Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Balcony Continued

At some point early in the performance weeks the cast members began to exchange e-mails about the show. Director Joe McGrath joined in the exchange and, with his permission, I want to pass on to Tucson theatre-goers some of the comments that he sent to all of us.

What a pleasure to see The Balcony last night. It's such a wonderful departure from what I've been doing. And it's clearly a delicate beast, that needs all your attention and energy and musicianship throughout. You've come to be comfortable with the language and scenes. ….. You're now getting to do what you're capable of with this.

Something occurred to me about the Rogue, and what I would hope to pursue in the future. I've noticed a tendency, recently, in play production to spend all sorts of money on high quality illusion - as if this were the core of the theatrical craft. Many a tourist walks about backstage and marvels at the way a wall of muslin, pine sticks and glue has been rendered beautifully into a palace, a railway station, or a pagoda. In the same way, people are easily swept away by five pirouettes followed by a double tour en l'air, a high C, or real tears splashing over someone's cheek.

All these things display marvelous technique. In the end, however, these phenomena are only a tribute to the cleverness of the human animal. They display our skill in mastering this world and our own instruments, but say nothing about our perception of other, unseen worlds. Nor do they give the audience something that they can take away and use to great effect in their lives or that might affect their notions of life itself. We must, I think, devote ourselves to something much more profound and meaningful than provoking the audience's admiration.

I don't mean, by this, to reject the actor's vanity. As you know, I'm a great lover of the actor's vanity. It is like self-interest in the market economy. It is not only a tremendous energy source, it is an element, like the sea. It cannot be pretended away. Nor would you want to.

As we develop this ensemble and a way of working that unlocks the actor's potential and the ensemble's character, I'm hoping to continue to find work that carries messages transcending the "theatrical experience"; transcending high quality acting, scenic design, costuming, lighting, and all those elements of our craft that merely render a thought. The thought itself must be worth our and our audience's time.

I've come to love our peals of bells, and explosions, and blood silks, as you know, because they are not preoccupied with illusion. These elements of The Balcony strike at the heart of this thinking that our work stands not to be admired, but to be interpreted. The audience sees us banging drums, hammering the platform, rattling a barrel - they are not busy marveling at our sound design and the scenic wonder of the real plaster dust dropping from the fly loft, or the chunk of wall that collapsed by mysterious unseen technical wizardry stage right. Consequently, when someone says "A royal palace never stops blowing up" our audience is free to hear those words. I can't take a marvelous special effect home with me. I CAN take "A royal palace never stops blowing up" home with me. (I'm still not sure I know what it means, by the way, but I will some day.)

New Post In Motorcycles

For a long time I’ve felt that the motorcycle press has been failing its readers by not regularly covering the used motorcycle market. Declining real wages have not kept up with inflation-adjusted motorcycle prices. My extended commentary is up over in “Motorcycles.”

Monday, October 24, 2005

The Balcony Closes

We closed the Rogue Theatre production of Genet’s play with a Sunday matinee yesterday, ending 9 weeks of rehearsals and 3 weeks of performances.

For twelve weeks my life revolved around those rehearsals and performances. My normal work schedule was twisted out of shape with evenings, when I would ordinarily write, spent either in rehearsal space or at the theatre. I can hardly remember a “normal” dinner hour sharing an end-of-day meal with my wife, Katherine, during that time.

Like everyone else in the cast, all of whom had demanding daytime jobs, I had to find time and energy for life’s obligations. I supervised an enormously disruptive re-model of large portions of our home (bad call that); tried to write, and ran the necessary errands of householdery.

The whole process must have been more demanding on my fellow actors than it was for me…after all I am freed of the demands of the daily “nine to five” grind by the happy circumstance of a retirement bolstered by on-again off-again freelancing.

I realize, looking back, that despite other chores and obligations my consciousness was largely filled by the play, thought about the play, and learning my part. Reciting lines to myself became a compulsion and I would find myself saying lines of dialogue, or parts of lines, in utterly inappropriate places.

We hear people apparently talking to themselves in all sort of public spaces, but they are usually on cell phones. When we notice someone talking to himself, and perhaps gesturing broadly with no phone in evidence, we edge away from someone “gone mad and wandering amongst the crowd protected by his madness”… as the Envoy once said.

A Strange Psychological Occurrence

The alarm went off this morning about five-forty-five. I had been waking up for some time and simply lay in bed thinking about the scene in which the Envoy comes to Madam Irma’s house of illusions to persuade her to accept the role of Queen, to create the appearance that would crush the people’s rebellion. This was “my” scene, the major piece I contributed to the puzzle of “The Balcony.”

It’s not unusual for me to let my waking mind drift over yesterday’s work-a-day events. When it does my consciousness carries with it a sense of distance, the sense that, yes, that was what I did or said at work yesterday; but also a sense, or feeling, or tone that suggests I am now a third-person observer of remembered events “at work.”

This morning the impact of recollection was quite different. I was not simply remembering “that I did such and such, said such and such as an actor at work in Scene 7 of “The Balcony.” Rather I remembered visiting Madame Irma, remembered being there rather than simply looking back at the last day’s performance.

The sense of having been the Envoy was actually disorienting…a momentary sense that somehow a hole in being had opened up.
A dream? The result of having concentrated so much on the part? Who knows

I suspect that no actor could survive if he literally and completely became the character he was playing while he was on stage. Imagine what it would be like if, while you are reading this post at your computer screen, you turned around to find the fourth wall of your room had disappeared.

However much we try, metaphorically, to become the character we are playing it would be terrifying to find that suddenly we were.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Bush, Genet, and The Balcony

I have several times mentioned that I am playing in the Rogue Theatre production of Jean Genet’s play The Balcony. It is a play about mirrors, appearances, images and the shifting boundary between them and reality…if indeed there is any such thing as ‘the real.’

The Balcony is Madam Irma’s whore house. It is a house of illusions to which quite ordinary little men come to play the great archetypal figures of society, The General, or The Bishop, or The Judge among others. Sexual gratification comes through and while playing these roles.

(One of the whores, Carmen, plays the role of the Immaculate Conception of Lourdes, dressed all in blue, and when she is carried to the bed by the “leper” she has miraculously cured “it is into the blue that he penetrates.”)

The people’s revolution that swirls around the Balcony is finally crushed by the Chief of Police with the aid of the patrons offering themselves as the real General, Bishop and Judge, with Madam Irma as the Queen. The symbols triumph.

The Chief is not happy, though, because no one has come to Irma’s ‘Mausoleum’ studio to die in the chief’s heroic image. In the end someone does come, which justifies the image as one of the great archetypes, one of the great functions and the chief, not satisfied with simply being the chief, the leader, El Caudillo, enters the Mausoleum to become one with his own image.

Frankly this strikes me as the example of a profoundly diseased consciousness. Unhappy with himself this essentially diminished personality cannot simply be himself…he must identify himself with a desired image.

I am reminded of a man in a flight suit standing--- not on the elevating cauthorni worn by the patrons of the Balcony to make themselves larger than life---but on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Couldn't Have Said It Better

TheRepublicans responded late to the hurricane
Delay was indicted
They've bloated the deficit
It's time we Democrats did something
Just as soon as they really screw somthing up
I think I'll take a nap

Yeah, yeah, copyrighted material. I generally avoid pinching other people's stuff but I couldn't have said this better myself. I am disappointed with the failure of my former party to be what Dean once called the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.

I am re-registering as an Independent. I’ll almost certainly vote Democratic (although I give no guarantees) but I am not going to work for the Democrats until I see some evidence of spine.

Thanks to the guys at Rudy Park

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Winning The Lottery

It’s a game we all play: What would you do if you won the lottery, won big, won so big that you could frame your life any way you chose?

Except in the two ways I am about to tell you I don’t believe my life would change too significantly…or say, rather, that I would not initiate great changes. I like my home and think I would keep living in it. I enjoy household chores, fixing things, puttering in the yard and so on and except for hiring the occasional handyman or housecleaner I can imagine my life grinding on pretty much as it does now.

I might buy another motorcycle, but we have two already and motorcycles can only be enjoyed one at a time.

Whenever the what-would-you-do-if-you-won-the-lottery question is asked I think of my father’s friend Harvey Hayes. When my father was a young actor Harvey was an old one. He lived in a bed-sitter in Chicago’s South Shore Country Club. My father took me to visit Harvey once (I sat quietly while they rehearsed a scene together) and I can remember being fascinated by the fact that Mr. Hayes didn’t have a kitchen.

He had a sort of pantry with a small sink and a fridge, but he clearly never cooked. I asked him what he did for meals…his situation was now riveting…and he replied, “Well, young Arthur, I go to restaurants. I’m an actor, not a cook.”

That answer had a more profound effect on me than I suspected at the time. To that in a moment.

The minor change in my life that I would effect if I won the lottery is that I would have cut flowers delivered to my house every day, or every other day, and maintained by a florist service. I don’t like gardening, but I do love the results and if I could have the latter without the former I would be delighted.

And then I would never cook again. I simply loathe cooking. I know it’s supposed to creative and satisfying and all that, but I simply hate it. I dislike having to prepare a dinner for guests and getting all the courses to come out right at the right time. I would much rather treat my guests to a nice meal at an excellent restaurant. I could afford it since I had won the lottery.

Oh, I might have a small pantry kitchen like Harvey’s where I could keep some bread and peanut butter or a box of orange juice… something I could eat at the sink when I got peckish… but for the most part I would eat all my meals out.

At my favorite places I would be well known. As a regular I could ask for special service…”I’m not very hungry tonight, do you suppose the chef could do a plate of sliced tomatoes and romaine, with some nicely buttered sourdough toast?” Well of course…because I was a regular who had won the lottery and always tipped well.

And I would never cook again.

Friday, October 07, 2005

A Little Disturbance

The tile guys are still on the job. I’m very pleased with them, everything is moving along admirably. Soon the noise of jack-hammering old tile will be forgotten; the dust will be swept up, wiped up, mopped up; the screaming whine of the tile saw will be a memory; the cats will be home and nearly all the furniture will be back in place.

When the work gang arrived they brought the full range of industrial grade tools, the sort of brawny, heavy-duty gear you need on a job site. Nothing ‘home improvement’ about this stuff, these were real tools for real men. They also brought the one accessory that no work gang seems able to do without: An industrial grade portable radio.

Look at that sucker…it’s wrapped in roll bars. Go ahead, drop a beam on it. Those speakers are more than loud, they’re built to penetrate the cloud of noise generated by saws, hammers, tile cutters, and construction chatter…and they are the single most annoying racket generated by construction.

When I walk thirty feet down the street and stand in front of my neighbor’s patio I can’t hear the construction noise, but the smeared, garbled, vaguely musical but unintelligible, radio is a background sound that pretty well covers the bird song, the sound of wind in the trees, and even the relatively benign white noise of distant traffic.

Tool noise is intermittent. Radio racket is continuous and unrelieved. I’m baffled by the musical sensibility that can have music present, apparently needed, but not listened to. I think that what makes background radio so annoying to me is that I unconsciously try to make sense of it.

The other thing I can’t make sense of is why the guys need it.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

BMW f800s

Finally! Official pictures and details of BMW’s new 800 cc bike are up on a number of internet motorcycle sites. The new bike, in the aggressively sporty “s” series, is going to delight canyon carving beemer fans.

Older riders, who were hoping for a mid-weight two-cylinder touring mount are going to be disappointed.

I’m disappointed, but I’m not angry or annoyed. I had hoped for one more new Beemer before my long-distance touring days were done, but my wife and I have two perfectly adequate touring mounts in the carport: My 1990 K75 and her ’03 F650cs.
They’re better than good, they are just right for the sort of motoring I did when I started riding BMWs forty years ago: Days of leisurely touring that ended around a camp fire.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Random Notes

There’s a new post up over in Motorcycles. Although everyone who drives a car might profit from reading it, it’s essentially directed toward fellow riders.

I may be absent from the blog for a day or two. The tile guys are driving us out of our house sometime today and I’m not sure I’ll be within striking distance of a wifi site. I’ll take the laptop with me, though, just in case.

Tonight is the last dress rehearsal before The Balcony opens tomorrow at the Zuzi theater here in Tucson. Am I excited? You bet, because this is theatre for the real theatre fan. I’m no longer worried about my lines…I’m worried about my voice. I have managed to catch a truly savage cold.

One advantage, though is that my normal light baritone has been dropped into the basso profundo range. Soon everyone I work with will have the same cold and we’ll all sound like the double bass section of a Russian Orthodox choir.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

After The Fact

I’ve stepped back in time and made a minor change in yesterday’s post. I often do this, tweaking the writing for clarity or what I imagine to be a greater felicity of style. This morning’s change is so slight that I doubt anyone will notice it, and it certainly doesn’t change the meaning of what I wrote.

This raises an interesting question, though. Personal journals, whether they are old fashioned diaries or modern web logs, are more than dispatches to the world about our daily comings and going. Whether they are intended so or not they become the psychological engines by which we become explicitly conscious of our own lives.

This needs a little explanation.

We don’t go through our daily lives like automata, but our consciousness is directed outward, toward the puzzles, activities and challenges of those lives rather than inward toward the acting self. I’m pretty sure that it is only in reflection after the act that we become fully, explicitly, conscious of the self that did all that acting.

That said, I leave you with this question: Should we ever return to yesterday’s diary to change, however slightly, the examination of our lives? How much more interesting…at least for ourselves…to make those corrections, however slight, in our next diary entry.

A re-evaluation is one thing, but simply changing yesterday’s record is forging history.

What do you think?

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Reading The New Yorker...

...probably forever, or in my case to the end of my days. I celebrated my birthday last Wednesday. Well, ‘celebrate’ might be too grand a word since I am practicing a kind of magic where birthdays are concerned: If you don’t celebrate, you live forever.

Of course ‘forever’ doesn’t happen, which is why I’ve settled for ‘the end of my days’—see above. But I’ve digressed.

Probably to keep me pacified during my declining years, my wife gave me The New Yorker. No, not a subscription. I mean she gave me the whole New Yorker, 4,109 issues, half a million pages, every cartoon, ad and article starting with the very first issue back on February 21, 1925. All on eight DVDs.

A couple of astonishing things here. First, someone actually had to scan in each of those half million pages. That must have required an iron will on the part of whoever did the job just to avoid looking at all the cartoons, reading an article or two, and popping over to the next cubicle to share some tidbit.

Most astonishing of all is the fact that they still had the four thousand, one hundred and nine copies of The New Yorker. How big a stack is that!

So I did what you’ll do if you ever get every single New Yorker since 1925. You’ll look for the issue nearest your birth date and take a trip in time. In my case there was an issue dated exactly on my birth day: September 28, 1929.

If I had been my mother or father I could have gone to the movies to see Ronald Coleman in "Bulldog Drumond," (all movies in the listing talkies unless otherwise noted.) It was also reported that the Radio Corporation was about to offer television...no more than 18 months away. And if Dad had just a tad more than seventeen hundred dollars he could have bought a top-of-the-line luxury Marmon straight eight town car.


We are busy throwing away stuff. We have to because we are launching into home improvement and that means reducing our living room, dining room, three closets and a hall down to the bare walls for the tile guys. This effectively cuts our home into three parts, leaving the kitchen at one end of the house and the two bedrooms (one of which is a home office) at the other end separated by newly set tile that can’t be walked on for a day.

We will throw ourselves on the mercy of a neighbor, who has agreed to take us and our two cats. (The cats, incidentally, will surely be badly spooked by the noise of hammering up all the old tile.) More about this later.