Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Morning Pages

Ritual is not what you do naturally. Waking up in the morning is not a ritual, nor is having breakfast. Ritual us not synonymous with routine, either. No, ritual is something you compel yourself to do, on a regular basis, something which does not come naturally, nor easy, but in doing so lends your life purpose, meaning, and hopefully, satisfaction.

For years, though not for all my years, I have tried to create a writing ritual. It happened less recently than you might imagine, but in the past five to ten years, I began rising at 5:00 am, so that I would have quiet, peaceful time alone, to write for thirty timed minutes.

Our gas fireplace was repaired in early 2016, and so the ritual during cold-weather months was simple. The fire. The coffee. The bathrobe. Thirty minutes, or three steno pages, whichever came first.

Around the same year, we had our deck rebuilt. And so warm weather months included its own ritual. The deck. The coffee. The robe. The birds and sky. Thirty minutes or three steno pages, whichever came first.

Then came the writing prompts and the one-page plays. What had merely been ritual had become a compulsion; when not doing something is harder than doing it. Once upon a time, for me, that was running. Finally, in my fifties, it is writing.

Social media apps get you hooked by awarding you for checking in every day. You have “streaks.” I keep track of how many days in a row I write my morning pages. Today is the 200th consecutive day I have written morning pages. Today I wrote about writing morning pages as my morning pages. Right now, I am typing that up.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

The Short Play Project

The other night I attended a live performance with a closed audience, which was live streamed for the entertainment of thousands. It was an inspirational moment, and I couldn't help trying to imagine what creative project I might embark on to keep spirits high and encourage social distancing.

What is 'social distancing'?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidelines for “community mitigation strategies” to limit the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, which include recommendations for “social distancing”—a term that epidemiologists are using to refer to a conscious effort to reduce close contact between people and hopefully stymie community transmission of the virus.
- "The Dos and Don’ts of ‘Social Distancing’" by Kaitlyn Tiffany, The Atlantic (3/12/2020)
Tent for "Worlds"
To that end I have created the "Short Play Project." I have written over one hundred short plays recently, and have asked folks to create short films from them. Dozens have responded to the call, this morning I posted three.

I have suggested these videos can be simple or sophisticated. The creation of them should in no way put one in danger of infection. For "Packing" the subject speaks to someone over the phone. In "Worlds" a couple created a makeshift (and I must say, very realistic!) tent in their living room, adding the sound of rain from a YouTube video. Luke did a scene playing off a sourdough pretzel.

I have posted these on my Facebook page. contact me there if you would like to participate, I will provide a script. And thanks!

UPDATE: Now! Also available at my YouTube Channel.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

"Love's" in the time of COVID-19

Thou art a boil, a plague-sore, an embossed carbuncle, in my corrupted blood.
- LEAR II.iv

In the midst of life we are in death, et cetera.
- The Smiths, Sweet & Tender Hooligan
Woke this morning to discover "King Lear” is trending on Twitter.

Scott Crim & Jane Plishka
"Love's Labour's Lost"
(Rubber City Theatre, 2020)
The theaters closed due to an outbreak very early in Shakespeare’s career, in 1592. That was very early in his career, when he was collaborating with Marlowe and writing his epic poems.

Outbreaks continued over the following years, and when the Globe Theatre was closed in 1603 Shakespeare was the height of his abilities. It is speculated that he wrote King Lear at that time.

The very idea that theaters would cease operation due to an outbreak of contagious infection (let alone, professional sports teams) was to my understanding a thing from the past, not something that could possibly happen in my lifetime.

And yet, here we are. Closer to home, the company that I work for, Great Lakes Theater, took the difficult and unprecedented step of cancelling an entire production. The company was hard at work on a production of my favorite of Shakespeare’s comedies, Much Ado About Nothing, due to open the last weekend in March.

As Ohio Governor DeWine decreed, all public events with an audience of more than one hundred persons must be suspended, GLT and companies across the city joined theaters across the nation in closing.
Orders, thought meet by his Majesty, and his Privy Council, to be executed throughout the counties of this realm, in such towns, villages, and other places, as are, or may be hereafter infected with the plague, for the stay of further increase of the same.

Also, an advice set down by the best learned in physic within this realm, containing sundry good rules and easy medicines, without charge to the meaner sort of people, as well for the preservation of his good subjects from the plague before infection, as for the curing and ordering of them after they shall be infected.

- James I, “Order for Plague” (1603)
Theaters closed due to an outbreak of plague. - March 2020

As with all the rest, Akron’s Rubber City Theatre suspended performances for their production of Love’s Labour’s Lost after opening just last weekend. The show, directed by my dear friend Kelly Elliott (she who directed last summer’s Henry V for CSF) had already received an excellent notice from Cleveland Scene, which said it was “engaging” and “exuberant.”

As a farewell they decided in short order to stage one last, closed performance last night with an invitation-only audience of company members and a few friends who have a reputation for laughing loudly and in all the right places. My wife and I were glad to be part of that number.

Following the performance we learned over one hundred people were watching it live. As of this morning, the event shared by local media outlets, views have gone into the thousands. Even Terry Teachout, critic for the Wall Street Journal tuned in.

Sitting in the audience, I was reminded of Love’s Labour’s Lost as produced by Great Lakes Theater in early 2016. It was also an engaging and exuberant performance. Shakespeare's script is quite the farce; the first half can be quite dense and you have to keep up with a remarkably self-indulgent amount of word play on the playwright’s part, but when you stick with it the pay-off in the second half is so pleasurable.

The "Nine Worthies" scene in the Rubber City production rose to a joyfully riotous argument, the Great Lakes production four years ago to something like a wildly playful bacchanal. But as is the case in all productions, the fun, the games, the play within the play, are suddenly broken by the announcement that the King of France, father to the female romantic lead Katherine, has died.

A very real and heartbreaking moment in the midst of a very silly play. I found the sentiment quite timely.

The theaters have closed, as they have many times before. They will reopen, too.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

On the Dark Side of Twilight: Firestone High School

Ten years ago, Great Lakes Theater produced my first outreach tour "On the Dark Side of Twilight."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

We closed today, our final performance was at Firestone High School. Always a favorite of mine, Mr. Z. has a vast number of dedicated performing arts students. Only "VPA" students (visual performing arts) are invited to the outreach tour performances, but at a school this size that still means we have at least 150 people in the audience. And they always get the real obscure stuff, too. There's a Winter's Tale reference in Dark Lady of the Sonnets and theirs was the only venue that got it.

Sure, it was early. 7:30 arrival for a 9:15 performance, but really, we had this down to a science. Until we discovered that their set for Sweeney Todd (opening next weekend!) was already built ... with a raked stage made of planks with half-to-three-quarter inch gaps between them.

Now, our set has been a little wobbly on the best days. Slamming that door made the whole set shake, gave it a real "Ed Wood" feel. But placing it on an incline seemed downright disastrous.

So we took every bungee cord we had, and strapped the thing to the floor. The spaces between boards was actually a benefit. We also got a number of extra stage weights from the school, and don't you know, the set was more secure than it had ever been, seriously solid.

Many students assisted getting everything together and tearing it apart. In between, it was a rollicking performance, the three of us were really pushing it for our final go-round. I think we even made some very wise discoveries. Hate doing that on closing night. Morning. Whatever.

The post-show discussion was very interesting, and went on for a while. What has been most interesting about these talkbacks was the opportunity for people to quiz the playwright, about writing, about rehearsing with the playwright there, editing, the future of the production, and so on.

A number of the students picked up on some of the minutiae of the play, about the conceit of using "found documents" (see: Dracula) the setting for the interview (see: Interview) even the origin of Lucy's name in the final arc (see: Dracula.)

After the show, Dusten, Emily and I had burgers at the Winking Lizard, and then it was off to dump the set and props, store all the education department materials, and return the van. And today was a beautiful, seventy degree day. The end of the tour always means the beginning of spring.

I am really going to miss this one, a lot.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

On the Dark Side of Twilight: Akron Public Library, Northwest Branch

Ten years ago, Great Lakes Theater produced my first outreach tour "On the Dark Side of Twilight."

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Final public performance today at the Akron Public Library Northwest Branch. Always a great mix there.

It is usually a 1 PM performance and there are traditionally a number of seniors, members of reading groups, and maybe fifty or so high school students from Firestone who can't attend the performance we do at their school. That performance is tomorrow, that is our last performance of On the Dark Side of Twilight, period.

Today was good. There were odd things happening, my voice cracked at one point, Emily fell down backstage, and Dusten's Eddie just keeps getting dumber.

A woman came up to me after the performance and told me she doesn't like vampires, she doesn't know anything about vampires, but she liked the Chekhov plays last year so much that when she heard I was in this she just had to come. That made my afternoon ... and my afternoon needed making because I had a sinus headache sending a spike into my left eye.

One more performance, tomorrow. It's been an incredible run.

Monday, March 9, 2020

On the Dark Side of Twilight: Olde Towne Hall Theatre

Ten years ago, Great Lakes Theater produced my first outreach tour "On the Dark Side of Twilight."

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

That was crazy.

I think we may have set an attendance record for the outreach tour at Olde Towne Hall tonight. Over 70 people turned out! And what an incredible mix, kids and teens and adults young and old, it was incredible. And they were excited for an evening of vampire fun, let me tell you.

I don't know who started it, them or us, but there was a silly energy in the air. When I start "hypnotizing" Maria in the second arc, Emily got all sleepy and bedroom-eyed and I almost lost it.

During the Nosferatu segment, I actually drooled blood down my chin.

And Dusten was on freaky-fire, his timing was great all night but by the final scene, he was just milking it, and I mean that in the best way possible. He's never had so much sex in his voice when he's telling Lucy how much he wants to cut her and drink her blood. He's also never sounded so stupid in the final scene.

I don't know if we are giddy with all the touring or if we are finally relaxing into our performances. I think each of us are trying to get everything we can out of this show before it closes on Thursday.

Dynamite crowd, great discussion afterward. We ask (sometimes) why the vampire remains a compelling figure, and several times, including tonight, the "bad boy" thing comes up. But there was also some discussion after we all broke for punch and cookies about theology.

Someone at LAK had asked why there was so much talk about God in the third arc.  And then, of course, Michael was asking about comparisons to the Eucharist on Sunday (thanks for that, Michael.)

Today I had a nice talk with a man following the show who wanted to know if I were a person of faith; if I were Christian, to be specific. What happened on stage tonight made him feel as though I were. The way issues of faith were handled, he assumed I was. This comes to me as a relief, because though this is a satire, I am not really comfortable with denigrating or demeaning anyone's faith. Anyone's.

It's almost embarrassing the amount of help we have received lately, loading out the set. But I am grateful for it. We had GLTF company members, and students from Elyria Catholic who returned to see the show again, helping us lug everything down the big staircase. I am too wrung out and sore to say no.

Wow. This tour has been so much fun, I can't tell you. Did I mention we were performing on the set of Oklahoma?

Sunday, March 8, 2020

On the Dark Side of Twilight: Lakewood Public Library

Ten years ago, Great Lakes Theater produced my first outreach tour "On the Dark Side of Twilight."

Monday, March 8, 2010

Three more performances? Really, that's it?

Very nice night night, full house at the Lakewood Public Library, and lots of new and old friends, familiar faces and downright strangers on hand. Several actor-teachers, from today and years past, GLTF company members, Playhouse Square representatives, roommates, teachers from some of the high schools we work with, bringing their students. It was a lovely turnout.

This evening has been filling me with anxiety since I saw how the set worked, and how deep it needed to be. Thank you, Daniel, for ordering that extra pole for the drapes, it has come in very handy. I do not know how we could have managed this without it.

Using the drapes as masking - and angling them downstage - we had much more room to the sides and did not have any of our "business" showing when the doors were open.

I borrowed several key lines in the play from last fall's residency program rehearsal process, and as this was the night half of them were able to make the performance, these "private jokes" got some serious play, most notably, "Girl's gotta eat."

I pressed several of our comrades into service to get everyone out by 9 o'clock, and dang if that wasn't the fastest load-out we've ever had. You people are pros and have my endless gratitude. Thanks to Lakewood Public Library, they always do an amazing job of promoting the outreach tour, and I think we finally have the knack for handling their space.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

On the Dark Side of Twilight: Cleveland Heights-University Heights Main Public Library

Ten years ago, Great Lakes Theater produced my first outreach tour "On the Dark Side of Twilight."

Sunday, March 7, 2010

This charming assemblage of young people from Twinsburg (left) made the trip to the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Main Public Library to see our little show! Seems they recently had their own production of an adaptation of John Polidori's The Vampyre in their black box performance space, and just had to check this show out.

AND they stayed afterwards to help us pack up and load out in record time! It was an incredible afternoon, the first truly beautiful, sunshiny day in ages, and yet around a hundred people turned out to check out the tour in my hometown.

Lots of friends (large and small) in attendance, and GLTF company and staff members! I saw you, Heather, Chris, Terry and Todd! Also board members, GLTF subscribers, and just a whole roomful of familiar, warm faces. And Kelly's over-sized laugh.

And somehow, after the show began, I lost a finger. Really, there were ten fingertips on the prop table when we started, and when I needed them, I was missing one. One of the kids said they noticed. Damn! Not sure what to do about that, I may need to contact some novelty stores tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

On the Dark Side of Twilight: Akron Public Library - Nordonia Hills Branch

Ten years ago, Great Lakes Theater produced my first outreach tour "On the Dark Side of Twilight."

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Dusten broke the decanter.

The Akron Public Library in Nordonia has been a stop for the GLTF Outreach Tour in long-standing. Always a great, supportive turnout; a small space, but they always serve coffee, lemonade and cookies.

We had a pretty full room. Charlie came to see us! So did Tamara, and she brought her daughter and her friends. A great mix from young to old in the house this evening.

Have I mentioned yet how much I enjoy working with Emily and Dusten? I am grateful for all of the humor and high spirits, it makes schlepping big heavy set pieces much more enjoyable.

Oh, and we got a new table, to replace the one Dusten broke.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

On the Dark Side of Twilight: Elyria Catholic High School

Ten years ago, Great Lakes Theater produced my first outreach tour "On the Dark Side of Twilight."

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The high school performances have truly rocked this year! We visited Elyria Catholic High School today, and a higher number than usual were in attendance in the gymnasitorium. The floor was filled and there were a lot of students in the bleachers.

Some guys believed this play was only about Twilight and were not necessarily looking forward to it. We do not give high school students programs before the show, out of concern that they may read them during the performances, or leave them lying around if they don't really want them.

Most students are compelled to attend assemblies, don't you know, and may not even like plays. But the program does explain what the show is, which is helpful if you are seeing it for the first time. So whoever is moderating the show that day (today: Lisa!) has been providing a brief explanation of the concept before curtain.

And wow. The EC kids liked The Giaour! I am not suggesting previous schools didn't, but usually they have had to just kind of take it in, and don't laugh or respond vocally until The Count. But they were with us from the very beginning. It was sweet.

Then, of course ... there's Dusten's "Lower Power." Andrew had directed that delivery to be ... potentially ... I mean, let's just say ... there was the potential for a double-meaning. Today was the first time I think anyone got that. Unfortunately, the very next line is:
LUCY: You sound like my dad.
Okay. That was wrong.

Monday, March 2, 2020

On the Dark Side of Twilight: Kendal at Oberlin

Ten years ago, Great Lakes Theater produced my first outreach tour "On the Dark Side of Twilight."

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Man. That was the longest load out we've done. The three of us have gotten load-out to a science, and with assistance we can get it done in about an hour. Tonight I think we clocked in a 1:45. Just taking it easy. Because honestly, and just between the two of us, we're a little tired.

Tonight we were hosted by Kendal at Oberlin, and thank you, Kendal! We had a sizable crowd, apparently there are those of a certain age who have been turned off by the promotional materials, not just here but at other retirement communities. This is a good thing, I think, because I'd rather people knew what they were in for.

However, there were a larger than normal number of people who came from the surrounding community to attend the show. You know who I mean. TEENAGERS!!!

Or maybe college students. Fans of Twilight. There was one guy there who raised his hand admitting he'd read the book. I was proud of him.

And the table lives! Life is good. We even got dinner, ordered from a menu! Thanks again, Kendal.

Tomorrow: A high school!

Sunday, March 1, 2020

On the Dark Side of Twilight: Fairview Park Public Library

Ten years ago, Great Lakes Theater produced my first outreach tour "On the Dark Side of Twilight."

Vampire book display!
Monday, March 1, 2010

"This is a very old table."

That is what I said before launching into the second arc. After being attacked, Young Porlock hit the table, as usual, and the same leg that busted yesterday collapsed. The books and everything hit the floor. Lord Darvell did not even deign to look at the destruction. Hang Poor Porlock, bleeding on the divan, he had crushed our beloved table, and there was nothing to be done.

The Narrator brought out the sound case, and put the table onto that. It was too important to simply haul off-stage. There was too much at stake.

Get it? Get it?

The major piece of the table I restored yesterday is still stuck firm, but that leg ... I have reattached it with wood glue and the clamp (which had been relocated for the larger damage and then set aside) and it may see another performance.

The crowd at Fairview was very nice, though strangely low on Twilight fans. I mean, I was really surprised. But the folks there have always been very supportive and the turnout was high.

Margaret led her first post-show discussion tonight, and it was really great. It went into some new places, especially into the sanguine. It is so weird that Bella (in the novel Twilight) describes Edward's breath as smelling sweet. He eats blood, that is his diet. It doesn't matter that it is animal blood. Have you ever been hit in the face? Had dental surgery? Have you ever had am amount of blood sit in your mouth? You know how it tastes? How it smells? Now imagine that is what you eat. Stoker nailed it with his description of Dracula's personal hygiene. Sweet his breath was not.

A woman came up after and asked me about Kent State. She wasn't critical, she just wanted to know why The Interview has references to historical events in the way the other three do not. None of these events are mentioned by name, not specifically. But if it weren't obvious, she was struck by the reference to "13 Seconds." I did not know that was a book, I just knew it was a fact.

Setting up and striking, Emily treated us to the weirdest mix CD I have ever heard. She's big into Wicked, apparently. And Newsies.

An observation: How much did Margaret Hamilton owe her performance as the Wicked Witch to Max Shreck? Hamilton is diminutive, to be sure, I am not sure she was even taller than Judy Garland. And while everything around her is brightly colored (including her own green face) she is dressed all in black, a black which light seems to fall into. So she creates these silhouettes with her joints; her elbows, her shoulders, making shadows against the background, with those long fingers, jutting UP into Dorothy's face.

Well. It's obvious, isn't it?

UPDATE: Margaret Hamilton, at 5' even, was in fact taller than the 4'11" Judy Garland.