Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What I did on my summer vacation...

Look you, and behold, and be afraid. 'Tis my 17 fellows, brothers and sisters and bloody conspirators who did enact upon the misty Pennsylvanian night the story of a Scot gone wrong, and his "fiendlike queen"; of Weird Sisters of suburban upbringing, who did paint themselves green and toss dry ice chips into their smoky abyss, conjuring hell's breath under thundrous skies; of the righteous Thane of Fife and his 'venging blade; of feckless murderers and their noble victim; of falsely accused princes, their betrayéd father's corpse still warm as they flew to British haven; of ghosts of kings yet to be; of a red-painted set and and an uplit entrance; of lavender filter and duelling tartan; of that fleet flicker of theatrical elementasia, burning a bardic nova for an hour and 45, with a snack of whole-wheat cheddar bunnies at the Interval.

Direct Shakespeare? I asked myself. Why not take a risk. The play's the thing, after all, even after I spent two merciless nights with the red pen, Sweeny Todd-style, slicing entire scenes, chunks of scenes, even gutting individual speeches. It was literary surgery, and as I dug out Macbeth's extra flesh, I fretted it would still be too long.

The noble Banquo, back from the grave to stir things up.
'Twas not, and chiefly due to my actors' hard work on the text, 'cause when you're making good by the story, time doesn't matter. Also, Macbeth is one of those plays, a scholarly friend pointed out to me, that lends itself to maximum spectacle, and we were able to pull out a few stops, particularly with the top of Part II.

Just a few ladies in the woods doing God's work...
 Not all of my design elements made it into the performance--due to a rainstorm/electronic tragedy that afternoon, deserving of its own five-act play--but for "Eye of newt, toe of frog..." I think we nailed it.

It's these little tastes of  truth, if you will, that sew together the gossamer quiltwork that is live theatre. The scene above could only happen on this night, with the actors holding nothing back, and only when the rains permitted it, having cleared up just hours prior. Costume, makeup, the sound effect of whistling wind, lighting, haze, dry ice, artists.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow
 And truth was also achieved with much less hoopla. The quiet truth of Ernesto Renda, for example, who brought humility and a measured pride to the title role, one of the most ambitious in the canon.

Lady Mac, near her end.
 And the uncontained truth of Maya Olivia Baker-Pettersen, a searing Lady Macbeth portrayed by a young woman not yet out of high school. Watch for her on larger stages, I'll warr'nt.
Lay on, Macduff!
In the end, the butcher was dispatched by a grief-hardened Macduff as embodied by a fierce Cullen Denton, who gamely tried on all the emotive hats and fight choreography tossed at him by his maniacal director.
Malcolm exults in the birth of a new Scotland

Everyone in the ensemble contributed to this night; everyone stretched their wings from rehearsal to performance. I was immeasurably proud of them all.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Pick a Card, Any Card...

Back at work and trying to make sense of the soon-to-be changing leaves, I'm falling back on the one thing we can count on in life: utter chaos. Or, at least, attempts at organizing chaos, which is more or less how we spend every waking moment as humans.

When I have some time on my hands, as sometimes happens in stagehandery--one waits until one is needed after all--I like to play with the Next Blog button. It takes you to what appears to be a randomly selected blog, but damned if there isn't some subtle connection. Crafting blogs will tend to take you to other crafting blogs, and vampire fan fiction... well, you get the point. Subsequent clicks of Next Blog from the same starting point, however, "navigate" you to a completely different site. Some talented people at Blogger no doubt spent considerable time and effort "crafting" the interior logic of this nifty algorithim, and I'd just like to shake their hands. To wit: I'd hoped that when I Next-Blogged myself from these pages, I'd find another slightly deranged, wack-a-doo blog like my own. What invariably happened, though, is that I wound up reading the zealotry of Korean born-again Christians.

So instead, I've used other people's blogs as a starting point.  Here are a few tidbits to brighten your day, found through "random" connections, in some way, to three blogs I like. Again, note that like fingerprints, these three-click results are unique. I played bossa nova in the background while I mixed down this World Wide Meatloaf. If you'd like to do the same, press play for your convenience.

First map: Start at the Live Nude Poems, and hit Next Blog three times. Apparently, the poetical tastes of my man Rusty shares tonguespace with cartoon-like art, as manifest in our combined blogging consciousness. Here's a neat print from Rusty's far-flung Internet cousin, Enzo Avolio:

We are all birds of a feather, n'est-cs pas?

If you start from Nothing Profound's Out of Context and click your heels three times, you wind up at To the Moon and Back, which gives fair warning: "This blogger is a purpose-driven wife." Here you'll find what appears to be a lot of biblical meditation as well as obligatory child documentation and, as an extra bonus, book reviews, like one sporting this fine fellow:
And for our next trick, starting with the greatest cycling blog in the multiverse, BikeSnob, which put the "meh" in "meh-ta," my three clicks got me to this guy:

Now... I'm not being mean, folks, because mean people aren't liked, but I must at least unfold the irony board here. I would be doing no one any favors if I didn't point out that this gentleman is probably exactly the kinda guy whom BikeSnob delights in skewering. Also, he's not updated his blog since last January. Is this where the Things He Thinks About end? I, for one, hope not.

Note that this little "meme" only seems to work for sites driven by Blogspot, and then again, only when the blogger in question keeps the Next Blog button within their design scheme. You WordPress folks, you do fine work, but you just don't seem to have an interest in quantum mechanics. Damn shame.

That's all I got for a Thursday, and you know what? That's plenty. Thanks for reading, and please bear in mind: If it ain't Thursday, it sure ain't Thanksgiving.

Also: If no matter where you click, you invariably land upon born-again Koreans, land softly. It might just be God's way of saying, Keep the Faith.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Scots-Irish in Pa...

For the second summer in a row, I took the progeny to the arts camp where I spent 11 summers as a much younger fellow. And I can tell you, few things are more gratifying than working with kids. They're usually quite willing to plow into the snowbank of the unknown, scooping their own path as they go and not caring if their mittens get wet or if they run out of gas.

This year, there was very little homesickness for my particular little shaver, and he sampled a piu-piu platter of camp, with great relish: saxophone and drums and ceramics and horse riding and lighting and photography and camera-op and performing, as Donalbain, in his Dad's production of Shakespeare's Macbeth. 'Cause, y'know, what screams ambition, murder, and madness upon the Scottish heath more than 21st-century American kids?

The production was, in part, a 32-year vindication. When I was in grammar school, I rehearsed the same play; that production was struck down not by Birnam stilting its way into Dunsinane, but rather when chicken pox ripped a virulent swath across the Fifth Grade. The language--and the play is loaded with some of the bard's greatest stuff--stuck with me all these years, and when I volunteered to direct my first Shakespeare this summer I thought, Why the hell not? What role did I have in 1978? The one my son played three nights ago. Go figure.

As most theatre people know, even thinking the title of said play will bring horrible misfortune upon one's immediate line of sucession and their dogs. I had thought we enjoyed a protective shield on our magic mountain top in the wilds of North-Central Pennsylvania. Guess again. Our lighting system had an unfortunate encounter with the midday rains on our day of performace, and we did our final dress rehearsal in an indoor proscenium space, as opposed to the triple outdoor stage where we had rehearsed. "Don't worry about where we are right now, just listen to your scene partner and settle into the language," I told the kids. And by God they did -- making up new staging on the fly, and without their props, which were still drying in the back of the house.  Suddenly, the scenes took flight, and the cast was finding new moments, new readings, new truths. via language more than 400 years old! I couldn't have been more pleased by a rehearsal driven inside by the weather. By dinner, the rains let up, but the electrical wheel had to be re-invented in order to get the show up on its original space. But persevere we did, and to great effect. Witches, haze, a strong night wind, dry ice for Double, double toil and trouble, fighting with wooden broadswords and some immensely talented children made for serious theatre magic. Nothing's perfect, but man, there were some spine-tingling moments.

For my transitional and background sound cues, I found some chaps you ought to check out: They're called Albannach, and their stuff was ideal for our bloody purpose. The set was fun, too. Historically, I have the most artistic difficulty when it comes to set design. As fate willed it, the Outdoor Platform needed some overhaul and the new boards that were laid in needed paint.  Why not red? a voice asked, adrift in my creative oblongata. It was the kickstart I needed, and I'll soon post photos of the finished project from that most fair and foul day.
I am a blessed human to have the opportunity to direct strange and wonderful children in the woods--just like some lucky folks did with me, 20-some years ago. Making time for the things that are most important in one's life is a lesson that can't come soon enough. For me, it was two years ago when a bunch of us who were campers in the 80s descended upon our summer haven for a reunion weekend.

The place still radiates magic, cliche though that is to type--46 years and going strong--and every year brings a medley of new and old. Some highlights from this summer were vegetable parades (featuring the yields of the camp's own organic gardens)
 with impromptu songs before dinner, a visiting dance company that developed new work during a brief residency and presented it to the camp, again before dinner, and a marvelous quilt, made by campers and shown off in the Dining Hall.

I also oversaw quite a few radio shows at the low-power FM station operated by the camp, and one show typified, I think, the aesthetic of the Ballibay kid. The show was called "It's Nerdtastic!" and glorified all the things that might drive someone under the floorboards at your standard American high school.

But at Ballibay, those kids are rockstars. And given that one of the camp's most popular programs is the Rock program, that metaphor can sometimes be literal!

And so back into the fray of the mundane for me. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow: 8 a.m. workforce worhip. Bills, laundry, local politics, househunting, culinary adventure...and hopefully more frequent contributions to this blog. The last three weeks have given me enough creative fodder to feed an imaginary wild turkey out back, supplying a periodic plucked feather quill and a good dose of nature's humor when I need'st jarring from the everyday. Seriously. Have you ever really spent time with one of those mothers up close? Ugly!

Thanks very much for reading, and please bear in mind that just because Ben Franklin came up short with his candidate for the national bird doesn't mean we can't chase them with a scattergun every spring and fall, like God, and no doubt Wil Shakespeare, intended.