearing out cartoons and poems and saving them for journals or bulletin boards or refrigerator doors. In the same vein, I bought the International Herald Tribune the other day because I missed the New York Times’s typeface. Yes: the typeface.

These things seem small, I know, but they are those parts of your everyday experience, the items and actions that beget living habits, that make you feel at home. I am, after ten months, still looking for New York in London. It must be said, the two cities are more similar than they are dissimilar. Both are extremely “international,” have tons of cultural offerings, etc. But still, there is something completely different in the air in London (::insert joke about Thames fumes here::), and I think it has something to do with the layout of the city. New York is a city built on top of itself, with buildings so tall and dense that at some locations you can’t see the next block over from the ground. Sometimes you’ll go for hours and not see the sun. Aside from the financial district, this sort of layout of structures seems far less frequent in London, and the city therefore, aided by its watery bisection, feels more open and spread out. New York towers over you and creates secrets as it looms; London is public and open and available. You can easily feel anonymous in any large city, but in New York you can almost feel anonymous even to yourself. While that can be lonely, there’s also something safe in that, a specific kind of detachment that I had come to know during my sojourn there, and one I cannot seem to replicate here. I don’t know quite why I seek to find this security of solitude, especially as one who is so often lonely, but I do, and London doesn’t cut it the same way.

Now, it must be said: I am far more anonymous in London than I am in New York, if we’re just going on the basis of the number of people I’m acquainted with out of the total population of either city. But London, with its open air and visible sunlight (when there is sunlight), seems to receive me more as a friend than New York did. You can’t lose yourself in the architecture here, perhaps because so much of it is largely historic. Maybe the only way to lose yourself in this city is not to the corners of the unknown, but instead, to the past. To really grasp London, you have to let yourself be transported, daily, back generations or decades, and being young myself (and young to this city), I still perhaps don’t have the experience enough to fully comprehend that.

The musings about these cities and what each has to offer is a topic not new to me or to the returning readers of this blog. It again surfaces as I begin my last couple months of my dissertation work, and my fellow immigrants are discussing their futures. Some seem set on eventually returning to their country of origin, but many of us are looking to be here long term. I’ve started talking to some other American ex-pats, and the UK visa process keeps coming up in discussion. Most of us are confused by what we have to do, or are daunted by it, or frustrated already. Others look at it like a crap shoot—we’ll try for it and figure the odds as best we can, but in the end know that we have less control over the dice than we’d like and we’ll just have to see what we end up with. To call back to BSG again: “Sometimes you have to roll the hard six.” But even if my visa does come through, the question that really lies at the heart of this is: what would I have to discover about London to really make it feel like a home? Or on the other hand, what would I have to be prepared to perceive about London to have it show me these things?

I had a strange run in with a man the other week, who drunkenly engaged me in very pleasant (albeit repetitive) conversation when I was running late to see Lament for Medea at the Arcola. We had ended up on a bus together, and he reminded me (over and over) that if I loved London, it would love me right back. When I went to get off the bus, he gave me a twenty pound note to take a cab to the theatre so I wouldn’t have to wait for the Overground. He kissed my hand as he did it. If that’s London loving me, London is kind of creepy. But at least he’s looking out and taking care of me on some level. On a kind of weird, creepy level, but yeah.*

Now if he could just serve me up a good bagel, I’d move right in.

*(For the record the guy was actually really nice and not at all inappropriate as we spoke, and I do believe the gesture came from a genuine place. He said someone had helped him when he was younger and that someday I’d do the same thing for someone else. Dear God, I hated Pay it Forward, but now it looks like I’ve made a bargain I’ll have to fulfill someday. That’s alright—but I’ll try to be sober when I do it.)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Oh, Augusta...

In front of the TV watching the American version of The Office, drinking a bottle of white wine alone, as all of my friends are in America, or Spain, or Scotland, or Cyprus. I am trying to distract myself from my woes by working (hard now, considering I have about 4oz. left of the Chardonnay I cracked open earlier), reading articles on phenomenology (we're talking Merleau-Ponty, baby), and eating a lot of choccy biccies. I'm also trying to focus on what I've got going on this month:
  • Spending a week in Edinburgh with my friends Amy and Max, catching shows at the International and Fringe Festivals, and visiting my friend Mauro who is handling press for the International Fest.
  • Heading to Brighton for a weekend, to assist in a fellow MA's research, concerning the ujiah breath, and its possible application in acting work--a topic that really excites me.
  • Shooting a short film in and around the Royal Opera House as part of dreamthinkspeak's site specific theatre piece for the Ignite Festival. The film will play during the piece, and is set in the late 1950s, early 1960s. I am overwhelming excited about my fitting. There are no words. If I come out looking like Joan from Mad Men, I will be beyond happy. (The resemblance is really uncanny.)
So things are good. Sure. Of course.

(In other news: I love this picture of Stephen Merchant that was posted on the Rick Gervais website. That is all.)