Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd

OK, so it's not my line, but the title of a 1960s Brit musical - it still fits.

The show is done, the applause faded, the costumes ready for cleaning, the props tucked lovingly away (okay, it's more appropriate to say "flung with great force") into boxes, and last hugs exchanged. I took a minute or so to just sit in my favorite seat in the house and look out at the empty stage once everything was packed away. That may be a touch maudlin, but I don't think so. Magical things need to be remembered and acknowledged before we return to the rush and bother of everyday life.

To me, theatre's a funny thing. It's like a soap bubble - fragile, beautiful and, well, rather vulgar in this case. But even vulgarity can have a sort of loveliness to it. (Ever hear someone truly creative mad enough to cuss? It's not to be missed. But I digress.) Theatre's not the same from night to night. It's happening right THERE, look now you, or you miss it, and you can't rewind it or TiVo it. The show is done. Period. You either saw it, or you didn't. And it was different every night. It's there and then - well, then it's not. Now, don't misunderstand me - I love film, but one of the weaknesses (and strengths, to be truthful about it) of that medium is that it's always the same. Indy's crooked smile as he faces certain death will always be just so, the light will always cling to Ingrid Bergman's face at that angle that makes you catch your breath, and the cross-hatched shadows will always fall across the crags of Mal's face in that way that makes you think fleetingly of jail bars trapping him. And you can show it to other people and point it out and say, "See? That's what I mean!"

And that's great. But it's not live.

One of the things I loved so completely about this show is that it's ever-so-slightly dangerous. You really DON'T know what's going to happen. And I have nothing but warmth for everyone who made it come off the page and dance for all of us. When even reality shows are scripted, it's good to be reminded that art doesn't need clean edges nearly so much as it needs messy interaction.

I know it's not exactly cricket to praise your own work, but I've also learned that the smart don't wait for someone else to decide to crown them. So even though it's going to lose some force because I'm the one saying it, it was a solidly funny show. Glad you were there, or sorry you missed it, as the case may be.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Turns Out This IS My Kind of Party!

I just adore serendipity, which has been described as the art of finding things you didn't know were lost. While Scott was visiting from the glittering lights of the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area (and experiencing a certain level of culture shock in the way we do things in a little ol' NC town where you can't go to Starbucks but where people you don't know say "Good morning" to you), the Charlotte Browncoats were throwing a shindig.

Now, for those of you who don't already know, a vocabulary lesson. "Browncoats" are fans of Joss Whedon's FIREFLY and SERENITY 'verses and are a rather rabid fanbase. (It's a long story, but a gripping tale, full of thwarted love and high adventure.) Browncoats get together on a somewhat regular basis for parties, known as "shindigs."

With that in mind, I'd gotten tickets in advance and yesterday, off we went from the Rim world of Shelby to the slightly-closer-to-the-Core world of Charlotte. (I think Charlotte's the equivalent of Persephone, but that's just me. Again, if you don't get the reference, go back and watch your box set of FIREFLY again. It'll come to you eventually.) Great fun! The Bedlam Bards provided music that was both poignant and bawdy (not in the same song, thank heavens - it's hard to switch gears that quickly!) and I even won a prize at the raffle. It's always nice to be reminded that you're not the lone voice howling in the wilderness about the things you have a passion for. Sports fans understand this - they can get together, wear goofy clothes and even adorn themselves with bright (and quite possibly toxic) body paint and no one says much. It's harder for the rest of us, so when we find one another, we tend to hang on tightly. It's almost like knowing a code or a secret handshake.

So I'm off to practice my gosling-juggling.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Up and Running!

I thought about including my two cents' worth on the tragic events at Virginia Tech, but have elected not to chime in much on that. I went to college in Roanoke, which is fairly close by to Blacksburg, and the thought of that lovely, soft and green part of the country being so shattered by hatred, violence and terror just sickens me. Suffice it to say that I grieve and that I have hope that something good and useful will arise from this, although I'd be hard-pressed to identiy what it could possibly be. But I must believe that there is more good in this world than there is evil (I believe in both, mind you) and that good wins. Always.

The show I've been working so long and hard on is open now. My actors are zipping along with chunks of hard dialogue falling trippingly from the tongue and my backstage crew could show Hercules a thing or two about accomplishing nearly impossible tasks. Seriously - the show has a good number of very quick costume changes and if you have lazy, sloppy dressers, everything falls apart. Humor doesn't wait for zippers! I have to admit that, on Friday night, I was too nervous to take my seat in the house; I had to pace in the light booth. But last night I sat with the audience and watched them enjoy the show and (I must say) I laughed a few times as well, and I knew the jokes were coming!

It's good when hard work has tangible payoffs.

There's much more to talk about, but I need coffee and Spooky is utilizing her telepathic abilities to inform me that it's far past time for her walk. Then Ping and I need to plan our upcoming assault on Mount Mitchell, the highest American peak east of the Mississippi. So, as you can see, it's a busy day.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Re-Emerging Into the Sunlight!

The self-imposed media blackout is over and, speaking for myself, I don't feel that I missed all that much. I DID plan my blackout so I could be entertained by the premiere of Drive last night. A little mind candy in the intellectual diet is a good thing and the show has strong ties to Joss Whedon, so I was more than willing to give it a chance, despite it airing on Fox, against whom I still harbor a smoldering resentment for its treatment of Firefly. (I'm Southern; we know how to hold a grudge professionally.) Not to mention that I live in the very heart of NASCAR country, so I figured a show about an illegal, cross-country road race would be right up my alley.

It was also a nice break from working on the show, which opens this Friday. That means I'm in the midst of the "ohmigod, ohmigod" phase where I'm fretting about - well, everything. I'm trying to be all calm and existentialist about it (you know, "It'll come together or it won't, and either way, we're all going to die one day and it won't matter"), but I'm a lousy existentialist. (Yeah, I know that's a gross oversimplification of the philosophy, but it's my blog, so go away.)

Also, just this morning I finished the first draft of the most recent chapter of the book I'm drafting. I need to review it, then turn it over for editing. As you know from this blog, I'm a big ol' honking Whedonian and I was fascinated by the idea that a hard-line atheist could write characters who were so often wrestling with issues raised by faith, both the religious and the not-so-much variety. (Just my thought - always stick with the folks who are wrestling with these issues and steer clear of the ones who think they've got it all figured out. They're smug about things and quite possibly wrong, especially if they begin talking about smiting.) Anyway, I finally got off my speculative duff and sought out like-minded people. I started presenting my work at conferences and one thing led to another. I now have a contract for a book that focuses on issues of faith and belief in Whedon's work, with the manuscript to be turned in at the end of the summer. I'm simultaneously thrilled by the prospect of having this sort of work published, humbled by the publisher's willingness to take a risk on me, and scared to death that I'll muff this opportunity. Then again, I have people who ought to know telling me that I'm doing just fine, so who am I to contradict them? You'll hear more about the manuscript as things progress, but there's plenty else to discuss as well, and quite frankly, some days I just don't want to talk about it.

So what are YOU up to these days? Ostrich polo? Teaching a dog to peform on the trapeze? Learning to eat fire? I'd like to know.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Take a Media Break - The World Isn't That Bad

It's a radical idea, I know, but just hear me out. Sometimes it really can seem as if the world's going to hell without even the benefit of a handbasket. The news is dominated by stories such as Duke lacrosse players being framed; a radio talk show host who finds insulting a basketball team fodder for morning drive jokes; and an ex-Playboy bunny who lost everything, including the dignity of knowing the identity of her infant daughter's father. And those stories provide relief from the other horrors, including an ongoing war that looks more grim with each passing day.

I'm a fan of the long-defunct comic strip "Bloom County" and when things got to this point, the gentle and wise Opus would take what he termed a "dandelion break." I think Opus had the right idea. Now, I'm not advocating being an ostrich and putting on blinders to the very serious problems the world faces on a daily basis. (And yeah, I know I'm mixing my metaphors, but c'mon - doesn't the image of an ostrich wearing blinders make you chuckle just a little bit? Okay, then.) I'm just suggesting a three-day fast from the media. Don't watch the news (it's horrible and it'll be horrible when you turn it back on), don't read the newspaper, don't even check out the online versions. Listen to music on the radio rather than talk shows. When an actor playing a lawyer suggests that you're sick and it's somebody else's fault and you should call immediately, change the channel. Spend that chunk of time engaged in activities that make you see the good side of things. It really doesn't take any more time; we're just not used to it, having become addicted to swallowing the prepackaged mayhem the media tells us we're to be concerned about.

Start small. Take a walk in your own neighborhood. In mine, the dogwoods are blooming, tulips and irises are competing for the title of "most likely to be picked," and gardens are beginning to be cultivated in anticipation of the coming months - always a sure sign that people are planning for a future that's better than war and custody battles. Here, it's spring break for the schoolkids. Talk to one - they're not all the amoral, self-centered little jerks that all too often the papers would have you think. Smile at people - where I'm from, this is common; in other parts of the country, it'll make 'em wonder what you're up to. When you're waiting in line, strike up a conversation that doesn't include speculating on the educational level and/or parentage of the cashier.

We're often told that "God doesn't give you more than you can handle," the idea being that God (or Spirit, or however you like to think of it) gave you what you have because you can shoulder it. Funny how most of us think that only applies to the nasty, sharp-edged circumstances of our lives, like the loss of a job, a serious illness, or a marriage whose center can no longer hold. I don't know about you, but I always found that pretty cold comfort. But just imagine what might happen if you applied that same adage to the good stuff in your life. Maybe you're ready to handle good fortune without going off the deep end and becoming a world-class wingnut. And maybe you already have good fortune and you just haven't noticed for a while.

So seek and see what ye shall find. Give up (just for three days) reports of misery and despair and look for the dandelions. I bet you find a couple.

Oh, and a picture from the play rehearsals. That might jump-start your smiles.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Patroness of the Arts

I'm directing a play right now - my first in a very long time. It turns out that it's not exactly like riding a bicycle. You remember things - remind the actors to pause here for a laugh that better be coming after that line, set up different levels so not everything happens on the same plane, use three-dimensional space, can that prop be used in a different way that what the audience is going to expect and so on - but so much of directing has nothing to do with the script. As is true of everything, it's about relationships.

Performing in any form is at least a little masochistic. You're putting yourself out there and, no matter what, when someone says they don't like it; on some level, they're talking about you. And that's tough to take. And heaven knows, everyone's got an opinion. However, it comes down to one person's take on things; their "vision," if you will. And in this show, it's mine. So if it sucks, well, that's my fault, but my actors are going to take the brunt of it, since they're the ones onstage. Of course, if it's a blazing success, they get the glory, since they're the ones onstage. It may not be pretty, but that's the math of it.

So you must, must, must work with people you trust. People who understand that a good show sometimes means shifting focus away from them and onto another actor. People who understand that backstage work gets little glory, but nothing happens onstage without the people wearing the stage blacks. And when it's an all-volunteer organization, all of this becomes heightened.

How will it all work out? Ask me in ten days. It's a good script and I have good people. But there's plenty of work to do. I'll see if I can add some pictures from rehearsals . . .

Friday, April 6, 2007

We Shall Call It . . . This Land!

If you ever watched Joss Whedon's Firefly, you understand the title reference, which seems appropriate for my first foray into the brave new world of blogging.

If you didn't ever watch Firefly, well, you have the joy in front of you of seeing it for the first time. Stop reading this right now and run out and buy the box set. Go on. Now. I mean it - I'm watching you and I can tell that you're still reading this. Lying to me is no way to begin our relationship.