Friday, April 27, 2012

The Play is the Thing

At some point over the years in this field I picked up a list of the most stressful events a human can go through as determined by some high-up researchers.  The thing that always struck me about the list was that positive events such as getting married ranked just as high as negative events like getting divorced.  Thus you might find yourself having a new baby- generally considered to be a blessing- and feeling more stressed out than you’ve ever been.  What we know about stress is that it leads to a variety of physical and mental health problems and what this list taught us is that regardless of the cause the outcomes tend to look the same.

This is a lesson I’ve been reminded of (or rather beaten over the head with) over the past couple of weeks.  A variety of really positive events- Buddy’s graduation from training class, the premier of the play, a work conference which would have been enjoyable under normal circumstances- have all collided to turn me into a zombie.  Like I said, these are all positive events but the stress level is high enough to lead to the same consequences as if they were negative: I’m perpetually exhausted.  I’m getting migraines way more frequently than normal.  By the time I get home every night my brain has deteriorated into the consistency of apple sauce and I’m mentally incapable of doing the things I’d like to be able to do- like reading the book I planned to finish by the end of this month or writing here. 

I’ve actually tried a couple of times over the past week to sit down and write something- about the play, about Buddy, or even to try and coherently sort through the mesh of story ideas in my head to write a new fiction piece.  And every time I’ve found myself staring at the screen, drifting out of alertness and then getting confused as to what I was supposed to be doing.  It’s like falling asleep- you lose time and then you’re confused when you wake up.

So even though I have a million things I want to say I may have to wait until everything has calmed down so I can formulate my thoughts into a narrative that will lead to something above the rambling, disjointed mess that’s currently swirling around my head.  In the mean time, suffice it to say that fun times are happening.  The play is the thing.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Put on Your Sunday Clothes

Last night at rehearsal my co-stars were trying on their dresses.  We premiere in only a scant two weeks and the technical costume details like shoes and gloves and costume changes are being considered.  One of the dresses struck me as being terribly at home in a production of Hello, Dolly when everyone starts singing about their Sunday clothes and I couldn't help but observe this out loud.  As if one cue we all started singing the tune and laughing.

Then I looked at my friend in her pretty yellow dress with a wide skirt and frills around the shoulders, laughing over how she needed a parasol to complete the outfit, and her face changed.  I realized immediately what had happened, and I said it:

“You’re gonna have that stuck in your head all night now.”  Her smile sank because she knew I was right, the chorus was already cycling through her mind.

Throughout the rest of the evening as we meandered around the lobby looking over lines or rummaging through the box of gloves I’d hear the first few words of the song sung quietly followed by a loud, abrupt “Dammit!”

I'd laugh and then step over to say "You're welcome!" with a giant grin on my face.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Wicked: First Thoughts

It’s safe to say that when I decided to pick up Gregory Maguire’s Wicked because I thought it would be a fun read I had no bloody idea what I was getting into.  For those of you who are fans of the series, please forgive me for being so awestruck by all this.  For those of you who don’t know much about it, let me fill you in on what I’m learning: Wicked is actually the first in a series of four books referred to as “The Wicked Years” which follow the characters of Oz through all sorts of political and social upheavals. 

Each one follows a different character and is therefore told from a different point of view.  Wicked follows Elphaba, Son of a Witch follows her son, Liir, A Lion Among Men follows the famous lion from Dorothy’s group, Brrr and Out of Oz follows Liir’s daughter (Elphaba's granddaughter), Rain.  Wikipedia informed me that although Maguire originally wrote Wicked to be a stand-alone story he got mobbed by fans asking for more due to the success of the musical adaptation and wrote the other three to finish a longer story arc.

I discovered this fandom by accident when I went looking for the definition to a word I didn’t recognize (I’ll get into that in a second) and stumbled upon a Gregory Maguire discussion board with way more topics than I, only a few pages in, realized there were to discuss.  I picked up the book because I saw the musical a few years back, adored it, and was told by a few fellow fan that the book was even better (isn’t it always?).  I had no idea that I was entering the realm of rabid fans who trace their love affair back to the creation of Oz by L. Frank Baum and went on to worship Maguire for taking the land to the next level.

Assuming that I love this book as much I suspect I will I’m going to leave more in depth discussions about the series for a time later on when I’ve actually read the whole series.  For now, I am only qualified to comment on what I’ve observed to this point.

1)      Language- It seems like I’m always talking about this nowadays.  I guess that my brain is just way more fascinated by style and syntax than I give it credit for.  At any rate, what strikes me most about Maguire’s writing at this point is the humor and the sensual nature of the descriptors he uses.  The humor: “Nanny lapsed into a bout of indigestion for which they were all very sorry, olfactorily speaking.”  The sensual: “Spring tipped in like green well water, frothing at the hedges, bubbling at the roadside, splashing from the cottage roof in garlands of ivy and stringflower.”  I’ve already highlighted over a dozen sentences because they were so beautifully described or because they made me laugh out loud.  He’s also (like all great authors) teaching me words previously unknown to me like extemporize and effluvia and brand new ones that he made up like maunt (a religious, nun-like woman).  I don't know why I get such a kick out an author creating his own words.  I just do.
2)      Characters- Maguire has that seemingly magical power to write characters very clearly through their mannerisms, habits, thoughts and phrases.  Every one in here (even the random townspeople) have something about them that makes them feel real; like people you’d see on the street.  Especially the speech patterns which seem to illustrate them most clearly because you don’t have to go into much detail to get a clear vision.  Like the fishwife rhyming like the Munchins we know from the original story, Nanny always talking about herself in the third person, the Quadling sounding very Yoda-like by switching around sentence elements as in “How can a Quadling to answer such a charge if a Quadling is given always to lie?”  Everyone has a distinct voice whether they’re in it for a page or for the whole story.
3)      The Land of Oz- I noticed this first in the musical when I saw it so many years ago: the discrimination against the animals, the different economic statuses creating entitled or disenfranchised social standings, the overt racism and bigotry exhibited by certain characters when discussing those from different lands.  Although the land itself owes it’s creation to L. Frank Baum, Maguire makes the people a lot more real and concrete.  There are different religions fighting one another on what is morally right or wrong, philosophical debates around the dinner table on the nature of life, crime and political corruption surrounding distribution of wealth and services and all the other things one might see on the nightly news.  Except that this all takes places in the very fleshed-out land of Oz where people live very different lifestyles depending on the natural resources available to them.  He examines the politics of a large oligarchy, the linguistics and races and trades of these peoples and everything in between.  As I said, the world in which Maguire sets this tale was created by L. Frank Baum and I give full credit where credit is due on this.  But Maguire’s tale has always been known as an adult version of the world where the fairy tales are turned over and the dark underbelly is shown.  Right now I can tell I’m just scratching the surface and there’s already so much to consider.

All in all, I am loving this book so far and I have a sinking suspicion that it will be the beginning of a long-standing love affair with all of Maguire’s writings.  I will have much more to say as I read on, so stay tuned.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Cadence and Hoop Skirts

I am delighted to report that the play is really starting to blossom.  We’re off book now so there’s no more heads down in scripts and we can play off of each other in a much more organic way.  There’s facial expressions and emotional inflection where there wasn’t before.  We’re moving past the point of delivering lines and actually interacting with each other and it’s adding so many layers to the scenes that it’s making me giddy.  I walk off stage now seething over the nerve of the character I converse with and it takes me a second to step back out of my enraged character.  I can’t tell you how fun that is.

We’re also starting to get a feel for the concrete details of the set.  The play is set in 1850 so all of us ladies walk around in these giant hoop skirts and it becomes a gymnastic enterprise to negotiate the tight spaces backstage or fit two of us on the couch at the same time.  And sitting down so that the hoops don’t pop up in your face takes some practice.  It’s definitely not the norm for my life and I’m enjoying it immensely.

Plus we’re starting to get props in place so timing becomes more important and blocking makes more sense in a concrete way.  When I came in tonight there were framed pictures, ceramic lanterns and other decorations scattered about and a silver haired woman was sorting through everything with the director to pick out what we’ll use.  I’m not lifting up air when I comment on that picture, the girl who plays the maid is bringing in lamps and trays, there’s a real cord to pull for the bell. 

I wrote my bio for the program and a delightfully flighty woman took our photos for the press release as we ran our scenes this evening.  There are little postcards with the play dates and cast list to hand out to friends and family.  Our show premier is on the calendar for only a few short weeks away and I see it every time I write a reminder down on my phone.  I’m starting to train my eyes to wander over the empty seats as if there were people looking back at me when I perform.  Soon enough the director will be sitting in the back row telling us “louder!” because he can’t hear us.  We’re getting the action of the scene down and starting to tweak the performance for an audience.

The magic of theater that people talk about as if it were an addictive nectar is starting to come out for real and I can’t help but be a little awe struck.  Having been out of the loop for so long I’d forgotten how exhilarating the whole thing can be.  But I’m remembering why I loved all this so much.

My task now is to try to soak up every wonderful minute of this and not lose it in the momentum as we speed toward opening night.  To remember that the flubbed lines and missed cues are just as delicious as the perfect delivery in front of a live audience.  To squeeze every ounce of joy I can get out of it.  Easier said than done, of course.  But I think I’m doing ok at the moment.