Itʼs a Guy Thing

Our production of One Flew over the Cuckooʼs Nest at The Grand Opera House in Dubuque is past the halfway point in its two-weekend run. The remarkable cast and crews have made us very proud (and themselves, too, I hope)  — so far (I hope I havenʼt jinxed us somehow with this observation before the run is over, but the performances and the technical efforts have been exquisite and amazing).

Although a rehearsal shot (the setʼs not even finished yet) — the moments before Ratched inflicts electroshock, attempting to control McMurphy (and Chief Bromden). I was kind of proud of our electroshock machine and the “crown” which inflicts the voltage on the patientʼs brain. The actual lighting is far better than this posed photograph reveals.

Although the run seems long (the last show in which I was involved with more than one weekend was Gypsy, just after the turn of the century, and the only other production with seven nights of performance to my record was My Fair Lady back in the early Nineties — both starring The Lovely One, coincidentally), the approach of strike after Sundayʼs final performance weighs me with a certain vague dread. However, even if itʼs just a few of us (which, by the way, cast, it will not be), and even if we end up missing the cast party because the work takes so long, it will eventually get done, and all I will have to worry about is returning the two large storage cabinets to Andrew Community School on Monday. Then this production, too, like so many hundreds before it, will be memories. And in this case, almost all will be pleasant and proud ones.

Sitting in the balcony observing the show night after night (and it was Monday through Sunday for tech week and the opening weekend — seven in a row with a break), all kinds of critical and directorial thoughts flicker through my mind. Few of them are critiques on the acting or production. Mostly I ponder the patterns that have emerged in this production, deliberately from the beginning, through one or more actorsʼ inspirations, developing from an almost random observation, or by other confluent synergy or synchronicity. Most of my emotions and intellectualizations are the appropriate consciousness-response (or intuition) to the action and the play, evaporating when I try to recapture that deep insight into the script and/or our production that a particular moment enflamed. (The depth to any work of art is what goes on within the reader/viewer/audience/participant; and the achievement of critics is to objectify and communicate that subjective experience.) So these next three nights, since (I hope and expect) my directorial suggestions or corrections will be reduced to almost nothing, I am going to try to take notes on those fleeting impressions and inspirations to see if I can assemble a set of observations on the play (and perhaps the book if I sit down to reread it fully).

If I succeed, you may have to read about my supposed insights here.

Billy pleads, in the aftermath of the big party, for Ratched not to tell his mother of his moral disgrace — also pleading, whether her no-longer-virginal victim is fully conscious of this truth or not at this moment, for her to spare his life, to rescue him from the suicide into which she has, probably deliberately, cornered him.

One realization arose from last Saturday nightʼs show, when my sister Margaret was watching, and from her responses. When asked, she observed that by far her favorite performer was Nurse Ratched (an appropriate critical stance, as Andrea is wonderful and many-toned in her performance, developing gradually a hardness to Ratched that results perhaps primarily from McMurphyʼs almost pre-adolsecent defiance). When asked to judge McMurphy (whom we all have sat back awed at Danʼs spirited and uninhibited characterization and embodiment thereof), she wondered if she were quite certain if he didnʼt belong on the ward. Both Janet and I felt she really didnʼt like McMurphy (the character here, decidedly not the actor). I think Margaretʼs preference for Ratched might have resulted partly from her response to a male-female, early-Sixties war-between-the sexes conflict in the play that I hadnʼt consciously considered since the earliest days of rehearsal.

It is a show for men, with a woman as the villain (whether Ratched deliberately means to be a bully or not) and the group identity and evolving mutual empathy of the patients revealing a kind of male-bonding (which we did strive consciously to develop) in antipathy to the Big Nurseʼs authoritarianism. But conversing with Margaret, I began to realize that One Flew over the Cuckooʼs Nest is also certainly (at least somewhat) misogynistic. McMurphyʼs alpha-male behavior is decidedly preferred (through the plot and the play) to Ratchedʼs antagonism to everything (male and) chaotic — gambling, noise, physical exertion, game-playing, fraternizing. If the perfect state is achieved for her in the stillness of a lobotomized patient in a post-operative coma (“Thatʼs fine,” she says. “Thatʼs just fine” — her final words in the show, over a motionless and quiescent McMurphy on a hospital gurney), it is Macʼs manic exuberance, violence, rebellion and wildness that have driven her to that extreme.

A grim mother-figureʼs quiet home versus an overgrown boyʼs testosterone-driven, no-holds-barred frat party. Iʼm glad our production (perhaps unconsciously, possibly as a result of Janet and me cooperating as directors) gives expression to both sides.

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Cur•mudg•eon

(noun)  — bad-tempered or surly person

(with my most insincere apologies, of course)

Maybe this post results just because I have had time, with our production of One Flew over the Cuckooʼs Nest up and running — beginning its second weekend tonight — but I have been astonished and annoyed by unimportant things lately. Like commercials. And Facebook links.

Having been able to watch a little TV over the past few days,* I have again realized that commercials not merely appeal to the stupidity in us all but actively cultivate vapid witlessness (the most egregious examples being the selfdestruction-instructive “Do the Dew” series from the late Nineties and early Aughties and the interminable Hardeeʼs ads from the last few years that presented consumers at those restaurants as moronic males with severe limitations not just in taste but all matters beyond the selfishly animalistic**). Admittedly, studies have shown that it is far easier to sell stuff to folks who have shut down their higher-order thought processes, thus the historical stream of “entertaining” and/or amusing commercials over the history of TV. But do advertisers have to cultivate imbecility?

Hmmmm…

I think I may have, if blogs must discover such, found my niche for Wakdjuknagaʼs Blog… and an apparently endless stream of future posts: advertising analysis and criticism. The Old Curmudgeon rides again?

But first, for today, a really minor annoyance from Facebook (yeah, the ultimate time-waste of my mostly doltish existence), which I think results from the powerfully promoted “live stupidly”*** culture of consumer commercialism.

Lack of thought enters into many phases of ordinary life, even as television casts its dull glow into every cranny of existence. And Facebook is one of those forums**** for dim-wittedness. Just in the past few days, a supposedly cute bit of humor (check the picture, above us here, to see it) has been making the regurgitation circuit in the Newsfeed. I think I have witnessed its appearance about a dozen times from as many friends.

Ignoring the subtle antiCanadianism***** of the concept, the problem with the joke is simple geography. Mt. Rushmore is in South Dakota, kids…

“A” marks the spot, with the Canadian border near the very top of the map

Imagining the enormous length of the unseen torsos between those famous faces and that quartet of historically inaccurate asses (not to mention the lack of continuous mountain between Rushmore and wherever in Canada… unless, of course, the torsos are wormholed into some alternate universe between the two distant sites…) kind of saps the laughter.

Geography — itʼs reality.

Ah, but geographical ignorance ties in so well with (evolves so neatly from?) the Dextremeʼs Big War (of lies) on science… Doesnʼt it? Talk about the power of mindless advertising.

And while I am at it, how about this example, below, of pure non sequitur? Nonsense is nonsense, even if it suggests a political perspective some would like to feel (unconsciously perhaps, probably at the urging of corporate interests, of course) is appropriate.

And so, The Old Curmudgeon raises his grisly head to utter some grumpy commentary into the digital æther again.

* (with no rehearsals or performances to attend, we can make use of the over-priced “services” of DirecTV again)

** Probably I perceive the idiocy of those commercials as a consumer of neither product… ?

*** (Which advertisers and consumers would prefer and falsely believe to be “live stupid”)

**** It still hurts slightly to use that incorrect, unLatinate plural (which should, of course, be fora). But one can only push correctitude so far, you know… After all, data serves as both singular and plural. And donʼt get me started on the loss of medium to identify one of the mass media…

***** How many well-dulled dolts seriously have taken the South Park movie premise to heart?

Map image via Viola from GoogleMaps™

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Summerʼs End

My summer job is finally, fully over. Yesterday The Lovely One and I drove to Des Moines to return the GOV to its real home at USDA APHIS PPQ.* The entire trapping staff was there — seasonal workers (like me), fulltime office staff, seasonalsʼ spouses… everyone.

Each of us received his or her annual work review (mine was quite flattering), reminded ourselves of some governmental policies, and turned in our official documentation and GOV keys. The staff treated us all to a picnic of brats and hamburgers before sending us all home for the chillier months. If funding permits the emerald ash borer (and gypsy moth) survey(s) to continue, I have more short-term work ahead for next spring and summer. Our office head, Rob, also awarded certificates and gifts to memorialize this yearʼs service (and a plaque for one trapper retiring after 21 years and a quarter-million miles in the field). The time spent yesterday in the middle of the state was pleasant and fun.

Rain set in, heavy and ominous amidst the speeding semis on Interstate 80,** as I drove Janetʼs car back eastward — although blue skies popped out, at first just off to our left, north, as we drove in downpour less than a mile from the sunshine, and later, briefly, overhead in Jackson County. We might have missed some of the precipitation if we hadnʼt had to leave Polk County in order to return as early as we could for Janetʼs job, from which she had taken a day off just to drive me home. Once snugly in our house for an evening, we reveled in the novelty of that domestic experience.

Celebration on the Ward — the men joyously imagine a home run, assisting McMurphy to undermine Nurse Ratchedʼs fatal authority.

We hadnʼt had an evening at home since early August, with play practice for One Flew over the Cuckooʼs Nest every weeknight until now. And I spent just about all of September, once the EAB traps had been all taken down, working onstage for former Grand technical director (and general genius) Keith through most of the day.*** With about four or five brief but important exceptions, I was his only volunteer, unhelpfully unskilled as I am. Even with my fumblefingered carpentry, Keith put up an amazing set for opening night last Friday.**** He also crafted outstanding sound effects that really fulfill the wonderful performances of the hugely talented (and hardworking) cast — not to mention Melissaʼs delicate lighting and Dougʼs startlingly perfect special effect.

The wonderfulness of this production is almost enough to keep me thinking about future theatrical endeavors.

My sister Margaret came for the opening weekend, and I hope she enjoyed the show, even with her inefficient hosts being utterly preoccupied and too busy for a proper visit (our conversations mostly stranded during the hours around midnight). We all really should just get together to visit without special events, glad or sad.

However, as the dire gales of autumn wail grayly around the house, thrashing treetops and bushes into barely constrained gyrations and scattering batches of freshly torn-away leaves everywhere, summer things are definitely drawing toward an end…

(Maybe Iʼll find/take the time to write something, finally, now.)

* We both had to go, of course, so that I had a way home once the vehicle I had driven out there was no longer mine to drive. Also, the office staff likes to meet the spouses of the seasonal workers.

** (I-80 really should be three to five lanes each direction all across the county, I sometimes, even often, think)

*** (with rehearsals continuing until sometimes nearly the next day, thus suggesting a reason for the lack of posts to the blog lately)

**** The performances continue and then conclude this coming weekend — Thursday through Sunday.

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Strange Mix

Little quiches — packaged for freezing and more cooling to be packed

I’m cooking today. Yes, itʼs another mini-breakfast-quiche-making marathon. I actually started on Tuesday, but thawing and wringing dry and separating the chopped (formerly frozen, eight boxes of) spinach, cutting up the veggies (peppers, carrot shreds, mushrooms and onions), and then mixing all that with eggoid (“egg substitute” for all of you not part of this household) and cheese (two parts shredded fat-free to one part simply shredded cheddar) took me just about all morning, once I got myself disconnected* from the computer, so that I only baked four or five batches (twenty-four quiches to a batch, six daysʼ of breakfast eating in a container). The process continues today, starting even before The Lovely One left for work.

This morning, I am four batches in, with most of a huge bowl of mixture to go, each baking (at 375°, or as I am doing today, 380°) requiring my attention twice, once at the twenty-minute mark to remove the two muffin pans from the oven and tenderly extract the metal muffin tins of little quiches onto cooling pads before inserting new cups to fill with more mixture and place back in the oven for the next twenty minutes. And once mid-baking-cycle to remove the twenty-four cooled quiches from their tins and place that batch in a plastic container for freezing.**

So why not finish yesterday/Wednesday, as I had the whole humongous four-mixing-bowls of (I am not sure… what would you call it?) batter prepared and partially cooked already on Tuesday? Why not? Because yesterday was my first full day at the Grand Opera House in Dubuque, working on the set, props, special effects, lights and whatever-else our scene and lights designer/technical director Keith could use me for. I left here at 8:00, arriving in Dubuque not much more than a half-hour later, around a massively piled-up detour to avoid five ethanol-filled, overturned, derailed train cars right off downtown.

Muh-muh-muh — my Makita (three jokes — okay, perhaps not funny, so: three “allusions” — in one package there)

I brought along my big red notebook, but there was enough to keep me busy, even on my own at first — devising a special prop/set piece, the electroshock machine, and switching out some furniture. I roamed freely through the basement bowels of the building discovering usable stuff and even almost wrestling a large electronics housing module (destined to become the electroshock machine) out of its storage spot and upstairs (it was the upstairs part that made my efforts there “almost”) until Keith arrived with a load of lumber and we set to work — him cutting boards and me utilizing both the Grandʼs and my own (nearly identical) Makita powerdrivers*** to assemble some Hollywood-style flats to then attach those into a unit for the Up Center wall, a section between two yet-to-be-finished windows. Keith also had me help create an oddly shaped platform to finish off the front end of the nursesʼ station Up Left. In the pre-Keith hours, I also developed the list of sound-effect cues and a list of those sounds for Keith (a sage and crafty sound designer/technician as well). He also used the midstage lift to elevate my potential electroshock machine and a big, heavy dentistʼs chair from the basement to stage level — pretty cool.

It didnʼt feel like much when we were done for the day, but my body knew how many hours and how much effort I had exerted crawling about on the stage drilling holes and driving screws. Today my hams are feeling the effects.

I also handled rehearsal on my own later on, last night. The Lovely One, having injured her back over the past weekend, finally took off a bit early from work to head for home and seek medical attention. Even though we took the two acts in reverse order (Two, then One), the cast sparkled brilliantly. We had felt awed by the outpouring of excellent talent at auditions weeks ago, and the cast Janet and I selected has amazed us ever since with their astonishing prowess, flair and panache.**** I left for home last night excited and delighted, optimistic that the group had some special insights and new performance twists to exhibit to Janet tonight.

And now I am nearly finished with the quiche-baking procedure. The composition of this post has been a four-batch process, and I hope to have this online before the last batch is done.

Then maybe I can get myself back to Dubuque to spend more time in an ill-lit auditorium preparing for our show.

One Flew over the Cuckooʼs NestSeptember 23 through October 2 (with the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in between off, Sundays at 2:00 PM) at the Grand Opera House in Dubuque, tickets available at the Grand ticket office and online, www.thegrandoperahouse.com/tickets.cfm).

* Rather than the wrongly regular disconnection from the internet that bad old CenturyLink¹ provides on such an irregular but frequent basis — roughly eight to more times a day nowadays.

¹ For those like me, not quite in the know, CenturyLink bought up rotten, lousy Qwest Communications some months back, so now itʼs the miserly, scrounging, despicable CenturyLink CEOs and out-of-touch Upper Management dweezils that I curse so often every day.

** And I just took off to do exactly that in reverse — pack up the cooled ones and then immediately pull the hot ones from the oven to to cool and then refill the muffin pans to cook again.

*** (Are they just power screwdrivers now or still considered a cordless power drill, too?)

**** Yeah, I know: all three of those nouns that conclude that sentence are mere synonyms. But synonyms donʼt have to slave identically in meaning, “synonym” just indicates similarity, and those three words each suggest quite different possibilities. The wonderfulness of the English tongue isnʼt that we have twentyteen ways to say the same thing, but that each synonym has shades of meaning missed by any other. Usually, not invariably.

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Free as a Bird (Not)

The poster for our production. It was one thing in which I participated productively yesterday.

Rainʼs moving in…

Of course, the radar has shown that rain closing in all morning, but the front wall of the rainfall has curved around Our County, encompassing Dubuque and a big region south of Interstate 80, but not us. Yet. The forecasters continue to insist it is coming; it will probably be here by the time I get this item composed, edited, illustrated and finally posted for today.

My summer job has ended. Like so many college students I enter September temporarily unemployed. My GOV still needs to be returned to the main office, and that event is currently scheduled for sometime late next month. So Iʼll earn a day or two daysʼ income taking it back and getting debriefed. Unfortunately, The Lovely One will have to take a day off work to drive me home afterwards. Or else I will have to locate other help lest I remain stranded in Urbandale…

Until that trip, I no longer have the ten-hour days encompassing my time and energy.

Fortunately or un-, my time is not yet quite my own. Our play* is busy in rehearsals, currently four nights each week (soon to become five), and I also have some duties during the day to fulfill (now that Iʼm “free”). Like finding some costumes, acquiring or manufacturing sound effects, helping to locate props, and assisting in set construction.

I also need to apply formally to work as a substitute teacher in districts nearby, and at least in Our Town that means about a dozen pages of various forms to complete along with credentials to locate and copy. So thereʼs plenty to do to keep me busy.

But I still find time, fatuously, to create and post material to the blog, like this. And I still want to take time to work on real writing and even give myself a chance to read some things for pleasure. This morning I composed a letter to my brother Stephen, long-overdue, and vague bits and pieces of what I had to tell him kept churning through my mind to become this post. However, now that Iʼm trying to put those same fragments of thoughts into print, Iʼm not sure I really have much to say. So at least this post will be brief.

And maybe I will get this into the electronic æther before the rain arrives.

Thanks for reading…

* I hope some may remember that Janet and I are directing One Flew over the Cuckooʼs Nest for the Grand Opera House in Dubuque. Auditions were held August 7 and 8, with actual rehearsals beginning on the 11th. The performances will begin September 23 through October 2.

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

All Shook Up!

I am babbling at my computer while summer squash and zucchini are cooking in vegetable broth on the stove (yep, itʼs time for the first squash soup of summer!). For a day off this one hasnʼt been particularly relaxing, primarily because were looking forward to that apparently endless “excessive heat” wave arriving tomorrow. So I did a bunch of chores Iʼd rather not “excessively” sweat my way through — mowing the lawn, cooking this soup (thanks, neighbors to the west, for the veggies), and a few other things.

I had planned to get a blog post up yesterday evening or this morning, but clearly that never happened. In fact the computer didnʼt get turned on today until well after noon. This item won’t be much, but at least itʼs something.

Work has been going fairly well. I should as of Monday be complete on phase two (or should I say phase 2.5+?) of my summer job. The first phase, working with my partner, was getting sticky purple emerald ash borer traps in trees (presumably but not certainly ash trees) all over Clinton, Jackson and eastern Dubuque counties. The “.5” part was me checking on the traps (moving some from walnuts and oaks and box elders and hackberries and… into ashes) and preliminarily on the bugs during the first two-thirds of June, until my boss visited and assigned me to take whatever time required (four days) to help get gypsy moth traps placed in Linn and Scott counties. Then I began working phase two: checking every trap for possible emerald ash borers (and one sample earned a trip to Des Moines for further study — although, thankfully, clearly not itself an emerald ash borer) and resupplying new lure in every trap. Phase three will involve trap removal from all three counties (and of course close observation of each trap before disposal of the bugs we have caught).

Phase three, which is slated for August, begins after I make a flying run back to Des Moines for a computer upgrade (that Iʼm hoping I actually won’t need). I call in Monday morning to discover when I drive out and back.

Real life has more or less been placed on hold for the summer. My nephew (and new niece)ʼs wedding went off very well. The bride and groom both looked elegant and blissful, and my brother Paul did a wonderful job officiating the ceremony. Niece Rachel also did exquisitely handling all the details of the day and made a fine speech herself after the best man and maid of honor. It was also great to visit with Margaret and David and Aunt Alaire. The Lovely One and I even enjoyed our hotel, a Country Inn & Suites much like the one where I stayed in Decorah.

However, real life kicks into a major gear also in August, as Janet and I will be directing a production of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest for the Grand Opera House in Dubuque. After all my many years of constant play direction for school and community theater, I’m not sure how excited I really am about this project, but if a lot of good people turn up for auditions the first weekend in August, this thing might be fun.

Time is passing. I need to stick my magic mixing wand into the cooling soup to get it ready for supper. Theater also calls tonight as weʼre off to Ohnward Fine Arts Center/Peace Pipe Playersʼ production of All Shook Up. Mustnʼt dawdle.

Break a leg, cast and crews!

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

“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.

Doorway to Nowhere, 1

We have some unusual decorations in and around our house. I can take no credit (or blame) for these eye-catchers and conversation-makers. Theyʼre all Janetʼs doing. But I can write about them, and thatʼs what I intend to do, today and tomorrow, on one specific set of adornments. (Yes, I have only scratched the surface of the pointlessness to which I can descend to devise something to post each day this year. Even with the earlier home décor discussions Iʼve made you endure, there is more I can say. And I will.) And having opened the door on this subject, let us continue…

a photo of Mary Nevans-Pedersonʼs “Morning Glorious” photograph, soon to hang next to our own rough and peeling door in our bedroom — below right

There are several amusing decorative items I could discuss. First, (and maybe I will explore this topic one day) thereʼs the tale of the squirrels and the decorative pumpkins — a sorry and sad story in which the squirrels win, defeating Janetʼs best efforts to preserve her purchases, the pumpkins she liked to use as outdoor ornamentation, from the rodentsʼ predations. But thatʼs for another day, as I just said. Thereʼs the horribly rusty Fifties lawn chair that serves to support a plant in the summer and fake pumpkins in the fall, which her dad still enjoys ribbing her about paying ten bucks for, in its rusty condition, at an antiques/gift store. (And I want to know: what distinguishes a “giftable,” horrible word*, from a “gift”?) Thereʼs also her piece of fence that fences out nothing, and which she erects against the chainlink fence that separates us from Creosote Hell, aka Gasser True Value. And there are lots more, just on the outside of our house. Her creativity knows only outer limits. But every passer-byʼs favorite has to be her door to nowhere.

And “doors,” as our title clearly tells us, is the subject for these two posts. We have two doors used decoratively that serve to close off or open onto nothing and/or nowhere. One shifts around outside (thatʼs tomorrowʼs door), and another dwells more permanently within.

One might wonder where or how we were able to acquire any door whose only purpose is to open onto empty space, hingeless and unframed. Let me simply say that being almost the only continuing active members of local theatre for twenty years (and I did say “almost,” decidedly not the only) gave us access to many citizensʼ unwanted stuff. People like to donate old clothes, hats, shoes, and household items to the theatre. In the years before we abandoned it (in reality sold the building), Kirchhoff Theatre housed several old stoves, a refrigerator that (I think) did not work, bicycles, bedding, chairs, lawn mowers, grills, sofas, end tables, old paneling and dry wall sections… I hope you get the point. (The Andrew School theatrical storage was just as accumulative under my weak and accepting supervision, and evidently yet today just as disorganized and messy.) Any junk people couldnʼt dump got offered to us; and, of course, “you never know what a play might need.” As a theatre person you usually just keep it all (like old deck shoes), thinking one day this thing or that may come in necessary (and as my current costuming situation proves, periodically oneʼs needs work out just that way). Until you run out of space, or others in your group run out of patience. In several clean-ups in the final years at Kirchhoff, we twice filled huge trash containers, twenty or thirty feet long and at least ten wide and taller than me, finally canceling the lives of those unwanted appliances and other stuff. Among the many items stored in the theatre basement were many doors.

Our decorative Door on a Corner in our bedroom — Maryʼs photograph will hang over the chair on the right. The two black-and-white photos are of Janetʼs parentsʼ and my parentsʼ weddings.

Onstage, a door needs to be pretty light to be useful. Stage sets, even faced with lauan, as I learned to do in modern times (thanks, Kevin), rather than traditional canvas, canʼt support big, heavy, old-fashioned doors. No one wants to watch your canvas flats ripple with the air surge from slamming a sixty-pound door, thus proving beyond anyoneʼs doubt that wall onstage is not actually a wall, or have a heavy door pull the whole set over. Hollow-core interior doors are the thing to use, painted artistically to look like a big old exterior portal if thatʼs what the scene requires. On the other hand, Peace Pipe Players had accepted more than a dozen old doors far too solid and therefore heavy to be useful, including even a pair of old barn doors (and all of which had sat in stacks leaning against the basement walls, taking up space, never getting moved, gathering inches of dust and worse filth, for more years than I was involved). When all the unwanted stuff got pitched in several spasms of eviscerating reorganization, Janet, rather than throwing out, just claimed a couple of doors… Well, at least one. I am not entirely sure both the doors we have as decorations came from that source.

Anyway, one big old wooden door decorates our external reality around the house. Another resides in a corner of our bedroom, and The Lovely One installs pseudo-antique hooks to hold pictures and other items and memorabilia for display on its surface. Although I questioned its presence originally (and I still wonder how much endlessly drifting dust has silted in behind that barricade), itʼs familiar now, a friendly item embellishing our lives. We even bought a photograph at the art exhibit we attended last Friday (a week ago tonight) because of this bedroom adornment-door. Mary and Clayton have a wonderfully extensive garden around their hillside house (a huge garden on many terraces up the hill that somehow wrap around their dwelling), and their home is an old one. One day Mary noticed a morning glory blossom located right in front of one of the doors, and she took a picture. Thatʼs the photo we bought, framed (and which I still have yet to install in its new home beside the bedroom door — not the actual door but the decorative one with pictures on it, naturally, to provide the appropriate visual pun/reference/imagery). Maryʼs is a great photograph, unlike my illustration included here. So our one pointless door now has a photographic partner soon to hang beside it.

But I really wanted to talk about the outside door. Itʼs really the one that opens to nowhere (although actually it doesnʼt open at all). And thatʼs our subject tomorrow.

* “That’s an ill phrase, a vile phrase; ‘beautified‘ is / a vile phrase” (Hamlet II, 2, 111). Iʼve been waiting for someone to accuse me of becoming a tired old windbag, a regular Polonius, and nobody has. So Iʼll do it myself.

On the other hand, if anyone can calm my quandary about the distinction between a “gift,” a perfectly sound word, and the homely neologism, “giftable,” which seems to me an unnecessary elaboration on gift from insensitive and perhaps unconfident craftmakers (lacking the self-assurance to call their products directly “gifts”), I would be pleased to hear from you. Is there a difference somehow? Or am I right in thinking “giftable” just fancies up the basic word?

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

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.

Continuation…

The long week is done. The Lovely One and I celebrated by attending the gallery opening of photographs by friend Mary Nevans-Pederson last evening (thanks for that invitation, by  the way). Much fun and nice art. Food more than good to boot.

Friday was an unusual day, besides being my last in a row. First, the school was crawling with subs, at least five of us (and that school doesnʼt have a very large faculty, as many faithful readers may know). I wasnʼt particularly conscious of the issue, but the students certainly were aware. And talked about it almost every period. Second, students were wired for the weekend, but every class actually accomplished things, and some were even able to work quietly enough for me to recite and memorize lines to myself. Now that the work week is done, I think I will miss some of those students, but I also am ready to welcome the time to actually write and even idle some time playfully away. Maybe I could even… read something≥

Picasso — the look I am after…

Unfortunately (or not), of course, responsibilities remain. I do have obligations to fulfill and activities to perform already next week.

Now my Picasso practice, our health assessments and then the Picasso performance loom for next week, followed by more time away from a keyboard (or book) to get a flu shot. Health stuff and acting…

I am delighted to say that I did finish memorizing the Picasso lines yesterday (I will need work on the final pages yet, but I do know them… just not quite as sharply as the earlier ones). But I should have time to practice (assuming I donʼt get a call to sub on Monday). My intention is to practice with Janet this weekend several times, and also listen to the audio I created, then to spend about half the day Monday working on the words and determining the proper delivery for each line. I may even get the costume finalized. That way I should be pretty solid for the rehearsal on Tuesday and better able to make use of whatever criticisms and suggestions come out of that session. I would still like to find more video of the man in motion and perhaps hear more than the twelve seconds of his voice that I have from my boss/playwright. I donʼt feel comfortable about being him physically at all yet. But I will, I will. Although this activitiy is fun and interesting, it will be a relief, as with any play or performance to make the challenges part of my personal history soon.

Writing just has to hang on hold (more or less) until the acting gig is up. I want to do my best for the the Dubuque Museum of Art. However, buckling down to prepare for the performance hasnʼt stopped my mind from whirling. I reread the material I have posted so far for “Mantorville,” uncovering about a dozen mistakes I hope to correct soon, and inspiring my plot-mind to see at last what went on that night in the woods when Howie Phillips met his doom (I do know now, too). Itʼs also time to write the rest of the current dayʼs session and then, either to end that or in another session, introduce an important new character. So I hope fans of that piece may get a little more to read sometime soon (certainly not tomorrow, however).

I also had ideas while sitting at a teacherʼs desk for details on the finishing of “Mistakes by Moonlight.” And since I had already written (just not typed/dictated and revised) a new ending for the scene at the Golden Bull, fans of that fantasy may see further updates like I posted this past Sunday, along with more of chapter two someday. I am not as confident I have new material for Stars in Heaven soon, but at least I hope to have time in the next few weeks to perhaps write something on that yet. Ah, the plans, the dreams, the things I may or may not accomplish…

Anyway, the big substitute teaching job is over. Now I just want to see the pay arrive magically in my account. Maybe I can finally find something less tedious (and in the case of todayʼs post, repetitious) to put up.

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