25 October 2004

Safe and sound returneth she

Maine is a very, very beautiful state. Especially when it's being visited by people I like to sing Gilbert & Sullivan with. Linda kicked some musical butt with her Katisha. I'm going back up to Connecticut (flying again!) in three weeks to see her do the role in a fully staged production and I'm looking forward to it.

And tonight is the callbacks for two shows for which I have high hopes. (Not for me, mind you, I've already been cast in The Arlington Players' The Man Who Came to Dinner. I'm reprising Maggie, my favorite role and my pal Jeff is playing Whiteside, so I'm dead chuffed.) No, the shows in question are Henry V and The Mikado. David has a call-back for Henry (although he wasn't told for which specific roles) along with several other good folks and Ali is casting Mikado. I'm focusing on sending good karma to all the folks I know who spent the evening sitting in audition rooms thinking "please pick me!" Sure, lives don't hang in the balance and yeah, it's just theater, but we all want what we want.

Julie is auditioning at callbacks for Mikado. She probably doesn't think so, but Julie is a brave and lovely person. Auditioning isn't easy, but she gets up there and does it and hopes for the best and takes the outcome (good or bad) with such grace. Put her in your cast and she'll do anything for you. I love having her in my casts. There's a non-solo singing role she's trying for in this show and I really hope she gets it. Fingers are crossed, as are toes.

The worst thing about auditions is how few actors (or singers) can get out of their heads the idea that they personally are being judged. They will say that they know that's not true, but they say it with the same lack of genuine belief with which I say that I believe that flying is a safe way to travel. Every actor should have to cast a show and every director should have to audition. It's the only way to understand the process.

I'd much rather have to audition (which I actually really enjoy, but I'm weird) than have to cast a show because when I audition I'm only responsible for me. With every casting choice you make, you get something and you give something up and you spend a fair amount of time wondering if you made the right choice. But directors are really and truly only interested in casting their best show, in filling the slots, solving the problems, balancing the equation.

I don't know about the Henry phone calls, but the Mikado ones will probably happen tomorrow morning and early afternoon. If you listen closely, you can hear the breath being held.

Break some legs, guys!

22 October 2004

The Auld Alliance

Another gem from Mackie's "A History of Scotland" (and largely for Paul's benefit):

"Scots literature was slow in beginning and followed much the tradition of Chaucer; but towards the end of the century, French influences revealed themselves markedly in the work of writers who made much use of French forms and French vocabulary, and whose 'approach' resembled that of Villon."


Between reading this history book and reading "Henry V," I've developed a strong need for a comparison table of long-dead Monarchs, so I've started one. So far I've got the rulers of England, Scotland, and France (the Irish will be added later). To keep it even slightly useful to me, I did it in Excel, making Column A years in 25-year intervals and Columns B through D the appropriate Alpha Individual. So now when I go to see "HV," I'll know that the "French King" in question is Charles VI, the Well-Beloved, who died around the same time as Chatty Hal. And exactly with whom the Scots were trying to negotiate at any given point. And it all interweaves because English Kings having French adventures were usually leaving the Scots to their own devices, much to the relief of said Scots. And, of course, there is a certain amount of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" in the Auld Alliance. I think either France or Scotland would have been happy to partner with anyone willing to be a thorn in the paw of the English lion.

I wouldn't call this chronology exactly a thing of beauty and a joy for ever, but 'twill serve.

Up, Up, and Away

I'm a nervous flier. And of all the understatements in my collection, it seems that "I'm a nervous flier" and "I don't like heights" are the two that come closest to actually leaving the area of truthfulness simply by being so far from accurately describing my feelings. Here are more accurate statements: I am a terrified flier and a complete ninny about heights.

I mention this because I'm getting on a plane today. I'm flying from Dulles to Bradley Airport in Hartford, Connecticut. My pal, Linda, will meet me in Hartford and then she, her pal, Julie, and I will drive tomorrow morning to Portland, Maine, where we will sing a lot of G&S with a larger bunch of our pals. So I'm looking forward to every moment of the weekend, except for the two hours I'll be spending in the air.

I can say with a certain amount of pride that although I am a nervous flier, if flying is how to get somewhere, I get on the plane. I've been to France, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, England, California, and St. Louis in the past few years. I've flown with friends, I've flown alone. The flights to and from Australia and New Zealand, by the way, are 11 - 15 hours over open water, my least favorite.

So, in order to cope, I have a kind of routine for flying. Some people might compare all this to the first signs of OCD or maybe dementia, but it gets me through, so I do it.

1. I never wear meltable clothes on a plane or high heels. If I have to leave in a hurry, I want to able to wear my shoes and I don't want nasty, disfiguring burns to complicate the process.

2. I tell every member of the cabin staff that I encounter that I am a nervous flier. I sometimes ask for a drink of water just so I'll have something to do.

3. When I get to my seat, I count the rows to the exits, I read the entire safety card, even though I know it by heart, and I listen to the entire safety speech, even though I could recite it along with the staff. If Johnny Depp wanted my phone number, I'd shush him during the safety lecture.

4. If they are strangers, I tell my seatmates that I'm a nervous flier, so that if I grab their hands during the flight, they'll know why. (I have done this. Once I stop hyperventilating, I let go and apologize, but still....)

5. Just before and during take-off, I pray. Really and truly pray.

6. If we hit even the tiniest air pocket, I do two things - claw the upholstery of the seat in front of me in panic and then look around for a member of the cabin staff. A kindly stranger once pointed out that if we were in trouble, the cabin staff wouldn't be smiling and pouring hot coffee. Best advice I ever got. Makes much more sense than statistics to me. The cabin staff might smille through any disaster, but the coffee pouring would definitely stop. And they'd go strap themselves in. Cabin staff members leaning casually against galley walls and chatting are a very comforting sight to me. Not comforting enough, but I take what I can get.

People have suggested sleeping pills - I have real trouble sleeping on planes because going to sleep involves sitting quietly with my eyes closed, which only allows me to more accutely feel the plane jiggling - but I reject that idea because if there's a problem, I'd like to be able to get out on my own. Just hop up and leave. Not as likely if I've drugged myself into a stupor. Valium sounds like a better plan because it just takes the edge off, lowers things from terrified to afraid, but I have enough people in my family with addictive personalities that I'm not anxious to introduce anything habit forming into my life.

I bring a book and read, trying to block out any sensory input that indicates that I'm on a plane. I hum sometimes, just to make a little white noise.

When I talk about my fear of flying I lean on the more amusing aspects of how demented I get. Several folks have said they'd like to fly with me just to watch the process. And the friends who have flown with me - the ones who didn't get their arms clawed off - have funny stories to tell about me on planes. My mother and I were a source of great amusement to the cabin staff on the way to St. Louis. Mom hasn't flown for years and loves it so even though she is clear on how nervous I am - and even though the lady in the seat behind us was ***even more scared than me*** - Mom was happily yodeling things like "Here we go!!" and other comments focusing on stuff which that other lady and I were trying very hard not to think about. I think it was my through-gritted-teeth request that Mom "be joyful more quietly" that earned me the free Bloody Mary.

So wish me luck. And wave if you see an Independence Air flight go overhead. If I can pry my fingers loose from the armrests, I'll wave back.

14 October 2004

Hastings Day

Today, October 14th, is the 938th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. On October 13th everyone in England lived in an Anglo-Saxon country with random Norse problems. By the end of the following day they lived in a largely Anglo-Saxon country with Norman overlords. Pretty much every aspect of my life comes from that one day - the language I speak (and abuse so lovingly now and then), the social structure of the country (England) that so largely shaped the country in which I live (the US), and so forth and so forth.

Interestingly enough, William became "the Conquerer" because he believed that he had been left the crown of England as a bequest. He believed that it was his, so he came and took it. Roughly 450 years later, Henry V (Henry the Vee) returned the favor and marched into France and took it because he believed that it righfully belonged to him. William's heirs hung on to their father's conquest a bit better than Henry's did, though.

Hastings Day is also my mother's birthday. She has two connections with English history because she was born on Hastings Day and both 1066 and the year in which she was born - 1936 - were years with three English kings. Coincidence? I think not. Perhaps my mother is the rightful monarch, instead of Mrs. Mountbatten-Windsor. Something to think about.

(1066 = Edward the Confessor, Harold II, and William the Conquerer;
1936 = George V, Edward VIII, and George VI)

Today in Scot Lit

The Guardian Unlimited announced that today Edinburgh, Scotland will be named by the United Nations as the "First City of Literature."


12 October 2004

I'm late, I'm late

I think it's time for me to stop being surprised by the number of blog entries I encounter (I am still powerless to resist the "next blog" button because "next blog" is how I found most of the ones that I check on a daily basis) that have somewhere near the top of a post the statement that the author is now very late - for class, for work, for a deadline, what-have-you. This is then followed by a nice, long, chatty post. If one is already late, doesn't sitting around writing blog posts only compound the problem?

Now me, on the other hand, I never do that. I will, however, sit and write nice, long, chatty posts when I'm avoiding memorizing something. Like right now. I have half a monologue memorized for an audition. Well, more like two-thirds, really. It's just that memorizing monolouges is intensely dull. No fun at all. So I'm taking a break from this one to write about the memorization process.

I have a system that seems to work for me, which is:

1. Find a monologue that will remain interesting for the period during which I'll need it.
2. Type it out or hand-write it. The mind remembers what the hands have done.
3. Read it a few times.
4. Start the "pound it into my head" process. Read sentence A, repeat sentence A several times while not looking at the paper. Read sentence B, repeat sentence B several times while not looking at the paper. Now say sentences A & B. Lather-rinse-repeat for sentences C thorugh ZZ (or sometimes zzzzzzzzzzzz).
5. Tape myself reading the monologue, preferably with vocal choices included, saying each sentence twice, so that I can hear it and then say it along with myself. Play the tape in the car anytime I'm driving alone.
6. Read the monologue now and again, as though it were new material. This really helps to clean up mis-memorization errors.

It's a really boring process, but it gets the words into my head, so it works for me. It is interesting, too, which monologues (and dialogues) my brain accepts easily and which ones it takes forever to learn. Anything that I try to memorize near to the time when I've had to memorize something else I learn quickly because memory is a muscle. If I go from show to show to show, the dialogue gets learned pretty quickly. The first show after a long break is the hardest.

Learning lines written by someone whose syntax is either similar to mine or very, very different is easier than learning lines written by someone whose syntax is 17 degrees off from mine. My brain will struggle with competing word choices and clause arrangements. The easiest dialogue for me to memorize was probably Tennessee Williams's words for Flora in "27 Wagons Full of Cotton." Williams's characters talk the way that people talk. George S. Kaufman's characters talk the way that people haven't really talked in a while, but still kind of do. W.S. Gilbert's characters talk the way no actual human being talks. (They talk in "exposition speak."). So Williams and Gilbert are easier for me than Kaufman. And, of course, easier doesn't necessarily mean more rewarding, because I love doing Kaufman shows.

Okay, back to work.

07 October 2004

Krakatoa - extremely East of Java

I just love NPR. I tend to stay away during major political eruptions (like elections) or post-disaster when they become all-one-story, all-the-time until my sympathy and attention span are completely burnt out. But I'll sneak back now and then, hoping for some decent signal amongst the horrible noise and I got lucky this morning.

Michael Sullivan opened his fascinating report on Anak Krakatau (Krakatoa Volcano: The Son Also Rises) with a brief description of the 1969 movie Krakatoa, East of Java (carefully pointing out that even the title is wrong, because Krakatoa is - as we all know by now - west of Java). Then we get the part that improved my commute, when Sullivan said: "The volcano blew and so did the movie."

The rest of the report reminded me how interesting I find volcanos. I didn't get to climb Mt. Etna while in Italy, but several friends did and told me how odd it is to see slow moving lava wandering down the hill a few feet away. (Jealousy, it seems, never goes away. I still envy them that experience.) I did fly near Mt. Ruapehu in New Zealand when it was active in 1996 and I did tour Pompeii, possibly the saddest place I've ever been and a great example of the triumph of real estate over experience. Mt. Vesuvius isn't dead, but there are entire housing developments on the hillside leading to Pompeii.

06 October 2004

You don't know somebody ....

My friend Stacey is not only warm, kind, funny, smart, good-hearted, generous, and non-judgemental, she is also published. Stacey submitted a poem she wrote to Exquisite Corpse and they published it! (http://www.corpse.org/issue_14/unm_person/abbott.html). How cool is that?

01 October 2004

And we're back!

The firewall here at the office decided that Blogspot was dangerous and wouldn't allow me to access it, which made my usual lunchtime trolling of my favorite blogs a no-go and posting from here ditto. But our IT folks have fixed the problem! Yea!

So I'm reading the Scottish history book and came across the following:

“Faith was strong and the money acquired by sees and religious houses was by no means wasted. To it we owe the beautiful buildings which, defiant alike of English destruction and reforming zeal, still witness to the achievement of generations who saw in beauty one form of holiness.” And a page or two later: "There the Flemings had their own house, the Red Hall, under whose burning timbers they all died during the brutal sack of the city by Edward I in 1296."

Mackie's prose is frequently rather dense and chewy, but in that bran muffin I keep finding cranberries - light, tart, colorful bits - like those two quotes.