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Posts Tagged ‘Theatre Ninja’

Weyers Cave, Virginia, January 18:

Weyers Cave was one of the first places we visited on the first leg of our tour, and it was nice to return to do Henry V, having done Taming of the Shrew in the fall. It was nice to do Henry, at all, in order to satisfy our interrupted expectations two nights prior, and our previous performance of Shrew made us fairly certain that they weren’t going to ask us to do Shrew instead.

Both shows at this venue were excellent; the audiences were friendly, engaged, and quick to laugh, and the true thrust stage set up in their lovely black box theatre is one of my favourite environments for involving the audience, and, thus, for Shakespeare. Our Shrew last September was one of my, say, five favourite Shrew performances so far, and this Henry was, from my vantage point, also one of our best Henry performances so far. I felt freed from some of the things that have been continually constraining my performance as the Boy, and it seemed that all of my continually-brilliant castmates had a similar energy in their performances. Ginna did a particularly beautiful job with the Hostess’s monologue, and all of the ‘Low Life’ scenes, which we’d worked on during our rehearsals that week, seemed fresher.

Alisa was particularly excited to see that they had installed mirrors in the dressing room, because they were not yet installed when we inaugurated the new space in the fall. The lack of mirrors was particularly noticible because the partitions set up between each seat, reminiscent of desks found in libraries—as if the management were afraid of actors copying other actors’ make-up—neatly framed twelve rectangles of blank wall.

Sweet Briar, Virginia, January 19:

The promise of three Henry shows in as many days was indeed too good to be true, but the universe allowed two consecutive performances with no further complications. Though I myself did not have quite as good of a show as the previous evening, Sweet Briar played host to one of the most outgoing and enthusiastic audiences for Henry we’ve had outside of the Blackfriars. (A couple of people got exit applause, including Ginna and myself for the English Lesson scene!)

The large auditorium had weak lighting for the house, which made it difficult to see specific people in the audience. Because I’ve always felt that to a particularly painful blow in my struggle to do the Boy’s soliloquy with any kind of passing professionalism, I decided to alter the blocking a little in order to be able to talk directly to people. Fortunately, there were wings to the stage, projecting like runways along the side walls; I scrambled over there to hide when Fluellen stormed out, consequently putting myself in a place where I could see the audience more easily. Not only was it helpful to me to be able to jump off the runway into the auditorium, but it was also an opportunity to be a Theatre Ninja, which always delights me.

Our reception at Sweet Briar was extraordinarily hospitable, especially for a venue that we were only visiting for one night. The way to actors’ hearts is frequently through their stomachs (my friend Stephanie observed to me that the two things I always talk about on this blog are theatre and food), and the lovely people at Sweet Briar provided us with an entire panoply of snacks for the afternoon, and THEN held a reception for us afterwards! It made us feel well-loved and well-fed, or perhaps (as I posit) well-loved because well-fed.

I extend my warm thanks to the staff and the superlatively friendly audience not only because they deserve our gratitude, but also to emphasize that I have nothing but good will for them despite the fact that this women’s college has a truly terrible motto. We were eating lunch in the campus dining hall, when someone noticed that the napkin dispensers contained a bright pink piece of paper that read

SWEET BRIAR: THINK IS FOR GIRLS

After much deliberation, we determined that they were attempting to play off of the idea ‘Pink is for girls,’ but I don’t think that is a strong enough concept to be worthy of subversion, at all, especially when its product employs a verbal acuity reminiscent of Tarzan. The fact that “think” is so wildly ungrammatical, compounded with use of the word “girls” rather than, say, “women,” gives it, to my ear, a kind of insulting tone. (The latter reminds me of my friend Devin, jokingly saying to his friend Becky who scored a letter grade higher than him on a high-school Spanish test, “Gee, Becky, you did well on that test…for a GIRL.”)

Consequently, THINK about it! With both ‘think’ and ‘girls’ being slightly promblematic, the only decent words are ‘is’ and ‘for,’ thus rendering a full 50% of the motto potentially offensive. In conclusion, I am struck by the irony of having a motto encouraging thinking that apparently involved so little mental activity itself.

Many people suggested revisions, of varying political correctness; my favourite was Mr. Paul Reisman’s:

THINK IS FOR GIRLS

GRAMMAR IS FOR GROWN-UPS

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Watertown, New York, November 4-7:

Our stay in Watertown did not have an auspicious beginning. Instead, it began with all of us loitering in the parking lot outside of the Days Inn, waiting for Aaron and Paul to return with our room assignments, but seeing, instead, Aaron stride out of the hotel with the kind of purposeful gait employed by action heroes about to lay the smackdown. “Get back in the vans,” he said. “They fucked me.”

Aaron had apparently called the people at the Days Inn, asking them to add a day to the beginning of our reservation. But they had no record of the extension, and, obviously, no record that Aaron had called. And because a convention of psychics had booked the hotel that weekend, there was no room at the Inn.

So we were forced to drive down the street to the Econo-Lodge. And o my sweet lord indeed, I think I may have preferred a stable.

It was not the moment that we pulled into the parking lot and someone glimpsed an abandoned washing machine in the back that depressed me; nor was it the moment that we walked into the hallway and it smelled, not merely like smoke, but like a bowling alley; but when the door swung open and I saw our room, my very spirit sunk. The only thing the room looked fit for was for committing suicide, and from the extraordinarily negative energy of the room, it would not have surprised me to learn that someone had indeed killed themselves within.

I am very serious about this. I am not a person who goes on excessively about ‘negative energy;’ in fact, I can’t remember ever responding so strongly to any single room in my life. The dirt alone is not to blame, because I have stayed in many less luxurious rooms in foreign countries in my life: I have slept on a one-inch foam pad on a stone floor in India; I have slept on a carpeted floor augmented only by sheets in China. But this room had BAD JUJU. It is the second most depressing place I have ever been in my life, the first being the airport in Mumbai at 3 AM, because there was no place to sit, no windows, and a kind of sickly light that puts one in mind of The Place Where There Is No Darkness from 1984. There were people sleeping on cardboard in the bathrooms—not homeless people, but Indian passengers, who clearly found the bathroom preferable to the general terminal and its horrific pallid light that, too, made one think of suicide.

I immediately left the room and sat in a drive-through Starbucks for a couple of hours until dinner. Ms. Ginna Hoben, Mr. Raffi Barsoumian, Mr. Evan Hoffman and I went for a grand night out at the nearby Applebee’s that evening, essentially in order to get drunk enough to be able to deal with our hotel rooms. Or at least, I know that was my reasoning, and I think that Ginna was of a similar mind. It was not entirely successful, as it shut down the rational side of my brain that was battling the terror of the Econo-Lodge; I wanted to stop by the Days Inn and see if one of the psychics could cleanse the juju of my room. But instead, I slept fitfully, partly because of the mattress, but predominantly because my completely inebriated and illogical self was afraid that if I went into a vulnerable sleep state, the Evil Spirits would possess me and make me hang myself on the cord for the ceiling lamp or slit my wrists in the filthy bathtub.

DISCLAIMER ONE: You cannot blame this paranoia on recent films about terrifying hotel rooms such as No Vacancy or 1408, neither of which I have seen. I may have even gotten their names wrong.

DISCLAIMER TWO: I have never had an actually suicidal thought in my life. This blog post is not a cry for help. Although it might be, if I were still staying in the Econo-Lodge.

The following day was a day off, but naturally we had to check out of the Econo-Lodge at 11 AM, and we couldn’t check into the Days Inn until 4 PM. Thank you, helpful and hospitable Days Inn staff! So we were stuck toting our bags around in the strip mall hell in which both hotels were located. I find suburban retail sprawl more dismal than any other American landscape, in part because it’s so prevalent, and in part because it strips the soul out of the place and makes one place utterly indistinguishable from the next. Or perhaps everything seemed depressing, as the whole town was cast under the pall of the Econo-Lodge.

Thus anything that went wrong in Watertown we attributed to the Curse of the Econo-Lodge. When Ginna thought she might not get to see her boyfriend that weekend—that was the Curse of the Econo-Lodge. When Aaron, having long contemplated the idea of succulent wings, went to the Buffalo Wild Wings, only to find that it would not open for another week—that was the Curse of the Econo-Lodge. When there were no more rice krispie treats at the dining hall—that was the Curse of the Econo-Lodge. When a small child wept through Kate’s last speech in Shrew—that’s right: the Curse of the Econo-Lodge.

Fortunately, the people at the venue were very nice, and even had a dinner for us, with lots of Thanksgivingesque foods. The highlight of this event was when one of the English teachers, a Polish woman who had been entertaining all of us at her table for some time, leaned over to the next table, and addressed Evan by saying, “O King, o king: you must wear briefs, and not boxers.” The randomness of this interjection made both Aaron and Ginna launch themselves from the table and collapse in fits of laughter at another table, which was almost as humorous as the comment itself. Naturally, I sympathise with them, as I frequently find that things are so funny that I cannot actually deal with them whilst remaining in my original seat, though generally I just fall onto the floor rather than stumbling the length of the room. The teacher’s comment was less surprising for those of us at her table, as she had already brought the topic up more gently earlier, posing the King Henry Boxers vs. Briefs Issue as a question, rather than a command. When another of the teachers queried her about the fact that she had an opinion on the matter, she replied, “I check out everything: above the equator, and below.” I think her decision to instruct Evan on the matter was equally amusing to those of us who saw the build-up, but for different reasons.

Admittedly, for Evan, this episode may also fall under The Curse of the Econo-Lodge.

As is already abundantly clear, we had a performance of Henry the Fifth on our first night. It remains difficult to hit the show’s stride when we only do it once a fortnight, but we had a nice audience that laughed at some of the more complicated jokes. It was not, perhaps, our best Henry ever, though it’s natural that our best one has been in Canton, when we got to do the show twice in one week.

I personally had a fun time in the Clowns at War scene. I’m supposed to mock what Pistol has just been doing with my line, “As duly / But not as truly / As bird doth sing on bough;” originally, Dan had been doing a kind of Gilbert and Sullivan style shuffle which Giles dubbed ‘Pistol’s Revue,’ and I was supposed to do a little soft-shoe in ridicule. But Dan’s been changing it around, and blowing his nose on his flag—which I certainly don’t mind, I’m simply in the position of trying to do what he does. I saw that there was a flag on a pole on the side of the stage: a more common fixture in high school auditoriums, but which graced this theatre, too. So in order to mock Pistol I went over and blew my nose in it. Then I realised that the flag is a bit of an anachronism, so I lifted it up and scrutinised it: what is this odd flag with all of these red and white stripes? I decided also to take advantage of it when Fluellen came in, and twisted myself up in it to hide.

Perhaps no one noticed, as there are so many other funnier things going on in the scene, but it was a delight for me, and an example of what my director for Macbeth, Brendan Hughes, called being a Theatre Ninja. That production also toured, and he encouraged us to take stock of a space like a Ninja and use everything in it to its utmost potential. The words of the estimable Mr. Hughes obviously remain with me to this day (as do others, such as ‘mmminteresting’ and ‘meow’), and the opportunity to be a Theatre Ninja is one of the chief reasons that I love touring.

The following day, we had a 90-minute version of Taming of the Shrew for a wonderful high school audience, who were both spunky and attentive. People were swaying their arms back and forth during the pre-show music, and two boys in green shirts about one-third of the way towards the back were having so much fun that I marked one of them to be the one Bianca flirts with on the lines “I never yet beheld that special…face / Which I could fancy more than any other” in the Kate/Bianca Bound scene. It was a good choice, as the boy actually waved back at me.

But of course, I was very glad to get Uncut Bianca back when we did a full-length Shrew the following evening! It was a good show, I think. I love creating little ‘play’ situations backstage; it’s such fun to work with other actors who create them, too, or will play along with mine, and Raffi and Ginna are two such actors. One of the amusing features of both of our Shrew performances was that Evan, when he makes the ‘Master! Master! Master! Ugh! MASTER!’ entrance as Biondello, leapt onto the tall stage and slid across the surface on his belly. I have previously thought of the leap that he often does on the top step as a kind of ‘dolphin leap,’ so it is good to see that he is adding other aquatic creatures such as penguins to the repertoire. It reminds me of Bill Mootos, who played Captain Brice in the production of Arcadia that I was in several years ago, talking about ‘his animal’ for the evening being a cheetah, or a moth, or a vole, &c.

But none of us were too broken up to leave the Curse of the Econo-Lodge behind us. The only good that can be said of it was the creation of the band toor, whose hit single “Where’s the Water” (in Watertown) was directly inspired by and recorded in the Econo-Lodge. The band artists are very clandestine about their involvement, but as I have heard their voices once or twice before in my life, I can credit Mr. Chris Johnston and Mr. Paul Reisman as the original band members: Paul sums up their artistic contributions in the “Where’s the Water” as “He does the playin’ / I do the ironic comments.” The song is absolutely a perfect evocation of the Econo-Lodge experience and you must listen to it. Special guest artist “Afro” joins them on their second song, “Cooter,” whose voice, I’ll be sworn, has a resemblance to that of Mr. Raffi Barsoumian. I will issue a Parental Advisory in regards to these songs, fantastic as they are: if you are impressionable, easily offended, or pro-Econo-Lodge, you listen at your own risk.

 Of course, if you are impressionable or easily offended, I really ought to have issued a Parental Advisory about the closing sentence of my introductory paragraph. And if you are pro-Econo-Lodge, god help you: you’ve got greater problems than these to worry about. 

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