20 January, 2011

Bright Copper Kettles

red shoes: for whenever one wants to feel their best...
1.  Red shoes

Let me tell you something: I have three pairs in my closet right now. Three...nope. Actually four. Four! --because I BOUGHT A NEW PAIR TODAY. So. There. If I hadn’t lost the sweet little Mary Jane crocs the night I sang at Sheldon Harnick’s lifetime achievement award thingy whilst running emergency Fiddler lines with Harvey Fierstein, I would have FIVE.

Red shoes rock my world. They are happiness and whimsy and light, and I have gotten into all sorts of trouble both in and with them.

An incident with a red shoe, is in fact the very first thing I ever wrote about on this site (so we have red shoes to thank.)

There is a lot of pop culture mythology about red shoes as well— and not just of the Hans Christian Andersen variety. Apparently a woman wearing red high heels indicates that she is not wearing underwear. Apparently…. 

2. Blog-stalking

Well, now: how 21st century of me. I mean, how else are you supposed to know everything about someone before you pretend not to..?

3. Badcrimedrama

This is self-evident really. Look: who doesn’t secretly feel a swish of glee when you "have" to stay home binging on Law & Order re-runs. Who hasn’t said things like “Ooo! Matlock!’or “This episode is sooo obvious, they totally did the exact same thing on the Murder, She Wrote / Magnum PI crossover episode of  in ‘83. Please. Everybody knows that. Everybody.”

4. Classic Correspondence

One word: sexy. I am certain I have mentioned my love of a good letter before, but good God. Someone selected the paper. The pen. Labored over their penmanship. The envelope selection. Someone chose that stamp and licked it. Their scent is all over it, it is soaked in their emotions, their essence. Someone’s thought moved from their brain through their arms into their fingers and onto the page! It is visceral and palpable and right there before you, reeking of that electrical experience that happens in a flash and lasts an eternity. It traveled across time and space to reach your hands in this very moment.

5. The West Wing Song

Someone once asked me in an interview if I had any "strange or unusual" talents that nobody knew about? 

     Yep I most certainly do.
I'm not the least bit ashamed to tell you that I write amazing lyrics to television theme songs that don't have lyrics.
     The pseudo-80s rock version of Alias.
     The Phillip Glass-esque but possibly just vocalized theremin version of Lost.
     But then there is The West Wing Song. And that, my friends, is special. The West Wing Song is a thing of great great beauty, developed over many months

So… a little embarrassing— I admit that.
I’ll come clean.
Yet, comrades I am telling you: my made up theme song pseudo-lyrics are A.MA.ZING.
They are clever and well-crafted and performed in full voice at 100.

I will give credit where it is due: It all began with The West Wing Song in Glasgow, sitting across the sofa from JNF (when we were busy being 19 but living like we were 70). It was a collaborative effort, really, a true labor of love.

To clarify: in college JNF and I were like that elderly couple that would “have” to go home early because “CSI was on.” Or, “GAAAH we'd love to come to your crazy blow-up college all-nighter but we have a box set to finish.”
It was a little sad I suppose, but it saved us a fortune and actually… (And FYI: when I give you party, I give you some party— you just only get the party from me about twice a year…)

Anyway! JNF and I watched all 6 seasons of The West Wing from start to finish (at the time there were only 6 to watch) and over time, together, we developed The West Wing Song.
The one of such glory.
     And beauty.
     And outright LORE.
With harmonies.
And different versions for each season. (The best version of which is Season 4-- with appropriate apologies to Molina, McCormack, Channing, and Smits-- Seasons 5-7 got somewhat "squishy")
…That is right. That is correct. You didn’t read a typo: The West Wing Song has a capital “S” because dammit it earned a capital letter.

Basically: It is famous. People KNOW it. I believe I was once introduced to someone and they replied “Ah! Al Silber— lyricist of The West Wing Song” and I cooly nodded and was outwardly very nonchalant but inside? Inside I was doing cartwheels, because frankly it was the most famous I had ever felt. Furthermore, dammit, the song is something so special someone should call the governor.

[*pause for possible-to-probable hyperbole*]

Is The WWS essentially the names of the actors sung in alphabetical order shoved into the instrumental theme tune?

Have I sung (with a little help from a glass of whiskey) The West Wing Song to people who have been on The West Wing?
--You betcha.

Have I gone on to collaborate on theme songs to Alias, Lost, and one of my favorites, Star Trek: The Next Generation?
--Hell yeah.

But The West Wing Song is the original and best and with very little encouragement… I will sing it for you too...

08 January, 2011

Nicknames I've Been Called: A List

1. Shura 

One of the many Russian diminutives given for the full name Alexandra, it was bestowed upon me by a former beau (Kent to be specific) in Glasgow after watching a performance of Maxim Gorky's Children of the Sun (Дети солнца) at The RSAMD. 

2. Sexy Lexi 

High school silliness bestowed upon me by another childhood "Major J" in response to a truly horrible short film we made entitled "The Sex Particle and the Adventures of the Impossible Woman." (Which role do you think I played...?)

3. Owl

Once again, I refer you to my love of owls in general, followed by the story of Ruthie and her eldest daughter mistaking my name "Al" for "Owl" whilst reading her Winnie the Pooh. And it stuck... forever...

4. Alex
So... yes. For the first 15 or so years of my life I tolerated this absolutely incorrect nick name because first of all, it is a rather obvious diminutive. Second, it is difficult for anyone, let alone an always moving around/ unsuspectingly shy child to fight the tsunami of adults and peers who assume without even asking really, that this is your rather obvious diminutive. Thirdly, when you have a rather long name, I have found that in general it makes people a little uneasy. And fourthly, I believe people (especially British people I might add...) are very anxious to "familiarize" themselves with you as soon as possible, and shortening your name to the very first rather obvious diminutive is the very best way to do that.

I could write an entire essay on "Alex." I don't really know who she is. Truth be told, I am fairly certain that the fact I tolerated being referred to as Alex for so long a while was a reflection on that very point-- I was not sure who Al/Alex/Alexandra was exactly, and I, like every growing and developing person, was making those discoveries daily.

I was ten years old the first time I went away to summer camp at Interlochen, and I remember the counselors asking about nicknames. I introduced myself on that very first day as "Al"-- it was what my family and very closest friends called me back home and it was already starting to feel right. "Hello, my name is Al Silber." Yes, I thought. I loved the idea of being able to start fresh in that way-- to wipe Alex clear off the face of the map, at least at summer camp. (Incidentally, I have always loved my full name but I found that it was a bumpy road with an awkward pit stop at "Alex.") So it is not surprising to me that I always felt more at home and myself at Interlochen than anywhere else.

A very small number of people continue to call me Alex in the present day. People that knew me "when" back in public school, those who probably do not know me very well, and/or people that have argued their case very convincingly (example: Marc Kudisch would not take no for an answer.  Basically, he presented a very good case that practically had bullet points. It was impressive and detailed and basically he gets a hall pass. Fine. He is allowed...). 

I have a few friends named Alex- one girl and three boys, and Alex is, without any doubt in my mind, their name. It suits them all in various ways. And please! Do not get me wrong, I am not offended or irritated by an Alex referral, it is simply, and without any doubt, not my name. :)

5. Poo & Schmoops

The same high-school and college boyfriend who called me Shura (Kent) was obsessed with the word "Poopie." I don't know why. It was his thing. I don't know how it began but it became a reallybigdeal.
As a result, he began to refer to me by this, his very favo(u)rite word, and it eventually morphed itself into the far more socially acceptable "Schmoops." I am glad to say that to this day, despite new relationships, time and distance, whenever we speak on the phone the call always begins with "Hey Schmoops." Nice, that.

6. The Sibs

Don't ask me why my pals at RSAMD referred to me as "The Sibs."Why the "L" was so callously left out. Or why the "The" was present. Why I wasn't merely "Sibs" but "The Sibs."I don't know. But I do know it was pretty serious business.

7. Poor Julie

The entire cast of Carousel 1.0. For a bazillion obvious reasons.

8. Sashenka 

My "Chosen Sister" Arielle is as obsessed with allthingsrussian as I am. It is one of the many many things that bonds us. There is nothing like knowing that someone has been there since the very beginning, yes. But there is also nothing like knowing one can casually throw out a Bulgakov reference without a second thought, and know, with full and total certainty, that it will be caught.

Fictional but totally possible Arielle and Al conversation:
Al: We're all out of Narzan.
Arielle: How about beer?
Al: They're bringing beer this evening.
Arielle: So what do you have?
Al: Apricot juice. But it's warm.

Arielle even married a Russian. Who teaches Russia Literature. And the language. That, my friends, is commitment. Anyway, long story short? She is Ariellushka and I am Sashenka. And that is even more bubbly and tasty and delicious than Narzan. The end.

9. High Ho Silber

The lady that ran the Scholarshop at Interlochen started it. I'm actually pretty surprised this fairly straightforward pop culture reference wasn't in my life a bit sooner.  Every time I walked into the Scholarshop to purchase some sheet music or a bottle of water or simply to get warm, that lovely woman would say "High Ho!" It was pretty wonderful.

10. Bub

Another pet name from a boyfriend. It evolved over time of course. Here are the steps it took:

a. When D got his wisdom teeth out his face exploded, which prompted me referring to him as "Bubble Face" for obvious reasons.
b. But soon, the swelling went down and somehow, the adorable-ness of this name remained.
c. I continued to refer to him as Bubble
d. then, to reciprocate (or perhaps to give me a taste of my own medicine, or perhaps simply not to feel left out?), he referred to me as Bubble
e. From there, as per usual, Bubble became too long and we started referring to one another as simply Bub.
f. Eventually a song was composed (as was our want) set roughly to the tune of the iconic Llyods TSB commercial song that went a little something like this:
You have a face
a bubble bubble face
you have a face
a bubba-dubba-bubba- Bubble FACE!
11. Soph!

Sometimes when you play characters.... it sticks. Exclamation point included.

12. Sunny 

I have always been terribly fond of allthingsRussian such as Russian literature, culture and history. But nothing has fascinated me more than the life and times of Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra (originally a German Princess, born Alix of Hesse), the last Tsar and Tsarina of Russia who ruled from 1894 until Nicholas' abdication on 15 March 1917.

There is much to say, to touch on, to convey; too much in fact. The atmospheric air of the particular chapter in history. Alexandra's queer dependence on mystic monk Grigory Rasputin. Their almost charmed family tarnished by the hemophilia of their youngest child, only son and heir, Alexey. The rise of the Bolsheviks. The wars. The unrest. One era violently escorting in another. (Incidentally, I am a fan of the 1971 film starring Michael Jayston and Janet Suzman--check it out.)

However, the most important aspect of my fascination with N & A is their unabashed love for one another particularly in a time of such overwhelming social, political, familial and personal upheaval. They loved each other. They were really in love. And despite every questionable decision, every short-sighted choice, they never strayed from that central truth. Even, in almost every way, to their own destruction. It draws me in every time. (Truly, there is far too much to articulate about my passion for N & A flippantly here, it deserves it's very own exploratory post).

Nicholas and Alix had first met in 1884 and when Alix returned to Russia in 1889 they fell in love. "It is my dream to one day marry Alix H. I have loved her for a long time, but more deeply and strongly since 1889 when she spent six weeks in Petersburg. For a long time, I have resisted my feeling that my dearest dream will come true." Nicholas wrote in his diary, and Alexandra fully reciprocated his feelings. They married in late 1894 (eve after Alix stood up to her grandmother Queen Victoria of England, refusing to marry the man Queen V chose for her!)

Regardless, suffice it to say that the intrigue runs deep. (Not merely because of the Tsarina's rather wonderful name...) Indeed, every time I come across a man named Nicholas I make a rather large fuss. And not one but two images of the royal pair can be seen in my apartment-- one on the refrigerator the other in a display case above my bookshelf. And that new apartment? It has a name. And that name is The Winter Palace.

Alexandra's  family nicknamed her "Alicky" or "Sunny," and the latter was picked up later by Nicholas. Recently, I have become rather wonderfully acquainted with a new Nicholas who takes it upon himself to call me Sunny... No. Arguments.

13. ... and, of course, you can call me Betty, but Betty when you call me you can call me...Al

Now, without question, I love the name Alexandra. And I feel that I am Alexandra. I respond to it, I feel I am capable of rising to it, and I respect all that is Alexandra Silber; but she is another facet of this multi-faceted Self (though equally valid and cherished).

When I finally attended school at Interlochen full time, Al Silber was in full bloom and even my teachers referred to me as Al. It felt marvelous.

Then, when I began college I thought I would have to start being a bit more "grown up" and "serious" and "professional," but no, Alexandra was some people's preference but Al was still holding on strong.

I then thought I would have to transition as I began a professional career. But no, when I began in The Woman in White, the casting directors, musical directors, cast mates, production team, and even Trevor Nunn and Simon Callow were calling me Al. Before you knew it, "Al Silber" was being bandied about the industry as if it were my professional name to the point where when Ruthie referred "Al Silber" to her manager in New York, he responded by telling her that he wasn't looking for any balding middle-aged Jewish comics...

Yes indeed, it usually sparks a bit of a conversation and that is no bad thing! At the very least people remember it. They may wonder why such a feminine woman has such an incongruous name, or why any glamorous woman would want to be labeled with so slight a sobriquet. Then they get over it. Or they don't. But most of the time they do.

In fact I went to a photo-shoot for my next project last week and the cast list had my name written thus:
Al(exandra) Silber
YES. That was it! Total mixture and domination achieved!

Well... all I can say is, when you know with all of your being that something is right, don't question it. Two little letters can sometimes pack a real punch, and seventeen years after my initial stake in the ground at summer camp, Al is still going strong. She, as well as the name, is stronger than ever.

Al. The one. The only.  It is, almost inexplicably, my truest name. My truest self. 


"Because it is my name. Because I shall never have another in my life..." 

06 January, 2011

02 January, 2011

'Observations on Elysian Fields Avenue'

for M


My dancing is not what it was she says
And no longer a dash on a page,
but fully fledged, developed,
a roaring sense of possibility.

She would not look me in the eyes.
She refused to hold my gaze
yet spoke through her essence
Impaled my mind
with brighter colors
Than any I had seen before.

I also was born in the light, she smiles,
    sharing this often unkind mark,
        its glory
and its sorrow.

Sometimes we must quarrel for our tranquility.
Often, we rinse out our expectations.
Every fear.

Through the lens of my camera
Her     frame
is        framed,
Simultaneously luscious
     and spare.
I love the way her neck falls into
Soft lines.
It is only through the lens
that her eyes
finally, lock with mine.

She does not flinch.


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