THE WORLD IS (ROUND) WIDE ENOUGH

 

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Honestly if I hadn’t seen Hamilton last night there possibly could have been an unconscious cloud-shaped vapor lingering over me the rest of my life. Honestly as a person-of-the-theatre or even just as a New York pedestrian I was starting to feel like something was gravely wrong – and it was – I was totally missing out.

 

Good news is that this little New York ant (me) is now one of the many masses who rounded onto West 46th street in order to SEE HAMILTON! When I was in line I really felt like part of a super-organism or something…

 

First thing you should know about this rendition of events is that I am a lottery cynic. Know that this arises from a history of lottery losses. The last time I was enlisted to buy lotto tickets, on behalf of a brother, I reported back that I’d self-checked them at the convenience store machine. Instead of ‘success!’ I’d regurgitated the “You Are Not A Winner” that had streamed through my consciousness 15 times. Needless to say I don’t like revisiting that sensation – yoga mantras are more highly recommended!

 

So as I was mulling over some new headshots and planning a night of reading plays and potential monologue finding/learning and maybe even some non-dairy ice cream devouring… I got a text from a, now proven loyal, friend named D’ariel Barnard

 

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Dear D’ariel had played the online Hamilton lottery a steady 6 weeks before finally arriving at the 2 tickets that got us in the door yesterday evening.

 

As I tracked the leader’s footsteps towards our seats I was in a bit of eerily silent shock due to the marching to Broadway on such short notice having not expected to be ‘in the room where it happens’. As soon as I breathed in the space, however, I began to realize what a pleasure this was going to be. The set is simple, yet intricate with its warm brick walls, strong wooden beams, connecting ropes and mysterious entranceways along its parameters. “Such a large, mobile cast must require this,” I thought before seeing any action.

 

I turned off my cell phone… YES to turning off cell phones in theatres people…

 

The action began and what struck me most, apart from the obvious talent on stage, was the revealing of these historical figures as flesh and blood before my very eyes. The strength of the relationships the Hamilton cast creates on stage is really astounding. Each human interaction stands on it’s own very specific terms. In that sense I began to see what might have been in the hearts and imaginings of the daunting faces that I might normally only glance at when forking over United States’ minted paper for some groceries at my local bodega…

 

What unexpectedly touched me most, I think, in this well-oiled musical has to be the vulnerability of the antagonist Aaron Burr (Sydney James Harcourt). In the intermission I found myself confessing that Alexander Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda) was so easy to root for. I was with him every step of the way as he climbed the ladder and got Washington in his pocket. I rooted for his relationships to resolve themselves peacefully. I empathized with his conflicting emotions at every turn in his life. It is odd, however, that the character whose actions I couldn’t forgive (he antagonizes Alexander Hamilton the most) turned out to be the character I felt the most compassion for – Aaron Burr. Isn’t that odd?

 

I thought about why and I now know that it has to do with what Burr discovered through his grave mistakes. It’s interesting. Burr discovers something Hamilton inherently knew, something the other characters grappled with but overcame… that the world is wide enough. Any actor in an audition room shuffles through it, any young professional intern in a boardroom meeting seethes through it, any little New York ant waiting in the box office line knows it – it’s an oh so familiar competition with people placed in a similar position and often striving for a similar widget…

 

The play reminded me to strive for what Burr longed for in his ‘private moments made public’… to choose love more. I’m sure it’s hiding within those uniquely competitive relationships where I least expected it. It got me wondering along with Burr – what if he’d thrived on harnessing those competitive relationships?

 

Hamilton’s got me feeling small, or rather, unexpanded. New York theatre and acting teachers have harnessed my ability to live in curiosity about the people around me – to take in all of it and carve out windows for the shoes and souls of others. In my voice class today with Julia Lenardon I had a fellow actor’s hands supporting my back so I could experience the expansion of my ribs when I breathe. What if I thought of the world more like that – good and bad resistance & healthy competition – all of it is something to push against, or release into?

 

THE WORLD IS (ROUND) WIDE ENOUGH.

 

Maybe I can incorporate that?

 

At the very least I did touch the gold paint on the wall of the Richard Rodgers Theatre before I left the front row of House Left to ground myself in reality – I was there – with a fellow little New York ant (THANKS D’ARIEL)!

 

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LOVE THY NEIGHBOR?

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I went to see a play about those women… namely the ones that were burned at the stake and/or hung on poles (called witches or sorceresses). Being a pre-Harry-Potter-era play that means that witches and sorcery were associated with the devil (every gradation of evil was bad) in a society where power was held largely in the hands of Christian settlers and land title owners. Any other pre-existing ideologies and people that might challenge the prevailing norms of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ were considered lower and incompatible to solving community conflict. Women were not the only sufferers of this community condemnation; yet women were prima facie targets.

 

The play is called THE CRUCIBLE and a very endearing ensemble is bringing Arthur Miller’s challenging work to life over at the Walter Kerr Theatre on 48th. It is being directed by Ivo Van Hove. The set alternates between an eery, charcoal and chalky inspired mix of classroom materials and images that bring up imaginings of institutionalized detention. The alternating rooms are the simple Proctor house and a town hall converted into a trial center. The simple and minimal sets, combined with economical music & sound design that included children and women’s singing in the background, were fitting and aided my imagining of the conflicts in the play.

 

The play’s conflict centers around accusations of a teenage girl, Abigail (the talented Saoirse Ronan), who claims that certain people in her community are targeting her and others with supernatural powers. The conflict unfolds because Abigail’s younger female cousin, Betty, falls ill from their participation in a group of women dancing and an attempt to cast love spells in the woods. In the uncovering of these activities and accusations, most of the community is put to trial, the adultery of John Proctor (Ben Whishaw) with Abigail is found out, and many women are destroyed due to a chain of accusations budding from Abigail’s strong defences.

 

Mainly I’ve got to say this play is thought-provoking. I suppose what this play really does is entreats an audience’s mind towards looking at how a group of women started to be called the negative connotation of ‘witch(es)’; and what series of human (as opposed to supernatural) actions, words, ideologies and accountabilities (or lack thereof) grounded and were interpreted towards a community’s condemnation of women. It also examines what people and systems this community implemented in an attempt to resolve conflict. Being an American play rooted in the struggles of early American settlers the characters and conflict bear relevance today.

 

It becomes pretty clear as the play moves forward that it is not the supernatural that causes the chain of man-made penalties that ensue. A most interesting character for me is actually the, however unlikeable, Deputy Governor Danforth (Ciaran Hinds) who is tasked with getting facts straight in the midst of the community members’ personal ties to each other and accusations towards each other. He asks questions that bring together the common facts of each of the community members’ stories to try to figure out what is a truth and what is not, what accusations are made out of fear of peril and what accusations are founded by criminal action. His character is like a flashlight peering through the spaces in the crowd and begging: where is there room to understand how confusion began and what is the root of it?

 

The root of the confusion turns out to be the adultery of an otherwise humble farmer, John Proctor, and a teenage girl, Abigail, who tells him that she’s in love with him. In a society where adultery is cause for jail-time and even death their lust destroys John’s opinion of himself and Abigail’s ability to trust the people who have condemned her for the feelings she understands to be true and restricted. One of the women Abigail condemns turns out to be Elizabeth Proctor (Sophie Okonedo), John’s wife, and by the end of the play we are made to feel the love and guilt John possesses over the pain his wife is in.

 

The self-inflicted torture John partakes in the face of his forced confession are puzzling. He feels he has already given away his soul and chooses not to publicly tarnish his name. As heart wrenching as his human struggle is to watch (and in that same dilemma with a family at stake I’m not sure what I’d do in his shoes)… it is puzzling because his struggle happens to be in contrast to 39 women in the play who have just publicly perished for supernatural actions they did not commit. It is a given fact that women have often kept their souls and given away their names with no questions asked and no opportunity for rebuttal. I’m sure Miller set this conundrum up on purpose.

 

Like I said, the play is thought-provoking. In the end this play always makes me disturbed and I feel bad for the whole town! I feel it’s a good play to look at though – and the thoughts and feelings it provokes are relevant although complex. Where the individual and community interests intersect can be a dangerous issue – yet we must struggle with this interface every day. In the case of The Crucible the individual/community interface, we learn, is an immensely dangerous issue when there is nothing to prevent individual accusations from causing women (and people in general) to be not just prima facie targets, but convicted ones. In fact an invisible and unexplainable harm can (and did historically) cause women to unjustly and disproportionately perish.

 

The strength of this production lies in the actors playing the love with each other. The decisions and accusations they make are difficult because we get a sense of familiarity off the top with all the members and generations of the small community so that when they find themselves in a confusing and fearful disarray – there is a sense of misaligned duties and choices that are heightened to war-like status against their own people. We understand their motivations are rooted in keeping loved ones from harm. The play is unnerving and hair-raising in it’s turning of ‘love thy neighbor’ on its head.

 

Apart from the production, the Walter Kerr Theatre has a really beautiful roof!

 

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THE WIZARD OF OZ, Margaret Hamilton, 1939

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DISCOVERING WHAT’S BEYOND EXPRESSION IN NICE FISH

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One unique part about attending a play at St. Ann’s Warehouse is the stroll down Water Street looking onto a lit up Brooklyn Bridge. Given New York generally bustles along so consistently it can feel soft and other-worldly; which is not a bad state to engage with when going to believe a piece of fiction come to life!

 

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In my attendance of the American Repertory Theatre’s NICE FISH at St. Ann’s Warehouse yesterday, a new play by Mark Rylance and a collaborator poet/playwright Louis Jenkins, I reserved best efforts to sit in my house left back row seat with quiet resolve to innocently spy on the work of a beloved actor that I’m dying to collaborate with one day.

 

Success!

 

As I was one of the first to slip away down the stairs after the 95 minute play I think I may have gone unnoticed (at least my obsession). I did notice that I was changed! I was specifically enthralled with the ability to “stitch together [poems and passages] like an old American quilt of beloved garments, each one bearing a piece of history, an experience.” (as Rylance put it in his A Word or Two of Welcome…)

 

This play is unique in that the text itself is comprised of a series of prose poems by Louis Jenkins who noted that putting this play together was like a “jigsaw puzzle… except that there were extra pieces and places continually shifted.” Being a person that is daily fueled by poems this play simply solidified my not-such-a-secret-anymore-and-I’m-not-the-only-one need to watch Rylance collaborate! As he put it:

 

This play is, truly, a collaboration between all the actors [Kayli Carter, Raye Birk, Mark Rylance, Bob Davis, Jim Lichtscheidl], a poet, a playwright, a director [Claire Van Kampen], the stage managers and designers, and now you, the audience and spectators.

 

In this playful show I was formally introduced to the prose poems of Louis Jenkins who described his discovery that his poems didn’t need to sit alone by watching a YouTube clip of Rylance humorously reciting one for a Best Actor Tony Award. And so the collaboration ensued… leading towards Nice Fish.

 

Now it’s not a conventional play. I’ll just put that boldly out into the blog-sphere. The characters make relevant conversations and thoughts that seem to swirl in and out of their consciousness far into a Midwest winter. In that sense an absurd quality surfaces throughout the play and even a fourth wall break give the sense that ‘all the world’s a stage’.

 

What struck me is that with prose poetry the language seems to fit within the characters’ world. Unlike the use of more metrical and rhythmic poems that would tend to become interludes and transitions (minus Shakespeare of course)… these prose poems became the characters’ own words and hence choices to communicate with each other and express their ideas, annoyances, senses of humor etc.

 

According to Van Kampen the “component” of time is noticeable in the play because there becomes a consciousness of the fact that there are things above the ice and hidden below the ice… “the fullness of [the characters’] psyche has time to emerge and confront them.” while confronting nature.

 

In using the poems as methods to communicate the activities of the characters such as fishing, building a tent or simply standing on the ice confronting nature the activities became secondary to the inner life of the characters. Possibly even obstacles to the characters being able to either talk about what they were feeling, or affect the other character in some way. Seemingly ‘ordinary’ lives of some Midwesterners became active through the prose by reminding each other of old crushes, debts due and by making each other laugh while avoiding the numbing sensation of the cold.

 

One particular moment where ice unexpectedly melted was when the young girl, Flo (Carter), who doesn’t seem to know much of loss yet recites a poem that effectively reminds everyone else around her that there is an entrance into a dark lake of feeling that normally must stay relatively covered up. It was like the characters around her could hear the ice creaking underneath their feet but didn’t want to show her that elaborating on their losses could result in them all slipping under the ice at any moment if not careful or quiet… instead her guardian pats her on the head to hint that she is loved beyond expression.

 

Beyond expression… it’s funny that poems and plays are elaborate efforts to express human experiences and yet it ends up being the moments where our language (spoken or non-verbal) is limited that are most interesting. Every so often there’s a collective pause and understanding of a mysterious connection to everyone and everything that is just beyond our expressions.

 

Except maybe the expression of Rylance’s character Ron as a talking snowman – a talking snowman reminding ice fishing humans about global warming captures it all.

 

Okay I’m off to use my gathered intelligence to figure out how to incorporate poetry of all sorts into my daily communicative efforts and expressions. Like maybe this free verse:

 

…but looking back

the memories

flash

bright and true

quick

transparent

and gone

but held onto

somehow intangibly… 

 

Signing off,

 

Truly Inspired!

 

KEEPING WHAT WE LOVE ALIVE

 

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I AM MORE THAN INSPIRED… I AM PROUD!

 

It happened because I went to see an Off-Off-Broadway show that my classmates and friends staged last night!

 

Dolores is a one-act play shedding light on sisterhood and struggles with domestic violence. The play was written by Edward Allan Baker – whom I happened to meet last night- as I was helping out at the box office at The Playroom Theatre. (Yeah… so that was cool…)

 

Most importantly the play was raising awareness about domestic violence and violence against women. The beautiful and talented ladies Paulina Cossio (in my drama school grad year!) and Luisa Muhr (Artistic Director of the Fengari Ensemble co-producing this play) worked with director Kathleen McNenny to bring forth this story of sibling love and strive for healthy lives despite unimaginable, violent and cyclical circumstances.

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I learn by going where I have to go. – Theodore Roethke

 

I’ve shared this quote in a Thank You card that I once gave to the dialect coach of this play, Julia Lenardon, who was also one of my voice and speech teachers in drama school. I like it because it embodies what she instilled in me when learning about a dialect (she informed me that in this play the ladies are from Rhode Island). By taking the time to get very specific and learn how to speak and sound the way that another person speaks it can often give an actor insight into how to look through the eyes of that character.

 

I was reminded of the Roethke’s quote because I witnessed my friendly friends embody and transform into two characters (dialect and all) that have suffered and/or witnessed violent crimes. In doing so I began to be introduced to Dolores (Cossio), a woman currently compelled into retaliation and self-defense after years of domestic violence, and her sister Sandra (Muhr), who grew up watching Dolores enter abusive relationships and has journeyed into a marriage of her own that she finds comfortable and safe. These two contrasting personalities and experiences highlighted a journey from childhood until this very crucial point in their lives where Dolores has decided she can’t take the abuse anymore.

 

The play inadvertently helps the audience understand better what abusive and/or violent cycles of behaviour look like, how they disguise themselves into domestic life and relationships from an early age, and (if the cycles are not addressed or broken) how they will unfortunately resurface in adult relationships again and again.

 

We try to keep what we love alive. We do it by our daily living and by our work. My need to learn about other people’s lives through books and plays has been a need to make life more vivid as I am living it. Not to let the days go by unnumbered or without meaning. And the longer I have lived the more I have counted on the life force of work to keep me alive. – Marian Seldes.

 

I like, and was reminded of, this Seldes quote because as actors and theatre makers and participants we get to do exactly that – keep what we love alive. We can do it by learning about other people’s lives; women like Sandra and Dolores who can shed light on breaking cycles of violence. In doing so, even if we don’t share the extreme experiences of the characters by transforming into them we can recognize that some people do. We can recognize that these lives and these issues matter. We can work together to do what we love to do (embody other people) and it’s inevitable that we will touch other souls that way. Maybe even contribute to ending cycles of violence!

 

Our work, if we give ourselves over to it and support each other’s efforts, can keep stories alive! A tradition even older than Shakespeare himself! In following this tradition, and in focusing on doing our work well… it will in turn keep us alive in our love of working. I saw my friends do this last night – and they’ll do it again for the last two performances on Wednesday night. Oh and I’ll be in the box office helping out… I wonder who else will show up? Hehe

 

Tickets and information about DOLORES, the Fengari Ensemble and/or how to donate to SHEARED (an organization raising awareness about domestic violence): https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/dolores-fengari-ensemble#/ 


 “…[t]he most reliable predictor of whether a country is violent within itself— or will use military violence against another country— is not poverty, natural resources, religion, or even degree of democracy: it’s violence against females. It normalizes all other violence.” – Gloria Steinem, My Life On The Road

(photo courtesy of Rob Douthat)

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CONVINCING ME THAT NOTHING IS A FLUKE

Hanging out in New York City after putting in approximately six hours into the day job goes a little something like this for me: catch the afternoon cinema show of Suffragette at Times Square; text conversations with friend who is still at her day job to coordinate meeting spot for seeing theatre show, Allegiance, a few hours later; and, find familiar spot to wait it out.

I’m becoming convinced that nothing is a fluke and I happened to see the movie Suffragette and the Broadway musical Allegiance on the same day and so I’m going to tie my thoughts and experiences of the two different mediums and shows together now. I won’t be able to separate my experience of them completely since I saw them on the same day and the mind works like that – linking images and thoughts together finding patterns or stark contrasts as it goes along.

The front page of The Suffragette newspaper depicts Emily Wilding Davison, who died under the hooves of the King's horse at Epsom, as an angel, 13th June 1913. (Photo by Sean Sexton/Getty Images)

The front page of The Suffragette newspaper depicts Emily Wilding Davison, who died under the hooves of the King’s horse at Epsom, as an angel, 13th June 1913. (Photo by Sean Sexton/Getty Images)

Chronologically my experience started with a female-led cast of Suffragette recounting the path of women receiving the right to vote in the United Kingdom. The film was extremely well cast and it was very moving – being a woman myself and knowing that I was watching an account of historical figures who actually did fight for me to be able to exercise the right to vote, to hold property, to demand equal pay etc. It really says something that, for stories about women, it is very difficult to separate female relationships with their friends/family/coworkers/employers, and the motivations and actions that changed history. It might suggest that depicting women’s ability to carry their relationships has a lot to do with their capacity to infiltrate daily motivations and actions with what they fight for. It demonstrates that how women are forced to fight for their needs is an ability that proves much more difficult if society prescribes an unequal dynamic and voice in the home, the workplace and in political arenas.

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As for the history of how women suffragettes fought for equal rights – the movie reiterates that it was a fight that escalated into violence and self-sacrifice that is quite frightening (consequences of asking for an equal place in society resulted in police beatings, jail time, hunger strikes, loss of friends lives, breakdown of families etc.). These consequences were often inflicted on extremely over-worked human beings too. Meanwhile, it’s difficult to imagine what the world would look like if this level of conflict and scrutiny of the law had not occurred. The history puts into perspective that the past legislative discrimination still lingers on systemically and the leveling out of equal rights for men and women, and human beings in general, is necessary to pay attention to today! Prescribing equal rights in print requires an ongoing effort to infiltrate the effect of past discrimination into the every day lives of people. In effect it seems there is actually less violence and discrimination in the home, the workplace and in political arenas. (I’m all for that – less violence in all its forms – world peace yeah).

The film does indicate how women born or married into more privilege or class (Ramola Garai’s character) had a different level of safety and protection in fighting for equal rights than say… the protagonist ‘laundress’ (Carey Mulligan) of very low class and education. The only other craving for me in this film (being of mixed Algonquin, Scottish, Irish, Welsh ancestry) was to see some color – the experience of women of color who would have experienced a double discrimination of sorts (not being able to be ‘human’ due to being a woman and a non-Caucasian person). It could have been interesting to juxtapose that discrimination with the experiences of suffragettes who were Caucasian. Mind you – I saw myself and people I know in all of these characters in Suffragette regardless of their race or class – and that I appreciated and applauded the filmmaker and cast for. I’ve also recently studied a character, Joyce – a low-status laundress, in Carol Churchill’s Top Girls for a scene study class in the summer – so I couldn’t help heavily empathize with Carey Mulligan’s character learning to participate in society despite the severe limitations on her ability to do so.

Hmmmmmm…. so I went from that movie to watching the experience of Japanese-Americans that were incarcerated and placed in concentration camps on American soil during World War II. At my lovely day job… I’d actually greeted the famed George Takei in New York… which had caused me to Google him (LOL) and find out about this musical Allegiance in which he mainly plays, Ojiichan, a grandfather. I’m SO GLAD I DID!

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The inspiration and guiding light of this production was “Gaman”, a Japanese word that captures a principle of “endurance and dignity”. In fights for equal rights it seems many people have returned to this principle in order to stay strong through the vulnerability that accompanies a lower, unequal status in society. The Japanese experience of discrimination is also inextricably linked to the ability to carry their families with them. Having just seen Suffragette I started to see Caucasian women have this quality as well – it’s just not called “Gaman” all the time. The “Gaman” thread in Allegiance was intricately and invisibly woven by Takei’s character… the eldest/ grandfather to his children and grandchildren leaving an essence of strength and humor hand-in-hand wherever he went. In the musical he actually gardens and places chimes on the doorstep and these simple daily activities of fertilizing the ground and listening to the sound of chimes are symbolic of his effect on his family and his lingering presence. The embodiment of “Gaman” was in this old man, soon to become an ‘ancestor’, and had lightly folded his way into his family’s minds and on the very ground they’ll walk long past the horrible experiences of the concentration camps. I know people like Ojiichan, some of my ancestors – and my Vietnamese godfather in particular – was like him too, and I won’t forget Takei’s performance and ‘guiding light’. I truly believe that kindness can live on despite all odds.

And hey – if I didn’t work my lovely day job I mightn’t have fluked out and ‘Googled’ him and been struck by this performance. I also might not have had the extra motivation to jet out of the day job to watch some female actresses I admire pave the way for really great female characters in cinema. So I’m now more convinced that nothing is a fluke.

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(here’s to kindness… and world peace…) 

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UGLY LIES THE BONE

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In the Roundabout Theatre‘s Ugly Lies the Bone a war veteran, Jess (Mamie Gummer), uses virtual reality therapy to recover from trauma and to manage her residual physical and emotional pain. In the process Jess leans on her older sister Kacie (Karron Graves), takes her anger out on her sister’s boyfriend Kelvin (Haynes Thigpen), searches for recollection of her beauty from a past flame Stevie (Chris Stack), and yearns for love from her aging mother (Caitlin O’Connell). Jess’ search for love and recollection of her former beauty is a heart-breaking task given the fact that she has become unrecognizable and is covered in physical scars from battle.

This play about the resilient relationship that is ‘sisterhood’ inevitably had me pondering. All of my siblings would agree that we have the ultimate big sister. A ten-year gap in age difference resulted in her taking me under her wing quite a lot. To the effect that when she first trekked off to university and left this kid sister behind… I wrote my very first poem. (It was also the first delightful time I can recollect being able to shock and dismay my parents with an inner life behind my pig-tailed, doll-like exterior – muhahahaha!). The simple sentiment was written:

My sister Jenn has gone away and I feel like a flower dying.

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I didn’t think much about the poem until recently although Jenn has it tucked away in some cupboard somewhere. I’ve since had ample opportunity to experience leaving my family to pursue my own dreams. Luckily my sister is so busy with her own children now that, save a few tears at the airport, there are no more depressing poems about parting. However, my life has a funny way of letting the meaning of my relationships sink in casually and intermittingly. I get caught up in the moments and sifting through the meaning of life’s moments tends to happen on nights like tonight. Tonight the meaning of sisterhood sunk in by virtue of watching a play about what & who helps a woman recover from pain and trauma.

Life can be quite painful at times and even normal occurrences, like parting with a sister from time to time, can produce poems and images of a six year old drooping over ‘like a flower dying’. In this play Jess’ pain is not only internal, but severely visible on the outside… all the time. The struggle to stand on one’s own becomes physicalized in Jess’ struggle to recover. I saw the right side of her body crumple inwards leaving the left side to pick up all the slack. This play begs the question if learning to stand on one’s own is a necessary skill – or if finding life’s compensation, like somebody to lean on, is actually more important?

In watching Jess’ physical beauty stripped from her due to skin burns I was forced to reconstruct my idea of the relationship between ‘ugly’ and ‘beauty’. The core of Jess’ humanity surfaced in a way that it might not have had she continued to stand on her own in her previously ‘beautiful’ state. The fading of her physical beauty forced her to face her fear and discover that the people she loved most in the world remember her for her true beauty. The letting go of her anger opens her up to the imperfect love that her sister and friends still have to offer. Leave it to Meryl Streep’s daughter (Gummer) to bring great vulnerability to a role such that I reflected on my own relationships and truly appreciate them. She contributed to a lifelong journey of mine to deconstruct the relationship between beautiful & ugly, dark & light, new & old, beginning & ending.

At times – and often in beginnings – we love the beauty that covers up the ugly, but at other times life asks us to love the ugly as it covers up true beauty – especially as we get closer and closer to endings.

Beauty is but skin deep, ugly lies the bone.

Beauty dies and fades away, but ugly holds its own.

By the way – now I feel like a flower thriving:

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DRUIDSHAKESPEARE MARATHON

2 PM Richard II

3:35 PM INTERMISSION

3:55 PM Henry IV, Part I

5:25 PM INTERMISSION

6:10 PM Henry IV, Part II

7:10 PM INTERMISSION

7:30 PM Henry V

8:55 PM END

Sooooooo HERE’S THE CRAIC:

Clear plastic ponchos are optional in the ‘splash zone’ of the Gerald W. Lynch Theatre in New York City. The location of DruidShakespeare Company’s adaptation and amalgamation of the plays Richard II, Henry IV: Part I, Henry the IV: Part II and Henry V as part of the Lincoln Center Festival 2015. Mark O’Rowe was the writer and Garry Hynes the director.

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I wore said poncho and shared a few chuckles over it with the other poncho bearers. I am sure I looked HILARIOUS. However, it did shield my wardrobe from the blood, dirt and rain that risked falling off that stage during fight sequences. Nothing fell off the stage onto me except sound (although the stage floor was lined with dirt, there was a lot of blood and fighting, and some puking). I felt very ‘considered’ by the theatre though!

O’Rowe was capturing a “play about fathers and sons… leadership, honor, the question of which elements contribute most to greatness – birth or environment or both. It’s about class… affections a leader must quell or kill in himself… to be a leader – which relationships he must terminate, which to nourish. It’s about war – it’s origins, its workings, its consequences.” (Lincoln Center Festival 2015 Program)

An interesting thing to notice was the choice to gravitate towards the performers’ native Irish dialects rather than towards a more English sound or classical stage speech. I sadly did not attend the talkback, but just finished a rehearsal with a friend who DID attend and she TOLD me (*tisk*tisk* on the hearsay here…) that the company’s voice coach, Andrew Wade, encouraged this move. Two things to point out here regardless of debates over how to ‘speak Shakespeare’: 1. The actors felt very grounded and connected to each other while in their Irish dialects; 2. You can tell that Andrew still worked on making the language and sound production clear and consistent so it carried in the theatre. In this way I always ‘heard’ the story due to a clever use of consonant and vowel stress choices on the actors’ parts.

ACTOR LESSON for me was that whatever the dialect happens to be an actor’s muscularity of speech is an asset.

Another most interesting thing to notice (and I’d be a fool to not talk about) is Haynes’ gender blind casting. I LOVE IT! IT’S NICE TO SEE MORE OF IT. I ALSO WANT TO BE PART OF IT AS AN ACTOR.

The company of thirteen actors played over a hundred characters with some female actors playing men. King Henry IV (Derbhle Crotty), King Henry V (Aisling O’Sullivan), Lord Chief Justice (Marie Mullen) and others. Why am I so intrigued? I think it has to do with the human spirit, regardless of gender, and the getting to know what identity is all about including both the dark/bright, high/low, masculine and feminine parts of it.

As actors we are trained to use our bodies and voices as vessels to transform into another identity – that of another human being. It is so exciting to see where an actor is different and where an actor is similar to a character – and sometimes this can be scary. By shifting a center of energy from the head to the heart or even the hips in an actor’s body the character’s perspective can change. Moving through space differently can change the point of view of a human being. Moving through space in a traditionally ‘masculine’ way seems to afford O’Sullivan more freedoms as King Henry V. Even in the very simple manner of speaking louder and more boldly than if he were bound to the movements of a female, in high status, of the era. The transformation of an actor into a character is fascinating. More importantly the shifts in identity that a character makes on stage is the character’s story. If the character’s story is being told physically, psychologically, emotionally, vocally… then what difference does the gender of the actor make?

On the flip side a male actor has often been known to play a character that is a woman (original Shakespearean actors)… and up until present continues to embody effeminate male characters with often traditionally ‘feminine’ traits. I really enjoyed watching Marty Rae’s character (Richard II) transform from a fragile, emotionally stunted King into a bold, rascal of a usurped ‘cousin’ to Henry IV. A really interesting metaphor is used, a looking glass, when he is finally usurped by King Henry IV. Richard II opens the play in a more ‘feminine’, ethereal, goddess like state that is slowly stripped away with his power. As he ‘looks through the looking glass’ he finally transforms his identity towards a singular, more human, angry ‘masculine’ presence.

One thing that binds all my work and continues to interest me in performing… is this question of identity and the question of transformation and I am genuinely moved by the way in which all of us are… society circumscribes us and we play into this feeling that we have to pick one identity and stick with it and any natural transformation within our spirit is to be resisted at all costs and if there is some great shift in one’s life one’s to feel nothing but shame and failure. That’s the thing I’m constantly drawn back to.”Tilda Swinton

Swinton’s statement is certainly relevant when examining the transformation of the identities of Richard II and Henry IV and V. What circumscribes their greatness? How does that change as their identities are challenged and shifted? As ‘greatness’ is taken away symbolically by crown and duty – what characteristics and events cause a remembrance of ‘greatness’?

In the minds and hearts of the people at the end of the play – most of the other characters on stage had known King Henry V as friend, comrade soldier, family member as opposed to Richard II whose choices reflected a more distant, shiny, hovering spectacle. This rendition of Shakespeare’s plays suggests that an indulgent, reckless youth can shift and grow into an adult, may become a leader, and it is what a leader does on behalf of the people (s)he leads that causes a remembrance of ‘greatness’ or of ‘honor’. Not only that… it seems to inflate a sort of self-esteem in a leader to also be considered a human being among people, not alone, regardless of symbolic duty and crown.

ACTOR LESSON for me was that I can initially look globally at a play and figure out who my character foils, if anyone, because it can give me clues on what the growth of my character could be, and the purpose it has to carry out themes… and to tell the story.

 

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