Good

As an introvert, a shy person, and the daughter of a woman I used to call “Worst Case Scenario Mom” (for the apocalyptically negative outcomes she would weave over the most mundane of activities), I have spent most of my life not feeling very good anywhere.

But just recently, I have begun to notice that these days I always feel good at home.

Good like: you actually outran ‘it’ in a very serious game of schoolyard tag. That synchronized all-at-once knowing of soul, body, and mind that you are beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt safe, because your fingers are contacting ‘base’ as ‘its’ hand tags nothing but the air where you used to be.

Good like: gut-level certainty that the probability of a positive outcome is greater than the probability of a negative outcome.

Feel, as in emanating from your innards out to your awareness;                        thrumming some thread only poets can identify;                                                      trusting in your bones before your brain even knows what’s happening.

I. Feel. Good. Somewhere. Finally.

It’s like water when you need it, the sweetest thing you will ever taste.

The 7 o’clocks

For my body there is something about 3:30 pm. Pretty much in any context, in any time zone, 3:30 pm is the time when I need a snack, a run, a nap, a ‘quickie,’ or possibly all of the above. No matter which diversion is actually available, the only sure thing is that it is nigh impossible for me to keep physically doing whatever I have been doing leading up to 3:30.

My mind seems to have a related issue with 7 pm to 7:30. It is less the competing needs and more the competing desires. 7:30 pm is exactly enough time for me to really stretch out a bit and put some real time in on a creative project before bed. It’s about as late as I would naturally eat a full dinner. It’s the right moment to wrap up some short things and leave time to read a book before bed; or flip slowly, unfocused through a cookbook until some recipe catches your eye; or fold laundry while listening to music or watching tv. 7:30 is a great time to start a really satisfying idle, or take the next infinitesimal step toward making your dreams come true. Good options one and all.

So any night that I am blessed with an unsubscribed 7:30, I fill some of the time with indecision. Except tonight, when I am fooling myself prose-ing about it.

The Night Before You Leave Again

Barely home from work and errands. Hungry to the point of shaking. Left the bag of necessary items in the car -of course. Back on with the shoes. It’s a short trip to the car, but the weather tonight takes me all the way to November. My mind is ecstatic and pinballing off of: all the new today; all the new to come; ideas, and to-dos, and still not dones; the way my soul is dragging its psychoemotional feet, now shod in culturally misappropriated Doc Martens, trying to stay where I was; my daily question to myself, the metric I have to pass – did I do one thing to move forward on each one of my goals today?

I’m jumpy. I’m joyful. I’m jealous. Of a friend who’s going all in on NYC to try to make it there. In spite of the passing of Maya Angelou who is such a great reminder to go ahead and be amazing.  I want to settle but there is so much I want to do – the immediate needs, the long-term wants, the spontaneous desires along the way.

Perhaps I’m concerned that all of that will be crushed by the constant ‘Must Be Appropriate!’  spotlight and klaxon of my impending work trip, and I’m trying to get it all out before the dress clothes go on. Maybe I’m a little bit nervous that no one has given me any idea what my responsibilities are on this junket. Or maybe my happy little heart is just determined to beam out and try to fill others. Best course of action seems to be roll merrily along.

Uncle Varick – King’s Theatre – Edinburgh

“I thought it was Uncle Vanya.”

It is. But someone Scottish-ized it and it became Uncle Varick. This was the play I saw in Edinburgh and it was a bit of a dud.

A professional production is a professional production and this had all the hallmarks of well-executed theatre. I was not disappointed in the production value or the quality of the acting. This play fell down because it was also well-trod theatre. Laying Scottish values on the play did not make it new enough. ‘Yelena,’ whose Scottish name I don’t remember, had a wonderful 60’s mod wardrobe which was probably the freshest thing in the play. I looked forward to her wardrobe changes. That and the reminder to add Sofya’s closing speech to my list for dramatic monologues were about all I got out of the show.

It was nice to be out of an evening with friends. You can never underestimate the persistent excitement of being someplace new and foreign. I was really happy to keep my play streak going. And perhaps it’s also good to know that mediocre happens everywhere. Even in the places you had dreamed of as perfect.

 

The Drowned Man

Only one post per play for the rest, and I am almost done with my UKROI journey in anecdotes.

The Drowned Man is a production by London’s Punchdrunk. If you are any sort of theatre fan promise yourself that you will go to one of their shows in your lifetime (or the company’s lifetime). Whether exhortatively phenomenal or just pretty darn good, any Punchdrunk show is an experience you need to have at least once. If I lived in London, I am guessing I would be just-the-sane-side of awkwardly fanatical groupie.

Punchdrunk produces immersive theatre. Rather than going to sit and watch a play, you go into the world of the narrative and literally follow the story. If you are a reader because a favorite book takes you on a journey, Punchdrunk shows are a dream come true.

I’m not sure if all shows follow this formula but the two I have seen -Sleep No More and The Drowned Man- did.

  • Commandeer (legally) a multi-story building.
  • Pick an era/atmosphere/ design theme.
  • Set-dress THE HELL out of that building (Punchdrunk sets are a MARVEL, if not always a beautiful or comfortable one).
  • Appose two narratives that share something in era/atmosphere/design/theme.
  • Figure out how to dance those two narratives (Yep, even shows with major scripts -think Shakespeare- become up to 85% movement).
  • Invite the public in to roam around anonymously (“audience” members are masked) through the show, and emerge with a load of visceral emotion, visual stimulation, narrative satisfaction, fulfilled curiosity, possibly sore legs (yep, there are stairs), and occasionally nightmares or other lingering hauntings.

Trust me. It’s a lot of fun.

The Drowned Man took an impressionistic photo of Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck, and then played out both the positive and negative exposures “Amidst the fading glamour of 1960s Los Angeles.” I thought the simplicity of the narrative flip was clever. I thought the set dressing was impeccable –as always. It doesn’t give too much away to say my favorite room was the Studio Executive’s office (maybe it was Studio reception?); the vintage clocks and their settings made me happy. The maintenance of the atmosphere in the bar was fantastic, particularly the band. And the cast was very good. If The Drowned Man gets exported like Sleep No More (Macbeth crossed with Rebecca) did, I’ll see it again. But…

As good as Punchdrunk is, I have one criticism: as far as I can tell every show has a thick patina of ‘creepy!’ In so much as their productions are an incredibly high-brow funhouse, this seems appropriate, but I would love to see the company stretch to stimulate and portray a greater mix of emotion –more Lewis Carroll less Michael Haneke. Speaking of which, Dear Punchdrunk, why no Lewis Carroll yet? And when will you tackle Othello?

Any Punchdrunk show is the best heebie-jeebies you’ll ever get. The Drowned Man has been extended (and extended!) to July 6th. See it. Then wait with baited breath until the next one.

 

 

Yeah, okay the Andrew Scott bit

I had to do a little healing around this moment because (it’s possible I’m a little bit of a control freak and) my encounter with the inimitable Mr. Scott did not go at all as planned. But I’m over it now. Really ;)

Looking on the bright side, I met the letter of almost all my goals. I did have a real-time, real life encounter with him. I gave him the card I made him. And I touched him. I would have preferred to look him in the eye rather than at everything in the theatre but him; and I’m guessing we were both surprised that I sort of petted him rather than shaking his hand. But hey, life’s a carnival, there are bound to be some freaks. And I can be consoled that he is unlikely to remember the incident anyway.

When I booked for Birdland, I intentionally chose May 7th for the post-show talk. I wanted the extra 30 minutes of Andrew Scott out of costume. This was before I knew he was routinely doing stage door fan-time after shows. I didn’t change the booking, or just show up at another stage door session because I had too much other theatre to attend. So it was that night or never

I was in the row closest to the actors, so when the post-show talk ended, I made a beeline for him. I got to him first but hard on my heels was someone he actually knew (with their friend)! I was already nervous, and embarrassed, and feeling like I was doing the wrong thing; but I waited and when it was my turn I said “Mr. Scott, may I give you this?” And he said “Of course.” And I started to try to explain, but I wasn’t really looking at him, and I said something along the lines of “I made you a card, because I’m really dorky.” (Have I mentioned my high self-esteem and top-notch marketing skills recently?) And then before anything like a conversation could rise from the ashes of my awkwardness:

  1. Nikki Amuka-Bird started talking to me (which was incredibly cool)!
  2. The woman who had been sitting next to me returned my scarf (which was incredibly thoughtful)!
  3. I forgot that Andrew Scott is not my friend (which was incredibly awkward)!

We were appropriately and inevitably getting separated in the crowd, so I reached out and stroked his arm –shoulder halfway to elbow. This is something I do frequently to people I have known for 15 years. It’s a questionable  move on someone I didn’t even really meet 15 seconds ago. I may have said “Thank you” or “Bravo,” but I was so distracted I can’t remember.

Subsequently, I had normal conversations and standard, professional physical contact with Simon Stephens and Nikki Amuka-Bird. Just to prove I’m capable of such. I have new respect for all those girls taking selfies with him. Better luck next time.

 

Simon Stephens IS a Rock Star

Simon Stephens has a big head. This is anatomic and not metaphoric. It is amplified by big, active hair that sways a lot when he talks, because he gesticulates with his whole body which makes everything he says seem more necessary and immediate! His larger than life effect was amplified by the fact that he was probably the largest human being on the post-show talk panel. He’s tall and broad-shouldered, even though he is slim. You can tell because he was wearing skinny jeans. No, real skinny jeans. The ones you have to peel off because you can’t slide them down. He must be a rock star. Only rock stars wear skinny jeans.

If you chat with Simon Stephens at some point you will probably think “Is he always like this?” But then you can imagine everyone who actually knows him enthusiastically nodding yes while eyeing you with sympathetic understanding. He explained during the talk back that he always wanted to be a rock star, but wasn’t good enough in the musical arena. But he has thoroughly made himself a rock star in persona, and in the theatrical arena.  I deeply admire those who do what it takes to get what you need as an artist.

Simon considered my question in a dramatic Rodin’s Thinker pose. He listens with his whole body as throughly as he talks with it. He mentioned on twitter a few weeks ago, seeing a play that made him want to be a better writer. I’m not sure a writer could pay a peer a finer compliment, nor better showcase their own humility. During the talk back he mentioned that he is bad at endings. In the case of Birdland I concur. Better luck next time. He also talked about how much he loves it when people cut his scenes and rearrange his work. Stephens is a minimalist in stage directions etc. and completely open about casting without matching and preconceived notions of gender, race, etc. He is also a relatively spare writer. The message and themes of the work are not overly explicit in the text. This leaves room for both creativity and risks confusion. I aspire to all these freedoms in my own work, and to being able to let it go in these ways. A brief brush with SS will keep me pushing for that.

Though I don’t know Simon, I suspect he is a lovable disaster of music nerdery. The guy who will orate a thesis on the various recordings of “Prodigal Son” based on hearing four bars of it from a car as it rounds the corner. Don’t chat him about music at a party because your drink will run dry, and you might not get a break to grab another. SS and I are drunk on different genres, but all I can say is, “Amen, brother.”

Simon Stephens is the author of several successful plays. His Twitter handle is @StephensSimon, which confuses me. Congratulations sir, subversion complete. #TwoFirstNameProblems