Monday, October 20, 2014

Twenty-Fifteen

Okay, motherfuckers. Where's my hoverboard?



Odd years are normally my favorite, and certainly the most productive. This isn't a fact or anything, just a subjective opinion.

My written work continue to spread like a an ultramicroscopic, metabolically inert, infectious agent that replicates only within the cells of living hosts, with odd productions of Agatha Christie's The Mysterious Affair at Styles popping up at high schools and church drama clubs.

Whether or not Acorn would allow foreign productions of Styles was put to the test this past year, and they will not. Certainly not in Britain, where they retain copyright to the book which is in public domain in the US.

Just this last week there was a performance of I Hate This at the Lowry Theatre in Manchester, and shortly thereafter I found this very interesting blog post from a gentleman, Paul Kleiman, who attended the performance and participated in the post-show discussion.

He noted that John Dayton, the actor, was brought on board perhaps a month prior to the October 15 performance and so it was decided he should hold book. Instead of being a distraction, Kleiman suggests that holding a document and reading from it provides an appropriate distance from the production - we know this is not David Hansen, we are not going to pretend it is. This actor is interpreting his experience.

I am reminded of the play 8, which was produced one night at Cleveland Play House last year. Taken from court transcripts, holding book was a necessity of the brief rehearsal period, but also reminded the audience at all times that this was not fiction, that these are the actual words that were spoken in open court, and in interviews.

As for the upcoming year, I have at least two new works that will be produced in Northeast Ohio.

Rosalynde & The Falcon will debut at Talespinner Children's Theatre on Saturday, March 28. This is my second collaboration with TCT, and I am very excited to be working with them again. I have loved everything this company has produced, and am constantly amazed at their dedication to every moment and detail of each production.

For this piece I was inspired primarily by Shakespeare's As You Like It, and also its source material, Thomas Lodge's Rosalynde, which was itself by the anonymously written, Medieval age Tale of Gamelyn, and all those folk tales that involve threatened women driven into the woods where the have adventures, meet strange men (dwarves, thieves, bears, what have you) and discover strong, important things about themselves they would never have learned at home.

It's also written entirely in trochaic octameter, but don't let that bother you.

Interestingly, another new play will debut on the exact same stage, at the beginning of the month. This year's free Great Lakes Theater outreach tour The Great Globe Itself opens Tuesday, March 3 in the Reinberger Auditorium, home to Talespinner Children's Theatre, before moving on to another 26 venues around northeast Ohio.

In brief, Globe describes with playful humor how the history of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre is a line which runs straight through Cleveland. But you have followed this blog long enough that you already knew that.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

I Hate This @ The Lowry

The Lowry Studio
Tonight, someone other than me will be playing me in a performance of I Hate This (a play without the baby) at The Lowry Studio Theater in Manchester, England.

When we produced a radio drama adaptation, others played everyone but me. The Silvers were my parents, my brothers were performed by Nick Koesters and Scott Plate. But I was me.

The only time I am aware of where someone has read my role for a public audience was ten years ago, when the now-defunct Poets' and Writers' League of Greater Cleveland would produce a biennial celebration of area writers. The scene Rocking Chair was read by Senator Sherrod Brown, then U.S. Representative for Ohio's 13th District.

This evening John Dayton, a young British actor will be performing the role of David Hansen in a one-night-only performance of I Hate This at 8 PM at The Lowry Studio Theatre in Manchester, produced by Freerange Theatre and directed by Hugo Chandor.

I have never met any of these people. Hugo contacted me over a year ago about the possibility of adding this piece to their repertoire. Freerange has had great success with Spoonface Steinberg by Lee Hall (Billy Elliot) which is a solo piece for one woman which tells the story of an autistic girl who is struggling with cancer. I figured a company unafraid of such subject matter, and one having received such strong notices for the work, could be trusted with our story.

However, fifteen months is a long time and 3,500 miles is a far distance. In spite of ongoing communication, it has been difficult to really think of this event as something that was going to happen. I had entertained the idea of attending, the but responsibilities at home and monetary concerns made the trip unrealistic.

Recent posts on Twitter, however, have assured me this is really happening.








Personal favorite:

Best of British, John. Can't wait to hear how it all plays out!

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Great Globe Itself: Creating Vertical Space


"Inner Below" humor.
In the six months since Bill Condee and I last shared tea, I composed the first draft of The Great Globe Itself, the play which inspired me to contact him. During that same time, he traveled to Malaysia on a Fulbright to teach, lecture and conduct research on Malaysia shadow puppetry.

When I reached out to him yesterday, informing him that I was spending a brief 36-hour period in Athens and did he have time to chat, he promised to quickly read the script I had sent several weeks earlier in preparation for our meeting. In that way, it was much like my preparing for his theater history class my sophomore year.

Much of his guidance is of a piece with one of my concerns about the production in general, which is making sure the audience, any audience, comprehends where we are and what is happening.

A few days ago the design team met to have our first production meeting, to discuss the set and costumes and overall concept. One of the questions is how we can make a single set (all three scenes take place at one of three "Globe Theatres") reflect three different time periods.

One of our interns has been tasked with dramaturgical study, and will be producing essays to be included in the program, which will act more like a study guide, to be sent in advance to libraries and schools in preparation for the production.

Finally, we will engage a dialect coach, so that characters from each time period have a distinct, regional accent.

So, Dr. Condee. We meet again.
However, I am aware it all come back to the text. In our meeting, the good Doctor suggested there are not enough "sign posts" of what is to come, and clearly laying out time, place, and facts.

This has been a major concern of mine, as I have been writing this piece for an audience who knows little to nothing about Shakespeare and his time, rather than for an insidery piece, full of private jokes for literary-minded people. Every line in Shaw's The Dark Lady of the Sonnets is hilarious - if you have the entire first folio memorized.

As our conversation continued, even he suggested some very funny bits of business that involve the discrediting of John Cranford Adam's theory of the original Globe having included a small, intimate stage in the rear of the space, for intimate scenes. This area (now referred to as the "tiring house") would feature the worst sight lines and acoustics, and render the play unwatchable to those who had paid the most pennies to see the production!

But I would have to explain all that, as I just have, in order to mock it.

However, these things are relevant and important to "getting" the first scene:
  • Who are these men? Burbage is clearly important historically, but he's more important that described here. The man who originated the roles of Hamlet, Richard III, Macbeth? These things are not obvious.
  • John Fletcher, his significance is also not emphasized enough.
  • What makes it exciting for audiences to enter and experience a play at the Globe Theatre?
For that last question, we turned to my wife Toni who was joining us.  She has often expressed her great love of the Re-imagined Hanna Theatre™ as the most beautiful theater space in Cleveland, and  using the Hanna as a model of experience has been helpful to creating this work. In the play I describe what it is like to play on the stage of such a space. However, what is not coming through is what it feels like to be in the audience.

Actually, I have tried to do that, with the character of the tour guide in 2005 at Shakespeare's Globe, but perhaps that is too far along in the proceedings.

Following the first reading, one of those in attendance expressed their view that the play successfully portrays the Globe as its own character. When I asked this question, "Is the Globe a character?" Condee disagreed. Not to him, not enough, and this opinion is important to me because he is the theater space guy.

The theory is that players would drag their cart into a courtyard and thereby have not only listeners on the ground before them, but also makeshift galleries, provided by those hanging out on the balconies rising several floors into the sky. This, presumably, was the model for not only the Globe but also Blackfriars.

Hanna Theatre, Cleveland
This creates vertical space to be filled by the performer. Condee rose to his feet in the coffee house (to the amusement of those in proximity) to enact a grand vertical gesture, his open, out-stretched palm rising from right in front of him, to over his head, his gaze following his hand.

Intimate, introspective gestures will not do. You cannot bend over and emote into your hands, the acoustics and sightlines in the original Globe were simply too poor, it was a necessity to draw your audience to you.

My wife's question, then, was how to present this in the numerous spaces to which this production will travel. Each of them is flat, they are horizontal spaces, with audiences at the same level or below, as in a traditional proscenium. Should the players - the characters - in the place, convey the struggle to connect.

Each new question threatens to turn the piece into a dialectic, a play about space, which could be exciting, I guess. Returning to the motivation of the players themselves, Condee returned to the subject of signposts, and whether it were possible to foreshadow future events.

At first, I was leery of portraying people, in the moment, realizing their destiny, as that would be too odd, people don't do that. Each of the days represented are ordinary days which are a catalyst for future opportunity. Do the players comprehend in the moment the magnitude of their own future significance?

I guess I am really only referring to Wanamaker here. He's only a young adult in his featured scene, and nowhere near the point in his life where he has germinated his legacy. However, there is someone else in the scene who has the potential do it for him.

To be continued.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Winsor French

 
While we were all sleeping ... Cleveland picked up and moved away to other cities.
- Winsor French
There was a time when people, certain people, were paid to write. Winsor French (December 24, 1904 - March 6, 1973) was one such person. French was the society columnist for the Cleveland Press, intermittently, for almost forty years.

His story is sad and small, it took me over two years, on and off, to read Out and About with Winsor French by James M. Wood, because, frankly, I found his life tedious. Or perhaps just Wood's telling of it.

My main interest in this man, was, of course, that I hoped to take in more Cleveland history. But French was not nearly as enamored in the city during it's heyday as he was when it was vanishing before his eyes.

He'd the place, in fact, by the onset of World War II, choosing instead New York City and Hollywood, hoping to write that novel, that play, or anything of significance. However, he much preferred to writing, and unlike man, couldn't do both.

French wanted to be like his close companions, Cole Porter and his wife Linda, philanthropist Leonard Hanna (whose gift of stock in the fledgling "Internal Business Machines" enabled the columnist to live in a manner he preferred) or the man who might honestly be described as his life partner, nightclub pianist Roger Stearns, but the best he could manage was to write about them, and how beautiful it was to live a life of opulent gaeity.

Much of his work involved being in Not-Cleveland, traveling to report on the conditions in Post-War Europe, and somehow managing to share only the company of seriously wealthy people for whom the war had been some kind of thankfully well rid-of inconvenience.

By the 1950s, French had become what so many of us find ourselves, the Resigned Clevelander. Lamenting the loss of something special, he spent his last two decades either writing about the Cleveland that had been, or banging the drum for people to return to downtown to indulge in what little excitement remained.

He lived downtown Cleveland, from an apartment on Playhouse Square with a view of his beloved Hanna Theatre, to a tony nest on racy Short Vincent, and even digs in ill-fated Erieview. But even he eventually left the city, another single man occupying a highrise apartment in Lakewood's Gold Coast.

Winsor French retired from his column in 1968. His tenure chronicles the time period of one major American city's entire collapse.

Last night a friend who works up Euclid suggested drinks at Hodge's - it might be the last time this season for cocktails alfresco.

On this late Thursday afternoon the avenue was bustling with walkers. I was reminded of something my sister-in-law from Minnesota said when I was giving her my nickel tour of downtown a year ago. She said, "Wow. Cleveland is like this place where everything already happened."

Passing visitors taking selfies with the chandelier - which Winsor would have either loved or entirely hated - I allow myself to imagine it's still happening.