Sunday, 31 August 2008
Wednesday, 27 August 2008
It's hard to trust that something of interest will develop organically on stage and it's even harder to allow your carefully prepared personality to drop a little - but when it does and a more vulnerable persona emerges its electrifying for the audience. Most of us are finding it shocking to recognise how many physical gestures and speech patterns are habitual and we all make ourselves cringe from time to time when we fall back to the safety of our little tricks. When this happens the struggle is to bounce back and stay open to the real possibilities of the situation.
Occasionally I just withdraw, give up and want to get off. I also sense I'm better in minor, supporting a proposition from another actor, than I am taking the major focus. In reality I'm delighted to be still in the mix and still producing work eight days in.
The group changed for this second week, which has brought a new dynamic. There are slightly more of us on board, but the mood is still light, supportive and occasionally giggly. We're also getting fantastic - if a bit competitive - at volleyball, which we devote at least an hour a day to.
I'll be sad when the week ends.
Sunday, 24 August 2008
Friday, 22 August 2008
Tuesday, 19 August 2008
It's so much about trusting your body and I'm finding that my best work comes when I'm slightly detached from my thoughts (being jet lagged, it turns out, was a bonus.) The moment I plan or predict the next action is the moment everything freezes and I become self-consciously hung out to dry. Excruciating for me, boring for the audience. My scoundrel's refuge has always been in ideas and language and even on day two the deficiency of this default defence is beginning to reveal itself (especially as occasionally this leads me to think that ideas without action are enough!)
A lot of our work is based on pre-performance, training us to be in a position to both grasp the major focus of the audience's attention, whilst also finding strategies and conventions through which we can trust and play together. The mat work, focused on realigning our spines, is already giving me a bit of an energy boost.
It feels full on, but the group are kind, and every time somebody falls on their face, there is both support for the risk they took and encouragement for them to try again. The truth is I'm really enjoying myself.
Monday, 18 August 2008
It's also day one of Kasia's Physical Theatre summer school so I'm fighting the jet lag by running around the theatre. I'm really pleased I've signed up though as it gives me a chance to work with Kasia as a student and really understand how much she gives as a lecturer.
From September we start three pathways through the degree programme. Theatre Arts, Applied Theatre and Physical Theatre but all of the staff are very keen that we should find common links between these. One idea, which I've really grown into, is the thought that the three programmes might share a foundation performance course, which would give all our undergraduates a basic vocabulary and approach to rehearsals and performance. It would enable us to genuinely share our work and encourage the students to appreciate good practice on the programme, which ever pathway it was coming from. With that in mind it's great to take part and see where Kasia's own training has led her. It's also just fun and liberating as a lecturer to be taught by a colleague.
We varied the work - some games, some direct performance skills and an hour of Feldenkreiss mat work. By the end I was tired but happy not to be completely out of my depth.
Friday, 15 August 2008
The ever effervescent Pop Hahn has only missed one fair in the last 65 years and eagerly took on the role of guide. For me the apparent highlight was a chance to see the two largest pigs in the world - but Pop kept us in suspense for this moment by taking us methodically from exhibition hall to exhibition hall, past tractors, remarkable pumpkins, pampered roosters, home grown tomatoes and rural crafts.
After three hours of rigourous agricultural showcase, we stumbled across a Watermelon Seed Spit Competition. Matt did well - over 25 feet, but my trajectory was all wrong and I barely cleared 12. The Hoosier in the stetson next in line analysed my technique with me.
'You were all up - it went real high, but the seed's so little you need to bust it out yer mouth like a bullet, you were floating it like a paper aeroplane.'
Pop Hahn was on the move again and I had to feign interest in the a talk by the world's fastest Omelette maker to avoid the dog splaying demonstration, which he was keen on attending.
Finally we arrived at the big pigs and had our photos taken with them before refuelling on deep fried gherkins, Pepsi donuts, root beer ice cream sodas and a mountain of thin cut fries... most people leave the fair feeling happy but squiffy and we didn't break with tradition.
...and I'm now the proud owner of an All Indiana Watermelon Seed Spitting Competition participant's pendant!
God Bless America!
Thursday, 14 August 2008
Wednesday, 13 August 2008
N'Awlins is an incredible place and I feel a real desire to return to the deep South soon. I love the city's contradictions, its pride, its romantic underbelly. I can see a city in waiting - unsure still what was lost during Katrina and now salvaging its narrative and music rift. I'll miss sitting on my ornate cast iron balcony in the heat of the night, the music drifting up from Bourbon Street, I'll miss looking out to the spire of St.Louis. I'll miss the colourful cottages on St.Peter's, the rattling streetcars and and the huge ships pulling round the crescent of the Mississippi. I'll miss the black humour. Most of all I'll miss the ghosts. I feel at home with them.
I was exhausted and slept for both of the short flights hopping north back to Matt and Aida, but I woke in time to see the Brickyard laid out below as my plane circled once and brought me safely back to the mid-West.
Standing in front of the house many of the lines came back to me. I'm not sure much of the town can have changed since the play was written - but it's interesting how Williams is kept relatively anonymous. Apart from an annual Stella and Stanley hollerin' competition - which takes place in March and must be great fun - there is little formal recognition.
On our final afternoon a torrential rainstrom came. Gianni and Bruna were already aboard a Mississippi steamer when it hit, whilst Feda and I stoically stuck to our planned Cemetery tour. Unfrotunately the guide was terrible -her mind seemed elsewhere, distracted, thrown by the rain and forgetful of the details, she dealt mostly in the bleeding obvious.
'Here's a grave belonging to... ummm ... a family. And here's another one. This one has a cross on it! Look at us, like a load of drowned rats. It sure is raining hard.' etc. etc.
Most of the party wisely drifted away towards coffee shops, until finally we were the only ones left - holding out for the advertised promise of an audience with the high voodoo Priestess Miriam. The occasional stop for shelter had made it late now and our guide was in a hurry to go and feed her eighteen year old cat...
'I'll will take you to the Priestess - but be warned she'll talk and talk, like a verbal trance. When you need to go, you just tell her you have another appointment. She's very important, a bit like the Pope, and she'll want to try and get a sense of you. Make sure she shows you the temple. It's really neat!'
We entered the house, but the Priestess had clearly expected the tour slightly earlier and, demob happy, had now settled down to beans and rice in front of an episode of Dr Phil. Although pleasant enough, she wasn't in the mood for blessings. Feda floated around the incense, doll key chains and T-shirts in her shop whilst I stood by and waited for the torrent of wisdoms.
'From England, huh?' asked the Priestess, barely looking up from the TV.
'Good. I'm going on holiday myself tomorrow for a couple of weeks. We're flying to Buffalo and renting a fly drive. I'm going to cruise around Canada looking at the lakes and sights and stuff. It'll be great and its very reasonably priced if you get the airline to book your van in advance.'
This wasn't quite the possessed insight I'd anticipated. So I tried one last tack...
'The spirits?' I said quietly 'Do they come with you or do they stay at home?'
'Spirits? What? Spirits, come with me?...Don't be stupid!' And with that she turned up the volume to signal time was up.
There's a deeply melodic rhythm to this city, but there are as many cul de sacs as pathways and not even the prettiest paper lanterns can soften that.
The final approach over the 28 mile Lake Pontchartian causeway bridge sets you up for a change of tone. We came at in in half sleep, after a night on the road, and for many miles just seemed to be driving further and further away from land until slowly, through the mists, the sky scrapers and high rises of the new town gain shape on the horizon. A modern river Styx. There's a ferryman's distance between N'Awlins and the rest of the States.
Everything here is pre or post Katrina and the effect of the hurricane three years on is still devastating. Over half the population of just over half a million still have not returned and having settled now in other places the feel of a ghostown hangs heavy. This is all hard to imagine in the tourist saturated, upbeat French Quarter, where we took up lodging at Mme Olivier's 1836 townhouse, but a short trolleybus ride away up Canal Street and you're in the aftermath of an apocalypse of biblical proportion.
However, there's also genuine anger at the State's ineffectual response and the lack of support to help put storyville back on the map. Perhaps the corruption, the spontaneity, the garishness of the city has made benefactors think twice about regeneration. Perhaps they're put off because it is, as it appears, unreal and a dream, unable to cope with anything but the most romantic of infrastructures.
On our first evening, as the temperature cooled, we took a walking tour through the Quarter with Mary, whose lived here for forty years. She told great stories over murder, mayhem, funeral dirges, followed by joyous second lines once the body is interned and the spirits of the ladies of the night who turn themselves at dusk into stray cats and hang out in Jackson Square.
'We live short lives,' she said wiping the condensation off her glasses 'short, but happy lives.'
Saturday, 9 August 2008
We'd just assumed - in a terribly European way - that leaving Memphis would be a simple matter of catching any train south. So leaving Gianni and Bruna sitting on the luggage in Starbucks, Feda and I headed off to make arrangements.
The next four hours were hysterical. Yes - there was a train, but only one...and it had already left at six in that morning. We'd probably just have stayed up with the musicians on Beale overnight, but Saturday morning's train was already full with Memphis residents escaping town to avoid Elvis' week - so no go there. The bus was possible, but took forever and again meant waiting 'til Saturday. Airline prices were astronomical so that was out! The hotel prices had also dramatically shot up as the weekend approached and the town filled with non Memphis residents arriving from all over the world FOR Elvis week! So sitting tight also seemed the wrong move. Admitting temporary defeat we rejoined the others and went for a good lunch to reassess - or think American.
Thinking American means not relying on public services to get you out of trouble and, even before the catfish and fresh lemonade arrived, Feda had begun to negotiate with the concierge about hiring a car overnight, just to do the six hour push through the delta. In then end this proved cheaper and (because a van the size of a Sherman tank was delivered to the door almost before we'd paid the bill) much more fun.
Feda was on a roll, after the cul de sac morning. She blagged us into Sun Studios - even though we were too late for the official tour and Gianni had his photo taken with Elvis' mike and then with a brilliant sunset over the river side park we finally escaped Memphis, hit route 55 and headed into Mississippi and the Deep South - laughing all the way.
Having patiently sat through miles of driving, hours of conversation in English and even the occasional non rock n roll song on the car radio - he finally got to pull into Graceland, 58 years after first falling in love - and I can't adequately explain how much Gianni loves Elvis in words alone! - with the music. The torture was carried on a few minutes more when, rather cruelly I felt, the consensus of the group was to have lunch before heading off on the tour. Still Gianni waited tapping a beer mat with increasing excitement, whilst we took an age to get served. Fried banana and peanut butter sandwiches later we were off, through the gates and up the drive to the surprisingly modest looking house.
The tour itself is short and the house is completely decorated in early seventies kitsch - a style which I guess Elvis did more than anybody to help create. I, myself didn't get the ghosts here at all, but it was cool to watch some of the footage of the King in concert. Every now and then I looked at Gianni, face lit up like a child, eyes moving across every room - a video camera recording as accurately as possible every detail, imagination in overload. Here was Elvis walking up the stairs from the games room. Here he was tuning a guitar on the circular chair in the jungle room, here he was helping to make hamburgers in the kitchen...
We left long after all the attractions had closed down and headed back to Beale Street for dinner. Feda and I asked a street band to play anything by Elvis for Gianni. As soon as the first chords hit - he was on his feet, shades in place, taking a pose, left leg shaking and then dancing on his toes, joy all over his face. Everybody in the vicinity turned their heads and began to applaud the happiest 63 year old in town! Thank you, Thank you very much!
Arrival also becomes hugely exciting when the route is fairly straight and after unloading at the motel, a pelvic thrust away from Graceland we headed into town and the neon oasis of Beale Street. It was a bit dreamy drifting through the hot summer night with music pouring out of every doorway and from every alley.
Early next morning we were up and heading into town to see the Civil Rights Museum built into the Lorraine Hotel, where Martin Luther King was murdered in 1968. We parked up a couple of blocks away in a silent and deserted side street. From the moment I stepped out of the car I felt shivery, something malevolent was absolutely tangible. I wanted to get back in the car and drive away. We circled the building looking for the entrance and eventually turned a corner and saw the first floor balcony with room 306, the aquamarine door - the stage set still standing from one of the most dispiriting moments of the twentieth century.
Dr King had spoken in Memphis the night before he was shot - his famous 'I have seen the promised land' speech and this was cast in iron on a doorway across the street. More moving to me was a simple quote from Genesis on a plaque by the side of the road
'They said to one another
Behold, here cometh the dreamer...
Let us Slay him...
And we shall see what will become of his dreams.'
The museum itself was fantastic, Kayne, an exceptional young actor/guide took us round, involving us over and over again with questions and interactive demonstrations of the civil rights struggle. Fantastic video and audio footage aswell. Towards the end it became slightly macabre - the gun that was recovered, the bullet that killed, the window from which the shot was probably fired, the bloodstain on the concrete, too many artefacts of a 'celebrity' death - and I pulled away from the tour and hid in the bookshop.
After the rains it was good to see the pizza party return around midnight - soaked, but satied. The strom quickly passed, which disappointed the ten or so English guests, who'd spotted a golden opportunity to rekindle some form of blitz spirit.
So desperate were they to dig in for the long haul that they remained huddled like mice in the corner of the lobby long after the storm had turned to heavy drizzle, trapped in a heroic disaster movie of their own making, united excitedly around a couple of apples and a packet of pringles, salvaged from their rooms on the 'unsafe' upper floors.
Tuesday morning - Chicago sparkled and I went to meet my old friend Bridget from Milwaukee, who I first met in Canterbury, when I was a first year undergraduate twenty years ago. She was on a one year exchange programme and although she's been back since I can't think that we've seen each other for fifteen years.
It's amazing to realise that nobody in the industrial world is ever really lost. Facebook, blogs, reuniting websites all make it seemingly possible to re connect with anybody from your past. Its the surveilliance society's secret joy ... hidden treasures in the shape of old friends, unexpectedly reappearing to delight you. In the end we just sat by the Chicago river filled in the gaps, laughed a lot and I couldn't believe how fast afternoon turned to evening. A fantastic day!
Monday, 4 August 2008
We are a motley crew of road trippers who've come north from Indianapolis. Bride and groom - Matt & Aida, Maid of honour - Federica, her non-English speaking parents - Gianni and Bruna, myself and a plastic Elvis which has been attached to the windscreen to guide us in times of trouble.
Gianni is the numero uno Elvis fan del mundo and in a couple of days we'll be turning back south for Memphis, a pilgrimage he's been waiting 58 years to make and that he can't even think about without tears appearing in his eyes. When my poor Italian runs out we sing softly to each other. Love me Tender, Suspicious Mind, In the Ghetto etc etc. It has already become the universal language of the road.
The wedding was a great success, although it all went by in a bit of a blur. The main focus for all of us was keeping Matt and Aida on track to have the best day of their lives, whilst making sure we paid due respect to each of the cultural traditions and expectations in play. Still if anybody wants to ask me how to stage manage a American, Italian, Eritrean, British Catholic wedding in Indiana - I think I may have just become the world's leading expert? ... at the very least I feel I could crack out a Ph.d from the experience. The main thing is that Matt and Aida are very, very happy - so from that point of view mission accomplished.
Remarkably twenty minutes after I broke away from the main party tonight (a timely quest for a bit of private contemplation after ten days of complete co-habitation) the storm rolled in. The rest of the crew went looking for pizza, whilst I was intercepted by a police car as I headed for a lake shore stroll and told in no uncertain terms to take cover. Sirens began going off and I just about made it in doors before the eye came rolling over downtown.
It's a very dramatic end to the day!