Sunday, 26 December 2010

"Giddy fireworks of snow"

This is a post filled with Christmas cheer starting, rather strangely, with an Amanda Palmer song that makes me very happy, but which has nothing to do with the festivus.

I've just had the best Christmas I can ever remember having. I'm in my Godparent's house in Virginia, currently tucked up in bed with one of their dogs, who really should be in the other room. My parents, godparents, god-sister, their 4 dogs and I all just watched some Arrested Development after eating a wonderful meal and driving home through the snow singing jazz improvisations of Christmas carols. The whole week has been like this. It's been random and busy and shambolic and fun, and so full of laughter and love, and i don't want to go back to England.

Something else I've been doing this week is reading Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon. I bought it for my dad for Christmas and I've been trying to read it very fast so that i wouldn't have to steal it back once I'd gifted it. I failed, but he's nice so hopefully he'll lend it to me to finish. I'm sure I've written about how much I love Michael Chabon on here before; I idolize him almost as much as I do Dave Eggers. I've read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay 3 times this year. My laptop, on which i lovingly type this blog, is named after a character from that book. I think he rocks.

Anyway, as a Christmas gift to everyone who reads this but who i didn't buy a gift for, here's my favourite chapter from Manhood for Amateurs. It's a series of unconnected non-fiction chapters/essays, so reading this out of context won't ruin the book for you, and i completely encourage you to buy the book. You'll like it, I promise.
Anyway, here it is. It's called Fever and, like the song earlier, it has nothing at all to do with Christmas.

 I was standing on Forbes Avenue, across from the laboratory where I had sold my blood plasma to buy irises and halvah for R., waiting for the bus to her lover's house. It was one o'clock in the morning. Giddy fireworks of snow exploded over my head in the light from the streetlamp; there were already four inches on the ground. Under my peacoat I wore only a pajama top, and in my haste to get out the door I'd neglected to put on my overshoes. My gloves I had lost weeks before. I carried my frozen hands in my pockets, the right one jammed in beside a dented Grove Press edition of Illuminations, R.'s favorite book, which, like R. herself, couched everything in terms of torment and ecstasy and moved me strangely without making much sense.
"This is very embarrassing, Mike," R.'s lover had said over the phone. "But I'm just incredibly fucked up and I think there might really be something wrong with her. She keeps making this sound." Alarmed, half-asleep, I'd told him I would be there as soon as I could. An hour spent waiting for the 61C, sneakers ankle-deep in a pool of black slush, had given me ample time, however, to wonder why, given the circumstances, I should be the one to rescue R. yet again from the burning-down house of her brain. Let him, the other man, begin to lose nights of his life in emergency rooms and in the lyrical labyrinths of her mysterious fevers and furors.
My anger abated somewhat in the warmth of the bus's interior, however, and by the time, well past two, that I reached the Squirrel Hill duplex where R.'s lover lived, I had once more donned the full panoply, the axe, tackle and stouthearted gravity, of a resolute fireman of love. I would save R.—if it was not already too late. When her lover opened the door I thought he was going to tell me that she had died.
"She's upstairs," he said. He was willowy, frail, with the smooth cheek and puffy eyes of a newborn. Like R. he admired aesthetic suicides and madmen such as Van Gogh and Syd Barrett. His health was poor, he wore heavy wool sweaters even in the heat of August, and to counteract the jitters of a stomach so nervous that he threw up just waiting for a DJ to play his request on the radio, he smoked great quantities of marijuana. We had not seen each other since the night, two weeks earlier, when I learned that he was R.'s lover. I wanted him to look mortified, now, chastened by my gallant fireman's air, but he seemed only stoned and little put out. He shied away from the blast of cold wind that had followed me like a pack of dogs into the house. "Man, I don't know what happened to her. She just kind of fell over."
"Michael?" R. called, as I came up the stairs. The house had the old-potato stink of bong water and the steam-heat was turned all the way up. There was a childish note of shame in her voice, and as I came into the sweltering bedroom of her lover, and caught her smell of lily-of-the-valley, I felt my heart, like a muscular reflex or spasm, forgive her. "Michael, what are you doing? I'm all right."
Her forehead was damp, her eyes clouded with fever tears. I stood up. I looked at her lover's bed. There were shoes in the bedsheets, a Coke bottle, an open jar of cold cream, plates streaked with hardened food. On the nightstand they had built a tiny stonehenge of pill bottles and bronchial inhalers, and on one slipless pillow sat a porcelain water pipe, in the shape of a human skull.
"We're going home," I told her. "Come on."
"Please, Michael." She looked at her lover— reproachfully, I thought. "I don't want to go outside."
Couldn't she see that the house all around her was falling in a shower of sparks and burnt beams? Ignoring her protests, I helped R. down the stairs, zipped her into her parka, pulled on her red rubber boots, tucked her piano-black hair into her knit beret. I called a taxi that took us back to the apartment on Meyran Avenue, and gave my last five dollars to the driver. I put her in bed, and told her I loved her, and tried to enfold all her trembling limbs in the warm envelope of my body.
R. moved out two days later, and ever since—it's been twelve years—has been leaping, afire, from high windows that belch black smoke. In all that time, though there have been many other leapers, I have never managed to catch a single one, or learned, on the other hand, how to stand back and just watch them fall.

Isn't that beautiful? It made me cry when i read it, but I'm a big softy.
Merry Christmas, I hope you all had days as wonderful as mine.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

It ain't over till it's over

I can't believe it has taken me this long to tell you guys about the performances of The Crucible. It's been a busy week, what with the show, my birthday, and travelling to the states, but I don't think that's a valid excuse. OK, here goes.

So the dress rehearsal was awful. I barely slept on Tuesday night, and had to get up super early for my seminar on Wednesday morning. I got out of that at 11 and went to the Debating Chamber (DC) where we were performing. I love being in a performance space by myself, where i can potter about with busy work to calm my nerves. I finished setting up chairs, sewed up a hole in one of the actress's skirts, made a cross out of a window frame to hang from the lighting rig and generally tried to keep my mind off the performance.

I decided that the space didn't look right. Almost every play that SUDS put on is in the DC, and it's hard to really own the space. I decided to run in to town to get some white fabric to hang from the ceiling to try and make the space look more like a puritan church. This meant getting the bus in to town (stopping off at home to drop off my books, write the text for the program and send out a last minute remainder to people on the facebook group for the show) and then walking up to the fabric shop, which is about a mile, all uphill, from the nearest bus stop. I bought 10 meters of white fabric, and walked back down, got the bus and zoomed back to campus. 

At 2, Mark showed up. Rob, our tech guy, was still too ill to get out of bed, so Mark came in to finish our tech set up and show me how to run the desk. While he was fixing lights I was up the scaffolding tower hanging fabric and trying to make a brick box with black curtains look like a church. Set design soothes me. You can see transformative results so quickly. The set looked good, the lights were sorted (my favourite touch, a last minute idea of mine, was to have a 10 minute slow fade in the last act, as the characters prepare for dawn, projecting the shadow of a cross on the back wall. It looked AWESOME!) and now i just had to wait for the actors to arrive.

I always get horrifically stressed about performances. I love directing, but if it were up to me i don't think I'd show my plays to anyone, or at least I'd not be present while they were being performed. I felt quite bad for my actors, because despite how bad the rehearsal period had gotten, they had never seen me REALLY stressed. I could barely speak. I was running around like a mad thing, finding last minute props and fixing last minute problems, while they were all in high spirits, chatting and getting ready. It was hard keeping everyone in the room, they kept wandering off, and James somehow got thrown up on by a drunk Frisbee player about a minute after he put on his costume. So in keeping with the experience as a whole! At one point I turned around to find all the boys in the cast huddled around the piano singing an improvised musical version of the show. Everyone seemed excited and not at all nervous, which made me even worse.

Once everything was sorted and we had about 20 minutes to go, I led the cast warm-up, and gave them a little pep talk. I then let them get on with their last minute preparations while i tried to calm myself down. We started late, because people seemed to think that the play started at half past 7 instead of 7, which gave me even more time to stress out, but eventually we got underway. The lights dimmed, a hymn started playing, the audience took to their seats and the actors took to the stage.

And it all went perfectly!

I have absolutely no idea how, but all three of the performances were great. Each one better than the last, with no missed lines, no wardrobe malfunctions, no nothing. I was amazed as much as i was delighted, and unbelievably proud of my cast. The really great thing was that after every show they would say they did well, but immediately pick up on what was wrong or lacking and vow to do it better the next night. They were striving for perfection, and i loved them for it. While a lot of casts, after doing a good show, will become complacent, and the next night will lose energy because of that, here each night the cast tried harder, and the effort really showed.

All the stress, all the tears and sleepless nights, all the worrying and moaning and wishing i could just give up; All that exhaustion paid off. I'm not saying I'd want to do it again, or that i don't think the show would have been as good if we hadn't had to go through such hell to get there, but I think that all the pitfalls and problems brought the production group so close, made us such a supportive and caring group, in a way that would never have happened had the play run smoothly from the start. That closeness showed itself on stage. We made audience members cry, and i really can't ask for any more than that.

(Sorry for the poor quality of the video, there's a better one on my facebook but i couldn't embed it. You get the idea though)

I love my cast and i miss them already, but I'm never directing anything with a cast that big again! Now to start work on Antigone.

Epic men of flesh and blood

Another fascinating Letter of Note, this time with a comment from the website underneath it. The letter amazed me, but it was the comment that made me cry.
The human race is a wonderful thing.

Anonymous said...

I've spent 27+ years in the military, a substantial amount of time planning any operation, even simply transporting men to a range, is planned in as great an amount of detail as is possible AND contingency plans are made in the event that things go awry.

This is a typical example of such contingency plans. And this is one that touches a special place in my heart, as I remember the day of the first lunar landing very well. I remember the predictions by some that the lander wouldn't find level ground and would be unable to return our astronauts to Earth. I remember predictions that the ground would be only a fine powder miles deep and that the lander would sink, killing our astronauts. I remember predictions that the astronauts would sink in the powder and die trapped beneath the lunar soil.

And I remember my mother watching the landing with caution, ready to comfort me should any of the disaster predictions come to pass.

And I remember the tears of joy in her eyes when the lander finally landed safely and the pure exuberance of the first human footprint being made on the moon.

The fine human adventure had finally began taking its first baby steps away from our small, fragile planet and toward the stars.

It's always been a keen regret of mine that we've failed to return and that some consider such things a waste. Such thinking would have kept the Europeans from ever discovering the land that became the United States and would have slowed the development of our entire species.

It smacks of ingratitude to those who risked their lives in pursuit of exploration and discovery and denigrates the remarkably few sacrifices of those who fell in the line of duty to discover, to strive to excel and blaze a path untravelled before.

Those who traveled that great journey to the moon returned changed men, they saw our world for the small, fragile and special place it is for us, that we take for granted.

And they shared those thoughts with us tirelessly and wish that WE ALL could make that journey, so we could appreciate our special world more fully.

How could you fail to be moved by this?

oh what a price to pay

I was browsing Letters of Note today and came across this letter. It's from Capt. Robert Falcon Scott (how cool is Falcon as a middle name?! My first born son will now be Gatsby Falcon Gubler.) to his wife, on his return journey from the South Pole. It might be the most beautiful and heartbreaking letter I have ever read. Enjoy.

To: My widow
Dearest darling — we are in a very tight corner and I have doubts of pulling through — In our short lunch hours I take advantage of a very small measure of warmth to write letters preparatory to a possible end — the first is naturally to you on whom my thoughts mostly dwell waking or sleeping — If anything happens to me I shall like you to know how much you have meant to me and that pleasant recollections are with me as I depart — I should like you to take what comfort you can from these facts also — I shall not have suffered any pain but leave the world fresh from harness and full of good health and vigour — this is dictated already, when provisions come to an end we simply stop where we are within easy distance of another depot. Therefore you must not imagine a great tragedy — we are very anxious of course and have been for weeks but on splendid physical condition and our appetites compensate for all discomfort. The cold is biting and sometimes angering but here again the hot food which drives it forth is so wonderfully enjoyable that we would scarcely be without it.
We have gone down hill a good deal since I wrote the above. Poor Titus Oates has gone — he was in a bad state — the rest of us keep going and imagine we have a chance to get through but the cold weather doesn't let up at all — we are now only 20 miles from a depot but we have very little food or fuel.
Well dear heart I want you to take the whole thing very sensibly as I am sure you will — the boy will be your comfort I had looked forward to helping you to bring him up but it is a satisfaction to feel that he is safe with you. I think both he and you ought to be specially looked after by the country for which after all we have given our lives with something of spirit which makes for example — I am writing letters on this point in the end of this book after this. Will you send them to their various destinations?
I must write a little letter for the boy if time can be found to be read when he grows up — dearest that you know cherish no sentimental rubbish about remarriage — when the right man comes to help you in life you ought to be your happy self again — I hope I shall be a good memory certainly the end is nothing for you to be ashamed of and I like to think that the boy will have a good start in parentage of which he may be proud.
Dear it is not easy to write because of the cold — 70 degrees below zero and nothing but the shelter of our tent — you know I have loved you, you know my thoughts must have constantly dwelt on you and oh dear me you must know that quite the worst aspect of this situation is the thought that I shall not see you again — The inevitable must be faced — you urged me to be leader of this party and I know you felt it would be dangerous — I've taken my place throughout, haven't I? God bless you my own darling I shall try and write more later — I go on across the back pages.
Since writing the above we have got to within 11 miles of our depot with one hot meal and two days cold food and we should have got through but have been held for four days by a frightful storm — I think the best chance has gone we have decided not to kill ourselves but to fight it to the last for that depot but in the fighting there is a painless end so don't worry. I have written letters on odd pages of this book — will you manage to get them sent? You see I am anxious for you and the boy's future — make the boy interested in natural history if you can, it is better than games — they encourage it at some schools — I know you will keep him out in the open air — try and make him believe in a God, it is comforting. Oh my dear my dear what dreams I have had of his future and yet oh my girl I know you will face it stoically — your portrait and the boy's will be found in my breast and the one in the little red Morocco case given by Lady Baxter — There is a piece of the Union flag I put up at the South Pole in my private kit bag together with Amundsen's black flag and other trifles — give a small piece of the Union flag to the King and a small piece to Queen Alexandra and keep the rest a poor trophy for you! — What lots and lots I could tell you of this journey. How much better it has been than lounging in comfort at home — what tales you would have for the boy but oh what a price to pay — to forfeit the sight of your dear dear face — Dear you will be good to the old mother. I write her a little line in this book. Also keep in with Ettie and the others— oh but you'll put on a strong face for the world — only don't be too proud to accept help for the boys sake — he ought to have a fine career and do something in the world. I haven't time to write to Sir Clements — tell him I thought much of him and never regretted him putting me in command of the Discovery.

Isn't that wonderful? I'm sitting in a warm house in Washington DC, watching the snow fall and trying to comprehend the grace and bravery he must have possessed.
Stirring stuff.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Never give up. Never surrender

It's production week.

After the fiasco with the snow last week, and the loss of 3 days of rehearsal, i was really hoping everyone would come in this week ready to work extra hard in the two days before the show. Yesterday was the tech, and i was on campus at 11, having picked up the costumes from the warehouse (who opened especially, and who have been completely wonderful throughout). I was planning on dropping the costumes and going back home, and then in to town to pick up last minute props before the tech run at 6, but i ended up staying on campus all day sorting out props, costumes and last minute health and safely issues. The main this was the one piece of set i asked my props people to source. over 3 weeks ago i told them that the only piece of set i needed and didn't have was a wooden bedframe/bench, basically a pallet that could double as both a bed and a court bench. Yesterday they said that they had found something which wasn't completely right, but would do. It cost £15, and since it wouldn't fit on the bus i had to pay £10 for a taxi to bring it to campus. It was completely wrong. A 1920s looking wicker love seat. I was so annoyed. There is no time to find something better, so we're using a coffee table from Falmer house common room instead. It looks wrong, but so much better than what we bought.

6 o'clock rolled around and my cast showed up. We have a new guy, also a fresher, doing tech, and he's lovely, and does what he's told, but he's very slow. I was expecting to do a quick line run while he was setting up, then either do a run or a cue to cue with the lighting, but neither of these things happened. In the end we did a speed line run, which wasn't speedy at all, whilst sitting around in our freezing performance space. If i had known it would be so slow i would have just done a run and worked around his setting up the lights. It felt like a wasted evening. Everyone was in high spirits though. Before we started the line run all the boys stood around the piano, improvising a musical version of the play. I might just put that on instead, it was great.

Fast forward to today. I let myself have a bit of a lie-in, much needed, and then headed in to town to pick up safety pins and thread to fix up some issues with the costumes, then back to the costume warehouse again to pick up a dress that was being adjusted, then on to campus to set up the room, go to a dissertation tutorial, and make sure everything was in order so that the dress could run as smoothly as possible. My producer, Sarah, has had a family emergency so she's not around, but being in the space by myself, free to faff about with seating, curtains and props calms me down, so it wasn't too bad. At 5 the cast started to show up and get in to costume. Anisa, the girl who's in charge of my props and costume, was there to sew up rips and replace buttons and generally take care of the cast while i made sure that the dress could actually run as a performance. Emily, who plays Betty Parris, taught everyone a psalm to sing during act 1, which sounds amazing. Then we got to the actual dress rehearsal.

For every run that we've done for the past 2 weeks I've been telling the cast to do it as a performance. This means that they don't ask for prompts, or ask to go back a few lines and do a part again, or break character at any point, or mess about during the breaks between acts. We have yet to do a run where this actually happens, and tonight was no different. The actual run wasn't even bad, it was just utterly lifeless. With very few exceptions, they all seem to be reciting their lines rather than feeling them. There were parts where whole pages of dialogue went missing, people asked to re-start scenes, staging we established weeks ago suddenly changed for no reason. All in all, it was an awful run.

I gave them notes afterward, told them what went well and what was bad, told them that i know it's the last week of term, and that they all have essays and exams and are exhausted, but that none of that is an excuse. I want this play to be good. I know that they are great actors and great people, and i want them to be proud and excited to be on stage in a play that they feel is good, but the only way that can happen is if they all put in all the energy that they have, every night.

They say that a bad dress rehearsal makes for a good first night, so by extension maybe this hellish rehearsal process will make for the best show ever. Somehow i doubt it, but right now all i can do is hope. Hope, and sleep.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

subconscious victim

I did something unusual yesterday without even realizing it.
I was in Urban Outfitters, just browsing, picking up some things to try on, and when i got to the changing room i realized I'd only picked up clothes by one designer, and that, while aimlessly wandering through the store, I'd picked out every piece from his collection. In honour of this strange but marvellous occurrence, i want to introduce you to Upson Downs.

William Anzevino’s career as a renowned fashion designer began with his early work for the Andy Warhol Museum – not bad a start hey? Following the launch of the Anzevino and Florence label, he earned the position as one of the most innovative fashion designers around. With all this under his belt, Anzevino’s current project Upson Downs takes inspiration from different subcultures from progressive fashion to underground music, delivering clean-cut designs that are both modern and unique.

So simple, so sexy, so soft. I spent WAY too long in the dressing room trying on each piece. I might get myself the one at the top as a birthday present to myself and wear it every day for the rest of my life...

Friday, 3 December 2010

"It's playing for a living."

This is fascinating and wonderful and I love each and every one of these men.

I love James's moustasche. I love how awkward Jesse is. I really love Ryan when he says "have you seen my work in Young Hercules?"
The way they talk about David Fincher and Danny Boyle is fascinating to me. It makes me want to direct direct direct.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

I could sleep wherever I lay my head

I've not posted for a couple of days because life got in the way. This week has been exhausting.

We did a run on Tuesday which was probably the best we've ever done it. I refused to prompt people, so if they got in to trouble they had to get themselves out of it, and remarkably it worked! The run came in a whole half hour shorter than when we did it on Monday, and hardly anyone forgot their lines. Act 3, which for so long has been the problem act, was the best in the run; I was amazed. The performances are still lacking some energy, but i think that will come with costume, lighting and the presence of an audience. Some of the actors have taken their performance tot he next level, and bits of it are truly beautiful.

I've felt bad this week because in both runs I've been so tired that i haven't been as focused as i could have been. I still gave detailed notes at the end of each run, but my mind hasn't been 100% on task. On Tuesday i came on to campus at 10am for a physical theatre workshop,and didn't leave until 2 in the morning because i had a presentation i needed to write. I then woke up at 6 to finish writing it before heading to campus for my 9am seminar on Wednesday, stayed in until 6 doing various bits and pieces, took an hour long nap and then went to see Vampire Weekend playing live. It was a really good day, but I'm completely shattered. Coming out of the gig there was almost a foot of snow on the ground, and today uni was cancelled which meant i could have a bit of a break, but also meant that i couldn't pick up my costumes, or rehearse. I'm so busy that even enforced relaxation time is stressful!

One of the things i did on Wednesday was propose the play i want to direct for next term (I know, I'm putting myself through all this again. What can i say, I'm a sucker for punishment). I've been wanting to direct Antigone, by Jean Anouilh, for over a year now, and yesterday i proposed my production and it got voted for, so next term I'll be immersed in 1940's french political drama. I can't wait! I have so many cool ideas, which I'll tell you about in another post when I'm less tired and headachey.

So yeah, it's been a productive week. Exhausting and stressful, but also rewarding and very fun. I'm not sure I'm ready to leave university, i don't see how real life could ever be as exciting as this.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Over and over and over and over

I honestly thought everything that could go wrong with the play had already gone wrong.
I should learn to stop jinxing myself with positive thinking.

Sam, who plays Parris, one of the male leads, broke his ankle on Friday. This isn't a huge deal, it just messes up the pre-set we were going to do, where he was supposed to carry on the girl who plays his daughter. Finding 15th century looking crutches is another issue, and working those in to performance takes a bit of thinking. Just another thing to deal with.

We did a run today, and it went well. The play is shaping up, it just needs to get much tighter. Some people still need to do a lot more work on their lines. Some people had them weeks ago and appear to have gotten complacent, stopped looking at them and forgotten them. We're running it again tomorrow, and possibly again on Friday. The cast today weren't particularly focused, and i think tomorrow I'm going to be a lot stricter with them. We need to be running it as a performance instead of a rehearsal and at the moment it's definitely too informal.

Tomorrow is going to be exhausting. I'm editing the page, going to a physical theatre workshop, meeting my tutor for next term, going to the dentist, planning and writing a presentation and rehearsing all evening. Gotta get some sleep.


Friday, 26 November 2010

I have nothing to declare except my genius

I've been saying I'd post my essay, but i was holding off until i got my mark back, in case it was worse than i thought and i got ashamed. Happily, i got my mark back today and i got a First, so go me! I'm over the moon about this.
Now i have confirmation that it's not a load of drivel, here's my essay. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as i enjoyed writing it.

In what ways does ‘The Pirate’ embody the sensibilities of Camp?

The sensibility of camp is a subject which has been discussed by a multitude of writers, each of whom seem to come up with a different set of criteria to which something must conform in order to deserve categorization as a camp object. In this essay, for my own ease and in an attempt to come to some form of clear conclusion, I shall solely be focusing on camp as defined by Susan Sontag in her 1961 essay, ‘Notes on Camp’. In so doing I fully realize I am ignoring a vast and fascinating aspect (some would argue the defining aspect) of camp, namely the association between camp sensibilities and gay culture. By focusing on Sontag’s argument, and in particular her statement that “the essence of camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration” I hope to explain how a camp sensibility is translated into ‘The Pirate’ through set, costume and performance.

‘The Pirate’ was directed by Vincente Minnelli, a major figure in MGM musicals, famous for his “adventurously stylized” productions. He, probably more than any other director, popularized the idea of integrating the song and dance routines into the action of the film, so that they appear spontaneous and effortless. One way in which he achieved this sense of naturalized performance was by creating an obviously artificial or stylized world for the characters to inhabit, with the set and costume signifying a disassociation from reality to the audience even before any singing or dancing takes place. By establishing the unnatural nature of the character’s surroundings Minnelli created a space wherein “the boundaries between fantasy and everyday life could easily be transgressed” without jarring the audience. If we consider the film in the light of Sontag’s assertion that “camp is a certain mode of aestheticism... in terms of the degree of artifice, of stylization” , we can appreciate the campness of Minnelli’s vision. The overstated visual aspect of the film, the colourful costumes, stylized sets and magnificently constructed backdrops frame the film within a code of campness, working against nature, so that the sets as well as the characters become performative.

The idea of performance, of “being-as-playing-a-role” is central to the sensibility of camp, and this is particularly prominent in the main song and dance sequences of ‘The Pirate’. Sexual desire is expressed through performance by both central characters, firstly by Gene Kelly as Serafin in the song ‘Nina’, and later in Judy Garland’s song, ‘Love of my Life’. The song ‘Nina’ starts with Kelly explaining to the men in the town the way he attracts women, before moving through the town seducing various girls, and finally ending up at a poster of himself, advertising his show. Kelly is performing his desire, but as an audience it is unclear to whom he is performing. Is the song for the men to whom he starts singing, to the women with whom he dances, or to the audience he wishes to entice to his show? What is clear is that the character is supposed to be focused upon. The women, with which he dances, far from serving as objects of desire, become a faceless multitude, entirely interchangeable and un-eroticized. As a result of this, Serafin “assumes the ‘feminine’ position of erotic objectification,” he is the one to whom we as an audience are attracted, thus subverting the traditional cinematic viewpoint of man as subject and woman as object. In this way, ‘Nina’ conforms to Sontag’s idea of “transcend[ing] the nausea of replica” by allowing something to be read in a new and different way.

Similarly, in Garland’s number, ‘Love of my Life,’ we are presented with a performative expression of desire, and here the element of artificiality behind the sentiment being expressed is made abundantly clear. The song is constructed within layers of performance. Garland’s Manuela is expressing her love to Kelly’s Serafin, who is pretending to be Macoco; but she is also singing to provoke Don Pedro, the real Macoco, whilst all the while pretending to be hypnotized. The artificiality is further highlighted by having the sequence take place on Serafin’s stage. Again, it is unclear to the audience to whom Garland’s performance is really aimed. Here, at the most obviously artificial point in the film, the audience is given Manuela’s expression of love for Serafin, supposedly “the most direct expression of ‘true’ feeling,” in the film. This acceptance of artifice in the place of real emotion adheres to Sontag’s statement that “camp refuses both the harmonies of traditional seriousness, and the risks of fully identifying with extreme states of feeling.” What could be seen as a romantic or emotional expression is instead layered within performance and artifice, so that it becomes impossible to read seriously, without the sense of “playful, anti-serious” humour on which camp is based.

This playfulness extends to the portrayal of gender and sex roles in ‘The Pirate’. I have already touched upon the way in which Kelly is ‘feminized’ early on in the film, and this fact is made even more explicit within the ‘Pirate Ballet’ sequence. Here we see quite clearly that Garland as Manuela takes on the ‘masculine’ role as an observer, the subject of the gaze, while Kelly is objectified into the ‘feminine’ position. The sequence starts with Manuela looking out of her window at Serafin, who is pretending to be Macoco. Serafin notices her watching, and plays up to her gaze by fighting the local police force. The camera then cuts back to Manuela before fading into a dream sequence. This editing leaves the audience in no doubt that the following dance routine is entirely Manuela’s fantasy; we experience it through her imagination. The image of Serafin/Macoco we are then given is highly sexualized. As the ruthless pirate of Manuela’s fantasy, Kelly’s body is on display for the audience to admire. Wearing tight black shorts and a low cut, sleeveless vest, Kelly is coded as a sexual object, the black of the costume blending into the darkness of the highly stylized black and red background so that the bare flesh of his legs and arms are the focal point. The camera is placed low, angled up at him so that his crotch is at the centre of every shot. Even the choreography is styled around the male as spectacle. In classical ballet, and in most dream ballet sequences of the period, the male dancer serves as a support for the ballerina (a good example of this is Cyd Charisse’s cameo in the ‘Broadway Ballet’ sequence from ‘Singin’ in the Rain’). Here, this is not the case. Kelly dances with other men, or alone. Only once does he dance with a woman, and then it is only for a second, and we do not see her face. This is a fantasy from a woman’s perspective in which men are sexual objects, thus producing a “provocative disjunction of gendered and sexualized understandings of masculinity,” with which the audience must try to align itself.

The fact that we see Serafin acknowledging that Manuela is watching before he puts on his exaggerated masculine performance leads us back to the point of Sontag’s, that “as a taste in persons, camp responds particularly to the markedly attenuated or to the strongly exaggerated.” All of the performances in ‘The Pirate’ are exaggerated to some extent, but Serafin playing Macoco, and Manuela when pretending to be hypnotized are the most interesting in terms of camp sensibility. In both cases we see the characters playing heightened versions of gender stereotypes. Serafin as Macoco is all machismo, lowering his voice and puffing out his chest. Manuela under ‘hypnosis’ is a heavy breathing, quivering lipped parody of femininity. This “relish for the exaggeration of sexual characteristics and personality mannerisms” firmly places both characters in the realm of camp, performing gender stereotypes to an extent that could almost be considered drag.

A final way in which ‘The Pirate’ could be considered to embody the sensibilities of camp is in its portrayal of an unconventional romance narrative. Serafin falls for Manuela’s beauty, but as an audience we get the impression that he would be willing to forget her as he does all the other women until he hears her sing. The relationship is then less about romance than it is about Serafin wanting her for her talent, to the point where he even states that “it’s isn’t essential for you to love me.” The film instead provides the audience with a “camp romance narrative... [which] tampers with romantic expectations.” The two characters do not have a typical courtship; Manuela only falls for Serafin because she thinks that he is Macoco, and only finds happiness when she “exchanges dreams for self-conscious artifice” . The film thwarts our expectations to the last, when instead of the expected union of the couple we are given an androgynous, unromantic comedy musical number.

This final number, ‘Be A Clown’ could be taken as a suggestion for how to read the film as a whole. The couple perform on a lavishly decorated stage, surrounded by artifice, encouraging the audience both on screen and off to laugh with them. If “the whole point of camp is to dethrone the serious,” then ending the film on a subversive and humorous note is a perfect summation of camp sensibility. We are presented with the “artifice and exaggeration” of the film, in terms of set, costume and performance, and told by the leads that it is alright to find it funny; in the end they remind us that “camp taste is, above all, a mode of enjoyment... camp is generous, it wants to enjoy.”


Cohan, Steven, ‘Dancing with balls in the 1940s: sissies, sailors and the camp masculinity of Gene Kelly’ in The Trouble with Men: Masculinities in European and Hollywood Cinema, eds. Powrie, Phil, Ann Davis and Bruce Babington (London & New York: Wallflower Press, 2004)

Cohan, Steven, Incongruous Entertainment: Camp, Cultural Value, and the MGM Musical, (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2005)

Dyer, Richard, ‘Judy Garland and Camp’ in Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2004)

Naremore, James, The Films of Vincente Minnelli, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993)

Sontag, Susan, Against Interpretation and Other Essays, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1961),

Tinkcom, Matthew, ‘”Working Like a Homosexual” Camp Visual Codes and the Labour of Gay Subjects in the MGM Freed Unit’ in Hollywood Musicals and The Film Reader, ed. Steven Cohan (New York: Routledge, 2001)

So yeah, there that is. Apparently i could have gotten higher marks if i hadn't sold myself short in my introduction by saying i was only looking at Sontag when in fact my research was broader. Bah, live and learn. Still, I'm happy, and that's 25% of my grade for this course in the bag.
Had a rehearsal today for an hour and a half doing the last 15 minutes of act 3. The staging is fine, so we were really just focusing on lines and motivations. It does get better every time we do it, and people take direction very well, really listening to my notes and applying them to their performance, but the lines are still weak. The interesting this was that we did a line run with everyone sitting down and it was almost perfect. They just seem to get confused when we're up and moving. It's frustrating, but i think we've almost got it.

I'm spending the evening trying to get well, getting posters printed, and going up to London to get my hair dyed. I'm thinking fluorescent pink. Good idea?

Thursday, 25 November 2010

The feet of them that hang.

The poster is done, and it's bloody awesome!

Huge thanks to Poli for doing another great job. You guys should go check out her blog, Tactless Twat. There's a link to it on the sidebar, or you can just click She takes beautiful pictures and writes interesting words.

Happy Turkey Day

A couple of random posts to celebrate my forefathers stealing from the native Americans and ruining their way of life. Pumpkin pie is tasty.

Yeah, it kind of speaks for itself.

Next we have a piece i write for the "Film matters" column on my newspaper page this week. It was supposed to be in reference to Never Let Me Go, and all the other book adaptations that are coming out at the moment, but it kind of became about Harry Potter and the unoriginality of directors. I hope you like it. I'm worried the ending isn't as clear as i would have liked, but i reached my word limit and had to make it more concise.

Whenever a  film adaptation of a book comes out, the audience is going to be split. Fans of the book tend to prefer the original, commenting on all the ways in which the film has altered the text. People who have not read the original often prefer the film. For most, it seems whichever way they first experience a text tends to remain their favourite. This generalization applies to classics, or books and films aimed towards an older audience, and it is not necessarily a bad thing.
But a change is developing, clearly defined among younger readers and audiences; the appearance of films and books which are inextricably linked. The Harry Potter and Twilight sagas, with their huge followings, have become cultural juggernauts, to the point where the characters in the books will forever have the faces of the actors portraying them. Edward Cullen is Robert Pattinson, Harry Potter is Daniel Radcliffe. Fans seem to love the franchise rather than the medium.
To an extent this makes life easier for the directors and screenwriters. They have a pre-built audience who are eager to love whatever they put on screen, so long as it doesn’t mess with the basic idea of the book. The lazy, poorly written first entries in the Harry Potter and Twilight film canon are evidence of this. These audiences don’t seem to want anything new, they demand more of the same. While this may be fine for tween hordes desperate for their safe fantasy fix, I don’t see why adult audiences should have to put up with by-the-numbers remakes.
When a book adaptation comes out which really shakes things up, either by changing part of the story, or by portraying the original text in a brand new way (think of the end of Fight Club, or Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet), it seems to first be met with resistance, before being praised for its vision and originality. Why then are so many adaptations so afraid of breaking the mould?
By their very nature films and novels are different. Books allow you to imagine characters and settings however you like, letting you create the visual world of the text within your head. In film, by casting, by choosing certain settings, the director is immediately imposing their interpretation of the text on the audience. There is no way a film can be exactly the same as each audience member’s experience of the text, and I don’t think it should try to be. If a film tries to exactly impersonate a book, it can only fail. In my opinion, if an adaptation is to really be successful, the director or adaptor must think about their own interpretation of the book, liberating themselves from the expectations of others. In so doing, the film would in some ways be more personal, more true to the original effect of the novel, and perhaps then we would have more Where The Wild Things Are’s and less P.S. I Love You’s, and the cinematic world might be a better, more imaginative place.

I had 3 hours of rehearsals today, working on act 1 and act 4. All of them went pretty well and were uneventful. I feel like we're at the stage now that we should have been at 2 weeks ago, and it's frustrating me, but there is little i can do apart from plan as many rehearsals as possible and beg people to learn their lines.

I am so ready for the weekend.

Your everafter is all i'm after

I just found this amazing mural project called A Love Letter For You and i had to share some of the murals with you.

I love some of the things i find on the Internet at 1 in the morning. Find out more, or just take a look, at

Up bubbles all his amorous breath

This is my 200th post, how cool (shamelessly self indulgent) is that? It makes me wish i had something more special to say.

Today was exhausting. I had a 9AM seminar on Aldous Huxley, then spent 3 hours editing my newspaper page, then came home to do some important emails. I went to my favourite cafe to plan some rehearsals and do some preparation for a presentation I'm doing next week, then came back on to campus for a four hour rehearsal of act 3. My cold is getting worse by the minute and the whole left side of my face is throbbing. The worst part is that ALL the cold medicine i can find is non-drowsy, and the caffeine in it will keep me awake if i take it, so i have to choose between breathing or sleeping. Not fun.

So, yeah, act 3. On Monday it was God-awful. Today we went through it unit by unit, re-working staging and making sure everyone knew exactly what they were doing. I'm hugely relieved to say that the guy i was worried about (and whose lines i spent a good few hours today cutting, in case he couldn't learn them all) had obviously been scared into working, and had vastly improved. He's still far from perfect, but he's a hundred times better than he was.

Spending 4 hours rehearsing a half hour scene, i was hoping we could work through it and then run it a couple of times, but we were working so slowly, and for some parts the lines are still so tentative, that in the end by the time we had worked through all of the units it was already almost 10, and we didn't have time to run the whole scene. It looks so much better than it did, but we still have so far to go. I ended the rehearsal frustrated, despite the improvement in the scene.

In other exciting news, the costumes are almost completely sorted and they look great, and my fabulous friend Poli just sent me a rough version of the poster, which is AMAZING! Even if the show isn't great at least it's gonna look pretty stylish.

Right, I'm dead, time for bed. I'll post a picture of the poster as soon as i get a high quality copy. I'll also treat you to an article i wrote about book adaptations, and possibly my essay on Camp. Don't ever say I'm not good to you.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Pity me, John. Pity me.

7 hours of rehearsals today.
I'm feeling worse than i have all year. My cold is worse, and y wisdom teeth are coming through, which makes me whole head ache. Had to come to campus early to book a dentist appointment, and the earliest i could get is for a week tomorrow, so i have another week of this to endure before it even gets checked out. Not fun.

During the day i planned 4 short rehearsals of specific scenes with small casts. First off was the end of act 2. The beginning of act 2 is great, but the end gets a bit messy, so it was good to go over some areas of staging and specific moments. The hour went pretty quickly, and although we got a lot done the scene still needs some polishing. Again, my cast are for the most part completely amazing, and it was an easy start to the day. Some of the lines for the scene are still slightly shaky, but i still think it's the strongest act in the play.

The next hour was supposed to be the start of act 3. Act 3 is by far the weakest, and this was an important rehearsal. One character dominates the act in terms of lines, and he is the only actor (apart from James, who just joined the cast) who isn't even close to being off book. He is the only actor I'm worried about, and he didn't turn up. No text, no call, just didn't come. For the third time. Why is it the actors that need the most rehearsal time that turn up to the least amount of rehearsals? It's driving me crazy. I don't know what to do about him. He's dragging the entire play down and i don't know what i can do to stop it. Bah. I took an hour off, took some cold medication and snuggled in an armchair.

Hour number 3 and i was doing a very short scene between Proctor and Abigail from act 1. It was one of the first scenes we rehearsed, and i haven't specifically looked at it since. Both actors are so great, knew their lines, knew exactly what the scene needs to be and took every note i gave them immediately. By the end of the hour the scene looked perfect. I just hope it stays that standard for the next 3 weeks until performance.

Hour 4 was Proctor and Elizabeth doing their scene from act 4. I love this scene so much, it breaks my heart every time. Again, both actors are awesome, great at taking direction, know their lines and are willing to really perform in rehearsal. By the end of the hour the scene was looking great. Happy, ill, tired Lucy.

After a 2 hour break, a burger, and a pint of alcoholic ginger beer i headed back the the rehearsal room for our first full run through. My producer Sarah was there to prompt so i could just watch and make notes. I told the cast not to have their scripts on stage, and to do the run as a performance, as though in front of an audience. The first act went alright, the second was slower than it should have been, but alright, the third was so awful it doesn't bear thinking about, and the fourth was mixed highs and lows. The run came in at just under 3 hours, with pausing, occasional re-running and FAR TOO MUCH prompting. Line learning is the bane of a director's life, i swear. You can rehearse for hours and hours, but you can't force lines into some one's head.

All in all the day was productive, and for the most part pretty rewarding. All but one of my cast are amazing, and getting better with every rehearsal. I'm stressing about the one who doesn't know his lines, and i don't feel i can even start work on his delivery until he knows them at least a little. The worst thing is that i know he is trying, and he gets so angry with himself for not knowing them that i don't feel i can tell him off any more. I'm getting so frustrated.

Tomorrow I'm fitting the cast with costumes, and maybe doing some small rehearsals in the afternoon, but it should be a pretty light day. I think i need it.