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.