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THE PLAY AND THE PROPS

I have played in community theatres and used theatrical property as an actor… but this spring (if you can call it spring because it won’t stop snowing) I had the opportunity to learn how to be a part of the props team at a very old community theatre in Canada’s capital city – The Ottawa Little Theatre.

 

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A production of the classic Tennessee William’s play A Streetcar Named Desire recently took place. I found myself as one of the theatre rats making my way stage left and stage right behind the stage’s backdrop… to help arrange the items that find their way onto the stage as the play moves forward. I found the no-pressure listening backstage to this play to be very rewarding because this very well written play tends to evoke new ideas each time I hear it. When listening isn’t ideal, there are two screens to watch the players on stage – one is in the greenroom (next to cookies a steady stream of coffee/tea) and the other is stage left with the oompa-loompa cueing lights etc. etc..

 

The ideas that the play evoked in me were about the treatment of women, the role of women and the function of “sisterhood”. Having several siblings myself, (six in total), and two of those sibling being sisters- I can’t help it. My siblings offer lenses into the world and human behaviour that I otherwise would be blind to- and for this I am eternally grateful. One of my sisters happens to usually my buddy-in-crime on other film and theatre sets:

 

Being from a large family tree, with close-knit siblings, this play is particularly difficult for me to watch and listen to. In our circumstance, we’d have been the rascals on the playground making everyone we come into contact with accept each other… but as much as Stella and Blanche attempt to do so- therein lies the tragedy of the play. These sisters are faced with such environment and life choices that they are unable to protect each other from the harms of the world whether directly or indirectly. I feel like this is where the characters become universal. Where Stanley becomes a metaphor for environment, and the sisters a symbol of sisterhood and friendship. The play tends to be quite funny, and this production was funny, but listening backstage I got a different sense of the language. The play really is about love as odd as that sounds. The humour is written over immense conflict and tragedy of people’s ability to lose the homes (and the people) they love – and I guess that’s why we continue to put on Williams’ plays. He always seems to plug in a reminder that people are quite fragile underneath circumstance, environment and the masks they wear to protect themselves from others.

 

Blanche endlessly alludes to poetry, runs it over Stanley’s head, Stella endlessly remembers and identifies the ‘children’ in both Stanley and Stella. In my gossip with the rest of the props team, we whispered once or twice about how theatre is a nice place to escape and flesh out conflicts like these, so that we recognize them in our lives. In my experience, this play always makes me want to squeeze my siblings and never let them go- and I do! It feels like yelling, “Rummy!” in a card game, which happens to have been my first line on a community theatre stage! (I completely relate to both Stella’s weakness for childhood memories and Blanche’s weakness for tying poetry and escapism into the conflicts she finds herself in). By contrast, in reality, this play is just that- a method of escaping for a few hours and devising ways to ensure that nothing like that ever happens in your own life (the use of literary tools associated with irony and humour).

 

Anyway, enough of that- I highly recommend volunteering a little every once in a while. It is easy to fit into life, it allowed me to be a part of a team, and I noticed that The Ottawa Little Theatre is a really nice, standard, theatre. And now I’ve gotten to know the theatre from the inside out! Which, apparently is sometimes the only way to work!

 

My souvenir? (shhh, don’t tell Stanley) The props team took the breakables – mine is a little blue cup from the dinner table that I may turn into a planter this summer:

 

breakable

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FARINELLI AND THE KING

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For some reason I may have been taking the Belasco Theatre for granted. I have seen a few productions there over the last few years. On Saturday I made my way over to West 44th to check out a production called Farinelli and The King in New York City. I found a pretty reasonable ticket too (under $40 USD) – yay!

 

This time I took another few glances at the molding, the classical figures painted into the walls, the many unique stained glass light fixtures and the detailed ceilings. I noticed that this theatre really is nice to look at as other audience members flooded into the orchestra and characters began to form a world on stage. I was reminded that environment can affect a theatre going experience!

 

The real reason why I found myself inside the Belasco on Saturday, however, was not for the murals or light fixtures or gold paint. It was to (once again) spy on Mark Rylance from seat E15. This time round Rylance played the character of King Philippe V.

 

I wasn’t sure if I’d like this play about King Philippe V and his musical muse Farinelli (Sam Crane). I did though (like it). Unexpectedly.

 

What did I like?

 

The treatment of mental illness was portrayed with sympathy and humour (for starters). The Playbill insert by David Cote explained that “[t]hroughout his rule, King Philippe V suffered from what we now call bipolar disorder”. Although “unhinged”, as only a King would, he still possessed a uniquely high level of understanding and training around what has been expected of him. Even while he hides and shirks responsibilities, King Philippe V floats through his present and past life experiences in order to cope with an environment and social interaction that he finds overwhelming. King Philippe V becomes unmotivated and forlorn until his wife, Isabella Farnese (Melody Grove), provides him with a type of musical therapy. In any case, with the mental instability and the musical therapy, King Philippe V maintained his rule for approximately 50 years (1683-1746).

 

When King Philippe V makes a commotion or harms other people it is difficult to understand whether he possesses appropriate judgment that could have prevented the harm. His eccentric, unique behaviour is funny and entertaining. Every so often it is becomes clear that he is not in control and a sinking, disheartening feeling lingers while we peer through the audience at a man coping with mental illness.

 

In moments of mental clarity, as the King is told of his behaviour, his feelings about his actions differ. The King either sees his actions as justified in stopping an overwhelming environmental trigger (a person that is too close for comfort, a decision he does not want to make); or else he looks back at his actions as unbelievable (harming his wife). At one point in the play the King faints due to the concept of how little control he had over his mental state.

 

A very compelling dilemma unfolds for any dramatic or comedic character – and even more compelling when that man wears a crown! In the moments of mental clarity the audience watched the King utilize his knowledge to govern; but in other instances we see that that responsibility weighs too heavily on him.

 

An interesting aspect to this production was the breaking of the fourth wall. In the second Act, the characters turned the theatre into a forest. The audience members sitting on the stage and in the balcony were suddenly sitting high up in trees tops. I had the great fortune of suddenly feeling as if I was sitting on a forest floor and peering at several lanterns through tree stumps with an unlit forest behind me. The characters on stage noticed us and acknowledged the fact that we were watching them before carrying on. I felt like a wood gnome – or a time traveller. At any rate, it became apparent that we were in the same space – although different realities – but yet still on the same page? At any rate, the fictional characters continued talking and the audience members continued watching.

 

Compelling productions and actors guide the audience through an emotional journey based on the circumstances of the play. These emotional journeys occur on smaller scales within scenes; and on larger scales within the course of the play. Rylance has an interesting ability to make you feel what his character is feeling from moment to moment on a stage because he takes a physical and emotional journey with the character. With Rylance it is not necessary to fill in the blanks at all – he somehow lets you feel what his character feels as the play moves forward.

 

Life goals as an actor – to be that kind of conduit – to understand a character so well in order to portray another human being on stage with empathy and intelligence – through an emotional journey. Therefore I humbly spend the next 2 days in classes learning more about how to be that conduit…

 

King Philippe V starts the play hiding away in his castle room as if it were a nursery due to his mental illness; but by the end of the play has made progress in overcoming the symptoms of his mental illness. It was clear that Philippe V developed a relationship to music, to nature and his self-esteem recovered in moments of mental clarity; which impacted his ability to hold a role in society – a role that happened to be “King”.

 

It can be useful to approach problems from different angles – and life often presents those opportunities to us. I made my way into New York City from a friend’s place in New Jersey:

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Looking over the New York City skyline took my mind to broader thoughts of how to navigate the city. It is a very different perspective to take a look at the skyline, and then enter the city for a specific purpose. As compared to what I am used to doing; which is to occasionally look up while navigating familiar subway routes and NYC avenues with a destination in mind. It made me think that is what King Philippe V was often forced to do with his rule – find different pathways into his decision-making. Most times he would navigate his ‘job’ through routes with unique obstacles by stopping at familiar experiential comfort zones (riddles about clocks and time, hide and seek games in the castle). These stopping points helped him to explain his needs and give direction to his wife and other kingdom dwellers. In moments of clarity he would see the broader picture and was able to connect information to make conscious decisions. It was compelling to watch his wife find ways to support his ability to do maintain power.

 

The play moves forward with musical arias by Handel creating a more subjective experience for the audience in between dialogue and events that unfold on stage. The characters in King Philippe V’s life, such as his wife and Farinelli, are also portrayed with skill and empathy.  They are people who are demanded to support a flawed man maintain a large amount of power. I left this play having witnessed aesthetic pleasure, but also a greater ability to empathize with people who experience mental illness and their families. Although a dark topic I felt emotionally taken care of as I left the theatre due to the use of humour and comic relief!

 

Blast from the past when Rylance played Olivia at the Belasco:

 

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I wonder what’s next?

 

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PERSONAL HISTORY, THE POST

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“From the start, I very much wanted to write this book myself, although I realized I wasn’t a real professional.” The words above were chosen by Katherine Graham to open an autobiography she entitled Personal History. Of course, she was keen enough to enlist the help of a researcher, Evelyn Small, and an editor, Robert Gottlieb. The opening line pulls to the surface an all too familiar self-doubt that it is hard to imagine exists in some of the most successful people gracing the pages of books, magazines and newspapers. The ensuing pages account for self-doubt overcome through experiences and memories of Katherine, a past owner of The Washington Post. She tends to allow the reader to make his/her own conclusions about Katherine Graham’s ability to tell a story. Needless to say, I am meticulously making my way through the pages and details of Personal History. A book I became aware of through recent Meryl Streep interviews regarding the latest Spielberg directed move, The Post. It is inspiring to note that even with the existence of self-doubt great achievements are possible.

 

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The Post film captures the journey of Katherine Graham as she learns of leaked top-secret information on the history of the Vietnam War, the Pentagon Papers, and makes a choice to allow The Washington Post to report on them, risking imprisonment, in order to maintain freedom of the press.

 

Katherine Graham’s father, Eugene Meyer, bought The Washington Post for $825,000 in a bid in 1933 – a paper he’d been attempting to acquire for quite some time and had previously offered $5 million dollars for! The paper was deemed a failure by the time he bought it, and he eventually passed it on to Katherine Graham’s husband Philip L. Graham. Upon Philip passing in 1963 Katherine became owner of The Washington Post. The first female CEO of a fortune500 company:

 

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Katherine recalls her father insisting on the principles that a newspaper should uphold in 1935, and she lists them in her autobiography:

 

  1. That the first mission of a newspaper is to tell the truth as nearly as the truth may be ascertained;
  2. That the newspaper shall tell ALL the truth so far as it can learn it, concerning the important affairs of America and the world;
  3. That as a disseminator of news, the paper shall observe the decencies that are obligatory upon a private gentleman;
  4. That what it prints shall be fit reading for the young as well as for the old;
  5. That the newspaper’s duty is to its readers and to the public at large, and not to the private interests of its owner;
  6. That in the pursuit of truth, the newspaper shall be prepared to make sacrifice of its material fortunes, if such course be necessary for the public good;
  7. That the newspaper shall not be the ally for any special interest, but shall be fair and free and wholesome in its outlook on public affairs and public men. (Ch3, p63)

 

Although Katherine states that these principles were at the “heart and soul” of her father’s convictions, “how to translate them into action was the challenge”. Little did she know that she would be put to the test with the Pentagon Papers and that her father’s sentiments would echo the principles of America’s Supreme Court to uphold the freedom of the press. In 1971, Katherine would gulp… and ‘okay’ the exposing of years of government decisions leading up to a controversial Vietnam War; in which many Americans remained deployed.

 

The journey of Katherine Graham was entrusted to Meryl Streep in the film The Post. An energetic journalist and Graham’s close confidant, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), encouraged the publishing of the Pentagon Papers. I woke up on Saturday morning, trekked out in the snow (and didn’t dress warm enough grrr argh), took a bus and watched the movie. I was cold and sleepy, but I am very happy I made the effort. WHO AM I KIDDING THOUGH? I’d been waiting to watch The Post and I’m a total fan-girl of all the ‘professionals’ involved in making it (gulp). It is one of those films made enjoyable because it enlightens the viewer in addition to making the viewer feel sad, and happy at times. I learned a little bit more about the world!

 

I left feeling the importance of a person’s ability to ‘find his/her voice’. I realized that a voice is impacted by a person’s ability to ‘know’ and that it is very interesting to watch someone strive to learn what is true (so far as what is true can be learned). I empathized with that struggle as a woman and as a citizen. The barriers to Katherine finding her voice were not financial, physical or intellectual; her barriers were environmental and in relationships. By virtue of the time Katherine was consistently spoken down to due to her gender regardless of her prominent position. I was especially struck, towards the end of the movie, at the depiction of Katherine returning to a habitual stroll among her printing machines… just getting back to work… newspapers flying on belts towards the ceiling… legally publishing government secrets! 

 

meryl post

 

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MEASURE 4 MEASURE

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Sometimes computer actions become applicable to my life… “force quit! … FORCE QUIT!” I state at my laptop computer while an article on my website browser decides not to allow me to shut… IT… off.

 

My behavior is probably tied to a control issue on some small scale – probably linked to aspects of my world that I feel like I can’t shut off – informing my behavior. Be like subway train cars that have no air conditioning in July; be like sleepy eyelids closing when all I want to do is stay up and work – or watch YouTube interviews; be like my miniscule budget when there are so many good shows right now waiting to be watched on Broadway and even beyond the Big Apple.

 

Well, so be it. I love having that “Force Quit…” option though. It hides there waiting to be clicked behind the bitten apple icon on the top left of my 13” screen. I guess that’s how we might illustrate freedom on some scale nowadays. So many options – one happens to be “Force Quit…” thanks to some computer engineer answering necessity somewhere in the universe.

force quit!

Perhaps on some scale that’s the seed of Isabella’s issues in Measure For Measure. Control. A non-virtual, perhaps emotional, ‘Force Quit’ of IT – whatever it happened to be to Isabella. Control over… her own body and free will to choose whether to use her body as a trade to save her brother’s life – or whether to allow herself an ability to remain ‘chaste’. In the sense of this Shakespeare play, a definition of chastity extends to Isabella’s ability to maintain her preparation to become ‘married to God’ as a nun. This would require her to keep all hands off her body and refrain from expressions and receptions of sexual desire – including those of a judge named Angelo (Thomas Jay Ryan) who offers pardon of her brother’s life up in return.

 

Well… now… what a dilemma for a woman like Shakespeare’s Isabella (Cara Ricketts) – or really any person living in that time or ours. To come to the awareness that what is right in her mind, heart and body are in connection to a higher power and faith that she strongly connects to; and that this internal connection is weighed outside of her body very differently by various people – even people she loves and respects deeply. A favorite monologue of mine happens to be an Isabella monologue that I learned in school – it gets right at the crux of the plot issue when Isabella is forced to choose between her chastity or giving it up in order to save her brother’s life (good ol’Bill with those high stakes). Isabella speaks through the problem out loud and alone by reflecting on Angelo’s proposition (good ol’Bill with ability to create irony – I was on the sidelines urging her to be feministic about it all at the end of Act II scene 4…):

 

Thought 1:

 

To whom should I complain? Did I tell this,

Who would believe me? O, perilous mouths,

That bear in them one and the self-same tongue,

Either of condemnation or approof;

Bidding the law make court’sy to their will;

Hooking both right and wrong to the appetite,

to follow as it draws!

 

Whenever I hear those words I have a strong inclination towards ‘ouch!’ right in my heart center. It would definitely make the character Isabella want to shut off her other energy centers (head & hips). The poetic words of the play speak to me and make Carrie Robinson want to kick, push and curse on Isabella’s behalf. I remember in my classroom setting at school watching my friends/ classmates start to cry when I spoke those words for Isabella. And as an audience member on Wednesday night in the professional theatre setting, I watched Ricketts tap all of those same inclinations into her still body and decide to reason through the injustice she has discovered before moving to…

 

Thought 2:

 

… I’ll to my brother:

Though he hath fall’n by prompture of the blood,

Yet hath he in him such a mind of honour,

That, had he twenty heads to tender down

On twenty bloody blocks, he’ld yield them up,

Before his sister should her body stoop

To such abhorred pollution.

 

I heard Isabella consider the effect of her decisions on her brother’s behalf – and wonder what he would have done for her. What if he had his free will and fair use of his body and mind, and was not fall’n by prompture of the blood? She believes that he would have fought for her or used his body to prevent a sister from having to give hers up. And so her dilemma widens and deepens in her love and belief attached to her brother’s ideas around ‘honour’.

 

If they had a shiny coin – would Isabella be heads or tails? If she chose ‘heads’ and began to represent the coin’s minted face as landed up towards the sky – would she let her twirling tail on the other side of her coin, having fallen down, dictate the future? So Isabella reasons further by daring to spin into the dark abyss of her dilemma toward a solution:

 

Thought 3:

 

Then, Isabel, live chaste and brother, die:

More than our brother is our chastity.

I’ll tell him yet of Angelo’s request,

And fit his mind to death, for his soul’s rest.

 

So it’s hard enough to be a judge and decide whether to let a person who has been convicted of a crime face a sentence of death or to go free (I would imagine from my measly time as a mock Chief Justice in law school). But this play begs the question of how it would feel across the chessboard if the judge turned a responsibility granted by Shakespeare’s god-fearing Italian government into a trade for his own use; effectively hooking his power and responsibility granted by law to pull a female body closer to his own plate for sexual purposes. Of course, he attempts to keep his arching line invisible as it contravenes the very laws he’s meant to keepsake. The play then begins to tick around the Duke (Jonathan Cake) discovering his role in preventing injustice within a realm and system that requires him, due to birth status, to rule and oversee the governance of.

 

Jonathan Cake delivers a fine and compelling illustration of the Duke’s character arc in discovering and being compelled by Isabella’s experience to use his knowledge, intelligence, power and privilege towards allowing a woman to have control over her own body. What a concept to be written into a play when a society, like Shakespeare’s, still prescribed that women were not considered people; let alone people capable of making decisions on their own bodies (be virgin or not!) without a male kin’s stamp of approval. At this point in the world’s history women weren’t even deemed capable of having the right to ask for control over their own bodies!

 

I watched Cake/Duke pick apart the problem with rebellion, with language, with observance and reflection, with dialogue, with a Friar’s disguise, with tears and laughter, with love and with reasoned control and I fell a little in love with the Duke from the audience. He took a variety of action on stage that compelled me to see the whole problem and to want to resolve it – just as he found himself wanting to resolve it. Having worked the Isabella monologue in school, I’d never put myself in the Duke’s position before. Isn’t that funny – what a bit of gender neutrality occurs nowadays as a female watching the play – many women are now in a position to relate to the Duke as a person in control over people, governance and even homes; as well as to Isabella as a woman with threats to the control of her body.

 

It’s easier said than done nowadays even with progressions to women’s rights – the system Isabella found herself in indicates the root of some systemic ways of thinking about women’s rights that we still struggle with today across the globe. It occurred to me that Shakespeare’s text only compels my emotions nowadays because it is still relevant. So the emotion can be translated into a metaphoric “Force Quit…” button on my laptop – but on some scale, depending on where a person lives in this world, the dilemmas and threats in this play still ring true. Isabella matters and her brother Claudio matters (Leland Fowler)  – people facing problems that be like Isabella and Claudio’s matter – life isn’t as simple as flipping a coin to let heads and tails dictate an outcome. Just as the Duke discovers this – I was able to reflect on this in the audience – and I thought – well maybe that was the intention of the playwright then:

 

For, though his line of life went soon about,

The life yet of his lines shall never out. – Hugh Holland on William Shakespeare.

 

Measure for Measure.

 

Its very rhythm, within a title granted by Shakespeare, teeter-totters to our ears and forces us to place and balance similar consonants with similar vowels. The carrying out of the play forces us to place and balance right from wrong in our consciences and our understanding of humanity. It is both black and white; both cruel and kind; both male and female; both true and false; both high and low; and it matters. What a unique and balanced title from the Bard collection:

 

Measure for Measure.

 

Consonant for Vowel.

 

Ding for Dong.

 

Tick for Tock.

 

Teeter for Totter.

 

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Enthroned Virgin (by Goro di Gregorio (active ca. 1300-1334) – statue on display at The Cloisters, New York City.

Last, but not least, if I could time-travel… I’d sit in on Meryl Streep’s Isabella in 1976… if only that were possible!

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THE LITTLE FOXES

Over the past few months I’ve learned a few things about an American playwright named Lillian Hellman:

 

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“I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions” – L. Hellman.

 

When I read those words I ponder… who says something like that? Or, more importantly, when she looked out through her own lenses at the world around her, based on what she saw, heard, tasted, felt, smelled and sensed… why did she make a statement like that?

 

I traced Austin Pendleton to a scene study class at HB Studio this spring to study a concentrated workshop called Lillian Hellman Scene Study. I can say through my experience of narrowing in on the tragedy of Martha Dobie in her first play called The Children’s Hour that Hellman plays are little mysteries; the best kind – there are little truths hidden like Easter eggs waiting to be discovered by a group of relaxed and present actors. For example… how do you cut a conscience? Why would you need to? Hellman’s autobiographies tend to give a little insight – but also tend to have a significantly controversial history attached to them. I borrowed my copies of her autobiographies as they sit on a shelf at the New York Library for Performing Arts .

 

Fun fact: I’m sitting on my sofa in New York right now listening to a YouTube recording of Ocean Waves wondering if any of the same insight that Hellman thought will run through the tide of my consciousness in this blog post.

 

That’s the thing about plays though – when brought to life they can’t but help to carry you through the playwright’s reflection of her time. You can’t (or maybe you can) imagine how nerding out with her plays on down time at my day job while New Yorkers stroll in and out to say hello all morning has inspired me. I’ve been looking up to find faces and voices talking to me with her plays fresh on the tip of my tongue. I can’t be quite sure if I’ve been grasping at a little something of what she saw – but residually – an undercurrent of life.

 

The best part about studying acting in New York – the very plays I’m reading and studying find their ways to Broadway stages! And sometimes they inspire groundbreaking endeavors; two talented female actresses alternating roles. The Little Foxes is playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on 47th Street and is directed by Daniel Sullivan.

 

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The Manhattan Theatre Club production has Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon alternating the lead of power-hungry REGINA HUBBARD GIDDENS and her careful sister-in-law BIRDIE HUBBARD given the “blue” or “green” nights listed on their website. My imagination is mulling over what it might be like to do that – alternate roles within the same production. I just might attempt to one day after seeing these ladies lead the cast through the switch.

 

floating troubles

atop my

sea of hopes

stack full

pressure

against

my chest’s

rise and fall…

 

The emotional rises of REGINA and the emotional falls of BIRDIE are fascinating to witness. In this play, set in the South, the Hubbard family schemes and quarrels over pieces of their pie i.e. the distribution of money among each other. Regina likes to join in on the competitive schemes with her brothers; while Birdie escapes from any pain as much as she can. There doesn’t seem to be a medium among the two; they are either slowly lurking in charge, as Regina does, or lightly asking power to please step away, as in Birdie’s case.

 

…I feel

the barge

passing

parting

liquid thoughts

again…

 
What struck me the most in this play was an examination of getting more. There is raw, gritty desire for more shares, more information, more time with a loved one, or more opportunity to banter about any of the above desires. Some desires seem to overshadow others when in competition – and some desires conveniently find symbiosis when necessary. An example being the scheme to arrange a marriage between Regina’s daughter ALEXANDRA GIDDENS and her gullable cousin LEO HUBBARD in order to ‘keep money in the family”. What a thought – who needs to sell shares when you can marry them? Or something along those lines.

 

…soft landings

brim my eyes

closing

to feel the waves

opening

to feel the waves

roll under…

 

Over time – as the play progresses into the Act III I started to see undercurrents that carried the characters along. There are colorful, hand-painted Easter eggs hidden underneath each character’s learned and necessary ability to cut a larger piece of a whole. These mysteries were tugged along and pushed to the surface every so often – memories of Birdie’s kind mother, Birdie’s ability to hide abuse, Alexandra’s piano duets with Birdie, Regina’s revelations of her true feelings to her husband even when they’re ugly, Birdie and HORACE GIDDENS’ opposition to his daughter Alexandra’s marriage, Leo’s subtle wishes to gain approval from his father and grandfather, and the final moments of the play which open up Alexandra’s mourning of her father. These mysteries, to name a few, seem foreign when they peak because they are only allowed every so often when the characters can’t help but notice a competing humanity.

 

…foreign mechanics

tug my mind

through the

natural rhythm…

 “Sea Of Hopes” in A Collection of Thoughts: Poems By Carrie Robinson.

 

WHAT IF Birdie and Regina were literally foxes? My wager is below. Respectively:

 

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POETRY AND THE CREATIVE MIND

Certain times crave the type of airy warmth underneath the ribs that will rise up into a smile on the face. Poetry does this to me – it creeps in through my intellect and sitting in between my ears it starts to speak to my blood. It begins to travel and knows how to break up the tensions in my chest that I managed to accumulate in a day.

 

I’m writing about this sensation because lately I’ve been experiencing that old adage that all work and no play makes [Carrie] a dull girl. You know it’s bad when the security guard at Lincoln Center tries to cheer you up by pretending he doesn’t know where Alice Tully Hall is when he’s worked there 20 years (I believed him until he directed me to where to go – it did cheer me up)!

 

I bought a ticket to a reading of poems called Poetry and the Creative Mind and was able to sneak out of the unpredictably cold day into a sold out house at Lincoln Center to hear poetry and remind myself to smile… warm up! Purchasing my ticket had become an invitation to join a group of New Yorkers in hearing beautiful poetry and, additionally beautiful, to SUPPORT THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS!

 

Best little secret of the night – Meryl Streep unexpectedly sang us a lullaby that her mother used to sing to her. What a special surprise. The room fell quiet to make space for the moments in the song and the molecules that Meryl moved. I started to notice that Alice Tully Hall is made well because it dips in the middle of the orchestra so that I didn’t have any obstruction in my vision of the stage. I also noticed that Meryl Streep is able to register all her emotion while maintaining a solid and supported voice in front of so many people – I’m dreaming of experiencing something like that one day!

 

The poems – the vessels that spoke the poems – it was great! Uzo Aduba echoing Ego Tripping (there may be a reason why) by Nikki Giovanni; Meg Ryan’s recital of Storm Ending; Amanda Palmer played the ukulele; James Lapine found one of my favorite poets Mark Strand and brought Eating Poetry to life; Maurice Hines brought Ain’t I Bad upon the suggestion of Maya Angelou herself; Sebastian Junger spoke Walt Whitman; Joey Reisberg shared his very own Schmaltz – I felt like I was in his grandmother’s kitchen; Langston Hughes was read by Cecile McLorin Salvant; Madhur Jaffrey and Wayne Brady shared their voices too. Last of all Meryl Streep cheered us up with Good Bones by Maggie Smith – reminding us that “Life is short” asking us all to bring ourselves into the room because:

 

This place could be beautiful, right? You could make this place beautiful.

 

I feel absolutely beautiful inside tonight thanks to this program, these artists and poets.

 

SAVE THE NEA!

 

I’ll be proudly toting my new pin:

 

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“LIVE LIGHT, TRAVEL LIGHT, SPREAD THE LIGHT, BE THE LIGHT.”

This blog post is brought to you in part by the wind-down from a seemingly productive Monday – a day that still allowed me time for reflection and enlightenment of the pen. In departure from my past couple of weeks – which were also characteristically reflective… in that funny way a mundane stream of thoughts surfaces and envelopes the skull during a routine morning city bus ride; or the way I occasionally indulge in an inconspicuous second glance at a unique New Yorker strolling about from a weekday’s point A, to point C, and X etc… All of this was supplemented by a nice little compilation of Crime and Detection plays from the New York Public Library that I’m making my way through. BTW – I totally suggest weaving in and out of crime and detection plays throughout the day – it has been doing something to my imagination – spurring attention to detail for no other reason than to satisfy the mind’s need to solve puzzles when it’s reading Sherlock Holmes or Elmer Rice and the like…

 

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This blog post is also brought to you by my Yogi Tea inspiration sipped while writing these reflections, which read: “Live light, travel light, spread the light, be the light.” I sought ‘light’ at two Broadway productions recently that became special experiences because I shared them with friendly-visiting-friends! First I made it to the musical, Waitress, in a house-right box with two life-long lady friends visiting from Vancouver, Canada. Both had never been to NYC before! Next I rushed tickets to The Encounter with a bestie, Melissa, from London, England! Speaking of lightening up… I have to say it was nice to escape the pre-election madness that I feel in the air (and have admittedly been following closely and caring about intensely) by stepping into theatres where the scary world tends to fade away and be processed in my psyche-safe-zone.

 

WAITRESS is a Broadway musical playing over at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre and it features lyrics and music by a singer/songwriter I adore named Sara Bareilles. It stars the soul-melting voice of of Jessie Mueller as Jenna. This waitress has made herself at home in a small café baking pies from recipes handed down by her mother and the new, elaborate pies that she creates. The stage is lined with actual pies and the theme is carried through to metaphor with different pies inspired by Jenna’s pleasures and perceived failures in her life and relationships. Following Jenna through a rocky relationship are her quirky friends/ coworkers and love interests. It feels like a romantic–comedy meets musical meets dramatic film featuring a strong female lead. All the actors of all the characters in this production made me laugh – so this was definitely a place where I got to ‘live light’ surrounded by supportive female friends. Disclaimer – I say ‘meets dramatic film’ because anyone with half a heart will cry at least once (I cried at least thrice as Jenna strives away from emotional abuse).

 

There was a place to write Thank You “Guest Checks”- so I did!

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THE ENCOUNTER, playing over at the Golden Theatre, was one of those theatre experiences that I didn’t quite know what to make of. It is inspired by a book called Amazon Beaming by Petru Popescu. It takes us from Conceiver/Director/Performer Simon McBurney telling us to turn off our mobile devices as he sends his daughter a picture to prove that he’s only away from her because he’s doing this show… towards his transformation into a deeper-voiced photojournalist on the prowl for a story and photographs.

 

I’m always curious about one-person shows in general because I can imagine it is probably quite difficult to generate all the energy required to make the audience believe that all other characters are in the room; as well as to push the narrative towards blackout or curtain call… ALONE ON STAGE! I always admire actors that achieve this feat and make it look fun – and secretly wish I could just jump into the scene with them as all the other characters! I was very struck by McBurney’s ability to do something that makes actors beautiful – to make molecules move out of thin air! In the program he wrote,

 

“Rehearsal derives from the word ‘hearse,’ which means to rake over, to prepare the ground. To prepare for The Encounter, we had to engage with the unfamiliar, ask questions about everyday life we take for granted. Such as… what is Time?” – Simon McBurney

 

What is time?

 

Sifting through the many definitions representing ‘time’ –  it’s hard not to acknowledge there is grey area we are encountering all the time. What we consistently are a part of, but don’t always acknowledge. A link that we have a measure & clock for, yet it doesn’t quite, fully contain an accurate link to what we experience as memory, dreams, envisions or the future we are creating. The Encounter didn’t feel like a sci-fi novel though – it felt more like a documentation of a man’s experience with grey areas in his mind and in the world. A photojournalist who can’t quite get life into focus as with a camera device that creates the illusion of ‘capturing a moment’.

 

To take the audience through time this production is uniquely aided by technological devices (the audience wore headphones the whole time so that sounds seemed to sweep up from behind us, or beside us and the noises were also regularly found on stage being funneled through several sources – including a standing mic located center stage shaped as a cranium). The effect was that we were unusually transported to the spaces that a National Geographic photojournalist travels to – including a Brazilian Amazon village with Mayoruna people. The heat of a community fire was felt, a really intriguing lighting effect expanded McBurney’s shadow into several shadows dancing around the fire so that he became a part of the village and we saw the village people through his shadow.

 

I was so struck by McBurney’s ability to use so many technological devices during the performance – I know I would have been like – can I just use the black box … do I really need another gadget or whatchyamacall-it?

 

McBurney passed along a message directly from the Mayoruna people that he actually met in researching this character. He carried forward the message that these Mayoruna people, although isolated geographically from the modern world, very much exist!

 

What a great experiment with integrating technology on stage – and very fitting in that the content of the play deals with communicating with remote Indigenous villages through old, intuitive (ESP-like) communication methods that surpass language barriers. The photojournalist that McBurney plays ‘captures’ and grasps at undiscovered moments because he wants to tell a story and show an indigenous way of life is being led. However, the more he journeys into the Mayoruna people’s time and space the more he seems to be able to engage in the ability to intuit and trust in the origin and motion of the universe without a need to lock anything, or anyone, in by photograph or any other limited man-made means.

 

I was definitely transported into a different space and mind-set (at least until Melissa and I bopped our way back to 45th Street to plot some theatre-making adventures of our own!

 

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(photo courtesy of Melissa Jean Woodside)

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