Practice Makes (We Hope) Acceptable

…Or More About How I Get to Portray One of My Favorite Historical/Artistic Characters

The time has come, this Walrus said, to speak of many things (just not what I got started on yesterday, nor the political terror I also realized yesterday, on Facebook, anticipating a Nationwide Reactionary Rush to Extremist Rightism on November 2). Picasso said: “…reactionʼs fight [is] against the people, against freedom. My whole life as an artist has been nothing but an unceasing war against reaction, against the death of art. How could it be thought, even for a moment, that I am in agreement with reaction, with evil?” Couldnʼt agree more. But, ahem, I said I wouldnʼt speak of that…

The Seattle Art Museumʼs Picasso Exhibit poster, which plays appropriately with the original intent of the image. And no, I don’t really look much like him except for the balditude (I am also eight inches taller). I am working on how to make my eyes so hypnotic and arresting, although I wonʼt really succeed (mine are blue, after all).

Yesterday I had my rehearsal for the Picasso project (Dubuque Museum of Artʼs Famous Dead Artists Lecture Series, 2010 —Picasso; Iʼm part two). I muffed a few lines and didnʼt even hear my favorite cue, so I will have to relearn to relax onstage and maintain my focus. I found myself watching (and more amazingly, hearing) everything going on around us, including or especially office activity and passers-by on the sidewalk right outside the big windows onto the lobby. None of that helps me keep my head on the next line I am supposed to say as if Picasso just thought of those words (and not recite like I have wearily memorized them) or listen as he might listen (and probably preen periodically) and sit as he would do. Lots of work ahead before I actually perform.

The costume I had determined, partially by default when I figured out all my old deck shoes had been cleaned out and either thrown away or donated to more deserving mortals by a determined Lovely One believing we need less stuff in our lives*, got approved, including the overly pricey St. James striped top, actually known as a “minquiers.” Which is what the old artist is wearing in the photo used on the posters for the Seattle Art Museumʼs current Picasso exhibit (see photo to the right, shot while we were there in Seattle — and yes, eventually I will bore you all with more details and pictures from the cruise). I guess I learned that one way you can tell the old man was incredibly wealthy (just consider the long sequence of villas in the south of France that he purchased) are those shirts he evidently enjoyed wearing. Even Forties and Fifties French fisherman must have done pretty well for themselves to afford those tops. (Not serious on that, but you have to wonder. In reality, read about the original islands where those Minquiers fishermen, who established the “fashion” bohemian artists like Picasso adopted, lived.) — Oh, yes, without the deck shoes, my Pablo will be wearing sandals.

The readthrough session only took an hour, even with conversation and some script editing. (Unlike the painter himself, who was involved in several ballets and plays as scene designer — and playwright! — I did not seek to make any “script changes as well.” I decided it was my job, since the words I say are pretty much direct Picasso quotes, to get the words out as exactly correct as I am capable, which considering performance jitters and my aged brain may not, without serious work, be as accurate as I wish.) I got some insight into the performance space, the museum lobby, and even some basic blocking (like my entrance). We arranged for my arrival next Thursday evening, and I probably should have checked out the “backstage” or dressing/green room in person, but I am intending just to be waiting there. I even got a great suggestion for make-up that I should have but hadnʼt realized myself.

So I have rehearsed. Now I need to perfect my memorization and come up with behavior/business for the hour, roughly calculated, that Iʼll be onstage. And decide if itʼs worth it to get up and move around any during the performance. Picasso himself probably would not have sat still from what I have seen of him on film, but weʼre going to be sitting in elevated stools, and I might find it difficult to get down and back up easily. Decisions, decisions. Janet and I are going to set up some actual rehearsals here at home in the next seven days, so I have to sit and wait in character for the sometimes lengthy “James Lipton” questions to transpire. And so I have the chance to figure out some actions.

Both my interlocutor, Ed Ritts, and playwright/director Margi Buhr were extraordinarily kind and supportive at practice yesterday morning. Although I felt I was giving almost nothing but line recitations, both made comments about the characterization. And those were positive comments, folks. I thank them very much. What they chose to emphasize or praise gives me some insight where they think the character/personality should be headed. That is helpful, too, because I want my version of the artist to be what they expect (and probably also what their audience at the performances expects) rather than my own quirky little Johnny Depp-ish spasmosis (no ridicule of Mr. Depp, a great actor, but he does like to find oddities in a characterization to stress — particularly in mega-entertainment flicks like the Pirates franchise). They also made me realize that I still have research to do these next couple of days.

Everyone at the museum is always so nice! My director/playwright Margi says she even reads the blog (shudders of apprehension about what I have and/or might say thrill through me). If you have clicked on the museumʼs link above (or here), you can see when the big performance is to be (Picassoʼs younger self, who was slated to practice at 1:30 yesterday, has his stint onstage tomorrow night). Letʼs hope I am up for the big dramatic evening. I intend to be.

* Picasso on a friend who wanted to tidy up the artistʼs life for him: “Sabartes thought I had a mania for collecting. He couldnʼt believe that someone who was such an innovator would accumulate such masses of what he considered junk. Why should I throw away? I refuse to throw away anything that has done me the favor of coming into my hands.” Straight from our script, assuming that I remembered the line correctly. I couldnʼt again agree more, and furthermore, I would add that you never know what you might need (as fans of Andrew High School plays for three decades should recognize, assuming anyone ever read those programs). The Lovely One just doesnʼt get it. To her itʼs just junk.

Did anyone notice that I edited (or actually finished editing) yesterdayʼs post after it had initially appeared, adding several links missing originally (and correcting two hideous typos I somehow had previously ignored)? If you read it after 8:00 AM Iowa time, you never knew the difference.

And I was serious. What childhood reading led you to be a reader?

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

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