Waiting Angels

UntitledI’m dreaming of a vacation to Europe.

Perhaps France.

Perhaps Italy.

 

This is the closest I’ve been in the past few years – this trip to Montreal.

Taken on the roof of Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel.

 

I imagine another figure, atop some other ancient church or monument…

….waiting for me to come and say hello.

2009: The Art in My Life

The world is over-run with top lists for the year. This being my own little world I figure I’ll make a list of the top ten things about 2009. Below, with no real sense of order, are highlights of my life in the arts and the art in my life.

Photography is a hobby of mind, and according to iPhoto I imported almost 1,000 pictures this year. I think the money saved in film development has now paid for that digital SLR.

This picture was taken last January from a boat off the coast of Puerto Vallarta. I love it for how it looks like a watercolor or something, but it’s a completely untouched photo. The guide had thrown bread crumbs in the water to attract the fish, and got more than we expected.

Another favorite picture of mine also came from a vacation. This shot was taken from the rooftop at Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours, in the old city portion of Montreal. Wings seem to be a theme this year.

When I made my list of highlights I knew I would want to include pictures, so I chose those two, although there are many other photos that excited me this year, including ones below. But it turns out that most of my highlights are theatre related.

Caroline, Or Change was the surprise of the Kushner fest. While all eyes were on his big-new-will-he-ever-finish-it Homo’s Guide, this wonderfully imaginative musical, with singing washing machines and solidly written characters stole people’s hearts, and lingered for days with me. I should probably add that to coincide with the Kushner fest at the Big G I finally got around to seeing HBO’s Angels In America and wondered why it took me so long to see that masterpiece.

Scream Blue Murmur is my absolute favorite Northern Irish performing poet group. Ok, perhaps the only group of poets I’ve seen perform. But let me just say that I love these people. They brought their piece Morning After the Summer of Love to the Fringe Festival this summer, and not surprisingly it was a huge hit. (Lovely piece about 1968 – love, war and civil rights. Powerfully current.) I first learned of them when they were here a couple years ago, and fell in love with their flowing words and images and energy and depth. This summer I fell in love again. I’d go to Ireland just to see them, and I think it would be awesome to be in some little village pub, listening to them and chatting them up over a pint after. Chatted with a couple of them briefly during the Fringe and I was like a Marcia Brady meeting Davey Jones.

The Syringa Tree at the Jungle was the best one-person show I think I have ever seen. No props, and virtually no set. Numerous characters from a single, amazingly talented actress. It was astounding. Kudos to director Joel Sass. As for the actress, well….I had to write Ms. Agnew a fan note.

I saw a production of The Skin of Our Teeth that I described as “…this whole play boils down to hope and optimism and the fight to not lose it or have it destroyed. If that’s not a theme for 2009, I don’t know what is.” I applaud Girl Friday Productions for taking on such a massive and complicated play.

And as for small, independent theatres go, I have to give kudos to Walking Shadow. I saw two of their shows, Squawk, and Some Girl(s) and both shows were incredibly impressive. These people are hard working, dedicated and smart—all of which I find very exciting. If they don’t burn out like so many theatre companies can easily do, they’re on their way to making a big name for themselves.

Earlier this year there was a gathering of actors who did a semi-staged reading of The Seagull. Not only was the reading very well done, and thoroughly enjoyable, but it represented so many of the things about theatre that excite me, and exemplifies the high quality of artists in Minneapolis. I recall saying that we need more of this kind of thing, and I hope we see more next year.

Romeo & Juliet at The Children’s Theatre Company was the first time I’d ever seen a promenade style production, and now I want all my Shakespeare to be staged this way. The audience stood, and moved, throughout the show which took place in a huge black box space, with a few set elements up on accessible platforms around the perimeter. The action moved throughout the crowd, directing audience members out of the way as needed. It was like we were all standing in the town’s center plaza, surrounded and part of the action—even the sword fight. And the performances were all incredibly strong and beautiful.

June of Arc, or more specifically Heather Stone’s performance blew me away with the strength and power of her work. It was a beautiful, riveting performance, and I was inspired by the detailed, focused work she did and how she so fully owned it. Some folks will be able to catch Sandbox’s reprisal of this show in January at the Guthrie, and I hope many people do. If Heather keeps up that kind of work, her life is going to change in 2010.

The William Williams Effect, with Balance Theatre Project, was virtually all of 2009 for me, and has a very prominent place on my theatrical resume. I felt almost arrogant telling some people before it opened that I thought it would be a “highlight of my so-called career” but that’s just what it’s become. The performances, the response—it was all more than I had wished for. I can’t even begin to describe the challenge and excitement and pride I have regarding this project. As a director there’s nothing so satisfying as watching a crowd in a packed theater sitting with rapt attention on a show. 

It was also thrilling to once again join forces with my long-time friend Nancy Ruyle in researching, writing and getting this show up on its feet. The whole thing, from start to finish, was a collaborative process, and much of it was organically created in rehearsals with the cast, too.

While I feel very fortunate to have had such a successful show, I feel even more fortunate to have such a great working relationship and friendship with Nancy, who can challenge me, keep me on track and, frankly, keep me balanced.

The trip didn’t end with closing night back in August, and this script has a new version that will be shared soon. So, thank you 2009 for being good to me.

Here’s to 2010.

Happy New Year.

Art and Art-making on the Streets

I was recently in Montreal on vacation. I had never been there before, and found the city to be a great combination of a modern North American city and an ancient European one. Of course, that’s exactly what it is. This picture was taken in Old Montreal, where the narrow streets are mostly stones and bricks, the buildings don’t even have gangways.

Rue des Artistes, Old Montreal

Just out of view, to the left, is a scruffy, curmudgeonly looking man, sitting with his back to the street, painting a picture. He’s surrounded by his other pieces which are for sale. He’s clearly posted above his work a sign saying “No Pictures” with an outline of a camera and a line through it. My camera, although it’s digital, has a shutter sound effect when the picture’s actually taken. It’s loud enough for him to hear, sitting 10 or 15 feet away.

I get the dirtiest look of the entire vacation.

Before I can try to say it wasn’t him I shot, I only manage a feeble point in the direction of the street where I took the picture and my own look of “oh, sir, you misunderstand!” before he abruptly turned his back on me and continued on with his painting.

I thought it was a little rude. I also thought, “Dude, your stuff isn’t so good that someone’s going to want to steal your ideas by taking pictures of it.”

Whatever.

I took another pic of the street, and moved on.

Running away with the Cirque

Just returned from vacation in Quebec. You know – it’s like Europe, only closer? Actually, it’s true. It was weird to think we were only in Canada, and easily less than 100 miles…er, whatever that is in kilometers…from the US. It’s an interesting culture, everything’s familiar but just slightly askew. And as the saying goes: When in Rome….or this case, Montreal….we had to see the circus, of course.

Cirque Eloize (pronounced el-waz) opened their new show, Nebbia, at the Place des Arts complex on Friday. They’ll do three performances and then head to France, Spain and Switzerland over the next month. This was a true joy to watch and was just what I had expected: a beautiful combination of acrobatics, dance, story telling and theater, with beautiful creative staging and lighting. Also, very little dialogue – which is good because it was all in French and I no parlo la francaise. I’m sure there were nuances and meanings that I missed in the bit of narration but I got the gist.

Side note: one of the characters was Italian, so he spoke French with an Italian accent. I was totally lost.

A few of the highlights:

There was the expected “woman spinning, twisting, hanging, sliding and all-while-seeming-to-dance with two silk curtains” routine which opened the show. My palms sweated, my heart raced and I literally gasped when she was about 35 feet off the stage floor, pulled the curtain up from below, wrapped it around her and dropped about 25 feet spinning as she went down and and stopped abruptly about 10 feet from the floor. (My palms sweat now just typing this.)

The start of the second act included the trampoline bit where a wall/curtain are raised/lowered to minimize the proscenium and performers are doing acrobatics on a trampoline so that you only see bodies bounding up and down and up and down and up and….there’s a trapeze up there that they grabbed. The things these people could do, alone, together, in unison. It was like dance. And funny.

There was an incredible dance and balancing act that was nerve wracking and enthralling. One man and one woman – both gorgeous, in white outfits, and beautifully lit stage.  It began with her standing on his shoulders, and included his holding her up by a single ankle, her balancing his two hands – I swear at one point I thought she floated. But he picked her up and put her down with such grace, it was ballet like – and much of their movement was straight from dance. Not that Fred ever picked Ginger up over his head by one hand, and she balanced on one leg. The other cast members were in the background, in shadows, watching. At one point about a half dozen sharp, small pools of light filled the stage and the cast in the back had mirrors which they held up and reflected the lights out into the house, moving them across the back walls (and seemingly being careful to not blind an audience member.) This description does not do it justice.  It was a beautiful, delicate piece.

And there was sort of the main story line that kept reappearing. Someone who could only be described as a boy, now a man, with a mental and physical disability, who dreamed of being a ballerina. He made his own tutu out of old stiff newspapers. He could hardly walk, and certainly not alone, but you could see in him his dream to dance, and everyone in the town helped him to realize that dream.

Of course there was also some slapstick, a contortionist (wow), hundreds of spinning plates on poles, and songs. All with a high theatrical style and huge imagination. It reminded me of the earlier days of Theatre de la Jeune Lune with its imagination and use of imagery and its telling a story without a saying a word, with its earnest and vulnerable characters.

It was the kind of thing that can be inspiring mesmerizing and powerful. It was the kind of night that made me miss seeing such imagination on stage (and miss the old Jeune Lune). It was the kind of show that made me want to do better, more powerful, more creative work that pulls at the heart and the mind and gets the blood pumping.

It was a beautiful night at the théâtre.