On Live Rats and Dead Dogs

Back in college, I was very active in theater — I stage managed many plays, and I was house manager for the university’s Program of Theater and Dance.  I never got on stage myself (and for that, the community was very grateful!) but I supplemented my hands-on experience with a number of courses on theater, including a class on Shakespeare, one on modern drama (mostly, early 20th c), and one on contemporary drama (late 1960s and forward.)

One of my drama professors drilled home the point that when a playwright calls for something difficult in the staging of his plays (especially children and animals), he must truly think it’s important.  Therefore, the three identical sets of plants in Sam Shepard’s TRUE WEST (one set alive and well for the first act, one set dying for the middle act, one set dead for the third act) are an indication of the significance of those plants to the narrative.  (Personally, I think Shepard just hates stage managers — witness other requirements for his plays, including screen doors that are cut through, bottles that are shattered, etc.)

I was reminded of this theory, in spades, last night when we saw the National Theater telecast of THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT.  The play *opens* with a very realistic dead dog, staked to the stage with a garden fork.  Throughout much of the play, the main character (an autistic 15-year-old) carries his live rat — through a variety of settings, including an imagined trip to outer space.  (There’s another challenging staging thing late in the play, but I won’t mention it, lest I spoil the story…)

By and large, I think it was worth the effort to “kill” the dog and keep the rat alive.  Both add great depth to the story.  When I first heard they were making a play out of this novel (told from the point of view of the 15-year-old, with many of his tics incorporated into the narration), I couldn’t imagine how they could stage it.  Not all of their efforts worked, but the show was very imaginative.  The parts of the story that were most difficult for Christopher were most difficult for the audience — the production uses sound and light and movement to represent the disorientation of the main character.

This production is also quite meta — the characters know that they’re in a play, and they comment occasionally on that fact.  At times, the entire thing felt *too* staged, too “created”, but there were genuine emotions evoked.  The characters were complex — none of the main characters is all good or all bad, and no one has an easy life.

This is only the second telecast I’ve seen, and I was impressed with the presentation.  The team uses multiple cameras, sometimes from angles that the theater audience can’t experience.  The close-ups give a much more intimate view of the actors (even if they take away a bit, showing the microphones, etc.)  I’ll definitely consider other performances in the future!

(I was reminded, as I watched the show, of Kazuo Ishiguro talking about his novel REMAINS OF THE DAY, which he said he wrote specifically to be not-filmable, as a form of art separate from the television and film that he loved growing up.  Of course, it was transformed into an incredible movie with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.  I suspect Mark Haddon never contemplated his slender novel turning into a play either!)

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When I’m 93…

… I want to be capable of practicing my life-long career.  You know.  Like Bob Wolff, a sportscaster who was recently recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records for spending 75 years in his chosen profession!

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We attended a “Conversation” with Wolff on Monday night, down at the Smithsonian.  While we were waiting in line to get into the auditorium, Mark and I noted that we were the youngest audience members by a good twenty years.  There were two other women present, but I was willing to bet that I’m the only one who writes hot baseball romances :-)

All in all, it was an enjoyable evening — the interviewer, Phil Hochsberg, had prepared numerous clips of Wolff interviewing famous baseball players, and Wolff discussed the circumstances of those interviews.  My favorite was the early 1960s interview with four Senators players who kept house together, dividing up the cooking, housekeeping, etc.  The whole thing was so staged and goofy and completely out of keeping with today…  (The most poignant interview was with Jimmie Foxx, who was bankrupt within five years of ending his Hall of Fame career.  Foxx was trying to get a job teaching/coaching at a university but was told he could not be hired because he didn’t have a college degree; Wolff knew about the problem and structured the interview to discuss Foxx’s plight.)

I have to admit, though, my attention wandered a bit, because I’ve been fiddling with a plot point in FROM LEFT FIELD…  Probably not the type of thing 93-year-old Bob Wolff would have wanted to handle in the Question and Answer session!

 

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Here a Doc, There a Doc…

Here’s a paradox:  When I’m at my busiest, having the most fun, doing the most things it would be exciting to write about, I don’ t have time to write.  Yeah, life is tough sometimes.  A lot of the time.

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In any case – we spent a long weekend at AFIDocs, a documentary film festival here in town.  We first “discovered” AFIDocs two years ago, when it was called Silverdocs, and it had been going on for many years before that.  The festival has undergone many changes in the last two years, and we sort of miss the halcyon days of the first time we attended, but it’s still a pretty amazing way to spend time.  This year, we saw ten movies in three days.  Some were “small” films that aren’t likely to see wide distribution; others have already been picked up for national distribution.

The overarching theme for us this year turned out to be Personal Responsibility — responsibility to recognize injustice and to act upon it.  (We didn’t plan our movie choices that way; it just happened.)  Movies that fit into that theme included:

  • 1971 — about a group of protesters who broke into the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, intending to steal draft records but ultimately stealing documents that disclosed the existence of the FBI’s domestic counterintelligence program
  • Freedom Summer — about the summer of 1964 and the volunteers who went to Mississippi to register voters, teach students in summer “Freedom Schools”, and create the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party that tried to be seated as the legitimate Miss. delegation at the national Democratic convention
  • The Hand That Feeds — about a group of low-wage workers who organized a union at a New York fast food restaurant
  • The Internet’s Own Boy — about Aaron Swartz, the Internet activist who committed suicide rather than face trial for downloading unlawful copies of journal articles through MIT’s computers

We also saw several movies that were portraits of people:

  • Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me — about the musician and his family and their decision to organize a final musical tour as he became increasingly incapacitated with Alzheimer’s
  • Life Itself — about Roger Ebert and his life as a journalist and film critic
  • Slingshot — about Dean Kamen and his quest to build and distribute a machine that will bring clean water to under-resourced regions of the world

And then there were a few “random” movies:

  • Misconception — about population control efforts, including mandatory family size limitation, lobbying efforts at the UN to fight all efforts to distribute health care to women, and Ghanaian orphans and abandoned children
  • The Search for General Tso — ostensibly about the origin of the dish General Tso’s Chicken, but mostly about Chinese immigration into the United States and the nature of cultural assimilation
  • When the Garden was Eden — about the championship New York Knicks teams of the late 60′s and early 70′s

My favorites ended up being Slingshot — Dean Kamen seems like a child-loving Willie Wonka, who creates gadgets instead of candy — and The Search for General Tso.  None of the movies was terrible (although the horribly uncomfortable seats in one of the auditoriums made some of the movies seem too long…)

All in all, a great way to spend a weekend.  And if you can see Slingshot, do.

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Staycation, Or How I Spent Spring Break

(I can say “Spring Break”, right?  Even if I’m talking about the last week of May?)

Hello folks!  Sorry I’ve been so scarce — I was indulging in a week of wedding anniversary celebration (11 years — and it seems like we got married yesterday!) We’d originally planned on taking a big trip, but various things conspired against us doing that.  We substituted international travel with a staycation, and we had a *marvelous* time!

Our staycation included:

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Othello, at the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Virginia — performed in the Blackfriars Playhouse, in an approximation of an Elizabethan production, with house lights up, audience participation, and a startlingly small cast.  (Iago was *wonderful*.  Some of the younger audience members were in *hysterical* tears at the end of the show.  Yay.)

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The Degas/Cassatt show at the National Gallery of Art — four *crammed* rooms of paintings and prints (alas, for my taste, too many prints, but that’s a personal thing…)  The show was designed to highlight the exchange of ideas between Degas and Cassatt, and it did that well, but I was left feeling like I was just seeing a snippet of a much larger world stage…

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The Andrew Wyeth Looking Out/Looking In show at the National Gallery of Art — five *crammed* rooms of works, mostly watercolors, by Wyeth.  All the paintings focused on windows (and, sometimes, doors).  I’ve always loved realistic art, and the hyper-realism of some of these works was amazing.  There were several studies for finished works, which I loved — in each case, the finished work was much more austere — and much better.  Lessons for writing?

In addition to those doses of culture, we saw a few exhibits at the Newseum, ate at three new-to-us restaurants, took in two baseball games, watched The Hollow Crown (which had been living on our DVR for long enough that it had practically taken up permanent residence), read books for fun, and generally had a wonderful time!

And now, I’m almost through unpacking my inbox — just in time for more book news tomorrow!

Did I miss anything major while I was gone?

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Song and Dance

Yet another busy weekend around these parts.  Some day, far in the future, we’ll have a weekend with nothing on the agenda.  Some day, I’ll read through the entire Sunday Washington Post, which I used to read on a regular basis.  Sigh…

Yesterday (Sunday), we went to the final session for the year of What Makes It Great, the music education lectures that we’ve enjoyed so much the past few years.  The focus was Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, specifically the spring and summer concertos.  As usual, I learned a lot — for the first time ever I was truly struck by the notion that before Vivaldi wrote those notes that I know so well, no one had ever heard them.  (Yeah, I know.  Sometimes I’m slow on the uptake.)  Rob Kapilow also lead us through a silly little exercise, showing the fingering necessary for one section of Summer — I have infinitely greater respect for violinists of any stripe!

Saturday, we went to see the dance troupe Momix.  We hadn’t originally planned on seeing them — winter storms forced us to miss an orchestra performance earlier in the year, and we made up those tickets with the dance performance.  We didn’t really know what to expect before we went, and we were frankly somewhat nervous about the publicity for the evening, which promised projections, puppetry, and representations of plants.  We ended up really liking the show — and being overwhelmed by the sheer athleticism of the performers.  (We were both amazed by the long, energetic, exuberant encore!)  The performance was only slightly marred by the awed four-year-old in front of Mark who stage-whispered questions to her grandmother throughout, and by the mother of a tween in front of me, who explained every single freaking number to her kid, who seemed to have no problem understanding what was going on.  Oh – and the middle-age couple behind us who spoke at full volume for the first two numbers (I guess, because the dancers weren’t speaking, so why not?)  Sigh…  Audiences…

Friday night, we went to the Nationals game, waiting out cold rain for an hour-delayed start.  It was a long, cold night, but the Nats won (and we had a nice conversation with one of the other season-ticket holders whom we’d met last season.)

All in all, a good, varied weekend, leaving me charged to get a lot of writing done today on STOPPING SHORT!

And you?  How as your weekend?

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Compare and Contrast

It’s no secret that life has been crazy around here — what with three books coming out in four weeks, with six more on the way…  But regular life doesn’t stop in Klaskyville — not for any number of books coming out in any number of weeks.  This past weekend was the perfect example of the “compare and contrast” that makes up my life these days.

Friday:  After a long, hard day of editing SECOND THOUGHTS, I headed down to Nationals Park.  I didn’t plan particularly well — I let myself be fooled by the sunshine streaming in my window.  By the time I got to the park, there was enough of a breeze that I suspected my sweatshirt wouldn’t be sufficient by the end of the game.  Fortunately, I (the world’s coldest-blooded person) am married to Mark (the world’s hottest-blooded person), and he had the jacket he’d worn to work early that morning.  I wore his jacket (and a scarf, and mittens — I didn’t need my earmuffs), and I watched the Nats beat the Cardinals in an unlikely win.  Go, Nats!

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Saturday:  I attended Henry IV, Part 2 at the Shakespeare Theatre.  While the reviewer in the Washington Post thought she’d never seen anything funnier than the bumbling country squires, Shallow and Silence, I contemplated plucking out my eyes for those scenes (yes, out, vile jelly and all that).  This play is a weak one — not much happens and what *does* happen is mostly illness, decay, and death.  I would have preferred for them to combine the two parts, dropping most of the tavern scenes and all of the Shallow/Silence scenes.  We had a nice dinner with friends after the play, though, and on our way back to our car, we passed by the Stage Door to the theater and ran into the man who played the Lord Chief Justice — a bright star in an otherwise dull constellation.  It was nice to be able to compliment his work.

Sunday:  I headed down to AwesomeCon for two panels.  I’d been dreading the one on manuscript preparation (an hour for that, really?) and looking forward to the one on YA (cool authors, some of whom are friends.)  The YA panel ended up being okay, but the manuscript prep one was *wonderful*.  My co-panelist, Tanya Spackman, had great concrete information, and I shared more abstract ideas.  I think we made a great team, and I’ve heard from several of the people in the audience that they found it useful.

Monday:  I finished editing SECOND THOUGHTS (yay, yay, yay!), and I headed back downtown for another ball game — this one against the Angels.  It was “Dollar Dog” night at the game — all hot dogs, peanuts, and popcorn on sale for a buck — and we sat in our usual seats (we’ve been in others for the other two games, because my schedule made us trade tickets).  It was nice to see some of the “regulars” around us, and the game was exciting until the last at-bat.  (Yeah, the Nats lost, but it was unreasonable to think they’d win *every* game we attend!)

So, one novel edited, two baseball games, a play, and a media convention (with some knitting and reading for fun in there as well, along with a bit of TV — MAD MEN, anyone?)  Sounds about par for the course.  What are the greatest swings in your own interests, the most unlikely combination of hobbies/activities that keep you busy?

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