Lots afoot since the last blog. The Fury Factory Festival in San Francisco (an every-other-year confabulation of ensemble-created theatre from far and wide) presented our Lear for three performances. We are now about to trek north to the Kate Wolf Music Festival, filling ourselves with the joy of music before presenting me to the skilled knife of the surgeon who will give me a new hip. (And in six weeks, he’ll do the other one.) I am so ready to say bye-bye to this unrelenting pain.
We opened Lear in San Francisco a little over a year ago, and it was good to bring it back. We even got free lodging, since our son and his lady are on a trip to Australia and gave us the keys to their sweet digs in the Mission. Their cats made it clear that we were second-best companions, but consented to offer a lot of purring
The cats are litter-mate brothers, and utterly unlike. Jack is glossy black and straight-tailed, while Curly has gone sort of chestnut-brown and has a tail that gave him his name. They react in radically different ways to human affection. Jack meows and purrs and snuggles, whereupon Curly attacks Jack. Same human actions, different reactions.
And so it was with the two reviewers we had, both of whom came on the same night. One delivered one of the most fulsome reviews we’ve ever had the good fortune to read. The other dribbled sour piss from on high. Same human actions, different reactions.
In the many decades of our performing for wildly different audiences, one thing I’ve appreciated is that two people sitting side by side are seeing different performances, bringing their own lives, memories, and perspectives into the mix. In our own writing we leave plenty of space for this. Here, the Bard created the structure, but our own peculiar staging offers plenty of personal permeability.
So go figure. Jack cuddled up and purred, Curly attacked. Such is life.
—From the Fool—
I try not to talk about important stuff. A Fool is supposed to get laughs, and folks don’t laugh much if they want to kill you. These days lots of folks want to kill you if you don’t see things their way.
But everybody’s talking now about Muslims shooting people, and what to do. They say we need to keep them out of the USA or else put them on a list so we kick’em all out if they jaywalk. The guys that say that probably have more guns than I do, so I better agree.
But if they want to save us from all getting killed, they better go farther. The KKK were Christians and kinda set the record for terror, so we better get rid of the Christians. The Oklahoma City bombers hated the Feds, so if you ever cursed the Feds, you gotta go. The Charleston shooter was a white supremacist, so the whites have gotta go. (Myself, I might have to get rid of my cat, who doesn’t like travel.) Some guys, like the Columbine shooters or the Denver movie shooter or the Sandy Hook shooter, you couldn’t really tell what they were, so anyone that looks kinda blank, I guess they gotta go.
That might cause a lotta hassle, but it’d be easier to find a parking place.
Just back from Lear performances on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at Fury Factory, San Francisco’s biennial ensemble theatre festival. Fulsome response, but an incredibly taxing week.
The pluses were the hard-working festival staff and the use of Eli & Meg’s apartment, they being off to Australia. Curly and Jack, their cats, weren’t pleased with the intrusion of strangers, but they were tolerant.
The challenges: A pain-filled Elizabeth, a week prior to her hip surgery. A germ-&-mucus-filled self, suddenly hit with a summer cold and spending most days flat on my back to scrounge up some energy and lung capacity for performances. One over-the-top rave review and one stinker—though the stinker being in the Chronicle cut heavily into attendance.
And the crystallization of a painful understanding—one we’ve known instinctively but never felt so acutely. The festival schedule required that we strike the set offstage and be out a half-hour after the end of the show. We knew this and understood the need, but we didn’t fathom the effect it would have…on us.
Most actors are in sync with the standard theatre ritual: end of play, curtain call, back to the dressing room, come out, say hello to a few friends who’ve stayed to talk. If there’s a formal talk-back, they’re back out on stage for a micro-performance. For us, it’s different.
For the vast majority of the roughly 4,000 performances we’ve done over 47 years—except in theatres where the formalities didn’t allow it—we’ve been almost immediately present afterward to the audience, those who wanted to respond, to ask questions, to speak, whether to say “Great show!” or to tell us the story of their lives. And very often, except where we were in costume & makeup, we’ve been there beforehand to greet them. That’s conditioned us in a peculiar way that I didn’t fully realize till this week.
We need that direct contact. Without it, it’s like omitting the final scene of the play, like making love to a sex machine rather than to your beloved, like the orchestra suspending the final notes of the cadence. The omission left us stranded mid-air, flailing for a foothold. Rarely, after shows, is there a deep communication, a soul epiphany, and yet the need for direct touch is so essential to our being. Somehow, we need to see the people to whom we have given. So, forward.
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