Friday, September 21, 2012

Jane Austen's Supportive Family

In my stacks of "must-read" periodicals and books, I unearthed Persuasions, Issue #31, 2009 and I came across a wonderful and thought-provoking article written by Maggie Lane called "Brothers of the More Famous Jane...".  Besides being a remarkably easy read for a scholarly article, the information provided in the essay was for me a revelation.  Here are some of the sentences that most intrigued me:

  • "In the case of Sense and Sensibility, it seems probable that the sum of about £180 had to be paid upfront for printing and advertising - in which case Henry surely advanced the money, for such a sum massively exceeded Jane Austen's slender means.  Sales of about 420 copies were needed to break even.  In the "Biographical Notice" of 1818, Henry tells us "she actually made a reserve from her very moderate income to meet the expected loss."  She had no such reserve; Henry was both concealing her poverty and lauding her modesty, but we can read between the lines her fear of debt and of increasing the huge obligations she already felt to her brothers.  The appearance of Jane Austen's first novel owed everything, in my opinion, to the force of Henry's confidence and calculations as well as to his cash and his contacts.  From this point Henry was totally involved in Jane Austen's publishing life."
The ramifications of this particular article are incredible.  Henry used his contacts to secure a publisher.  Henry paid for the publicity and publication of her first novel.  So the looming question here is, would we even know Jane Austen if it were not for her wealthy, politically connected brother?  People will hate me for saying this but for all artists this problem exists and exists to the present day.  Personally I know of brilliant work that does not see the light of day because there is not a mass of money available to put that work forward.  There is also the matter of riding the tide of what is currently popular.

More to come...

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World by Yussef El Guindi

American Theatre Magazine has been posting astonishing plays lately and I just finished reading "Pilgrims Musa..." over the weekend.  Again I only meant to skim the piece and again I was drawn in.  Mr. Guindi manages to capture and speak to all of us when his character, Abdallah, says, "The everyday pilgrimage you make when you open your mouth to a stranger and hope to God you are understood."  How many of us have felt this way each and every day.  Everytime I audition or make a submission or try to talk to another member of the Moms Club.  Every day.  Later the same character says, "The way you have to open up and travel to the place someone is coming from."  How many of us resist doing this?  How many times have I judged ahead of time.  The world continues to surprise me.  As hard as it is to be my age and continue performing, writing and so on.  Even thinking.  Sometimes I feel judged for that.  But here I am admonished from the pages of this play, to continue to grow and continue my quest for a theatre that will be all inclusive, environmentally sound, promoting the rights and the literature of women.  This kind of work forces a person to be more, to stand up for what you believe in.  Thoughts for the day!

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Water Color Artist James Prosek

"I could not believe these fish were so huge.  They looked like sculptures - polished marble sides, glistening steel backs, fins like blades of metal, eyes like miniature Earths with atmospheres and seas and forests and deserts."  Just finished reading an article about artist and conservationist James Prosek.  The guy looks like a young Mel Gibson.  Besides having an amazing work ethic (up to 14 studio hours per day), he is making a conservation statement about Atlantic fish.  Sometimes you wonder how art and making any kind statement mix.  You have to decide who you are, what you want to say.  This guy is a modern Audubon, the paintings are remarkable, he experiments with metallic powder, powdered mica, etc. to record exactly what is in front of him. The article says for the canvas, "Prosek used 60 inch tall rolls of paper cut to size and dyed with up to 20 bags of tea." Apart from some magnificent descriptive language, I find this gentleman the real thing.  What is engaging to me is the way he sees these fish.  His experience of them is so intense.  One might look but not see.  That is the job of any artist, theatrical or otherwise, to really see, intensely, profoundly with complete clarity. I wish I could say it better.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Profiles Production of Sweet and Sad by Richard Nelson

On a recent trip to Chicago, I took a short cab ride to Profiles Theatre Company on North Broadway.  They have a new and rehabbed space which I found intimate and wonderful.  The ceiling is high and looks like a tin ceiling, plenty of space for lighting equipment, excellent sound system.  Richard Nelson calls "Sweet and Sad" one of his "disposable" plays because of the precision of the setting (September 11, 2011).  But I was glad to see this play produced.  First off, there was Joe Jahraus' deft direction.  I would have to look at the text for the play but I loved the fact that the audience entered to an empty space and then the actors put the entire space together.  They brought a rug out, laid it down.  They entered with the dining room table which seemed mythic in its own way.  They brought a cart table in, dishes, silver ware, food.  They served themselves like so many family dinners.  Robert Breuler as Uncle Benjamin Apple was a piece of genius casting.  Kate Harris and Darrell Cox inhabited their characters to the core.  I admit I had some troubles with the supporting cast but some of that had to do with the writing.  For example, there is a middle sister...who is she?  Why does she want to turn her actor-boyfriend into a full-time waiter?  What does she need the money for?  The woman playing this character was dressed like a sober matron.  The text says she's divorced, maybe several times, I would have dressed her more provocatively suggesting that she's the sister who gets around.  As it stood, I did not buy that relationship with her bald actor boyfriend for a moment.  The pacing of the production, the use of overlap was executed perfectly by all. I enjoyed the way the ensemble worked.  They clicked.  I did not think all the characters were defined enough and the program was confusing.  It lists only Robert Breuler as Equity and yet the ticket price was $40 so I found myself wondering who is union and who is not, were some actors paid and some not?  Would explain some of the uneveness of the acting but it seemed from the program like all the actors had won awards, done loads of work, etc.  Loved seeing the family dynamic up there.  Very important to see this play in relation to Belles.  Thought provoking.  Making me think and write and re-write!  Thank you Richard Nelson!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Reflections on Steven Karam's Sons of the Prophet

Writing facilitates thinking.  I am writing about the things I read because it helps me to think about them.  Just finished reading Steven Karam's Sons of the Prophet published a few months ago in American Theatre Magazine.  As is my usual mode, I had just planned to skim the play given mommyhood provides me with limited reading time but I was drawn in.  I found the play universal and profound.  The fellow is not afraid to stop and reflect.  Gloria's line "Manhattan is fabulous but...I'm not sure there's anything more...invisible in that city than a single, 60 year old woman."  He underscores this with humor by having the male character respond with "A single, 70 year old woman?"  This observation took my breath away.  Performers frequently get sidelined after 40 - an acting career - the hardest thing ever to decide to do - becomes hard in ways that were unimaginable when one was twentysomething.  Yet, I've always felt most actors don't realize their full potential in terms of emotional depth and thinking until after 40.  The other line that really grabbed me (there were many) " one's life should be about finding stability..." "Yes, but whose life isn't?" These words in terms of a life in the theatre.  Yes, I agree, this young writer is compassionate and profound and understands well beyond his years.  Steven Karam was discussed at a producer round table at the Roundabout that I recently attended.  Todd Haimes said he gave this young man a chance because he felt he would drop out of theatre if he did not receive immediate encouragement.  Though I felt the punishment of this remark, I can understand too.  However at the time I felt like shouting, "What about the rest of us, Mr. Haimes?  Those of us who keep going in spite of receiving very little encouragement, very little major recognition?  You feel you need to encourage yet another white male?"  But I didn't.  Any remark like this would make me seem ungrateful, bitter, unhappy.  So I look to this script as inspiration for my own work and hang on to that.  I like the idea that Karam allows characters to observe profoundly on life, on what it's like to be alive.  A play isn't just about true to life dialogue, it must contain those universal hooks, else why write?  These hooks must be woven into dialogue so that the characters HAVE to say them.  That makes the work truly remarkable.  Thank you, Mr. Karam.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

More on Uncle Vanya at Lincoln Center Festival

Thoughts are flooding in fast and furious.  The purity of this production staggers me.  I have to go back and read the other translations I have of this play.  Part of the poetry of this production was embedded in the entrances of every single character.  What was being said onstage before any character entered either reflected on that particular character or provided a stark contrast to that character.  I cannot count how many entrances were like this but one in particular I vividly remember: Sonia is complaining about how plain she is and Yelena enters just at the perfect moment to counter-pose the two.  This was like sculpture to me.  It was truly great art.  Unforgettable art. In a world of corruption, and it's everywhere, there was no corruption here.  Nothing was ruined.  And it was so simple.  The actors played clear, clean intentions unmuddled by garbage.  The whole vision of the production true to Chekhov.  If I could challenge myself to clean up the entrances on "Belles" in this way and to simplify the language where it needs it in the way this production has done, I would have a shot at something real.  So I throw down the glove to myself.  Thank you Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton and Tamas Ascher.  On Ascher's website, it says his productions of Chekhov have run 5 to 7 years in Hungary where there is still a repertory system.  I well know how shows and actors improve with time, having performed as Aphra Behn from 1996 to 2011 and as Jane Austen from 2005 and still going.  Why, why can't we go back to this system in the United States?  It is our loss.
Pitch-perfect production last night at Lincoln Center - stunning emotionally - the acting, the directing, the adaptation - all faultless:  Makes me want to get to work on everything, inspiring, stirring, can't stop thinking about it!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Toolbar gone - no pictures - help?

I have now entered the "new post" section of my blog about 20 times and the tool bar is incomplete.  It will not let me post photos.  I hope to have this resolved at some point but will struggle thru for now.  If anyone is reading this and can show me how to get my tool bar back, please send instructions in the comments section.  Thanks!


Have been using my pages mainly to write about my bookings.  I've had a good bit of work the last few months.  First a reading of "Rust" a new 10-minute play I wrote for the Blue Roses Douglas Stevens Infusion Reading Series in May held at the Bruce Mitchell Room at ART/NY.  "Rust" having to do with the way suburban areas have devolved (meant in the archaic sense) in the "Rust Belt" state of Ohio.  In June, I was invited to guest write a blog entry and appear as Jane Austen at a benefit for Going To Tahiti Productions adaptation of Persuasion.  Also in June, I directed a reading of the CBS Radio Version of As You Like It adapted by Brewster Morgan at the Players Club.  In July I was asked to play Miss Maria Mainwaring (prounounced "Mannering") in a reading of an adaptation of Jane Austen's Lady Susan put on by Theater 2020 at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Brooklyn Heights.  Such varied activity has been stimulating, exciting and fun.  Being a Mom, though, I feel as if I've got ADD and I don't know which direction to look first.  I have plays to improve and submit, a hilarious show about Jane Austen that I love to do and an acting resume of which I've been quite neglectful.  And then there's the directing side of me!  Some would say, an embarassment of riches, while I say, I don't know which direction to turn.  Each has an aspect that I love.  Some might think I am just tossed about from project to project lost without a compass on the professional ocean of theatre work.  This is defining me right now.  But I like to think it is shaping me too.  Our child won't be little forever and I must choose to look at this as the universe's way of preparing me for something larger that will come my way in the not too distant future.  This is the optomist in me.  In a jaded world - and I consider myself jaded too - I still feel positive about what can happen in the theatre - what theatre actually makes possible not just for me but for everyone.