“Picasso Been Berry, Berry Good to Me”

Even though it is the first of November, and I should be churning out my daily dose of 5000 words, I did promise that I would report on how my long-anticipated (and prepared for) performance at the Dubuque Museum of Art went. So here it goes…

Ed Ritts as James Lipton and M. Picasso figuring out from this pic that one possible bit of hand business doesnʼt work

I played Picasso on Thursday evening. The crowd wasnʼt quite as hefty as I had imagined, but then I imagined having some thirtysomething guy in the audience who would approach me after the show wondering if I wanted work in local commercials (which I certainly wouldnʼt turn down). The Stones had it cornered all along: “You canʼt always get…” Even blind (without glasses, my worldʼs something less than a blur), I could see some empty seats. But the crowd was enthusiastic, laughing strongly at some planned and some ad lib moments of humor (and several of those were not my moments, too). I muffed one line, but Mr. Interlocutor Ed Ritts covered for me ably and let me skip a few other of my lines, too. Everyone with the Museum seemed generously pleased, even more than generously, and the audience was politely enthusiastic afterward. I hope it was all sincere.

I wasnʼt displeased myself, and The Lovely One was warmly receptive, having noticed everything it seemed — the skipped lines, some of my efforts with posture and tone of voice, responsive laughter. Having criticized my gestures when weʼd practiced earlier, she had only good comments to make from the actual performance. She even took me out for dinner (I hadnʼt eaten at all since breakfast that day) at The Pepper Sprout, where although the food was somewhat disappointing (they have such wonderful lunches in the summertime, and I had the best pork Iʼve ever eaten in a restaurant there a few years back — just about this same time of year), the (house) wine was really good, particularly for the price, and we had fun dissecting the performance (me being the needy actor seeking reassurance that every iota of the characterization came through).

In the weeks going into the show, as I mastered my memorization of the lines, I really began to appreciate what a fine job Margi Buhr had done writing the script. Picasso (in translation, at least) did express himself vividly and memorably, but all the words flowed smoothly, sensibly and intensely together. My little skit for the JCHM last month was nothing, but it made me recognize some good writing, Margiʼs, as I had to learn it. (And now, as so often in the aftermath of a performance, random lines, phrases or even recognizable words from the script keep rattling around in my thoughts).

still trying to get thecigarette held right (Janet wanted a shot for posterity)

In the final weeks before my deadline, I had tried and tried to locate online some lengthy footage of Picasso speaking. There are several black-and-white pieces of him painting (I bet at least one is from the film, The Mystery of Picasso, that we mentioned in the script — “I love a man who really knows his trade, so I gave myself wholeheartedly to the whims of the filmmaker”), on glass and a mirror (turning what begins as a lilylike flower into a nude, cleverly and imaginatively), and a color bit up a ladder for a mural on a wall. I tried to use those moving images to help me develop a walk that might be like his, for the moments of his introduction and stroll through the audience to the performance area (a moment when he would be just as self-aware as he must have been for those films, regardless of the fact he was painting). But for Pablo just being himself or speaking, I only found one short bit of color film (a home movie) of the artist, quite old, looking out from a balcony at his home — from which I was able to take how he held his arm across his chest, which I used heading into the moments that led toward narrating his death in our presentation. Finally, on Tuesday last week, my repeated googling located nearly five minutes of Picasso being interviewed, in French, in a noisy environment which you can see here. I hadnʼt thought about how French, how sophisticated he could be (we all have that minquiers shirt and shorts — or shirtless — artist-in-the-south-of-France-at-work image burned into our consciousnesses, or at least I do). I immediately latched onto the right hand pressing fingers along his face he does repeatedly in different finger configurations. And then thereʼs that cigarette!

For the final two days of preparation, The Lovely One and I got me into costume and seated to run the lines in full. I had found out from our on-site line rehearsal on October 19 that a good part of the performance involved retaining a character appropriately while the interlocutor goes through his very long lines — thus my interest in Picassoʼs mannerisms waiting for the real interviewer. Thanks to Margi (again), we had eventually found some Halloween white hair spray to fade my already silvered and vanished locks, which we only used in experiment on Wednesday night.

awkwardly posed as I thought about getting the eyes down

Thursday I distracted/preoccupied myself with Danielʼs roundabout avoidances of admitting his religious prejudices (and therefore totalitarian intentions) in the blog comments, ran the lines to myself twice; packed my B&N tote bag with sandals, shorts, shirt, towels, make-up and hairsprays, and our camera; and about 4:15 headed off for Dubuque, arriving before 5:00 to park in the museum lot — in the one remaining available spot at that time. I checked in there at the museum, although Margi had gone home for a while before returning to prepare for the show, but I got to try out my actual seat. So I walked over to The Lovely Oneʼs place of employment. Janet took me in tow when she got off work at 5:00, so I could dress and emphasize my smile-line wrinkles (Pabloʼs were very deep indeed). Then she sprayed the heck out of my hair, over and over, trying to get the cheap kidsʼ stuff to cover. Trying to get my eyebrows whitened was the only real  problem, however; we ended up doing it twice, having to wash my forehead of the white goop we had smeared all the way onto my skin attempting to blanch the brows. About 5:30, I headed back over to the museum afoot (in costume, covered with sweatpants and sweatshirt) where I was greeted with amazing warmth and guided to the Executive Directorʼs own office for my backstage.

My one big request was for a cigarette, about which I was dubious of success in these intelligent modern days. However, both Margi and Executive Director Mark Wahlert were certain one of their friends/coworkers would have one. So I retreated to the indicated sanctum and tried to both calm down and prepare. Lots of walking and selfconscious adjustments to my facial expressions (the directorial wife said I scrunched my brows and squinted too much in character — a natural if undesirable side effect of removing the glasses). I also tend to clench my teeth, and Picasso, a much better looking man than I could ever have imagined myself, had a longer face with gentler expressions when at rest. Also, from the beginning Margi had talked about those intense Picasso eyes, which my own tiny deepset ones canʼt match or even approach without serious effort (which also tends to furrow my brow — leading into a classic closed-loop of negative feedback).

Then the cigarette arrived… and a whole new set of considerations began. But that was a good distraction. Working with how to hold it (and where, with which fingers at what point away from the knuckles) reanimated my mental image of the artist from the interview footage.

When Janet arrived, I was about a third of the way through the script on a last line review, so she read me the rest. We talked, took some of these pictures, then she went out to find a seat (she actually never did sit — director types preferring to pace in the back of the house). More waiting, more facial considerations, more work on a bouncy but erect walk. And then I heard Mark speaking, and it was getting to be time to go on.

The rest is of course a blur, as always. But the museum was very good to me, and the staff are the best people I have met in a long time. Thanks again for this opportunity and for everything, Margi!

And I went half again as long as I had intended (not a good sign for the NaNoWriMo efforts ahead).

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

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