18 May 2006

Understanding my calendar

Bob, an old medievalist pal, wrote this for Clam Chowder and it gets stuck in my head whenever my schedule gets too full.

The Harried Leisure Class
© Bob Esty and Clam Chowder

(With, sigh, my apologies for any transpositions, paraphasing, or other errors. I'm typing this at my desk during lunch, whaddaya want from me?)

We run about from place to place as if we're on a quest,
So occupied with having fun that we've no time to rest.
There's lots of things to do and see and we must get there fast
for we have no time to waste in the harried leisure class.

Our parents sat upon the porch and watched how life went by,
but we are much busy for there is so much to try.
We spend our weeknights getting set for our big weekend blast -
And sleep at work next day in the harried leisure class.

So much there is to do and see there simply is no way -
We're so tired out from running about I'd scarcely call it play.
We'll die before we're forty 'cause our bodies just can't last -
But we'll cram in a lot of fun in the harried leisure class!

15 May 2006

Of dollhouses and coat racks

One year around Christmas time - I think I was 8 or so and Sara was 5 - my Dad was building something in the family room. When we asked what it was, he said that he didn't know, maybe a bookcase, maybe a dollhouse, maybe something else. And, as this was still a few months before books completely won the battle for my soul and for the available space in my home, I said "Oh, please, make a dollhouse! We don't have a dollhouse!" Dad said "We'll see," which even then I knew meant "no," and I'm pretty easy to fool, so I figured that it would be some dumb ol' bookcase (see how much my life has changed?) instead of a dollhouse and I went on my way.

Cut to Christmas morning. The tradition in my family is that one gift gets opened on Christmas Eve and the rest on Christmas Day and that gifts from Santa Claus aren't wrapped. (It was Santa who gave me all of the Little House books the following Christmas thus sealing my doom as a book person. Santa is a pusher. Or maybe an enabler.) Ă…nyway, there under the tree was a our beautiful dollhouse which was made not only by Dad, but by Mom and my grandparents. Dad built the three-story townhouse-style house. He put hardwood floors on all three levels, but the kitchen floor is - of course - not sanded smooth and varnished gleaming as the upper two floors are. The kitchen also has a beamed ceiling. My mother hung the wall paper on the upper two levels, and made a stained glass window for each of the upper two levels. My grandfather made the four poster bed and my grandmother sewed all the bedding for it. It had furniture and people and even art because my mother took a very small picture of me as a baby and framed it to hang on the wall. She - or Dad - also made "records" by cuting out the pictures of records that the record clubs would have on the blow-in cards in magazines.

It was a truly wonderful dollhouse and I played with it often. When I was in 7th grade, Mom took the smallest of my school pictures and framed it. By sheer chance it looks - at a very quick glance - like a famous artwork and people would look into the dollhouse, see my picture on wall, and say "Oh, you have the Mona -- no, you don't." So we called the picture the Mona Leta.

When my nieces were little, they played with the dollhouse and because Cheryl, clearly, is more closely related to me than to any other member of our family, she elbowed Angela out of the way and dominated all dollhouse-based activity. Mom eventually created an alternate dollhouse for Angela by clearing out a small bookcase and filling it with other doll furniture. If the subject of the dollhouse comes up and someone refers to "you girls playing with the dollhouse," Angela will point out that *Cheryl* played with the dollhouse, she (Angela) played with a *bookcase.*

When Mom was downsizing to get ready to move from the 3-bedroom house to the 1-bedroom apartment, she asked me what I would like and I said "The piano, the lamp that you made, and the dollhouse." "Well, I have to check with the girls." "Why? It's my dollhouse." "Yes, but they played with it, too." "Yeah, and it's my dollhouse." So it came to me and lives with me in the condo and I still love it.

Recently I was explaining to the girls about the trust provisions in Mom's will for them. (Those lucky girls will inherit two generations of debts and crap, one day from Mom and then later from me.) They will get half of Mom's estate and all of mine (the poor dears). So we were talking about how they would inherit, among other things, my condo, at which point Angela suggested that I leave *her* the condo and leave Cheryl ... the dollhouse.

*This year* for Christmas Dad made me a lovely coat rack/shelf to put in my front entryway. Its made from poplar and has brass hooks and fits nicely between the front door and the closet. Because I am (all together now) never home, it hasn't been hung, but it will be.

(Warning: this paragraph contains my hazy memory of what people said/suggested/thought/indicated and is probably chock full of misinterpretation and poor recall. Just sayin'.) David and I are still debating the best way to install it. Dad recommended drilling holes into it and putting a bolt though the holes and into the studs. David opined that a condo built in 1988 (or so) probably has eight studs in any given building, and that drilling though the front would lack aesthetic pleasingness, but John (make a point of doing shows with contractors, plumbers, electricians, etc. You'll learn a lot) said that no, there would still be a stud every 18 or 24 inches. So I suggested that we ask Andy if he could route two key-holes into the back and we can hang it thus. David agreed that this might work. And there we remain. Because Andy's theater schedule is as busy as mine.

But my lovely coat rask will get hung one day. And everytime I see it, even now as it leans up against the wall, waiting to be installed, I'll think of my Dad, who makes beautiful presents.

Maybe Angela will inherit the condo and Cheryl will get the doll house and the coat rack....

12 May 2006

Amazingly cool

My friend Bill was pictured in Boing Boing. I am not now, nor ever have been, worthy.

And, of course, this precludes Emily from ever asking that the basement be repurposed from the Maryland Branch of the Computing Museum. I'd start lobbying now for bigger displays and more wall text.

Yay, Bill!

09 May 2006


"Hey, you asked. I'm willing to tell you.... In fact, I will tell you." Kess, Independence, Act II, scene i.

A long time ago, someone I know mentioned a lack among her performer friends' blogs for any kind of discussion of process. We seem to be all about costumes and blocking dilemmas, but not so much on what the characters think and feel.

One term for this process is tablework. It's when the actors and the director sit around a table (because where else are we going to put our coffee and assorted snacks?) and talk about the play.

Naturally, everyone's process is different and every show's process is different. Some directors believe in a lot of tablework, some in getting the show on its feet and letting the emotions follow the blocking. One of the things that I appreciated most about Independence is how much table work we got to do, even if we weren't sitting around a table. As we would finish working a scene Maura might say "See, Sherry seems so angry there, but she's really hurt. Why isn't she welcome in her own family?" which would start a several minute discussion between us about that question.

But Independence is very relationship-driven. And Lee Blessing (the playwright) gives us lots to work with within the four corners of the script. So I looked at the ways that they talk to each other. Kess's first scene with Jo looks like an interrogation. "Why would Mom hit you?" "Did anybody see it?" Why is Kess interrogating Jo? Why doesn't she believe her? They haven't seen each other in four years, where's the hugging and how are yous? Where's the sympathy over the neck brace?

Evelyn, Kess and Jo's mother, is both manipulative and crazy. And Jo, whether she sees it or not, is also a manipulator. "Having you here has been so great. I feel much calmer. And I know Mom's happier." In other words, do what we want and everyone stays happy and calm. Every time I heard something from Evelyn's head come out of Jo's mouth, Kess would get suspicious and shut down. Not shut down completely, but there would be a posture change, a drawing in. Some things you decide to do and keep, some thing you find yourself doing and decide to keep.

Tablework gets everyone on the same page, which means when I threw that ball, Sharon would know where to go to be under it and vice versa. Do enough tablework and you'll never have to worry about the trajectory of the ball because before it left your partner's hand you knew where it would go. Not enough and you'll find yourself in the middle of Tech Week hearing people ask "why is it that so-and-so does such-and-such?" and not in a good way.

Ten minutes of good tablework is worth an hour of rehearsal, a belief I got to put to a practical test working on Perfectly Good Airplanes. When the director and both actors are rehearsing other shows, rehearsal time is very limited. We had a total of about 5 rehearsals to get that puppy ready (I credit how well it went to the quality of my actors) and we spent the first rehearsal completely on tablework. We read the play, we talked about the play, we read it some more. We talked about it some more. We came up with a bunch of questions for Steve, the playwright. We all hoped that the cast would learn all the lines (it's about a 47-page script) but I knew that we would live and die on the relationship between the father and the daughter. So we dug into the whys and the wherefores of that relationship.

I'm now working on a redaction of David Mamet's "A Life in the Theatre" and we are similarly pressed for time, but we still spent our first two rehearsals going over the script line by line, asking questions, bouncing thoughts off of each other, and because it seems that Jeff's brain tracks in a similar manner to mine, wandering off onto tangents and non sequiturs. Josh has already remembered how non-linear my conversation is and is probably having flashbacks to Sneakers rehearsals. In that respect, he'll relate perfectly to his character, but it seems a pretty high price to pay.


And next rehearsal we move from one of my favorite parts of prepping a show to one of my least favorite parts - initial blocking.

Some people are just so needy

Jeff, Jeff, Jeff, Jeff, Jeff.

And Josh.

02 May 2006

What? I don't hear anything

This morning was not a good time to work in our office. No, no, we didn't have ravaging executives screaming at cowering underlings or anything like that. Nor did we have tense, silent, ominous awkwardness. No, we had something worse.

We had air hammers.

The building is being refurbished, sort of. Construction guys (or contractor guys or someone) have been putting a new "face" on the building. And today was the day that they were attaching some of the new facing. With the air hammers.

So our office sounded like the inside of a steel and concrete tree being attacked by gigantic woodpeckers.

Every so often it would stop for a few minutes and then start back up. I assume that this was while they reloaded the hammers. It turns out that it takes about as much time to reload the hammers as it takes for me to untense, which was probably humorous to watch if one could turn the sound down.

I told Ira that everytime they had to reload, I felt like I was in an episode of M*A*S*H - you know, one of those ones with lots of shelling:

".....What? I don't hear anything."
"Yeah. It stopped."

One of our staffers (at least one, rather) went home with a headache around 10:30. They stopped for the day - or because some poor office worker pushed them off of their scaffold - around 11:45 or so.

But the temperature was okay at least.

01 May 2006

Southern England?

For The Winslow Boy I had to learn a second English accent. In addition to my generic RP English accent, I was taught (by our vocal coach, John, a Scot) a passable generic cockney accent.

And, in general, once I learned how the shape the words, I just had to pay attention to the usual things like saying them in the right order, putting the stresses in the right places, etc.

So Saturday night there I was, up on stage, minding my own business when I said:

"But I saw him in this room as big as life with my own eyes before y'all came back from church."

Yep. Violet the cockney parlormaid said "y'all."

I mentioned it to Anne, our AD, a little later and she told me that I should have said "youse."