#Diverse Characters

Working on a script for possible school audience. Am aware of creating Anglo-Saxon names, knowing any of our diverse (Middle Eastern, Asian) students could play them. But the reverse? A Caucasian student playing someone named, say, Patel? In a production of Wilde’s “…Earnest”, a girl of Indian heritage played Gwendolyn (or Cecily?), complete with English accent. But a Caucasian student playing “Patel”? With accent? I’m not sure we’re there yet.

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How long have we known each other??

When choosing a photo for this post, I decided to go with my shot of the marquee for Three Tall Women, currently dazzling audiences on Broadway. It’s Edward Albee’s meditation on his adoptive mother, but the conceit of the play also makes it a meditation on time. Three women appear to be possibly family- grandmother, mother, and daughter- or another relationship. They are revealed to be the same woman, at three different stages of her life, sharing the stage simultaneously. What would you say to your 60 hear old self? Or 90? Or 30? Or vice versa?
A small meditation on the theatre, and the passage of time, struck me the past couple of days. It was my slightly exhausting but satisfying pleasure to help organize and helm a high school drama festival. In addition to school performances, students got to attend workshops on everything from Stanislavski to Stage Combat to the Song as Monologue. An old friend of mine from early musical theatre days at the University of Toronto led the Song as Monologue class. It was wonderful to have her involved, and I know the students benefited from her experience.
Thinking back to how long ago we first met each other on stage, I asked her if she ever thought that, all these years later, we’d be…. I started to say “still connected by theatre”, but she cut me off, and finished the sentence with one word: “…old??”

Blame it on Glenda

Blame Glenda Jackson. I reserved tickets for Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women (he always has the name before and above the title) for Easter weekend.

New York is always extremes. The highs of theatre-going to the frequent degradation of the subway and elsewhere.

Subways aren’t for sleeping: meet “Brimstone” a subway gospel rapper. (Check Youtube). “Jesus loves you” in white letters on his black shirt, front and back, a large cross slung around his neck, made of palm leaves (it was Easter Sunday). Then a sermon for his subway ministry.

A young pianist plays electronic keyboard on the platform. Classical, then Pop: The Heart Does Go On, Theme from Love Story, The Sting (Scott Joplin)… he’s dressed to kill in a soft blue pastel suit. His father (?) sits on a bucket off to the the side. The most memorable aspect? He appears to be playing a video game on his phone at the same time as playing, without missing a note, (or a point.)

Subway peddlars are endless. Candy, clothes, and just plain panhandling, from all ages (a Vietnam vet, teenagers, and younger). A raging boom-box announces a dancer whose parting words are “I’m not homeless but I do better if I look it.”

Another low-point: mistaking a scalper in Times Square as staff for the TKTS half-price ticket booth. When it became clear to him I only wanted to know if I could get Sunday matinee tickets on Saturday, he told me I was wasting his time.

The last straw: a strategically placed snow storm right when my flight was to leave. Then it cleared up. But not before I had to take a much later flight home.

I prefer to dwell on the positive: the revival of Tom Stoppard’s Travesties (I understand a lot more than when I saw it in high school but still am mystified by parts); the transforming set of Afterglow (more than the titillating plot of an open relationship); and, best for last- Glenda Jackson, 81 (!) in Albee’s third Pulitzer Prize winner. I go on and on in my drama class about voice on stage. It was all she needed to be a Tall Woman. Actually got to meet her afterwards as she greeted fans, having her after-show cigarette (!). “Let the lady have her moment”, Security warned us. We did. She seemed not to be bothered by the question about returning to the stage after 23 years in politics. “It’s what I did,” she said between drags. Of course she can still do it.

I blame Glenda Jackson for another hectic, harried and totally worth-it Easter weekend jaunt in the Big Apple. Thanks Glenda.

Mean-Spirited or Just Spirited?

Just finished our school production of Once in a Lifetime by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart (teaser pic above). The students loved doing it, and the audience enjoyed. So as I recover from exhaustion, I can post a bit of theatre philosophy.
I was always attracted to the particular skill of this Broadway duo. Previous productions of The Man Who Came to Dinner and You Can’t Take It With You were highlights of our school’s stage history. The appeal? The plots and the characters. Scenes are expertly structured with most entrances and exits on the heels of a character-driven one-liner.
But. The plays are from the 1930’s, and the regularity of sexist and racist remarks in all the plays jumps off the page and stage in the 2010’s. Itemizing them here is not my interest. We dealt with those lines (they are hard to miss) and still did the shows.
A more subtle sensitivity struck me later in our rehearsal preparation of Once In A Lifetime, and I felt it in the performances. Lifetime spins on the dumb luck of George Lewis who unwittingly becomes the top guy in Hollywood (the play is about the advent of the “talkies”.) More than one character makes George’s slowness the butt of the joke. More than once he is called stupid, told to shut up. My question- is this as awful as it sounds? Are we oversensitive, or is it the right amount of sensitivity for the sensitive times in which we live? Is the play mean-spirited or just funny?
Sometimes the audience laughed at George; they always seemed to root for him.

Approaching Perfection

A couple of thoughts on perfection. The first is about perfection in education; the second is about perfection in writing.

If you’ve read the blog, of late, as a teacher, I am trying to lessen the emphasis on marks. (Reducing the Emphasis.) More than once, I’ve had students start discussion about assessment with words to the effect, “Where did I lose marks?” “How can I get 10 out of 10?” “How can I get perfect?”

I try to shape the discussion around being “close to perfection”, due to the subjective quality of English.

Which brings me to the second aspect: perfect writing. In a previous blog,Whole Separate Language, my favourite quote appears:
“There ought to be a whole separate language for words that are truer than other words- for perfect absolute truth.”

Apart from the quote itself being about words and truth being perfect, there is the perfection of the syntax. How many drafts did it take Anne Tyler to perfect the construction of that sentence? Was it instantaneous? Did it come to her all at once?

Maybe sentences like this can be held up to students as an example of writing that is close to perfection. The fact that it is about perfection and words themselves only makes it more perfect.

The Wolves

Was in NYC, and for love nor money, I could not get tickets to Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves, about a girls’ soccer team.

Bought the script at the Drama Bookshop. I love how a reviewer describes it:

“.. an ensemble of distinct female characters without leaning on romantic partners or traditional feminine tropes...” [TheatreMania]

I can see the appeal. What an ear for female teenage dialogue (when the adults aren’t present). I’d love to see it used at our school, but it’s just so raw. And witty.

One of the tamer exchanges between players:

– what’s the Khmer Rouge

-they’re like Nazis in Cambodia

-but in the 70’s

A Pulitzer Prize nomination did not surprise me.