Friday, May 26, 2006

Signs and Omens - 5/26/06

Correction - I originally refered to the director of The Tempest in this post as Giles Scott. His name is Giles Block. I regret the error, and have corrected it below. -TWL

Staunton, VA - Tuesday was a pretty good day. I did something I have wanted to do for some time now, and that's get up early and watch a sunrise over the Shenandoah mountains. I got up at 5:00 AM, got to the main entrance to the park by 5:30, and saw a very beautiful sunrise. Inwardly, I harbor a longing to be a morning person, but all my life I've been a night person, due mostly to working in the theatre. Watching a sunset is nice, but by the time it's ended you feel somewhat reserved and even a bit mournful. Watching a sunrise, though, is enervating. Feeling that dawn light hit you just begins to renew your pysche and helps you get going for the day.

Because I managed to get up so much earlier, Tuesday seemed to be a richer, fuller day than most any other day I've had since coming off the road. By 11:30 AM I had gotten so much done that I could have sworn it was closer to 4:00 PM. In the afternoon I took Sarah shopping for her ingredients for her dinner party, and then went to see the RenRun of the Rez Troupe's The Tempest. They did a good job, with some funny and ingenious choices. Renaissance runs, for those of you who may not have remembered, are complete runs of a show produced and directed by the troupe. They are usually put together in two-and-a-half days or so, and then presented to the company at large. They are meant both to display the initial choices or ideas a troupe might have as they approach the show, and often have some eclectic elements to them. This one had sort of a Hawaiian island feel to it, complete with fishnets, a plastic palm tree, Hawaiian shirt for Ariel, formal wear for the shipwrecked travelers. etc. The show will probably not look like this in its final incarnation, as it will be directed by Giles Block, who is British. It appears the American Shakespeare Center is having a British invasion, what with Jaq Bessell and Giles Block coming in to direct. How "American" is that? Aren't there any American directors of Shakespeare out there with any stature? Later in the evening Sarah had her little dinner party. She made a vegetable pie with mushrooms, onions and such, and some spicy pork meatballs. Wine and champagne was available, and some fruit and whipped cream for dessert. A nice get-together, and a nice gesture on her part.

Wednesday was a two-Much Ado day, with a 90-minute version in the morning for students and a full show in the evening. Matinees are so tough sometimes. I think actors complain about them because students tend not to know how to conduct themselves, and it becomes a competition to get their attention for the show. Some kids like the show, some sleep through it, others continually chatter and find ways to see if they can provoke a reaction from a cast member. You have to do matinees to build any sort of audience for the future, but the practical reality of the whole experience is that few of them will ever go to the theatre again. I still have to say that the Virginia student audiences are far and away much more attentive than any New York student audience I've ever seen. During the evening performance, someone's cell phone went off in the last scene of the show, which Tyler cleverly turned into a good live theatre moment. He does a tiny little dance with Alyssa during "man is a giddy thing," and he used the music of the cell phone's ring to dance to the rhythm of the ringtone. And when he says "play music," he pointed out to the guy with the cellphone, who was most embarrassed, as he was desperately trying to hide his phone. Now, you don't get that in the movies! In between shows I went to Blue Mountain Coffee with Daniel for lunch, and then pretty much slept in between shows.

Thursday turned out to be a fairly frustrating day, because I began to work on my post-ASC blog site, which I hope to move to my own server space. If you want, you can preview it here. Nothing much is there yet, and I don't plan to have it go live until late June. But the frustrating part came when I tried to activate a spam blocker and also to figure out some CSS coding to place a picture in the header. I am going to try to use Wordpress, which is a self-contained blogging system you install on your own server. It uses MySQL and pHp languages, and is pretty powerful. But I don't know as much CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) as I should, so I got a bit frustrating trying to translate the code and insert the picture I wanted. After about 4 hours in the morning fussing with the thing, my right thumb became sore, so I gave up and went out for a bikeride, and then treated myself to a sandwich at the NY Deli in town (they specialize in making NY-style deli sandwiches, piled high with meat, and all with a NY Yankees theme). After a shower I got ready for last night's Planet which was pretty good. There was another funny moment in the play with Tyler. One of Tyler's lines is "No shit!", and we've been playing that up where, after he says it, he apologizes to the audience, usually to some little kids in the audience. There have been numerous funny moments with that, but last night someone in the audience actually said "Sorry" before he could, which broke everyone. Greg when downstage and offered the young lady a job, and Tyler could barely recover. There was another little girl on the stools stage left, and during the "trial of Cookie," there must have been another moment with her, but I am offstage then, so I don't quite know what happened (check Tyler's blog, he'll probably have all this in). Q&A followed (I still dislike them), and then home. I've been getting to bed before midnight these days, trying to be able to get up early and get the day going, such as it is.

It occurs to me in writing this that I have no real news about anyone else in the troupe other than what happens backstage. The backstage chatter tends to be innocuous enough. But I don't see everyone most of the time other than at the theatre or social gatherings at 605. When I get home I tend to go into my room, have a cup of tea or a spritzer, check a few things out on the web, catch the end of a ball game, and go to bed. The basketball playoffs are still going on, and sometimes I wander upstairs to catch a little of the action, but basketball is still not my game. Of course, many in the troupe are still pondering their next move. Kevin has his half-brother in town, and more of his family is coming in soon. Several are still trying to set up auditions. As for me, I am still trying to work out my own future of sorts. I did turn down The Birthday Party, because it simply didn't pay to tie up my entire winter break with such a small role for such little money, but I have yet to decide about Forum. I have downloaded the two songs which Senex sings, and talked to Chris about it, who played Pseudolus in college (his signature role) and really knows the show. The money is actually good, but I still don't know whether or not I want to tie up all that time and be cooped up in a theatre again. Because of having to direct the opera at Fredonia that would mean I'd be committed to a production the entire fall, up to Thanksgiving.

The more I think about that and write about that, the less inviting it sounds. I think it's indicative of the changes I've been going through lately in terms of my attitudes towards theatre. Has this gig with the ASC burned me out totally? Or is it just the natural process of aging, that feeling that you've gone so far and there's little point in going further? And yet, there remains the small, shrill but still audible voice of the actor, which can never refuse a part. In this business, sometimes you develop a real fear that if you turn a role down, you'll never get another one. I hate saying "no" to people I like and enjoy working with. It remains to me a constant source of amazement that your life continues to change no matter what transpires. As I was taking my bike ride yesterday I went past one of those church roadsigns, and while I don't recall the exact quote, I do remember it being something about following the changes in your life. I've been trying to be attentive to signs and omens like this over the past few weeks. Does wanting to see a sunset mean that I look forward to a "new day, a new time?" Is it time to become that "morning person" I've always talked about wanting to be? -TWL


Myself said...

I hope that you don't mind me checking your blog basically as a way to see what I'm missing. I really am missing Blackfriars too.

I very much appreciate having this little window into what's going on there, and am fascinated by your insights. I love the anecdotes like the one about the cellphone, find myself looking forward to the next posting.

It saddens me to hear that the impression that you get of students is so disenchanting when it comes to theater. I have always loved theater, and went to the St. Louis Repertory theater every season from the time I was 12 until I graduated High School, came here, and then started ushering at Blackfriars.

I suppose the point of that little information blurb is basically to say all hope is not lost: there are still some students who are grateful for the work that you do and are enriched by it. We may be the minority, but we’re here.

So thank you.

jim said...

Aren't there any American directors of Shakespeare out there with any stature?

GILES BLOCK and JAQ BESSELL have something else in common other than the fact that they are both Brits: they've both worked for Shakespeare's Globe in London, the only other true re-creation of one of Shakespeare's theatres besides that beautiful Blackfriars Playhouse you are performming in now...and they've both been a part of the ASC/Mary Baldwin College MLitt/MFA Program that provides training for teachers, actors, and directors in Shakespeare-in-performance. Giles has directed at the Globe and has been Master of the Words for mulitple productions at the Globe over many years. His familiarity with Original Practices, lights-on Shakespeare, and communicating Shakespeare's words with clarity is pretty darn extensive.

AND, on top of all that, they are the only two Brits who have directed for the ASC in its eighteen-year history.

I have it on good authority that the ASC Artistic Director is the opposite of an Anglophile and that he believes Shakespeare done by Americans should be done with American accents...but he told me that he would hire Brits occassionally.

Jack Hunter said...

Turned down The Birthday Party? Did the over $500.00 dollars enter into that decision?

Not a well known name in Shakespeare, still check out Kate Powers of Buffalo originally at

Sunrises to me mean I remained at the pub well past closing.