Henry V and a partial reflection on 2014

As I sit on the train home, I ruminate about the year I’ve had, and the evening of performance I have been gifted. Henry V, as directed by Damien Ryan, has been incredible. The conversations I had with the actors afterward were both reminiscent of the year I’ve had and incredibly different from what I experienced.

This year has been hard. It’s been difficult for all the right reasons, it’s been exhausting, it’s been beautiful. I have performed for the better part of 60,000 youths and communities around the country, I have twerked 108 times as Benvolio, I have shared my teenage love for Romeo and my despair at Hamlet’s fall into madness as Ophelia 47 times. I think. I have died 45 times (in performance) as Lady Macduff and called my friends to begin the show as First Witch in Macbeth.

We have made Shakespeare accessible. That’s the first thing I have to say. We opened the plays for hundreds of kids and brought them into a life that they wouldn’t have known otherwise. We made the understanding of language vital and real and tangible. I stood in front of audiences and had some of them saying lines back at me as if I were their mirror – someone to practice with. I’m proud to say I am – was – a player. A Bell Shakespeare Player. And Henry V reminded me of that. It reminded me that no matter how old language is, no matter how many times we perform it, we can still make it ring with truth and clarity. No matter how old it gets, it can still be relevant. No matter how hard we try, all the themes we learn growing up – bravery, honesty, cruelty, trust, love, fear – they are all as important now as they were when we first learnt those words.

I can’t wait to see what lies ahead. Whether I see some of those kids fresh out of acting school alongside me in a performance. I hope so.

Once more unto the breach, dear, dear friends.

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Chronic Fatigue, Snot, Study and assorted thoughts

On a day when the forecast for my area in the Blue Mountains is “rain and periods of heavy rain”, on a day when I’m not at work, or at play and have three assignments and a lecture ahead of me as my itinerary for the day, I sit down to write. I haven’t written for a long time. Certainly not blogged. Not because I didn’t want to, not because I’ve been immensely busy, but because I’ve been immensely tired. I was unofficially diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in the middle of last year (my doctor refused to call it that. I’ll explain why in a minute). What that meant was that when I went to sleep, I would wake up unrefreshed, I would experience headaches and subsequent hunger, my body ached and my mind was frustrated by the lack of activity. I had days where I couldn’t move. Days where I would stare out of the window and fall asleep two hours after waking up. Rain or sun, I would plead off any activity in favour of staying safely in bed. 

I’m coming back to myself now. It turns out that the part of my brain that is supposed to send me into REM or Rapid Eye Movement sleep (the type of sleep that causes you to dream) switched off. Somewhere between a year and a year and a half ago this happened, but I was so busy I ignored it and continued my busy life. Last year that came to a halt when I stopped for Christmas. This was 2011, by the way…I still don’t quite believe it’s already 2013. 

The reason, then, for my lack of blogging or communication with the general public, was exhaustion and despair. How could I hope to perform if I would feel exhausted and have trouble remembering lines during a stressful 3 hour performance? How could I hope to go to auditions and look fresh, act fresh and be…fresh. So last year, and in fact, the first few weeks of this year were stressful and frightening because as much as I’m studying Psychology, my life is with performance. 

So now I am lighting one show, “Alls Well That Ends Well” on the Nepean River in Emu Plains, my first design, plot and operation – one that I took on two weeks before opening and saw one rehearsal of before the plot – and I’m still figuring out the kinks, but since it’s an outdoor show, I can’t focus before 7, and even if I do, I still can’t be certain. The show looks good – when it’s not raining. We had our first performance on Sunday, Saturday being so far past rained out that we may have floated away if we’d tried to be on site. The show is up for the next month and is a solid piece of community theatre. 

Which brings me to snot. I have a lot of it. For the last month my body has been warning me it would make me ill, and I’ve been daring it to and pleading with it not to in turns since then. Today is my first day of non-movement and of course, guess what? Yup. Full force lurgies. I will beat them back with a lurgie-disintegrating pellet gun however in time for performance tomorrow and Sunday, should they go ahead. Yep. That’s me. On a drug to make me dream at night and working through the phlegm once more. I’m back, baby.

Which brings me to study. Uni started up again (lectures, that is) on Monday, and I very much love studying. It keeps my brain active, I have some awesome assignment projects that I love but will hate by the time I have written the approximately 6,000 words required for each unit over the course of the trimester. Yes, trimester. That’s another interesting thing. I’m used to the condensed learning method – I went to ACA after all. The full time course is 2.5 years unlike the other standard 3 year study format. We learn faster, with the same production values as the other schools, but the fact of the matter is we need to practise more when we come out to solidify all that knowledge. It feels the same here. I have approximately 3 chapters per unit to read a week – this week that equates to over 100 pages of reading and digesting of information. We have about 10 weeks rather than 12 or 13 for other universities to learn everything we need to about a subject before examinations, with each unit having a full time study expectation of about 12 hours per week. If you add all that up, a full time student at UNE is studying 48 hours a week. More than the average full time job. It assumes we study 6 days a week. It’s hard, it’s gruelling, and I’m sure I don’t do more than two thirds that study, but I’m lucky I have my memory. It’s quick, it’s sharp and it’s strong. I am lucky. Acting school honed it. I told my mum I would go to acting school then uni, and I have and now I’m glad I did. Really glad. I work part time, study full time and act, sometimes (when I’m lucky) full time. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Except to not work part time. That would be nice.

 

Oh, I said I would explain why she refused to call it Chronic Fatigue. Turns out I have a Dr House type doctor. What I mean by that is she refused to believe I had or have Chronic Fatigue because then she couldn’t do anything about it. We’re still not certain whether I had or have it at all. We do know that something has worked, and as much as I’m studying a science subject, I can’t work myself up to delving into the why. If it’s a placebo effect I’m experiencing, it can stay right there. I’m enjoying it.

Inside/Out. Pre-reading. Ever. Out loud.

On Wednesday at 7pm , I will be hearing Inside/Out read to an audience for the first time at the Queen Street Studios Studio 10. I give time and details purely because anyone is welcome to come and hear the play. I would love to hear many different responses, and am looking forward to it as much as I fear it. Tomorrow will be the first time I’ll hear the play read aloud without me reading any of the parts myself, and with a man playing the male role. The play is definitely ready to be heard. The characters have been dancing around in my head for so long they seem to be real people. The situation they’re in has changed and changed and the world they live in has been pummeled so much that if I keep writing without an audience, without another brain for the words to echo through, one of two things will happen: Either I’ll go insane from hearing voices, or the piece will become stale to the point of untoastable.

I have to admit, I’m scared. Writing a play and having a play read to an audience are two completely different things. As much as this is now the fifth draft, it is still enough me that it’s an intimate thing to share with anyone.
The first hurdle has been crossed though. Sending the play to anyone is the first hurdle. You don’t have to be in the room with them while they read it. You only have to be there if you want to know what they think afterward.

Luckily I won’t be alone. I’ll have the incredible voices and support of Corinne Marie reading Fay, Erica Brennan reading Liza and Peter Maple reading Mark. If nothing else, they will sound good.

Maybe every joke will fall flat, ever dramatic moment be laughable, every metaphor die a horrible death.

Then again, maybe not.

Gotta find out sometime. I guess.

Do I?

Wish me luck.

 

Excerpt from Act One, Scene One

Houselights are on during Fay’s speech.

FAY: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to tonight’s performance of “Inside Out”.
I won’t ask you to turn off your mobile phones, because either you will because you’ve been to the
theatre before and it’s an automatic reaction, or you won’t because you’ve been to the theatre before
and never bothered to before, or you’ve never been to the theatre before and have no idea why you
should turn them off (phone signals can interfere with sound systems and performance quality),
or you won’t because you’re a fuckwit that thinks the call from your phone company about how
you’ve used up your minutes is more important than the show you’ve paid to see – and everyone
else’s enjoyment, time and money. Anyway, what I’ve just done is drawn your attention to your
phone, or the phone of the person next to you that they haven’t turned off, or the phone you lost, or
the phone you found, or bought recently, or sold, or don’t have yet out of protest, or don’t have yet
because you’re waiting for it to become fashionable… You’re thinking, I hope, about your phone.
Liza enters, staring out at the audience. Mark, upstage, stares at her.
What if I did the same thing with mortality? What if I said that you were going to die, and reminded
you of it every five minutes of every day? If every conversation ended with it, every joke was
based on it, every tick of the clock was a reminder of it? Or maybe if you were afraid of something
everyone has to deal with at some point in their lives – dust, sunshine, blood, touch… other people…
Liza exits and returns with a piece of fabric that she sews. Mark watches.
We’ve all had a busy day, week, month, year, you’ve paid to see this piece of theatre and come in
after a glass of wine or a beer, and here you are, sitting down, praying I’ll get on with it. So here
it is. This is my life. It’s my life as much as it is yours. You are not obliged to do anything unless
you wish to do so. You don’t have to stick around. (She grins) You’re not getting your money back,
though.

Australia Day – A response

Yesterday was Australia Day. To some, it’s a day that is feared by those that wish to be safe on the street from “patriots” enjoying the day off with everything Australian – especially beer. To others, it’s a day to reflect on the sense of independence the white Australians gained, and to thank those (long gone) men and women that bolstered the nation. To yet another group of people, the day is an insult – a day that reminds them, and will forever remind them, that their home was ripped from their hands, their children were turned away from them, and their hearts crushed by invaders from an unknown land. Australia Day. To me, forever, this will be the day that I joined the nation of colours, a nation of contradiction and a nation of colours, a nations of contradiction, and a nation that I feel I can in some way strengthen – change – water. It may be, in my own  insignificant way – perhaps the only contribution I will ever make in this country is to plant the bush the nation itself presented me. Perhaps the best thing I can do is yet to come – perhaps my desire to grow the arts will open Australia’s independent arts scene up to the rest of the world. Perhaps, one day, I will contribute to the population by raising intelligent, kind, brave children. Who knows?

The interesting thing about ceremonies is that they’re often run by people with very little performance knowledge. In a small room, upstairs in the Kuring-Gai council chambers, I added “Australia” to my list of official homes and “Australian” to my list of official names.

There was a man there with a very strong voice, dressed in tradition Australian “bush man” garb. He was very patriotic, I could see it in his bearing, and one might say he was the MC. He passed that honour on to someone else, but that was his role, to keep our attention. He was the comic relief.

There was an Australia Day ambassador, a presenter from Talk Back radio who would have cried several times in her own speech if she hadn’t had to worry about her hair and make up. She gave a good speech, interestingly starting with the Aboriginal Australian’s world pre-destruction (a beautiful, lush land) and introducing the exiled Britains (to harsh, barren land). I was intrigued by the sudden change in description, and of course, it made me wonder if I am now an invader. What saddened me also was that there were no indigenous  Australians in attendance. The thanks extended to their Guring-Gai people seemed empty, standard. I understand that this is a requirement, thanking the people whose land upon which we now stand, but perhaps it shouldn’t, I feel, be thanks that we give them, because we did not ask for their land before taking it. We should be honouring them for their understanding, for their painful acceptance of what has happened and their strength so far down the line to remain proud of who they have been through adversity. In a way, I guess, I see this from the perspective of a black woman, understanding the slave trade and how much has changed since then. Racism exists, in a strong, sometimes subtle way. It’s almost meta-racism, I suppose, because of its new form. How right it is to talk about the beauty of one’s skin tone, and be surprised when they aren’t from where you expect, and how wrong it is to use defamatory words of any kind!

In any case, the performance was long, it was sometimes very dull (being a ceremony, I expected no less), occasionally insulting to my sensibilities, but it was also a time to see how proud everyone is of their home, whatever the state. The house may need cleaning, but the foundations are strong.

It’s great, no matter how confused I am by my own understanding and feelings toward what I experienced yesterday, to have a reason to appreciate and fondly look forward to Australia Day, even if it’s just to renew my thoughts on these topics.

The Ugly One – a somewhat confused response

On Saturday night I saw the closing performance of “The Ugly One”. As I am gearing up to work in the world of direction next year, I was lucky enough also to assist the producer, Arts Radar, on the show. I helped from the marketing perspective, sending out internet page listings, getting everyone involved in ticket prizes and the like.  Opening night came and went. Since I was working on “How to lose sight”, I didn’t get to see this at the beginning of the run, and therefore had read both the play and some of the reviews about the piece. It also didn’t help that I had to sneak in five minutes late. How? I’d been advertising the show and its times for the last month…I don’t know. I’m impressed sometimes by my own foolishness…

But the play. The play’s the thing.

I enjoyed it on the level I think it was supposed to be enjoyed. The performers were fantastic with incredible control over their bodies and admirable (I literally admire them) control over their voices, as well as a fondness for apples and oranges. The play was a satire about plastic surgery. I’d read it. I knew it was hilarious. It gave me questions about how comedy influences subject matter. Comedy is a fantastic vessel for getting across a story, or theme, or a confronting topic. I deliberately joke about my ethnicity all the time. Australians try to make a habit of deliberately noticing or not noticing that I’m black, so me joking about it brings it into the open and they find it easier to let go of. Plays written to bring a particular social issue to mind therefore need a very fine balance of comedy and seriousness to cut through the ideas and into the mind.  I’m not certain I got that with The Ugly One, and I’m also not certain if it was the direction or the script. As I say, I had read the script about a month and a half before I saw the performance, and there were laughs on every page. The whole thing was beautifully constructed, but I felt something missing in my viewing of the piece. I loved the way each joke was handled, I loved the obvious detailing of the space and the actors were fantastic but I guess what I was missing was the depth. And now I think about it, the piece was not based on subtext. It was based on obvious and blatant laughs because we ourselves recognize certain phrases being said that we may have said, or heard, or thought. The satire was well created in that way. But…I missed something. Perhaps I was trying to read too much into it, but I did miss something and I feel that it wasn’t enough as a result. I felt like the beautiful monologue at the end of the play should have made me cry. It doesn’t feel like “The Ugly One” should have been such a clear cut satire about beauty and plastic surgery. It could also have touched me deeper than it did. And that’s a shame. It was a masterly piece of theatre, but it didn’t make me think. Or maybe it did. Perhaps this was the point and I’ve just managed to play into Marius Von Mayenburg’s hands by pointing out deliberate shallowness of text and this frustration is a result of my desperation to see the depth in people.

And maybe it was just supposed to make me laugh.

It worked.

The Electron

She stares into the audience blankly as they are seated. There’s no music, no sound, and she doesn’t move. She sits on a chair, but it looks as though she’s dancing. She’s dancing and singing and flying and then
She looks up. Not at the audience.
She looks up as if she saw something there that was not.
Is not. Could not. It makes her want to cry, this nothing.
This something that did not use to be. Eventually it is too much and she looks away. Into herself.
Deep inside.
The sun. The sun. It blinds her, overwhelms her, overtakes her. As though she’s moving too fast. Too slow. The sun is moving, she is moving. She spins so fast all the follicles of hair on her body individually sway and pull away from her skin. All the particles, all the atoms, electrons, positives negatives drawing away from her, tempting her to follow, daring her to try. The moisture leaves the air. It is dry, cool. Hard. She looks up. She looks at the audience. She looks up. Did they see that? Could they prove it? Could you prove it?
I saw it. I saw it. Did you?
Am I alone? You’re here. You’re right here. I see you. I hear you. Sniff. I smell you. May I taste you? Can I climb inside your skin? May I hold you close from within your body?
I want to be a part of you. I want to keep you near me, draw breath as you do, see as you do, live as you do.
I sit facing you. I look at you. She looks at you. If I keep looking, will you mind? Don’t mind her, she’s reading you. She’s trying to see what you see, how you see. If I couldn’t see, I’d still see you. With my body. My heart. My chest can see you. With my soul.
I can’t be you, but I want to be. No, she is you. There’s a theory (impossible to prove) but there’s a theory that says there is only one electron in the universe, bouncing back and forth through space and time. So I am you. You are me. She’s me. We are one electron. Or we could be. Want to make electrons sing? Hum? Can I be inside you? I don’t like to be in here. In here is locking me in, locking me out. You know sometimes I feel like I’m outside my own eyes, my own body, knocking at my eyes, hoping to get inside myself. To hold myself close.
No one holds me like I hold me. No one touches the way I touch.
I want to touch this.
She sits.
But I want to touch this.
She sits.
No! I want to touch this now!
Sit down!
If you do not listen, you will feel.
She sings.
Once in a universe dark and cold
A star was born that felt so old
That children who did not exist
Went to bars and just got pissed
On alcohol that just gave way
To sunshine on a brand new day
Can you be mine? Please?
I mean. I know you belong to someone else, but that’s not what I mean. What I mean is
She has trouble with words
No I don’t.
She doesn’t, but finding them
Is not as hard as she thinks – I think –
Be with me. You don’t have to be mine. Really. I don’t want you to be mine. But if you could just
Hold
My hand? Her hand? Sorry, they’re often cold
It’s not attractive, but it is often the case, can that be ignored?
She hopes so.
She looks up again. Sees the birth of the universe, the birth of life and love and chocolate and guacamole. Raises a hand to the sky. From below it does not look like one hand alone. It looks like two hands. Two hands in a permanent embrace.
At the birth of the universe.
A shiver runs down her back.
The world is so big. And she is so small within it. And yet so large.
So infinitely large.
One electron in a sea of one electron.
Thinking, feeling, breathing
TOO MUCH
She cowers, hides in a corner. TOO MUCH.
No. Yes. Too much for one electron. An electron so lost in a sea of one electron. Forming eyes, face, hands body love, hate, loss, discovery. Tears, saliva, cumming.
Cumming.
Coming to a halt. A stop. Yes? No. Electron running. Running.
To what? From what?
What do you think?
What does she think?
Everything. Sights. Sounds, smells, the question.
The question? Yes. The question. The dreaded question.
The one that always requests the same answer.
Answers that don’t fit. Answers that are pre-determined. Jarring.
Why ASK THE QUESTION?
Waste of breath, time, an electron.
Has to be asked. Has to be answered.
Always.
How are you?
Yeah, I’m fine.

Losing sight – A realisation

Yes. It’s me again. I’m blogging a lot about “How to Lose Sight”. There are a few reasons for this, the largest being that I have the time to think about what I’m doing. Others are the amount of thoughts and ideas that are springing from the process. It’s actually a conversation in the car journey home that has thwacked me over the head with more contemplations.

The talk was of “The Method”. Stanislavski’s to be precise. The idea was raised that a true actor is one that becomes the character they play, but that the danger is in disconnecting the two people after the performance. In an earlier blog I mentioned the fact that I can’t entirely remember people’s faces until I look at them again. The power of suggestion is strong, very strong, and I almost depend on it to do my job. Part of the creative process of an actor almost always has to include the concept of “what if…?” in some form.

“What if I could fly?”

“What if I took her hand at this moment?”

“What if I never saw him again?”

“What if I were blind?”

And that last one is the one that’s bringing me to some interesting conclusions. Because I can’t see. While I’m rehearsing, while I’m in a scene, I can’t see. I’ve made that clear. Either I’m crossing my eyes, or looking at the floor, or I simply have them closed. I’m trying different things, but the result is the same. I can’t see.

I’ve also stated that I forget faces. But I don’t forget voices. Sounds. Smells. Tastes. Touch. I might be deprived of one sense, but I have at least four others to depend on.

So what happens when a blind person falls in love? They learn each curve and movement of their partner, they sense the weight and breath of the person, the way that particular person smells, feels, sounds, the way a foot lands on the ground, the balance and timbre of the voice, the accent, the cadence and moods that are in the tone of the voice. They learn to interpret the silences as well as the noises.
In order to play “love” well, you have to love, or care about the person you “love”. It’s not as important as it seems, or as passionate or “deep” as love, but it exists, because the character you’re playing exists. The emotion is something that exists in the moment, in that present time, and is real for that present time.

But here’s the most interesting part. Every actor’s fallen in love with another actor during a rehearsal process. It’s called acting (dear boy). What I’ve fallen in love with is not the actor I’m playing against.

Because the actor I’m playing against can see. And so can I. And he doesn’t look like the actor I’m in love with.

Confused? It’s not really that confusing. Entertaining, yes. Mildly heartbreaking, yes.

As a blind woman I have fallen in love with a blind man. We’ve never seen each other and never will. So when I said in my earlier blog that I’m intrigued by what he looks like, it’s because he sounds, smells, acts like the man I fell in love with, but he is not that man. Because I don’t know what that man looks like. It’s like the sensation of knowing two people with the same voice. It’s disconcerting, and almost wrong.

Almost wrong. But do you see what’s happened? It’s a method miracle! Or one step further. Rather than imagining how I would react in the circumstance that I went blind and had a relationship with someone I could never see, I’ve gone ahead, been blind and formed a relationship with someone I will never believe is the one I’m with because I could never see him.

And all this probably doesn’t make a great deal of sense, because it’s almost one in the morning after five straight days and evenings of rehearsal and performances to come.

I hope to see you there, because it’s hard to explain using words without gestures.