14 July, 2018

Ask Al: Creative Un-Blocking!

Dear Al,

Do you ever get creatively blocked? What do you do to find fresh inspiration?

Sincerely,

Blocked


* * *

Hello Blocked!

Whoa, boy have I absolutely been there. You claw at your eyes. You rumple up pages because you've seen someone do that in a movie once. You put on The Bathrobe of Shame. You throw a typewriter.

No, but seriously, practically I do a few things:

1. I return to some of my original sources of inspiration.
     For After Anatevka specifically, I drew from several sources of inspiration you’d likely never even imagine—Rosencranz and Guildenstern Are Dead inspired my writing of the “scenes between the scenes,” and the J.J. Abrams TV show LOST was on television when I first began the novel, and directly inspired the “flashback” structure of the story-telling. The prose of John Steinbeck and Boris Pasternak (particularly East of Eden and Dr. Zhivago, respectively) as well as Russian literary greats Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. And of course the great stories of Yiddish oral tradition, and other Yiddish writers (in addition to Shalom Aleichem) such as Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Shalom Ashe.

     Essentially: I return to the masters and pray for a jolt by “praying at the altar.”


2. I “phone a friend.”
     I also have a small circle of (very) trusted friends that I will call and talk through the troubles with. That can be anything from story, plot, conflict, to trusting them to comb through the words themselves and tell me if I use too many italics. Or Whatever.

     Sometimes I scream into the phone while this friend talks me off the proverbial ledge. Sometimes we cry. Sometimes we do victory laps. The best part is, I always enjoy returning the favor. To give the two most important credit: I have been bouncing ideas off of and with Santino Fontana since we were teenagers, and I don’t know where I’d be creatively without Bobby Steggert. Which is why both are thanked in the acknowledgments of my book by name only, without any need for explanation.


3.  Change your environment / Do something to get your blood flowing.
     Personally, I walk. Everywhere. Until I drop.
     Sometimes I need to get the heck out of my “space” and walk and walk and WALK. Anywhere. Often co-mingling #1 and #2 whilst power-walking my way to publication.

     Have you ever seen the episode of The West Wing where CJ can’t sleep so she exercises on a stationary bike until she sweats out her spleen? Yeah. It’s like that. With less political consequences.


4. I’m always prepared for the un-blocking.
     Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat Pray Love and Big Magic, among others) speaks so perfectly about how the ancient, Jacobean, and early modern world viewed genius in her 2009 Ted talk. To quote David McMillan on his analysis of Gilbert's talk for Thought Catalogue:

“For nearly twenty minutes, Gilbert argues that (1) artists since the Renaissance have been under the belief—or more accurately, the delusion—that they are the source of their own genius; and (2) that this delusion may in fact be the root cause of much of the suffering, madness, and self-destruction that characterize the lives of creative artists in the modern, post-Renaissance era.

Gilbert goes on to explain that that this modern view of genius is starkly different from the Greco-Roman view; for the Greeks and Romans, creativity didn’t come from human beings, it came to human beings. This view served as a “protective psychological construct” that kept the artist both humble and sane. Humble, because the artist could never entirely take credit for his or her work. Sane, because if the work wasn’t good, it wasn’t entirely the artist’s fault—he or she could blame it partially on having a “lame” Genius.”
     Briefly: Gilbert reminds modern society that once, a person was not “a genius” they possessed a “genie”—they were fortunate enough to own an actual talisman that they believed was directly connected to the heavens. Today we see it in reverse— the person themselves possesses the inspiration, they are as we now call it: a “genius,” and they are exclusively responsible for the content they create—for better or for worse.

     Gilbert tells a wonderful (possibly apocryphal) anecdote in her book Big Magic about Tom Waits being hit by the “genie” whilst driving in his car along the highway. He had to pull over and write it all down lest it escape him utterly. He’s a real servant to the “genie.”

     I personally like to think of it as something somewhere mystically in-between. I imagine that the majority of my creativity belongs to me, but sometimes I am absolutely struck by an inspired just-right sentence, a voice, a plot point, a storyline or sometimes an entire character that feels as though it has come to me from nowhere.

     A very specific example of "the genie coming" to me—the character of Dmitri Petrov in my novel After Anatevka appeared to me fully formed—almost as if he knocked on my front door, asked if he could come in, made tea, sat me down, handed me a pen and recounted his entire life story to me in one sitting. I allowed it. I allowed Dmitri to take me over until Dmitri was "done," dutifully taking notes on his story and listening to “him” until "he" was "finished."  I honestly don’t feel even remotely responsible for his creation. In some ways, I feel Dmitri just chose me to tell his story.

     So! In that vein, always always have a pen, something to write on, or have some device that can quickly record your voice. You never know when the “gods” are going to bless you with inspiration, and when they do (even at an inopportune moment) you better be ready!

Philosophically, I try to keep the four worst enemies of creativity at bay:

5. Timing
   There is no perfect time to write. Just start. Do. Make. Go. Anything. Now.

6. Distractions
     Eliminate distractions (a lot of people use Ommwriter to focus on just writing). I also tend to turn off the internet and put my phone on airplane mode.

7. Fear
     Don't be afraid. Many writers struggle with putting their ideas (and themselves) out there for everyone to see and critique. Guess what? Life is full of exposure and judgment, and fear is a major reason some writers never become writers, some actors never become actors, some humans never become their greatest and best selves.
     You have to do your own rumbling with your demons, but the first step is recognizing that you are afraid, and then making the choice to overcome those fears and share your stories anyway. It would not be courage if you were not afraid.

8. Perfectionism
     You want everything to be juuuuuuuuuust right.  I know. I understand.
     Just as there will never be a perfect "time" to write, there is also no perfect writing, no perfect writing environment, no perfect pen, sentence, paragraph... nothing is perfect. If you are waiting for perfection you'll never even begin. Again, rumbling with perfectionism is everyone's own cross to bear, but in my experience, perfectionism kills more good work than any of the other demons combined. Be brave. A messy draft is better than a blank page.


Happy un-blocking!

Al


You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.
Jack London


30 June, 2018

' Choose' by Carl Sandburg

The single clenched fist lifted and ready,
Or the open asking hand held out and waiting.
Choose:
For we meet by one or the other.


26 June, 2018

Ask Al: FAQs! - Part 4

1. You got a flat-out rave review for your portrayal of Guinevere in Camelot from the Washington Post. Was there anything the critic noticed that was especially meaningful to you?

     I always love to know that the production we’ve worked so hard on building is received so warmly.

     I’m not alone in being an actor who does now read my own theatre reviews. I find they “mess with my head” and regardless of positive or negative feedback, they give me specific adjectives that stick in my mind and body that infuse my performance. I wrote about this in a former post a few years ago. The extraordinarily difficult thing about theatre reviews is that the actors have to RETURN to the work the reviewers love or hated the following day, week, month, etc., with the knowledge of those words and opinions.

     In contrast, I do not feel this way about my book reviews! And I suppose I would feel similarly about acting work captured on film. The work, in those instances, is “over.” One cannot change it, it is preserved forever in the form it is and is not a “living” work of art. The distinction of the living work is what makes reading reviews particularly difficult for me, and I suspect, for many others.




2. One of the songs you sing in this show is "I Loved You Once In Silence." Who is someone you loved, but never expressed it to them?
Believe me: they know who they are.

It was expressed. The sentiment of the song remains exactly the same. Sometimes loving is hard.


3. What drew you to the role of Hodel and then Tzeitel in Fiddler on the Roof— are the three of you alike in any ways?

     There are too many to mention. I honestly feel this question is best answered within the pages of After Anatevka— and not only the similarities, but the differences, and the growth every human being hopefully acquires as they age and experience life. I had the uncanny joy of being able to understand each woman more deeply as I embodied the other— much like members of the same family come to more deeply understand their siblings as they all become adults.

     One of my most treasured passages from After Anatevka is from the penultimate chapter, an epistolary exchange from Tzeitel to Hodel:

“Home, Hodelleh. That place beyond the place where we rest our heads every night. Where our centerpieces, our sewing, our carefully prepared meals, simply do not matter. Where our petty little differences and competitions with one another do not matter anymore.

And I thought of you.

It is odd, Hodelleh. Because I do not know if you shall ever read this, I feel compelled to tell you more than ever. Home—where love shall reign supreme. The kind of home you always held within your heart, my dear sister, the kind no meaningless skill of mine could ever fully capture. How I love you, Hodel. It aches within me that I failed to show you in so many ways. That I provided you with every comfort but the comfort of my heart.

Yet I know that we shall both, as we always did, return to each other. For the love beneath our struggle is so strong. Perhaps in time, the Lord shall reveal to us why it is so difficult.”

     My goodness, to embody two such women. What a privilege.


4. Since you started your career how have your future aspirations changed or stayed the same?

     One of the wonders of being a human being is that your dreams really do come true. Not all of them, and not always in exactly the way we envision them, but dreams DO come true, and what happens after they do? Well, we gotta get some new dreams!

     The way I would put it is like this: if the book of my life/career is 25 chapters long, I know that I want Chapter 25 to be someone pulling me off a stage and putting me in my coffin in my costume. That remains the same— the interim dreams alter. I can’t wait to work with people I’ve yet to meet. I can’t wait to play Cleopatra. I can’t wait to originate roles that haven’t been written yet. But ultimately, the final dream remains the same: a life in the theatre.


5. What are your strengths and as an actress?

     Hm. I believe I have a very quick access to the emotions many people consider to be “beyond the comfort zone”— particularly sorrow and anger. I also enjoy using my vivid imagination to create emotional backstories that fuel me. I also have a very active academic mind, curiosity about the world around me and a strong sense of empathy. Those help!


6. The arts in schools are often so low in the chain of importance that it’s mostly overlooked, how can students, teachers even parents shine more light on the importance of the arts?

Interlochen Center for the Arts
     The first and most important aspect of arts education is that is must begin at home. If parents and families value the arts, they will pass that import on to their children. But the arts belong in schools, for a myriad of reasons.

     Music, visual art, creative writing, and dance all belong in schools, but because my background is predominantly in the theatre I will use a theatrical example: theater’s earliest origins extend back to Ancient Greece, where participation in the Festival of Dionysus, a multi-day cultural event, was a requirement of citizenship! The theater was not about celebrities or spectacle; it was about telling stories for the purpose of the public having a cathartic experience together. Aristotle defined it as “the purification of the spirit…by witnessing the playing out of such emotions or ideas on stage.” The result is positive change. Especially in fractious times like ours, when there are great fears and even greater uncertainties, the theater can be a place of emotional and societal healing.

     Further, not every human being possess numeric or linguistic intelligence (the two “kinds of smart” that are predominantly measured in conventional schooling), and the arts offer students an additional way to excel, process and experience the world and to deeply contribute to society.

08 June, 2018

Great Day Washington

Got up [untheatrically] early to appear onGreat Day Washington! But I was SO excited to talk all things Camelot, White Hot Grief Parade, and of course, TATIANA ANGELA LANSBURY ROMANOV!

The classic musical "Camelot" by Lerner and Lowes is in production at the Shakespeare Theatre and the show just got extended to July 8th! We talk to lead actress Alexandra Silber who plays Guenevere. 

For tickets visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org

31 May, 2018

'Eyes Fastened with Pins' by Charles Simic

How much death works,
No one knows what a long
Day he puts in. The little
Wife always alone
Ironing death’s laundry.
The beautiful daughters
Setting death’s supper table.
The neighbors playing
Pinochle in the backyard
Or just sitting on the steps
Drinking beer. Death,
Meanwhile, in a strange
Part of town looking for
Someone with a bad cough,
But the address is somehow wrong,
Even death can’t figure it out
Among all the locked doors ...   
And the rain beginning to fall.
Long windy night ahead.
Death with not even a newspaper
To cover his head, not even
A dime to call the one pining away,
Undressing slowly, sleepily,
And stretching naked
On death’s side of the bed.1



1 Charles Simic, “Eyes Fastened with Pins” from Charles Simic: Selected Early Poems. Copyright © 1999 by Charles Simic. Reprinted with the permission of George Braziller, Inc.

 
Source: Charles Simic: Selected Early Poems (George Braziller Inc., 1999)

01 May, 2018

Interview with Pop Culturalist

"Gifted storyteller, brilliant thinker, accomplished actor: Alexandra Silber is a consummate artist with a luminous voice on stage and page. A veteran of Broadway and the West End, Silber has performed in productions ranging from Fiddler on the Roof, Master Class, and The Woman in White to My Fair Lady, Murder on the Orient Express, and Carousel. In other words, she boasts an impressive resume that has enabled her to get to know a host of dynamic, singular characters. But Silber hasn’t been contented with just acting out other people’s stories—she has chosen to write her own stories, too. Her first novel After Anatevka—a sequel to Hodel’s story in Fiddler on the Roof—debuted in 2017, and her memoir White Hot Grief Parade is set to be published later this year. From Broadway to bookstores, Silber is at home wherever she gets to tell a good story.

The next story she will be part of is straight-up legendary. Silber will join the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., to headline a new, highly anticipated production of the iconic musical Camelot. Based on T.H. White’s classic novel The Once and Future King, Camelot first premiered on Broadway in 1960 and remains one of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s most popular musicals. The show brings the world of King Arthur to wondrous life. With a cast of conflicted knights, un-distressed damsels, and scheming usurpers, the musical centers on the tragic, passionate love affair between Arthur’s wife Queen Guenevere and his favorite knight Lancelot—an affair that threatens to unravel the titular kingdom that the mythic king has so lovingly built.
We got a chance to chat with Alexandra Silber about stepping into the role of Guenevere, the magic of literature, and why Angela Lansbury should be queen of everything."

P-C: What do you hope contemporary audiences will take away from a new production of Camelot in 2018?

Alexandra: At its core is a king, a leader, a fallible man: King Arthur, who is trying to make the world a better place through logic and compassion, and he doesn’t always win. But his endeavor to do so is honest and genuine. I think that’s really why it’s universal. Accompanying him along the way is the woman [Guenevere] who inspires him and gives him this platform to talk through the thinking that he’s been taught how to do by the world’s best parent, if you will: Merlyn, the man that represents all of his virtues and all of his ideals in human form. Ultimately what’s sort of incredible is that the two people that he loves most dearly [Lancelot and Guenevere] are the people that, through no malice, betray him.

When the musical came out, it resonated so deeply with the Kennedy administration. I think the reason it did resonate with the Kennedys was that JFK in many ways represented the King Arthur I just described: this young man endeavoring to make the world better. I think that right now we don’t look at those ideals with sentimentality or wistfulness; we look at that with a sense of great urgency and outrage. And I think that is a very powerful environment in which to present this musical again—particularly in our nation’s capital. So I think there’s something really crucial to be said there. Not to be overtly political, but perhaps covertly: the whole concept of King Arthur, of right vs. might, is so antithetical to our current president. And I think that there’s something really powerful about just presenting that as a possible alternative.

P-C: Guenevere is an interesting character. She is strong-willed, vivacious, and very sympathetic. But, she also has these darker shades, since she exemplifies an old-fashioned trope of the fallen woman whose adulterous affair brings about the downfall of an idyllic kingdom. Do you think Guenevere is a character that feminists can admire? How do you hope to bring her into the 21st century?

Alexandra: I think that Guenevere’s crisis is exemplified in her opening song [“The Simple Joys of Maidenhood”], which is also the first moment that we meet her. When she makes this plea—“where are the simple joys of maidenhood?”—I think what she’s really saying is, “I am a woman who is really a girl that has never had any experiences of my own. I’ve never made any choices for myself.” What’s so exciting about this, as a feminist, is being able to say, “She’s crying out to have that choice!” Even though the song and the lyrics are childish, they still come from a place of yearning, of wanting independence and autonomy from the men that have controlled her life. While, absolutely, she is disloyal to her husband, it could also be seen that she’s ultimately loyal to her own needs and her own sexual awakening, and that she simply chooses to self-actualize those dreams that she never got to have.

I think that there’s something really powerful about the aspect of her awakening as a woman that Lancelot represents. What I really love about her is that she’s nuanced. One of the things that T.H. White says about her is that Guenevere was simply herself; she was neither loyal nor disloyal. She was all of these things; she was a real person. What I love about that is that she has this incredible loyalty to Arthur. She respects him; she admires him. And, he is the father of her mind and her intellectual awakening as a woman, queen, and leader. But, they lack this very important part of being a human being and being a woman, which has to do with the physical experience and the fullness—and almost the spirituality—of sex that she experiences with the incredibly God-oriented Lancelot. Their relationship is not just based in the carnal, but in God. So, I think that’s why she is a person to be admired: that, though the conventions of morality judge her, actually what she’s done is chosen to have a full life. While it’s still morally dubious, she didn’t have much of a choice. So, I really am looking forward to digging into those nuances and not necessarily presenting a person as morally righteous or morally bad, but as morally and spiritually and sexually conflicted, as so many of us are, moment to moment. T.H. White describes Guenevere as a real person—she was neither good nor bad; neither loyal nor disloyal—she was all of these things. As are we all, right?

P-C: Her strength as a character comes from the fact that she is someone who is deeply flawed and, as you say, deeply conflicted. I never thought about how she really does get fulfillment from two men that are each servicing different parts of her life.

Alexandra: Yes, and I think the other thing that I hadn’t considered was [when] T.H. White specifically talks about her crisis: childlessness. I think we are still told as woman in the 21st century, that our value lies in the carnality of our bodies and in our fecundity. “How many male children have you born?” is a question we are still facing as women, even in this country. I think what’s fascinating is that Guenevere has a husband with an illegitimate child, and she has a lover with an illegitimate child. Oddly, the one of the three of them that is probably the most set up to parent is the one that is forever without children. What’s fascinating is that the Universe, God (I’m sure she’d say) has denied her the ability to see her fulfill her feminine role to its completion, and therefore she fulfills it in every other way possible. I’m sure one could argue she’s parenting a nation, but we all know that isn’t the same thing.


“I’m a storyteller. Storytellers are myth-makers and myth-interpreters. We take these stories and we put them into the world and share them with others.”



P-C: You’ve mentioned T.H. White a few times. Have you read The Once and Future King before, or are you reading it for the first time in preparation for this role?

Alexandra: Both. I read it in high school. That was powerful to read as a young person because, when you read it as a teenager, you read it from Wart’s [Arthur’s] point of view. I think the section of Once and Future King that resonates the most when you’re young is “The Sword in the Stone,” because you are self-actualizing along with him [Wart/Arthur]. But what’s resonating so much more with me now is the third section of the book, “The Ill-Made Knight.” And to come back to it as an adult woman and to read about the complications and the nuances of Guenevere’s 25-year affair with Lancelot, to understand my relationship to politics, to God, to my womanhood—it’s a completely different read. I think that’s the thing that’s so amazing about literature—as well as drama, stories—and why I love the concept of re-reading. Re-reading books is a very big thing to me. I have a book that I read every 4 or 5 years: East of Eden by John Steinbeck. I feel like this book is the Bible of American humanity. Every time I come back to this book, I realize it is so rich a read. As a parallel [to my experience with The Once and Future King], the first time I read East of Eden, I was 15 or 16: I’d never been in love, I’d never had sex, and my father hadn’t died, so reading it was a very theoretical experience. Then when I returned to it five years later, everything I just mentioned had happened to me. It was a completely different experience of reading it as a person who’d been in love; reading it as a person who had had a sexual awakening; reading it as a person who had experienced the mythical loss of a father—it was a totally different experience. I think I’m having a similar awakening to The Once and Future King, reading it as an adult woman literally half my life later. So it’s really rewarding. What I think is really great about reading it is knowing that the original creators—Moss Hart and Lerner and Loewe—used this as their source material. So instead of going back to [Thomas] Malory [who wrote stories about King Arthur in the 15th century], or reading about the Holy Grail, this was their Bible. So, in a way, T.H. White’s voice becomes the authority of who these people were in a much more long-form way. The beauty of literature is that you get this reliable narrator that tells you about their inner workings. And in drama, of course, you just have to rely on what the characters say, and then make up or allude to their inner workings. But with literature, you get to see their inner monologues and get some backstories.

P-C: It’s interesting that you mentioned Thomas Malory. His version of the Arthurian legend pre-dates White’s by centuries. And before Malory, Chrétien de Troyes was writing Arthurian stories in the 1100s. So, the characters of King Arthur, Lancelot, and Guenevere are born and reborn in all these centuries and iterations of the legends, up through the musical Camelot. So, I think it speaks to their timelessness as characters, too, and their ability to be mouthpieces for different eras. That’s why it’s exciting to get this production now, to see what these characters have to say in 2018.

Alexandra: I completely agree. You know, I think it’s exhilarating, but it also should be expected. It’s the same reason that we revisit Shakespeare and certainly the Greek tragedies. These are the same human crises that we face. We just have to re-experience them in the new lens of the present, and sometimes they have this incredible resonance in a totally different way, and it’s important to be reminded that we’ve done this all before. We’re not reinventing humanity.

P-C: In addition to your prolific stage career, you’re also a published author. How do you think your experience as an actor has shaped you as a writer?

Alexandra: When you boil it all down, I’m a storyteller. Storytellers are myth-makers and myth-interpreters. We take these stories and we put them into the world and share them with others. But it’s always an exercise of interpreting and reinterpreting the human condition, and the two mediums in which I do that are just different mediums in which to do the same thing. I think my experience of theatre and acting was intoxicating as a young person, because I experienced life very deeply. I still do. I don’t know if you know a lot about the Myers-Briggs scale but I’m an INFJ, which is a super introvert. And I was the child of a sick father and a very loving family and had very great parents. But I was also spending a lot of time alone interpreting really big life and death questions very early in my life. So, I had a lot of big feelings that the theatre helped me actualize and focus in a healthy way. [It gave me] a place where I can tell big, important stories and experience big emotions in a constructive and exploratory way. People the world over have lost their fathers for millennia, and had big experiences and feelings about it. I am not just Alexandra Silber, facing the loss of her father; I’m also Electra; I’m also all of these people. Drama felt like a really exciting connection. I have an older brother, but he’s about 17 years older than me, so I spent the majority of this experience in solitude—I had the experience of an only child. Literature simultaneously was a place to really cultivate my inner world and inner imagination. I think what happened was, theatre became this place for me to actualize and export those feelings, and literature became a place for me to cultivate my inner world. It was a very inside/outside experience.

I think what ultimately came from that process was when I came to literature and, actually writing it, I realized that I had a couple of huge advantages and a couple of big disadvantages. The huge advantages were the believable creation of character, and it was incredibly second nature to me at this point. So, in creating a character, I had two experiences. One was to ask what would this character do next. I could embody a character and say, “What are they going to do next?” And then, was able to go, “Alright, this is the next plot point—how will I justify getting to that plot point?” which is something that, as an actor, you’re always trying to do. How do you emotionally get there? When I had a believable root of my character in my novel, that approach really helped me a lot. So my ability to create a believable character and embody them as human beings, not just write them, made a huge difference.

Of course on a very obvious level, the concept of dialogue was really fluid for me. But one of the things I did struggle with was the macro lens. When you’re writing a piece of fiction, your main role is as a reliable narrator observing everyone. I was used to embodying one person within a story and serving their one particular arc. So that took a lot of practice and training. Being an actor, you have to be very, very vulnerable. You have this veil, this agreed-upon veil that you’re revealing your inner-most vulnerability to serve a character and, that you can always somewhat justify—this isn’t my grief, or this isn’t my pain, or this isn’t my joy, or this isn’t even my naked body—it’s theirs, it’s the character’s grief, the character’s pain, the character’s naked body. What’s very different about writing a memoir is that veil is totally down. It feels like the most exposed Barbara Walters’ interview or Oprah interview of all time. It’s a very, very different kind of laying oneself bare. That has been really challenging. Yet, my goal is for it to be a source of great connection. We’re in the moment of Me Too. Me Too is about all adversity, and it is the mantra of empathy above all else. So, that’s really what motivated me to get my grief story down.


“The whole point of art is to reflect life back to us. Most times, life is too painful to look directly at—almost like the sun. If we were to observe an eclipse with our naked eye, we would be blinded. Sometimes that’s like looking at our own truth. We have to look at it through special eclipse sunglasses. And that’s what art does—it makes it bearable to view our own human condition.”



P-C: Putting yourself out there in a memoir is a very courageous act. Once you started, did you find that the act of writing gave you more strength?

Alexandra: Yes. I’ll ultimately say this: there was this moment where writing felt so necessary. It was like a tidal wave that wasn’t going to stop, and if I kept it inside, it wasn’t going to remain in me benign; it was going to make me sick. I almost didn’t need to necessarily have a lot of people bear witness to it; I just actually had to get it out of my physical body and soul. It had to just get out.

P-C: It also sounds like a revelatory experience.

Alexandra: I think the most important thing I’ve gained is that, often what we think is the purpose of our journey is not the purpose of our journey. I mean, this is a lesson we learn over and over and over again [in literature]—like, Odysseus and Frodo Baggins. But, I think staying open to what this could be about is the most important exercise in all daily life. The whole point of art is to reflect life back to us. Most times, life is too painful to look directly at—almost like the sun. If we were to observe an eclipse with our naked eyes, we would be blinded. Sometimes that’s like looking at our own truth. We have to look at it through special eclipse sunglasses. And that’s what art does—it makes it bearable to view our own human condition.

P-C: As as we’ve said, Camelot is an adaptation of a novel. What other books would you like to see get a musical adaptation?

Alexandra: This is a slightly bizarre answer, but Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. It’s so, so beautiful. It’s heart-wrenching. It’s delicate, and [I would like to see it get] the same treatment that The Band’s Visit got. Basically, Invisible Cities is about the dialogues that existed between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo. Kublai Khan is sort of holding Marco Polo hostage in a Scheherazade way, in that he’s forcing Polo to discuss his adventures and describe the cities that he has seen. The book is divided into these direct dramatic dialogue conversations between Khan and Polo. Then, the prose that exists between those dialogues is told from Polo’s voice, and they are these little short stories of the cities he’s visited, which all, incidentally, are named after women: the City of Theodora, the City of Desdemona, the City of Irene. Ultimately these dialogues that exist between Polo and Khan are exploring the nature of the universe. Khan says at the end, “There’s one city you never talk of: it’s the city you’re from. You never talk about Venice.” [Polo] says, “It’s possible that I’ve been talking about Venice the whole time.” I just think there’s something about the ultimate ruler and the ultimate traveler discussing humanity. It’s a poetic exploration of existence and journeys, and I think it would be a very beautiful musical.

P-C: Speaking of journeys, you studied at the prestigious Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and worked in the West End before returning to the United States and performing on Broadway. What’s the best advice you’ve received in your career?

Alexandra: The director that I did my first production of Fiddler on the Roof with, when I played Hodel in London, was Lindsay Posner. I remember Lindsay coming backstage one day and giving notes. I was young—I was 24, and really having this experience of the final scene for Hodel. It’s so emotional, it’s so deep, it’s so big. And, [I felt] like I had this responsibility to experience big feelings every day. I felt like I had a duty to Hodel to serve her. I felt frustrated if I didn’t turn myself inside out every day, [and I felt like] I was somehow failing. Lindsay said this thing that set me free, not only on stage, but in life. He said, “You know, you only have 100% of what you have today.” [In other words] “use 100% of what you have today.” Today, you might be more vulnerable, you might feel more broken, and therefore Hodel will feel those things. And then the next day, you might feel stronger and more determined, and you might just have a greater constitution to withstand big feelings. That’s why live theatre is so rewarding: it’s happening anew every single day. He was saying you can’t compare your 100% today to your 100% yesterday. All you can do is use all of yourself as you are today. That just set me free. I also feel like it set me free offstage, going, “You know, if I can get to the end of the day and know I did my best, and recognize it’s not going to be the best I have tomorrow or the best I had yesterday, but based on what I was capable of using today, I did my best.” So, “use 100% of what you have today” is really, really a lifesaver.

Pop-Culturalist Speed Round

Guilty Pleasure TV Show
I don’t even have to think about it: Murder, She Wrote. My love of Angela Lansbury is so deep. She’s my only idol. And, Murder, She Wrote is just the most comforting, entertaining, light and oddly inspiring show. I think we all in some way, wherever we are in the stage of our life, worry or fear that it’s a little too late for us. Like, whether it’s too late for me to go back to grad school. Or, it’s too late for me to start a new career. Or, it’s too late for me to have children—or it’s too late for me to find true love. Or, who knows? What I love about Angela Lansbury that parallels directly with Jessica Fletcher [in the show] is that the character is living proof that it’s never too late for anything.
Favorite Movie
What About Bob?
Favorite Book
East of Eden
Favorite Play
Our Town
Favorite Musical
West Side Story. I just think it’s empirically perfect.
Hidden Talent
I am extremely good at writing lyrics to television theme songs that don’t have lyrics. I don’t want to brag, but I’m really good at it.
Favorite Place to Travel
Scotland, with a very close second of Venice.
Artist or Band that You Could Listen to on Repeat
There’s a folk duo named Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker. I feel like I could personally run their crazy, psycho fan club. I discovered them through some staunch Googling, and quickly bought everything they ever made. They actually have a brand new album out: “Seedlings All.” If I could recommend just one song, it’s their version of “My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose,” which is the Robert Burns song. Her voice is just like the voice of an angel. And Ben Walker’s guitar—he’s a classical guitarist—is just out of this world. They’re an unbelievable duo. They’re my favorite music to listen to.
Person You Admire Most
Dame Angela Lansbury

30 April, 2018

from As You Like It, "All the world’s a stage..." by William Shakespeare

Jaques to Duke Senior
 
 All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
 
 

31 March, 2018

Prologue from 'The Bite of the Night'

They brought a woman
from the street

And made her
sit in the stalls

By threats
By bribes
By flattery
Obliging her to share
a little of her life
with actors


But I don't understand art

Sit still, they said

But I don't want to see sad things

Sit still, they said

And she listened to everything
Understanding some things
But not others
Laughing rarely,
and always without knowing why

Sometimes suffering disgust
Sometimes thoroughly amazed
And in the light again, said

If that's art I think it is hard work
It was beyond me
So much beyond my actual life


But something troubled her
Something gnawed her peace
And she came a second time, armoured with friends

Sit still, she said

And again,
she listened to everything

This time
understanding different things

This time
untroubled that some things

Could not be understood
Laughing rarely
but now without shame

Sometimes suffering disgust
Sometimes thoroughly amazed
And in the light again said

This is art,
it is hard work
And one friend said,
too hard for me
And the other said,
if you will
I will come again
Because I found it hard
I felt honoured



— Howard Barker

 

28 March, 2018

Q&A: Talking Camelot with Shakespeare Theater Company

Oh hello: this is my cape.
Shakespeare Theater Company in Washington, DC, welcomes Alexandra Silber as Guenevere in CAMELOT.

Alexandra Silber, who has been seen on Broadway stages in Fiddler on the Roof and Master Class, will be featured as Guenevere in STC’s upcoming production of Camelot. She recently spoke to STC about the comparison between Guenevere and Tzeitel, her experience adapting modern adaptations of Greek classics and her thoughts on Camelot.

What’s most exciting to you about bringing the character of Guenevere to the stage at STC?
     The story is about a young leader who is trying to change the way things are through reason, equality, and humanity. That feels beyond timely. Guenevere is the woman at Arthur’s side who shares his vision, and helps him fuel, build and create it. That also feels beyond timely.
Above all, I’m intrigued by the unapologetic examination of three endemically flawed protagonists—all doing the best they can, derailed by their humanity, their ideals, and ultimately, by one another. I adore living inside of and exploring human flaws, darkness, weakness, and shame—we don’t take those things out and look at them enough. Yet our less favorable natures are there, latent within us all, informing all of our moment-to-moment choices and overall lives. Aren’t most of us endeavoring to do what we consider to be “good,” and don’t we all, at some point, fail?

Is there a specific moment or song that you look forward to from the piece?
     I have always felt that “What Do the Simple Folk Do?” is one of the greatest sung scenes in musical theatre—on par with Carousel’s bench scene and West Side Story’s balcony scene (and I’ve played them both!). What makes this musical scene unique is what is unspoken, unuttered. In this remarkable display of a deeply loving, but crumbling couple’s marriage, we see the spark that continues to connect them: their capacity to seek beyond themselves and approach existence with ravenous curiosity. It is the quality that initially enchanted them about one another—the depth and breadth of their discussions create a new era, a new England, and this is their articulate, singular, irreplaceable love language.

     Throughout the course of this deceptively not-at-all-trivial song, we see two souls—a husband and wife—awaken to the reality that their marriage, and likely their vision for a better world, is over. They feel it. They know it. Yet they say almost anything else. This is the last of their “one brief shining moment.”And I don’t know about you, but I’ve been there. I have stared into the eyes of someone I loved desperately and known it was over, and not uttered it; hoping that one more conversation, metaphor, or chorus, would delay the inevitable if even for a moment.


Tzeitel. I love her I love her.
What would you imagine Guenevere and Tzeitel meeting would look like?
     Both Guenevere and Tzeitel discover themselves within the circumstance of an arranged marriage. Both are strong-minded, deeply feeling and passionate women, who take great issue with their given situations. Both roil against the lack of agency allowed to them as women, both instinctually fight for their autonomy despite extraordinary pressure to conform, and both, at heart, are deeply principled about the nature of true love.

     I’m certain Guenevere would mine Tzeitel’s experience of having loved one man fiercely the entirety of her life, and Tzeitel would be fascinated by the complexities of Guenevere’s simultaneous loves: her constancy for Arthur and passionate awakening discovered with Lancelot.
I also think their dialogue would be very different if they met as their Act One and Act Two selves! Both women grow tremendously, grow up, change, suffer, endure. I know Tzeitel like a very old friend, and barely know Guenevere at all yet, but I sense a possible bond and hope they’d find common ground and be able to connect and learn from one another.

     The Cosmopolitan magazine answer to this question is: I’m sure they’d talk about their mutually fabulous manes of hair because let’s face it: both gals won the hair lottery.


You have written modern language adaptations of Greek classics. Is there any another classic you’d be interested in adapting?
Seven against Thebes     My passion for re-examining and re-imagining the Greek classics is rooted in a fascination that our societies, regardless of time period or culture, seem to be reliving the same relationships, political struggles, griefs and arrogant mistakes that we have been making since the dawn of examined life. I am obsessed with picking apart the well-known (and sometimes simplistic) myths and zooming in on the psychological microscope on why these familiar icons of Greek lore would make the choices they do. What are the particular nitty-gritty complexities of their relationships, their inner workings? And not only insinuating it into the playing but putting new, sometimes fairly contemporary but always poetically visceral words in the characters’ mouths. I do try to honor the poetic tradition, while also making the language feel more a little more immediate. I’m no definitive playwright, but as an actor, I know that if a phrase in my mouth feels like a missile? I’m getting somewhere!
     My existing adaptation of Sophocles’ Antigone is probably the piece I feel closest too, and the one that feels the most currently ripped from the headlines; and, to loop back to answering the question, I have already begun adapting Seven Against Thebes. The play is Aeschylus’ take on the epic struggle between Antigone’s brothers (all of them children of the doomed Oedipus Rex), Eteocles and Polynices, for control of Thebes. I feel like there are some really potent American parallels to micro-factions myopically fighting narrow-minded battles for control their country.


For more information on Camelot, click here.

22 March, 2018

Coulda-been-ku 14

14.

Time stopped in the snow. 
Stay, oh beautiful boy from 
the long-ago bus.


11 March, 2018

Episto-party!

Dear Friend(s), 

In keeping with my one-party-per-month goal for 2018, you are cordially invited to a LETTER WRTING PARTY! That’s *write*—snacks, catching up, adult beverages, and all the fixings for writing beautiful letters to friends, lovahs, your mom, or your senator! 

There will be lovely stationary, pretty pens, and stamps provided, along with food and drink. At the end of the festivities, I will pop them in the mailbox! 

WHO: You, me, us (and Tatiana, of course) 
WHAT: Episto-party extraordinaire 
WHEN: Sunday, March 11, from 4pm-whenever 
WHERE: My house!
WHY: Because there is nothing better than getting an an actual letter in the actual mail. :)

RSVP so I can stock up on stamps 

See you soon, letter-writers, 

Al xo



28 February, 2018

'All that is gold does not glitter' by J.R.R. Tolkien

All that is gold does not glitter, 
Not all those who wander are lost; 
The old that is strong does not wither, 
Deep roots are not reached by the frost. 
From the ashes a fire shall be woken, 
A light from the shadows shall spring; 
Renewed shall be blade that was broken, 
The crownless again shall be king. 




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