17 February, 2010

"Some people are very talented at love..."

"Oftentimes we sit in the slow dim of the light and listen as a quiet bit of Chopin plays in the distance, and we slowly cross the bridge from our ordinary lives to something... remarkably similar..." his eyes crack at the sides with mischief and an anticipatory pleasure, like the sides of his mouth set in an almost imperceptible smirk. I sit in the corner absolutely still. Cautious yet fascinated, I take stock, watching him think. "…but sometimes; sometimes we are grabbed by the throat and transported to a totally different world..."

And somehow, you just instinctively believe that by following this inscrutable bloke, you will somehow stumble upon that world. And I am stumped, sitting there curious and a bit stunned: how does he accomplish that?

He stands there in the wake of his own words, hands out before him, as though grasping for articulation— as if it were something to be tangibly held— as if with the right incantatory movements one might be able to hold before them the exact kernel of their meaning and intention.

Hands extended, one can tell his energy contains an element of the crass, the deliciously vulgar; and his ownership of an almost reckless sexuality is what drives not only his passions but his humor. And with that, he laughs— robust, from his guts, what Howard Barker would describe as "the peculiar laugh of tragedy— the laugh on the rim of death."

Yet the majority of his manner is soft— voice a soothing English murmur, a diffident sentimental gaze, and the previously mentioned hands seem gentle, playful, tentative, almost, dare I say it, feminine— almost childlike— one imagines what they get up to, what they've explored.

And it is precisely this rich and disparate accumulation of qualities that has me held so within the first few moments.

"But I do think we should just play,” he continues, “we mustn’t concern ourselves with the delivery of perfection, that last bastion of what we call ‘performance quality’ or ‘our all.’ We are explorers, delving into a murky pool of unknown water, and we must not fear either it or our own inadequacy to take it on…”

Careless, rumpled button-up over a striped t-shirt. It dresses his frame in such a manner that in certain lights he appears French, in others, perhaps Croatian. (Hungarian, maybe?) There is a European flair there, make no mistake, and it emanates not form the striped shirt itself, but from the essence of the man who selected it, and chose to put it on.

“…I know what you are all thinking, that you are not enough, that you are crap, really, that you will never be able to do justice to the piece, to the extent of your abilities, to what you are fully capable of…”

There is also wild graying hair held off his face with spectacles, angular teeth perfumed with tobacco smoke, and a musk one could only describe as man.

“That not only will you not be able to deliver that today, but actually, overall you are inadequate on every level. That, after billions of years of evolution, finally, from the depths of bubbling seas, there came along a creature as inadequate as me. Well, put that away. Just discover and explore and let’s see what is there together."

As I listen and observe him from the very back of the gathering, I note that at the center of all this is the eyes.

“It is, after all, about many forms of love…”

Eyes lines with a deep, iced-blue pain— a specific kind of hurt. The kind capable of vision. Vision at a cost. It always costs. And it is just then I come across this glint of observation which he declares quietly, definitely:

"…some people are very talented at love..."

It was a quiet utterance of ordeal.
Civilized.
But present.

15 February, 2010

Zorba: Snatches & Snippets


I will now tell the remaining parts of the Zorba experience in succinct snippet, snatches and quotations:

* * *

Leveaux on 'The Widow':

"The Widow makes Carmen look like a bad soap opera..."


Leveaux on the trajectory of the piece:

"The trajectory of Zorba is THAT--[finger swooshes upward]

[pause]

[fingers swooshes downward]
-- THAT is the trajectory of Burt Bacharach..."



Leveaux on staging Chita:

"NO music before Chita Rivera is center stage-- it's a BASIC. RULE."


Leveaux’s Henry V speech before the reading:

"Oftentimes we sit in the slow dim of the light of a quiet bit of Chopin playing in the distance and slowly cross the bridge from our ordinary lives to something... remarkably similar..." his eyes curl at the sides like the sides of his mouth set in an almost imperceptible smirk, "but sometimes; sometimes
we are grabbed by the throat and transported to a totally different world..."



* * *

John Kander after our first proper run of “Why Can’t I Speak?”:

"That was beautiful"
“…Thank you so much…”
“You write these things, you never know if you’ll hear them they way you hear them in your mind. And it is nice when you do. Thank you…”

* * *

[The audience laughs, Joe Stein smiles]

This is the first time I've ever been moved by words in a scene in the presence of the man who wrote them. Yes. The man who wrote those words is present in the actual room. He is RIGHT. THERE. He also wrote my beloved Hodel. "Papa, God alone knows when we shall see each other again" is his line. I'm dumbfounded. I am walking with Giants.


* * *

“Ladies and gentlemen Miss Chita Rivera!
[Not at all unlike Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka, she limps feebly and the audience roars...]

* * *

A series of Chita comments so unbelievable one can hardly fathom the significance of such a person...

"When I was doing Spiderwoman..."
     "That is what we found with Birdie!"
          "Just like in West Side…"
               "When I won my first Tony..."
                     "When I won my third Tony..."


and when my mother sent me a text before the run that said "Remember Al: FACE FRONT. DIE SLOW." Her response was:

"Good advice."

* * *

[after our first run-through]

Antonio: I need a cigaretto.
Chita: I need a DRINK.



OPA.


Zorba: Snatches & Snippets


I will now tell the remaining parts of the Zorba experience in succinct snippet, snatches and quotations:

* * *

Leveaux on 'The Widow':

"The Widow makes Carmen look like a bad soap opera..."


Leveaux on the trajectory of the piece:

"The trajectory of Zorba is THAT--[finger swooshes upward]

[pause]

[fingers swooshes downward]
-- THAT is the trajectory of Burt Bacharach..."



Leveaux on staging Chita:

"NO music before Chita Rivera is center stage-- it's a BASIC. RULE."


Leveaux’s Henry V speech before the reading:

"Oftentimes we sit in the slow dim of the light of a quiet bit of Chopin playing in the distance and slowly cross the bridge from our ordinary lives to something... remarkably similar..." his eyes curl at the sides like the sides of his mouth set in an almost imperceptible smirk, "but sometimes; sometimes
we are grabbed by the throat and transported to a totally different world..."



* * *

John Kander after our first proper run of “Why Can’t I Speak?”:

"That was beautiful"
“…Thank you so much…”
“You write these things, you never know if you’ll hear them they way you hear them in your mind. And it is nice when you do. Thank you…”

* * *

[The audience laughs, Joe Stein smiles]

This is the first time I've ever been moved by words in a scene in the presence of the man who wrote them. Yes. The man who wrote those words is present in the actual room. He is RIGHT. THERE. He also wrote my beloved Hodel. "Papa, God alone knows when we shall see each other again" is his line. I'm dumbfounded. I am walking with Giants.


* * *

“Ladies and gentlemen Miss Chita Rivera!
[Not at all unlike Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka, she limps feebly and the audience roars...]

* * *

A series of Chita comments so unbelievable one can hardly fathom the significance of such a person...

"When I was doing Spiderwoman..."
     "That is what we found with Birdie!"
          "Just like in West Side…"
               "When I won my first Tony..."
                     "When I won my third Tony..."


and when my mother sent me a text before the run that said "Remember Al: FACE FRONT. DIE SLOW." Her response was:

"Good advice."

* * *

[after our first run-through]

Antonio: I need a cigaretto.
Chita: I need a DRINK.



OPA.


12 February, 2010

Portrait of a Friend: Victoria

Meet Victoria Jayne Hinde.

She is my friend.
And she has proven to be a true one.
Over and over again.

Victoria is beautiful
and gifted
and brave
and strong
and fun
and Overall?
She is pretty flippin’ great.

Time spent with her is like having a slumber party, only you can curse without getting into trouble, and the mean girl from second grade isn’t around to make you cry anymore, and instead of Dr. Pepper and Swedish Fish, you can share such things as Italian meats and hummus and (her very favourite) cherry tomatoes. Or bottles of rosé and pappardelle with bagna cauda, wilted radicchio, and eggs fried in olive oil (as well as Dr. Pepper and Swedish Fish if you so choose).

Victoria is a a grabber of life.
She not only sees something ahead of her and clutches it un-apologetically with both hands, but she creates pleasures and opportunities for herself as well.

She has an admirably devoted team of friends around her, friends she has collected and measured and devoted her heart to the way one might weigh, measure and select with artful consideration the purchase of a piece of expensive, life-long jewelry.

Friends she collects she nurtures, she tends to, she feeds and cradles and celebrates and delights in. I do not know how I ever made it in to this circle but somehow I managed it and feel like I’ve won a kind of lottery.

* * *

Once upon a time, Al and Vicoria were early for rehearsal.
Very early.
5 hours early.

And it was deeply tragic for we were both exhausted
She was busy as a swing, dancing dirtily in Dirty Dancing
I was already feeling the burden of exploring Julie Jordan…
…at 10am.
…in Fulham.

Lindsay [Posner—the director] looked at us and said “Oh God I’m so sorry girls… I…” he winced slightly, knowing full well the effect of the next agonizingly truthful phrase “… I don’t need you until 2…”
He paused.
We stood before him… dumbfounded.

“I don’t know how that happened…”
we continued to stare at him, aghast.
“…forgive me…”
Not knowing what to say, he crept away cautiously back to the rehearsal already in progress.

And Victoria looked at me and said quite simply,
 “I want to cry…”

And in this moment I knew something special was about to happen.

Victoria Hinde and Al Silber (two girls with an already ever-so-blossoming connection based on a mutual love of Jason Mraz), looked at one another, walked quietly out of the rehearsal room and sat in the lobby of the grubby Dance Attic in a state of mild comatose.

“Oh my God…” she groaned, Victoria really was welling up a bit with tears in her huge, Bambi brown eyes and for a brief moment, looked like a very sad child.

“Okay.” I said, authoritative American voice in action, “Okay. We can go to the cinema and sleep. We can try to go home?”

Her face quivered with despair as she pictured her bed well over an hour away on public transport. “Or!” I tried to save us here, “we could sort of make a day of it? We could go into Central London and take a look around the shops? Get some nice lunch? Have a nice time together having a little adventure..?”

“Yeah?” she replied. This sounded a bit more appealing than sitting and rotting in Dance Attic. “We could go to Selfridge’s,” she suggested.
“You know what?” I said, “I have genuinely never been. Not in four years of living in London have I ever been inside Selfridge’s.”
Whaaaaat?” she replied in what I now recognize as her typical Victoria shock response. “Well, we have to go then.”

Off we went.

* * *

We walked to the station and boarded the train into town. And it was on this journey that it all began.

“Sometimes…” she admitted, “sometimes, just bein’ honest, right? Sometimes I just stare at you because I can’t actually believe how pretty you are! And then you sing and it’s just like— whaaaaat?”
“Oh my God, please," I am actually laughing, "would you look at yourself?” 
“No, I’m bein’ serious here!” she insisted, her lifelong London drawl making a proper appearance now, “I’m worried you’re gonna think I’m some kinda psycho when I’m not at all I’m just a bit mesmerized and confused about how someone could have all that!”

I pause for a moment because I am actually trying to see whether or not she is joking.
She is not.
And I am suddenly filled with this very odd warmth of feeling: this totally remarkable stranger, without any prompting or pause for major insecurity, has made me feel so lovely about myself with her honesty.

“Thank you…” I reply with an awkward smile. I am possibly the worst person in the world at accepting compliments regarding my personal appearance. Especially from a person that looks as perfect as Victoria.

“But I have no boobs” she admits, all serious face “So I’m not that perfect am I?” and she smirks.

We enter Selfridge’s and take a look around. She shows me all her favourite places and things— leather jackets because she is a badass and a little bit rock and roll. O.P.I nail laquer. Jelly Belly’s. Stationary. Chocolate. Bare Minerals. Normally I find shopping, especially in anything described as a Department Store not just pointless but overwhelming. With Victoria it is excruciatingly fun. (I would come to learn that with Victoria, pretty much everything is more fun— from watching movies to drinking cocktails to concerts to talking about Russia). “Shopping isn’t frivilous it is fun and pleasurable” she insisted, “and nothing this fun and pleasurable can be stupid!”

She was right. I’d never seen it that way.

I tentatively approach the M.A.C counter feeling like a shopping novice, and clumsily fondle a lip gloss that appears to be rather enticing.

“Are you gonna get somethin’?!” she asks me, excited. Her enthusiasm is intoxicating.
“I don’t know…” I answer honestly, “I do really like it….”
“Um, then get it, silly! You can’t come to your first trip to Selfridge’s and not get a single thing!”

So I did. (And to this very day I still have it and it reminds me of that first outing).

After our stroll around the iconic store we stopped at Pret A Manger for an early lunch and parked ourselves on a street bench along a bustling Oxford Circus. It was there we began to, in heavenly honest stages, reveal and share the innermost stories of our lives— from love, to family, to loss and struggle, laughter, friends and every magical moment in between.

By the time we looked up, it was time to head back. And neither of us wanted to.

What a way to pass the time.

* * *

When you look at the photographs we took earlier this summer, it don’t have to tell you Victoria Jayne Hinde is beautiful. But let me tell you about something else: she is beautiful. There's something special about this girl, something mesmerizing. And I don't just mean in a Hollywood kind of way.

When Victoria enters a room you don’t just notice, you smile. Yes, she has absorbing eyes, a perfect pout and mane, a grace that's rare to see, killer legs uptothere and a sense of fabulous so un-teachable it smarts.

But this girl is one incredible friend.

Thoughtful, considerate, enthusiastic.
She burns you CDs
She takes photos
She writes heartfelt notes
She makes you little care packages filled with all of the above and more.

She remembers important dates
And asks you interesting questions and then really wants to hear the answers
(--She also talks to you patiently and endlessly about the novel you are writing then tells everyone else she knows how proud she is of you. She also sends you texts messages about how excited she is to come your “book party” that will inevitably happen at some point in the future “Someday someone is going to ask me ‘where are you going?’ and I will get to say ‘to my friend’s book party!’”—then gets ecstatic when you inform her there might be three books to which her reply is utter joy at the possibility of three parties, thus three public opportunities to be proud of you).

She takes you to new and exciting places she think you would love
She lets you borrow clothes that she insists would look good on you (and sometimes steals items from her friends and prays you’ll forget!)
She tells you it is not only okay to not feel better about heartache, but offers to listen to you about your pain until you don’t need to talk about it anymore.
She makes you feel included in a room full of strangers

This is a girl who is way more that merely a beauty
or a dancer.
This girl is a deeply gifted, multi-faceted artist.
A girl with opinions.
A girl who is one of those people with silly insecurities when really she has it all (that doesn’t remind me of anyone…)
She is an adventurer.
A girl who has principles about love.
A girl who knows what she wants
And then unapologetically goes and gets it.

In fact, at the end of last year, this is a girl who, after years of wondering, bought a ticket to Australia to see if her feelings for a man she adored were the real thing. She didn’t want anyone else and could not spend her life wondering. (Or, Wonderin’, as another principled heroine might say…). She got on the plane and found out. That is brave. That is making yourself vulnerable, that is open-hearted and feisty.

That is the definition of courage.

She is a girl who, at the buffet of life, would go back for thirds.

I think we can all get behind that.

* * *

Around Christmas this year we got to communicate a lot online which was a real joy. An opportunity to actually communicate in a differnet and at times, far more personal way. Odd that, but accurate.

“Hey Al..?” she types from Down Under after a long and truly delicious catch up session, the kind that leaves one all topped up and tingly with they joys of connection.
“Yeah Vic?” I type back— 20 times zones away in Los Angeles.

There is a pause. It feels full.

“I am so glad we were early.”
“Me too…” I reply.

That is putting it mildly.

Portrait of a Friend: An Introduction

I love my friends. I love who they are, how they live in the world, what they create.

But if I were to begin making a list, I would be here all night.

So in an interest of glorifying these deserving others, and as an exercise in gratitude, I will attempt to properly articulate/paint/sketch those whom I adore— for me, for them, for you. It will be a chance to share with you the people that truly adorn my, as well as many others’ lives, with snatches of glory.

These are people whom I respect, enjoy, delight in. They are those who have been there for moments of triumph and joy, and more importantly when things were the worst kind of ugly. They are people who picked me up when I was trying to stand. Or distracted me from the abyss of my despair. They witnessed moment of horrific human wretchedness and despite pain’s repulsive glare they looked me and it straight in the face and continued to love me regardless.

These people are not infinite, but their gifts to me are. These characters are unique, sensational, and individually glittering, like handmade extravagantly detailed and colorful ornaments on the Christmas tree that is my life.

You have seen their names mentioned here before, you know who some of them are, and to some extent I have already done this with Frances and Ruthie. But I have decided that mere mentions are not enough. I am beginning a new serial here on London Still, another little addition to such familiars as “Ask Al,” “I’ve been” and “I like to make lists.” I will share with you these people as I see them, as love sees them, in moments when these people deserve or need to be glorified. Or reminded.

So without further ado, here is the first official “Portrait of a Friend.”

10 February, 2010

It's all Greek to me...

In from the Blizzard

I enter the high rise studio room in the middle of a blizzard-- fresh off the plane from the mild, sunny West.

"Alexandra!" many people cheer, and they gather toward me like enthusiastic magnets. I should be a day late more often, I think.

I am instantly greeted by the quiet, charming, disheveled director of genius proportions, who has been talking to Chita in the corner alongside a gigantic window displaying the snow coming down in vast curtains outside.

And when I say Chita? Yes, I mean the one and only Chita Rivera. The living legend.

These people could not be nicer. It feels; not at all like the first day of school, but like the first day of summer camp— or rather, the second day of summer camp and everyone has heard about the camper arriving tomorrow and let’s make sure she feels welcome. Delightful.


* * *


Why Can’t I Speak?


Five of us gather around the piano— the musical director Patrick, Justin the young actor playing Niko, myself and Jim the accompanist. Leveaux looks on, Banderas beside him, stage management organize, shuffle and arrange in the corner.

There are two trios Niko, The Leader, and The Widow sing together— we go about learning them.

Then a Ricola exchange-- Chita is kitted out with anything a performer might need and it is all there on the music stand-- balanced within an inch of its life. "Anything you need my dear!" smiles Chita, a beautiful septuagenarian of Olympic proportion. Still on it, sharp as a whip and kind far beyond necessary for her status.

The left-handed MD Patrick takes us through it slowly, the rhythms are tough— the harmonies complex. One of Kander’s great unknown and literally unsung gems. Chita makes notations (she is left-handed too).


And just then, from the bluster of the February storm, enters a dark-coated John Kander shivering from the wind and cold. He made his way to our gathering around the piano.

“Hello…” his voice was soft, his eyes incredibly kind.

We continued learning. Harmonies. Chords.

He placed his satchel and battered umbrella on a nearby chair, removed his coat, and sat there listening. They are all; these lovely men—Kander, Leveaux (David NineandFiddlerRevivalsVisionaryEnglishDirector), Banderas (yes, of the Antonio variety)— in fact, listening. In exactly the same position: legs crossed, arms folded, head at rest atop the right hand brought up directly to the chin and mouth. A stance well known to the deeply contemplative. Think about the story of the butterfly… I think they are.


Suddenly we reach an impasse: Chita feels her notes “aren’t what they used to be I fear, too high too high. I’m so sorry.” She has such a sense of humor— not only about life but about herself, her self-awareness harsh but remarkable. She is struggling but so are the newbies! we have only been learning music for three-quarters of an hour! (And for what it’s worth, I disagree, I think the woman is a marvel though I don’t quite feel inclined to say so in this moment).

“May I?” Kander asks the accompanist politely.
“Of course,” Jim stands up allowing the composer to sit before the keys.
“Allow me, I’m just going to sort of the keys and modulations…”

We all watch in silence.
“Watch…” Chita whispers to me, “just watch. `When John touches a piano, it explodes with sound…”

And then it did.

He sat there a moment, brow furrowed, working out chord transpositions with the ease, vision, and elegance of a mathematician. I am in awe.

“Told you…” Chita smiled.


Meanwhile, Justin is focused and serious in the corner. I assume from every clue in his demeanor he is experiencing the not wanting to blow it sensation. I can only imagine; Alan Bates on his mind, a classic novel, a beloved film, an A to hit, Banderas to play to, the world to impress. --When I glance over he is buried in the score—for what it’s worth he’s doing just fine on all counts and I’ve known him 30 minutes.


Back at the impasse Chita looks over and smiles at me before announcing to Kander, "Yes I heard her next to me and thought 'I sound great!' but it wasn’t me after all! I’ll get it. I will get it. I just want to do your music justice darling."

Kander stood, clasping his hands together and placing them casually across the top of the upright piano. He is such a quiet man. "I promise you will be fine," he murmurs, eyes smiling.
"Yeah?"
"Have I ever broken a promise to you...? …after all these years?"
"True."

And they smile.

And it was that exchange. It was in that exchange that I could not believe the company I was keeping.

It truly was, above all others, a moment I have worked my whole life to be in the presence of. One that teleported me straight back to the dusty days of a twelve-year-old girl on a bunk-bed at Interlochen listening and learning from to and from these people making theatre history on a crappy Walkman. Banderas was great-- the real deal and a wonderful man, but these were my idols. It was the moment of a lifetime. A moment of arrival.

After the music session we packed up our things and made our way toward the smaller rehearsal space to talk things over, but I am mesmerized by Kander’s warmheartedness, his gentle face. His kind eyes.

"You wanna know why his eyes are so kind?" Chita asks me looking over at her old friend.
"Yes. Why?"
She smiled, not looking at me, “Because he’s kind…"

...she nudged my shoulder and walked slowly away, each step seemingly filled with memories...

09 February, 2010

Gratitudes 101 - 115


101. Mom - for taking exquisite care of me over Christmas and the New Year. Literally couldn't love her more.
102. Uncle Bill, cousins Nick & Suzanne -- new family. Whaddaya know?
103. My brother Jordan, sister-in-law Maggie, and nieces Hannah and Madison.
104. New friends! The cast, blindingly talented creative team, crew and production team of Carousel 2.0 has been a fantastic new family that treat me like gold. Thank you. Gratitude. Gratitude in abundance.
105. The opportunity to re-visit my old friend Julie Jordan, and to create a whole new set of positive memories. I feel a profound sense of being exactly where I should be in my life.
106. ...and that being said, the endless pleasures of Dressing Room 3 are abundant! Thank you Victoria Strong and Jane Noseworthy.
107. time with Jer. What a friend.
108. Burton Gray - for the painting (inscribed "thanks for stopping by Al...")
109. People that came from outta nowhere: Toni Trucks (from Interlochen!), Wayne Wilson, Betsy Reisz & Claudia Vasquez (all from Minnesota!), Katie Garagiola (Michigan friend circa 1993), the Hey You Guys (mom's college roomies), Rich Schraier (whom I met through Jeremiah last year), the entire Beverly Hills crew (including my teachers from 2nd and 3rd grade!!) and blessed London friends Lara Pulver, Josh Dallas and Zoe Rainey for dropping everything to come to Carousel 2.0 and reminding me that I have friends everywhere, sometimes in the most unexpected of places. I was so moved to have them out there I cried in my car on the way home... I have friends. The world is big.
110. Jason Alexander - for mazto ball soup, pickles and conversation deeeeep into the night at Jerry's Deli
111. Meeting Audra. (Whoa.) I'm not often speechless or overwhelmed in any manner but this sort of floored me and I'm pretty certain I was a silent dorkface...
112. Again, the ENTIRE Reprise Family. The most gratifying professional job of my entire existence.
113. Zorba and all involved in the total magic of it happening. Magical indeed. "Life Is"... delightful. Opa.
114. The opportunity to work with lifelong idols.
115. New beginnings.

08 February, 2010

Los Angeles: Look Deeper

When I arrived on the Pacific shores a few days before Christmas I was many things:

incredibly ill
manic
heartbroken
confused
raging
panicked
isolated
suspicious
anxious
healing
totally lost

And somehow, in the course of a few weeks, I have come through all of those into a realm of utterly new feeling.

"At the ceasing of the running:
What terrified us so?
At the fall of the cities:
Why did we inhabit them?"

When we are confronted (sometimes affronted) by the state of Screeching Halt, we must do more than simply stop. There is nothing for us to do but be present with the pains, truths, realizations and we must work on our Selves. We must endeavor to deserve the growth. We must work for healing. And it is work, indeed.

There I was: broken, depleted, in an unfamiliar house surrounded by seeming strangers; and all of a sudden terribly alone with my pain for the very first time since my arrival in America.

But this place has greeted me open-armed.
And more profoundly, it had been here all along... waiting for me to be ready to rediscover it.

Home.

Los Angeles: Hello.
Hello there.
How I misjudged you.
How I assumed you were not for me, were no longer a part of me when in fact you are my place of origin. My 'Pourquoi Story.' You are where the narrative of this certain Alexandra began, the seat of a personal mythology.
You were the patient Penelope to my Odysseus.
The Eros to my Psyche.

I have often mused about the nature of Return:

A traveler. Perhaps that's it. Though my travels hardly feel worthy of comparison to those of the greats-- Rosalind's full circle to and from Arden, Bilbo Baggins' there and back again. I am no explorer like Vespucci, would never dare to term myself a gypsy nor pious enough for a pilgrim. 

But ahh LA.
How I had forgotten you.

And though I know I am no great traveler of Shakespearean or Historical proportion, I share with them and with us all, a cardinal desire: all I have ever wanted is what we all long for-- a place in the world. A home. 

I feel perhaps like Marco Polo in Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities... In Calvino's book, the great explorer Marco Polo entertains an aging Kubla Khan by recounting tales of 55 cities he has visited in his travels. As Marco Polo continues to impart his experiences, he, willingly or un, revels connections between the cities that leave the reader left to wonder whether the accounts of his destinations actually represent different aspects of a single city; a unique and unrivaled place, in Polo's case, his beloved Venice.
 
You know, it is an odd thing, when we say we Return it naturally implies we've been Somewhere Else. I have more than returned from Abroad. From London. From New York or Siberia or my previous Self or even from the depths of heartbreak or the pits of near self-annihilation. For all my mythological rhetoric I am no Orpheus! And I would never dare to compare with the heartaches of Alcyone. By no means! An Amundsen, Franklin, or Thubron I am not.
No.
I have returned, simply, from Somewhere Else, (a town like any other..?)
Yes. It may still be Wednesday in the middle of our lives, but I am not who I was when I began.
And here in the land of Back Again, one finds they are presented with a second quest: the search for words to articulate the experience.

* * *
 
It would be impossible to properly articulate the profundity of the entire embracing experience in here LA. It was not merely a holiday, a period of emotional comingtogrips, of purging, of family introduction (complete with chasing cousins over a fence and odd but admittedly delicious Jesus birthday cake). Not simple about geographic re-emergence, touching base with childhood characters and straightforward Reunion.

It was not just a Carousel "do-over"-- a chance to revisit a character I've love deeply as if she is a real and breathing friend. A chance to right many of the wrongs done to her by the London experience, erase many of the haunting negative memories and perhaps replace them with more positive, healthy ones.

It was more than an opportunity to force myself to make myself vulnerable with an entirely new group of people-- people who knew nothing of, bore no resemblance to, either my British life, my Interlochen friends, my Michigan home.

They were new, potentially flippant strangers. One of the things that happens when one is hurt badly by people close to them is the sneaking suspicion that ill-treatment is all you are worth. How awful a person must I be, one thinks, to be treated this way by those I held dearest? I must deserve nothing better.

So. Initially filled with tremendous social anxiety (particularly in a role and in a piece that requires so much of one's emotional vulnerability), I was instantly introduced to an entire company of people who embraced me in a manner I cannot even begin to write... I can only lightly touch it and pray you understand-- it was an embrace filled with deep, real, poignant love. The love of very special friends and colleagues. And how I love them in return for their gift. The love of the pure theatrical alchemy that we all wish we can experience. The Theatre we dream of. The Theatre that made us love it all in the first place.

These people reminded me, taught me, showed me with their unconditional support, love, understanding, affection, that I was worth-y.

And it revived me.
In a city that had always been my home.
It was the ultimate Return.

* * *

A few days after our opening, I felt my heart open fully again. I felt it open, perhaps, more fully than it ever has in all my life.

I drove my rental car up to Melrose and parked across from the Troubador to take a meeting with a casting director. The day was iconic-- sunny, bright, sky a blinding blue; the kind of weather that fills one with the essence of vitality.

She asked questions.
She listened as I told her my story.
Then, after a brief pause she smiled at me across her desk.

"You know," she chortled lightly, "I am from Orange County. I grew up here and have seen so many people come and go, have watched as LA chewed good people up, spit them out. I've watched talentless people come to this town with big dreams, people willing to walk over anyone, to do any vile thing to get there..." she glanced out at the honey-colored light pouring in from her window.

"But you are from here. You were born down the road. And you went away, you lived your life, your had your dreams, you got some breaks but damn you worked hard to storm through those open doors when they presented themselves and legitimately made good. And here you are, back in your birthplace almost by accident and you've triumphed in such an unassuming way. You've come back-- not full of fluffy dreams but full of the real thing..." she smiled, "that's the kind of LA story I can get behind..." and she looked me straight in the eye, suddenly very serious.

"Welcome Home."

It was transfiguration.

Had I done that? Had I? I thought I had just kept pressing onward, forcing forward.

But this.... This conversation in a Melrose casting office was the moment I first began to see through the fog of sorrow and dislocation sat staunch upon my existence.
The murk lifted, and as it cleared I began in that very moment to create a new vision, (though I could not yet, in that precise instant, see it with total clarity).

It began with her words, followed by a warmth in my chest, and at last by a feeling of absolute certainty startlingly inspired by what is normally a rather gruesome professional exercise. Arriving to her typical Californian office block, her words were that of some kind of disguised prophet. And, thanks to V, suddenly this vision had size and shape.
It became tactile, tangible, populated.
And in this moment, I sensed a kind of threshold.

It has not been others who had prevented me from attaining my sense of belonging and worth,
it had been myself.
It had been my own unwillingness,
my own confusion about how to transform longing in to effective action.
Some people experience this with their professional goals
I experience it with Self.
I could sense a lifeline between these points now: tense, like a tightrope.
Something I could walk along.
In the last few years I had lost tension, and wandered without focus, struggling to survive.
And in this moment I knew:
     I will walk the wire.

* * *

Have I in fact discovered home was always there, patiently waiting for me to earn and deserve it? Observing Calvino observing Venice is a reminder of how often the controlled, measured world of knowledge and assumption fails us. So much of life resists the facts. As Khan discovers: imagining a"Venice" is imagining yourself. And though an unsettling exercise, it is necessary, perhaps. I believe my trip [Home], was precisely that.

So.

Goodbye LA.

Thank you for welcoming me home in such an incredible way.
I will never forget how coming back to a place I was unaware had always been my home, my place of origin, transformed a broken spirit and gave birth to not merely a new chapter,
but a new paradigm,
a new sense of life.

I am grateful to all who made it possible.
And I'll be back.
This is,
and apparently always has been,
Home.

"...what he sought was always something lying ahead, and even if it was a matter of the past it was a past that changed gradually as he advanced on his journey, because the traveler's past changes according to the route he has followed: not the immediate past, that is, to which each day that goes by adds a day, but the more remote past. Arriving at each new city the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in waiting for you in foreign, not-yet-possessed places."
-- Italo Calvino

04 February, 2010

Pass the salt...

“Salt, please,” a forlorn-faced Yevgeny asked, not even looking up from his gruel. 

Dmitri glared across the table. Sharing a bunk with Yevgeny was eating away at his soul. 

Yevgeny was constantly trying to impress him. That morning Yevgeny had come right up to him before breakfast with a child-like glee slapped across his face, hands hidden playfully behind his back. He shook with excitement, eyebrows up and grinning ear to ear. 
“Close your eyes.”
“No.”
“I have made you a gift. It is a surprise.”
“Yevgeny, I haven’t the time for this.”
“Come along Dmitri Petrov, please… for an old man…”
Dmitri could feel a migraine beginning. He groaned. Then capitulated. 
Fine,” he agreed, “but make it quick old man, it is nearly meal time, and people may see.”
Yevgeny opened his hands wide,  
“Open!” he cried. 
Dmitri yelped. Yevgeny’s hands were filled with compost. 
“Do you like it?” he inquired proudly, “It is a little cello! I have fashioned it for you!”
Disgust was visible behind Dmitri’s glasses.  Yevgeny just paused, face aglow, “…for you.” 
Dmitri, revolted by both the figurine and its creator, still took it up all the same and placed it in his pocket just to make the man go away. 

“Oh!” Grigory would say, laughing, “how you two amuse me!” he was folded over himself.
“What have I missed?” Andrey Tenverov asked, tray in hands, as he sat down beside them all. Young as he was, the men soon found Tenderov to be buoyant, charming; and quickly made so favorable an impression on the crew that at times it felt he had been there all along. 
“The way they carry on Tenderov, the way they carry on!”

Below the bellows of Grigory Boleslav a young woman approached the table, dented mug in hand. She seemed a mixture of Cossack and Mongol races; small, lithe, and taut as a cord, with a heart-shaped face framed by a headscarf, and little eyes, which were ferocious but sunken.  She tapped Andrey Tenderov upon the shoulder and handed him the mug of lukewarm tea he had left back at the meal line upon the counter. He turned around and caught her gaze—a vacuum of silence suddenly came over the scene for a moment before being broken by—
“—One would never think,” Grigory guffawed, clasping Tenderov’s arm, “that were the boy and that the old man!” 
“Thank you,” Tenderov muttered, turning back to the girl, but she had already disappeared into the crowded canteen without a single word. Tenderov’s gaze followed her, as if she left a scented trail. 
Griogory, still doubled up and howling, grabbed his eyes for they were tearing, “His humor and your hatred of it Mitya—God it is delightful!” 

Dmitri glared. 
“How can you eat it?” he rebuked adjusting his glasses scathingly so as to emphasize the full power of his reproach. “It is seeped into our pores, it flakes from our scalps, we discover it in the pockets of our coats, the crevices of ourselves, it sloughs off into our beds!” and he shook his cap over Yevgeny’s food.
Bah! Look here Dmitri! Mind your business! And here when I gave you my extra half a slice!” 
“You are a halfwit,” Dmitri dismissed. He was in another ornery temper.  
 “Come, Dmitri, leave the man and his tasteless food alone!” Mikhail entreated the men, trying to intervene and eat in peace. 

The men shifted, exchanging looks, chewing through their amusement. For a moment all they could hear was the clanging of the spoons against the tin trays. 

“The food tastes of nothing!” implored Yevgeny, unable to let it alone.
“Better of nothing than of salt, surely?” berated Dmitri once again, his voice raising. 

Yevgeny had no response.

“You are a bore.”
You are.”
“You!”

The two returned with renewed zeal to their respective tin trays, leaving the rest of them bemused and silent once again. 

02 February, 2010

Master Class Announcement


I don't believe I have ever been so excited to begin work on a production. 

Though this is not entirely new news, the official Playbill and Broadwayworld announcements were made today about the upcoming production of Terrence McNally's Tony Award winning play Master Class starring Tyne Daly as Maria Callas at The Kennedy Centre. 

The production is part of Terrence McNally's Nights at the Opera, a five-week event featuring three of McNally's plays (The Lisbon Traviata featuring Malcom Gets and John Glover, and the premiere of a new world entitled Golden Age with Marc Kudisch and rebecca Brooksher) performed concurrently on three Kennedy Center stages.

Master Class will run March 25 - April 18, 2010 in the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater and will be directed by the incredible Stephen Wadsworth. 

I begin rehearsals on 2 March in my nation's capital and literally, I am so excited I can hardly breathe. But I will breathe... from my diaphragm....

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