acting, Poland, quotes, the chorus, theater

“Like most poets, I don’t know where I’m going.”

Monday, July 25, 2011

Dear Milo,

It’s Monday afternoon. I’m sitting in the front room of the dimly lit cafe Mleczarnia, at (I think) the very same table where I first sat with R. when I first came to Wroclaw, two years ago, eating a slice from the same walnut-encrusted cake. (Perhaps not exactly the same cake. But its brother.)

Mleczarnia is one of my favorite places in Wroclaw, and not just because its courtyard adjoins the White Stork Synagogue. It’s also beautiful inside. The walls are covered with black-and-white photographs. The people in the portraits, in black dresses with white collars, in wedding gowns and formal suits, remind me of the one photograph I’ve seen of my grandmother’s mother, Sylvia Schwartz. Candles as tall as rulers stand on tables, next to teapots of dried flowers. And in front of me, a line of actors and tourists and Wroclawians are ordering enormous glasses of Zywiec.

To my great happiness, R. is actually in town, and will be joining me in a few hours!
I have my laptop and my cake and some tea I’ve let overbrew. I have two days of training to tell you about, but first I have a quote. (“Now, sir, what is your text?”)

“Like most poets, I don’t know where I’m going. The pen is an instrument of discovery rather than just a recording implement. If you write a letter of resignation or something with an agenda, you’re simply using a pen to record what you have thought out. In a poem, the pen is more like a flashlight, a Geiger counter, or one of those metal detectors that people walk around beaches with. You’re trying to discover something that you don’t know exists, maybe something of value.”
–Billy Collins, interviewed in the Paris Review (

If you read “the performer’s body” for “the pen,” then this quote also applies to our own training. It is necessary to enter the rehearsal room with no more preconceptions than you have when you picks up a pen. (Of course, you often pick up a pen with tons of preconceptions. But the best writing comes when you let them go.)

The only way you can get anywhere is to let yourself not know where you’re going.

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Poland, the chorus, theater

For what purpose, I cannot say yet

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Dear Milo,

Today was a day I’ve been waiting for for a very long time—the first day back in workshops at SOTG.

[recap of evening of 22nd]

Last night, my roommate L-from-London cooked a delicious vegetable curry (cabbage, eggplant) and we ate it with kasha and talked over our apprehensions about what today would bring. Roommate M. came home later, and we all three shared some fears and some hopes for the next day. It’s fun living with two other actors, going through the same experiences, but it also has the effect of having emotions be multiplied. Last night, what we were all going through was a bit of nervousness.

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Poland, the chorus, theater, travel

The Belle of Something City

July 20, 2011
Dear Milo, and everyone,

I’m sorry I haven’t called, I’m sorry I haven’t responded to your emails, and I’m sorrier that I didn’t get to see you before I left. But I have left, although I still have an hour or so left in the United States. We will not see each other for some time. But I am going to try to be writing here.

I am sitting at a cafe table in Newark Airport, waiting for a flight to Munich. From there, I will take a puddle-jumper to Wroclaw, where I will begin a year-long program with a Polish theater, Song of the Goat (Teatr Piesn Kozla). I will be doing their in-house MA in Acting program, and training with them. This study is being funded by a Fulbright.

None of this has sunk in at all, BTW. Last night I was working on a grant for a theater company I sometimes freelance for, and I was rattling off the facts of their announcements. So many performances, so many audience members, X, Y, Z. That’s what it feels like for me to write “I’ll be on Poland for a year, on a Fulbright.” It feels like I’m describing someone else’s life, rather than my own. Someone who has it together—someone who isn’t wearing socks and flip-flops.

But it’s me, together or not together. It’s me, following the trail of the elusive Greek Chorus Beast, as usual.

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musicals, poetry, theater

taking stock (at close quarters, art is a fishy business)

(1) Anthology I applications close tomorrow. Several different cities, states, and countries represented, as well as people coming to filmmaking from all sorts of different backgrounds: theater, film proper, visual arts, science fiction. I’m excited.

(2) Yesterday we had the first ParOct core group meeting of 2011, combined with brunch. (Rehearsal should always be combined with food.) It was glorious. We did some re-recording and setting parts in/for “Animula.” We have chosen ten poems (the same ten for Anthology I) on which to focus in core group: we are making choices, we are taking notes. We have a script. This is very exciting, after eight months of improv where everything got changed every time. Feels like the right thing to be doing.

(3) My first workshop poem of my last MFA workshop: today.

(4) My last MFA reading: also today. 8 pm, Gilman 388.

(5) Best Youtube comment ever, from the video for TMBG’s Birdhouse In Your Soul:

What you’ve just wrote is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever read. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone who read this is now dumber for have seeing it. I award you no thumbs up, and may God have mercy on your soul.

once more:
Everyone who read this is now dumber for hav[ing] seen it.

That’s funny.

(6) There is no #6.

(7) Really, Intiman Theatre? Really? Is there no such thing as a financially stable theater in this country? What would it take to have one? (Via AJ.)

(8) I’m your only friend; I’m not your only friend…

(9) It is possible to create a song to the tune of “Big Rock Candy Mountain” with the refrain “In the poems of Philip Larkin.”

(10) Ich habe ein poem, “Checking Out,” in the current issue of the Hopkins Review. (Winter 2011, Vol. 4, #1.)
The title is (I didn’t realize this until after it was published) obviously taken from the States song of the same name, from the album The Path of Least Resistance, which I listened to constantly while in NYC. (The poem is about being in New York.) Yes, this is my first poem published in a print journal.


In the poems of Philip Larkin,
all the women interfere
with writing poems and being alone;
they are greatly to be feared.

In the poems of Philip Larkin,
all images lead to death:
whether windows, horses, boats or trains,
all death, death, death, death, death–

(12) (more theater roundup): WashPost article on Irene Lewis leaving Centerstage. Also via AJ.

“I always knew it would be a split,” Lewis says of the roles she’s had to play. “Artists are mostly anarchists, and when you run an institution, you have to be a pragmatist. So that tension is considerable. And you have, what, 70 employees, and they’re depending on you to choose things that keep the doors open but not” – she leans forward on the word, and pauses before finishing – “to compromise. So I never did ‘A Christmas Carol.’ And an old production manager who used to work here said, ‘Irene, I don’t think a lot of people would stay here if you did.’ ”

(13) Women in literary criticism? What women in literary criticism?

(14) Nice to have a free moment, even if only a moment, to blog again.

(15) We begin our readings with a poem by another author, and I’m going to read an unpublished (and unedited, and unfinished) piece of Larkin free-verse journaling that I dug up from the Andrew Motion biography. No doubt he would not wish to have it read. It’s too long to post the whole thing here, but here’s the beginning:

What is there in me that justifies my ignoring other people?
I used to think it was art: but at close quarters art is a fishy business…
To me art is a sneaking mixture of wish-fulfillment, telling the truth,
And arranging the filings of life to the magnet of my character.
And I don’t like my character.
I wouldn’t back it for twopence, and I don’t advise anyone else to do so either.
– Philip Larkin, untitled poem, from Philip Larkin: A Writer’s Life by Andrew Motion, chapter 23, p. 181, Faber & Faber: 1993

What Motion says to introduce this is quite lovely, too. Oh, why not do everything out of order. Here goes. Same page:

Slowly but surely Larkin crushed Ruth’s happiness beneath his own worries, and when the new term began they were as unsure about their future as they had been before announcing their engagement. Reluctant to end it so soon, they resumed their semi-separate lives — Ruth in Malet Street, Larkin in Dixon Drive, where his self-pity soon erupted in a piece of free verse too rambling to call a poem, but too interesting for him to discard. He tore it out of his manuscript book but kept it among his other papers…

(16) Where they hung the jerk who invented work–
in the poems of Philip Larkin.

(17) Larkin is a rather unsavory man, to put it mildly–so unsavory that an English dept. grad student I ran into a few days ago told me that he uses Larkin’s essay, “On Jazz,” as an exemplar of how not to write jazz criticism, as well as how not to write, or think, period. (It’s apparently an extremely paternalistic and borderline racist text. I admit I have not yet read it, but I do trust this person’s assessment.)
As Motion says in the intro to the biography,

…each of us creates a highly personal version of his character to accompany his [Larkin’s] work.

which is, of course, true–I have the Larkin in my head, a very congenial man–and learning more about who he really was is slowly crushing the image of that congenial fellow. Larkin was no Cowper, I guess, is the best way to put it.

Reading the biography, however, is not crushing my affection for his poems, which cannot, I believe, be crushed, no matter how much I learn about his personality and politics. But I no longer wish, as I once did, that I had been able to meet him.

(18) I was watching the TMBG Birdhouse because I was watching the Pushing Daisies rendition of the same song, with Kristin Chenoweth and Ellen Greene, and I was watching that because I was watching “Suddenly Seymour” (one of the texts I teach in the musicals class) and got link-referred to Ellen Greene in another clip…
and there was a YT comments discussion about how Pushing Daisies had not been renewed but Scrubs had, et cetera, and they were bashing Scrubs, and I mistakenly believed at first that the commenting people were objecting to Scrubs‘s use of interpolated fantasy musical numbers, and perhaps even blaming Scrubs for popularizing a trend of such numbers (and for similar numbers appearing in PD) and I thought a larger point could be made about musical numbers in television shows, but then I realized it had nothing to do with that, but only to do with preferring one show over the other.

But I do think there is something to be said about fantasy musical numbers in television shows.

(19) Not to put too fine a point on it,
You’re the only bee in my bonnet–
Make a little birdhouse in your soul.

(20) Something also to be said about how, in the landscape of musical numbers within television shows (and films!), songs originated as “music” and songs originated as “theater” have equal currency. Everything’s available to be played in the jukebox, or performed by the TV show characters. This puts us in interesting mimetic situations, where lyrics that were never intended to be interpreted literally, or used to have a character achieve a dramatic objective, are suddenly implanted on characters…

Also something to be said about the ability to use voice-over in musical numbers in TV and film. My class found that very interesting.

(21) I’m your only friend,
I’m not your only friend,
but I’m your little glowing friend,
but really I’m not actually your friend,
but I am…

(22) Great example (in #21) of lyrics that have metrical features interposed by the music–features that the text alone, as lyrics, does not convey.
I also love the transfer of emphasis from one iteration to another of the phrase “only friend.” It’s a lot like that old drama exercise:
I love you.
I LOVE you.
I love YOU.

(23)…the canary by the outlet in the light switch
Who watches over you–
Make a little birdhouse in your soul.

(24) (pause)


(26) Should probably go to campus deal with laundry comment on twelve stories and four poems eat lunch return gear to DMC respond to some emails first.

(27) Also, this question of how to best punctuate page versions of lyrics that were clearly composed for oral performance and obviously just contain long strings of connected phrases.

(28) ..make a little birdhouse in your soul…

F&F, theater

Not exactly breaking news,

but Bart Sher’s SOUTH PACIFIC was amazing–incredibly well done in almost every feature. I could only find one thing to nit-pick, instead of my usual fifty. This is very like someone being like “Wow, that John Updike! Not bad!” The production got so much acclaim when it ran, when it opened, when it got the Tony, that I’m rather late to the praise party. But for whatever it’s worth, we liked it too.

It’s still not a show I could ever want to imagine myself directing. No matter how much context you give everything, Bloody Mary’s dialect lines still rub me the wrong way. It’s uncomfortable to listen to and watch, and as much as a production tries to save her from being a stereotype (and this production really tried) she still comes off as a very limited stereotype. There are other characters in the script who are much more fully realized. She’s the one who makes the whole thing seem like a period piece.

But the music is beautiful.

I touch your hand and my arms grow strong…

Afterwards, dinner at bowling lanes in Timonium. I did not bowl, due to still being a bit sore from having fallen down the stairs on Thursday. But I watched my friends bowl. In one game–the last one–one of them made six strikes, and all three of them bowled at least one strike. It felt like a lucky day. On the way home, we sang the chorus from “Living On A Prayer” a cappella in the car, and two different versions of “Round and Round” at the same time.

This was also the weekend of the Hollywood Performance Marathon at Theatre of NOTE in Los Angeles, on Saturday. I hear it went well; I wish I could have been there. But there are reasons for me to be here, and things to be done here, too.

musicals, poetry, theater

this morning,

heading off to brunch, and then SOUTH PACIFIC at the Kennedy Center in DC. (Bart Sher’s production. I’m very glad that I haven’t entirely missed my chance to see it.)

I heard a lot about the Kennedy Center the entire time I was working at OSF, because various productions would transfer there for part of the summer. However, I’ve never seen the place. I’m as dressed up as I feel one can be for a matinee, and very excited.

Spent yesterday completing more applications, including some I’d been putting off awhile. The first one’s hard: the second and third are quicker: and by the fourth in a twenty-four-hour period, you just don’t care any more. You’re faster, less self-preoccupied, and more efficient. If I have nothing to do next year, it will not be for lack of having asked for things.

Enough about that. Something else exciting: Linebreak is putting out a straight-to-ebook poetry anthology, Two Weeks, with good formatting. Submissions close this Tuesday at 6 pm. Here’s what they have to say about it:

For years, ebooks have been ignored by most poetry publishers. Today, the few poetry ebooks available are little more than cut-and-paste versions of their print counterparts. And many fail to preserve line breaks and other basic formatting.

We’re certain we can do better. That’s why we’re creating an all-new, ebook-only anthology of contemporary poetry. Beginning on Tuesday, January 11, we’ll start accepting public submissions. We’ll compile and design a cutting-edge, multi-format ebook. We’ll publish it.

And we’ll do it all in exactly two weeks.

Sounds good, yes? Submit away…

musicals, theater

Second day of musicals class,

PINAFORE, PIRATES…MIKADO…TOPSY-TURVY and the origins of American musical theatre in the cultural practices of the British Empire.

Tonight, I was combing through some Sondheim for tomorrow–hoping to vary it up from what I did last year–and I’ve been renting so many DVDS at Video Americain that they gave me a free one. So I ended up with both FORUM and GYPSY. I don’t know how I’ve made it thus far without watching GYPSY. It’s incredible, absolutely incredible.

“Remember, you mustn’t be discouraged by the past. You’re artists of the theater.”

The lying, the stealing, the living on a shoestring, the subverting the hopes and expectations of everyone else so that your own desires can be fulfilled. And then getting what you’ve always wanted, and finding out that “what you’ve always wanted” has no use for you at all. Your own daughter not wanting you backstage. And then having her come back to you, and invite you to the party, anyway. Take back yourTake my mink, Mama.

What good is sitting alone in your room…?!

art, theater

possessing the “idea” behind the piece

“At what point did acquiring performance art switch from owning objects associated with the actions, such as videos and photographs, to possessing the “idea” behind the piece? Berlin-based artist Tino Sehgal has evidently turned collecting criteria on their heads. He sells his performance art pieces by means of verbal transactions in the presence of a lawyer with no written contract. Instructions on how to re-enact his works are delivered literally by word-of-mouth, with collectors under strict orders never to photograph or video his “constructed situations”. Yet they sell in editions of four to six for $85,000 to $145,000 each, according to The Art Newspaper. “

Performance Art in the Marketplace.” Via AJ.