so... another tour begins...A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Importance of Being Earnest.
The Importance reading was fun. Peter and Robert basically trying to feel out where this play fits in with what we as a physical theatre company do and what the Americans take on it is in this modern world. It looks like Aquila will get their building in the Dumba region of Brooklyn which overlooks the Hudson and a view of Manhattan. Should be ready to move in to in September 2003. All very exciting. The company has definitely gone forward and has a real feeling of family at the moment and an atmosphere of people who are excited about what they're doing because we are allowed to contribute and be imaginative.
Just spoke to Robert on the phone and it looks like we're doing a modern Importance. I think it could be exciting. Certainly daring. And it means I don't have to a short haircut. Hooray!!
We have just completed our first week. Notice I say "we" immediately. The Aquila set-up is very much geared towards a company feel. I have always wanted to be part of a company. I suppose it is why I went back to drama school at 23 after 10 years of professional acting. There is something comforting about the cocoon and protection the company gives. They become your family and a huge part of your life for that particular time. It has taken me a long time to come to the conclusion that actually they are my roots as well. I am very much "an actor' through and through. I have no hometown, no one place I can say I am from, I have no religion, I am not part of any ethnic group, and I suppose you can say I'm English, but I don't particularly feel like one. My sallow skin certainly doesn't make me look like one. No, it's actors and the world of theatre and 3,000 years of that tradition, of an art form that has no real form until you are in character, and even then is only a brief fragile moment on a stage, that shines bright and quickly fades in a lightening flash. There sometimes remains however some imprint somewhere on someone's memory. At its best you can change and inspire a life. And sometimes the person may not even understand why or how that has happened. It happened to me on my first trip to Stratford in 1968. I went to see a production that changed and inspired a whole generation - Peter Brook's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Now 34 years later I am in New York at the Lincoln Centre rehearsing Bottom in the Aquila production. I never thought I would get to play the clown on stage. But I suppose the theatre Gods decided that I had had enough practice now in life, so may be it's time!
The company we have is small - eight actors. They are split between the young and the not so young... unlike the Tempest though, this time I have some company in my age group. Ken Sabbiton who plays Oberon/ Theseus and Peter Quince spent 9 years at the RSC. Guy Oliver Watts is a close friend and it's great that Aquila liked him and have brought him over, and he is going to be a very interesting Puck. Andrew and Lindsay were Miranda and Ferdinand on the Tempest tour and playing Hermia and Lysander. And then there is Ryan, tall Ben Afleck look-a-like who has just come out, who is playing Demetrius, Renata, also tall and slightly awkward with Geraldine Mcewan vocal mannerisms playing Helena, and Gabriella, Spanish, and strong, a Brazil martial arts expert, playing Titania. All are exceptionally nice people and this bodes well for the long tour ahead.
Robert, our director, is very relaxed and he obviously is very pleased with the cast he has assembled. He has come to work firing on all cylinders, and we have spent the week experimenting with a lot of different physical aspects of the world we want to create. The theme is loosely 'French Impressionism'. But I suppose we are exploring the dream world and trying to work out whose dream it is. I can tell you it all starts off in an art gallery with English, Spanish and French being spoken by the guides; and there are people who have come inside who have escaped from the rain. No set as such, but very intricate lighting design, a lot of chairs and Oberon flies! Since the mechanicals, the lovers and the fairies are being played by the same actors, they are being asked to find why their character would be another character in a different scene. For example, Hermia plays Snout and Moth. There is a link between those characters... a different aspect or dream aspect, a side to their whole character... we just have to find out what it is!!
Anyway there have been a lot of physical games and improvisations as we discover together the world we are attempting to portray. It's like coming to work to a theatre laboratory with Robert as our director and mad professor conducting experiments. All great exciting fun. I haven't got far with Bottom. I played him gay for an afternoon just to get away from the stereotypes that I had seen over the years. It would be fun to play him that way, but I don't think it's for this production. May be not for any! So I haven't discovered that much yet about him, but he seems to be a born actor to me. I have Tom Wilkinson's voice in my head at the moment for some reason. He always leaves with a very dramatic exit line. No accent yet and no comedy really, just trying to find as much of the truth in the man as I can.
We continue with the Dream until Thursday and then start the whole process again with The Importance of Being Earnest. I've had great difficulty with learning lines as the heat in the apartment has been such that I have been falling asleep over the script at about 9.30. Long days, starting at 10 and finishing at 7 and being in rehearsal all the time, contribute to exhaustion.
Just back from the laundry. A curious phenomenon here is that most apartments in the City do not have washing machines. There is either a washing room in the building or people go to the launderette. It is one of the most sociable places to go in the neighborhood.
Heard from my daughter that she got a 'B' overall in her AS exams for drama and theatre studies. For a girl who left school at 12, this is a big event. I am so proud of her. She is now considering which drama school to audition for and has a list of 10. Since each audition costs around 30 quid, her dad is suggesting she cut the list down to four!!! My mouth dropped open when she told me she had bought a collection of Marlowe's plays to read. I still can't believe what has happened to her in one year. She is totally smitten with the bug... and I have a feeling that she could also have the drive, commitment and enough talent to stand a chance in this mad world of ours.
Day off on Sunday. Plan to go to the pub, Nevada Smiths on 12th and 3rd at 9am to watch Liverpool play their first game and then meeting Guy and Ken for brunch and then off to see a film.
The rehearsals continue well, but they are very long tiring days. It is quite difficult rehearsing two plays as a lot of the time that you may be spending on one; you are desperate to retain what you have in the other. Sometimes we switch between the two in the one day - which can be completely surreal. The days go through, as I've said before, from 10 till 7, and especially with the Dream which has a lot of physical work, you come out pretty knackered and by the time you get home, you may be able to do about an hour of work on one of the scripts before falling asleep.
Another drama here for Aquila. Their off-Broadway show Comedy of Errors is transferring to another theatre in Midtown Manhattan this week. One of the cast Mira who plays the sister (can't remember the name) and is being replaced by Cameron, who was in Much Ado with me last summer. She is Peter's(our producer) girlfriend . Lisa who plays the wife (again can't remember the name) is leaving for a week in three weeks to get married and Mira is coming in to replace her for that week. (with me so far?) They heard yesterday that Mark who plays Antipholus has just given his two weeks notice. This is an equity rule that actors can give just two weeks if they have another job or even if they have had enough. Of course, Aquila does not have any understudies, so now they also have to replace one of the leads in the next two weeks. Robert is of course the director and so he has to rehearse Cameron in, Mira in, the new actor in, and find time to rehearse us!!!
We found him in the rehearsal room shaking his head. He looked up at us and said in his best Eyore voice.
"I was just starting to feel happy for once..."
I took myself off to see Private Lives on Friday. A treat to myself; the ticket was horrendously expensive, but sometimes you have to pamper yourself, especially when no one else is there to do it. I left a note with Alan (Rickman) before the show to say I was in and then settled down to a wonderful night's entertainment. I really was impressed by the production and the way the actors made the whole thing so modern and accessible. It was very funny, mainly because the main two characters were obviously in so much pain and looked at the world with such world-weary eyes. It was also useful as far as pointers towards Earnest goes.
Afterwards met Alan in his dressing-room. there was a small gathering of people and Alan immediately announced that for the people interested in a piece of trivia that he had been my dresser. This was back when I was doing East in the musical Tom Brown Schooldays and he was earning money to help him through Rada by dressing on the show. We then had some champagne and Alan raised a glass and toasted the memory of Hugh Crutwell. He was the principle at RADA from '65 to '83, and for those of us RADA alumni who were lucky enough to attend under his reign, he has been a massive influence on our acting and the approach to our craft and theatre. The obituary in the Guardian explains his influence far better than I can do. http://www.guardian.co.uk/obituaries/story/0,3604,782086,00.html . To me, he was a surrogate father-figure who I desperately wanted to please. I'm not sure I ever succeeded in doing that at RADA. I was a very difficult student. But later Hugh recommended me for one of my best jobs playing Allmers in Little Eyolf in for the National Theatre of Norway. The last time I saw him was when he and his wife, Geraldine, came to see me and another RADA actress, Tara Hugo, in a new play Spin at the White Bear in Kennington. He was looking frail, but his mind was as keen as ever. He stayed in the auditorium afterwards and said as we appeared. "Hello... you're not rushing off somewhere, are you?" This was the cue for Tara and I to receive the famous Crutwell verdict, which in this case was very favorable. I feel very lucky to have had that one last moment with him then.
Alan said that Private Lives was actually the last play he saw.
Alan then invited me to join him and friends for dinner. After an initial hesitation as I ended up accompanying him and two rather wonderful awesome New York ladies of a certain age to the stage door. We then had to run the gauntlet of fans and well sishers at the Stage door, and dash for the limo, while Alan stayed behind to sign autographs. The scene was right out of a movie.
The ladies from New York in the back of the car were animated and wonderfully brash.
“God, I love this city”
“How could you leave for Los Angeles?”
“Well darlin' let me tell you, when you have been grabbed by Teamsters and hung over the East river, nine floors up, and threatened to be dropped if you don't employ more Teamsters, then you feel that may be it's time to get the fuck outta here.”
Then to me one of them turned.
“Haven't we met before?”
Her friend gave her a meaningful look.
“No, I mean it. I know it's the type of thing you say to actors and stuff, but I just got the feeling that we've met… may be in London. I get into serious trouble nowadays. I bump into people and they say ‘hello, remember me?' And I tell them I haven't a clue who the hell they are, and then they inform me that we'd been to bed together a few months back or something. Jesus, it can be embarrassing.”
“Well I don't think we went to bed together,” I said smiling as sweetly as I could.
‘No sweetheart, I'm pretty sure that I would have remembered that !”
Cue uproarious laughter.
Alan eventually finished his signings and we set off for the restaurant. One the way I pointed out to everyone the New Victory Theatre on 42 nd Street where we will be performing the Dream next April/May. The restaurant was Josephine's on 42 nd and is owned by one of the daughters of Josephine Baker. It was plush with red velvet curtains and murals depicting Josephine in her glory days. There I was introduced to Alan's brother and his partner, Rima. There followed a wonderful dinner with wine flowing copiously and conversation covering a wide variety of subjects. I sat in between Alan and Rima. I found him very easy and natural. He has just had his teeth done, which Sandy, one of the NY ladies, commented on to him with the biggest stage whisper. Alan repeated the whisper to the whole room to great amusement and Sandy's embarrassment. We talked a lot about the connection of Wilde and Coward. He said he had had no wish to do the play, but was persuaded into doing it. Everyone has commented on the freshness and modernisms of the production – the fact that it doesn't seem dated. He said that the director Howard Davies, he, and Lindsay Duncan approached it like any other play and they could not have done it any other way. Alan said that the more serious the both of them were in rehearsals, the more Howard laughed. This accounts for the depth and pain of the production. Harvey Keitel apparently came backstage and said: “No-one told me that I would be crying at a Noel Coward play!”
When Lindsay and Alan appeared here in NY with Les Liaisons Dangereux, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward threw a party for them at their 5th Avenue apartment overlooking the park. So this time Alan and Lindsay decided they would take them out for dinner. Calls were made between the various secretaries and the powers be. Paul Newman said they would come and see the show, met them backstage, and then they could go on somewhere. But since there would be pandemonium if Paul Newman showed up at the stage door, it was suggested that the Newman's choose a restaurant and Alan and Lindsay would meet them there. Apparently Paul Newman had to ask the Schubert Organization to recommend a restaurant as they never went out to them in New York. Alan said that the Newman's were like young enthusiastic teenagers and utterly delightful.
As were Alan and Rima... delightful company on a special evening.
I have a cold. It has been going round the company, and I thought I had managed to avoid it, but today it struck. So the tenor of my voice will be sniffly and somewhat lower and husky. I will ring though and say hi, when my head clears and my voice returns to some normality.
I have the wedding anniversary on Friday and then of course Sept 11th next week. So I feel slightly off-kilter and a little down... and quite lonely. Thank goodness for the plays. The parts are wonderful gifts and I really do appreciate how lucky I am as an actor. I remember Robert Hands used to say to me we are after the big three: Great Home, Great Work, and A Great Love... and we may get one, or may be even two of those things, but it is very very rare to get all three.
Must now go and steam my head and then bury it into the worlds of Wilde and Shakespeare.
Earnest becoming very off-the-wall and quite surreal. I knew Robert couldn't just do it straight. Some of it is wonderful, but it is rather like a moving Salvador Dali painting in other places. And so bizarre that it's nearly impossible to describe. A brief taster is that Cecily is a little like Ann Heche and believes the world is on the brink of being taken over by aliens. She protects herself with flower circles and speaks and writes in her own alien language at certain points. You see, it sounds even more ridiculous when you write it down, but I promise you it works in weird way. I think I'm the only person really who is ordinary. Lady Bracknell is part of the mafia for instance!!! Anyway I won't go on, as it might all change tomorrow.
I am an acorn in the ground,
Out spread my roots without a sound,
Day after day, branches appear,
And I grow taller every year. (Me at 7 years old)
Lori spending her wedding anniversary having her tooth drained in preparation for root canal. I'm sure there's something to be said there... but I can't think what!
It is not growing like a tree
In bulk, doth make men better be;
Or standing long an oak, three hundred year,
To fall a log at last, dry, bald, and sere:
A lily of a day
Is fairer far in May
Although it fall and die that night;
It was the plant and flower of light.
In small proportions we just beauties see;
And in short measures life may perfect be.
Ben Jonson (1573-1637)