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The Writer Callus

22 Jul

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I miss school.

…Not the institution, you realize…the study that goes with it.

I miss reading and writing endless essays. I miss the notebooks, chicken scratched thoughts scribbled and outlined through a text until it comes out looking like a theatre script, mid-rehearsal. I miss the debates over themes and content. I miss mining all the layers that literature can hold in simple sentences printed on a page.

As an adult, all my reading and study has derived from pleasure, not pressure. I take in the books I know like the back of my hand, because I love them…I’ll occasionally read a light fiction easy-read because it was once recommended. But when I have no class to go to, no paper to write, no actual “reason” to dig into something like a slim novella of poetry and really break down what in the hell they mean…I just don’t. I’ll read it (maybe) and take what I want, what I took at first glance from it, then move along. But there is a loss in doing that…the “study” of writing as an art. Beyond plot.

…I miss that.

And so, I’ve taken the cue from m’next show, as Rita, to put myself through the paces these next two months. Apart from studying the script and character, I’ve a whole load of additional works to consume…pieces, and authors, and works of art which are sited within the script. I’ve charged myself to retrace Rita’s footsteps…to follow her path of discovery, with some of my own.

…It’s been two days at work, filling the down time with googling, and printing, cutting and taping, collecting reading lists and quotations and poems and paintings, and massing them into a black Piccadilly notebook, to be translated and studied later. Every literary reference, every author, every theme listed out in neat lines, a mass of poems printed, and liner notes begun. Of the three hours wherein not so much as a phone call rang through the office today, I secured three monologues (with attending dialogue) into my brain, and wrote themes on twelve poems from Dylan Thomas, William Blake, Henrik Ibsen, Roger McGough, & Oscar Wilde.

…And in the words of Rita herself, “It was FUCKING FANTASTIC!”

My hand written scribbles cover pages and pages, the side of my hand marked with lead from adding side notes to theme ideas, and that callus…my old friend on the rest of my middle finger, has re-dented in supplication from the constant pressure of a pencil.

I am back! That nerd-kid who would spend hours, over-writing by three or more pages, every essay she had ever been charged to write out. The kid who, (because of necessity) was forced to become a pretty decent editor, getting to the meat of the matter, tapping into the veins of a piece or a character…which would become that essential theatre tool I’d carry with me, for ever and ever. That kid who eats up language styles and word choices like its ice cream, who’d rather get lost in languidly profuse imagery, in a specific smell explained in words, in a world entirely fictional yet familiar, than almost anything else.

My brain is hungry as Rita’s, and I’m so thankful to have this extra time, this extended rehearsal period, to really dig in and build her piece by piece, poem by poem, book by book. In case you’d like to knock along with me a bit…here’s today’s list:

* And Death Shall Have No Dominion – Thomas
* The Sick Rose – Blake
* Gone – Ibsen
* You and I – McGough
* Let Me Die A Young Man’s Death – McGough
* Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night – Thomas
* Survivor – McGough
* The Blossom – Blake
* The Clod And The Pebble – Blake
* The Grave Of Shelley – Wilde
* In The Picture Gallery – Ibsen
* The Survivors – Ibsen

…Lots more to come.

*joy!*

~D

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Thousandth Firsts

4 Aug

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First formal night of rehearsal for 39 Steps tonight. In keeping with the ongoing number of “firsts,” it was exciting, and nerve-wracking and industrious.

…There is something about first breaking the cherry of blocking…how the director works it, the actors take it, the SM supports it, and by the end…how the projection of an entire process of an entire show, somehow hangs on it.

…For better or for worse.

For the record: This show is gonna be ” for the better.” You should prob’ly buy tickets ahead.

It was said.

…And now: goodnight.

~D

Bed & A Book

14 Apr

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Bed for me, and a book.

…It’s been like pulling teeth to get up the energy to blog this past week, and tonight is no different.

Tired.

Don’t wanna.

…I feel I’ve spent plenty of time being articulate on stage, frankly, and shouldn’t have to beat my head against a wall at the end of a long week to do it some more in type.

…Also, I have very little to contribute to your amusements at this point. 

Or maybe I have, and I need to sit and hatch ’em first. 

…Which means you’ll have something to look forward to, tomorrow.

We hope.

…Really engrossing things.

Like:

…What actors are really doing when they are s’posed to be sleeping, on stage.

…The kind of things we whisper, when we need silent filler talk.

…What real foods the fake foods are made of.

…How many tattoos Mr. Frank has under all that long underwear.

…How to cover: choking on prop food, fucking up a line, your wig falling off.

…The correct way to fight call: cutting a cake, killing off a cat, undertaking a tickle war, and stealing bread.

…What’s written on Miep’s shopping lists.

…Where props go to when they magically disappear.

…What to do when: the audience talks back, a cell phone goes off, your clothes aren’t set, the cat goes rogue.

…Blatant husband kissing.

…Scream-projecting for the Sunday crowds.

…Sweat-swapping.

…Ventriloquist-swearing.

…Zipper malfunctions and other clothing nightmares.

…How to go from spinster to claustrophobic Jewish mother, in one three-second hand-squeeze.

…And much, much more.

~D

Kids. Theatre. Art.

14 Mar

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Stumbled on a Tumblr last night, linking to others that, all-collected, formed most of a young cast and their experiences of putting on this show.

…Totally fascinating…reading their processes in raw-thought form, thrown out there with zero editing of  their emotions and frustrations as they fought to balance out school schedules, homework, dating, rehearsals, finals and wrapping their heads around the history of the piece.

Written in 2006, these back-and-forth tagged Tumblrs and blogs are free-formed by High School students, who by now have most likely graduated College and gotten married, and started having children of their own.  Which is kinda mind-blowing, even not having known the kids personally…only because of the knowledge that they have this forever-record of that point in their lives, written down (much like Anne), which others can read and experience, further mirroring the book and show itself.

Really intriguing thoughts, actually. 

…Some in simple questioned innocents, some with down-and-dirty sleeves-rolled-up research, some likening their own personal experiences to Anne and their own characters…and some just excited by the whole process.

The thing that really got to me though, was the point…totally individual to each…when they “got it.”  The point where the full weight of what the show and this girl’s experiences were all about, actually sunk into them…and how each of them dealt with it.

Personal. Raw. Specific.

…These kids, through ART, were given a new way to access and view something from history that they already knew about since middle-school.  That restriction of: “this is a book about a teenage girl, in Amsterdam, in WWII,” was suddenly (and in some cases emotionally violently) altered for them once the process of physical “empathy” was put into place.

To read about a girl from the far-past, in a place they could not recognize, and had no tangible relateable association with at first glance…had limited a lot of them at the book’s first reading. Some were embarrassed by it’s pubescent topics, some shut off by the distant time frame in which it was written, some by the country they didn’t recognize…or the Politics they couldn’t understand…while some did actually take it personally and to heart. But the range there was wide.

…Through the process of ownership in their roles, though…you can actually SEE that begin to change…and the kids changing with it.

What they start out writing about in an off-hand remarks, early in the rehearsal process, begins to change to a kind of hungry obsession over time. They begin pulling out quotes from the script, and matching it to the diary…they write mini-bios, and suck up European political history like sponges. They become in awe of the magnitude in the numbers…which are no longer just “numbers,” but for the first time begin to represent actual “people” to them, now that they are actually portraying one of them…each with lives and families and homes and dreams of their own. They begin to question, and get angry, and become activists for a cause which now has become as real to them as anything they may have to deal with in their current day-to-day lives. They build genuine affection for their “characters”…defending their deeds in posts, and against Anne’s words…and explaining WHY they think and act and say the things they do.

…They become totally engrossed, as the posts move along…building not only on their own, but commenting on one another’s in debate, and agreement, and camaraderie.

And it is fucking FANTASTIC.

You see: THIS is what “Art” does.

THIS is why it is so essential, and why it’s disappearance from our Schools is so completely devastating.

“Art” is not just a “hobby.” “Art” isn’t an “extracurricular activity.” “Art” is “Humanity.” Straight-up. It is our one point of access to all that it is (and ever was) to be human. And without it, we are sorely damaging our future potential…and in severe danger of repeating our greatest mistakes.

And HERE is a prime example.

…Written by school children, grown now into adults, who BECAUSE of “art” experienced something so palpable that “History” became alive to them, “Politics” became important, “Numbers” meant more than mere addition and subtraction, the “Written Word” jumped off the pages at them, and “Science” in the research, reason and attempt to understand why and what it all meant, became totally essential to them.

…And yet, with all of that put together, it STILL could not hold the realization of the emotional strength and repercussions that actual “embodiment” had on each of them. The power of empathy…of PUTTING YOURSELF into another’s place…of FEELING the fear, and hunger, and pain, and sadness…of MAKING IT PERSONAL…it changed them, not just as “children” or “students,” but as HUMAN BEINGS.

…Once taught empathy, education, the difference between right and wrong…passion for history and learning…you can’t un-teach it. You can try, attempt to mind-wash and assault the brain all you like. But if given a good, strong, root to grow…early on…I don’t believe there is anything that can break that. Or the spirit it infuses, like Anne’s, to fight for your right to it.

“There are no walls, there are no bolts, no locks that anyone can put on your mind.”

…It was something Mr. Frank once told Anne, and something she often went back to as a form of solace, a comfort, an outlet…a form of expression.

…Because any form of educated obsession, release, curiosity, excitement, empathy…is a kind of art.

Because SHE was encouraged to release herself in it, we have her diary today. Because those kids were encouraged to release themselves in it, their lives were changed. The same way that mine constantly is. And Meryl Streep. And Picasso’s was. And Steven Spielberg. And Maria Callas. And Leonard da Vinci, and Stephen King, and Gertrude Stein, and Albert Einstein, Billie Jean King, and Stephen Hawking.

…So really, what I’m saying is: people learn and become inspired in so many different ways…going on to inspire and educate others, likewise. I’d like to assume you’d want every opportunity you can grasp onto, to make sure your kids get every option to become the best that they can be…as people and parents of their own children someday.

If you already practice an art of your own, there’s no need to tell you this, but if not: Listen up. I promise…it isn’t just a flippant accessory to life. It is a necessity. It’s brought us our greatest humanitarians, and thinkers, and doers we have ever produced as a human race. It breeds intelligence. It fosters hope. It counters depression, and fear, and anger.

It belongs in our schools.

…If only, to dust off the tired words in old textbook pages, and make all the other academics and political concepts and histories and numbers and sciences more real to the people who will be running this planet some day.

Think about it.

~D

Lessons From Behind The Bookcase

10 Feb

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Nose in the books, while streaming Netflix and every bio anything I can find for research on the show.  Playing real people, (and well known historical figures at that), makes the homework so much more specific. There’s a lot you have to get right, preconceived notions of who they are, what their contribution was in the whole of the story.

…This ain’t m’first rodeo in these matters.

I’ve played historical figures before on a number of occasions and I think what most people don’t realize is that these actual people (or what we have come to know of them as “characters”), are usually known for their one or two-dimensional most popular traits and factoid bases. This makes it a danger to research, flesh out, and mount as a total well-rounded “human being” because people are going to want the thing they THINK of as “that person” not necessarily the TRUTH of that person. And at some point, you have to decided just where that line resides and IF you are willing to cross over it or stay in the comfortable little valley, that the popular opinion is going to insist is gospel truth.

Am I confusing the hell out of you yet? Here, I’ll give you an easy example:

Lets take Marilyn Monroe.

…Now say, you were planning to portray her in a production. What does that mean? Where do you prep for that? What information are you going for? This is a totally iconic person, whose physical image is emblazoned on our culture in a very specific way, who has a cannon of work under her in a very specific style, who was notorious for very specific lifestyle choices, and died in suspicious circumstances which have never been explained. We know all that. And I mean “we” as a collective of pop-culture-aware consumers of the product that was (and still is) “Marilyn Monroe.”

…This means that any S.O.B who chooses to undertake her as a “character” has a gigantic, impossible-to-live-up-to laundry list of “dos” and “don’ts” that MUST, MUST, MUST be included and achieved in the portrayal of her in said production, and against which, everything that is spoken, and every move that is made, will be judged upon.

An “ideal” of what it is to be: “Marilyn.”

…Only, any idiot, (or self-respecting acting artist) would know…it takes a hell of a lot more than that to flesh out a whole realistic “human” into a production. Sure, you can take the lazy way, the easy way…the two-dimensional route…and nail it, and please plenty of people who don’t know any better and don’t want to. But that’s not your “job” as a performer. Unless your gig is literally: Impersonation.

…But “impersonation” is not what I’m talking about. That’s not what an actor is doing in the case of taking on the portrayal of an actual historic person. Your job, is to open that person up, beyond what is conventionally known of them…to dig in, get dirty, and find something there that makes them go from “historical iconery” to “relatable humanity.”

Least, that’s the way I see it.

If you want “Marilyn Monroe” as the product that is: “Marilyn Monroe”…watch her films, buy her posters..by all means, enjoy the hell out of it! She worked really hard , to package that deal and make it for you. She did her homework too and knew what it was that her fans wanted and gave it to them. But for a performer to portray her, is NOT the same job that Marilyn did. Hers was to give you the product you wanted. The performers is to show you the process of what it was to make and “be” that.

…Do you get what I’m saying here?

…So when you undertake…say, one of the eight people who hid together for over two years, in a tiny attic in Amsterdam, in order to save their lives…you have a choice to make. Do you give the audience “The Character” that is that person…that we have come to know of them…or…do you give them: the person?

Now, I haven’t even had so much as a first table read on the show yet, so I can’t answer what the Director is gonna go for, in this. But what I know from the performer’s standpoint…from the person who loves history and respects this subject of it beyond words…I know what I expect from myself, and it’s more than just the text in play format is giving to me.

Because it has to be.

…And it’s more than just Anne Frank’s diary is giving me. Because it has to be.

…Which is strange, because most would think of it as the ultimate in source material for these matters. But here is the craziest thing I’ve realized while reading it for the millionth time, these past few days:

One reads “The Diary of Anne Frank,” from Anne Frank’s perspective. No big surprise maybe…it’s meant for you too. That’s the point. But have you ever once attempted to view it from another perspective? Not your own, but from one of the other people?

No.

None of us have.

No matter how many times we read it.

…But when THAT is your homework, something glaringly obvious pops out at you: It isn’t “fair.”

Every fight is one-sided.

Every bickering is someone elses fault.

Every hurt is purposeful.

Every irritation: expanded on.

Every argument: honed and crafted from one point of view, onto paper.

…And this beautiful historical document that we have always taken as 100% pure documentation of absolute truth, and heartbreaking frustration…is that in many ways…but NOT in ALL of them.

…Because, she was a 13 year old girl, who wrote in her diary, all of her frustrations and foibles, without edit or consideration of the fact that most of the time it was written in heated circumstances in order to air her frustrations and yell out loud the things she couldn’t in actual physical life.

THAT WAS HER JOB.

She was 13!

…That we have taken it all as Gospel truth makes sense, she was there, she recorded it, raw and unvarnished and with incredible detail. But it was also one-sided. It was also in angst, and despair, and fury, and frustrations, and desires, and hopes, and irritations.

Unlike the work and realm of “Marilyn Monroe,” she wasn’t making a “product,” she was airing her personal feelings, never in a million years suspecting that her words would become a representative voice of millions of people, to billions of others, for all of time. Had she been given opportunity of completing the edit of her diary and submitting it to a publisher herself after the War, who knows what might have been ultimately altered and seen from other perspectives with less fury and more even balance to it all?

Perhaps the unvarnished parts of it, are what makes it so exemplary to begin with.

…But the long way to the point I’m trying to make here is: I am undertaking to portray “Mrs. Van Daan”…a very human and real person who once lived an entire life before her time in the Secret Annex in the Attic, and one who died very shortly after being torn out of it. And all we know of this woman, as culture, as students of history, as activists of humanity, as people who love literature…is what was recorded about her by a 13 year old girl, forced to live in ungodly circumstances with her, across two years of time.

We don’t even know when she died, where she’s buried, who spoke with her last, if she knew the fate of her family.

…We know only second-hand stories of her marriage and youth from those told in the Annex. But I am about to spend from now until the end of April, undertaking the life of this woman. She may not have been the most famous inmate in that Annex in Amsterdam, but she matters. She matters more than just details from a disgruntled diarist. And yet its my job to live up to the reputation she’s been given, while also trying to reason why all her vanity, and stubbornness, and flirtations, and complaints were justified…from where they came, and why.

It isn’t easy to try and work against “iconery.” And that’s what I have ahead. Maybe not on so specific a level as a “Marilyn Monroe”…but it is there, nevertheless. I need to figure out how to ride the line that Anne set, seventy years ago…yet Auguste van Pels deserves…as a person who lived through this hell…to be represented in as fair and rounded a light as I can manage.

Such an honor to be trusted with something like this, shouldn’t be taken lazily or lightly.

…I love, love, love my job 🙂

~D

Still Hawt, At 200

28 Jan

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There’s this man I know…well, a lot of us do. 

…He’s all sexy, and moody, and opinionated, and strangely prefers women with a brain in their head, and the occasional bout of reason and thinking. 

…He’s excellent to argue with: a fitting bite to his tongue and such a frustrating air to his assured “rightness,” that you just wanna punch him sometimes, all the while knowing it’ll end up turning into just the greatest make-up-sex EVER.

…He’s been a guest star in many a fantasy,  in many a genre…hell, even the Zombies can’t keep away.  His passport has been stamped by every country, where he’s been taught to speak in every language across the world, making him a legitimate International Playboy on a level that Hugh Hefner only WISHES he could attain. And though he managed to live comfortably, naughtily, seductively in our pretty little heads for generation upon generation…they finally managed to find his actual physical perfection of representation in mortal form, only within the last several decades…(which the Queen later wisely knighted.)

Then, as now, he lives on…in our hearts and before our eyeballs, sending massive ‘uuts’ shivers down our spine and within our nether regions…whilest book clubs continue to worship him, and Lit Majors continue to reason with him, women continue to pine for him, and men continue to be compared to him as one — if not THE — most romantically fierce and frustratingly sexy piece of man-meat (with fortune and title), ever to walk the earth.

And today, he turns 200.

200!

200 and still spanking our emotions and desires harder than whoever-the-fuck is number one right now in ticket sales…(and who will soon be completely obsolete and forgotten.)

Two Centuries of popularity that has only grown wider. Think about that, friends, and drool your way through the rest of the day…as I know I won’t be the ONLY one pulling out a well-loved BBC version of “P & P” tonight, to pay undieing honor to The Man…and the Woman BEHIND him: that deliciously devilish, Miss Jane Austen.

…As a lesser artist, (but an artist, none-the-less), I have an aching curiosity about what she might be thinking were the Austenian founder, here with us today.

How could you possibly perceive that your novel would go on to become such a living, breathing, growing thing. A thing taught in Colleges, studied by scholars. A thing used in historical references and self-help love-books? A thing that Hollywood (whatever the hell that will one day be) is constantly grabbing at as a “sure thing” win in an industry where NOTHING is “sure” at all…ever. A thing that brings honor to your home country, and ridiculous horror spin-offs from others. A thing which created whole new genres of fiction-spin-offs and fan-fictions. A thing which everyone has heard of, even if they have never read or seen it.

…A thing that can secretly fix any heartbreak, and which is your automatic go-to on a sick day, a rainy day, and prob’ly (if you could swing it) every day in between.

Look what you MADE, Jane Austen! When-your-first-edition-started-selling-two-hundred-freakin-years-ago-to-this-very-day!

LADY POWER UP, FRIENDS!

Tonight is Mr. Darcy night!

…Let us all pour out a delicious glass of our favorite “something,” and either join up via bubble bath and book, or eat him up with our eyes on film…giving thanks to the creation of a favorite lady-author, and that little book called, “Pride & Prejudice!”

Here’s to making it a world-wide fetish evening that puts Valentine’s Day to shame.

…Dunno ’bout you, but I’m in.

~D

Rogue Cracker

15 Jan

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I am speaking about a Ritz on two books in my bedroom, which has nothing at all to do with race relations, so just chill out.

…Periods make me do weird things. 

I blame the hormones. 

…And also, the badly timed cramps. 

Inevitably, they have me up anywhere from 3 to 5 a.m. trolling the cupboards for easy nibbles so I can take pills for the pain, then roll around the mattress with a heating pad, trying to gain some kind of relief.  Put that together with chocolate and salt cravings and it explains why once a month, my house looks like the Easter Bunny hid a bunch of shit all over the place and bolted.  I have chocolate Digestives in the living room.  The kitchen is sporting scones. The bar has some kinda nuts (“various.”) And my bedroom has a single Ritz cracker…resting between Elizabeth Gaskell’s “North and South,” and “Sylvia’s Lovers”…which is directly next to the Jane Austen twins of “Persuasion” and ”P & P.”

…I just thought you should know.

…There isn’t room on my bedside table for it (apparently) as that is where the giant tub of Pamprin, and fuzzy water lives (together with an antique framed pic of Gram, a writing book void of all script, my alarm clock, an antique Tiffany lamp with duel pull chains, and a bud vase…with no bud in it.) 

…Also in the general region, just to the side, a stack of books (in case I get brain starved in the night?), on a small shelf…including those I am borrowing at the time and have yet to get around to ever reading.  Some I’ve started, and just never finished.  All: I have sworn to “hurry up and read” at some point in the not-so-distant past.

…Really, all I have to do is look at the stack of them and I get overwhelmed.

Here is the list:

A Kate Hepburn Bio (On loan from L.M.)
“The Mists of Avalon” (1/3rd in, by demand of Marty)
“The World of Downton Abbey” (Last BD gift from JM. It was delightful, you should pick one up)
“Complete Novels of the Bronte Sisters” (Christmas 2011, from Ma, mostly as a joke, it weighs in at roughly 11 tons)
Ken Follet’s “Fall of Giants” (1/4th in, and can’t remember a damn thing…but the last one I read was courtesty MK and I liked it)
“The Collected Stories of Noel Coward” (Delicious.  Both times.)
“Allen Ginsberg Selected Poems, 1947 -1995” (Good lord, do I still have that book?? I need to get it back to S!)
“Beat Collection” (Ditto)
“The Moonstone,” by Wilkie Collins (I actually can’t remember if I finally read it or just watched the movie, which was why I wanted to read it)
“Three,” the Lillian Hellman triplet autobios (they’ve recently come much in handy again 😉 )
“Salt Dancer” by Ursula Hegi, (Another MK read, daddy- issue novella…liked it)
“Oscar Wilde and the Game Called Murder” (Gyles Brandreth does a brilliant mash-up of Holmes and Wilde solving cases to grinning delight)
“The Irish R.M.” (Because I miss it sometimes)
Ken Follet’s “The Key to Rebecca” (Any time you wanna build on Du Maurier…be my guest)
“Charlotte Gray” (Espionage and WWII?  Why yes, and thank you)
“Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey” (Cuz I’m not obsessed or anything)
&
“The Fry Chronicles,” by Stephen Fry (Which should come with a Thesaurus and serviceable Oxford dictionary, though delightfully fun to read out loud and giggle at)

…And that, my friends, is only the one at the head of my bed.  I still have clumps all about the room separately.  Cuz I’m an addict.

…With a very obvious eclectic taste.

…Which further explains the craving for strawberry ice cream, Tillamook cheddar, and salamie I’m having right now.

But, instead of ALL of that, I’m gonna go catch up with “Downton” episode 2, at last…and see what Edith is up to.

~D

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