Thursday, November 27, 2008

We're going to plan a gala / For those who have no future / Because they are just creatures / Of the Arts

November 27th, 2008

Oh my pudding,

It’s been a strange week. Strange in a lot of ways, but I think I’m going to focus on the theatrical ones for now. It being Thursday, the week’s not technically over, but I think it just reached its climax (prove me wrong, remaining Intro to Shakespeare performers), so I’m gonna entry it up already.

I could also just make it a week by pretending that weeks begin on Friday. If I’d been brought up a good Quaker kid who referred to Sunday as “First Day” so there could be no mistaking it, I’d know better — but I was the child of the run-away-from-Reagan child, raised in the savage sugar bush of Eastern Ontario, where even our calendars are anarchists, beginning and ending their weekly units whenever it damn well pleases them.

That’s a lie, but whatever. A lot of things I tell people about my homeland sound like lies. The legendary mid-winter kangaroo sighting. The colours which people who’ve swum in the Tay River have turned. Drilling holes in trees to extract their precious life fluid and boiling it down to a viscous liquid sweetener. (You probably do believe that last one, but I met a guy in Montreal this summer who was entirely convinced that I must have been pulling his leg when I described the syrup-making process. I never realized how ridiculous it sounds until I was trying to explain it to somebody who didn’t believe me.)

Where was I? Oh yeah. Pretending this week started with last Friday. This makes sense, if this s going to be an entry where I talk primarily about theatrical affairs, because on Friday I had an audition. It was for a student-directed production of Sarah Kane’s Crave. In my pre-audition research on the play, one of the first things I stumbled across was this review, from which I extract the following two sentences:

“Ms. Kane killed herself last year in a mental hospital at age 28. Her first ever New York production…leaves little doubt why.”

Now, shortly thereafter I came across this touching article entitled 'Suicide art? She's better than that' — which was written by a friend and fellow playwright, and therefore merits being taken with slightly more grains of salt than the other. Nonetheless, it had become apparent to me that this was unquestionably dark stuff I was being asked if I might like to try out for an opportunity to deal with. Apparently this sounded like jolly good times to me, so I scribbled my name on the list on the call board, and showed up at my claimed time on Friday afternoon with my monologue memorised and ready to perform in a cozy little office that I didn’t even know existed. (The theatre was full of sets for another show or some such thing, and Hesler Hall, the other main rehearsal area in the building, was occupied by auditions for another student-directed show.)

Emily, the student assessing my merits as an actor, was really friendly and responsive in the audition — something I’ve noticed is more-or-less the norm here, which I find a pleasant change from some theatre groups I’ve worked with where they seem to really enjoy making auditioners as uncomfortable and unsure of themselves as humanly possible. Following my monologue, Emily gave me a brief rundown of each character’s motivations, and had me do cold readings for both of the play’s female characters. They were sort of peculiar readings, as the script doesn’t actually have monologues per se (with one notable exception), so Emily had chosen a selection of individual lines from each character, and requested that we try to make them sound as though they belonged together. It was a really interesting challenge, and I felt pretty good about the whole thing.


I had to wait until Tuesday to find out the results of that whole business, so YOU DO TOO. Only in your case, Tuesday=later on in this entry. That’s not so hard, is it now?

That night I had a loooooong telephone conversation with my mother. It was much-needed. I had forgotten how much of my life used to get sorted out between the two of us on sleepy morning car rides into work/school. I had a lot of pent-up anxiety about the potential disparity between my two primary career goals: teacher and playwright. What if what I write is seen as unsuitable for a teacher? What if the person I become when I get very involved in my writing is a horrible teacher? What if I end up deciding not to teach and I end up a scrawny starving artist cliché and die miserable and alone? Et cetera. I can’t say that one telephone call home totally resolved all of these issues for me forevermore, but a mother’s wisdom is valuable stuff. Some examples from this particular call (paraphrased, as this was a week ago now, and none of these were written anywhere outside of my brainmachine, which is rather crowded this time of year):

#1 - “You don’t make a good first impression. None of us do. First impressions are not this family’s strong point.”
#2 - “Oh, you won’t starve. Remember, if worse comes to worse, we own this house and we can plant more gardens.”
#3 - “I think you just need to think about this play.” (In response to my neurotic explosion of my worries about one particular script I’m working on now into an issue the size of WHAT I AM SUPPOSED TO DO WITH THE REST OF MY LIFE AND WHETHER OR NOT I AM A TERRIBLE PERSON IF I DO/DON’T DO IT.)

So yeah. “This play.” I’m working on it. I had set down this script for quite some time — in fact, semi-despaired of finishing it, which would have been lametastic, considering how much time and energy and love and motions-which-will-no-doubt-lead-to-repetitive-strain-injury-sooner-or-later I’ve put into it over the past two years — but found myself wading into it again recently, albeit in that really wimpy first-swim-of-the-summer kind of way where you dip your toes in and act astonished that the water is in fact wet, and consider yourself accomplished when you get in up to your knees, while at the same time remembering fondly what it was like last summer when you were exceedingly brave and dove in froglike without even considering the details of the situation.

My, that certainly was a long sentence. I don’t think my grade six teacher realised that when he accused me of run-ons, I was going to start trying to master the punctuation to make them legitimate, rather than simply chopping them into nice bite-sized chunks with a couple of periods. Although. I’ve. Nothing. Against. Periods.

Er, right — the script. I’m a bit worried about ending it, on the grounds that I’m terrible at endings generally, and my characters are all up to some mischief they seem reluctant to explain to me. I’ve been working a very strange (there’s that word again) scene for what feels like ages now in which they constantly hold back from saying what I thought I’d been setting them up for the whole time, and then suddenly burst forth with something ridiculous that I definitely did not prepare for. My confusion is multiplied by the fact that this scene is actually three different scenes happening simultaneously, with a lot of overlapping dialogue/action. This is a new level of complexity for me as a writer, and I’m not in any way confident that the way I’m plotting this out on the page is going to make for good, or even vaguely comprehensible theatre with real voices and bodies. Which brings me to another thing I’ve been having cute little wee tiny mini fun-sized anxiety attacks throughout the day about…

I’ve brought up the possibility with a couple of friends who are silly enough to occasionally express encouragement for my scandalous escapades with the written word of perhaps some night gathering a group of willing victims together to…(swallow hard now)…read…the script…out loud…maybe? This idea both excites and terrifies me. I think the ‘terrifies’ would be a smaller factor if I were talking about a one-act two-hander, but no. Silly me had to go and write a full-length beast with eight friggin’ characters (assuming I don’t resort to Deus Ex Machina and throw a couple of gods in there to get the bloody thing over with). Eight seems like an unfathomable number of people to expose this script to just yet — not to mention the staggering unlikelihood of finding an evening when eight people who would be willing to do me such a tremendous favour might be available, the schedules of Mount Allison students being what they are.

My goodness, we’re still on Friday night, aren’t we? Well, fast forward through the weekend. I already mentioned the snow and the vegan muffins. Everything else was homework or script-work. Or lollygagging about on Facebook/twitter, but that goes without saying, right?

Monday afternoon I went to what was, in theory, the penultimate rehearsal of the Shakespeare in the Schools project for this year. I’ve been working with a group of high school students and my fellow Mounties on a fifteen-minute version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream every non-holiday Monday since mid-October. The idea of Shakespeare in the Schools is that the kids (sometimes elementary, sometimes secondary), with guidance from us, get to decide how they want to present one of William Shakespeare’s works that we, the university students, have been assigned at some point in our Intro to Shakespeare course (although participation in the program is also open to Mt. A. students not enrolled in said course who just want to do it because it’s awesome). This year, our small but mighty crop of high school participants decided to stick mainly with fragments of Shakespeare’s original poetry to tell the story — but with some Fresh-Prince-theme-song-style narration to tie it all together. This project is, for those students enrolled in Intro Shakespeare, an alternative to a more straightforward performance exercise with other class members. SitS is obviously a much bigger time commitment for those that choose it (not to mention a bit of a walk), but we knew that going into it, and it’s more than delightful enough to pay for itself. Besides, I personally couldn’t say no to it after Dr. Bamford began our first class of the semester by showing a documentary in which middle school children performed Othello on the Globe Theatre stage with a giant strawberry-patterned parachute. Yeah, if you want to capture my heart, kids and theatre are a winning combination. I also like kittens, brown paper bags, and candy flowers on sticks. Er, you’re not trying to capture my heart, are you? That could get awkward. I need it to live, see.

Oy. So. Some time Tuesday, I wander into the lobby of Windsor Theatre, investigate the call board situation and discover that…

I didn’t get into Crave.

I was kind of sulky and immature about it in my brain at the time, because I just wanted to feel loved and blah blah blah, but I’m actually a pretty big fan of just coming to watch shows, and I’m looking forward to watching this one in February. If I’m not too outrageously busy, maybe I will even say yes when I’m inevitably asked to do some kind of techy job I can’t even pronounce on this and/or some other show next semester. That may or may not be an idle threat. Tech work is like the extremely gorgeous and intimidating femme fatale of my theatre experience. I want her, and I have gotten vaguely close to her in the past, but I have usually fainted directly afterwards, and I can’t, if I’m being honest, see how that could be a good basis on which to form a lasting relationship.

Wednesday was not a theatrical day. Nothing theatrical happened on Wednesday anywhere. Unless you are a member of Tintamarre, in which case your grande spectacle Argument opened, and everybody who went realized that they have always loved you, because it was that good.

I’m not a member of Tintamarre, but a lot of them happen to be very dear to me, so I grabbed a handful of change and biked on over to the Windsor Theatre once again to take in the traditional Thursday night Pay What You Can performance.

Tintamarre is sort of a difficult project to do justice to in any way other than plunking you down in a time and place where you can watch a performance — or join the cast/crew, if you’re really brave. I’ve yet to graduate to the latter level of commitment to the beautiful, crazy, collaborative dream, but so far as I have gathered, what happens is this: anybody who’s interested in being involved gets together at the beginning of the semester with an idea — as simple as a couple of lines from Dr. Fancy (the French/Drama professor who leads this madness), and they begin to craft a story and a script in both official languages. Songs are written, super-exciting sets and costumes are fabricated, and before you know it, you’re wearing a lumpy silver body suit, melodically imploring a room full of people to tell you why they don’t like Thor, and punning (not to mention swearing) in a language you only vaguely remembered how to say “cup of tea” in a few short months ago.

Argument is the third Tintamarre production I’ve seen thus far, and I’m fairly certain it was also the longest (a factor I suspect will change when the script is shorn down for the school tour in April). It may also be my favourite to date. The really blatant attacks on the current (sigh) Prime Minister through a character known as “Stephen Artstalker” certainly didn’t hurt my appreciation for it.

My goodness it’s late. Shouldn’t you be in bed, pudding? Shouldn’t I? Yes. Yes I should.

Bonne chance with whatever you’re doing right now. Feel free to email me if you want to know more about something you think I might be able to help you with, Mount-Allison-wise: elcameron (at) mta (dot) ca.

Plus de Vie*,

*You’d tell me if this was an inaccurate translation of “More Life,” wouldn’t you**? I’m looking at you, future

**Our dear friend President Gaypants informs me that "Plus de Vie" in fact translates roughly to "No More Life" (at least if you're Acadian)...but I don't have an alternative up my sleeve. HM!

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