Cast in Night and Day by Tom Stoppard for the Wilma Theater, Philadelphia, I endeavoured to keep an online blog of my time there.
Saturday, August 21, 2004
I'm packed and ready to go. Life on the move again. At least this time I managed to stay in one place for a few months. This will be my first professional experience of a theatre company outside of Aquila and I will be working with a real all-American company for the very first time, as Aquila is predominantly British-based. After being involved with the Classics for the last three years, a modern play is very attractive at the moment. I am working for the Wilma Theatre, playing Wagner in Night and Day written by Tom Stoppard in 1978. It may not be one of his well known plays but it's certainly one of the more accessible. I am playing a rough hard-bitten Australian war reporter, a part originally created by the English actor John Thaw. My friend Jay Painter is driving me down tomorrow morning from Brooklyn in a car that will be filled to the brim with my wordy and worldly goods. All I know is that the apartment is in the city centre and that I report for work on Tuesday. It will be strange to be on my own again as I don't know anyone. Exciting. I think. I hope. As W.C Fields said:
"On the whole I'd rather be in Philadelphia."
Jay had a hard night with a gig in the city for Red Bull, so is not picking me up til noon. All is fine though. I rang Jessica, my new company manager, who rather sleepily said that it would be no problem and that she would meet me around 3.30 in Philly. I am now sitting here surrounded by bags and boxes and wondering if it's all going to fit in Jay's car. Moving is one of the most stressful things you can do, so they say. I move every few months it seems.
I had a great night out with chums from Aquila last night at Rose's Turn. It's a bar which is a bit of a legend in the city. A piano player plays and sings Broadway tunes, with the staff singing the harmonies from behind the bar. All seemed to be Broadway musical performers who are in between jobs, or rehearsing new shows. At around 11pm the place started to fill up with performers from current productions and various talents got up to do a turn. All very camp and joyous, with just the hint that everyone was a little hard-bitten around the edges but were - as the song says - "still here".
I think may be I should go and eat something before Jay arrives. It's a beautiful day to be traveling, no humidity, 80 degrees, blue sky and a late summer sun... and Debussy playing in the background. Who could ask for more?
Sunday, August 22, 2004
Yes...Jay was late.
He had a late gig in the city and, as it turned out, other pressures on his time.
But it meant we didn't get on the road until one o'clock.
It was a perfect late summer day.
There was no humidity. The sun was Autumnal and the sky a brilliant blue. The traffic was bad on the way, so we didn't hit Philly until 5pm, crossing over the Delaware from New Jersey and then diving straight into the Old City part of town.
I live on 12th Street, which has old buildings. When I say "old", I mean of course old by American standards. Mid 18th Century I would say with some of the side streets still having the old cobbled stone roads for the horse and cart.
When I first walked into the apartment I have to admit I was disappointed.
It is on the ground floor overlooking the street. It's not a little side street that I had got used to in Brooklyn. I asked if there were any apartments on other floors, but Jessica, the company manager said that they were all going to be used by other actors.
I nearly said '... but don't you realize who I am?!'
As for the apartment itself, it was small compared to Greenpoint and the joy of my summer digs. A studio with an ugly color scheme - a sickly green, highlighted by a darker pea green. The furniture was wooden 'stuff' and there was too much of it. It was arranged, or rather not arranged, at random, in no shape or form. There was an air conditioner (good) and a ceiling fan (even better), but when I stripped back the duvet from the bed it was obvious that the sheets had not been cleaned as they were rumpled. An old black biro was lying on top of them and there were prominent suspect stains on the sheets. The kitchen was fine, but dark, and the bathroom was small with a half shower -half foot- bath kind of thing. As I showed Jay the stained sheets, a creepy crawly - a beetle kind of something - ambled across the bed. Jay was sympathetic and I remembered a tee-shirt which he always wore in warm-ups in Othello which bore the legend "Gotta have a good attitude".
"That's what I need now, Jay."
"I know my friend, but I have to say that is bad." And then he roared with laughter.
"Yes, no platitudes about good attitudes, please."
After thanking Jay for his help and saying goodbye, I came inside the apartment which with all my worldly goods now cluttered around the already cluttered rooms looked uninspiring. I sat down and felt an old familiar feeling coming to the surface.
In 1972 I went to Oxford at Christmas to be in my first pantomime. I was young and I felt utterly lost. A familiar feeling which I experienced first when I went to boarding school at seven years old.
Here it was again. A new city and new people and the familiar feeling of displacement when something seems a little intimidating. In this case it was soiled sheets, scattered furniture and a color scheme that wouldn't have looked out of place on the pavement of a curry house in Salford on a Friday night. I was tired and out of sorts. It had been a long day.
I thought back to my grandmother Ruthy and all the moves she had in her life and heard her say in my head - "Come on, just get on with it. At least it's free." And then she laughed that laugh she had... and I felt better. I spent the first three quarters of an hour deciding where the furniture should go. The sofa once repositioned didn't appear so bad at all and was comfortable, the chest of drawers was put under the window with a jar of white roses on top, and a dirty colored armchair was transformed with a cream colored throwover. As I unpacked my things the room was gradually changing for the better. I was enjoying myself so much with a fussing and rearranging the rooms that I wondered if my Governor in New Jersey hadn't had an impact on my psyche . Eventually with all the books out, the bed with clean sheets, and the old soiled sheets dumped ceremoniously in the hall and with the small Buddha statue and all the family photographs - as Ruthy used to have on her piano - all grouped together on the TV stand which now served as book shelf, come - picture show, come -meditation table. The prize possession is a lock of Sam's hair in a small glass box and a picture she gave me of herself as a toddler. It was an emotional goodbye present for me when I first came over here in 2001. And although sentimental, I knew she meant it.
Eventually, after three and a half hours, the candles flickered, the incense burned and the room was complete and was now my own. I went to a South American restaurant nearby for dinner and had a Margarita to celebrate. Gazing out onto the old street with the brick buildings and the tree lined pavements, I relaxed.
Back home I had a shower and lay back on the sofa. Everything was okay. The room looked fine. All was well.
Yes.. On the whole... I'd rather be in Philadelphia.
Monday, August 23, 2004
Thought and Action
Waking up in Philadelphia and the noise from the street was nonexistent. I slept better than I have for ages. Mind you, after the trauma of yesterday's move, a deep sleep was much needed and perhaps inevitable. The room looked cozy and homely. I silently congratulated myself on the artistic rearrangements of the previous 24 hours and set about attacking the day.
Correspondence always is first on the to do list. Check the emails, look at the news, write to friends and family and - a new addition - if needed... write in the blog.
Next- laundry. A closer inspection of the Wilma folder full of helpful recommendations on local services, revealed there were facilities in our own building - in the basement. I'm not good with basements. Too many nights of watching old films where always something nasty happens - and always it seemed in the basement. However I braved it and after discovering that the dryer could only dry on the hottest setting, the clothes, and sheets were cleaned and dried.
Next - shopping. I needed to stock up my fridge. I found a local Wholefoods market and following my brother's advice I was determined to try and eat a little more healthily. Health foods though... are SO... expensive. But then I thought that if I gave up the Coke's which are say $1.50 a go, that would pay in no time for a few rice cakes. So I had a happy time wandering around the huge store peering at the back of labels and loading my basket. By the end I had Grapefruits, bananas, tofu, salad, tuna, olive oil, Rye crackers, cheese, soy milk and something called spirulina - a dietary supplement, that my brother put me on to, and which has all kinds of goodies in it.
Next - a look at the script. I haven't learnt it. I have started and usually I do, but all year I have been learning lines under pressure, and in about ten days on average for a whole play. This time I have decided to wait until we start rehearsals before I learn the bulk of it. It's the way most actors like to work. I'm not bothered. It depends on the part. Prospero I knew had to be well prepared and I came in virtually with lines down and the performance ready. This one presents a lesser challenge. the part is a big one, but a lot depends on interacting with the other characters. So I experimented with the accent - he's an Australian - and did, what I call shadow boxing. At the beginning of a play's rehearsal process, I never like to get too close to the character I play. I want to dance around him, poke him around, try a few things out, smell him - you know, shadow box.
Next - gym.
I belong to the New York Sports Club which has branches in Philly. On the way I passed the Wilma theatre. It looks bright and fun and is strategically placed opposite the recently built huge performing arts centre. Lots of lawyers and judges in the gym. Interesting conversation in the locker room over ethics versus money.
Next - explore. Philly is an interesting city architecturally. It has the air of the 1930s. It's the type of city that you would have seen in the old movies. The buildings are older than New York on the whole. Large 1930's skyscrapers dwarfing the much older 17th/18th century brick building. Crisscrossing our area are cobblestone long alleys which give the place a Manchester, England feel.
I bought some glasses as I find I am having to look at the script further away than I would like. They're not prescription glasses but magnifiers, but they look cool and they certainly do the trick. Coming back down our street I stopped off at the local coffee shop and took an iced tea to one of the outdoor tables. I look around at the other people there and suddenly noticed that they were mostly men and of a colorful demeanor and dubious sexuality. Looking next door I could see the 12th Street Gym and next to that a tanning salon. I was on a gay beach. So pretty good for the clientele then - workout, top up the tan, and then pose outside the café.
A man passed with two small dogs and proceeded to show a feminine man in short shorts, tricks he had taught his dogs. The feminine man sat on the sidewalk to get a closer look as the dogs rolled, danced and played dead.
"No such thing as a bad dog," the butcher man said, his tanned muscles gleaming in the afternoon sun. " You can train a dog to do anything, but you need to do it when they're babies and you need patience, but they'll learn. Yes, sir, no such thing as a bad dog, just like there's no such thing as a bad human being. Someone makes them that way - that's all. Know what I'm saying?"
Walking further up the street I joined my local video store. It was small outfit, but for a $10 fee I could take three DVDs out for free. Blockbusters won't have unless I can produce a green card or a driving license.
"We have an upstairs too." said the helpful lady in pink behind the counter.
I looked around the shop at the customers. I knew what the adult titles would be.
" I don't think I want to be an adult. I think I'll stick downstairs."
Saw a sticker in the gay bookshop on the corner. "Lick Bush and Dick in 2004."
I had a meal of tofu in a pasta sauce on brown rice with loads of water and then settled down to watch the Human Stain. "Action is the enemy of thought" was a good line.
I enjoyed it. I seem to remember it didn't get great reviews, but it's from a well known book and as my daughter said about the last Harry Potter film -
"The book is so much better. Sometimes they just don't get it."
But then I can watch Hopkins all day. He's my big - um - er ... hero.
So the call is 10am tomorrow. The other actors have arrived and are in the house, but I haven't met them yet.
I can feel the creative nerve endings tingling.
A kind of sensory detective is starting to flex its muscles.
An actor in search of a character - a deeply strange psychological journey - part craft, part instinct and mostly mystical inspiration.
Action is the enemy of thought.
Thought of action is the enemy.
Enemy of action is the thought... zzzzzzzz.
Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving wordy evidence of the fact.(George Eliot)
Tuesday, August 24, 2004
A first day is always a first day.
First day of school, first day of a job.
As you get older and more experienced, they become easier, but not as easy as you thought they would be.
Of course I'm making a statement here and assuming that everyone feels the same way.
Assumptions are most dangerous on a first day.
May be everyone is different.
May be, for other people, things become so incredibly easy and natural that the day is just like any other.
Somehow I doubt it.
The best way is not to assume anything and go with the flow, be fluid and open to all new experiences and all new people.
This was a first of another kind for me. My first real job with an all-American Theatre company. This was an American company with their own theatre based in one of the major cities. (for any Aquilans looking in, this is not to say it's better, just different.) I was out there at last, where I had wanted to explore, American actors in an American company with totally American artists and creative team in an American theatre.
The timing of the first entrance is the most important I have found.
Too early... and you're on your own and having to meet a lot of people all at once.
Too late... and you risk, first of all, being at a disadvantage as you haven't had time to check out the people and the room. And, secondly, being anxious and too flustered by the time you arrive because... you're... well... too late.
The only way to combat this problem is split second timing.
It means walking to the theatre and then walking a few blocks away, carefully marking the distance and time it takes you to travel.
Have a wander around the shops, have a coffee, do anything that relaxes you and keep the nerves at bay. No more those happy days of reaching for an early cigarette for me.
Then comes the moment when you know you have to go to reach your goal.
There's no way out and you summon up your courage, say to yourself - I have done this many many times, I am a professional actor. God... Buddha.. the universe... Christ... my grandmother... who cares? ... but someone is watching me,
What's the big fucking deal?
Take a deep breath, screw your courage to the sticking point...
Put one foot in front of the other..
...into the unknown.
I can remember the first day at boarding school. I can remember my first day at sea scouts. At Rada. And all the productions I have ever been in since six years old and my father reprimanded on the first day for not bringing a pencil. And the feeling never changes.
I am always apprehensive.
I am always nervous.
And always the experience is chock full of excitement and surprise with the newness of it all. A new mountain range to explore where the air is crisp and thin and the atmosphere light and heady.
On top of the world Ma!
I press the buzzer of the stage door.
We need a bigger boat!
Opening the door.
It's show-time folks!
Turning towards the rehearsal room.
Action is the enemy of thought.
I see people and they turn...
My grandmother Ruthy was a pianist. She was classically trained, but most of her life were spent playing in hotels and fancy cabaret clubs in London for the rich and famous, but mostly to people who were happy with fine food and drink and wanted happy tunes. At home she would gather musical chums together for a classical evening, playing Mozart, Beethoven together. She was the only person in my family who I could talk to about performing. She understood, it seemed to me, exactly what it took to go out on stage. When I was understudying Harvey Fierstien in the London production of Torch Song Trilogy and going on for his matinees, I was crippled with nerves. My first matinee performance loomed. I knew the part backwards and indeed had created a lot of new business and made it my own as the first play is mostly monologues, but... I was petrified. I traveled down to the coast to visit Ruthy. As we walked along the promenade overlooking the sea, I asked how she prepared for her performances. She smiled, her eyes shining.
"Oh it's easy. I say, I've done all I can, now it's over to you, God. "
Or as Luisa says in Y Tu Mama Tambien...
"Life is like the sea, so give yourself over to the surf."
A first day is also incredible tiring. So I will stop here. More soon.
Tuesday, August 31, 2004
Cats do not go to Heaven Cats do not go to heaven...
n.1. The fictitious feminine persona of William Shakespeare.
2. A theater company that combines the boldness of a space explorer with the precision of a master craftsman.
In A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf imagines Shakespeare's sister Judith, as brilliant as her brother but beaten into silence - both literally and figuratively - by the age she lives in. To explain how the lives of two siblings could so dramatically diverge, Woolf recalls a bishop who explained to an inquiring parishioner that, just as cats don't go to heaven, so cannot any woman possess the talent of Shakespeare: "How much thinking those old gentlemen used to save one! How the borders of ignorance shrank back at their approach! Cats do not go to heaven. Women cannot write the plays of Shakespeare." It was simply a given.The Wilma Theater inherited its name from the original Wilma Project, which began in 1973 as a feminist collective. They chose to name their theater after an invented sister of Shakespeare, but not after Woolf's Judith. The founders created the fantastical Wilma, a talented sister with a room of her own, the means and freedom to express herself. When Blanka and Jiri Zizka took over The Wilma Project, they did not abandon its namesake. The Zizkas' Wilma does not take the status quo as a given. Instead, it constantly strives for new ways of expression and revelation, social relevance and impact.
So begins the introduction to the Wilma Theater.
Dateline- Philadelphia -First day.
Three of them.
I had arrived too early it seemed, although there was only five minutes to go. However, the room soon filled up with the other actors. We sat around eight tables. Surreptitious glances. Assessments made on the faces, but knowing that one could be well wide of the mark. The first hour was taken up with paperwork... and then Jiri, our director, entered. He was followed by what seemed to be most of the staff of the theatre. And there were a lot of them. After Aquila, it's amazing to see how many people are involved in the nuts and bolt of a theatre company with its own theatre. Aquila usually has one man being in charge of numerous different jobs. Here it was definitely one man for one job and no fuzzy areas in between.
In 1979, Blanka and Jiri Zizka, natives of Czechoslovakia, forged a creative relationship with the Wilma as artists-in-residence, and gained acclaim for their bold, innovative productions. With a dynamic, physical production style and original music accompaniment, the Zizka's original adaptation of George Orwell's ANIMAL FARM focused a new spotlight of attention on the Wilma. The Zizkas assumed artistic leadership of the organization in 1981, and moved the Wilma to a 100-seat theater on Sansom Street. Within five years, the Wilma's audience had grown dramatically and the Theater was operating at nearly 100% capacity. A decision was made to expand the theater to a new 296-seat home; and in 1989, a location was identified at the corner of Broad and Spruce Streets.
We then sat down to read through the play, but not before we had been given a folder bulging with every conceivable bit of background information and research you might ever want. To back that up, stacked high in the corner was a pile of library books on war correspondents, African history and the British Press. Usually I take myself off to the library for a couple of days, but here all the work had been done for me. The readthrough was accompanied by laughter and smiles of appreciation, as much I guessed to put us at ease as to release any tension that might have been in the air. At the end there was a ripple of applause. Our director is calm, steady and with a gentle attention to detail which I imagine hides a more steely character. We find out later that he came to Philly on a two day visit, stayed to join and then help establish the Wilma as one of the major theatre companies in the city and on the East Coast, and guiding them with Blanka, his fellow artistic director, into a new building.
The project of constructing a new Wilma Theater entailed much planning and fundraising. Although the overall process, Jiri says, was like "crawling through the Sahara on our hands and knees without water and losing all our fingernails to do it," the moments of success were particularly sweet. The overwhelming support of the Board of Directors, who personally pledged one million dollars in a single evening at the launch of the Capital Campaign, was one such moment; the festive groundbreaking ceremony when construction began was another.
During the Zizkas' tenure, The Wilma Theater has established a national reputation for provocative work ranging from the international drama of Bertolt Brecht, Athol Fugard, Eugene Ionesco, Joe Orton and Tom Stoppard to new American plays by Tina Howe, Romulus Linney, Quincy Long, Doug Wright, Amy Freed and many others, as well as premiering Jiri Zizka's original adaptations of classic novels. In 1995, Blanka Zizka's Barrymore Award-winning production of Jim Cartwright's ROAD was presented at the International Theater Festival in the Czech Republic, the first American company to be invited. CBS News called the Wilma "one playhouse that has emerged from the shadow of the Great White Way to make history on its own."
At the end of the week Jiri revealed that he had been mugged three times, once at gunpoint. This was in West Philly and not in the area we are currently living in. Thank Goodness!
We found out that we would be rehearsing in the afternoon and evenings from the middle of the second week. This is because the set is built on stage in the first week and a half. We then move onto the stage to rehearse - actually on the set! That's three weeks before we have a performance. An amazing luxury.
My agent announced that she was leaving New York this week and working from the country. She said she saw no reason to be around the republican madness. New Yorkers, on the whole, are not best pleased that the Republican convention has come to town at Madison Square Gardens. There was a huge exodus at the weekend, but also an influx of protestors from all over the country.
Meanwhile in Iraq from the troubled city of Najaf, which had been besieged for months and recently liberated (if that's the word), I received an email from Luke Harding, the Guardian newspaper's correspondent. ( A UK national paper for those who might not know) He was replying to an earlier email of mine which cheekily asked for some background help. Considering where he is, I never realistically expected an answer, so I was thrilled when he wrote back.
Dear Richard, Thanks for your email. Apologies for not replying sooner:I've just emerged from a hellish week in Najaf. I'd be happy to help. Drop me a note with any questions you have. One quick point: most correspondents I know who report wars have an almost mythic belief in their own invulnerability - even though people are dying all around, they assume it won't happen to them...plus many, but not all, have dysfunctional privatelives..best wishes, Luke Harding
Correspondents, then, sound a little like actors, except that every actor I know has trouble getting past his vulnerability. From what I read, we, like war correspondents, are also addicted to the danger and the adrenalin rush that our jobs give us. I suppose one should include the traveling as well.
Night and Day is one of Stoppard's more naturalistic plays, and after the pyrotechnics of Jumpers and Travesties, a lot of the critics were disappointed. However the arguments are interesting. He wrote it pre-Thatcher and the eighties and one of the main arguments is the closed shop and the power of unions versus the freedom of a free market. The debate is obviously loaded in favor of the free market and my character is somewhat steamrollered by the young idealistic reporter. It still is an intelligent piece and is one of Stoppard's first great roles for a woman. Diana Rigg and then Maggie smith on Broadway both played Ruth. I actually saw it in the West End. Not his greatest certainly, but better that most and an interesting play on freedom, both personally and politically.
Playing an Australian and an aggressively male character is a welcome change. Although Peachey in The Man Who Would Be King was very macho, the difference here is that there is a degree of intelligence, that is different from the animal cunning of Peachey and a chance to act opposite a woman who is smarter than the character I play. Carla, who plays Ruth, has the emphasis practically spot on and is very similar to Vicky Hamilton in her energy. A dangerously attractive sensuality. I am enjoying working with experienced actors. All their English accents are very very good. I try and put myself in their position and wonder what they would think of my American accent. I suppose I wasn't so concerned when I played an American in the UK and may be it would be harder for them if they were over there. I think that all in all we are all becoming masters of getting each others accents. There was a time when Americans and British actors were utterly hopeless at copying each other.
James, the youngest actor in our company, who plays the idealistic reporter, did a film with Harrison Ford. He went drinking with Harrison once night and they got rip-roaring drunk. Harrison leaned over and looked him in the eye.
"Kid, let me tell you something," he drawled, "All we do in the movie business is make funny faces. That's all we do."
James told us this story in a local bar called Dirty Franks, remarkable for the fact that it is frequented by Bikers and intelligentsia It was strange to be in bar that allowed smoking. I was struggling after about an hour, my eyes stinging. I was upset at the no-smoking law in Manhattan when it was introduced. I thought the city had been through a lot and if people wanted to smoke to calm their nerves, then they should be allowed to do so. Now, I have to say, I really appreciate being able to walk into any public space without having to breathe in cigarette smoke. We all told a few personal stories that night. It broke the ice and bonded the company. Although Carla, after a weekend of reflection, thought she might have revealed too much.
The set is already up! The theatre has three hundred seats which rise upwards from stage level. It has an intimate atmosphere, but also the feeling of a larger theatre. The acoustics seem pin sharp. I am already looking forward to being up there.
I still await the green card. I'm hoping it will come in the mail rather than having to go for an interview. It's over two years late.
The pace of rehearsals is so relaxed. I have plenty of time off too. It's a joy not to be called into rehearse every single moment of the day. The area of Philly that we're in is one of the oldest parts of the city. The beautiful houses date back to the 1750s. Small coffee houses abound. I spend hours with the script or some of the background literature soaking it in. My local gay coffee bar has free wireless internet access. I sit at my computer with the lesbians, the gays and bisexuals chatting gaily away, and feel I should admit that I am not one of their kind. It seems such a fun club to belong to, that sometime I wish I was.
The weather has been glorious. I stretch out like a cat and soak it up. Sunshine and not too humid. The dog days of summer giving over to the promise of the golden autumnal wine. After the frenetic energy of recent shows, it is strange and rather pleasing to approach a performance from an inner core of calm inquisitiveness that starts from Jiri himself. I feel myself having to hold back from learning the lines and making too many choices early on.
This time, for once, there is... no.... rush. I have died and gone to heaven...
...although cats do not go to heaven.
Tuesday, September 07, 2004
Last night I dreamed of Cheshire
I am fighting a chest infection. It's annoying more than debilitating. It affects my breathing, but I push myself to go to the gym as I believe that sitting around just exacerbates the problem. I have been healthy for most of the years, so I'm not complaining.
Deep into rehearsals now. Being on stage is a luxury. I am trying to pace myself as I have been usually under pressure for the last year to produce the performance in ten days flat. We have a week of technical rehearsals - for Heaven's Sake.
I walked around the Philly Shopping Mall yesterday. Shopping Malls the world over are pretty much the same and one of the most soul destroying places ever dreamed up. The place was full of couples and families enjoying their Labor Day by shouting at one another for most of the time - or so it seemed to me in my illness-fevered state of mind.
I'm already thinking of the next job - which is fatal. I need to find somewhere to live in New York for November. Always moving... Meanwhile the Republicans have left town and the city can start to get back to normal. I realize that I have never spent a Winter in Manhattan. I have usually been on tour. I wonder if I will this year.
Our play is set in Africa in a fictitious country and below is part of a letter written by mother who grew up in Kenya.
That was a super letter about Philly and the flat - I think the apartment looks great now. Are those your rugs on the floor? You have captured it you see. You are like Mum in that you make anywhere you hang your hat your home.
When we first went to Africa and I was at boarding school (aged 7 - up in the Uzumbara Mountains in Tanganyika) my parents lived in Moshi which is a few miles from the foothills of Kilimanjaro - we used to sit on our verandah having breakfast (avocado pears from the avocado pear tree where I had a swing!!) and there were humming birds with long tails - scared me to death - but anyway, every time I came home from my hols we were in a different house. They were for the most part like army huts, with corrugated iron roofs..servants' quarters at the back. Must of the furniture, what there was, was inherited from the people who had been there before - but we had the bookcases which I have in my sitting room at Winkle cottage and the mirror and Mum's Steinway (at that time) - the chests of drawers were usually cabin trunks that Mum made covers for and stuck mirrors on...Otherwise raffia type furniture...the floors were usually marble cos of the ants...and so we went on!!! but she made it look good...and there we had a Head Boy, a House boy a Peshi (cook), a Dhobi (person who did the washing), a Shamba Boy (gardener) and in the hols there was an Ayah for me (to my great disgust) - and all the time a Masai Warrior to guard the place - dad got £7 a week and worked for the government in the Vetenary department (hides and skins)...he could not afford a car but rode a motor bike and when he came home from work he would give me a ride on it. When we went to play with other children, we would ride our bikes and the house boy would run along beside us until we got to where we were going...otherwise they came to us. On Fridays the Cuckoo Man came to the house - this was a peddler of chickens...he had them live strapped by their feet to his bike - flapping...and sold them to the peshi who then took great delight in cutting the head off the one we were to have for lunch/dinner and we would watch the body and feet run up the nearest tree...once Chris chased me with the head after the peshi and showed him how to saw the head off! At least I was not subjected to this at boarding school. There was no air conditioning and I usually had malaria for most of the holidays anyway. School was better health-wise cos it was cooler. God, I hated Africa. I was only a little girl, but I thought I would die there. I loved England and hated Africa the minute I landed in 1946...I just wanted to be back in Cheshire. I think it did something to me about traveling - I never wanted to go abroad again.
So no trip out here for my mother. She always is convinced that every time I go on an airplane, it will be my last trip, and she always makes me phone her - just in case "you go down in flames". Who needs meditation when my mother is around to calm the nerves?
Tuesday, September 14, 2004
Appealing Against the Thunderstorm
September 11th came round again. For some reason I found that I was more affected this year. Why is that? Is it delayed shock? Does it take some time for the full horror to make it's way into the bloodstream? Or is it the daily dose of bad news that is coming out of Iraq? So many people are being killed now on all sides. Is it just despair knowing that this war will not solve the problem or salve the memory of the images of that horrendous day?
Today I read about another reporter's death.
At least 13 people were killed and about 60 others were wounded by US helicopter fire as they milled around the burning wreckage of an American armored vehicle that had been ambushed by insurgents early in the morning. News footage showed a few dozen curious Iraqis standing around the Bradley Fighting Vehicle just before the missile strike. In the foreground, Mazen Tumeisi, a Palestinian working for two Saudi-owned TV networks, al-Arabiya and al-Ikhbariya, prepared to be recorded on camera as he described the scene.
Suddenly a big explosion engulfed the street in smoke. Tumeisi collapsed. The lens was spattered with his blood.
The Bradley had been hit by a roadside bomb after it had raced to the scene following mortar bombs being launched at the nearby Green Zone, seat of the Iraqi government and US forces.
Some people were celebrating the attack, others were curiously onlookers Gun battles reportedly raged around the wreck for about an hour. The attackers fired on the American rescue crew as they evacuated the stricken vehicle.
The fighting had clearly died down by the time the journalists arrived.
Press photographers took pictures of the wreck and the Iraqis around it, including young men waving the flag of Abu Musab Zarqawi's al-Qaeda-linked group Tawhid and Jihad. One youth climbed onto the Bradley and thrust the flag pole down the narrow barrel of its 25mm gun.
Most of the onlookers did not appear to be celebrating the "kill", just standing around curiously staring at the burning wreck.
The first reports of the helicopter attack came at 0756. As well as two missiles, the aircraft directed machine-gun fire at the crowd, reports say.
As the smoke cleared, people carried away the injured, leaving scattered shoes, pools of fresh blood and debris littering the street.
The official US military statement significantly shortens the timescale of events as reported by separate international news agencies. Instead of three hours after the ambush, when the people on the scene were mainly curious locals and journalist, the US says the helicopter strike was at 0730, 40 minutes after the Bradley was attacked at 0650.
In the first explanation of events offered by the US military early on Sunday evening, the helicopter was said to have blown up the wrecked Bradley "to prevent looting and harm to the Iraqi people".
A second explanation came a few hours later suggesting that air support had been called in by the Bradley crew to prevent looting, but the helicopters were fired on from the ground.
"Clearly within the rules of engagement, the helicopters returned fire destroying some anti-Iraqi forces in the vicinity of the Bradley," the US statement said.
In a phone call from Baghdad on Monday, the US military was unable to clarify why none of the TV footage or press pictures showed armed people at the scene or recorded any gunfire.
As for the discrepancies in the times of events - the military spokesman said that the US timings were "approximate".
"War is Hell" as General Sherman said. "...You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it;...You might as well appeal against the thunder-storm as against these terrible hardships of war. They are inevitable."
May be I felt so distressed because my character in Night and Day is a war correspondent - "a fireman" - a reporter who seeks out the world's troublespots. "I am not a foreign correspondent. A foreign correspondent is someone who lives in foreign parts and corresponds - usually in the form of essays containing no new facts. I am a fireman. I got to fires. Swindon or Kambawe, they're both out of town stories and I cover them the same way. I don't file prose. I file facts."
We are now about venture into a whole week of technical rehearsal. A luxury. I am used to two days, may be three at the most. We continue to work slowly and methodically. I am itching to have a few more run-through as it is during those that I tend to make my more interesting discoveries. We have been presented with some new furniture which have to be negotiated.. as indeed they had to be from the very beginning when they were not around - negotiated that is. For this actor who is not used to any set, let alone furniture except for ammo boxes or umbrellas or ladders, a big comfy sofa is paradise!
I have just completed a mailshot for the show which covered two continents and three countries - USA, UK and Canada. 127 letters costing a whopping $112. Common sense says there isn't too much point, especially for the contacts over in the UK, who won't have a chance of seeing the show. However I have taken a long time to build those contacts and as I am not yet an actor of sufficient standing to rest on my laurels, I somehow feel that this is the business side of the actor that shouldn't be ignored. The late Nigel Hawthorne wrote letters well into his forties, and even though I have agents in the UK and the USA, I feel that this is part of the job. It took a while as many of the letters had to be personal and the mail merge side of it took a while to work out. However I feel a sense of achievement that I managed it, even working out how to print off labels at last. I am always innocently ecstatic when something technological works as it's supposed to do.
Of course with technology there is always the dehumanizing downside.
And that, I suppose, brings us back to the September 11th and the war again.
Since the war began there have been 1015 US casualties.
The United Kingdom losses? 66.
Tuesday, September 21, 2004
Calm before the Storm
I have gone from the manic energy of Aquila to the calm meticulousness of the Wilma. We had just one run before launching in a week-long of pain-staking technical rehearsals. It was difficult to keep concentration with all the stopping and starting over such a long period of time. The technicals I have done in the past usually only last two days, three at the most. Although we got to work through it all on stage two or three times, that doesn't;t compare with a dress run which helps get the character and the life of the play into your body and voice. So today after a day off and with our first dress-run, it was unsurprisingly ragged around the edges. Tonight was possibly even worse, but I am hoping this all bodes well for tomorrow's first preview. Bad dress runs, they say equals good performance. At the moment we are fighting to stay with the play as if we were wrestling a lion. And the lion is winning. I feel a little one-dimensional, but that is really the character and not to do with any fault on my part. The vocal inflections of the accent tend to make him sound a little coarse and I can't say that I think the Aussie accent is the most tuneful of sounds. However I feel that Mr Wagner is coming. Reading Peter Arnett's book has helped. He was a top journalist for AP in the Vietnam war and in the Gulf War. What comes across in his writing is the pure manic obsession to pursue the story... Even if that means going into the heat of battle and putting himself in harm's way.
I have accepted an invitation to do a reading in New York of Life's a Dream by Pedro Calderón de la Barca. Allegra did a reading of it last year and I thought it was superb. It's a wonderful play - a Hamlet of the Spanish Golden Age. We will perform it on Tuesday 19th October and rehearse it on the Monday. Hopefully I will get back in time for the evening's performance of Night and Day. I am hoping that it will be picked up by a theatre company and that Allegra gets the chance to direct it on stage. She knows the play inside out and has a wonderful touch. She deserves that to happen.
A couple of announcements. My brother-in-law Jim got married to the lovely Jennie on Saturday. My best wishes and love to them both. And Happy Birthday to my nephew Zak 1, who is four today; and also happy birthday to Pat, our PSM, who looks after us so well. And now I must go and have a drink with her. First preview tomorrow and the usual anxiety and insecurities. It never gets any better!
Sunday, September 26, 200
Imagination, Mystery and Memory
It has been a week of previews and notes.
The last efforts of trying to put the show into the best shape possible.
The back-up team are meticulous in their preparations. We have a jeep that drives on a various parts of the show and also the set rolls down on a truck and the walls fly in, so there are quite a few technical things to make sure don't go wrong. The luxury of sets on trucks and jeeps on motors. How Aquila would love some of these toys to play with. We usually push our jeeps on stage.
Pat, our PSM, is in total charge backstage. A delightful large black woman with an even larger personality. She takes immense pride in her work and seems to have the respect of all the crew. Our beginner's call usually goes something like this: "Hey, Hey, Hey...YES...we have places
PL-AC-ES, PLACES, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN PLEASE! Places, places for the top of ACT 1. And y'all have a good time out there, you hear?"
The shows have been going well. As far as we can tell. If there are criticisms they have more to do with the play and the ins and outs of the main character's world. Ruth vocalizes her own inner thoughts and the play all hinges on the audiences identification with her world.
In the Millennium Café, I spoke to the very pleasant Aussie server. After I told him what I was doing, we compared notes on accents. He said he had to slow down his speech when he came to America to make himself understood. I immediately wondered if the audience could understand a word of what I was saying. The Aussie used to live in Mill Hill in the UK training horses. I will have to find out what he's doing here.
Coming out of the Millennium Café I was stopped by a customer.
"Good Show last night," he said warmly.
As I walked home I felt a definite sense of community. How I miss living in one place for a length of time. It seems I am doomed to wander the earth like the Flying Dutchman. One day I hope to create a home and put down some roots.
Not yet though.
Our area which is nicknamed the "Gayborough" changes into a slightly darker universe at night. On the corner outside the gay video store, women in short skirts scan passing cars and passers-by. Close at hand, the pimps keep a caring eye on the transactions. I thought that women of the night might find it hard going in our neighborhood until it was pointed out that that the tall robust sexy females in micro-mini skirts could be male.
I have a routine. I get up and go straight to the gym - weights one day - running the next - sit ups every day - one day off in the week. It's tedious, but if I didn't do it, I fear that things would go south pretty damn quickly. Oh the vanity...
except of course it's also a meditation and an illness prevention...
and I still want to be able to do physical parts on stage. I feel physically very strong at the moment.
It is Sir Alan Bates's memorial celebration this week at the Royal Court in London. I would have liked to have gone. I first met Alan in the 70s went I went to see Otherwise Engaged in the West End with a friend of mine. The friend, an actor called Milos Kirek, took me back stage after the show. He said he knew Alan and I didn't believe him. But minutes later we were ushered into his dressing-room where Alan was utterly charming and regaled us with stories and wine. The one thing that stood out for me as a young 17 year old was the way he kept using my name throughout all conversations and always checking to make sure I wasn't feeling left out of any conversation. I came out of the theatre glowing.
Years later I worked with him in the Master Builder directed by Peter Hall and also featuring Gemma Jones, John Normington and Victoria Hamilton. Alan was as generous as ever. He met Vicky and I for lunch in Oxford one day at a favorite restaurant of his and insisted on paying the bill. Throughout the run, he would appear just before curtain-up in the wings complaining of some mystery ailment, but he would always have a mischievous twinkle in his eye, so one never knew whether to take him seriously or not.
I remember during our cold winter run in Toronto, walking to the stage door with him after a show. Alan was weary, but making light of it as usual. Outside in the snow and crisp January night, a limousine was waiting. The window wound down and Sir Ian McEllan popped his head out and said: "Hop in the limo, love and lets go get dinner." He was on a promotional tour of his film Richard lll. Alan bounced inside the stretch limo like a naughty schoolboy.
I was with Victoria when I heard of his death and there seemed to be a certain synchronicity in the air. He was a wonderful actor and a lovely, warm, intelligent and very funny human being.
Something he once said about his acting said all I had ever wanted to say about how I felt.
"You can talk around it. You can say things about it. But you need understanding of it. It's something that's inside of you. You hope for inspiration to enable you to speak for another person so that the audience will believe that you are that person. I like to let the part creep through me, insinuate itself into me. I like physical things about a part. I can start walking with a stoop without being aware that I'm doing it. I sort of let it come through. I tend more towards the instinctive than the analytical. It has to do with the imagination. It's mysterious. I can't say what it is.'"
I am incredibly sad he's no longer with us, but I am so grateful that I got the chance to work with him.
We are having a barbecue in our actors house tomorrow. The weather will be kind before the remains of hurricane Jeanne hit us on Tuesday. In the evening there is a symposium at the theatre called Caught in the Crossfire where a panel of four expert journalists including Mark Bowden (author of Black Hawk Down), Adam Piore (Former General Editor of Newsweek), David Swanson (Photographer for The Philadelphia Inquirer), and David Zucchino (Foreign Correspondent for the Los Angeles Times and author of Thunder Run) will discuss their experiences reporting on war, both on and off the battlefield. I am finishing up Peter Arnett's biography of his war correspondence years in Vietnam and Baghdad and can't wait to hear what these journalists have to say. My mind is set in my character's head. I now understand, I think, what drives these men and women to report in the most extremely dangerous situations. It is an obsession, an overwhelming desire to report on what they see and to be one of the first to get the story back to their editors. Underneath they might think they make a difference in some way. As one of the characters in our play says: "Information is light. Information, in itself, is light. That's all one can say really."
The first night is on Wednesday. We shall be pleased to get it out of the way and live in the life of the play. Once the first night is over, we will have our days free. I will then be able to turn my thoughts to the next step in my big American adventure. Now it seems I will be heading back to New York. As I am homeless, the top priority will be finding a place to sleep. A New York winter looms. If I stay, this will be my first one. At the moment, with no definite work on the horizon, it seems a little daunting. However, I shall treat it as all part of the adventure. I am optimistic for no apparent reason except that I believe it will all turn out alright.
It has to do with the imagination.
I can't say what it is.
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
Dispatches from the Front
Today is our opening night and - dare I say this? - I think we are ready. The remnants of Hurricane Jeanne blew through the city last night and dumped six inches of rain and tornadoes. Our power was off at the house all night. It brought home what the full power of the hurricane might feel like.
We had a very interesting symposium on Monday night. It was an evening called Caught in the Crossfire which was a discussion with Mark Bowden (author of Black Hawk Down) Adam Piore (Newsweek) David Swanson (Philadelphia Inquirer) and David Zucchino ( Los Angeles Times). They came across to me as deeply sensitive intelligent men some of whom were obviously affected by some of the sights they had seen. David, the photographer, had been with a unit that lost 22 men whilst he was with them. He said that he saw a captain get shot in the head, and a soldier had thrown himself down on top of him to protect him, firing his rifle off his shoulder. Adam said he hated to be cynical but couldn't see it getting any better and that Iraq was a mess. Mark who hadn't been to Iraq gently reprimanded the audience for applauding - what he saw- the US failure in Iraq. He thought they should hope that the US succeeds whether they agreed with them being there or not. David Swanson said that war was never organized, chaotic and unplanned for the most part. He was going to Afghanistan the following day.
For me, it was fascinating to listen to them as my head is very much thinking like a journalist at the moment. This is what I love about acting. The exhilaration of being taken into another world where you might not think of exploring. I have been close to journalism in other ways - the experience of being pursued by the "slavering minions of a Philistine press lord'- and observing the news as a transcriber for Telex Monitors, an off-shoot of the Press Association..
I was thrilled to receive a reply from Luke Harding of the Guardian (for the U.S. readers The Guardian is Uk daily National newspaper similar to the New York Times) today. A nice first night present.
This was a list of questions I made to Luke who was covering the war in Iraq and was in Najaf and Baghdad.
Sorry for the delay, but I wanted to make sure that the questions I asked were relevant to the character. Although the play is now a period piece as it set in 1978 and the centre of attention is a telex machine, the motivations I imagine are the same.
1: How would you describe "a fireman"?
Apologies for not replying sooner. I left Baghdad late last week. In answer to your questions here are a few disjointed thoughts
1) Fireman. It's a slightly swaggering term, used more by tabloid reporters than by broadsheets, and denotes someone who flies round the world at a moment's notice to cover the latest crisis. If you're the fireman on a newspaper that's about as good as it gets; post newspapers, however, don't really have firemen as such and instead rely on correspondents..
2: Do you work with a cameraman or do you take your own?
2) I tend to work with different photographers in war zones, most of them freelance. Sometimes, however, the Guardian sends a staff one from London.
3: Do you pool stories with your press colleagues?
3) As a rule we don't pool stuff. But there is a pool now operating in Baghdad, run by American and British newspapers; most of the assignments,though, are laid on by the US military and very dull.
4: If you were stuck in a place for 10 days or more, and there was no story happening except may be government press conferences, how would you fill your time?
4) The situation doesn't really arise these days; if the news is slow you go off and write features; if it's really slow you simply pull out.
5: I know there was a culture of drinking on Fleet Street years ago... as there was with acting. Has that changed now?
5) The culture of drinking on Fleet Street has pretty much disappeared, at least during the day. People do drink, of course, but the culture has become more professional, and the boozy hacks of old have been replaced by leaner, keener - and some might say more boring- Oxbridge graduates. Having said that, journalists do still drink a lot; after surviving Najaf the BBC threw a great party in Baghdad; we all jumped in the swimming pool; later I was sick in the gutter.
6: How did you become a war correspondent? I know you were more a political journalist at one time .
6) I'm not sure I am a war correspondent- more of a correspondent who covers wars, perhaps. It's all down to President Bush largely; I was posted to Delhi in early 2000 and my patch included Afghanistan. It was logical for me to cover the war there, and having done that it made sense for me-and a handful of others- to cover the administration's new adventure in Iraq. There is a logic to it - the more experience you have of wars the less likely you are to get killed, until- of course- your luck eventually runs out.
7: You say that journalists like yourself think of themselves as invulnerable. If a fellow journalist started worrying about being hurt, how would you react?
7) We talk obsessively about security all the time in Baghdad; most evenings we sit by the pool exchanging information etc. The latest round of kidnappings spooked everybody there. Having said that the current group of journalists are among the bravest people I've ever come across. The desire to survive is also very strong.
8: My character in response to being described as a foreign correspondent says this:
"I am not a foreign correspondent. A foreign correspondent is someone who lives in foreign parts and corresponds, usually in the form of essays containing no new facts. I am a fireman. I go to fires. Swindon or Kambawe (a fictional African country in the play) - they're both out of town stories and I cover them the same way. I don't file prose. I file facts."
Would you agree with this statement?
8) I don't really agree with the statement of the distinction between fireman and correspondent above. There are great reporters, obviously, who produce brilliant stuff wherever they are; in general, though, I would say a knowledge of the region is definitely an advantage, and only correspondents have that. I don't see my job as just reporting 'facts': there is a moral dimension to writing about war and death and there's no point in trying to be purely 'objective'; what I strive for is a kind of moral eloquence, if that makes sense.
9: My character is Australian. If you know any Australian journalists, how would you describe them in general terms?
9) Australian journalists are - like most Australians- a nice bunch, less geeky than the Americans perhaps, and less glib than the Brits.
10: I imagine that when you're on a story that it becomes the most obsessive thing in your life. Would you say this is true? What would you say is the motivation behind your job? Is it a job that takes you to interesting places and pays the rent, or do you think of it as more?
10) When you're somewhere like Iraq the story is everything, not least because there is nothing else to do (apart from swim a few lengths or play the odd furtive game of squash). Journalists, or firemen, don't do it to pay the rent- none of us are very interested in money. Most are motivated by the 'fame' sort of- it's always nice seeing your name or photo in print- but I also think there can be a higher dimension to it as well. There is an unfolding disaster in Iraq (or in Kambawe), dozens of people are dying, and the world appears to be losing interest; our job is to describe what is happing, in all it contrariness, and to capture some of the pity.that's it
This is a link to Luke's last dispatch from Baghdad. http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,,1313799,00.html
click to enlarge
Wednesday, October 06, 2004
First Nights, Lassie and the Library
The show went well.
We had a little message from Tom Stoppard wishing us well pinned up on the notice board. I also pinned up the "interview' that I had from Luke Harding of the Guardian.
The Wilma/Philly audience aren't as judgmental as your New York audience and seem pretty damn smart. Only blip on the evening was in the second act. President Mageeba comes to pay the house a visit. I, as Dick Wagner, interview him and the interview is ended by him when he brings his heavy brass-ended swagger-stick down on my head. However when the President walked in.... he had no stick!!! As the rest of the actors on the stage noticed it, all of us were probably thinking the same thing... there was no way to get the stick on stage to him. It gave the scene a certain electricity, but of course was all about what he might do when it came to the moment when he brings the stick down on my head. In the end, he cleverly held on to his the heavy whisky cut-glass and mimed smashing into my head, and I hit the floor a little harder than usual and made sure there was more blood. It was an interesting moment.
I had lots of compliments from the audience after the show at the First Night party. Jerry Beaver, our casting director, was wonderfully effusive in his praise. I think he must have been drinking... ... completely over the top of course, but great fun and he made me laugh. Blanka, Jiri's(our director) ex-wife and joint artistic director at the Wilma, asked me if I could do an American accent. I said America is a big place, and there are a lot of accents... The English accents of our cast are spot on.
Anyway all went well... and now we have some days free to explore the city a little. The Philadelphia Inquirer gave it a warm review with reservations about the play and the Philadelphia Weekly seemed to love it. The Inquirer said I had "sleazy charm". I'll take that as a compliment!
News from Aquila, Cyrano has been postponed til the summer because of exciting opportunities for the company.
I need to try and find somewhere to live, so I have to concentrate a little on that.
New York lies in wait like some boiling cauldron.
It is the most intimidating of cities. One needs a lot of bravado to throw yourself into those teeming masses...
"The city was like war- battles raged all around and desperate men were on the street in crawling legions ... the city was a far more complicated wheel of fortune... it was the close model of the absolute processes of fate, as the innocent and guilty were tumbled in its overstuffed drum, pushed along through trap laden mazes, caught dying in airless cellars or elevated to platforms of royal view."
Yes... It's sink or swim... always has been... it's also one of the most brilliant cities in the world and I have a wonderful sense of excitement about being there and what it might hold for me.
Part of the hurricane hit Philly and paralyzed a lot of the city. I was without power in my apartment for 12 hours.
It was a day of great excitement as I received an audition from CED - my voiceover and commercial agents. I couldn't go, but it was nice to know that they are thinking of me. Honey and the office sent me a bottle of red wine. Very funny conversation with Honey explaining the saga of trying to order delivery of a bottle of wine in Pennsylvania which is a dry state. She also told me not to worry about the next job and that they were on the case.
After a week containing an opening night, the last thing a stressed actor needs is any more drama So a desperate phone call from the theatre yesterday asking us to turn up for a rehearsal two hours earlier than we had been called was most unwelcome. The drama - our President had a family emergency (his wife was ill and it was serious) and his understudy was going on that night. Musical theatre people have understudies go on for them all the time, they have voices to protect and nurse, but actors... well not me...having an understudy is a new experience for me..I have never had an understudy go on for me and have only ever missed one show in forty years, and that was pre-arranged to allow me to attend my grandmother's funeral. So a group of fairly unhappy actors turned up on stage and were even grumpier when the stand-in President came in with book and a voice like velvet... very soft velvet. The president appears in only one scene in the second half, but it's a long and important scene and needs a powerful presence. Our poor understudy under huge pressure provided a kind of whispering creeping geniality. It felt like I was licked to death by Lassie. However he blossomed in his towering rage moment and was terrifying!
A cancellation was out of the question. This was a Friday night and a full house and serious money was involved. The good news if that the President returned the next day and that his wife is being well looked after.
The Theatre Collection of the massive Central Library of Philadelphia is primarily responsible for acquiring everything available on theatre and other forms of entertainment in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, although may other areas are represented. It contains over a million items, not only about theatre, but also about film, television, radio, the circus, minstrels and other forms of entertainment.
I was in the Central Library - a huge Victorian Building, similar to the New York Library - with a friend,and after she had finished collecting her books to read, I suggested we head up to the Rare Books section.
The only way to reach it was by an old elevator to the third floor at the top of the building. After another small flight of steps was the locked door of the Rare Books section. A notice next to it instructed us to ring the bell and that the wait could be as much as two minutes. We rang it and after a minute and a half, a buzzer sounded and the door opened. A man suddenly appeared in front of us. He seemed to pleased to see us and asked us if he could help us with anything "this day".
"I'm an actor and I was interested in your theatre section."
"Well I'm afraid our theatre section is under renovation and is not open really... but you're an actor... let me just call Geri and see if she is there."
The man phoned and after a short exchange, he turned to us again, his face beaming.
"She says to come over. Follow me!"
He turned and opened another locked door and led us through a labyrinth of shelves stacked high with very old books. As we walked through lights flickered on... illuminating them and their old leather covers with an ethereal yellow glow.
"It's just like a film, isn't it?"
I assented that it did. I was thinking of Alien.
"It's just me here and Geri in the theatre section. Cut backs by Mr. Bush."
He leaned in towards conspiratorially.
"I could get in trouble for telling you that."
He led us down another corridor and unlocked another door, knocked on it four times and we were ushered inside.
A lady of a certain age was seated behind a desk. She peered over the top of her glasses at me and frowned.
"I know you," she said emphatically.
"I don't think so..."
"Oh yes. I was in the Wilma, last week, seated in the second row and I saw you in Night and Day. A very good production."
And then she smiled.
"Now... you see a mess around you. I apologize. It's just me here. I had two members of staff to help me, but now they've gone... and it's just me."
"Yes, we heard."
"Yes... well, sit yourself down. A Stoppard play is what you're doing. Let me dig something out to show you... sit." Her tone was emphatic.
We obeyed as she hurried off into an inner sanctum of another treasure trove of books and memorabilia. Looking around, we saw piles of manuscripts, books, precious old posters on the wall and no windows. Geri was entombed with only old entertainment literature and fluorescent lighting for illumination. She returned with a folder labeled "Jumpers" which when on opening revealed clippings of all the American productions of the play. As we looked through the contents, Geri launched into a wonderfully detailed outline of the collection.
"We have the second largest theatre collection in the country. We collect mainly things relating to Philadelphia and Pennsylvania theatre, as well as the circus, radio and television. Broadcasting is now in another department as well as contemporary film, but we hold on to the classics as well as silent films. Philadelphia had it's own silent film company. So it's important that we represent it. We are one of the oldest theatre cities in the country."
Geri did not draw breath for forty-five minutes as she launched into a description of the library and what she was trying to achieve there. Locked away in her entertainment book world, she seemed elated to have company, and chance to stand and talk about her passion.
"We have old playbills from the Chestnut Street, Arch Street and Walnut Street Theatres and they feature such well-known stars as Edwin Forrest, Charlotte Cushman, Junius Brutus Booth, the Drew Family and the Barrymores. You know of course that the John Lionel and Ethel Barrymores grew up in Philadelphia Now Drew of course carries on the family tradition. Our Philly theatre awards are called the Barrymores in their honor. New York has the Tonys, we have the Barrymores."
Geri laughed, while I smiled and said that I hadn't known that. Geri was unstoppable. She showed us some of the prints of old posters on the wall that she purchased for the library. One was a striking poster from the twenties of a black Rodeo star.
"He's so handsome and he was a genuine Rodeo man. He went on to make two films. I think it's a good advertisement for African Americans."
She disappeared once more and returned with another folder.
"We had a woman come in here who wanted to know what a 1930s film camera looked like. I said, how the heck would I know? She said she searched the internet and couldn't find anything. So I dug around some of these old movie stills and sure enough we found some pictures showing an old camera for her."
The photograph in the folder showed Hitchcock directing James Stewart in "Rope". I glanced at the clock on my cell phone - I have given up wearing watches as I lose them - and saw that time was getting on. Mid-afternoon can be an edgy time for an actor in the theatre as thoughts and the body subconsciously prepare for the evening. but Geri was too fascinating and too enthusiastic in her story-telling to make a fast getaway.
"We also cover Vaudeville and Burlesque. Now they could be one a day, but more often than not they were continuous performances and ranged from Sarah Bernhardt to Singer's Midgets. Even burlesque was family entertainment with it's beautiful girl and baggy pants comedians. I am in the process of re-filing a lot of it at the moment, so I apologize for the mess"
I asked how she coped being shut away from the daylight.
"Oh, there is a window in the back." she pointed to the inner sanctum. "But they are planning a new building which will be on the back of the library. They have the architects and I've seen the plans, so I shan't be so shut away there..."
I wondered if she managed to put a word in for more windows. Eventually we managed to interrupt her and explain that we had to leave. Geri looked wistful and it seemed as if she was scanning her vast knowledge to see if any other theatre or film miscellanea that she could pass on. However we were now out in the hallway and walking back to the Rare Books Department.
"If you don't need to go back to the Rare Books, then take the lift down to the second floor and turn right and you'll be in front of my Katherine and Audrey Hepburn exhibitions. I had enough to fill two show cases full of old pictures and playbills. For some reason I have nothing from Breakfast at Tiffany's. Can you believe that? Now of course, that is so popular. One can get Breakfast at Tiffany's handbags and Breakfast at Tiffany's sweaters. It just continues to grow in cult appeal... I suppose. I have tried looking on the internet and there is so much out there, but it seems to be all reproduction. One day..."
The elevator arrived with a clank. We said our goodbyes. As the doors closed, Geri said:
"My name is Geri de Coeur. I am in charge of the theatre collection. I have so enjoyed meeting you..." The rest was muffled as we descended. We followed her instructions, but found ourselves lost in a warren of back passageways. Just as I was beginning to wonder if we were stuck in some strange parallel universe we turned a corner and were once again in the magnificent marble lobby of the Philadelphia Central library.
As we left and walked out into bright autumnal sunshine, I wondered who would be the next visitor to the Rare Books Department and did they only visit once every ten years...?
Was there indeed a Rare Books section?
Or a lady called Geri de Coeur who sat alone forever filing past glories of stage, screen, circus, minstrel shows and...
Friday, October 22, 2004
Fall has arrived. The temperatures are starting to drop. It is damp and misty and mellow. This time of the year, the weather goes a little wild. One day it is sunny and reaching mid seventies, the next, wind and rain and you're in the fifties. It makes the forecast an event because how can you decide how many layers you have to wear? And as I've said before, more often than not, when it rains here, it comes down like a scene in a Hollywood film noir.
Lori arrives in Philly on Tuesday with Mama Mia. I'm not sure of where this script is taking us, but it's never dull!
The body clock is set for show times. That means not really sleeping before 1am. So having to get up at 5.30 in the morning is a challenge. I had decided to catch the 7 o'clock Greyhound bus to New York and wanted to give myself ample time to shower and dress, and then a leisurely walk the 10 blocks or so to the station where I would have to buy my ticket. The Greyhound is actually only $2 more than the Chinatown Bus. They had to bring down their prices to compete. The difference with the Greyhound is that it takes 2 hours, instead of the 1 hour 30 mins of the Chinatown bus, but its destination is at Port Authority which is on 42nd Street and is right in the heart of it all. Chinatown is way downtown on the East side and you have to walk about 15 minutes before you get to the Canal Street subway.
The day before I went to have my hair trimmed. The hair was wild and very long at the back and becoming harder to keep in shape. I also felt it should look a little neater for the upcoming audition. I don't know what it is about hairdressers. They listen to what you say. They nod their heads in agreement. They even repeat back verbatim the instructions that you have very carefully given them. And then they proceed to ignore everything you have just told them and cut it they way they think it should look. And the consequence was... my hair was a lot shorter than I had wanted. This was not good for my confidence for the following day. However I tried to accept it as best I could, was encouraged by the girls at work who took pity on me and said it made me look hot(!) and reassured myself that this was the way it was meant to be for all the best possible outcomes.
So I arrived at the Greyhound station in good time, only to be kept waiting to purchase a ticket for 10 minutes. I was slightly worried I wouldn't be able to get on the bus, but in the end, there was no problem. I settled in my seat and put myself into travel mode. I fell asleep soon after we crossed the Delaware and woke up 2 hours later as we came into 42nd Street. The city was alive and bustling. There was the hint of rain in the air. The energy of the place is palpable. It sucked me in. It is a city that speaks for itself. The overwhelming mass of its architecture, in which time mixed and crossed, did not ask for attention shyly, like Paris or Copenhagen but demanded it like a centurion barking orders...He knew right off that an unseen force was breathing under all that gray, that the events and miracles of the city were simply the effect of this force turned in its sleep, that it saturated everything, and that it had sculptured the city before it even opened its eyes. He felt it striving in everything he saw, and knew that the entire population, though prideful of its independence, was subject to a complete and intense orchestration the likes of which he had never imagined.
Philadelphia seemed like a sleepy country town in comparison.
My first stop was my gym to have a wash and brush up. I belong to the New York Sports Club which not only has branches all over Manhattan and Brooklyn, but also in Boston and Philadelphia. I somehow got myself tied into a two year contract, which I can only break if I can prove I'm moving out of the area. So one day I may need to produce something from England, but at the moment I utilize the facilities frequently and it keeps me fit and, I dare say, healthy.
I had an hour and fifteen to kill before the audition for the play "Enchanted April", so I went to one of favorite Starbucks on 39th and 8th Ave, which has an upstairs section with big soft brown armchairs and tables with little reading lamps. I have a problem with Starbucks because they are a chain and have put a lot of small coffee houses out of business. They also have a deal with a wireless company which means you can access the internet from their café's. The downside is you have to pay. Most coffee houses in this country who have wireless provide it for free. Starbucks with all it's revenue should, in my opinion, provide the same service. But now, in midtown at least, it seems to be one of the few places where you can sit and drink a coffee. So I settled down and read a paper and concentrated on the sides of the audition.
They had given me a scene where my character, Mellersh is getting ready to go out to a social function with his wife, Lotte. I seem controlling, but this is just his manner. I had seen the film the night before which was harmless, but nothing to write home about. So I won't. It had a great cast with Miranda Richardson, Joan Plowright(very good), Josie Lawrence, Polly Walker, Michael Kitchen, Jim Broadbent and Alfred Molina who played Mellersh. The story in its most basic terms is about a couple of British housewives who see an advert for a villa in Italy and decide to break away from their husbands and go on holiday. They enlist a couple of more women to join them. A an old aristocrat and a young beautiful socialite. It is a journey of self discovery and revelation. Their husbands eventually join them and their relationships gradually become what they always wanted them to be. The book probably explains the characters and their miraculous transformation better than the film. I wasn't able to get hold of a copy of the play.
As usual, the timing of my arrival was a key element to the day. On auditions its probably worse, as there is an instinct in me, and I think in many actors, to want to be anywhere in the world, but in an audition. The trick is to treat them as part of work and the excitement of meeting new people and not some hideous ordeal where people are going to sit in judgment in you. It's worse when you desperately want the job or need the money of course.
I arrived at 10.15. It was on the 24th floor and out of the windows one had a wonderful view over the Westside and the river. It was five minutes before the time I was to be seen. A couple of other actors arrived soon after me. One leaned over and said:
"So who's this for? Who's the director?"
The other actor told him it was for San Jose Rep and told him the director's name.
"Thank you. My agent never told me."
Welcome, I thought, to the world of a working New York actor. Perhaps he was so complacent because he was always working in television or film, or may be he had done some lucrative commercials.
One of the other agonizing decisions about auditions is what one should wear. The character was for a British solicitor in the 1920s. One wants to give a hint of the part without trying too hard. My fellow actors had suits and ties. I was in my dark navy suit with a crisp white shirt and no tie. A classic look, I thought, but with the right hint of insouciance. Then the door opened from the inner chamber and an actor who had been auditioning inside came out... in a sweater and jeans. The three of us other thesps looked at each, all wondering the same thing. - Had we overdressed?!!! I hate it when I see other actors at auditions anyway because I immediately feel intimidated and always believe they look much better suited for the role than me. Although 'suited' may have been wrong this time.
Eventually I was ushered in to medium sized room. Deep breath in and remain open and concentrated. And smile. Two people were behind the table, the casting director and a man called Bruce - I never found out what his job was -, the director, John McCluggage, was seated in front of the table and the actor reading for my wife - a pleasant looking man called Joe -was in front and to the side of them. Compared to other auditions I have had this side of the Atlantic, the assembled creative team were very warm, friendly and welcoming. As usual there was not a lot of small talk and no real interest in what I was currently doing or in past productions. However I think I am getting the hang of it and am losing that feeling of paranoia. I had worked out beforehand exactly where I wanted the chair I was to sit in for some of the scene. I had even imagined how far I wanted to be from my auditioners. The only thing that was slightly different in my imagination was that Joe, my reader and wife, was seated on my left-hand side.
I began the scene.
"Charlotte! It's unlike you to be late, and make us have to hurry so. A wife's impunctuality always reflects badly on the husband I believe, if not in one way, then in another. At the least it conveys a lack of concern on her part; at the most, a lack of control on his."
And so I went on. I had got about a page into the scene when John, the director, interrupted me. He was frowning.
"That's alright, but, you see, we must see Mellersh is in love with his wife. We have to believe that for what happens at the end of the play. If he's too condescending.."
"I mean he's happy. Everything is normal in his world."
The same old problem. The dark side.
"His wife is behaving unusually, but it's a ripple on the surface of his world."
"I wasn't quite sure how much of a journey he had to make. I wasn't able to get hold of the play, but I saw the film."
"Yes, well I think Alfred Molina did a good job and gave over the right expression of feeling."
"Yes I see. So it should be more loving. Not Gaslight."
"Exactly. Not Gaslight!"
The one thing I do believe is that I'm quite good at as an actor in taking direction and interpreting it into my performance. Does that sound arrogant? I don't mean it to be. I have learnt it over a long period of time. It comes with listening to the director, but also listening to what he or she is saying in the pauses in between. It means trying to be as accepting as possible and going with the flow, as well as acknowledging your own actor instincts and that it may change later.
We continued with the scene and I just knew I had the level right, that I was giving him what he wanted. The laughs at reactions and on lines came unforced. As I made my way out of the door, John came over and shook my hand.
"Well adjusted," he said smiling. I believe this was a comment on my performance and not on my personality.
I had done the best I was able. I had prepared as much I should have done. I had adjusted well to the circumstances. Now it was just the small matter of whether they liked me and whether I was the right type, look, age, height, coloring, and whether I'd match up to the lady playing the wife.
It was a good audition.
With time to kill, I made my way into St Patrick's Cathedral on 5th Avenue. As I have said before, it's not that I believe in God, or at least the religion surrounding what is known as 'God'. But I believe there is an energy and that praying works. St Patrick's is one of my places in Manhattan for meditating and asking for direction... and just taking stock. It has a strong energy inside, and despite the throngs of tourists, I find that 10 minutes to half an hour after lighting a candle and meditating, usually tops me up in some spiritual way. I have always been a cuckoo in the nest, throughout my life in many ways. Using churches this way is just another nest. So I lit a candle and prayed for the right apartment, and for the right work to come along... and then just breathed for a while, before making my way onto the 5th Avenue, and up to 53rd Street and across towards Madison Avenue, and to my agent's offices above a camera shop.
Kelly, who is the secretary/assistant, and generally the one who knows where everything is, greeted me warmly. She was looking tired. Stage-managing in the evenings, and the long hours were beginning to tell on her. It always feel a bit like James and Miss Moneypenny with Kelly and me. I commiserated with her, and also admonished her choice of boyfriend. An actor? Was she mad?
Then Honey glided in. She was looking immaculate as ever. We hugged.
"Well, well, stranger... how did it go?" She smiled warmly
So I told her the whole story of the audition and then we just chatted gaily away for three quarters of an hour. She said she was glad I had enjoyed Philly, that she was looking forward to seeing me on the Saturday matinee.
I left the office with Honey's reassurance that opportunities of work would be out there for me in the city and made my way back to Port Authority. Again the queue for the 1.30pm bus was extensive. This time I just managed to get on. After half an hour, I was fast asleep again. I woke up at three. We were only half an hour from our destination. I read a little bit of Life's a Dream. I have the three page speech in my head now.
"There are star mountains and I climb their peaks,
There are star forests and I know their paths,
And there are swamps and whirlpools made of stars,
Circles of snow, bright canopies of glass,
Cut by the moon, illumined by the sun,
These crystalline concentric necklaces,
These specks, these beads, these spirals, whirling teardrops.
These are my life, my study and my passion.
These are my books, their diamond lettering
Printed on bright sapphire paper
By the great golden printing press of Heaven."
I suddenly became aware that there was some loud muttering among the passengers. I looked at the time. It was 3.30. We should have reached Philly by now. Listening in on conversations it was clear that we were off the usual route and were approaching Philly from the north. The road was checkered with traffic lights and rush hour traffic. I overheard one of the passengers saying that she didn't understand why the driver had taken this route and that it was another forty-five minutes to downtown. Cell-phones started ringing as people's friends and family began calling to find out when their loved ones were arriving. I amused myself by listening in on a conversation between an interesting sounding American and a German who was now based in New York. The American was well-traveled and had visited Germany. He was also very eloquent in his opinions on many topics, which included various areas of New York, the disadvantages of living in Manhattan and the advantages of Philly. Sounding a little like Willy Loman, he explained how he had kept so many friends and made so many business connections.
"My favorite quote is from Woody Allen. He said that eighty percent of success is showing up. And that's the secret really. You can't do much stuck at home with a cable box."
We finally rolled into Philly Greyhound bus station at 4.30. The passengers were frustrated, tired and angry. Suddenly the driver spoke through the bus's sound system. And the driver's velvet Philly voice delivered with a black man's rhythm sounded.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, as you probably have noticed, we have arrived late. I have to apologize. I took the wrong turn off and we got off at exit 6, instead of exit four. I was in trouble... am in trouble. The reason I didn't let you know this before was that in my experience once you get yourself into trouble, it's best to stay quiet until you're out of it because only more trouble comes along. So I'm pleased that we're here and that I got you here safe and sound, and, once again, I do apologize. I am not a regular on this route, but I don't mean to make an excuse. It is all my fault. Thank you for your patience and thank you for traveling with us today, and mind your step as you get off the bus."
After the show that night, Pat's voice boomed over the tannoy.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you, thank you, thank you. I have a special announcement. You have been invited by your director, and your playwright for drinks next at the Doubletree. I repeat, and this is not a hoax, you are invited next door with Jiri and your playwright, Mr. Stoppard.
Screams started resounding through the dressing-rooms. One voice cried out: "Oh my God, Shakespeare is next door!"
I arrived with a nervous and apoplectic Carla and Scott. We found Jiri and Tom Stoppard around a small table near the bar. Tom was greyer than I had imagined, but the strong sensitive features were still sharp. He stood up when he saw us with a fluidity and almost feminine grace. I found myself quite surprisingly at ease with him.
"Hello Tom, this is a nice surprise. I'm Richard."
"Well done, Richard, well done. I'm afraid we sat over here because it's the only place I can smoke. Do you think they'd mind if we moved that table over here?"
In the next moment, me and one of the greatest living playwrights of the English-speaking theatre were carrying the table and more chairs, and getting things ready for a large gathering from the theatre. Nearly everyone had turned out to see the bard of Chelsea Harbor. Tom was attentive and the absolute gentle-man. Tall, with still the unruly hair, he seemed a little weary - most likely from the jet-lag - his mouth had a small smile in the corner, his fingers were long and sensitive, his eyes were slightly drooping, brown and gentle. His head seemed extremely large... to encompass all the Stoppard brain I found myself thinking. Eventually I found myself alone with him again. We talked about cricket.
"I don't really keep up like I used to. Did you know that Keith Miller had died?" We talked about the Green Card. He seemed fascinated by the process.
" So it's been three years since it was due to have the restrictions lifted.... when will they let you know?"
About my history?
"You worked with Alan Bates. I think I saw that production. I went to his memorial the other day. It was sad of course, but great fun too. He was so loved. I saw Victoria at the Orange Tree.. that play she did before master Builder, what was that? So where else did you work in England? How long have you been here? And are you living here now? Will you stay?"
We talked about the play.
"Well done with the big speech. That was especially well delivered."
I asked why he had lengthened it from the original script.
"Oh, did I? Ah well... wait, yes, I remember. I think it was Peter Wood who suggested it. He thought I couldn't leave Wagner replying with just a paragraph. It was interesting to hear the play again. I found a lot of it very preachy. Too preachy. I would write it differently today. Although I didn't think it was preachy at the time. Now it is a period piece. I'm not sure those people tonight knew what a Telex was."
With everyone he was the personification of charm.
"Well I had to come. Of course. Jiri and Blanka are my friends... for many years now."
We basked in his attentiveness, in his fame, and in our joy in meeting him.
Towards the end of the evening Blanka looked at me and pointed to my hair.
"You look twelve years old." she said in her sexy czech accent.
I felt a little older...
... but not that much older.
Honey and her friend Jerry, who now lives in Philly and is the general manager of the delightfully named Pig Iron Theatre Company came and saw the show this afternoon. We went for tea afterwards in the 'Gayborough'.
"Honey looked at me and beamed.
"You are so very good in this. I can't wait to get you back to New York so I can get you in to see people. It's time to move on and up. I would give you all those Richard Burton roles. You've got it. You just have to believe it."
And on she went, building me up and giving me a certain confidence to face New York. We talked about the play which she hadn't enjoyed. We talked about the business and the insecurities. She talked in a wonderful supportive way... and I tried to believe.
"What actors don't realize is that agents feel rejected when they don't get their clients into an audition where they know other agents have succeeded."
I explained that it wasn't that I didn't have the confidence of my abilities, but that the audition process often seemed to defeat me... at least it was a mystery to me.
I have had a hectic couple of days. On Monday morning I went up to New York on the 7am chinatown bus.
We were held up at the Holland Tunnel and we were freezing as there seemed to be no heat on board. Consequently I was 10 minutes late for rehearsal which was in the unlikely setting of the 5th Avenue Trump Tower on the 17th floor. I was there to rehearse Life is a Dream by Pedro Calderon de la Barca.
Considered one of the outstanding Spanish dramas of all time, this 17th-century allegory explores the mysteries of human destiny, the illusory nature of existence, and the struggle between predestination and free will. Sounds heavy, but it really is not. Of all Calderon's works, about 123 in all, "Life is a Dream" may be regarded as the most universal in its theme. It seeks to teach a lesson that may be learned from the philosophers and religious thinkers of many ages - that the world of our senses is a mere shadow, and that the only reality is to be found in the invisible and eternal. Apparently the story which forms its basis is Oriental in origin, and in the form of the legend of "Barlaam and Josaphat" was familiar in all the literatures of the Middle Ages. Combined with this in the plot is the tale of About Hassan from the "Arabian Nights," the main situations in which are turned to farcical purposes in the Induction to the Shakespearean "Taming of the Shrew." But with Calderon the theme is lifted altogether out of the atmosphere of comedy, and is worked up with poetic sentiment and a touch of mysticism into a symbolic drama of profound and universal philosophical significance.
The rehearsal was in a huge boardroom that belonged to a subsidiary of the soccer worldwide body, FIFA that looked after the Americas. A massive table dominated the room which around it 20 large comfortable chairs. The only disappointing thing about the whole dramatic scenario was the lack of windows.
Allegra, who had been on the Midsummer/Earnest Aquila tour, has directed this play at least twice and knows it extremely well. I was there to play Basillio, the old King of Poland. Around the table was a host of young acting talent, most of them recent graduates of NYU. A few of them had seen me in Aquila productions, and I was very much the old experienced actor. It's a strange thing to age and see that you are suddenly twice nearly twice as old as your fellow actors.
We rehearsed long and hard all day. At lunch I walked a few blocks to my agents. Honey had received a call from the film company I had worked for on the top secret film last year. They wanted me for a day's filming. Another top secret project and something involving an admiral!!!
Allegra at work
After rehearsals I went back to Park Slope with David Dunford, who I have been on two Aquila tours with. He was putting me up on his couch for the night at his apartment - the top of the slope and next to the park. Whilst I was there I heard that the two Harlem sublets had not worked out, which now means I have taken the tiny studio in Grammercy Park. It is expensive and all the money is up front (gulp) but I get some of it back and at least there will be a roof over my head which is paid for until December 27th. It will be lovely to actually live in Manhattan this time and a wonderful magical time of year. I will be just off Union Square, which has a great Xmas Fayre as well as the farmers market which comes into town every other day. The place is small, but it has a working brick fireplace and I'm sure Cindy the Super will look out for me. She seems to love British actors.
David is a wonderful cook and we had pork tenderloins with broccoli on a bed of mashed potato with a wonderful sauce. I went and bought a couple of bottles of burgundy to wash it down. This coupled with the Makers Mark (bourbon) we had as cocktails meant we ended up very merry indeed. We had a wonderful time talking about... the meaning of everything.
The next day I had to get up at 7.30am to catch the subway down to Manhattan Mini Storage Units. The apartment isn't available for three days and is probably too small my bits and pieces anyway. However I was feeling very rough. Things got worse on the crowded rush hour subway train. I was standing, but I suddenly knew that I needed to sit down... fast. Luckily at the next stop, a seat became available and like a veteran New Yorker I knocked over an old woman, a blind man and a cripple and grabbed it. I had by now broken out into a cold sweat and I as I leant down over with my head between my knees, I could feel half the subway carriage backing away from me. Just when I thought I could stand it no longer, we arrived at East Broadway and I fought my way off and sat on the nearest bench I could find. It was about 20 minutes later when I finally pulled myself together, thoroughly ashamed and feeling like death, I ventured up and out into Chinatown. It was raining and I had forgotten to bring an umbrella. It was around this time that I realized that I had left my ATM card in the bank cash machine in Philly. It swallows it if you don't take it out after a minute or so. So soon I was soaked and feeling like Dan Ackroyd when he's at his lowest point as a drunken Father Christmas in Trading Places. I arrived at the front offices of Manhattan Mini Storage, ill and looking like a white drowned rat. Struggling through the paperwork, I eventually followed Eddie through a maze of metal unit cases, which he called 'rooms'. We finally came to mine and he showed me how the locks worked. It will do for the moment and will be handy to have in the city.
Having been reassured by the bank that there was no fraudulent activity on my account, I popped into a branch to get a cash advance and then went to my gym, which has a branch on the street of my new apartment... very handy. A hot shower made me feel better and this was followed by a walk to a local café and two cups of strong coffee. By the time I arrived at the venue for the reading I was beginning to feel some resemblance of normality. I could only think it was Heaven's way of helping me to play a doddery old King.
The reading at noon seemed to go very well. We hadn't had too much preparation, but I hope it will give Allegra the chance to put on a fully staged production of her own next year. One of the actors, Chad, in it was the ex-boyfriend of Lindsay who played Miranda to my Prospero. I had only seen him when he used to come and visit. It's funny how talent can change a perception, but Chad turned out to be a very fine young actor, and all my previous bland images of him disappeared. However I couldn't hang around because I had to get back to Philly. I grabbed a lift with Jerome (President Mageeba) who lives on 43rd and Ninth and we battled through a rainy rush hour traffic, leaving at 4.25 and getting into Philly at 6.40 just in time to make the fight call for the play.
This morning I had a phone call from Honey. She broke the shattering news that I hadn't got the part for the San Jose Rep. I wasn't shattered because I didn't get it mind you, but because of the reason they gave. They went for someone younger... late thirties!!!!
Deep deep depression set in for the rest of the day... and hasn't lifted.
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
Living the Heroic Life
Robert, director of all the Aquila shows, and his wife, Dionne, came on Saturday to see the show. I walked past Robert in the lobby. He was wearing a kind of German felt hat and a magnificent Francis Drake beard. I greeted him warmly.
"You look as if you're auditioning for Uncle Max in the Sound of Music."
Dionne appeared looking radiant in white shiny knee-length boots and prominent bump in front. She looked like an expecting Julie Christie in Georgie Girl.
Robert enjoyed the play, much to my surprise. I don't think he felt the part was too much of a challenge for me, which it isn't really. We went for high tea at a place in the Gayborough - "Not just Ice-Cream'. Robert looked around the streets with amusement. I said he better be careful considering what he was wearing.
We had a lovely tea and ice-cream milkshake - mine was pistachio flavored. Over it we discussed his latest trip. He had a good time in Hastings. This small seaside town on the UK's south coast is where his family lives and where my mother and my brother and family also reside. He then went to stay with Tony at his flat in Dulwich, a suburb of London. Unfortunately Tony had been ill all week and had just found out that it had been caused by a gas leak in his kitchen, so the gas people came and turned it off. Of course with no gas, there was no heat. Robert and Dionne soon ventured down to Stratford to see Toby Stephens's Hamlet. Robert said it was very very simply staged. Dionne said the verse speaking was very good throughout the company. Robert said that Mr Stephens was a little on one note, and that Greg Hicks was the best thing in it. Greg Hicks is a contemporary of mine. There was a time when we'd be up for the same parts. It's interesting to see that he is suddenly now coming into his prime.
We talked about the Aquila future. At the moment there is a possible reading of Oedipus (I think) with Bill Pullman on 22nd November, and then three weeks of work on a workshop of Clouds - probably half days. We shall see. I was very touched that they had made the effort to come down to see me.
As I was the very next day when Tom and Kathryn, our Cassio and Desdemona from the Othello tour came to see the Sunday matinee. It just shows me how important it is to support your friends. Tom was eager to give me notes on some punchy sounds for the Aussie accent. It's good to see another tour romance working out. They seem good together.
Mark Saturno, who was on the Tempest tour and coached me on the Aussie accent, just phoned to say he is coming on Sunday. I'm filling up!
The heroic life is living the individual
I'm going up to Boston on Wednesday to see my friend Mark Pow strut his stuff in The Lion King. I'm looking forward to it. I haven't been to Boston before...well only to the train station. The place is just about to erupt as the Boston Red Sox seem poised to win the World series and break the Curse of the Bambino.
Nothing is exciting
if you know what
the outcome is going to be.
To refuse the call
means stagnation. (Joseph Cambell)
I received the keys from my landlord, Tom, today for the studio in Grammercy Park. It is tiny, but ever so cute. It has a Murphy bed - a bed that folds up into the wall and working brick fireplace, and shelves and shelves of books by Dickens, Trollope and more. My gym is on the corner and Union Square is a block away. I am excited about moving back to the city. It will be the first time I have lived in Manhattan. Being just off Union Square and with Holiday season coming up, it should be a magical time Now just finalizing the move. That is a little more stressful. May be a lift from Jay this week to the storage units or renting a car on Monday and having an adventure with driving through New York City. I know it's not as bad as London. I just have to remember which side of the road to drive on.
In 1918 the Red Sox won their 5th World Series, the most by any club at that time. One of the stars of the Boston championship franchise was a young pitcher by the name of George Herman Ruth, aka The Babe or The Bambino.
In 1920, however, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee needed money to finance his girlfriend's play, so he sold Babe Ruth's contract to Colonel Jacob Ruppert's New York Yankees for $100,000 (plus a loan collateralized by Fenway Park).
Since then, the Yankees, who had never won a World Championship before acquiring Ruth, have gone on to win 26, and are arguably one of the greatest success stories in the history of sport.
Meanwhile, the Boston Red Sox have appeared in only four World Series since 1918, losing each one in game seven. Many consider Boston's performance after the departure of Babe Ruth to be attributable to "The Curse of the Bambino."
Currently the Red Sox lead 3-0 and only need one more win...to make history.
I had a letter from Agma which seems to suggest that my health care is about to run out. I thought I was in benefit for a little while longer. The health care plans in this country a huge mystery to me. I think if I get ill it is cheaper to jump on a plane back to England. It makes you appreciate the UK National Health Service in a way one wouldn't have considered when living there. "Don't know what you got until it's gone".
Peter, the producer and dynamo of Aquila, and the beautiful Desiree, are getting married on Sunday in Manhattan. The celebrations are going on all day. I'm sorry I will miss it. I wish them every happiness.
Strange audience last night. It was a bit like an Aquila show to a college crowd. Lots of talking, cellphones ringing. At the end of the show at the curtain call as we were leaving the stage, one of our younger actors stepped forward and seemed to berate the audience for their behavior. I'm not too sure what he said but he left to wild applause.
Just when I think I have seen everything, something happens that shows me life is always surprising.
Saturday, October 30, 2004
Halloween ghosts in and the Gayborough is gearing up with a passion.
Already drag queens have been tottering down the streets in Madonna bridal outfits complete with six inch stilettos, stockings and suspenders.
Almost as scary is the upcoming election.
One wonders if there might be another reminder from Bin Laden with an attack on American soil. However I can't think of that as I return to New York on Monday. It will be the first time that I have driven in the city. I'm nervous but looking forward to the adventure.
I have enjoy ed Philly enormously. The old city is exceptional in its beauty and history. I have reveled in being in one place for a length of time. I have rejoiced in working for an American theatre company for the first time and with some wonderful American actors. The Wilma has been a delightful place to work from beginning to end. I can't find anything to complain about.
I am content.
I now look forward to the uncertainty with the knowledge that I have always been supported.
I love the uncertainty.
I love the adventure.
I love the quest for the knowledge... that is the reason for being here. I know there is one.
May be it isn't for me but for someone else or others.
I continue to look forward to my joyful participation in the sorrows of the world.