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!