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Performance # 25 & 26: It’s Nice to Laugh

Once again I am pulling a double response. Last time I did this was with King Lear at the Old Vic. and The Red Barn at the National theatre. These two performances were both entertaining, but didn’t leave me with enough post-show thoughts or discussions to need to write two separate responses. On Saturday, December 10th , I saw a production of Kiki’s Delivery Service at the Southwark Playhouse. On Thursday, December 15th , I saw a production of The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales theatre. Although they were two extremely different stories, they were both very entertaining and full of spectacle on all levels.

Undeniably Un-magical

The Southwark Playhouse is a very small theatre space near the Elephant & Castle stop on the tube. It’s a nice diverse space with a great lobby, and a very good place to open more experimental pieces of theatre. Kiki’s Delivery Service was originally a Hayao Miyazaki movie released in 1989. It tells the story of a young witch, Kiki, who must find a town to live and work in for a year to prove that she is capable of being independent, it’s the rite of passage into womanhood for a young witch. The story was adapted and changed slightly for the stage version, but there were still many elements of the plot line that were kept the same. I was so excited to see how they dealt with the flying in this show. The first night we were supposed to see it the performance was cancelled due to “technological difficulties,” so I actually became even more excited for the flying technology. But come Saturday I was highly underwhelmed at the methods of flying throughout the show.

I wish they had just stuck to one or two flying methods, because it seemed like they used over 10 different flying techniques in a show a little over an hour. There was puppetry, there was a suspended cord, Flyers being held up by other cast members, projection, and pantomime, I believe. It seemed like the designers couldn’t really make up their minds which devise of flying they liked the best, so they just dabbled in several different styles. I think the lifting and the puppetry were the two most successful styles. Although the use of projection for the train scene was very nice, but I could still imagine puppetry working well for that scene. I liked the actors being lifted up by fellow actors because it kept the whimsical feeling of Miyazaki’s animation throughout the performance, while still making the flying look very cool. The pantomime was probably the lamest version of flying, because even though they had the sound and lighting effects, it was still so incredibly obvious that it was fake. Maybe that was partially due to the lack of “selling” from the woman playing Kiki, but I don’t think any actor could make that technique come to life.

During all of the “magical” scenes I started watching the kids in the audience to see if they were enjoying the show. As someone who was raised on the magic of children’s theatre, it’s very important to me that the kids believed in the show. Whenever I looked over I saw a lot of slumped bodies and distracted faces (cue disaster music). Oh no, the cardinal sin of children’s theatre-the child can never be BORED! I felt so bad for the kids, but I felt even worse for the parents who realized they’d paid way too much to be sitting for an hour…although maybe they were happy for a single hour of quiet. I think more magic could’ve been developed if they had stuck to a more concise concept for the show. Also, there really wasn’t any audience interaction even though it was in an extremely small black box theatre. I mean, come on, people! That’s half the fun of those small spaces! Oh well, they’re still in the early performances, so maybe it will develop more as time goes along.Although I am legally not a “kid” anymore, I was pretty bored too.  Because of my devised theatre class, I’ve been thinking about elements of shows that could be made more effectively in a more limited way. Sometimes we would create our best work in rehearsals because we were given extreme limitations. I felt like there was a lot of untapped moments of wonder that could’ve been created in a less technological setting. Create more limits = create more magic. With small theatres like this one I know they can’t afford to put much money into work-shopping a new piece of theatre, but unfortunately I think all this show needed was another six months or a year of work-shopping. It seemed like a first draft rather than a final performance, which is unfortunate for these guys.

Overall, meh. Kiki seemed really un-invested and bored throughout the whole show. Kiki is supposed to be a spry, awkward, and excitable thirteen-year-old. What I saw was a early to mid-twenty year old who wasn’t quite sure how to capture the essence of Kiki-there was a lot of awkwardness and a lot of pausing. The pausing, my goodness! It was almost as bad as Macbeth at the Globe. (I’m tellin’ you, it always comes back to Macbeth). Tombo, Kiki’s friend and kind of a love interest, was good, probably the best in the cast. He had a lot of energy and put some great character work into his smaller characters. He had the most energy and was the most entertaining to watch. He also was the one of the maybe two people who seemed really connected and invested to the show. Overall there was not a lot of connection in this ensemble, which was odd, because there were less than ten people in this cast. The sidekick cat, Jiji, is extremely sarcastic and sweet in the movie, similar to the cat in  the TV show Sabrina the Teenage Witch. I liked the puppet as the cat, but they made the character pretty different from the movie. As an actor and director I understand wanting to make unique differences between the movie and the stage production, but you do somewhat need to stay close to the elements of the show in order for your audience to understand it. Not with all adaptations, but certainly with this one. The cat, Jiji, had some really funny moments! But it wasn’t the cat from the movie, it was another sarcastic magic black cat sidekick.

It was so sad to see one of my favorite childhood movies somewhat mishandled by this company, so I wish them the best of luck as they continue their performances. I really do hope it continues to grow and develop as they continue.

The Magic of Self-Confidence

I remember when The Book of Mormon became really popular when I was in high school, because I kept hearing these songs over and over and over and over from certain members of our theatre group at school. Fortunately these songs are pretty good, or else I might’ve snapped and crushed that boy’s scrawny little neck. The Book of Mormon was written by the same creators of the Comedy Central TV show South Park, which is a show all about pushing social limits and making jokes that offend more than entertain a lot of the time. I honestly really haven’t watched more than clips from this show, but I know I’m not the biggest fan of South Park. Although I greatly enjoy The Book of Mormon, this show must come with some Advisory Warnings: this show is not suitable for those under 16 (maybe 18 depending on your parenting style), those of extremely devout faith, or those who are easily offended on a lot of things. I guess I would just recommend researching the show a bit before you book your whole family tickets for a seemingly oddly educational show on the West End. What a surprise that would be, for sure. I had never seen this show performed before, so it was really nice to put the songs into context of the show.

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The Book of Mormon is about Elder Price, a young missionary in the the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (aka Mormons), and his journey as he is sent to Uganda for his mission. There’s an extremely funny joke about this young man’s deep love for Disney World and Orlando, Florida that is brought up throughout the show. That was definitely a strength in the writing of this piece- there were several jokes that were perfectly brought up at random moments that made the joke even funnier. The script is almost “actor-proof,” which means that no matter the talent of the actor the script will still seem funny. It’s not that any of the actors were bad, it just seemed like a lot of the poor dears were plum tuckered out! I can’t imagine the exhaustion that performers have after a week of eight performances a week of a two-hour show. Just incredible! Unfortunately, a lot of these actors seemed really tired. Their energy wasn’t the same energy that you feel on an opening night, it was the forced energy of “please just let me get through this so I can go sleep after this.” However, there were some really great performances. Arnold, the sidekick, had this mouth that seemed to unhinge every time that he gleefully smiled at Elder, which was both funny and terrifying. Mostly terrifying, actually. Arnold had a really nice connection with the audience and was just a solid performer overall. He overplayed some bits that got old, but that could either be him or his director telling him to stick with whatever gets the laughs, so I wasn’t too angry. His love interest, a woman from the tribe, had a beautiful voice. Her face was a little out of it, I don’t know if she tried to make her seem spacey or if that was an unconscious choice. My favorite actor was the male lead of the ensemble, oh my goodness he was so good. He had so much energy and presence that I always sought him out on stage. He was a great example of taking a small role and making it one of the most memorable parts of the show. So if you’re a little miffed about your casting in a show, maybe look at it like a challenge rather than an insult. Never, never, try to upstage your leads, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t put the same amount of work into it, right? I’m learning this lesson more and more every day.  A lot of times I wanted to watch him more than the lead, Elder! Elder had the perfect “All-American” look, but fell flat on stage for many of scenes. Elder was a strange one, because he did have some really funny moments, but he seemed pretty boring in comparison to a lot of the other actors, unfortunately. His voice was also very…uh…well, not only nasal, but also very constrained. We didn’t hear his vibrato until the second act of the show, and even then it was very conserved. An odd choice, but hey, I’m not the director. The Book of Mormon is a lot of fun, but beware of the extremely crass nature of the show.

The Final Weeks

Oops, I once again, did it again. Apologies for the silence on here, but the mix of the end of semester and the holidays has done a great job of taking up all of my time. As much as I may want to share every detail with you folks, since I have such a wide time span to cover I will only highlight the big-ish events that have happened since we last met. Met? Parted? Ah, who knows. This weekly update starts with Monday, the 5th of December-YIKES!

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The week of December 5th-12th was filled with lots of finishing up. I had a final paper that was due for Intro. to Theatre History by Friday, and of course the endless amount of rehearsals for our Stage Combat test and Theatre Encounters performance. Lee (Intro. professor) gave us a list of prompts to choose from for our essay. I chose to write about how classical theatre can be just as relevant as contemporary drama. I used The Merchant of Venice, Father Comes Home from the Wars parts 1&2, and Henry the IV parts 1&2 as my examples. It definitely wasn’t my strongest essay; I’ll admit it freely. I’ve never been very good at technically sound writing, although if I really wanted to be I could probably work and practice to get better. Although you’d think over ten years of schooling would be enough practice, right? Guess not. I really enjoy writing these blogs, and the main reason I look forward to writing these is because I’m able to write in my own voice and not worry about the technicalities. I’d like to think I do a pretty good job of fooling people into thinking I’m astute person, but honey, there’s a big ol’ mess under this…messy… façade. If you re-read some of my blogs you’ll probably notice it, but my biggest flaw in my writing is my vagueness. I’ve almost always gotten the same feedback on essays: “Some nice ideas, but I didn’t really know what you were talking about because you didn’t explain the subject enough.” Fair enough, fair enough! I guess it doesn’t pay to just have the pretty ideas, huh? Anyway, I’m digressing too much, I apologize. I do better in class discussion because I’m able to develop my thoughts and become more concise in my opinions as the class progresses. I’m also able to feed off the ideas from others and form new opinions. Does it sound like I’m trying to make excuses for a lack of literary talent? Gosh darn it.

As a performance or performance exam moves closer and closer, I’ve found that it’s very easy to become stuck and lethargic in rehearsals. I get it, it’s the end of the semester, you’re tired and just want to go home and watch Netflix as your mom does your laundry. I get it! But my dudes, you gotta realize that everyone is feeling that way-especially your teachers. It’s not like they get to drop everything and go party after classes, they either have grading, more classes, or rehearsals-or just, LIFE! We all have to “deal” with life, and I’m finding it more and more annoying when people try to use “life” as an excuse not to put in the effort. Something I’ve been learning throughout my college years is that it’s all about effort. You get out what you put in. It’s a cliché saying, but it wouldn’t be cliché if it wasn’t true. Those who put in the effort, show the passion, and keep working, are the people you will remember and the people who will continually get work! It can really drive me crazy to try and sit and nod sympathetically as someone tells me about how unfair their life is, or how hard rehearsals are. I’m not saying that their rehearsals/lives aren’t hard, but it seems like the people who continuously work are also the people who don’t complain as much. There’s enough pain and suffering in this world, so why don’t we try and realize how good we have it? Especially around this time of year, folks. When did I turn into a phony inspirational speaker? Yikes, sorry. You’re not here to receive a lesson, you’re here too…I don’t know…why are you here? I personally found it hard to find the passion or inspiration to continue rehearsing, so I’m really just using this platform to give myself a lesson. Whenever I found myself sitting or just slopping around, my inner voice kept urging me to go explore-there’s so much of London you haven’t seen yet, AK! But-inner me, it’s, like, soooo cold outside…and Gilmore Girls is heerrree…sooooo. See? Even I, the magnanimous and magnificent AK (please realize my joke) lacks the motivation to do work. That actually happens to the “magnanimous” and “magnificent” AK all the time, sigh. Good grief this is a depressing post-apologies, people, apologies.

On Thursday (the 7th) was our final class and final for Shakespeare scene study with Ben. Because Josh and I started our scene the week before, we didn’t have to prepare a new scene (HOORAY) for this Thursday. Everyone was required to present a scene, however, so I did make a cameo in another group’s scene. Working on our All’s Well That Ends Well scene was so much fun, and I wish all experiences with Shakespeare could be this fun. However, that is not the case, as I know from personal experience. I think everyone did a pretty good job, actually! It was cool to see the growth in people’s performances, especially seeing a difference in people having an understanding of the text. Ben has been a really great teacher; I wish I could finish out the rest of the year in his class. I have learned a lot from his class, from my own scenes and from watching others perform. I was talking to some class mates about how we’re going to have to hold ourselves up to the “Ben Naylor Standard,” also known as WWBD? (What Would Ben Do?) when we return to our classes in the spring. I think it’s important to do textual work no matter what kind of show you’re in, it’s always going to help the actor’s understanding of their lines and the show. On Friday morning we had a workshop with the wonderful Jim (insert long and confusing last name here), who was Erik in Nice Fish! On Monday he said the the workshop would be about working on long-form improvisation, but because of the amount of people and the short amount of time that we had, I’m not surprised that we didn’t actually do long-form. Instead we worked on games that help keep the actor present and on their toes throughout the performances or rehearsals. He kept mentioning “the line” that we cross when we step onto the stage. So we played games where we crossed “the line” and had to be as natural and random as possible. Although was it trying? It was all about not planning actions and just going with a gut instinct. I’m excited to possibly bring back some of these games to the Catawba improv. team, which I was missing mightily during this workshop. It was a lot of fun! I think it was pretty noticeable who had a hadn’t done improv. work before, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good or bad thing. I’ve certainly noticed myself getting into a trap of pre-planning jokes or bits right before the show begins, so it was nice to focus on honest reactions. Friday night I ventured with some friends to the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland. It was gorgeous, the neon lights have a strange beauty about them. Below the lights resides the drunk, the cranky, and the excited inhabitants of this wonder-world. Because it’s London, the prices for rides and food were pretty ridiculous, but we decided to go on a couple rides. I try to push away the thoughts about safety on these rickety death machines, but somehow these thoughts tend to linger. I mean, think about it-these rides get set up in a matter of days, and are moved around from place to place. How safe can they really be? There were walls made out of trash bag material in one roller coaster, so that definitely made me feel secure in my bearings, let me tell you! It’s also not the best idea to entertain thoughts of the zombie apocalypse as you’re walking out of the “wonderland” whilst being surrounded by thousands of people. I can go to some dark places, folks.

On Saturday I went to go see a performance of Kiki’s Delivery Service at the Southwark Playhouse. We were supposed to see this show on Thursday, but they cancelled it due to technical problems. It was kinda underwhelming, unfortunately. After seeing it I thought, well, what technical issues were there? I’ll talk about it more in my performance response, but it was sad to see a childhood memory mishandled. I finally went to a service at the famous Westminster Abbey, but I was pretty unhappy with the service. I was raised a traditional Episcopalian (a denomination of Christianity), which is pretty close to all of the Anglican services in England. But man, this service was so stuffy and uncomfortable. It was super cool to be able to sit right next to the altar, but this also meant I was sitting behind a couple of the ministers and I sat next to one of the readers. I’ve always been taught to sing loud ‘n proud, but this gentleman next to me really took that saying to heart. The warble was amusing, but I felt bad for giggling because this man was obviously just trying to raise his voice in prayer. Oops. I just felt so uncomfortable at this service. I know these large historic churches like Westminster or St. Paul’s cater to the tourists, but Westminster felt even more like a façade than a real community. The music was beautiful, but I definitely didn’t feel like I fit in with my worn down jean jacket that’s covered in patches. Ah, oh well, at least I got to experience a service there. Sunday afternoon was spent checking off some very touristy things around London. Our program gifted us with tickets to the London Eye at the beginning of the semester, so a friend and I decided to go ahead and use ours before the semester was over. We lucked out on having a very beautiful sunset at the late hour of 3:00 pm, although the sun doesn’t really set until about 4pm. Having a fear of heights, I was hesitant about the London Eye, but overall I felt okay. There were just a few moments where I had to sit and breathe deeply because I had looked out onto the ground or felt the capsule rock in the wind. The sky was a bright clear blue tainted by the burnt shade of the setting sun. The Thames glistened in the fading light and I realized that my semester was coming to an end. After the Ferris wheel we decided to take a short trip down the Thames because we had some tickets given to us. As much as I love sitting in confined areas with loud children, the boat ride was very nice. Although the sun was still partially in the sky, all the lights had been turned on, so London was looking especially beautiful.

I’m getting close, folks, I promise! Monday morning brought the long awaited final performance in Theatre Encounters. I was surprised at how many of our peers showed up to come watch our performances, it made my Grinch heart three times bigger. I thought they went pretty well! It was also great to get good feedback from our peers who had watched the performances. Watching the other group perform was such a sweet moment, I felt like a proud stage mom. We’ve watched each other develop these performances for weeks, so it was a pretty big moment to watch them perform knowing how far we’ve both come since our first rehearsals. I’m still really passionate about the story that we chose for our play, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I kept picking at it later in life. I’d like to see it as a full production, either as a stage play or as a full devised piece. Who knows! On Monday afternoon we had our final rehearsal for stage combat. Our exam was on Tuesday morning, and it went by so quickly. Everyone in the group passed, but there are different levels of “passing.” There’s passing, passing with merit, and passing with distinction (the highest). I passed with merit, which of course was very nice, but you know me, if there’s a chance to self-criticize I’m going to take it.  I’m glad I passed with merit, but I could’ve worked a little harder, or, I dunno. I would’ve been nice to have received the highest passing. Oh well, we turn the page. I was sad to say goodbye to my two wonderful and inspiring teachers, I will definitely keep looking them up to see how their careers are going.

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Rachel and Bethan, my two wonderful Stage Combat teachers 

Tuesday afternoon and night brought a wonderful farewell tea at the National Gallery, and a night of ice skating in front of the Tower of London. Although I did have my rollerblading days in the past, I’m afraid those skills didn’t really translate onto the ice rink. I only fell once, but it was a pretty solid fall. Apparently my tactic to stay stable is to viciously grab onto other people in hopes that they will fall and I will stay afloat. Not surprisingly my tactic failed me and I brought my friend crashing down on to me as the whole rink heard a loud thunk as my skull bounced off the ice. After a few seconds of birds circling my head I was fine, but I was definitely thankful when they announced it was time to get off of the rink.

Wednesday and Thursday were the days to pack up, clean up, and say our goodbyes. On Wednesday night the theatre kids had a very sweet goodbye session, and once again my Grinch heart grew with joy from those around me. Similar to summer camp, a lot of us didn’t start to become close until the last few weeks, so it felt like a rude interruption to have the semester end just as we were all starting to become closer. I felt overwhelmed by the love and support I have from my UConn and FSU families. I now have a whole chain of connections all up and down the East coast, which makes this semester seem even more incredible. Being one of the students thrown into this program, it meant a lot to be adopted by these folks. Thanks for the memories, thanks for the laughs, and I’m always here to provide entertainment or advice. I wasn’t expecting to feel so sad to leave my flat, but watching the decorations being torn down made me remember how temporary my living situation was. I sure as heck know that I’ll never be able to afford such a nice place if I’m in London again, so that hurt a little bit. Hah! My family came into town on Wednesday, so since Wednesday I’ve been swept up in travelling with them and getting to spend some quality time with our clan. Because this is mostly an “educational” blog I won’t put too much on here about it, but I’ll just say that I’ve had a really great time. We traveled around London, a looong day in Paris, and a couple days back in the lovely city of Edinburgh! For all of you mushy romantic types, I gleefully say that I am not a fan of Paris, and I will happily explain why. I wanted to like Paris, I really did. But between my visit in 2012 and this past week, I am still unhappy with this city. Paris has always seemed pink to me. The city’s aura, I guess, it’s like a sultry pink smog that suffocates the city. I dislike that despite of the city’s long history; they still decide on marketing “love” rather than their history. It just seems like such a façade, and that doesn’t appeal to me. If you like Paris, great, I’m not saying you’re wrong to like Paris, but Paris and I really just do not get along. Something about those silly baguettes perhaps….

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Well, was that enough? I’ve still got four shows to catch you all up on, but I think that’s a plenty good place to stop my “weekly” update. I’ll be sad to stop writing these updates soon enough, but I think it would come off way too selfish if I continued to do these back home. Currently I am burrowed away in the airport awaiting my flight to Germany! It’s my first Christmas away from home, but I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to be with a great friend of mine, so at least I won’t be alone. I still don’t really think that it’s hit me that I’m leaving London. Although I had quite the angsty period on Sunday as I sulked around the Southbank writing poetry and dreaming of a life living in central London. Come March it’s going to hit me like a ton of bricks, so…that’ll be fun. Alrighty. Onto the next blog, the next stage, the next project!

Performance #24: Just Keep Swimming

Last week we saw a performance of Nice Fish, a play written by Mark Rylance and Louis Jenkins. The play is almost entirely made up of poems by Jenkins, but the smaller scenes and connecting lines were written by Mark Rylance. Louis Jenkins writes really beautiful long-form prose poetry, which lacks form or frames like classical poetry. Because of this style, it was easier for Rylance and Jenkins to develop these poems into monologues and scenes. Jenkins’s writing style, as far as I can tell, is already very conversational. I was able to read about the poetry and the play before I saw the play, so I came into the show looking for how they used poetry, because I thought it might be a lot more conceptual than it was.

This morning we had a Q&A session with one of the actors, Jim Lichtscheidl (gesundheit!), who played Erik. He spoke to us a little bit about the development of this show and the rehearsal process. Turns out this play has been changing and developing throughout its entire process, and it began as an incredibly different play than it was now. I didn’t realize how much of a collaborative process this play had been, although not enough to be labeled a collaborative or devised piece of theatre. He also spoke about what it’s like to work with a star like Mark Rylance, and how you keep the onstage chemistry true to the characters and not about the actor on stage. Mark Rylance is known for a tick named “downstaging,” which means that he will repeatedly return to the front of the stage to make connections with the audience rather than the other actors on stage. Mr. Lichtscheidl spoke somewhat affectionately of this, but did say that he had reminded him of it many times. Although Rylance does have an incredible natural magnetic connection with audiences, he does somewhat owe it to his scene partners to be present on stage for at least a part of the scene. This never seemed gimmicky or pretentious, but an honest connection to the audience. Rylance really does have this strange openness with the audience that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, it’s so comfortable and familiar feeling.

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If you’ve ever tuned in to A Prairie Home Companion radio show, you’ll be familiar to the Mid-Western humour that the host Garrison Keeler brings to his writing. This was the same dry humor in Nice Fish, which was a really funny show filled with a lot of dropped jokes. My definition of a dropped joke is just a delivered joke that fails to receive a reaction or laugh from the joke recipient. Usually the silent reaction will be funnier than the actual joke. Lichtscheidl made the comparison from Mid-Western humor to British humor, which I’d never thought about before. Both cultures have a very dry and sardonic humor that works in very quiet quips and a stony response to bad jokes. I never would’ve thought Minnesotans and Londoners would’ve had the same humor, but hey, the world works in funny ways.

Lichtscheidl also spoke about his career as an actor, and his own definition of success. He’s been based at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, Minnesota for almost twenty years, and has been constantly working in some show or another. This, to me, was really awesome to hear about, because I’ve been realizing that I don’t think I’ll ever want that fame that a lot of young actors seek. If I could continuously have employment in a show or theatre project, I would be much happier because I’d be constantly working. He made three really good points: Know your goals, take note of those you enjoy working with, and gave an encouragement to live our lives. Theatre represents life, so you should experience it and garner stories to help you become a better actor. Take time to travel and experience things outside of our small theatre world, because there are so many stories that haven’t been told. It was really inspiring to hear this from an extremely relatable point of view.

Nice Fish is a play about two old college buddies, Ron (Mark Rylance) and Erik (Jim Lichtscheidl) who go ice fishing on a lake in Minnesota. Throughout the day (?) they talk about their lives, the world, and even get a chance to catch a sauna. A young woman, Flo, finds them and invites them to dinner with her grandpa Wayne who is a spearfish hunter. Between these scenes a strict park ranger pops in and out to make appearances. It’s funny how easily the play is summarized, similar to Waiting for Godot, because all of the action happens in the text.

This was quite an absurdist piece of theatre, and actually, not a lot of people in my class liked it. A literature term that has bled its way into my theatre terms is Reader Response Theory. To summarize, RRT, it is the natural projection of our own lives and experiences onto stories, performances, films, etc. For example, whenever I watch King Lear, I always project the plot line of A Thousand Acres (a book spinoff) onto the sisters. Can we ever go and see a show or movie and never be effected by your own projections or sub-conscious connections? How could a show completely numb us to the point of forgetting our own experiences and purely experiencing the performance? Anyway, to steer away from that black hole of a discussion, I’ll move on to my next point. Nice Fish was a very open ended play, so many of my peers felt like they had to create their own meaning from the performance. I don’t think Nice Fish is about consciously making a meaning, but looking at what feeling you’re left with in that moment of confusion, and discuss those remaining thoughts with yourself.

Nice Fish is a very existentialist play about people examining the choices in the lives, how things may have gone differently, and how to move on from here. The reason I couldn’t relate to No Man’s Land was because the internal conflict was for a specified age group, but I felt extremely connected to the internal conflict in this show because of its “ageless existentialism.” (term coined by Lichtscheidl) Although, even then I slightly disagree with that term. I agree that it was a universal existentialism, but there was definitely a difference in reactions to situations. The existentialism of the young is not knowing what to do, but the existentialism of the old is not knowing what you should’ve done, and the possibilities that could’ve sprung from those choices. This was the most moving part of the show for me, because it was so relevant and beautifully performed.  The young person’s existentialism was seen in a much more positive view, from the voice of Flo. Flo is Spring, youth, and all things that seep beauty, but in human form. Usually existentialism has a brooding dark cloud hanging over it, but Flo represents the endless possibilities of youth. Although Flo and Wayne both reminded me of spirits from A Christmas Carol (See? Reader’s Response Theory). Flo is very similar to the first spirit, the spirit of Christmas past, who is ageless and somewhat prophetic. Wayne, Flo’s grandpa, is the spirit of Christmas present- he is jolly, old, and full of vague metaphors. Ron and Erik are really the main philosophers of the show, and spend most of the show dreaming of their pasts.

There was also this constant underlying fear of legacy in this play, although I saw it mostly in Erik’s monologues. Due to the choices you’ve made, what will you leave for others and how will they remember you? He has one monologue where he talks about a time when he started stealing mail from his mail route, and the small sense of control that he felt over these minute decisions. He’s now the post office guy, the guy with hundreds of letters in his attic. But without this decision he wouldn’t be the same man. Would people remember him if he hadn’t committed those extremely odd crimes? Perhaps not. Towards the end of the play the cast sang a song with the repeated lyrics “remember me.” I can’t help but think that Ron and Erik are terrified of being forgotten, I mean, who isn’t? It’s a dark tunnel to travel down, but I guarantee some really interesting pictures of your life without you in it, so maybe take a look.

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Left to Right: Erik, Flo, Ron, and Wayne

There was this strange mysticism that hovered over this performance, a feeling that I was watching a folktale or a legend. There were very small puppets that were used throughout the show that added to the myth-like sensation of the show. They were used to force perspective for how far away the fishermen were from town, but they were also just s’darn cute. There was Flo’s dark house (house kept on frozen lakes for storage, heating, etc) and sometimes we watched Flo (the puppet) staring over the lake, or reading Moby Dick on her couch. It was so cool to have that tiny little speechless scene happening while the monologues by Ron and Erik continued in front. As I said before about Wayne and Flo, they were very mystical characters. A more literal comparison than A Christmas Carol is Father Winter and Spring-or youth, in my opinion. It was so sweet watching Ron look at Flo, because you could tell he was just in awe of her radiance. He was totally enamored with her, and it never felt creepy or weird, because it wasn’t about that, it was like watching the sun.  Today our speaker pointed out how every character was a season: Ron: summer, Erik: fall, Wayne: winter, and Flo: spring. The park ranger also had these odd mythical elements. In his main soliloquy he speaks about being chosen by God to be a park ranger, and goes on to allude that he may be an angel? I don’t quite remember this part, and I wasn’t able to get my hands on the script yet. Even the use of poetry makes this play more ethereal and absurdist even though it’s dealing with very mundane characters and situations.

At the end of the play, Ron and Erik have a progression into death, where they become an elderly couple shuffling off the stage. Also, the physical work for this piece was amazing, it’s so nice to see old people not played in a slapstick manner.  The scene followed the progression of life, and ended with the couple reaching up and grabbing two huge fishing hooks and being reeled up into the sky. This opened a whole new can of worms (pun intended) for us to ponder. Do we await death like a fisherman waiting for a fish, or are we caught off guard and hooked without time to figure out if we’ve lived a “shelf-worthy” life or not? Someone in class brought up the really good theory that this scene was displaying the theory that we all “live under the layer of ice.” I can’t quite say what the ice would be in our world, but that sure sounded like a half-decent philosophical theory to me. They weren’t scared of the hooks, when they reached up it seemed almost perfunctory, and they patiently awaited being pulled up. It was such a graceful ascension, and left me very confused. It was one of those endings where you’re not supposed to be happy or be sad, you’re just supposed to “be.” Which sounds like a big ol’ hunk of malarkey, I know.

Well, what a show this was. I’m really thankful to Jim Lichtscheidl for coming and talking to us today, because it really helped me when I sat down to write this. This was one of my top five shows that I’ve seen this semester, definitely. It was such a comfortable show, and I think that’s partially because it was all American actors, so it felt very nostalgic to be seeing an all American cast.

 

Week #14: It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Finals

Well, it’s been a week! A week has passed. Just like how so many weeks have passed this fall without me even having a chance to glance as them as they passed by me. With finals and flights approaching, I think I could say that at least a few people in the program may be running around looking like chickens without heads….maybe including myself.

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On Monday we had our last “make up” stage combat class. Because of all the wonderful day trips that our programs provide us, we’ve had to squish around some classes so that we could still meet for the required hours. Would you be surprised if I said that we focused on our final choreography? No? Well, me neither. Because that’s what we did, and will do until our test, yikes! My biggest problem is not getting too mad at myself in this class. Because when I get mad at myself then I get too worried about things and once I start worrying and overthinking, I usually start to mess up more. Even though my peers are less than 10 feet away from me, in my mind I’m still the only dummy dumb enough to mess up this choreography. Unfortunately, my old dance teacher was right, “Perfect practice makes perfect.” If you practice in bad form or without intentions, then that’s the only way you’re going to remember it.

Finally, my time to shine this semester! In Intro.  to Theatre History I was the partial-class discussion leader for Blue Heart. We had to split the class between Blue Heart and The Tempest, and I’m sure many were happy to be free from my clutches. Writing questions is a strange skill that I haven’t practiced often, and I’m not very good at writing questions. I’ll write you arching metaphors between ants and macaroni, but if you want me to ask you about it, you’re stuck. A lot of my questions seemed to fall flat, which is fine, but overall I think it went pretty well. It’s funny to see what parts of questions people will find intriguing, because it was usually something I didn’t really ask about. This isn’t a slam on myself or my peers, more of just a funny, “well, that’s life” kind of shrug moment. Oh well, we carry on and turn the page.  In Theatre Encounters we furthered detail work on our moments in our performance. I knew these days would come in Devised theatre, and they finally have. We’re starting to have a really solid frame and some nice scenes, but when it comes to cleaning up the show, that means some ideas go and some are re-worked. It’s so hard not to remain stubborn and defend your ideas, but if doesn’t communicate with the audience or flow with the other scenes, then you should just really be a team player and suck it up. Most often than not, a much better scene will be produced by collaboration or workshopping, it’s just the initial tear of letting your “brilliant” ideas go to the communal scrap fire of ideas.

Ah, Tuesday, if I could make it a holy Sabbath I would. Because it’s really great not having classes on Tuesdays, let me tell you. Like I’ve done many a time, I loitered at the National theatre with my cheap coffee and laptop in their café. Until I was rudely plucked from my seat and repeatedly asked to move so that the geriatric ward of London assisted living could come and take my table. I held back tears as my pride repaired itself, and I eventually harrumphed and moved on from my mid-morning travesty. After that injury I made myself think forward to that night’s production of Henry IV at the King’s Cross theatre by DONMAR Warehouse theatre.  Thankfully this production did not disappoint.

What, Stage combat, again? How, and why so soon? Well if you didn’t understand my previous description of our class situation then you might need some help, friend. But yes, stage combat again! We spent the majority of our time really focusing on the rapier and dagger choreography. Sometimes I forget to breath, and by the end of the fight my body is like a wrenched up sponge, yearning for air. At the end of class, we performed our fights for everyone, which was a nice “pre-exam” test to give us an idea of how our nerves might feel. This was also our first time going “full-speed” without stopping. My adrenaline was definitely racing, and that helped my reactions come out louder and clearer, which then should hopefully help the relationship and story be very clear between me and my fight partner. I can’t believe the exam is so soon, it’s crazy and terrifying. So I’ll move on so I won’t have to think about it too much. On Wednesday night we saw the awesome performance of Nice Fish starring and co-written by Mark Rylance at the Harold Pinter theatre. It was a play about the ice fishers of the Northern mid-west and the many levels of boredom that are reached on those wide stretches of ice. Not necessarily about the boredom, but about what these fishermen may discuss, well, it’s more complicated. You’ll just have to read my performance response, so there. Unfortunately, Mark Rylance wasn’t signing autographs, so I paced outside in the frigid for nothing, huh? That’s fine, that’s fine. It really was a wonderful performance, and I’d like to buy the script.

On Thursday morning we had our last session with JP at SOHO studios! This session we focused on narrative voice overs and an introduction into the work of audio books. JP had us record two different clips from a documentary or a corporate voice over, and then we brought in our own samples to read from. I brought a section from Look Homeward, Angel, by Thomas Wolfe. “A stone, a leaf, an unfound door…” Such a melancholy section, but it spoke to me, so there it went. I’ve really enjoyed these sessions in the studio, they’ve been a great eye opener into the world of voice-over and voice-acting.       In Ben’s Shakespeare class we continued to work on scenes. We did two and half scenes today, and ours was the half. Me and my partner chose a scene from All’s Well that Ends Well. We realized that we hadn’t had any men as women yet in our class, so we decided to be the scene to do that. I play Bertram, the young rascal, and Josh plays Diana, the young chaste maid that Bertram unsuccessfully courts. It’s so much fun watching my scene partner discover the fun of gender bending in Shakespeare!

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Early Friday morning we drove to the lovely city of Bath for a very short overnight trip. Unfortunately, my tales of Bath will be quite short because I spent most of the trip asleep in our hostel because I was struck with a terrible cold. So if you want the adventure of a snot rag I might be able to fictionalize that, but for now I’ll spare you. On Saturday morning we took a tour of the historic Roman baths in the heart of the city. The baths are right next to the beautiful abbey, which has some gorgeous detail in their masonry on the inside. I’ve previously been to the Roman baths, but it was nice to see the beautiful large scale bath and the steam rising off of it like a hot cake. Amazing that thousands of years ago people were creating ways of leisure that we still make money off of today!  After our morning in Bath we drove to the Area 54 of England- Stonehenge. I felt so bad, because as we walked past these incredible stones, I could muster up nothing more than a “yep. That’s Stonehenge.” Probably because it’s so widely marketed across the world, so that when you actually see it in person I guess it’s a little underwhelming. We had some extremely beautiful sunny weather, but the hard grasp of winter wind had us by our skivvies, so I didn’t want to stay outside too long either. We returned to London by mid-evening Saturday night. Today I went to a very nice Evensong at Southwark Cathedral on the south bank. Kind of crazy to imagine such a sacred building in the heart of the sin and muck a couple hundred years ago.

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The sun sets faster every day, the days get colder by the hour, and I think I’m beginning to see a wrinkle- wait, no, not just yet! No worries on the last thing, but it really does feel like time has gone faster each year of college, so I can’t even imagine being able to remember my life 60, because everything will just go too fast! It’s hard to teach the self-discipline to just stop and look at your surroundings, especially when the expediency of the city pushes upon you.

 

Performance #23: All the King’s Men

Both last week and this week were filled with royalty of the English stage. Last week it was Sir Ian Mckellen, Sir Patrick Stewart, and Sir Antony Sher. This week I saw Dame Harriet Walter and Mark Rylance. This Wednesday we saw a DONMAR  Warehouse theatre co. production of Henry IV part I at the King’s Cross theatre. This production was part of their Shakespeare trilogy, which also included the The Tempest and Julius Ceasar. I’ve seen a few productions of Henry IV part I on screen and on stage. The last production that I saw of Henry the IV part I was a whole afternoon performance of the Henriad at the Druid theatre in Galway, Ireland. The Henriad is the term scholars use for the historical tetralogy covering the fall of King Richard the II and the eventual rise of King Henry the V, who we see as a young and reckless Prince Hal in King Henry the IV parts I and II. That’s right, I decided a whole day dedicated to Shakespeare performances was really how I wanted to spend some of my vacation time in Ireland, and I’ll never regret it! The Hollow Crown is a quite recent BBC series that stars many famous English actors. I preferred the Druid theatre companies’s performances, but now let’s talk about our most recent performance.

This Shakespeare trilogy is all female and all three productions are set in a prison. As soon as we arrived to the theatre a loud buzzer went off with the announcement, “PLEASE MAKE WAY FOR THE INMATES.” as a long line of “prisoners” walked through the crowds and into the theatre. It was one of those weird moments in theatre where everyone in the audience is hyper-aware that this situation is fake, but we’re all jumping into the world of the play now, even though we’re still surrounded by our friends and peers. I’m glad I did my research, because I didn’t realize during this production that they had squished together both parts Henry I and II, which would explain some scenes that I was a little confused with. The play ended with Falstaff’s banishment by the newly crowned Prince Hal, now King Henry the V.

These plays were made in partnership with Clean Break theatre, which is dedicated to producing theatre with prisoners, or inspired by their stories. Through this association came the concept, set, and character design for these shows. Each “prisoner” was given a background based off of real stories from inmates. However it was very clear within the production that these weren’t just actors when the lights went down, but there were deeper connections between the characters and stories we didn’t know about. In the online program they write about creating “families” within this small prison infrastructure. There are three main “families,” or “gangs,” if you will. There’s Sir John Falstaff and his group of rag-tag criminals, a gang of alcohol and drug addicts, who frequent the shared prison space when it’s set up as a nursery space – a space which they recreate as the Boar’s Head, from the original script, using the miniature tables, chairs and props to help them take the leap into the world of the tavern.  At one point Falstaff uses a child’s chair as his crown when satirizing the current King in a jest with Prince Hal. falstaffchair.jpgThere’s the opposing family, the Percy family, which Hostpur is from, which is a family of exercise fiends who hang out in the shared prison space. Of course there is the royal family, with King Henry the IV and Prince Hal. There were breaks in some of the scenes, where usually Falstaff would try to improv. and then the rest of the scene would come crashing down.  This happened twice, when they were insulting the mistress of the Boar’s Head, and when Prince Hal banished Falstaff from the kingdom. Both times Falstaff would just begin to unravel, and suddenly the stage lights had been switched to dim fluorescents, and guards were coming on stage holding people away from each other. I feel bad saying that I “liked” seeing this, but I really liked the reactions of shock and fear from the other inmates whenever these broken moments would happen.

I thought the prison setting and concept worked extremely well for this performance, although when I brought it up in conversation a teacher made an interesting remark. He was sad that in all male productions of Shakespeare you rarely see a veil or large design concept covering the performance, wheras he thought most all-female Shakespeare productions seemed like they needed the large set design in order for it to be “ok” to do these productions. It’s unfortunate that theatres still feel the need to validate their creative choices by possibly changing them so they aren’t –too-different. Although, like I said, I really enjoyed this concept and thought it was really well played out. It gave some really interesting new insight to certain relationships that I hadn’t really given thought to before, and was really inspirational for me as an actor. For most of my theatre “career,” I have played many many boys. Even as a little girl I remember always being pushed into playing the prince or the step-sister, but that’s when I began to realize how much fun these “ugly” parts can be. As I grew older I became more comfortable playing boys, and really wanted to in Shakespeare, because they have the best parts (for the majority)! After this performance I was so happy and lucky to meet and talk to many of the cast members, including Harriet Walter. Harriet Walter is a very famous stage and screen actress and author who is also well known in the feminist theatre circles. So it was pretty amazing, I gotta say. I really enjoyed talking to her and a professor from my school about gender in Shakespeare and theatre in general. We both remarked how odd it feels that sometimes putting on “the pants” makes you feel more like yourself. Not that you desire to be a man, but for some reason it does feel strangely more comfortable than if you ask me to wear a slip dress and bat my eyes at some Romeo. When Ms. Walter was talking her production, she was talking about how it was a call to attention for new playwrights. “Look, this is how women can be portrayed, we’re not all ingénues and frails, and there are many stories that need to be told.” I couldn’t agree more.

I guess I would call it “The Power of Play.” It’s an incredible profession to have where you can pretend to be others and project their stories for others to see. Some stories fit better than others, because some stories you’ve already shared in your own life. However, sometimes the strangest characters draw a chord in our hearts, and we feel oddly connected to these oddballs. I certainly felt this way during the production of Woyzeck that I was in last year.  I never thought I’d be sympathetic for my very antagonizing characters, and yet I remember journaling about them and feeling so tied to these, freaks, these monsters! But I think once the actor finds these sympathies and (maybe) similarities, this is when the work will come through the performance. All throughout Henry IV I knew Falstaff wasn’t as jolly or Santa Claus-y that many productions portray him, there was an edge of unknown danger, and yet I was still extremely sympathetic for him. Because the actor fully understood the character’s quirks and woes, they are able to help us, the audience, understand why we should care for them as well.

The Mystery of Sir John Falstaff is a great one that I would like to ponder over for a bit. Actors, scholars, directors, you name it they have written articles and books about this character for hundreds of years. Why? What makes this silly drunk fat man so interesting, and why do we care about him so much? Falstaff appears in Henry IV part I and II, Henry V (where he is claimed dead), but is brought back in the jovial romp The Merry Wives of Windsor. I can’t help but think this was like seeing your favorite Saturday Night Live host returning several weeks in a row, and the skits never seem to get old. Shakespeare has plenty of old blokes in his repertoire, but Falstaff’s quick wit, loyal heart, and  hilariously cowardly tendencies are what keep us wanting more from this fat knight. Playing Falstaff, to me, should seem almost as nerve wrecking as playing Hamlet or Macbeth, because of your predestined contract to the audience. Dear actor who is playing Falstaff, whether you’ve realized it or not, the audience should be expecting you to sweep them off their feet in wit and hilarity, so you’ve got a lot more audience feedback at stakes than the dramatic leads. Falstaff is somehow a mixture of a grounded bowl of potato spuds mixed with the spirit and vitality of the supernatural, which has astonished me since the first time I saw his character.

Although I thought this was a really great ensemble, there were definitely some performances I must mention. I was very intrigued at how the Falstaff was going to be, but she was amazing. Her ability to carry an edge even though she was causing huge laughs in the audience was really awesome. I’ve always loved the relationship between Falstaff and Hal, (who doesn’t, really?) and this relationship was no different. The constant roll between one-upping each other in friendly competition until Hal gets wise and pulls a prank on Falstaff that leaves him looking a fool in front of all of their friends. The ladies had really great chemistry and worked really well bouncing each other’s energies off the other. Hotspur was amazing. Her physicality seemed exhausting because she was constantly moving and always had huge energy, but she really encompassed his fiery callow spirit. Prince Hal was a very strong actress who commanded the space with the airs of a strong leader ready to take over her father’s kingdom. She had a beautiful Irish brogue that was a little muddy at some points, but I also wasn’t too mad just listening to the lyrical accent. Of course King Henry, Harriet Walter was very good, strong, pensive, and sometimes a bit preoccupied by either his reckless son or the state of his kingdom.

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Lady Percy, Hotspur (aka Lord Percy), and their child

Of course these main characters did a great job, but the real MVP awards go to the rest of the ensemble. They all had extremely detailed physicality’s, voices, and quirks to make their characters unique. There were some really beautiful moments that were spoken in Spanish by Hotspur’s father. Hotspur’s death scene was quite heavy, and Hotspur’s father just released these wrenching screams of pain that filled you with a myriad of terrible emotions. The Welsh commander, Glendower, was so funny when they injected a Welsh choir. Like Shakespeare does, there is a scene with a Welsh joke at Glendower, so his posse just rolled up behind him and began singing, because of course a Welsh villain would have a choir as a posse. Little things like that really helped the overall ensemble shine.

As I mosied my way through the cast and interrupted their normal post-show drinks, I really realized how casual British actors are. You truly have to be a huge name in film in order to have long lines of organized chaos on the West End, but if you look at any line after Hamilton people are practically losing their shirts after every performance. As I approached the woman playing Falstaff, I recognized a face. But how? Actors from other shows hanging out together, impossible! But lo and behold, there was Alice from Blue Heart! I awkwardly greeted both of them and got their signatures and briefly spoke to them about their performances. She seemed just as shocked at my recognition of her, so maybe we both got a shock out of that night. It was so inspiring to be in a room filled with incredible actresses and creators, I could feel my toes tingling the whole way home. It was just the cherry on top that everyone was so nice and open to me as well. I can’t imagine how old signatures and “wow, shucks, that was so great!” can get, but they all seemed incredibly…okay with me intruding for a bit of time. Although it wasn’t the most moving production I’ve seen this semester, it was definitely the most inspiring for me as a young actor.

 

Performance #22: Well Kettle my Blue

This certain performance response is extremely delayed, but this time there is a reason besides my own lethargy! On Monday I led the discussion in my Intro. to Theatre History class about the performance of Blue Heart that we saw on November 14th, I believe. The questions and discussions helped keep the performance buzzing in my mind, so hopefully there won’t be too much that I forget or overlook. Blue Heart, by Caryl Churchill, is two one-act plays performed together. The first was Heart’s Desire, which was about a family waiting for their daughter to arrive from the airport. The second was Blue Kettle, which was about a man who scams elderly woman out of their money by pretending to be their sons that they gave up for adoption many decades ago. We were in the Orange Tree theatre, which is an extremely intimate black box theatre setting. Throughout the performance there was never any planned audience interaction, which seemed strange to me in such an intimate space like the one we were in. But if there had been audience interaction during these shows it would’ve made them way too campy and given it an air of falsehood that would not suit these plays well.

If I were to open Heart’s Desire and read it without any images of how it might be staged, I would most likely toss it as a boring play, but this performance brought to life this seemingly banal script. The show started normally, but soon the scene stopped, rewound, and started from the beginning, like you were watching a VHS tape in person. This happened many many times throughout the one-act. There was no formula to when the scene would stop, or how often we would return to the same spot to begin from. After a few times of “running the scene” or segments of it, new endings or lines began to pop up right before the scene would reset. Do you remember those Choose Your Own Adventure books? Seeing these multiple “endings” reminded me of those books. But ultimately the best way to imagine this is by imagining that you are watching a writer as she is in the process of editing and writing. The scene would sometimes be sped up, as if the writer were quickly reading over the scenes until she’s reached the point where content needs to be added. There was a stampede of chaotic school children who came in and knocked over everything, there was a group of armed gun-men who shot down the characters, the lesbian partner of the daughter, and even an emu puppet that came around the edges of the audiences, poking and prodding at some people. Some endings were more “realistic,” like the confession of a character rather than the introduction of a completely random character or group of people. Alice, Brian, and Aunt Maisie each had “endings” where they revealed secrets or unsaid truths that were never brought up again in the show. So this brought up the theory that maybe these endings are from the minds of the characters rather than the writer herself.

Although at first read the plot seems somewhat meaningless and boring, there are several little scenes that make this play much deeper and darker than you first imagine. There is a small plot line between the parents and their drunkard son, Lewis, who occasionally enters into the dining room, only to yell at his family and be berated by his father. In one scene his father even says “Lewis, I wish you’d died at birth. If I’d known what you’d grow up like I’d have killed either you or myself the day you were born.” uh, YIKES! This plot line does not offer much to the play overall, but it helps make the parents more multi-dimensional because it shows their apparent preference of their daughter, who they are waiting for. Another false ending was Alice revealing her fifteen year affair with someone else, and she was finally fed up with Brian and was announcing her leaving him. Sometimes these false endings were repeated, but never fully followed in the long run. The strangest false ending, in my opinion, was Brian’s reveal of his desire of Autophagia, which is the medical term for eating one’s self. Believe me, searching self-cannibalism and seeing some of the results is quite an eye-opener to some of the darker corners of humanity. It’s hilarious how easily Alice and Maisie take the news, saying things like “Yes you always have bitten your fingernails.” Which is a great example of British humor, with the witty retort to an incredibly odd revelation.

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 left to right: Brian (father), Alice (mother), Lewis (son), and Aunt Maisie.

One of the many things that was unique about this performance was the average age of these actors. Although there are few shows without at least one character over the age of forty, the majority of this cast was definitely over the age of (at least) fifty. It was a great reminder to me that actors do not have an expiration date. I know that our memorization skills begin to decline, and usually stage fright (aka nerves) become worse as we grow older, but that does not mean that you cannot continue to pursue your passion. I thought all of the actors did a really great job, and there was some really nice character work put into some of the…stranger characters. For example, Aunt Maisie in Heart’s Desire is the kooky older aunt who seems to have dementia, because of her fantastical yet distracted monologues and child like youthfulness. Her joyfulness was intoxicating, and it was such fun to watch her float around the space. I never pitied or looked down on her in a “awh, bless her heart” kind of way, because she never seemed that weak or helpless, just very fairy-like.

To discuss the title: There is a very small and strange moment that is only played twice in this play. The daughter finally enters, and the first thing out of the father’s mouth is “You are my heart’s desire.” Each time this line was said the scene stops, and it’s how the show ended, practically. It’s such a horrible tease from the playwright, because of course we want to know more about this possible plot line! I could not figure out any sub textual meaning to these lines, but it adds a great deal of fun for the actor playing Brian. What a secret to keep throughout the whole show.

Other than the obvious scene resets, there were also little moments in Heart’s Desire that were supposed to catch your attention to make sure that you were paying attention. The biggest one was the intentional mispronunciation of a line by Alice. She says “you pleam seased,  I mean, you seem pleased.” Audiences are like vultures, and we love finding mistakes in performances, so when this happens the entire audiences perks up in hopes that we’ve just witnessed the actor messing up. However it is the intentional hiccup of the playwright, so back off, ya’ nasty. This small audience reset reminded me of the much more violent resets in 1984, when the bright lights and loud sounds would jerk you out of the previous scene and into a state of numbness. Although I much preferred the smaller, more comical reset in Heart’s Desire. There is always more I could discuss about this play, but as I glance down at my word count I realize that I should probably move on to the second one-act, Blue Kettle.

**before I begin Blue Kettle let me just say that I was harassed and bullied by a gang of elderly women who kicked me out of my seat just so they could sit and eat. Uh, do you not see my cheap ploy to loiter by looking at the coffee cup on my table? I am now convinced that all elderly women are capable of ruthless actions and should never be doubted due to their sweet and fragile facade.**

Blue Kettle, at its base, is a story about a man who cons old women out of their money by pretending to be their sons who they gave to adoption many decades ago. I wonder how “normal” this play would’ve been without one key ingredient. During the writing process of these plays, Caryl Churchill’s computer got a virus and completely changed some sections of her writing. So Blue Kettle is basically a well edited version of a play written by a computer virus. On the fourth page of the show is the line “You don’t have to blue anything up.” This was the first substitution of a word with either Blue or Kettle. From this line on, words become regularly substituted and by the end of the play over 90% of the sentences are made up of Blue or Kettle. Even the words Blue and Kettle evolve during the show, becoming shorter and shorter, and by the end of the show they are down to “K k no relation. K name k John k k? K k k Tommy k k John. K k k dead k k k believe a word, K k Derek.” This show really relies on the audiences effort to listen and figure out what these substitutions are supposed to mean. However, the expressions and intonations from the actors help greatly in understanding. Apparently Churchill will give a “decoded” script to the production team so that they actually understand what message they are trying to convey to each other. From the mistakes of computer virus comes a play about the limitations of language and conversation. As the language disintegrates, the truth about these characters becomes more and more apparent. Language is seen as a barrier for true emotions in Blue Kettle, and as an easy way to keep others at bay from learning our own truths. Language, or deceit, is Derek’s (main character) biggest tactic and weapon against others. Without his talents in manipulation and persuasion, he would not be able to trick these women.

It was so sad to see these mothers’, who were mostly beyond excited to meet their child, and to watch Derek’s mask of tenderness was so painful. There were five mothers in total, one of them being named “Derek’s mother.” Derek was actually adopted, so he’s not making up that much, he’s just deciding to insert himself into other people’s lives. This was not written into the script, but the use of colors in the set design was really awesome. Most of the set was different shades of blue except for three pieces of furniture: a red chair, a white lamp, and a brown chair. Only one person each sat in one of these chairs, and the white lamp was only turned on once. The woman who remembers the least, “Derek’s mother,” sat in the red chair, and the woman who remembers the most, Miss Clarence, sits in the brown chair. Other than this information I do not know how to further analyze the set, but I really loved how the designers or director put these chairs opposite of each other on stage. This somewhat relates to the the importance  of inaccuracy/ accuracy of memory in this play.Each mother tries to remember the details of their son as an attempt to confirm their own doubts that this might not be him. Derek loosely improvises with each mother, impressively side-stepping deeper questions that could give away his trick.

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Enid, Derek’s girlfriend, knows of his deceptions and highly disapproves. She eventually spills the secret when they’re at a dinner with one of Derek’s mothers. As the play progresses, Derek’s decisions became more and more sloppy. For example, in a later scene Derek invites two of his false mothers’ to meet each other under the pretense that one of them is the biological mother, and one of them is the adopted mother. Of course the mothers’ find out that neither are his biological or adopted mother, and one storms out. Why does Derek pull such a stupidly masochistic move when he’s been so careful about keeping their lives separate? I personally think that he subconsciously wanted this disaster so that he wouldn’t have to tell them, which is a pretty cowardly move. The only person that Derek willingly talks to about this situation is “Derek’s mother,” who is suffering from dementia. We never find out if this is his biological or adopted mother, but I really loved this scene. I think that there’s a certain safety that comes with talking to those with high level dementia, because you know that they will never remember your conversation. However, it also seemed like Derek was hoping for some connection with his mother, because I think he felt guilty for betraying his mother by acting like he didn’t have one. Blue Kettle definitely had more character driven choices, rather than writer driven choices, like in Heart’s Desire.

I really loved Blue Heart, and would love to have a chance to direct it someday.They were both extremely fun, and it looked like everyone involved was having a really great time too. It’s hard to believe that it hasn’t been performed since its debut in 1997, so I’m doubly glad that I got to see this production!

 

Weeks 12 & 13: A Bi-Weekly Update due to Laziness

Weeeeellll, Weeelllllll, Weelllllll.

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

I didn’t realize I hadn’t done a weekly update until I was gently reminded by a family member of my slacking efforts. My most profound apologies sprinkled to you all.

Remember how I had a friend visit two weekends ago? Well, last weekend my father came into town and stayed for the rest of this week. No rest for the wicked, I guess! On Saturday we briefly stopped by Camden Market, although the crowds were a bit more than we expected so we headed over to walk around Hampstead Heath, which is a lovely large  park about 20 minutes away from Camden. The paths can be very deceiving in this park, and my only piece of advice is to pay attention to the maps as much as possible. Although spontaneity is usually welcomed in my life, sometimes it’s not so fun realizing you’re lost in a park with the sun ever so quickly setting. It was fine, of course, but I may have been going over escape 323plans as we stumbled through the park. We attended a lovely service at St. Paul’s the next morning and then spent several hours walking around the Victoria and Albert museum. My favorite sections were the Theatre section, a European sculpture section, and the circle of clothing spanning several decades was beautiful. There was a room filled with some huge Raphael paintings, which although very famous and important paintings, didn’t hold my attention as much. I love the incredible detail work of statues, from Mesopotamia to Rodin, the detail is what I love the most. Sometimes I wonder what a sculpture exhibit would be like if it were a collection of boring sculptures. For example, an exhibit of sculptures describing the day to day activities of a homebody. Or, sculptures of sleeping people. Maybe I’ve found my new calling in life…

 

Monday was Intro. to Theatre History and Theatre Encounters as usual. In Intro. we discussed Shopping and F**king from a couple weeks before. I present my discussion on Blue Heart tomorrow, so I’m very excited for that. In Theatre Encounters we continued work on our devised projects. We began class by getting in pairs and creating two different relay race-style games. Once we taught them to the group we made it into a strange obstacle course of many different games. These games help the group get our energy and focus up before we actually start any work. It also helps kick our creative gears into action by having to create these games. It was unfortunately Emma’s last class teaching us, and she shall be missed. Emma taught the devising style that I was familiar with from my previous experience, which is more movement based than text based, like Mark’s teaching. It’s been great learning both styles from them, and I hope I will continue to find ways to create little pieces of theatre like this in the future. On Monday night we saw the great performance of No Man’s Land, starring Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian Mckellen. It was a really good performance, and I’m so fortunate to have briefly met Mr. Mckellen.

Tuesday brought a day of work, per usual. It would awesome if I could use Tuesday to explore new parts of London, but unfortunately my work load doesn’t really allow that. In Stage Combat on Wednesday we added scripts to our hand to hand choreography. My partner and I chose a scene from The Duchess of Malfi for our fight. During the class we worked on both fights and trying to solidify the choreography. Usually there’s at least one moment in the semester where the teacher stops class to give a talk to the students. That was this Wednesday for us, unfortunately. Rachel said nothing incorrect, she was completely right about our lack of energy and effort in practice, but it still stings a little to hear that coming from a teacher. All words to inspire us, I know. I wish we had this class at least once more a week, but I’m not sure if my thighs would be too thankful about that. On Wednesday afternoon we had our first studio session with JP! JP is one of our voice over teachers in the Voice Wheel course. He co-runs the SOHO Recording Studio pretty close to our dorms, so we walked over right after stage combat. The studios were so cool, in face the whole session was a ton of fun. We  started with all doing a voice over for the same commercial, but then we were given specific commercials to record. I know I sound mature for my age, but I was tickled when I received to very “mom” commericals: one for Cheerios and the second was for a weird Kia Picanto ad. We would do a cold recording with no direction, and then three more recordings with direction from JP. Sometimes he would try different songs for a commercial, and it was crazy hearing how easily the mood and context of the ad. was changed. It was also really rad to just hear my friends doing these ads, because as soon as I would listen, I would think “Yeah, that’s a regular ad. for a chocolate bar!” Our instructors chose some really well-fitted commercials for us to record. Wednesday night we saw King Lear at the Barbican theatre starring Sir Antony Sher and many of the actors from a production of Cymbeline that I saw a little over a month ago. King Lear was incredible, and we had some really great seats for the performance. Maybe it’s the semester catching up with me, or my disregard for a healthy sleeping schedule, but I kept beginning to nod off during the first act. The actors were inciting, exhilarating, and exciting, but for some reason my body was starting to shut down on me. So after a quick caffeine refill I was up and ready to give over 100% attention to this awesome show.

Ah, and here we land on Thanksgiving. A holiday that is turning more and more into a meal that historically should make most people cringe. Of course the sentiment is a giving of thanks, love, and gratitude to those around you, but we all know what really happened when this tradition was started. I started off this British-American Turkey Day by attending the staff vs. students futbol game, which sadly, the staff won. Nothin’ like beginning an American holiday than watching some live sports, huh? Our program hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for us at the National Gallery cafe, posh I know. Although we weren’t really served a “Thanksgiving” dinner, it was very nice of them to host anything at all. This is my first Thanksgiving away from home, but between having my father in town and celebrating with my FSU/ UConn family, it wasn’t too bad being away from home. Although of course some elements of home can never be replaced, which is why I will always intend on attending my family’s holiday celebrations.

Bright and early Friday morning my dad and I headed to Warwick Castle. A couple of decades ago it was bought by Madame Tussaud, so I was a little worried about the tacky factor of the whole experience. Other than the well hid “dungeon,” the experience was quite nice. The wax mannequins added some very nice detail to rooms that may have been easily looked over by most. Even on this cold morning there were swarms of wretched school children screaming and stampeding throughout the castle. I only feel bad for the saintly parent volunteers who had to accompany them on this trip. Unfortunately the main tower, Guy Tower, was closed, but it’s still a really beautiful castle surrounded by some very nice grounds. We were lucky to have such a beautiful blue sky that day, although the cold made sure we didn’t want to stay outside for too long. On our way back to the train station we stopped at the Thomas Oken tea house, which is where I have had the best scones of my whole life. They were freshly baked, sweet, and soft yet dense. The homemade clotted cream and strawberry jam just enhanced the amazingness that was hitting my taste buds. On Saturday afternoon we saw a matinee of the musical Half a Sixpence at the Noel Coward theatre. Boy, what a show it was! I left the theatre with a tune in my heart and a smirk on my face, what a fun show that was. We ended his trip with a delicious Punjabi meal in Convent Gardens.

Finally, today, I have done no more than kept my head in my laptop as I’ve been scrambling to go between finishing blogs and rehearsing scenes with my group partners. It’s a lovely life I live and I’m grateful for all the experiences I’ve gained throughout this semester.

 

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