Posts Tagged ‘quasi-cloisonne double-headed tiger’

BONUS ACTIVITY: In honour of the final, belated, and final belated post about my tour, make a list of the things that are mentioned that make actors happy and the things that make actors sad. Feel free to illustrate your favourites. Or do an interpretive dance.

Rockville, Maryland, March 24-26:

The Piercing Eloquence troupe wrapped up its tour in fine style at Montgomery College, where, coincidentally, Sasha Olinick, one of the fine actors in the American Shakespeare Center’s Summer/Fall season works. Sasha’s Feste in Twelfth Night is AWESOME, all the moreso because his completely-different Cornwall in King Lear and Elbow/Barnadine in Measure for Measure also rock. Go see Twelfth Night right now. No, literally, go right now. …No, don’t actually go right now.

N.B. I know the meaning of the word ‘literally,’ but this literally/actually joke is a private shout-out to the rest of the Piercing Eloquence tour on this, the much-belated final chronicle of the tour.

Our stay at Montgomery College was fantastic because they treated us like kings, or at least dukes. They gave us presents, they had fruit platters in the dressing room, and, most importantly, they put us up in a FANTASTIC hotel. It was not, perhaps, my personal favourite, because the Belmont Inn in South Carolina and the Partridge Inn in Georgia get style points for being from the nineteenth century, and the place in the Florida Keys (La Siesta?) gets style points for having eighty-five palm trees and an ocean. However, these suites in Gaithersburg were certainly luxurious. Everyone got their own bedroom, and the bedrooms shared a living room/kitchen. Having a kitchen is just about the most blessed thing one can imagine after having been on tour more or less since September, precisely at the moment that even the sight of the bizarre architectural façade of a Bob Evans makes one want to barf.

Here are some pictures of my suite:

They have WILLIAM MORRIS prints on the wall! Ten points: the most reasonable thing a hotel can do if denied the advantage of being from the nineteenth century. The hotel also had one of the best hotel fitness rooms we saw on tour, and a happy hour with free wine, beer, and food, most notably hummus, one of my two and a half favourite food items. So you could go to the gym and then drink wine with increased justification! Heaven. Sheffield visited Ginna whilst we were here; Evan stayed with Jacki; Scot celebrated his birthday by trying to hide the fact that it was his birthday from the rest of us; everyone was happy.

Despite the fact that these were our last shows on the road, I remember fairly little about them, especially compared with the previous shows in Virginia Beach and in Minnesota. The auditorium had a central seating area that was a good five or six feet lower than areas along the side and in the back of the auditorium, which were roughly the same height as the stage. In explaining it this way, I suddenly realise that it’s the same basic format of the Blackfriars, only without seating along the sides and in the back of the stage, and larger in square footage, if not in number of seats. An odd wall came down from the ceiling in front of the seating area in the back, which we were told made it very difficult to hear. So, once again, we had to resonate in each other’s faces, but thankfully it would be the last time, at least for these shows: in addition to being the most beautiful theatre I’ve ever been in, the Blackfriars also has just about the World’s Best Acoustics.

The only distinctive things I recall about our performance of Taming of the Shrew would appear to not bespeak the best of the audience, so I have to place a disclaimer that I think it was a very friendly and attentive audience, and a good show. I was still having a lot of fun exploring the icing on Bianca’s physicality, to continue to borrow the metaphor from Gremio’s line “My cake is dough.”

However, during my first scene as Bianca (which I unofficially think of as the “Will you any wife?” scene, after yet another Gremio line), a woman’s cell phone went off. It was doubly unfortunate for her that she was sitting in one of the seats onstage, and perhaps trebly unfortunate that there is a fairly lengthy portion of the pre-show in which Chris Seiler beats Chris Johnston with a whacker noodle for being on his cell phone. (“I’ll call you back in five minutes!” WHACK “I’ll call you back in fifteen minutes!” WHACK “I’ll call you back after the show…and tell you what a wonderful time I just had!”) The Use of Cell Phones is also what makes actors Very Sad, as is evidenced by the whacker noodle ‘long tears’ made famous in The Great Whacker Noodle Massacre and Its Redemption.

The cell-phone started going off in the middle of my line, but as that line is very much in the business of being demur and making my books and instruments my company, it didn’t even occur to me to lay the whacker noodle into the cell phone perpetrator. God and my fellow troupe members know, I’ve got no aversion to adding text to justify spur-of-the-moment bizarre occurances, but not if it would break character. So I just stopped, and stared at the woman with the tuneful shoulderbag, using the default response taught to me by Diego Arciniegas of the Publick Theatre in Boston, still one of my favourite directors of all time, as a way to deal with the airplanes, helicopters and sirens that sometimes appear in Sidley Park, Syracuse, Italy, or Elizabethan London if your theater is outdoors in the middle of a city. Just stop, counselled Diego. And stare. And he was right, as he was in so many things. Audiences respond to actors staring at an airplane as though the actors had reinvented the wheel, or perhaps even the airplane.

Of course, it’s a little different when you’re staring at an animate object no less than five feet away, and that animate object is desperately tearing through her shoulderbag whilst the inanimate object inside the bag starts to go through the second cycle of its ringtone. My ever-resourceful Papa/the ever-resourceful Mr. Seiler, having also had some prior experience with slugging Mr. Johnston during the pre-show for having a fictional cell phone, borrowed a whacker noodle from her neighbour and gave the girl one solid Whack of Remonstrance.

The cell phone, being inanimate and insensible, continued to ring. Or, more accurately, melodically beep.

Mr. Seiler, dismayed either that the woman still was unable to locate the cell phone in her bag or that the whacker noodle did not have the same effect on real cell phones that it did on the fictional one in the pre-show, decided to press on. The only problem was that, instead of going over to Gremio to be ‘enticed’ by the truly hideous quasi-cloisonné double-headed tiger bracelet, I had cross downstage to counter Baptisa’s whacker noodle initiative. Somehow, we all sorted ourselves out, and the scene continued; I couldn’t even tell you what was left out, or if anything was, but I think the audience was as distracted as we were and probably did not notice that anything had gone wrong. …Aside from a cell phone going off for what seemed to me to be about a minute, and probably seemed to be about eighty-five minutes to the girl who possessed it.

The only other thing I remember about this Shrew was the voluminous number of people who decided to visit the bathroom during the scene where Raffi and I are waiting to make an entrance from the back of the house. When someone random passes through the lobby of any given theater whilst I’m waiting there, which is a common occurrence when we perform on college campuses, I always give them a huge wave and a slightly farcical grin. I found that the best defence was a good offence as far as receiving looks for being dressed in a huge blue-and-pink paisley dress, or as a boy, depending upon the show that has me waiting in the lobby. But whenever it’s actual audience members, I always feel awkward. It’s a mixture of ‘I see you care deeply enough about our show to visit the bathroom 10 minutes before the end’ and ‘So, howzabout that suspension of disbelief?’

Our final Merchant of Venice on the road was not what I would have wished our final Merchant of Venice on the road to be, in order to provide a nice close to this narrative. But I suppose humans feel the need for narrative so strongly precisely because our lives, in most cases, lack a good structural narrative. In the interest of preserving the narrative of my last post, I kept this fact apart, but now it must out: after our last performance of Merchant in Virginia Beach, which had been so revelatory for me on so many counts, Aaron announced that the show had run about quite a few minutes over its best running time. I don’t recall the actual figure by this point, but it was some horrendous amount like ten minutes, and as the character with the most lines in the show I was probably responsible for a healthy (or unhealthy) percentage of that. The upshot of this fact was that we were asked to tighten up our cues as much as humanly possible, and the upshot of that request was that I spent the final show on the road thinking predominantly about picking up cues and eliminating any hairbreadth of a pause.

I by no means believe in pause-ridden Shakespeare, but, on the other hand, I have enough faith in myself in a person who likes to Move the Text that I stopped thinking about it, and that was obviously the place I had gotten to in Virginia Beach. And I appreciate that perhaps the show in Maryland was better than its immediate predecessor for the audience, but I felt straitjacketed simply by having to think very hard about something other than telling the story—it’s precisely the same reason why the first show in an any acoustically difficult space was trying for me, because I always had to keep part of my mind on this utterly technical point.

I know I strive, as an actor, to reach a point where I am no longer thinking—perhaps we all do, though in working with this troupe of actors for an entire year I was able to glean enough to speculate this may not be everyone’s goal. But I think I came to the point of being halfway-decent, as an actor, when I learned how to shut off as much of my thinking brain as possible and just be a little stupid. (My eternal thanks to Dennis Krausnick of Shakespeare and Company for leading me to that point.) And in order to do what I think is my best work, I need to not-think about verse, and not-think about text work, and not-think about pacing. And, even in my modesty, I think I did that many times within this season. But it didn’t happen with the Merchant at Montgomery College.

But Aaron was happy with the show, which is more important than the skewed opinion of my internal judge. Afterwards, he announced with some triumph that the show was back to its original length, and asked us if we noticed the difference. Ginna, I recall, thought it was a great show, but Josh made some comment about feeling as though he was in his head, with which I more than sympathised.

We had what amounted to a day off in between the two performances, when only a couple of people had a workshop in the morning. (I participated in an interesting workshop about direction in which both Ginna and I agreed that we were very glad we don’t do the darker and more violent Kate/Bianca Bound scene that we tried as a redirection.) I decided to go into D.C. to go to a museum, and, perhaps to the shame of my Art-Historian mother, was taken with a desire to go to the Air and Space Museum over an art museum.

I took three astronomy courses in college and am consequently a kind of dilettante astronomer, my current efforts being constrained to reading relevant newspaper articles with interest, possessing a proclivity to the Air and Space Museum, and reading physics-for-the-masses books like The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene. These are tasks well-befitting my abilities, as none of them involve math. But I found the Air and Space museum less enchanting than it had been for me at, say, age eight, and narrated to one of my dear Astronomy professors from B.U. that my mind would have rather preferred more Space and less Air, however my lungs might feel about the matter.

That evening, I had dinner with my aunt, uncle, and cousin, the self-same who were proud witnesses of One of the Finest Moments of Theatre, Shakespearean or Otherwise, That I Have Ever Seen. We went to a Chinese restaurant, under the false impression that they had Dim Sum all day. It was no matter, because Dan and I went to get Dim Sum the following morning, and I think I ate enough Dim Sum to have sufficed for the previous evening, and perhaps the following evening, as well.

Here is a picture taken after our final performance. We have our hands in the ‘Fancy Bred’ circle that we would do prior to some performances. Points go to Head Historian Paul for the orchestration of this photo, which as you can possibly infer, involved a ladder. When he first asked for a ladder I thought he was going to try to do a re-creation of the 1987 Henry V picture of the first production that led to the formation of Shenandoah Shakespeare, later the American Shakespeare Center. I am glad that he did not, because no one would have been able to recreate the leather shirt on the esteemed Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen, FEDADOM, and the smiley unbearded face of Jim Warren. (This photo is by the rehearsal hall in the Blackfriars, and if you, dear reader, go on a guided tour of the theatre, you can see this picture yourself.)

As I look at this photograph, it seems to me as if the unseen photographer is saying to Alisa, ‘Give me sexy, baby,’ and to Ginna ‘Give me cool, baby, work it,’ and to me ‘Give me overcompensation for the fact that you’re sad the final show on the road wasn’t the experience you hoped, yeah.’ I do not mean to put overcompensation on anyone else’s smile, but knowing that Josh confessed to a similar opinion of the show, I do wonder about the fact that we’re almost the smiliest ones in the photograph. Besides Dan. But Dan is smiley because he’s one of the best people on earth.

Clockwise from lower left: Paul Reisman, Ellen Adair, Josh Carpenter, Chris Seiler, Alisa Ledyard, Evan Hoffmann, Ginna Hoben, Scot Carson, Chris Johnston, Raffi Barsoumian, Daniel Kennedy

Piercing Eloquence 2007-2008

I couldn’t ask for a more talented group of actors to roam the east half of the U.S. in three vans with. Thank you.


Read Full Post »

Sarasota, Florida, February 5-6:

Florida appears to me to be God’s geographical reminder that life is not fair. I had never been to Florida in the winter, and, being thus unprepared for the surprise of how warm it actually was, my first thought, as I stepped out of the van, was: “This is not FAIR.” It still seems to me unfathomable that, several days prior, when I was freezing in West Virginia, people in Florida were walking around in sandals and shorts. Furthermore, all seven winters I spent in Boston, with the Holy-Baby-Jesus-Wear-All-Maximum-Layers-of-Warmth wind whipping off the Atlantic and funnelling through the high-rise corridors, there were people in Florida walking around in sandals and shorts! It blows my tiny little mind.

In consequence, I could not shake the feeling that we had travelled in time, rather than in space. I would see signs for events happening in February, and think, ‘Wow, that sign is really old. How is it that they can possibly be so lax as to have signs for February up in June?’ It may seem illogical of me to find time travel more realistic than warm weather in the winter, but consider the following Syllogism of Ellen’s Life:

Cold = Misery
Winter = Cold,
or conversely:
Lack of Misery = Lack of Cold
Lack of Cold = Lack of Winter
and thus:
Lack of Misery = Lack of Winter

The only other time I’ve travelled to a significantly southern place in the middle of winter was when the first time I went to Bangladesh, but it makes a little more emotional sense when it’s halfway around the world, and everything else is different, too. Also, I didn’t have as much life experience with being cold at that point. Anyone who knows me, or anyone who doesn’t know me but has read blog posts such as those on Maine and upstate New York, will know that I spend 85% of my life being cold, and cold is consequently my primary adversary in life. I also spend about 0.023% of my life being actually hot, and so Florida’s trade-off of having really quite sticky summers seems like a perfectly decent price to pay for this lack of misery.

N.B. People who are frequently hot and consequently despise being hot are always telling me that being cold is better than being hot because you can always put more clothes on, whereas you cannot always take more clothes off. They do not understand. I am aware that this is probably true for them, but in the winter, it is physically impossible for me to put on enough clothes to be actually warm. This is not for a lack of trying, because I wear, on average, six or seven layers to go out of doors. That is not a hyperbolic number. I may be a freak, but that doesn’t make my perpetual coldness any less a fact.

Apropos of me being a freak, somewhere around one-half to three-quarters of the cast got sunburns on our first full day in Sarasota, and most have gotten some kind of colour since then. I avoided this, for the most part, by wearing SPF 50, as I do every day of my life. Now I appear even more white, by contrast, than I usually do. As I walked into a CVS in Islamorada (our subsequent stop), the nice woman at the counter said, “Now, I know you’re not from around here because you’re too white.” Thank you, Irish ancestry.

We performed in a large room with a constructed stage and chairs set up in a nice thrust, similar to the set-up we had in Orville and in Canton. The stage, and particularly the stairs attached to it, were a bit rickety; I noticed this most when I was lying on the ground as the dead version of the Boy in Henry V, and the ground shook like mad when Henry and his retinue came in for “I was not angry since I came to France.” It was both impressive and probably the most fun that I’ve had as a dead person, as usually the most exciting thing that happens is that I might get accidentally spit upon by Chris Seiler and his excellent diction.

N.B. Let us add that last sentence to our collection of Only a Life in the Theatre phrases.

We performed Henry V the first night, and Taming of the Shrew the second; both shows had absolutely fantastic and responsive audiences. Demographically, they were an interesting mix of college students and retirees, a logical conclusion of the surrounding population. (It may be a stereotype, but sweet biscuits, if I could retire to Florida, I would. But this is probably not a possibility, unless I end up doing some unforeseen and currently inconceivable thing with my life. I set much store by the saying that old actors don’t retire, they die.) The effect of having the audience less dominated by young people was, it seemed to me, that more people laughed at different kinds of things, especially in Henry. There was one particularly nice man who sat on the stage right side both times, and laughed at everything, including things that I do, and even things I did as Bianca, which shows him to be either brimming with good will or lacking in judgment, or possibly both.

It had been so nice to reach a level of comfort with Henry early in this half of the tour, but unfortunately, I think a few of us felt some of this ease had dissolved over the last fortnight of not doing the show. A highlight of the show for me was the Boy’s soliloquy, which I felt less poorly about than I usually do—probably aided by the fact that the generous audience laughed at all of the jokes.

However, the English Lesson scene, normally a point of comfort for me (as it’s almost identical to the way that Ginna and I did it in the Renaissance Run), was suddenly bizarre. I’ve been asked several times if I find acting in French to be difficult, and I have always responded that no, it doesn’t feel particularly more challenging. (Improvising in French would be more difficult, but fortunately, I’ve only had to do that once, and, come to think of it, it was easier than trying to improvise iambic pentameter.) But, in this performance, as I uttered my first phrase, my sentences suddenly felt like mere sounds. I went through most of the scene praying that my body knew the sounds well enough to continue, because my mind felt disconnected. My body’s memory pulled through, but it was probably my least favourite time I’ve ever done that scene, which is usually a high point for me.

Fortunately, the final wooing scene was especially good, though the talented Mr. Hoffmann, as Henry, has far more to do with that than I do. Ginna does such a beautiful job as Alice, and I have yet to acknowledge the brilliance of her taking the line “I do not know what is ‘baiser’ en Anglish” to the audience, because 99% of the time, a few people shout back, ‘To kiss!’ The first time Ginna did that was our December performance in the Blackfriars, but the fact that people respond no matter where we go demonstrates, in a nutshell, what is truly fantastic about the American Shakespeare Center.

Everyone had a lot of fun with the following evening’s Shrew, not the least of which was the audience; the show ran very long, but when I was on stage, I felt it was more due to people laughing at everything than lack of cue pick-ups. The most distinctive aspect of both of these shows for me personally was a particularly strong and joyful presence of my characters backstage. I can’t quite explain it, but what I remember most clearly was coming off stage after my first Bianca entrance and being SO EXCITED that I just got new jewellery. I can’t say honestly say I’ve ever been very excited about them before, in part because they are stupendously hideous. The gigantic lime-green necklace probably reads a little better from stage, but the Gremio bracelet, which is a sort of quasi-cloisonné double-headed tiger (a great name for a band, by the way), actually wins the Delightfully Ugly competition. I remember having a conversation with Jim in June in which I said that I preferred the slightly more tasteful rehearsal prop necklace and bracelets, but quickly followed it up with the assertion that BIANCA liked whichever ones Jim liked better, thus garnering a laugh from Jim. Today, this was truly a reality. I came backstage and literally jumped up and down and clapped my hands. Josh and Paul laughed at me, and laughed even harder when, having been still in Bianca mode, I knocked over one of the tall silver goblets with my incredibly wide petticoat. Poor Bianca, she’s a graceful girl trapped in a klutzy actor’s body. I clutched the offending petticoat and grinned an apology to the nearest person, conveniently Chris/Baptista. I was having too much fun to stop.

Our hotel was very nice, complete with outdoor pool, hot tub, and complimentary cookies, which were very exciting for some, but would have been more exciting for me had they been complimentary boxes of raisins. Other Sarasota events included a viewing of There Will Be Blood, which Dan and I had been trying to see since Fairmont; I scarcely breathed throughout the entire thing. Super Tuesday also happened everywhere else whilst we were in Sarasota; I scarcely breathed through that, either.

Read Full Post »